Internet Memes: the Good, the Bad and the Awful

 

Meme doctored

Even though they are often distasteful and disgusting and downright stupid — or perhaps precisely because they are often distasteful and disgusting and downright stupid —  I have a certain fascination with Internet memes. They often encapsulate for better and (mostly) for worse the current moment in history, the present zeitgeist, the current propaganda-ruled culture of the nation I live in. The meme reproduced above (minus the grading) is one that I found especially noteworthy because it epitomizes, as few others I’ve ever seen, what is so egregious about a great many memes, and what is so awry and foul with the current state of public discourse in America. Let’s break it down bit by bit.

1. “Dear Democrats”

Though cloaked in the traditional salutation dear, giving the impression that this is a communication on the order of a friendly letter, this opening is a signal of the blatant polarization to follow. It suggests that nobody besides Democrats (and “liberals”) are alarmed about the current state of affairs in Washington. But so are independents, Libertarians, people with other party affiliations, and (despite their usual tendency to stick together no matter what) a growing number of Republicans. Even perennially tried and true member of the elephant herd George Will renounced his membership in the GOP when That Guy received the presidential nomination, saying “This is not my party.”

2. “For eight years we put up with”

Perhaps the best response to this is that a few pictures are worth a million words.

3. “your crappy choice of president”

Just about anyone of any ideological bent (present company included) can find something to disapprove of in Obama’s busy two terms in office. But there is no denying (though many people try very hard to deny it anyway) that he was a dynamic, effective and admirable leader. In fact, not long ago a group of some 170 political scientists ranked the nation’s presidents from first to worst. Obama was ranked 8th (up from 18th in the previous survey, when he was still in office), which is especially impressive considering how recently he left office — it often takes a few generations of perspective to fully appreciate a president’s impact. And number 45, by the way, was ranked number 45. But hey, what would political scientists know? They got no slogans.

To call Obama “crappy” is simply to substitute personal sentiment for fact. Which is, alas, something that happens with great frequency these days. “I believe in standing for the National Anthem, so everyone should.” “I don’t think gays should get married, so there should be a law against it.” “I’m a Christian, so everyone should live by Christian beliefs.” “I think abortion is murder so it should be outlawed.” “I love guns, so there’s a right to own one, and they prevent crime.” “I hate Obama, so he was a crappy president.”

4. “We complained about it, but we accepted it.”

“Accepted it” is an outright lie. “Complained” is the understatement of the millennium. See photos above. And see birtherism. And death panels. And he’s a Muslim. And he hates Christians. And he’s a socialist/ Marxist/ communist/ Nazi. And, and, and…

5. “You are showing us that you are weak, spoiled and inferior because you do not have the integrity”

You know irony is officially dead when someone uses a phrase like this while vigorously trying to defend the 45th White House Occupant.  But aside from that, it also is a vibrant example of not only polarization but tribalism and confrontationism.  It’s hard to imagine anything more “weak, spoiled and inferior” or more deficient in integrity than hurling childish insults. Especially ad hominem attacks against a wide swath of people you know nothing about. But this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll see in the cybersphere all the time. And it’s a telling illustration of why public discourse is at such a low state in America.

6. “to do the same thing”

False equivalence, false equivalence, false equivalence. One side is flying blimps of the baby dictator because (among many other things) he apparently conspired with Russia to throw an election, he lost the popular vote, he’s a bigoted misogynist who schmoozes with Nazis, he’s looting the nation for his own profit, and he can’t take a breath without lying. The other side burned effigies of Obama and spread loony rumors about him because he wanted to tax the rich, stop gun massacres, and make sure everyone had healthcare.

7. The Source

And notice who produced this meme: a group calling itself Alaska Patriots for a Free America.  As we’ve discussed before, “patriot” is a popular word used in  the propaganda technique of flag waving by those whose concept of “free” means free to impose their will on others.

This is certainly among the worst of Internet memes, but there are plenty of others to choose from. We previously noted several select examples promulgated by Liberal Logic 101, a fertile breeding ground for straw men.

The Other Side of the Coin

As you probably are aware, there are also plenty of good Internet memes out there. They may be vastly outnumbered, but they do exist. Here’s an example of one way a meme should be constructed. (Disclaimer: I created this one myself. But that isn’t what makes it a good one. It’s the other way around: I carefully put it together based on principles I’ve gleaned from many years of studying this sort of thing.)

liberals

First of all, I tried to be as non-confrontational as possible. The meme is not explicitly addressed to Republicans, “conservatives” or anyone else. They certainly are primarily the intended audience. But I’ve given them the chance to realize the shoe fits rather than try to force it on them with heated rhetoric. The impression I wanted to give them was that I was offering food for thought, for their own benefit — which in fact was exactly what I was doing.

I debated with myself for a long time about whether to add a final line: “And why should you be willing to give it to them?” This is certainly the question that I ultimately wanted them to consider — why should they play into the hands of propagandists, demagogues and hucksters? But I finally decided that it would be much more effective if they asked themselves that question rather than having someone else pose it.

What I did do, however, was point out as gently as possible something that they may not have realized: that the “liberals” they are being conditioned to demonize are not strangers and anonymous masses in remote locations; they are individuals with whom one comes in contact every day, and with whom one has had very positive experiences. And it doesn’t quite make sense mathematically that such librulz should be fine people individually, and yet add up to an evil threat as a whole.

This meme may not be perfect; it may not even be among the best you’ll encounter. But it was written thoughtfully rather than reactively, with good, constructive intentions. It’s the kind of meme we need to see a great deal more of — while seeing a great deal less of the first example.

Advertisements

Charlottesville, Nazis and Confederate Monuments: Myths, Lies, Absurdities and Insanities

Violent-Clashes-Erupt-at-Unite-The-Right-Rally-In-Charlottesville_11.jpeg.CROP.promo-xlarge2

Another tragic demonstration of extremist lunacy. Another subsequent orgy of false equivalence and general stupidity. But this time was different. This time we had the acting president of the United States repeating and amplifying the deranged fringe media rhetoric. Here were some of the most notably absurd, delusional, hateful and downright idiotic reactions to Charlottesville:

1. “Both sides are to blame”

It’s inevitable that whenever a gaggle of right-wing miscreants get caught doing something unpleasant, their defenders will try to defend them by resorting to the “both sides” tactic. “Both sides are equally to blame”. The other side does it too. It’s a result of conflict from “many sides”.

