We Need to Stop the Hate – But Will the Media Let Us?

Shortly after I heard about the shootings in Alexandria this morning, I took to Facebook and posted the following:

Dear Friends,
Today there will be a lot of hot takes on the shooting at the GOP baseball practice outside of Washington, DC today. Most of it will be crap, designed to put the left and the right at each others’ throats and perpetuate the conditions that most likely led the shooter to do what he did today. My humble request to you is to simply refuse to be a part of it. Whatever your politics, it’s obvious that we all need to tone down the personal rancor and engage each other on the issues. It is possible to do that in a respectful manner that doesn’t inflame the passions of nutjobs like the guy who shot at congressmen today.

This was before the identity of the gunman was revealed, but even then it seemed pretty obvious that he had been deliberately targeting Republican members of Congress.  When his identity finally did come to light, that motive was all but confirmed by the gunman’s posts on social media.  A virulent strain of hatred, all to common in our political discourse these days, was on full display as he railed on about how Donald Trump and the GOP have destroyed democracy and how the time had come to destroy them.  It’s run of the mill stuff for any of us who have ever argued politics on Facebook–except that, in this case, the man decided to pick up a rifle and do something about it.  Now he lies dead, and five other people are in the hospital with gunshot wounds.

Thankfully, our leadership in Washington has so far responded to the shootings with sober reflection rather than wild invective.  President Trump, in his remarks this morning, called out the bravery of the Capitol Hill Police officers who defended everyone on that ball field even as they were shot and wounded themselves.  Speaker of the House Paul Ryan took to the floor of Congress to thank his Democrat colleagues who stood together in prayer for the victims, and was followed by Democrat minority leader Nancy Pelosi expressing unequivocal agreement with every word.

This is good.  This is as it should be.

And this is how I hope it will be going forward, after the shock of this morning’s events wears off and we resume the business of governing a great country in uncertain times.

Just one question:  Will the media allow it?

It’s no secret that I’ve had a lot of harsh things to say about how the news business is conducting itself these days.  Their rank bias has by now become so obvious that the media barely even bother to conceal it anymore.  This is almost always done in support of a liberal agenda, which means carrying water for Democrats–but there seems to be an even greater urgency in their mission to destroy the presidency of Donald Trump.  Everything else is secondary to that purpose, and as a result there is no rumor, no lie, no anonymously-sourced story so outlandish that they won’t gleefully run with it so long as they think it will damage the president.  That’s why we have a sizable contingent of the Democrat electorate that honestly believes Trump collaborated with the Russians to steal the 2016 election away from Hillary Clinton.

That sounds an awful lot like the Facebook ravings of the lunatic who shot up a GOP baseball team practice today.

Don’t get me wrong.  The responsibility for the shooter’s crimes lies with the shooter himself, and nobody else.  But the media do have to take their share of the responsibility in creating the climate that drove this guy to do what he did.  People don’t go from political activism to political violence overnight.  That kind of radicalization takes time–and this shooter had been marinating in a stew of media coverage that cast the president as a winner of a fraudulent election, and the GOP congress as killers who want to take away people’s health care and destroy the planet by withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord.  The shooter most likely believed all these things, and the media kept feeding his delusions.

They’re not supposed to do that.  They’re supposed to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the world, using their resources to give people an accurate perspective on important events.  In other words, it’s their job to keep people informed–not stoke anger and fear until somebody reaches the boiling point and starts shooting the people the media have cast as the enemy.

I agree that we all need to step back from the brink of hate that brought us here–but how can that ever happen if the media keep pushing us toward it?

It’s Time To Step Back From The Brink

With this morning’s shooting at the congressional practice field in Virginia, it is fair to say that our political discourse has finally sank too low. After watching rhetoric on both sides become more incendiary and violence slowly escalate over the past few years, someone has really gotten hurt.

Not bruises, broken bones or damaged pride either. Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) or the other people at the practice, including the security officers, could have been killed. That was apparently the aim of the attack.

The Washington Post has identified the shooter as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill. Hodgkinson was a campaign worker for Bernie Sanders whose Facebook page allegedly features a post that reads, “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

Political violence is not new to this country. We fought a War Between the States over our political differences. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan used violence and intimidation to further their political aims. There have been assassinations, from Abraham Lincoln to Huey Long. Radical anti-war groups in the 1960s used bombings to further their political aims.

