Crisis of Citizenship

A tourist holds a “Make America Great Again” hat outside the White House, August 2, 2018. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Where are the adults? Spreading lies, making common cause with lunatics, attacking kids.    

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE L et me be direct about this: You people are a bunch of hysterical ninnies, and it is time for you to grow the hell up.

You know who you are.

The Covington fiasco has proved to be a clarifying moment. And here is what has been made clear: Much of the American media is no longer engaged in journalism. It is engaged in opposition research and in what is sometimes known among political operatives as “black p.r.”—the sinister twin of ordinary public relations. As Joy Behar, as profoundly dim and tedious a person as American public life has to offer, forthrightly confessed: The hysteria and outright dishonesty surrounding the Covington students had nothing to do with them. It has to do with narrowly partisan, selfish, deeply stupid, entirely unpatriotic, childish, foot-stamping, fingers-in-the-ears, weeping, cooties-loathing, teary-eyed, tremulous, quavering, pansified, gormless, deceitful, dishonorable, and cynical politics of the lowest kind — the politics of Us and Them.

We’ve all seen how this goes, 10,000 times. Some character does — or at least is said to have done — something in the range between unseemly and horrifying, and he has some political attachment, however vague. Cynical political operatives and the low-minded partisans who enjoy being treated like idiots engage in what in normal times would forthrightly be regarded as a smear: “That mad bomber had pro-Trump posts on his Facebook page, ergo President Trump bears some kind of responsibility for this.”

Here are some of the idiots and idiotic institutions who engaged in that recently in the matter of Cesar Sayoc. Chris Truax in USA Today: “Trump bears moral responsibility for pipe bombs. Denying it just makes things worse.” Jonathan Chait, New York: “Bomber Cesar Sayoc is a By-product of Trump’s Party.” Even Rick Wilson debased himself, writing in The Daily Beast: “Of Course Donald Trump Inspired Cesar Sayoc’s Alleged Terrorism.” That’s a particularly asinine headline: For Trump’s culpability, it’s “of course,” while Sayoc’s crimes are “alleged.” That isn’t the kind of stupidity that happens by accident. These claims are pure intellectual dishonesty. They are smears, and there is no good-faith case to be made for them. All of these writers should be ashamed.

It is always easier to appreciate when the roles are reversed. Democrats know that there is a big difference between would-be mass assassin James T. Hodgkinson embracing Bernie Sanders, and Bernie Sanders embracing would-be mass assassin James T. Hodgkinson. The fact that Hodgkinson is a progressive doesn’t tell us anything about progressives.

And the fact that a couple of children in MAGA hats engaged in boorish behavior — which isn’t even a fact, as it turns out, but a lie constructed and wholesaled with malice aforethought — wouldn’t have told us one damn thing about Donald J. Trump, his administration, or his political supporters at large. The fact that we had a momentary national moral crisis over the (as is turns out, fictitious) actions of a couple of nobody teenagers is all the evidence anybody needs of the fundamentally hysterical and unserious times in which we live. In a sane world, nobody cares about whether a 16-year-old boy somewhere . . . smirked.

Everybody who has pretended like that smirk tells us something serious about the state of the world is a liar and a fraud. I don’t mean the people who were legitimately taken in by the deceit — especially those who have had the honor and self-respect to admit their errors and correct them — but those who willfully persist in the lie. I’m talking about you, Ruth Graham of Slate, still trying to justify by whatever pathetic means are available what everybody with any sense knows to have been an exercise in pure horses***. I’m talking about you, editors of the New York Times. You sorry specimens are poor excuses for journalists, which, of course, we already knew. What’s more relevant here is that you are bad citizens. Trafficking in lies and distortions because you think the guy in the White House is kind of gross is unworthy of adults with responsible positions in a free society that depends on honest and functional institutions.

As some of you may recall, I wrote a little book called The Case against Trump. I didn’t think much of him in 2016. I don’t think much of him now. But we aren’t three tweets away from the Holocaust. Nobody seriously believes that we are, unless they are insane. Sane people who insist that the United States in 2019 is something like Germany in the 1930s are liars. They don’t really believe it. They have an investment in hysteria.

Those of you who play along with that — who enjoy being lied to and manipulated — are pathetic in the literal sense of that word. What the hell is wrong with you?

Of course Alyssa Milano is an idiot for insisting that those stupid red hats are “the new white hood.” You know who is even more idiotic than Alyssa Milano? Anybody who gives the furry crack of a rat’s patootie what Alyssa Milano thinks about anything. She’s a moron at 500 yards and a lunatic at a thousand. You know it. If she happens to be a moron and a lunatic who is on your side, that doesn’t make her any less of a moron and a lunatic. And making common cause with morons and lunatics can backfire: Ask a conservative about Ted Nugent.

We all have our jobs to do in a republic. Newspaper reporters are supposed to cover what’s going on in the world. I don’t know what you call people who cover what’s going on on Twitter. I have a few ideas, but I don’t think I can print them here.

My own suspicion is that this moment of mass hysteria, like other hysterias before it, eventually must collapse under the weight of its own tediousness. But I cannot say with any confidence that I expect that to happen soon. And it will not happen at all until Americans start deciding to take on the difficult responsibilities of citizenship, which starts with acting like a goddamned grownup. Nicholas Sandmann is a 16-year-old kid — but the people who made this empty episode into a national crisis are not. They are grown adults, and answerable for their actions.

It’s time for them to start acting like it.

Abraham Lincoln, who endured harder times than any of you idiots are likely to see, insisted: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” And you’re out there trying to get some obscure nobody fired from her job at a bank because her son was standing 20 feet from a guy who had a look on his face you don’t like? Grow up.

For God’s sake, do us all a favor and knock it off.

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