This is never an encouraging bit of rhetorical legerdemain, but in this case it was especially chilling: the supposed leader of the free world declared — twice — that Nazis were morally equivalent to those taking a stand against them. Nazis, he insisted, weren’t all really Nazis or white supremacists, and included some “very fine people”.  As usual, he merely was brainlessly parroting his media enablers, who declared that the demonstrators had “a reason” to be there.  The White House Occupant also tried to defend the white supremacists by saying that they had a permit, and that “the other group didn’t”.  The former is irrelevant; the latter is a baldfaced lie. The counterprotesters did indeed have a permit of their own.

Coincidentally, the white supremacists who are rallying and stirring up violence around the country are the putative president’s most solid base, the main choir he is preaching to — the hardcore supporters who view him as their messiah who will lead them to their Promised Land of ivory purity. It was they, more than anyone, who praised his remarks about Charlottesville — while also praising the murderous driver and belittling and insulting Heather Heyer, the woman he killed. Very fine people, very fine.

cfa0017038057ddca1979e678aab3f6f

2. What about violence on the other side?

Hand in hand with bothsidesism, you have whataboutism. Like a schoolyard brat caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he often tries to deflect focus away from his culpability by accusing someone else of something.

What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right?’ Do they have any semblance of guilt…. What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs?

Once again he’s just echoing unfounded rumors.  There’s been no evidence of any violence by counterprotesters, nothing more than using mace to defend themselves when they were surrounded, threatened and assaulted by the “very fine” Nazis — who were the only ones swinging clubs.  The Cult Of Trumpery, however, has been so desperate to pin blame for violence on the antifascists that they have circulated a fake photo of one of them assaulting a police officer.

3. The “alt-left”

Not only does the putative president parrot the loony ideas of the fringe media, he also uses their vocabulary. There is no such thing as the “alt-left”.  What exactly would an “alt-left” do, anyway? Gang up on people and try to give them healthcare?

“Alt-left” is a label made up by the “alt-right” to help advance a false equivalence.  And while “alt-right” is itself a label of questionable accuracy (which is to say, it’s a euphemism used to cover up fascism and white supremacy), it is at least a legitimate category because it was coined and self-applied by the right-wingers themselves. There is no comparable label, or coalition, on the left.

4. Greasing the slope

It’s a very common tactic, almost a knee-jerk reaction, for right-wing extremists to attach the term slippery slope to any action that doesn’t meet their seal of approval. They never seem to apply it to any situation where it’s actually appropriate — i.e., environmental plundering or the intrusion of religion into government — but they are ever eager to apply it to situations it doesn’t fit.

If we take down Confederate statues, say the putative president and his puppeteers, then it won’t be long before we’re taking down statues of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, and demolishing Mt. Rushmore. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they’re comparing a group of historical figures who fought to establish, strengthen and protect the union to a group who fought to rip it apart.

The metaphor of a slippery slop works only if you are talking about a continuum of possible events along the same slope. Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are on a totally different slope, and indeed an opposing slope, from Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. No, it still isn’t comparable just because Washington and Jefferson owned slaves; Lee and Jackson not only owned slaves, they waged a war against their own country to protect the very institution of slavery.

Most preposterously, some members of the punditocracy even suggested that maybe book burning will come next on the slope. Apparently, they’re blissfully unaware that Confederate monuments are being defended by neo-Nazis; and it was Nazis themselves who were among the most infamous book burners.

e8c4a72d5c502d37781c16bd4f98b0fe

4. Those beautiful statues

Another of the putative president’s tactics was to bemoan the destruction of such beautiful works of art as the Confederate monuments. But no monuments have actually been destroyed, nor is that the plan. The plan is to move them to museums, or somewhere besides the public forum.  Even the one that was torn down by citizens in North Carolina is currently stashed in a warehouse until someone figures out what else to do with it.

And the neo-Nazi mob that gathered in Charlottesville was not there to protect statues. It was there to take a stand for white supremacy — as its swastikas, Confederate flags and chants of “We won’t be replaced” and the like make clear.

Your putative president is obviously very concerned about the preservation of beautiful historical markers. So much so that he’s willing to erect one himself on his golf course, in commemoration of a battle that never occurred. Good thing he’s so adamantly opposed to “fake news”.

DHcEsxrXkAA_dqG

5. Birds of a feather

People in North Carolina were understandably upset about the Charlottesville incident. Even so, their angry reaction was in itself rather dumb. They should have been aware that the punditocracy is constantly on the lookout for any little event they can tout as proof that “liberals” are unruly scum. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.

It was a different group in Durham, and a much smaller one — just 10 people appear to have participated in actually toppling the statue. But the punditocracy wasted no time in lumping them all together, and declaring that they were all representative of the violent and unsavory Left in general. But they didn’t stop there; they also lumped the protesters together with the Taliban, with the Khmer Rouge, with ISIS — with anyone who’s ever taken down a statue in any manner for any reason.

A few hours later, vandals spray-painted the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with graffiti. (So, Mr. President, was the Memorial equally to blame?)  As of this writing, there is no word on who the guilty party was, or whether they had any particular motive, or what their ideology was, if any, other than destructiveness. What we do know is that this was one of a spate of such vandal attacks that have occurred in DC over the past few months; and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to them.  They have targeted the Lincoln Memorial before, as well as the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Smithsonian Institution. Messages have included “Jackie Shot JFK” and a reference to 9-11.

No matter. As far as the reactionaries were concerned, this latest attack on the Lincoln Memorial was obviously related to Durham and Charlottesville, and was more conclusive proof that them librulz are all a bunch of lawless thugs. It never seems to have occurred to any of them that Lincoln was about as far on the other side of the racism divide as you can get.

Needless to say, we’ve seen the same tactic after a gang of hooded, self-branded “anarchists” crashed a peaceful demonstration in Berkeley more recently. There’s a big difference between anarchist and antifascist — except in the brains of reactionaries.

