The Tuesday

Politics & Policy

Hysteria Is Not a Program

(Jeenah Moon/Reuters)
Partisans, both Right and Left, are practicing not politics as such but something closer to a blend of group therapy and role-playing game.

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, politics, culture, and the unconquerable stupidity of the American press. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link. Subscribing to “The Tuesday” is free, but subscribing to National Review is not, because this content does not just exnihilate onto the Internet. The best thing you can do to support our work is to become a National Review subscriber, which comes with sundry benefits that you may find of interest. I am, as always, grateful for your support of our work.

Mirror Images

Not that everybody is enchanted with everything they read in this space. Far from it.

Last week, I wrote a couple of pieces that irritated readers Right and Left. And so, proceeding in a politically dextrosinistral fashion . . .

A number of right-leaning readers wrote in, occasionally spitting with rage, to protest my suggestion that the time is ripe for a bipartisan deal on gun policy. The refrain was, for the most part: “No compromise!” Some of the less verbal among the critics sent cartoons of Lucy van Pelt pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. The usual right-wing social-media accounts desperate to draft off of NR’s traffic did the sort of thing they usually do, in the usual sad-clown fashion. And to think: It was only a few years ago these folks were talking up The Art of the Deal.

Here’s some negotiating advice: When the other side offers you something you want, take it.

Of particular interest to me was former Brady Campaign director Dan Gross’s column in the New York Times, in which he forthrightly conceded that if our goal is reducing the level of criminal violence in these United States in a meaningful fashion, then focusing on mass-shooting events (which claim fewer lives every year than do firearms accidents) and pressing for policies such as a ban on so-called assault weapons is not the way to go. Gross suggested several possible courses of action, including doing more to investigate and prosecute gun-trafficking operations. So, if you are keeping score: Gross supports an assault-weapons ban in principle, writing, “I believe there is no place in civilized society for guns that are made for the express purpose of killing people,” which is a case against the Second Amendment per se — the right enshrined therein isn’t about pheasant hunting. I, along with most other gun-rights advocates, would oppose such a ban. But the action item here isn’t what we disagree about — it’s what we agree about. If there are more like Gross, willing to put the “assault weapons” issue on the back burner (I don’t expect them to set it aside entirely) and instead work with conservatives on trafficking and straw buyers — something many Second Amendment advocates have been seeking for years — then why on God’s green earth should we pass up the chance to take “Yes” for an answer?

Conservatives — and, specifically, elected Republicans — still have not learned the lesson they should have taken from getting so thoroughly rope-a-doped by Barack Obama on health care back in 2009. During the health-care debate, Democrats offered up some policies that ranged from the mediocre to the positively bad, and Republicans responded by insisting, almost with one voice, “We have the best health-care system in the world! Harrumph!” Even if Republicans had been right about that — and they weren’t — that would have been political malpractice of the worst kind. Millions and millions of Americans wanted (and still want) to see big changes to our health-care system, not because of ideology but because of risk aversion — medical bills are unpredictable, insurance benefits can be difficult to understand and manage, plans linked to employers are inherently insecure, etc. Americans were worried about losing their insurance, getting a surprise medical bill for tens of thousands of dollars, or having a condition excluded from coverage by their insurers on some self-serving pretext. Lecturing these people that they should just be grateful for what they have was a political loser, to be sure, but it was also — and this still matters! — bad policy, there being considerable room for improvement in the American system.

Gun control is an issue in which Kulturkampf considerations often trump empirical considerations and reasoned exchange, which is why Gross is not having much luck moving progressives in his direction. But facts are facts: The United States does have a great deal of criminal violence, more than does any comparable country, and while the fundamental problem is that Americans are simply violent people — which is why we also have more knife homicide and big-heavy-rock homicides than other countries — a criminal with a firearm is more dangerous than a criminal with a baseball bat or a knife. Mass shootings do not account for many deaths (relatively speaking), but they are a genuine cultural phenomenon. As with health care, millions of Americans are dissatisfied with the violent-crime situation in our country. Conservatives should be dissatisfied, too. The Democrats are ready to offer an array of bad policies, and the Republicans are ready to offer Americans, for the most part, squat.

(We never did see that great Donald Trump health-care plan, did we?)

But gun trafficking is a real thing, and straw-buying is a real thing, and there is no Second Amendment reason we should be protecting the felons involved in those crimes. Every time a Democrat says Republicans aren’t willing to do anything about guns, the Republicans should be pushing back: Okay, how about we lay down a mandatory minimum of ten years in federal prison for straw-buyers and traffickers and then make sure U.S. attorneys will actually get off their collective asses and prosecute those cases? How about we use the levers of federal power to encourage local prosecutors to prioritize those cases, too? How about we stop giving probation in weapons cases — when we don’t fail to prosecute them at all — and start putting these offenders in jail for real? You want to crack down on illegal-gun trafficking? Then let’s get cracking.

Joe Biden is out there talking about “ghost guns,” which are used in about as many murders as LEGO bricks or corn starch. Republicans ought to be responding with real policies designed to put real pressure on real criminals. They ought to be pushing everywhere, from the federal level to city hall, for improvements in mental-health care, too, which could help not only with violent crime but also with the persistent vagrancy in our cities.

But rather than flooding the zone with better policies, Republicans demand instead displays of mood affiliation. For Republican-oriented partisans and media entrepreneurs, the world is always ending, because their business model insists that the world always be ending, and their enemy is not proponents of bad policies — their enemy is anybody who thinks, acts, or talks as though the world is not ending.

Which it isn’t.

