Outside the Asylum--Propaganda Fatigue Edition
I am wiped out this week, guys.
This is basically the left's 9/11. A lot of us felt very superior during the two Bush administrations, thinking that we of the left--Democrats and non-Democrats alike--were the national bastion of reason and critical thought. *Our* political decisions were not based on emotions. *Our* political loyalties were not based on personalities. We were critical thinkers, concerned with policy--and with maintaining the basic principles of the Republic. (No, I don't mean imperialism, slavery, and genocide. I mean the principles we all learned in Civics class. The way America was supposed to be.) We didn't rant and rave and foam at the mouth because a bad man sent other bad men to attack our cities and kill us. We considered policy impacts: not just in the present but in as many possible futures as we could imagine; not just for ourselves, but for the world.
I knew that there were rational Republicans and right-wingers. But I firmly believed that they were a tiny, disempowered minority within their party. The Left was where reason made its home.
It's rather horrible to have to realize, twenty years later, that the only reason we were the bastion of reason during the Bush years is that the 9/11 psy-op wasn't directed at us. The story wasn't meant for us, so of course we weren't gibbering in the streets and embracing every authoritarian idea we could find. At that time, we were meant to occupy the role, not of gibbering authoritarian, but of seditious traitor.
Seditious traitor [si-dish-uhs trey-ter]
1)a person who keeps asking questions after their people have been attacked (see also fifth column)
2)a person who does not automatically obey the dictates of a leader or a group
We were supposed to be the goat. And, indeed, we were accused of being traitors and terrorist sympathizers because we would not uncritically support the so-called president, George W. Bush, who was busily engaged, not only in getting us into an unprovoked war of acquisition, inflicting grave harm on people who had never done us any, but also in destroying the legal manifestations of the Republic (the political and economic manifestations of the Republic were already well on their way to being destroyed by the time the non-President arrived in D.C., that having been the job of the Reagan and Clinton administrations).
I made the mistake of thinking that those events said something about our characters. All it really said is that Democrats and the Left are not particularly afraid of brown-skinned men from foreign places with different languages, religions, and cultures. Our monster in the closet doesn't look like that, so even when people like that murder 2700 of us (or so), we don't lose our heads. We are grief-stricken, horrified, injured--but still thinking.
Our monster in the closet looks more like a Klansman, or what a Klansman would look like if they had the guts to show their faces. Our monster is a white, right-wing racist waving a gun and screaming something inarticulate about America.
Please note that these monsters are, of course, actually dangerous. Osama bin Laden was dangerous. The mistake the right wing made twenty years ago was not their assessment of Osama bin Laden as a dangerous man, or al-Quaeda as a dangerous organization. And Trump's pathetic "Proud Boys" are dangerous too, of course. They are the latest manifestation of a right wing which has, up till recently, mainly expressed itself through brutal bigotry and defensive resentment of those who accurately identify it. They are not, I think, dangerous in the way they're being sold to be. As someone who grew up down the road from where a lot of these folks live, I think I have a pretty good handle on the ways in which they are dangerous. They are dangerous to the unarmed. They are dangerous to those who aren't politically or militarily organized. And they're dangerous, above all, to those they catch alone, or in small numbers. They attach black men to the backs of their pickups and drag them to death. They attach Matthew Shepard to a fence and beat him to death with a tire iron. That sort of thing. They are brutal bullies.
What they are not dangerous to is the United States' security apparatus. And, therefore, they are not dangerous to the federal government of the United States, unless the security apparatus allows them to be. The idea that the Proud Boys could present a challenge to the FBI, CIA, NSA, JSOC, the traditional military, or the myriad other manifestations of our security state, is plain ridiculous, like saying I could challenge a U.S. Army tank with my GI Joe doll. The idea that the Proud Boys caught the security state with its pants down, even temporarily--a security state that collects information constantly on 300 million peoples' conversations, buying habits, and reading habits, a security state that is well-versed in infiltration of both online and in-the-flesh political groups (as any Occupier would know)--is arrant nonsense. Especially since nobody was being particularly secretive about the fact that an uprising was coming. Also, this outcome had been predicted, and discussed, in the corporate media, literally for years. And yet somehow, the Stop the Steal folks managed to catch the U.S. security state with their pants down?