Capture

6. “Erasing history”

This is the most absurd spin of all, so naturally it’s the most frequently invoked. Eliminating Confederate statues, they say, is an effort by them librulz to erase history and rewrite it to their liking. As if statues are the way we encapsulate, preserve and transmit history. As some people have noted, you’d be very hard pressed to find a monument to Hitler anywhere in the world; yet virtually everyone everywhere in the world knows perfectly well who he was, what he did, and even what he looked like. Monuments do not exist as vessels of history, but as vessels of emotion. (More about that in a moment.)

Capture

Newt Gingrich, whose neurons have not held up well under advancing age, even proclaimed:

And you have a great deal of people on the left who if they could destroy our entire memory of America, they would wipe it out and we would have no knowledge of what it meant to be an American.

There is no reason for you to be this stupid too. So here are two facts Mr. Gingrich is trying to ignore: it was the Confederacy that fought to wipe out “what it meant to be American”.  It is the people who defend the Confederacy who are trying to destroy the memory of what happened.

Far from erasing history, removing Confederate monuments is an effort to get history straight — to cease making heroes of men who fought against their own nation in the deadliest American war ever, for the cause of continuing the practice of brutally enslaving countless others. (And yes, the Civil War really was about slavery.)  And while it’s true that the Founding Fathers also declared war against their own country and were considered traitors, the cause could not have been more different: eliminating oppression as opposed to preserving it.

It doesn’t work to glibly say “heritage, not hate”, because the Confederate heritage is a heritage of hate. And it’s especially bizarre to hear Santayana’s maxim “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” spouted in defense of mobs displaying the swastika and the “heil Hitler” salute.

7. Butwhatabout Muslims?

“Okay, so the Confederates attacked the United States. But so have Muslims. So if we’re going to remove Confederate monuments, shouldn’t we also remove mosques?” That, in all seriousness, was an argument made by an Oklahoma lawmaker, and picked up by many of his kindred spirits on social media.

Have you ever heard anyone suggest the removal of churches because the Confederates were Christians? You’d probably never think of holding Christianity accountable because millions of traitors were Christians; so why would you hold Islam accountable because an infinitely smaller handful of terrorists have been Muslim? (Particularly when terrorist attacks are carried out more often by white Christians than anyone else.)

If, though, there were statues of Osama bin Laden on U.S. soil, it might not be a bad idea to remove them. But there aren’t any. Because Americans had the good sense not to erect any in the first place. There are, however, countless statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson — who killed far more Americans than bin Laden did.  So why the preferential treatment? Are we cutting them slack because they were Americans too? That says we consider it not only acceptable but heroic and honorable to commit mass slaughter and devastation against America if you’re American and a traitor to boot; and that doesn’t speak very highly of our values. Or are we cutting them slack because they were white Christians? I shouldn’t have to tell you what that says about us.

8. Defensive about offensiveness

Also making the rounds on social media was this little gem:

Ok, I can play “Lets Erase History” Erase Welfare, Food Stamps, Free Housing & College – that’s OFFENSIVE to those of us that WORK

You have to be impressed when anyone can compress so much nonsense into such a small space. We’ve already discussed the straw man of “erasing history”. It’s unclear what “free housing and college” is supposed to be referring to but this meme is evidently changing the subject by paying homage to a number of myths about public assistance (“welfare”).

For one thing, there’s the myth that Americans can be neatly divided into either working stiffs or welfare bums. In reality, most “welfare” recipients also work — including quite a few military families. Thus, it’s absurd to suggest that working people on the whole resent “welfare” recipients. There’s also the myth that funding these assistance programs significantly drains the pocket of the average American. In reality, if you earn 50,000 a year, you pay about 10 cents a day for “welfare” — as opposed to about $16.50 a day to support corporations.

The biggest red herring here, however, is the use of the word “offensive”. The official spin is that the whole reason people want to take down Confederate monuments is that they are “offensive” to African-Americans. And hey, so what if they are thereby reminded of the bondage and torture and persecution their forebears endured? They should just get over it like us white folk have done.

It’s probably true that these monuments stir some unpleasant feelings among many African-Americans, but that isn’t the main reason for taking them down. The big problem is not the reaction they provoke among some blacks, but the reaction they provoke among some whites. Monuments, as mentioned, are not erected for the purpose of preserving history. They are erected for the purpose of preserving and inciting emotion – generally pride, honor, duty, etc.

So what response do these monuments provoke in today’s white supremacists? Exactly the response they were designed to. And that’s the main reason they need to come down.

9. Confederate flag and rainbow flag

Meanwhile, back at the loony bin of fairandbalanced Fox “News”. Star Parker declared that the Confederate flag and the rainbow flag “represent the exact same thing”. Parker, by the way, is both a right-wing extremist and an African-American; as such, she’s a popular token black on outlets like Fox, much like the appropriately deranged fellow who keeps popping up at presidential rallies. You have to hand it to them for doing their part for racial equality by demonstrating that African-Americans can be just as dopey as anyone else if they put their minds to it.

10. Butwhatabout Black Lives Matter

Speaking of African-Americans, there’s been another popular thread among reactionaries in comparing the antifascists to Black Lives Matter. And the comparison is somewhat valid, but not in the way they intend. The antifascists are peaceful protesters, and so are those affiliated with Black Lives Matter — which, unlike the guy in the White House, denounces violence promptly and unequivocally.

11. False flag

It goes without saying that, as usual, the right-wing loony fringe media from which your putative president obtains his Real News went ballistic with the conspiracy theories.  The organizer of the Nazi demonstration was actually a “liberal” spy. It was all a setup by Democrats. Obama was behind it. Hillary was behind it. Black Lives Matter was behind it. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe was behind it. Jews were behind it. Extraterrestrial lizard people were behind it. Etc., etc., etc.

12. What matters to the putative president

And of course in delivering his remarks about Charlottesville, the putative president made certain to emphasize what mattered to him most about the community: he owns a house and a winery there. And it is, naturally, the biggest and best winery in the whole fucking galaxy.