In the last half-decade, things seemed to change. We have enjoyed a relatively peaceful period. There was violence against political figures, but for the most part, it was the work of the mentally ill, not political assassins. The attempted murderers of Ronald Reagan and Gabrielle Giffords were both crazy, not trying to make a political point.

While it is still too early to say for sure, the baseball field shooting feels different. The shooter reportedly asked which team was playing, the Republicans or the Democrats, before opening fire. If the reported Facebook posts are accurate, there seems to be a clear motive for the attack.

There will be plenty of anger against the liberal media and Democrats for stoking the fires of Hodgkinson’s anger. At this point, those charges seem to be legitimate. Much of the reporting about the Trump Administration has been sensationalist and over-the-top. The problem is that the liberals aren’t the only ones to blame.

Both sides are guilty of whipping up the anger of the base with outrage-of-the-day styles of reporting that focus on the most extreme and offensive actions of the opposition. For every action, there is an equal and opposite overreaction.

Hodgkinson’s Facebook post was repeated almost verbatim on many right-wing timelines over the past eight years. Just substitute “Obama” for “Trump.”

Liberals stage a play depicting the assassination of President Trump. Conservatives circulated internet picture of President Obama with his head in a noose. Liberal protesters riot and stop traffic. Conservative protesters stage armed revolts and occupy a federal building in Oregon and engage in standoffs with law enforcement on federal land. Businesses destroyed by riots had it coming according to the leftist narrative, but so did reporters and protesters who get beat up, if you listen to those on the right. President Trump is a Russian traitor? President Obama is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, so there!

The two sides barely even talk anymore. We listen to different media, read different newspapers and websites. We focus on our differences and they become magnified.

As David French recently wrote, we seem to be headed for a national divorce. If we really love our country, we need to look at what a spouse would do to prevent a divorce. Look to find the good in our political opponents. Look for common ground instead of nitpicking. Realize that we aren’t going to get everything on our political wish lists. The alternative is likely to be more political violence and national divorce that is unlikely to come amicably.

Greg Gianforte and the Tribalism of Politics

By now it’s a familiar pattern:  The news media, trying to create the narrative of a growing backlash against Donald Trump, descends on an election in a Republican-leaning district where the polling indicates that maybe the Democrat has a chance for an upset.  This, they say, is proof that Trump has so disgusted the country that even the voters who elected him are now turning their backs, portending a huge wave for the Democrats in 2018.  Problem is, it never seems to work out the way the media hoped.  Last time around, it was John Ossoff in Georgia’s District 6, who still couldn’t get over 50% even with millions of dollars in out-of-state money powering his campaign and Republicans splitting the vote four ways.  Now the media are shedding tears because Greg Gianforte, the Republican who manhandled a pencilneck reporter and caused a national stir, bumped off Democrat Rob Quist–a Pete Seeger wannabe folk singer who performed at nudist resorts and had a socialist streak so wide it would have made Bernie Sanders blush.  Maybe that would have played in San Francisco, but in Montana?  Not so much.

So what’s there to do, besides moving on to another narrative?  Turning on a dime, the same media that tried to convince us that people would vote against Gianforte because of Donald Trump will now say that people voted for Gianforte because of Donald Trump.  That’s because Trump has so coarsened the country with his ugly rhetoric and p-ssy grabbing, he’s made it okay–desirable even–for bully-boy politicians to smack the glasses off pajama-boy reporters.  The kind of thing that used to get you tossed out of polite society now wins elections.  What has the country become?

You’d expect that sort of thing coming from the left, as they search for an excuse as to why the coming Trump backlash never seems to materialize.  But elements on the right are also jumping on the bandwagon, decrying the loss of civility in our politics, not to mention the culture at large.  Jay Nordlinger, a writer for National Review whom I’ve long admired, neatly sums up this position with a tweet from this morning:

It’s a point I’ve heard a lot of conservative make.  And they’re absolutely correct in their thinking.  To me, politics has become far too tribal.  No matter how terrible, more and more people seem willing to justify bad behavior so long as it’s “their guy” doing it.  This is a dangerous lowering of standards, and only gives our elected leaders license to be as nasty as they wanna be.  Why shouldn’t they when the tribe will always rush to their defense?

