Talking with Charlie (11/10/2021)

Conversation 6:

Charlie’s Wednesday podcast had him talking with Dana Milbank, columnist at the Washington Post (Nov. 10, 2021).

Do you get exhausted by the daily stupid and crazy?

It feels like we are living under a form of psychic exhaustion.

I want to come back to this notion of psychic exhaustion because it is an issue that is rampaging through our society today. 

For me, writing, as Dana Milbank notes works for him too, offers an outlet for people to find meaning and expression against that exhaustion. 

Dana points out that writing became easier in the crazy psychic bombardment of the past 5-6 years because there was plenty to write about. He didn’t have to go looking for something, there was plenty. He had to sift through it to focus on certain things. Lack of opportunity was and is not the case anymore.

A lot of this bombardment is made possible, unfortunately, by the disappearance of the guardrails in our society. Many gatekeepers are gone, and that is good in some areas and ways, but the abdication of responsible leadership and doing the right thing has left society wide open to terrible and awful information, to behavior of those who should speak up and say something end up saying doing and saying NOTHING.

So, like a reckless child with no minders, the a tirade continues unabraded.

No gatekeepers + no guardrails + no leadership simply stirs and  adds to the chaos. It makes things worse more than better, and it really piles onto the cosmic psyche of everyone. It’s all unfiltered now.

This is a biproduct, in my view, of the hyper-advancement of social media in our culture. Social media corrupts our opinions and views, it can twist them and push them out in front of hundreds of people. We live in a world where the windows are wide open, showing our deep dark souls to the world in ways we have never been able to do before (or should). 

For good and bad, and like I noted before, it is the bad that “outweighs” the good, not because it should but because the bad is more sensational, more attention grabbing, and that drowns out the good by being louder. 

Let’s take a closer look at Social Media first.

There will be more to say about social media, because it is not going away, but I want to note that it is not a scapegoat or cause for our social ills. It is simply a means of amplifying what already exists in us and society around us. 

What is worse about things right now, in 2020 and 2021, is that the consequences of social media are being ratcheted up exponentially during the pandemic. The pandemic is driving us to want connection, to grave it and we go to it on social media, and social media in turn negatively is having long-term impacts on our collective and individual mental health.

The perfect storm of our times right now, with a growing partisanship and social/institutional declines looks like this:

Social Media + Mental Health + Pandemic = Psychic Storm of Obliteration.

Social media acts like some kind of high level wizard in D&D who walks in, sees all of us arguing, and decides to interfere with his business more, to stir the pot, and casts all 15 of the most powerful spells in the book at us. Not just the usual “lightning bolt! lightning bolt! lightning bolt!” are coming at us but “Storm of Vengeance! Imprisonment! and Power Word Kill!” instead.

The level of entrenched damage and psychic scaring is one we may never, on a whole, unpack. Sad as it might be.

Adding to all this is another factor, an underlying one that was there that the perfect storm fell upon, is Partisanship.

One of those bad things that we bring to the social media platforms that is twisted, exploited, and expanded on is partisanship.

This is something Charlie and Dana discussed on the podcast. Dana mentioned that Social scientists have been examining partisanship, how through social media pushes it even harder to extremes, and they are realizing that partisanship, more than anything else is the main dividing line between people, particularly this country, today. 

It is more a determinate of divisiveness than race, class, creed, and ideology. 

Disturbed yet? I am.

What this has created is a world, the one we are living in, where party loyalty dictates outcomes. It is the highest tribe you belong to in life. We are metaphorically and near literally living in a world of “party over country.”

This shift and growth says a lot for voters as well as political parties who give in to that conception where party loyalty is the only loyalty that matters.

Why? What makes this a big deal?

If you think about it, what this means for you if you are just going along with things is that it costs you generally nothing. If you move with the tides and go with the flow, it seems great or terrible depending on where your party is and what they are reacting to in consequence.

This is a convenient illusion. 

Try to leave it, try to leave that party silo or matrix, and watch what happens. Rock the boat. What happens is, if you think about it or do it, is the messed-up fact that you are now risking a lot. It went from little to no cost to potentially costing you your friends, your respect/standing in the community, your livelihood, family, and even threats to your life.

This is not and should not be normal.

That is what party over country looks like. Go against the party, commit any form of heresy and you are a traitor.

There are people, Charlie and those at The Bulwark are among those who banded together and got out themselves, who are the lucky ones. Of course, they paid some prices for that. Dings to reputation, jobs, friendships, associations, and the like. For the most part, they have remained voices but ones sort of out on the edges. 

There are others, like Liz Cheney, who have taken larger hit. Why? It isn’t like she’s not still a conservative or standing up for conservative values. It is because she won’t go with the flow and play the game that reality is whatever others tell her because that is what Donald Trump wants. 

She hasn’t backed down. She is one of a few voices out there, like Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who thinks that the country matters more than party, as all good politicians should be willing to acknowledge. 