More on False Equivalence: “Both Sides Do It”

swordfight

In the previous post about False Equivalence, we mentioned the “Both Sides Do It” tactic, which consists of trying to deflect criticism from Faction A about the behavior of Faction B by maintaining that Faction A is just as guilty of the same thing. In particular, you’ll frequently hear the assertion that left-wing extremists are just as vicious and nasty and loony as right-wing extremists (or even more so). If this is true, then there should be ample illustrations, right? And if there were ample illustrations, then right-wing fanatics surely would produce them, right? So why is it that the examples they produce are almost invariably false equivalences?

If you comment disapprovingly, for instance, about the cancer that is Fox “News”, then chances are somebody will respond with “hey, they’re just providing balance to all the liberal media out there, such as MSNBC”.  But even if you grant that there is a “liberal” bias to the other networks (a huge, huge presumption to say the least), that bias is nowhere near as pronounced as that of Fox. Furthermore, no other network engages in deliberate distortion and deception and hate-baiting to anywhere near the extent that Fox does. Nor does any other network or media source enjoy the kind of power and influence Fox does. Fox is in a (classless) class all by itself.

When people compare “right-wing hate speech” with “left-wing hate speech”, they’re often talking about two very different things. They redefine incivility as it suits their needs. The “Both Sides Do It” mambo is in fact my favorite type of false equivalence, because it comes in so many varieties, comprising a virtual textbook on false equivalence variations. Here are a few of them:

1. The few vs. the many

As mentioned previously, Ann Coulter spent 352 pages failing spectacularly to substantiate her premise that “liberals hate conservatives” in Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.  In all those pages, she managed to produce only 4 possible examples of supposed “liberals” trashing “conservatives”. Four doesn’t seem like a very large number for the purposes of proving such a point — particularly when contrasted with, say, 163. That’s the minimum number of times Coulter herself attacked “liberals” in the same book.

What she did is called cherry picking, among other things. It also would be cherry picking to draw a conclusion about the right-wing punditocracy merely on the basis of her actions. But alas, she’s far from alone. This was only one of many books written by only one of many many right-wing extremists spending many many many hours and days and years writing such books and magazine articles and blogs, and endlessly prattling on radio and TV.

2. The specific vs. the general

And that was by no means Coulter’s only sin. She also tried to back up her “liberals hate conservatives” thesis by equating utterances by “liberals” about specific “conservatives” with a blanket condemnation of “conservatives” in general. With about 100,000,000 Americans who consider themselves “conservative”, you could trash some 50,000,000 specific “conservatives” without proving that you hate “conservatives” on the whole. And Coulter’s tally, let me remind you, isn’t quite that high. Meanwhile, she and her fellow right-wing pundits do indulge to the nth degree in vilifying “liberals” in general.

Quick, who is the “liberal” equivalent of Ann Coulter? If you answered Michael Moore, you’re buying into a narrative often pushed by the media — and by people who obviously have never read any of Moore’s books. He is probably indeed the most prominent among left-wing pundits, but he couldn’t be more different from Coulter. Far from attacking “conservatives” in general, he’s made a point of praising them where appropriate. (Likewise Al Franken and other outspoken leftists.) Hell, he even bent over backward to praise certain personal traits of George W. Bush, who on a political level has been one of his prime targets. Can you imagine Coulter (or Beck or Hannity or Limbaugh,etc. etc. etc.) saying a single word about Obama or “liberals” that isn’t utterly drenched in scorpion’s milk? Can you imagine Moore saying anything comparable to Coulter’s “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is that he did not go to The New York Times building”?

3. The fringe vs. the mainstream

Hang out on an Internet chat forum long enough, and you’ll hear some pretty nasty things from members of just about any and every “ism” conceivable. But does that mean that their actions are truly representative of their respective ideologies? Or are they just the extremist fringe of their groups?

And here is another area in which “liberals” differ from “conservatives”.  The left wing has its loony fringe too, but the Left tends to keep its loonies on the fringe. Lyndon LaRouche is officially a Democrat, but he’s always been shunned by the Democratic mainstream. President Obama distanced himself from Rev. Jeremiah Wright when the latter’s rhetoric became what was considered incendiary — or, if you prefer, when the public found out about the association. Either way, he exhibited some embarrassment about whom he’d rubbed elbows with. And by the way, Wright’s remarks were nowhere near as incendiary as they were painted; few were even that opinionated. Many of his utterances branded as “anti-American”  (“The government lied.”) and “racist” (“When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed.”)  were statements of verifiable fact. To a large extent, incivility was drastically redefined for a black librul.

The Right, on the other hand, openly and warmly embraces its own loony fringe, with the Tea Party working hand-in-hand with the (supposedly different) Republican Party. Indeed there’s really not much distinction anymore between “conservative” fringe and “conservative” mainstream. Anybody ever hear of Sarah Palin? Ted Cruz? Rick Perry? Michele Bachman?

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, at which the main activity (if not the only activity) is demonizing “liberals” has featured appearances by George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, along with Ann Coulter, Wayne LaPierre, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. During his tenure as Vice President, Dick Cheney was a guest on Rush Limbaugh’s program no fewer than 5 times. (Yes, this is the same Dick Cheney who said “I thought some of the things [Wright] said were absolutely appalling… I was stunned at what the reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his Web site.”) George H.W. Bush was a close ally of and paid promoter for vituperative, delusional, fascist-leaning cult leader (and convicted tax cheat) Sun Myung Moon, who among other things claimed to have presided over the posthumous wedding of Jesus. And so on. And on and on and on.

4. Words vs. actions

Sure, some leftists have unsavory things to say about, for example, “conservatives” who enact laws to marginalize gays. But “conservatives” who enact laws to marginalize gays, enact laws to marginalize gays.

Similarly, if you mention how hatefully and savagely Christians have treated non-Christians over the centuries, you may hear some Christians say, “well hey, I tried talking to some atheists on a website and they were very rude to me; so obviously they’re capable of being nasty too” No doubt. And there’s rarely a good excuse for rudeness.  But surely you don’t mean to put that in a league with burning people at the stake or skinning them alive? Or even bullying them on the schoolyard and in the classroom? Or even passing laws to discriminate against them? Or even barring them from belonging to certain organizations? The fact that some of these things were done with smiling faces while reciting Bible passages doesn’t make them any less hateful.