The cultivation of hysteria for fun and profit is a fine way to program a talk-radio station but a terrible way to run a country.

Moving On . . .

Some of you may have heard that I wrote a piece headlined, “Why Not Fewer Voters?” This inspired some prepackaged hysteria from our friends on the left. It is impossible to overestimate the stupidity and intellectual dishonesty of, to take one example, the response offered by Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate, under the appropriately hysterical headline, “National Review Comes Out Against Democracy, Explicitly.” The problem, Mathis-Lilley argues, is that conservatives at NR and elsewhere are “cracking under the strain of the Republican Party’s current unpopularity,” particularly in regard to Donald Trump’s failure to win reelection.

Do you know with whom the Republican Party currently is unpopular and has been for a good long while? Your obedient correspondent.

Mathis-Lilley cites me, Dan McLaughlin, and Andrew C. McCarthy in making his case for traumatized Republicans and Trump enthusiasts. But it is difficult to make his analysis line up with his choice of subjects: Insofar as this is about me and my political preferences, I don’t think it’s very likely that I’m going to be driven mad by the inability of a party to which I do not belong to reelect a candidate I opposed. McLaughlin, too, declined to support Trump in 2020, citing, among other things, the president’s “racially inflammatory rhetoric toward Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees, and black protestors, while getting badly tongue-tied when discussing white nationalists,” yet Mathis-Lilley would have you believe that he is in some way an ally of “psychotic white-power militias.” My more indulgent friend Andy McCarthy, for his part, argued that Trump was unfit for the office, unprincipled, hobbled by “consuming narcissism, nonstop dissembling, infantile outbursts, inability to admit error, withering attacks on well-meaning officials he entices into working for him,” but, all in all, still a better choice than Joe Biden.

Given all that, I’m not entirely sure Mathis-Lilley is on precisely the right track here.

But the facts don’t matter. There was a prefab narrative, ready for deployment, insisting that Republicans are anti-democracy (for reasons of racism, obviously) and that’s what the story was going to say — even when the writer in question, me in this case, is not a Republican. Heather Cox Richardson, among others, mischaracterized me as a Republican, because it fits the flow of the argument even if it doesn’t fit the facts. She corrected herself after I pointed out the error and criticized her sloppy journalism, protesting in her own defense, “I am not a journalist.” And I hope the professor will forgive me for insisting on the point, but: If you are publishing a newsletter about current politics, then you are in the journalism business, and, irrespective of what you call yourself, the question is whether you are going to be a competent and responsible journalist or the other kind.

As expected, no one on the left has made anything approaching a serious response to my arguments, in some cases because they haven’t bothered to read them at all (this is obvious in some circumstances) or because they aren’t packing the gear to do so. And I’m still comfortable denying the vote to felons and teenagers.

Instead of a real discussion, what we get on the left is the mirror image of we get on too much of the right: performative hysteria. Right-wing performative hysteria and left-wing performative hysteria are, in fact, part of a single unitary phenomenon, which is not really politics as such but something closer to a blend of group therapy and role-playing game. It’s dumb and it’s boring, and it is much more of a problem for democracy than is the disenfranchisement of embezzlers or the absence from the electorate of people who can’t figure out how to organize their way to a photo ID by next November.

Department of Nope

Last week’s “Words about Words” contained an error regarding the derivation of the words tactic and technology. The word tactic does not derive from the same Greek root as technology; I misunderstood a reference to a Greek phrase in which both root words appear. Oxford Languages gives the etymology of tactic as “from modern Latin tactica, from Greek taktikē (tekhnē) ‘(art) of tactics’, feminine of taktikos, from taktos ‘ordered, arranged.’” Thanks to the Hellenists out there for the correction.

Words About Words

On the subject of “full stop,” a reader notes that his ex-wife was overly fond of affected British-isms, including “taking a tub,” a phrase I never had heard before. (I didn’t even know British people bathed!) He did not say that this is why she is the ex, but, if I were a divorce-court judge, I wouldn’t fault him for it.  If I want goofy Britishisms, I’ll record a podcast and get Charlie to pronounce “Chipotle.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

One of the many businesses I have meant to start over the years but haven’t is a very narrowly focused Hollywood prop shop that produces nothing except fake newspapers, newspaper clippings, microfiches of old newspapers, etc. For some reason, no one in Hollywood seems to be able to make up a phony newspaper. (You know who is good at that? The Philadelphia Inquirer.) Some god-awful examples include the terrible front pages and the library microfiche in Silence of the Lambs and practically every stalker shrine in every movie that features one. But perhaps the worst offender in recent memory is in The Dark Knight Rises, in which we catch a glimpse of a Gotham Times article linking Selena Kyle to a “hiest” [sic].

Yikes.

I’ve spelled a word wrong in a newspaper headline before. It happens — but, in the Gotham Times? I don’t think so. They’ve got super-editors over there.

Christopher Nolan’s team is really good at a lot of things, but not car-chase scenes or, alas, spelling. I hear that’s fixed in the Snyder cut.

Oh, wait . . .

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com.

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. I hope you will enjoy it. But if you buy it and don’t enjoy it, that’s okay, too. I have dachshunds to feed.

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In Closing

The Jen Psaki show is endlessly entertaining. Asked what the White House is doing to reach out to conservatives who are wary of the coronavirus vaccine, she said: “We’ve run PSAs on The Deadliest Catch. We’re engaged with NASCAR and Country Music TV. We’re looking for a range of creative ways to get directly connected to white conservative communities.” Greenwich High School, y’all. Goodness, gracious.

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