Conservatives didn’t used to be like this.  We used to hold our people to a higher standard.  Problem is, in taking the high road, we also ended up getting our butts kicked a lot of times.  That’s what happens when you go into a fight thinking its Marquis of Queensbury rules and the other side treats it like a street rumble.  That’s always been the central weakness of conservatism.  We’re better trained and have better arguments, but all that doesn’t matter when liberals have a straight razor in their shoe and they’re not afraid to use it.

Even worse, conservatives are expected to operate at this disadvantage.  When leftists torch cars, trash Starbucks, and assault conservative speakers on college campuses, they suffer no consequences–and in fact are praised for being passionate.  Punching people in the face, meanwhile, is also considered acceptable, so long as those getting punched are considered “fascist” by those doing the punching.  Conservatives, on the other hand, aren’t even allowed to say a cross word about about liberal pieties without being accused of triggering and even violence.  How are you supposed to have a fair fight under those rules of engagement?

The short answer is you can’t.  A lot of people on the right have started to figure this out, and that’s why they’ve become more tribal.

Fight dirty or lose.  That’s where we are.

And that’s where we’ll keep going so long as there’s one set of rules for us and another set of rules for them.

Montana, Georgia Prove Laws of Politics in the Age of Trump

For seventeen months, I’ve heard how all the rules of politics have been thrown out the window. Polling, pundits and poobahs no longer rule. Now it’s the Age of Trump, where 4D chess is played between tweetstorms and threats of violence (or actual violence), they said.

But I’m ever more convinced it’s not really true. Montana, and the upcoming Georgia special elections have restored my confidence that nothing under the political sun has really changed.

We’re just measuring things wrong because we’re asking the wrong questions. The rules of politics still apply. If you’re a bad candidate running a poor campaign, you will lose. If you run against the popular will on “we care” issues of the electorate, you will lose. If nobody knows who you are and you let your opponent define you, you will lose.

If you don’t connect with voters in some meaningful way, you will lose. Whether that’s knocking on doors, going on television, sending mail pieces, or appearing in the media, a candidate has to get the word out, and stay on (some kind of) message.

What I’ve learned from Trump is that his message is Trump. Donald Trump sold and continues to sell himself, and he never stops selling. Hillary Clinton was a bad candidate who ran an insular, smug, and overall bad campaign. She couldn’t beat a candidate with more defects than a “Rolex” bought from a street vendor in Times Square.

I’ve been involved with running losing campaigns because the candidate wouldn’t listen to sound advice. Go out and knock on doors, listen to the internal polling, choose a message and stick to it. No, no and no. Even with lots of name recognition, the result is inevitable…they lose.

The media is attempting to paint a picture that big outside GOP money won the race for Greg Gianforte. A lot of outside money was spent on Ryan Zincke’s former seat–it set a record with about $12 million combined inside and outside money spent. But that didn’t win the race for Gianforte. Plenty of money was spent on Democrat Rob Quist, who decidedly lost.

Quist lost because he was not a viable candidate. He was the love child of Arlo Guthrie and Bernie Sanders–a socialist folk singer who appealed to the country liberals up in Big Sky. But he wasn’t going to win with that. In fact, without all the outside money, Quist would have lost even bigger.

He could have been helped by Gianforte’s terrible mauling of reporter Ben Jacobs, but two-thirds of the vote was locked in by mail before Election Day. It’s unclear even if the mail-in vote wasn’t a factor that Gianforte would have lost. Quist was just a non-viable candidate.

In Georgia, another record is about to be set for spending on a Congressional seat. Karen Handel is behind by about 7 points in the polls. Her Democrat opponent, Jon Ossoff, is a nobody supported by millions of Democrat dollars from outside. He should not be ahead, never mind outside the margin of error.

Handel has lost every race she’s run since she was Georgia Secretary of State. For this race, in her own home district, where she’s lived for 25 years, she has kept the same crew that lost her bid for governor, and for the U.S. Senate. They are making the same mistakes they made before. She’s running a poor campaign, which is unfortunate because she’s the better candidate. Not listening to advice, not connecting with voters will lose you the race.