5. Different contexts

Another thing about the above example is that, while the rudeness may not be justified, it’s at least understandable when you consider all the oppression and persecution and marginalization atheists have endured. Christians have rarely if ever undergone anything comparable. (No, it doesn’t work to equate the atrocities committed by Christians during, say the Inquisition with the casualties that occurred during the scant handful of dictatorships that have been officially atheist — e.g., Stalinist Russia. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

Whenever you draw attention to the right’s deranged, irrational hatred of President Obama, you’re likely to hear someone remind you that the Left was rather vitriolic toward George W. Bush. True, but the context couldn’t be more different. Bush got into office by very shady means, and once there he left the nation open to the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil; and he used that attack as justification for a dishonestly supported invasion of a nation that had no involvement in it. Even if you’re a loyal Bushnik and you wholeheartedly support these (and other) actions he and his administration undertook, you must admit — at least if you’re intellectually honest– that “liberal” animosity toward Bush was based on things he actually did.

But if you ask Obama haters why they’re Obama haters, they’re likely to tell you that it’s because he’s a socialist, or he’s a fascist, or he’s a Kenyan, or he’s a muslim, or he’s an atheist, or he’s the Anti-Christ, or he should have given Bush the credit for nabbing bin Laden, or he’s trying to take away your guns, or he wants to outlaw fishing, or he’s let the United Nations take over our national parks, or he’s had the IRS target “conservative” organizations, or Benghazi something or other Benghazi. This is not to suggest that the current president is flawless; it’s just that the attacks against him rarely are rooted in reality. (If you want an honest and sane assessment of his shortcomings, you’d be better off turning to his left-wing critics than his right-wing attackers.)

Sometimes context makes all the difference in the world.

6. Analysis, speculation, and criticism vs. distortion, attribution, attack and eliminationism

Can you spot the difference between these two statements?

1. Conservatives claim to be pro-life, but they often support the death penalty and aggressive warfare that kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

2. Liberals are anti-American terrorist sympathizers. It’s time to resort to Second Amendment remedies to stop them.

If you really can’t, I suggest you do some thorough research and reflection before attempting to comment on this matter.

So are left-wingers really just as hateful and batty as right-wingers? Well, technically that’s a question open to debate, as there is no body of comprehensive and objective data on the topic. But there are four things we do know for certain: (1) Apparently there are differences in “liberal” and “conservative” brains. Research indicates that the former are generally better equipped to handle conflict, while the latter are more likely to react with fear. Which might explain why right-wingers are so often caught up in conspiracy theories and paranoid delusion. And gun mania. And which logically would make them more likely to attack The Others. (2) And they do indeed attack The Others. With lots of hateful, inflammatory rhetoric. Lots and lots and lots of hateful, inflammatory rhetoric. Not just from the fringe, but the mainstream. Not just against specific targets, but against millions of Americans they know nothing about. (3) Despite their best efforts, they’ve been consistently unable to document that the Left does the same thing to anywhere near the same degree. (4) Their attempts to demonstrate this almost invariably hinge on false equivalence.

Obama Derangement Syndrome and the Government Shutdown

rushmore

Just when you thought Obama Derangement Syndrome couldn’t possibly get any more deranged.  The competition was stiff, but the photo above is surely the silliest  to come out of the shutdown of the federal government.  This blatantly (and comically) Photoshopped image purports to depict how the evil Fuhrer in the White House was being “spiteful” by closing up national parks like Mount Rushmore.  What it really exhibits is the extreme extremes to which ODS victims are willing to go in order to embarrass and humiliate themselves.

There are at least a couple of different versions of this image in circulation, accompanying various and sundry blog posts devoted to the furtherance of Obama Derangement Syndrome. At least one of them ran a disclaimer to the effect that “the photo is fake, but the story is real”.

Despite the disclaimers, it’s certain that many ODS sufferers will interpret the photo literally, and figure that black copters from DC did indeed drape those enormous stone heads on the mountain. But that’s a relatively minor point. The important thing is that the story itself is only marginally less phony than the photo. The essential claims are that (a) President Obama (or “Hussein”, as such ODS blogs tend to call him) blocked all public views of the famed monument; (b) that he did so out of “spite” — or, for some reason or other, to “punish” the American people for something or other; and (c) that he defied requests from the state to remove some of the cones blocking the roads.

But the National Park Service (not the president) closed the access roads for reasons of safety rather than “spite”. It also isn’t true that the NPS thumbed its nose at the state’s request to remove some of the cones; in fact, the NPS complied with this request. Moreover, the federal government even made an arrangement with states to reopen this and two other national parks during the shutdown. Oh yeah, and the closures did not totally block the view of the monument.  Other than that, I suppose the story is somewhat in the neighborhood of accurate.

I wish I could say that rumors like these are rare occurrences.  But with the ODS invasion of our planet in full swing, no rumor is too bizarre to be cranked out; and no rumor that is cranked out is too bizarre for the masses to believe. And the government shutdown was yet another golden opportunity for such rumors to erupt. (Of course, a butterfly sneeze would be construed as a golden opportunity to tack some sinister plot on The White House.) The era of the Obama presidency will be remembered as the age when lunacy became not only acceptable but chic. And the media will have played a huge role in making it happen.

It has become standard procedure for the media to invoke the “both sides do it” refrain every time Republicans or “conservatives” exhibit childish, hateful or arrogant behavior — while in contrast, whenever a Democrat or “liberal” does something wrong, it tends to be characterized as exclusively Democratic or “liberal”.  Right-wingers say the president is a communist socialist Nazi Muslim atheist dictator who tramples on the Constitution and operates behind a veil of secrecy. The president says we need to overcome our differences and work together. The media report that both sides have indulged in partisan bickering.

The shutdown is no different.  The mainstream media consistently referred to it as “an impasse”, ” a stalemate”,  lack of “compromise”, “a game of chicken”, etc., etc., etc.  Which is to say, both sides were doing in it.  Well, to be fair, not all  media outlets said this. Some of them just cut to the chase and ascribed the whole debacle to the president’s  supposed refusal to “negotiate”.

