Is it time for another discussion about whether heated political rhetoric is nudging the mentally unstable to believe that violence is justified?
Or are there no broader lessons to be learned here?
A man who was firing shots, waving an American flag and “yelling and spewing some information about President Trump” was shot and wounded by police early Friday at Trump National Doral, the golf and spa resort owned by President Donald Trump in northwest Miami-Dade.
The shooting at the resort — located off the Palmetto Expressway at Northwest 36th Street and 87th Avenue — happened about 1:30 a.m., Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said during a pre-dawn news conference outside the resort that was carried live by local television stations.
I’m fine with the “no broader lessons to be learned here” approach that a lot of people applied to the House Republicans’ softball practice and other physical attacks on GOP lawmakers. I’ll happily accept the conclusion that crazy and violent people are just crazy and violent, and that there’s no point in trying to police the rhetoric of the politically passionate, because we don’t believe in restricting speech (other than direct threats) and the link between furious denunciations and specific acts of violence is far too tenuous to justify the restrictions.
But if that’s the rule . . . then that’s the rule for everyone. I just want the same rule to apply to both sides. I’m also open to the argument that our rhetoric is demonizing — er, dehumanizing (“animals!”) — our political opponents, and that this is feeding into a mentality that political violence is justified.
But if there are no broader lessons to be learned from the Alexandria shooting, or this one at a Trump property, or the guy who mailed white powder to Donald Trump Jr.’s wife, then we shouldn’t drag out the tired clichés about the need to “change the tone” the next time someone claiming to be affiliated with a right-wing cause commits some terrible act of violence. Human frailty and the capacity to do great evil do not rest entirely one side of the political spectrum.
As it is now, far too many Americans believe that heated rhetoric does stir up violent impulses — but only on the other side.
‘I’m Just Over It. Nobody Cares.’ It’s Morally Wrong, But Not Factually Wrong
Some folks are giving retiring Tennessee senator Bob Corker some grief over this statement about fiscal responsibility and the deficit and debt: “Yeah, I’m just over it. Nobody cares. The president isn’t going to deal with it, he made it clear in the campaign.”
No doubt a significant portion of the people who are giving Corker the grief voted for Obama twice, despite the trillion-dollar deficits in the early years of his presidency. Acknowledging that nobody cares is not a declaration that nobody should care. But I cannot help but suspect that there’s a certain cynical joy in Democrats when they point out how Republican lawmakers have stopped caring about the deficit and the debt. The issue has been put before the American electorate, again and again and again, for a generation. Just about every time, a majority of the electorate rejects the premise that we have to control spending. They just don’t see it as a tangible threat and problem, certainly not on the scale of insufficient economic opportunity, stagnant wages, crime, illegal immigration, terrorism . . .
Should they care about the debt? Absolutely. But Republicans have made these arguments until they’re blue in the face, and they’ve learned the hard way that the support for “controlling spending” is a mile wide and an inch deep. Everybody likes it in theory until you actually start cutting spending. When push comes to shove, voters believe it can be resolved by raising taxes on the nebulously-defined “rich.”
How many times are Republicans supposed to campaign for office by promising to drag the country, kicking and screaming, down a path that it needs but doesn’t want? Why should one party promise the economic equivalent of kale and Brussels sprouts when the other party is promising free all-you-can-eat ice cream? It’s pretty rich to see Democrats scoffing about the GOP not caring about the deficits and the debt when liberal writers have argued for years, explicitly, that deficits don’t matter.
Laurel, Yanny, the Internet’s Weirder Corners, and Urban Legends
Wired steps in to explain the mystery of Laurel or Yanny:
The higher frequency sounds in the recording make people hear “Yanny,” whereas the lower frequencies cause others to swear they hear “Laurel.” What you hear depends on what sounds your brain is paying attention to, your past experiences, and what you’re expecting to hear. What word you experience might also have to do with your age. Older adults often start losing their hearing within the higher-frequency range, meaning it’s possible that more young people hear “Yanny.”
I heard “Laurel” so clearly when I first ran across this that I thought it had to be some sort of massive trick where some people pretended to hear “Yanny” to gaslight the rest of us. Then my wife listened, after hearing nothing about the Internet trend, and she said she clearly heard “Yanny.” I knew immediately that meant she had been replaced with an alien pod person, so I tied her up and locked her in the basement. No, just kidding, but it was fascinating to see someone you’ve been talking to your entire life can hear something completely different. (“Honey, when you asked me to take out the trash, it must have been at a higher frequency that I can’t hear.”)
The New York Times developed a neat doohickey that allows you to adjust the tone to increase your likelihood of hearing “Laurel” or “Yanni.”
A couple times a year, the Internet just drops some odd phenomenon in our lap, such as the dress or hoaxes such as President Trump’s fascination with “the Gorilla Channel.” Heck, just in the political realm, we’ve had plenty of hoaxes, unverified claims, and “fake news.” The “whitey tape” in 2008, the various Birther conspiracy theories*, Sarah Palin and Trig, the 9/11 Truthers. It might be time to put tales of Trump’s sordid acts with Russian prostitutes in Moscow in that category.
One might think that the rise of the Internet, Google, and mobile phones would be the end of urban legends; it’s a lot easier to check things out and search for verifying evidence now than in the pre-Internet age. If there had really been an arcade video game released only in the Portland area in the early 1980s, that was actually some sort of nefarious psychology experiment that triggered amnesia, insomnia, and hallucinations, it would have left a paperwork trail — which company made it, which arcades had it, names of people affected by its sinister programming, etcetera.
In the pre-Internet days, if you heard a strange story about something weird that happened to a kid in the next town over, it was much harder to verify or disprove. When you heard about a cousin of a friend of a friend who went to New Orleans or Las Vegas, got blackout drunk, and woke up in a bathtub of ice with a note saying their kidney had been removed . . . you could be fairly sure it was nonsense, but not entirely sure. Bad things did happen to tourists when they wandered into the wrong neighborhood, and it turns out that the tale began with an authentic claim . . . that was only partially true: In the late 80s, a Turkish man named Ahmet Koc had agreed to sell a kidney, then made up a story about being tricked afterwards.
But the Internet just created a whole new canvas for urban legend creators: Slenderman, stairs in the forest, Wikipedia pages that predict the future. And perhaps real-world events have cultivated a sense that the barrier between “possible” and “impossible” doesn’t seem as firm as it used to be. Donald Trump is president of the United States. Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn. Bill Cosby was a monster all along. Kanye West is apparently transforming himself into a conservative hero.
Disney really does have some creepy abandoned properties. No word on any ghosts or monsters, though.
*Every now and then I get an e-mail accusing me of being one of the figures who started the birther nonsense. Loren Collins wrote a nice, detailed history of the birther rumor that covers my minor early role accurately — that I always thought it was extraordinarily unlikely, and publicly urged the Obama campaign to release his birth certificate to dispel the absurd rumor that his middle name was not Hussein but “Muhammad.”
ADDENDA: Michael Brendan Dougherty shares my wariness about the effects of widespread legal sports gambling: “How much of America’s economic success is built on a work ethic bolstered by Protestant norms, and on Protestant laws against gambling? How much of the more fatalistic, resentful attitudes about economic success that suffuse Punter’s cultures results from the wide presence of this vice? Would you chance your arm on America’s work culture improving after we become a Punter’s nation? Paddy Power’s prediction markets are getting creative enough. Soon you might be able to place that bet.”