So nothing has changed. It’s not about the outside money. It’s about about the violent Age of Trump. Trump ran a campaign only Trump could run. He was a unique black swan candidate, with 40 years experience selling himself, an incredible relationship with the media (for good or bad), and unsurpassed name recognition. He won because he ran against a terrible candidate who ran a terrible campaign.

Greg Gianforte won because he was a better candidate than Rob Quist, and he ran a fairly good campaign, beating his 2016 bid for governor numbers by 5 to 6 percent in most precincts. If Jon Ossoff wins in Georgia, it’s because he connected with younger voters and had a better message, and ran a more effective campaign than Karen Handel.

Handel may still win, and I hope she does. But ignoring the laws of politics, believing that the Age of Trump has changed everything, is a recipe for losing.

 

When It’s Okay to Hate

It’s an old question:  What makes a man hate another man?  Okay, so maybe it’s really an old Depeche Mode lyric (growing up in the 80s, it was hard to escape them–and girls always seemed to like the band, so I just went with it).  But it also presents a pretty good example of the fallen nature of humankind, and how we’re all in need of redemption.  After all, if we who are so deserving of God’s contempt still receive His love and forgiveness, who are we to hate on each other?

And yet still we do.  The really twisted part, though, is how we manage to gin up hatred for people we don’t even know.  Take, for example, this warm and fuzzy missive I picked up from Twitter the other day:

Admittedly, I don’t know who the hell this CJ Werleman is–he describes himself as a columnist for the Middle East Eye, whatever that is–but apparently he got his feathers in a ruffle because of Donald Trump’s commencement address at Liberty University, during which the graduating class gave the president a rousing welcome with shouts of, “USA!  USA!”  Liberty, of course, is an avowed Evangelical Christian college (run by Jerry Fallwell, Jr. no less);  and since Wereleman also hosts a podcast called Resistance Radio–way to go with such an original title, bruh–and is the author of something called The New Atheist Threat, I’m guessing he’s not a Donald Trump fan and is even less enamored of religion.

All of that is well and good, I suppose.  This is America, and you have a right to your views even if you express them with an obnoxiousness that makes Screech from Saved By the Bell seem charming by comparison.  It is ironic, though, that Werleman is also demonstrating a central weakness of his own secular humanism–for as much as he probably thinks that Christianity has been the cause of untold grief and strife over the millennia, he’s consumed by his own little brand of hate.  Right now, that hate is confined to spouting off on Twitter–but if given the chance, would he not act on his hatred with as much fervency as any religious crusader?

History shows us that he and others like him would.  People often ask themselves how the horrors of Nazis could have happened while ordinary Germans just stood by and did nothing.  That’s because Adolph Hiter licensed hatred against a particular kind of people.  He made it okay to hate Jews, and gypsies, and gays because they were corrupt, or had evil motives, or stood against the kind of progress that the Nazis wanted.  And what about in the American South during Reconstruction?  Fear and loathing of newly-freed slaves led directly to the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, which had broad popular support because people were perfectly okay with their hatred.  It was not only encouraged, but seen as noble–a defense of values that were threatened by the cultural aggression of the North.

Is that really the kind of historic company that CJ Werleman and his ilk want to keep?

I don’t know, maybe it is.  If so, it’s a pretty sad spectacle–and further proof that secularism is no cure for the evils that lay in the hearts of all human beings.  In fact, it puts people at a disadvantage because it prevents them from realizing their own sinful natures.  Hate is probably the most natural expression of that nature.

And that’s why it’s never okay.

Al Franken

Feed My Franken-Stein

One of my laments about the modern American action genre is that whatever happens to be driving the plot–whether it’s a terrorist attack that threatens to destroy the last best hope for peace, or a reformed hacker forced out of retirement to do one last job and secure his freedom once and for all–it always ends up being some secret conspiracy cooked up by corporate mercenaries or rogue government spooks, not the fringe extremist group that everybody says is guilty but just got set up to take the fall.  I’ve gone on at length about this trope as manifested in the ABC show Designated Survivor, but you can pretty much find it everywhere from the movie version of The Sum of All Fears to old episodes of Miami Vice.  Bottom line:  if it looks like ISIS did it, you can be sure it was really a corrupt White House in cahoots with Big Oil to start a war somewhere for profit.