In fact, the president bent over backward and tied himself into knots to compromise and negotiate (to an absolutely alarming degree for many of his supporters) in getting the Affordable Care Act (almost  universally ridiculed as “Obamacare”) passed into law.  But passed into law it was. It was signed by the president. And its constitutionality, which allegedly was in question. was upheld by a stridently “conservative” and shamelessly activist Supreme Court.  Of course, if you point out to ODS victims that the ACA is law, they have a very ODS response handy: slavery was once the law of the land too, and helping people to live and stay healthy is comparable to keeping them in chains, torturing them, and forcing them to do hard labor — in fact, it’s the same thing. No, really.

The time for negotiation and compromise has come and gone. Now it’s a matter of following the law or doing everything in your power to thwart it out of a political an/or personal vendetta. The GOP chose the latter. Not only did Republicans engineer the shutdown, they plotted and threatened to do so for months, and even changed the rules to make such a shutdown inevitable. They were quite willing not only to hold the American public hostage, but even to hold Congress itself hostage. And despite their avowed concern for fiscal responsibility, they have voted to repeal the ACA several times (though they knew perfectly well they had no chance of succeeding) at a cost of at least 55 million. And they show no signs of ever stopping the stupidity. They also knew damn well that this attempt at extortion via shutdown would not derail “Obamacare”, but they were quite willing to subject countless Americans to the pain and inconvenience anyway in order to express their all-important, lemming-brained contempt for the guy in the Oval Office — as if people weren’t already well aware of it.

But couldn’t Obama and the Democrats also have done something to prevent the shutdown? Well, sure. They could have caved in 100 percent instead of only 80 or 90, but that would have set a very dangerous precedent that likely would have had greater long-term consequences than the shutdown itself.

Even some hard-right Obama haters admit that the GOP masterminded the shutdown — before resuming their regularly scheduled hard-wired programming of just laying all the blame at the feet of Obama and the Democrats. Jonah Goldberg of the ever-entertaining National Review, while conceding that the GOP started it, still insists that nonetheless, “President Obama and Democrats deserve the lion’s share of the blame for not only prolonging it but also making it as painful as possible”, whatever that means; and that the president’s putative refusal to “negotiate” is due to a “vindictive streak” that causes him to “punish his enemies.” How many head scratches can we work in there, Jonah?

Or some of them tried to tango around the blame game by arguing that even if the Republicans are to blame, they had some kind of Constitutional authority for their actions, so they’re really not to blame. Cute. Maybe we should point the finger at Thomas Jefferson instead.

Many of them, however, just skip the preliminaries and get right to the Obama blame impulse. When in doubt, blame Obama. The symptoms of Obama Derangement Syndrome, after all are: (a) a passionate conviction that absolutely anything the president says or does stems from sinister motives, and (b) the passionate conviction that anything that goes wrong in the U.S., if not the entire world, is directly traceable to the 44th chief executive.

Lest we forget, Barack Obama was democratically elected president of The United States. Twice. Indeed, he is the only president since FDR to be elected twice with a majority of the popular vote. And one thing he was elected to do was reform the healthcare system. But to the ODS crowd, he is a tyrannical dictator who somehow has unlawfully seized control of “their” country, and is now working his evil plan to control the universe — by, among other things, helping to ensure affordable healthcare. When there is, for example, a turnover of military brass in his administration as in any administration, it must be a “Stalinist purge” to install commanders “willing to kill Americans.” In other versions of the tale, he’s specifically purging Christians from the military. Or his critics. Or Romney supporters. Or all of the above.

And once the shutdown had ended, the president urged that saner heads prevail:

And now that the government is reopened, and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio, and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do.

What? Focus on facts more than propaganda? What a radical suggestion. And to the ODS brigade, it was more than just a recommendation. It was an imperious “demand” that you “ignore” anyone who “disagrees” him.

Okay, ODS sufferers, listen up: I’m really tired of having to defend President Obama, or any other politician, from wacky rumors and accusations. I really and truly am — there are other, far more important things I’d rather be discussing here. Can we just agree that you’ve made fools of yourselves enough for the time being and give it a little rest? Mind you, I’m not asking you to abandon hatred and delirium permanently; I realize they’re what gets you out of bed in the morning. But can you just allow a little time for both yourselves and me to catch our breath a little? Pretty please?

Redefining Incivility

There was an interesting article recently in USA Today about the anniversary of the Tuscon shooting. Not so  interesting in terms of its content, maybe, but interesting in terms of how it was presented. The gist of the article was that “civility still eludes us”. But the implication was the meme that when it comes to incivility, “both sides do it”. It doesn’t really use that phrase, mind you; but it gyrates around it very seductively. Trouble is, the article comes up way short of presenting evidence that “both sides do it” equally (an absurd premise we’ve discussed before).

There are several examples of uncivil conduct mentioned in the article, but all were committed by right-wingers; they just aren’t always identified as such. It mentions ” bickering over the Native American speaker” at a memorial service for the Tuscon victims, when in fact the “bickering” was really scathing and sarcastic attacks from right-wing media. It mentions Republican congressman Joe Wilson yelling “You lie” in the middle of a presidential speech. It mentions that  “[a] Republican leader last month walked out of the House chamber rather than allow a Democrat the chance to speak.”  It mentions that “at town-hall meetings, voters booed lawmakers and shouted down fellow citizens who tried to express differing viewpoints” without specifying that those “voters” were Tea Party activists. It mentions that “opponents of a lawmaker flood a congressional switchboard with calls to disable the phone system and prevent others from airing views” without mentioning that this tactic was used (more than once) by Republicans.

But what’s most interesting is that the writer exhibits a trend that has become quite common in media discussion of this topic: redefining incivility in different terms for “conservatives” and “liberals” to make it appear that they are more or less equally uncivil- or even that “liberals” are more uncivil. Michael Moore, who appears never to have had an uncivil word for anyone in his life – he even made a point of complimenting George W. Bush as a person, even as he expressed outrage over how Bush came into office and horror at what he did in office – has more than once been called the “Ann Coulter of the left”, likening him to one of the most venomous in an endless procession of venomous right-wing pundits.