Obviously--as the left has been saying for years--the systematic, nationwide infiltration of the police by neo-Nazis is a problem, and compromises, to some extent, the United States' security apparatus. But again, the idea that compromising the police would be enough to make the Proud Boys a challenge for the United States' security apparatus is just laughable, or would be, if I wasn't having a hard time remembering the last time I laughed. Nor do I believe that all those alphabet soup agencies and the military were held back by their constitutional respect for the authority of the President. (Did you know that, when Obama told the military to draw down in Syria, the general said "Well, we might follow that order. We don't like it. We'll think about it." That's the kind of country we live in.) The Proud Boys' and Stop the Steal's association with a sitting President would, indeed, put the U.S security state, and particularly the military, in a difficult position, if we actually inhabited a constitutional republic. But we don't, and the idea that the CIA (for instance) can't do anything unless the President agrees to it, is as laughable as the idea that the CIA doesn't interfere with domestic concerns (Did you know the CIA sent an agent as liaison to Goldman Sachs during the Occupy movement? Just to help out. That's the kind of country we live in.)
Hey, even Chuck Schumer agrees that presidents better not cross the security state. It's Presidents who need to worry about offending the CIA, not vice versa:
Turns out, when you tailor-make the psy-op for those of us on the left, it's remarkably effective. People are terrified of the Proud Boys and ready to embrace any trade of liberty for security--or even liberty for some measure of punishment for Donald Trump. Liberty for schadenfreude? I wish I didn't understand it, but I do. You get so sick of seeing cruel people operate with impunity. It's just that I see arbitrary cruelty as a non-partisan, non-factional thing. It's all over what's left of our political system. The CARES Act should make that completely plain.
Today, I was in a livestream chat for the Jimmy Dore Show, and I got into an argument with a fella over Trump being banned from Twitter. He said, "I'm not going to live in fear because another man was disciplined for his bad behavior." I considered bringing up Pastor Niemoller, and decided against it, mainly because I wanted to talk about the fella's choice of words. "Another man"--it could never be this fella from the livestream. Nothing like that would *ever* happen to him. And "disciplined for bad behavior" is so paternalistic that I had to call it out. It sounds like Jack Dorsey is the dad and he spanked Trump and sent him to his room without supper. That's where we're going with this: to the land of paternalism, infantilization, tribalism, and an uncritical eternal now. Never mind what might happen in the future, to other people (it's always gonna happen to other people, never to you); never mind legal precedent, cultural assumptions, our ideas of normality; to hell with the Overton Window. To hell with our traditional moral principles too. They're luxury items. And after all, nobody who matters will ever be hurt by these precedents. Sha-la-la let's live for today. Stick it to the bastard.
Last week I made a certain argument about the Twitter banning, saying that, while I distrusted both Twitter as an organization and Jack Dorsey as a person (telecom billionaires are not people I tend to trust), I still thought Trump was not protected by free speech in this case, because incitement to violence against the government was, culturally, not considered to be a valid form of free speech (along with shouting Fire! in a crowded theater and compromising a criminal investigation). I was assuming that, of course, the Tweets that caused Trump's Twitter ban, did incite to violence, because Trump had said such horrible things on Twitter before (including a really dangerous Tweet taunting North Korea about their inferior nuclear stockpile). I just figured he'd done it again. Without checking.
So I'm at fault too. Never, never, never put forth an opinion on what you haven't read, was drilled into me when I was being trained as a scholar. That's like the ABCs of scholarship. And look what I just did. I assumed Trump had been a bastard and abused free speech because, well, he'd done it before.
Little did I know that, in *this* case, Twitter had decided to smack Trump, not for another dangerous misuse of free speech, but for something which amounted to political boilerplate. With one exception, Trump's two tweets, for which he was banned, constitute the same speech every politician makes to his supporters when losing a political race. This isn't the end for us. It's not our day, but our day will come. The fight goes on. Etc.
The only exception is Trump stating he will not attend the inauguration, which some are taking as a message that it's safe to attack the inauguration, because he won't be there. There may or may not be people interpreting Trump's words in that way, but saying that you're not going to attend an event, even the inauguration, is not an incitement to violence. Even Twitter says that they are basing their decision largely on how the Tweets are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter.
So now we decide whether or not someone should be silenced based on how we think someone somewhere might interpret their words. Or, put another way, anybody can be silenced for saying anything, as long as we can find--or create--some evidence that somebody somewhere might take their words as an inspiration to violence. What a marvelous shift of the Overton window this is. Essentially, there is no free speech.
So even I've been affected by all this. I abandoned my training and the ethics that came with it, and didn't check on what was actually said. Because Trump.
Well, at least I saw and acknowledged my error. And I will not be taking anything for granted from here on out.
"So who's broadcasting?"
"No one. 203 meters on the medium waveband is silent for the first time."
"Well, excuse my language, but fuck that sideways, sir."