All of this, of course, assumes a government that is as competent as it is sinister–and that’s where the suspension of belief starts to get a leeeetle heavy.  Because seriously, when the federal government can’t even keep track of people who have overstayed their visas, how are we supposed to believe that they can follow every step of our intrepid hero in real time?  And can the same kind of folks who stick unsecured email servers in bathroom closets and send classified materials to the computer of a man who exposes himself online to underage girls really be counted on to keep the lid on a vast, intricate conspiracy?  Color me skeptical, but I don’t think so.

Which is why I was amused when I saw this story on The Hill about the latest bit of kooky goodness to be served up during a Senate hearing.  Instead of al Qaeda, though, we get Al Franken–and yes, he is speculating about possible nefarious ties between Donald Trump’s White House and Vladimir Putin’s Russia:

Franken presented a lengthy hypothetical to former acting Attorney General Sally Yates around Russian connections to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the 18-day delay between when she made the White House aware of Flynn’s apparent lies to top Trump officials and when he tendered his resignation.

“We’re trying to put a puzzle together here, everybody, and maybe, just maybe, he didn’t get rid of a guy who lied to the vice president, who got paid by the Russians, who went on Russia Today, because there are other people in his administration who met secretly with the Russians and didn’t reveal it until later, until they were caught,” Franken posited during the Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee’s hearing on Monday.
“That may be why it took him 18 days — until it became public — to get rid of Mike Flynn, who was a danger to this republic.”

“Care to comment?” Franken asked Yates.

“I don’t think I’m going to touch that, senator,” she replied.

I’m betting it’s not the first time Franken heard a woman tell him that.

Still, as conspiracy plotlines go, it’s pretty thin gruel.  Occam’s razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one–or, in terms of government speak, one should never attribute to malfeasance what can be easily explained by incompetence.  The media, after all, were quite fond of reporting the utter chaos that was supposedly going on inside the White House during those first few weeks.  Is it really so inconceivable that the whole Flynn thing just slipped through the cracks?  Or that maybe the president knew about Flynn but didn’t consider it that big of a deal until it leaked to the media?  Apparently, these possibilities have never occurred to Al Franken.  He seems to think it’s more likely that the entire administration is being run by Russian agents.

To which Charles Krauthammer, who holds Donald Trump in about the same regard as I hold Miley Cyrus, could only say, “Who gave him the tinfoil hat?”

Minnesota must be very proud.

INSANE: Professor Calls for Execution of Political Opponents

Professor John Griffin of the Art Institute of Washington (located in Arlington, Virginia) has harsh words for the Republican Representatives who voted for the American Health Care Act (AHCA).  On May 4th, he responded to a social media post from the Washington Post about the passage of the AHCA.  The post from the Washington Post itself is noteworthy, saying, “The Republican health care bill is an act of monstrous cruelty.  It should stain those who supported it to the end of their days.”  However, Professor Griffin upped the ante by responding, “They should be lined up and shot.  This is not hyperbole; blood is on their hands.”  Later, he attempted to walk back his statements, asking for forgiveness.

Calling for the execution of those with whom you disagree politically has no place in the American Republic.  Professor Griffin attempted to excuse his behavior by noting that he has a pre-existing condition and that he would die without treatment.  He apparently believed the hysteria that the AHCA would not cover pre-existing conditions, but this is untrue.  Rather than examine the truth for himself, he lashed out at those he thought responsible for his discomfort, calling for their deaths.

Where have we gone wrong in this country such that anyone, especially a teacher of students, feels the impulse to advocate the execution of political opponents, even if said in the heat of the moment?  It is apparent over the last couple decades that the civic bonds which have held America together are losing their hold and that the country is increasingly becoming fractured along political and cultural lines.  The political rhetoric has risen to such a level that many people and groups paint those who disagree with them as “evil” or “terrorists.”

What is going to be the end result if half the people think the other half are evil and undeserving of life?  Other countries have gone down this path as society disintegrated and its people lost their common bond to one another.  The end result is not pretty.