The article contains this interesting quote from Republican representative Jeff Flake of Arizona:

“Given the mess that the country’s in, I can never blame constituents for being angry,” he said. “Far be it from me to try to call out my constituents for passionate feelings on things.”

Oh. So the numerous death threats that have been made against President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are just a matter of “passionate feelings” about “the mess the country’s in”. So why haven’t a comparable number of threats been made against Republicans in Congress? Or against George W. Bush about the mess the country was in then?

In a desperate bid to dispel the notion that “conservatives” are uncivil and to pin incivility on “liberals”, the media will even resort to things like this:

At a 2009 constituent meet-and-greet at a Holbrook Safeway, one very similar to Giffords’ 2011 event, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., left abruptly after some people in line to see her started shouting and demanding that she answer questions.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I can’t help getting the impression that the writer is trying to shift the fault for the detractors’ rudeness onto Kirkpatrick herself – after all, she’s the one who “left abruptly” rather than respond to “questions”. The writer seems to be parroting the Republican spin that she “turned her back on her constituents”.

And here’s a real gem quoted from John Genette, identified as president of Black Mountain Communications and the organizer of a project at Arizona State University called Civil Dialogue:

“If you’re a lefty and you hear that the sun is yellow, you might believe it, but if you hear the sun is yellow according to Fox News, you might say that sometimes it’s reddish,” he said. “There is a deep distrust of the other side.”

Oh. So challenging the hateful, factually deficient ramblings of Fox “News”  is  motivated only by “distrust of the other side”. Got it. And although Genette himself doesn’t say so there is, as the article reflects, a recurring narrative that speaking up against hateful rhetoric is itself hateful rhetoric, or even worse. Here’s the type of discourse that often occurs:

RIGHT-WINGER: Liberals are communists, they’re lazy, they’re Nazis, they’re evil, they’re liars, they’re anti-American, and they’re destroying MY country. They want to outlaw prayer and penalize hard-working people and euthanize old people. Thank God (whom they don’t believe in) I have my Second Amendment rights to defend MY country against these scumbags.

NON-RIGHT-WINGER: I don’t think it’s very civil to say things like that, and it could inspire some unstable person to commit violence.

RIGHT-WINGER: See what I mean? I told you these people were nasty!

MEDIA: And there you have it, folks. Clearly, both sides do it equally.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Just start paying attention, and I guarantee that you’ll see this pattern repeated many times over.

Consider the article’s piece de resistance: Sarah’s Palin’s crosshairs, targeting Democrats in Congress who committed the unpardonable offense of supporting healthcare reform. There has been probably more outrage over the reaction to this ad than there was over the ad itself, with many declaring it the ultimate mark of incivility to suggest that it may have been one element that inspired the Tuscon gunman. But to assume flatly that it wasn’t is to divorce it from the context of the eliminationist extremism (and gun glorification) that produced it. It may be incorrect to think that the crosshaired map exerted any influence on the shooter’s unbalanced brain, but it’s certainly not unreasonable to consider it a possibility. Indeed, not long before she was shot, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (one of Sarah’s “targets”) expressed concern about that very thing. And she wasn’t just being paranoid; her office already had been vandalized.

And here’s how Sarah herself responded:

“And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.”

Good grief. It isn’t enough to deny that there may have been something inappropriate about the map. It isn’t enough to call such criticism an “intolerant” attempt to “muzzle dissent”. It isn’t enough to claim that her insults have been merely “imagined”. It isn’t enough to portray herself as the innocent victim of a supposedly hostile media that in fact has been kissing her ass since she left the starting gate. It isn’t even enough to profess her inoffensiveness by working in the offensive term “blood libel.” No, this woman also has to shift the culpability to her critics for the very type of tragedy that has just occurred. Really classy, Sarah. She all but points an accusatory finger at Tina Fey.

Speaking of whom, many people consider it supremely uncivil when someone ridicules Palin’s apparent vapidity. But bear in mind that she herself appeared on “Saturday Night Live” alongside Fey doing an unflattering impression of her and Alec Baldwin saying uncomplimentary things about her. And bear in mind that nobody is calling her a commie terrorist Muslim Anti-Christ.  And contrary to what she’s claimed, there is no evidence that anyone has been making death threats against her, much less in numbers comparable to those against Democrats.

What did happen was that when she complained on her Facebook page about author Joe McGinnis moving next door to her, he received 5000 hostile emails, some containing death threats, within 24 hours. It was purely by chance that McGinnis, himself an Alaskan, acquired the house while writing a book about her. But like a civil neighbor, she framed him as a peeping tom and a menacing stalker.

Comedian Orlando Jones (who is neither a politician nor a political pundit) tweets jokes constantly, but one in particular aroused a great deal of ire because it included a punchline about “liberals” killing Sarah Palin. It was clearly a joke – maybe not a very good joke, maybe a tasteless joke, maybe even a dumb joke. But to the spinmeisters it was much more – it was solid confirmation that incivility is standard behavior for “liberals”.

Okay, fine. Deny him the benefit of a doubt if you wish. But does that one spontaneous remark really put him in a league with Tea Party leaders who deliver prepared speeches urging the faithful to arm themselves in readiness for taking out elected officials if they don’t get their way? Does it put him in a league with the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks and Ann Coulters who churn out hatred day after day after day? Does it put him in a league with the anonymous Arkansan(s) who brutally killed a cat belonging to a Democratic aide and then scrawled “liberal” on its body?

Oh yeah, one more little thing. Jones was adult enough to apologize for his comment. And as long as we’re insistent upon redefining incivility as the circumstances warrant, let’s see if we can at least agree that civility includes – pay attention, Sarah – a willingness to accept responsibility for one’s uncivil actions. Like Orlando Jones. Or maybe Keith Olbermann.

While Sarah was invoking the “I’m rubber, you’re glue”, defense, Olbermann – probably the only left-wing pundit who comes within light-years of the acrimony that’s standard issue for right-wing pundits – was saying this:

“Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence.”

Bit of a difference, wouldn’t you say?

