Politics & Policy

The Tired ‘But Pence Might Be Worse’ Argument

One major advantage that President Trump enjoys is that while he has vehement critics on both the left and on the right, it is unlikely the two groups will ever work in tandem for long. The Trump critics on the right generally want a return to pre-Trump conservatism, emphasizing traditional values, personal responsibility, a rejection of isolationism, and a genuine free market and small government with no corporatism. The Trump critics on the left generally want to get rid of everyone to the right of them.

We saw this in the response to Trump’s selection of Mike Pence. A lot of Trump critics, myself included, thought the Pence pick was about as solid and reassuring a selection as he could possibly make: he was more experienced, more well-versed in policy, more level-headed than Trump and exponentially more consistently conservative. But to a lot of people on the left, Pence’s qualities didn’t matter.

To the Left, despite their belief that Trump is a devilish figure and a major threat to destroy the country, Pence is no real improvement – meaning the Left’s problem with Trump is not that he’s uniquely crude, ill-informed, erratic, narcissistic, misogynist, etcetera; it’s that he’s a Republican.

This week in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer makes the argument explicit: “The Danger of President Pence: Trump’s critics yearn for his exit. But Mike Pence, the corporate right’s inside man, poses his own risks.” If you genuinely believe that a Pence presidency would be every bit as bad for the country as Trump’s . . .  well, I guess you won’t bother putting any effort into impeachment, huh?

Large swaths of the Left seem to believe acknowledging any positive qualities in any living figure on the Right is just too dangerous.

Then again, how is their current approach working out for them?

Is Someone Trying to Blow Up Civil War Reenactors?

A story from outside Washington that deserves more national attention: A reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek of the Civil War was temporarily interrupted as law enforcement dealt with some sort of explosive device.

Local and federal law enforcement officials declined Sunday to describe the “suspicious item” found at the battlefield here about 4 p.m. Saturday, which prompted law enforcement to evacuate the immediate area. Several re-enactors said they were told it looked like a pipe bomb.

In a statement Sunday, the FBI said that “the device was located during an annual re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek. No persons were harmed and the device was rendered safe by the Virginia State Police.”

Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman, said Sunday that the bureau “was not elaborating on the device.”

The FBI is investigating the incident, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Virginia State Police; the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; and the Middletown Police Department.

The battle re-enacted Sunday took place on Oct. 19, 1864, and was a Union victory.

Last week, organizers of the Cedar Creek event posted a warning on the group’s website.

“We would like to make everyone aware that the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation has received a letter threatening bodily harm to attendants of this event,” the foundation said in the statement. “With this in mind security has been increased and we ask that everyone work with us for a safe and enjoyable event.”

What’s going on here?

The organizers and law enforcement seem particularly tight-lipped about what the threatening message stated. One reenactor quoted in the story relates that “the letter sent to the foundation threatened that excrement would be thrown or weapons fired at the reenactors.” Why would someone hate a Civil War reenactment so much?

The simplest and most logical explanation is that this is a new, violent extension of the effort to remove Confederate statues. Down in New Orleans, the now-removed Battle of Liberty Place Memorial had the inscription: “United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.” One does not have to be a bleeding-heart liberal to believe that public squares should not feature inscriptions touting “white supremacy.”

But to terrorize or threaten a Civil War reenactment is a completely different; this marks an indisputable attack on America’s history. The participants at Cedar Creek bristled with resentment at the suggestion that their passion for studying and re-enacting history is driven by a desire to celebrate the Confederacy or white supremacy. (For starters, it’s a Union victory!)

We live in an era where far too many Americans remain profoundly ignorant of even basic facts about their own country’s history:

A 2012 ACTA survey found that less than 20 [percent] of American college graduates could accurately identify the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation, less than half could identify George Washington as the American general at Yorktown ((Virginia)), and only 42 [percent] knew that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II.

And somebody wants to put a stop to a tradition that gets Americans to travel to Civil War battlefields and actually learn what happened there? Who did this, the Proudly Ignorant Insurgency? The Counter-Education Guerillas? The Anti-History Brigade?

If Civil War reenactments are somehow unacceptable because of people playing the roles of Confederate soldiers, how much further must this effort to erase history go? Museums? Books? Movies or television shows?

(There is also the possibility that someone made the threat and left the device to discredit the effort to remove Confederate statues. If this was an episode of Law & Order, Bones, Castle, or any other police procedural drama, the big twist would be that the would-be bomber’s motive was personal, not political.)

You no doubt have heard the Santayana quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” I can’t help but wonder if those who did worst in history class are determined to destroy it, because it reminds them of their inadequacies.

Meanwhile, We’re Still Looking for the Las Vegas Shooter’s Motive

Speaking of mysteriously unexplained acts of violence . . . 

A few days after the Las Vegas shooting, one of the talking heads on CNN offered a pretty plausible supposition, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation knew a lot more than they had said publicly so far. Police no doubt had searched the shooter’s home, unlocked his phone and computers and any other electronic devices, and were interviewing all known significant associates.

That supposition seemed reasonable . . .  but now we can’t be quite so sure. Maybe the authorities don’t know much more than what they’re saying, and the traditional methods of investigation have come up empty. The massacre occurred two weeks ago, and the public is still waiting for a clear answer on the shooter’s motive. Even worse, the official timeline of events keeps changing, and seems to get weirder each day. Why did he stop shooting after just ten minutes? Why did it take an hour to breach the door? Why did he have explosives in his car? How can a meticulously planned mass murder be perpetrated by a person with no criminal record, no known chemical addictions, no recorded history of mental illness, no religious or political affiliations, and according to the first study of his brain, apparently no tumors, injuries or abnormalities?

No doubt the men and women of law enforcement at all levels are giving their best effort in challenging circumstances, and it’s strangely reassuring to see them frustrated as much as we are. After an event like this, there is a deeply human hunger for answers. If people don’t get them from the proper authorities, there will be no shortage of conspiracy theorists willing to fill the vacuum. There are three explanations for mass shootings in the United States that the public has grown used to: Islamist extremism, alienated teenage rage, or a political extremist. It’s not surprising to see people attempting to shoehorn the Las Vegas shooter into the first or third options; that answer may not be right, based upon the available evidence, but at least it “makes sense,” so to speak.

ADDENDA: The Citizen-Tribune takes a longer look at the sudden interest in unseating Republican senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.

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