Our country has endured a lot to get to where we are today.  Forged in the fires of a rebellion against distant rulers, our people at the time were more apt to call themselves “Virginians” or “Georgians” rather than “Americans.”  Later, in the War of 1812 we began to forge a national unity as “Americans.”  This was shattered during the awful years of the Civl War, only to be reformed under the pressures of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.  Now, however, we seem to be slipping back towards disunity as those who seek to divide us for political gains encourage us to see the “other side” as evil.  We must resist these urgings and instead work to see our fellow Americans as citizens in this grand experiment which our Founders wrought, otherwise we will lose the Republic which has been handed down to us.

There are many problems facing our country, both internal and external.  We must meet these problems as Americans, seeking the best interest of our country while understanding that well-meaning people will disagree about the path to take to do so.  Political disagreements, debates, and arguments are fine and expected in an open society; calling for the death of one’s political opponents and the use of force to achieve political goals is unacceptable in our Republic.

 

Joss Whedon is Poisoning Himself

I’m not going to pile on Joss Whedon, because I really love his work.  I was one of the few people who actually saw the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the theater during its original run, and was one of the fewer people who actually liked it.  When I finally got to see his original vision for that film fully realized in the TV series, it was a revelation of how cool and hip the horror genre could be.  I didn’t think it would be possible to top Buffy–until the spinoff series Angel debuted, and Whedon hooked me all over again with his amazing characters and whip-smart dialogue.  With his boundless imagination and a writing style that seemed effortless, he served as an inspiration for me as a writer, and always left me looking forward to his next project.

Whedon’s work on Firefly remains, to this day, probably some of the most libertarian ever shown on television.  That show also introduced Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin to a wider audience, both of whom are sci-fi fan favorites to this day.  Whedon gave us The Avengers, the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, then somehow turned right around and unleashed his creativity on Shakespeare with his jazzy take on Much Ado About Nothing–a love letter of a film that was also a happy reunion of the actors who had appeared in his TV series.  Almost everyone who has been on set with Whedon has described him as a joy to work with.  Even Jonah Goldberg from National Review once told me that while Charles Krauthammer was his hero, Joss Whedon was his master.

Yesterday, Whedon tweeted this:

I had to do a screen grab, because the original tweet appears to be deleted–and for good reason.  Whedon has gotten a significant amount of blowback for cracking what appears to be a pretty tasteless joke that, although he’s obviously targeting Paul Ryan, comes at the expense of the young women in the photo.  But it gets even worse when you see the actual context of the photo:

What is it inside of a man that would make him think it was cool to take a picture of female cancer survivors and turn it into a joke about their looks?

Only hatred can do that.  And Joss Whedon appears to be carrying a lot of hate in his heart.

You can even see it in the apology that he later tweeted:

This isn’t an act of contrition from a man who thinks he’s made a mistake.  It’s merely a justification for his hatred.  Instead of using this as an opportunity to let go of the thing that’s poisoning him, he’s just holding on to it harder than ever.

But why?

Whedon has tweeted in the past that the 2016 election has left him broken.  I would say that he’s correct in that–but not for the reasons that he might think.  If he’s broken, it’s because Whedon himself has made that choice.  Instead of looking at all the beauty in his life, and at the beauty he’s created, he’s chosen to give into despair over the stupidest of reasons:  politics.  So the election of Donald Trump has given you the blues?  Get over it.  Eight years of Barack Obama left me fearful for the future of the country, but it didn’t turn me so bitter that I forgot about my wife and kids, and all the other good things in my life.  And it certainly never left me consumed with hatred, no matter how outraged I was about the direction America was going.

That’s because I realized a long time ago that hatred is a burden, and a heavy one.  More than that, it consumes you.  It takes every last piece of what was once good, and leaves you with nothing but the hate.  And it shows up in everything you do, from the way you treat other people to the quality of your work.

Joss, is that really what you want to be?

I hope not.  I believe that you still have a lot of creativity and a lot of love inside of you–and given your position, one that so many of us can only dream about, you have the opportunity to share that with millions.  Don’t let the hate take that away from you.

Don’t let the hate take that away from us.