Of Tea Parties, Terrorists and Civil Discourse

Carolyn Kaster/ AP

As you may have heard, the media made a rising star out of Ryan Rhodes, the founder of the Iowa Tea Party, when he spoke out of turn at an appearance by President Obama, yelling at the president and confronting him about Joe Biden calling Tea Partiers terrorists. If you want your 15 minutes of fame, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get it by being rude and disrespectful toward this particular president. (Remember the “You lie!” craze?) In a more genteel time, Rhodes’ conduct would have netted him a rap on the knuckles from Miss Manners, but in this era, it makes him a national hero.  The grotesque irony of a teabagger lecturing anyone about civil conduct seems to have been quite lost on the media; it’s rather like Bill Clinton lecturing someone on marital fidelity.

Rhodes was referring to a remark supposedly made by the Vice President in a private meeting with fellow Democrats. Or maybe someone else said it and he merely implied his assent. Or maybe someone else said it and he failed to pummel them senseless. In any case, there’s no confirmation it actually happened, and the veep flatly denies it. But who needs confirmation when you have Internet rumors? As teabaggers have demonstrated repeatedly, the only proof they need of a rumor’s truth is that it’s been repeated by Fox and/ or Drudge.

To his credit, after Obama had finished addressing the inquiries of people who observed appropriate protocol, he circled back and attempted to engage Rhodes in an actual dialogue. (If you don’t grasp how extraordinary that is, try to visualize  George W. Bush or even Ronald Reagan -aka The Great Communicator- allowing hecklers to go head-to-head with him.) He first denied the Biden rumor, then tried to have a civil discussion about the issues. Rhodes, however, was really just interested in hurling the same accusation over and over.

He was reinforced by an unidentified woman who zoomed in to confront the president with the accusation that another member of his administration, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, had also called them terrorists. That’s also untrue, but at least it has a tenuous basis in reality. But just for good measure, the lady added another assertion that she seems to have just pulled out of her ass: that 90 percent of domestic terrorist attacks are carried out by “left-wing environmental radicals”.

Among other things, she seems to be confused by the cute and trendy trick of classifying eco-saboteurs as terrorists.  While eco-saboteurs may destroy property by what could be considered violent means, their objectives do not include taking lives – in fact, they’re motivated by a reverence for life that may actually cloud their judgment about how best to express it.

Even the most extreme and violent of left-wing organizations, the Weathermen (who were politically and not ecologically motivated) were responsible for at worst a handful of deaths, which were accidental or coincidental to their operations. (They detonated bombs to damage property, but gave advance notice so the property could be evacuated.) When a terrorist kills someone accidentally, it’s the accident part that’s accidental, rather than the killing part.

Decades later, a former member of the group, William Ayers – now a respected professor and (peaceful) political organizer – made headlines because at some point in the more recent past he’d crossed paths, however tangentially, with an aspiring politician named Barack Obama.  This sixth-degree separation was enough for one Sarah Palin (who’d later become the Tea Party’s de facto figurehead) to proclaim that Obama had been “palling around with terrorists”. Hey, it’s no problem if someone says it about him. It’s only when he, or someone he works with, allegedly returns the favor that it becomes an outrage.

Well, suppose the favor really has been returned. Suppose both Obama and Biden are lying (they are politicians, after all). Suppose Biden, or someone in that room, or the mother-in-law of an acquaintance of someone in that room, really did say that Tea Partiers are terrorists, or behave like terrorists, or begin with the same letter of the alphabet as terrorists. Whatever might have possessed a person to say such a thing? Well, hmmm….

“If you have the unalienable right to be armed, then you have the right to kill government agents who try to disarm you.” (Jeff Mattox, Tea Party activist)

“If ballots don’t work, bullets will”  (Joyce Kaufman, speaker at a Tea Party rally in Florida)

“We are all becoming slaves to our government”  (Alabama Tea Party candidate Rick Barber, whose campaign literature depicted an armed “army of voters”)

“People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around. I tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”  (Sharron Angle, Tea Party candidate in Nevada)

“I’m going to use my training and become one of those domestic terrorists you’re so afraid of in the reports”.  (Charles Alan Dyer, former marine and Tea Partier arrested for raping a 7-year-old girl)

“Political power comes from the barrel of a gun. They’re pushing us to our limits.” (Speaker at a New Mexico Tea Party rally)

If we had our guns [during the time of the Nazis’ reign in Germany], we would have fought a bloody battle. So, keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. Take back America. Don’t let them take the country into Socialism. And I refer again, Hitler’s party was National Socialism. And that’s what we are having here right now, which is bordering on Marxism.” (Kitty Werthmann at a” How to Take Back America” Conference in St. Louis)

(The Second Amendment) “was clearly intended for self defense as well as, and more specifically, to keep the government on notice of an armed citizenry.” (Katherine Crabill, Tea Party candidate in Virginia)

These, mind you, are just a FEW utterances from individuals KNOWN to have DIRECT Tea Party affiliations.  There are many, many other such declarations by others of the same stripe, some of whom have actually carried out violent and even deadly acts.  You can read about some of them here.

Of course, in promoting the defensive meme that “both sides do it” (which, as we’ve previously noted, is a gross exaggeration at best), people often quote Obama’s comment that “If they bring a knife, we bring a gun.” To which perhaps the only appropriate response is… “Are you fucking kidding me???” Obama was very obviously using a metaphor. (Look it up if you slept through English class.) He wasn’t expecting anyone to literally bring a knife or a gun. But when Tea Partiers say “We come Unarmed… This Time”, they’re clearly NOT speaking metaphorically. And they’re sure as hell not being metaphorical when they actually BRING guns. It may be a stretch to call the Tea Party a terrorist outfit, but the potential for violence which could be classified as terrorism is very much present, and it’s not surprising that Napolitano et al are being vigilant.

Consider the OKC bomber, who by any standard was a full-blown terrorist. He killed 168 people, none by accident. And he was by no means a “left-wing environmentalist radical”. In fact, he was about as far away from being one as you can get. In his views, his attitudes and his words he would have blended right in at a Tea Party rally, ranting about “Second Amendment remedies”, “patriotism” and defense against the “tyranny” of the ballot box.

Rhodes, by the way, demonstrated later that same day just how sincere he was about “civil discourse”. By suggesting the president is a socialist.