I mean, our first President George Washington warned about this danger in his Farwell Address. He warned about something like this. Maybe we should have listened more.

Cheney recently spoke out against Trump again. She spoke to an audience at the The Nackey Leob School of Communication event on the First Amendment, recorded by C-SPAN, telling them that Trump and others who support the “big lie” that the election was stolen from him are failures as political leaders. 

Trump is a domestic threat to America in Cheney’s view.

He is aided by political leaders who are accomplices because those olitical leaders sit by, silently, and let Trump continues to lie and due untold damage to the country through his rhetoric.  They have failed America. Rising above party is no longer simply an obligation but a true patriotic duty, an aspiration everyone should aim to achieve in the eyes of people like Cheney.

She is fighting against people in her own party who are succumbing to wimps, not not on governing and ideology, but on impulsive, childish desires to destroy and seek vengeance to any and all who cross one. In the crosshairs right now, for those Trumpist Republicans and most the conservative media landscape who has come along too, are the 13 House members who voted for Bi-partisan infostructure bill

Never mind that 19 GOP senators voted for it in the Senate. 

The fact as they see it was the failure of this bill would bring President Joe Biden down, cripple his agenda, make the American people lose faith in him, and that they, the Republicans who opposed him, would had a chance to turn him into a failed president, to take him out. 

Childish? Petty? Terrible? Yes to all of that. But that is what matters more to many of those on the right, right now, than doing their jobs to help legislate and govern Americans. It is performative virtue signaling to the extremes. It is social media, headline and controversy grabbing attention that matters. Nothing else. You where their best teacher for this was? Donald Trump.

Dana had a good line when he said: 

“To root for a doomed president is to root for a doomed nation.”

He is very right and it is a warning to those who did the same thing under Trump, under Obama, under W. Bush, etc. I have been guilty of this myself. I need to learn and be better, and I will do my best to take them to heart.

To have ideological objections is one thing, it’s a normal thing in politics, but to engage in this sabotage, this ideological purity testing, and virtue signally games that focus on trying to hurt those, whatever party, who disagree with you is just poison to democracy. 

It becomes another point that continues to stack on and push the psychic exhaustion that is still with us even after Trump is no longer president.

Instead of disagreements with an opposition, we are furthering a slide, driven by partisanship and amplified by social media and more, into hostility and shifts towards the greater use of political violence. Instead of debates and arguments with people we disagree with in good faith it has become a growing tension of us vs. them, of patriots vs. traitors.

A traitor now is not one who betrays his country and seeks to do it harm, but one who disagrees with his or her party line, has different ideas, or is willing to vote in a manner that disagrees with his group or tribe.

Perhaps you don’t believe this is as extreme as I said it is above. One point of data might be to consider this contradiction that lays bare the hypocricy at this Orwellian style gaslighting. 

Rep. Liz Cheney was removed from her leadership role in the Republican House Caucus, number 3 behind Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, because they said she would not back down from talking about and challenging the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, which she firmly stated is not true, and talking about the events of Jan. 6 and the Insurrection at the Capital.

In contrast, at almost every event he attends for the Republican party, including a National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) event just days before Liz Cheney spoke recently in the clip linked above, ALL former President Donald Trump does is talk about is the “Big Lie” for the most part. He says the real insurrection was Nov. 3, the election was stolen, and Jan. 6 was just patriots who wanted their country back. 

It is all a lie from Trump. A big one. That he continues to push and push and much of the national Republican party and conservative media goes right along with it because that is where viewers are, that is where the money is, and they are just okay with compliance. So they gaslight their followers and viewers.

Silence Liz Cheney, yes, but tell Donald Trump to knock it off, “how dare you!” No one is trying to silence Trump or remove him from his defacto leadership of the Republican party. They do what Cheney accused them of, sit on their hands and let him destroy things. For some I guess they hope if they close their eyes maybe he will go away or die or something.

This begs the question:

If this is the behavior of the majority, then where are the “sane” Republicans?  Are there any left?

Of course they are out there, but they have chosen silence. Don’t rock the boat, don’t let the party cast you out as a traitor and “up end” your life for principles or morals or values. Party is your country now.

They don’t get involved because to do so is to be criticized until you are forced to retire and/or quit after sustaining abuse from the loudest and craziest in the party. Inmates are running that asylum once called the Republican Party now. Better option for the “sane” ones left is to stay quiet, don’t get involved, like Uncle Owen from Star Wars.

Integrity and conscience are no longer virtues in that Land of Republican Party. They are now liabilities.

In a messed-up way, considering how we have ignored so much for so long and now social media has put all of it on steroids, the good and the bad, one could say this is what we, as a nation, deserve. 

We have been at it for centuries, noting that politics is corrupt. It wasn’t 100% corrupt, but it very well be now on its way to being so because we wished it so and now that might all it is.

Frank Herbert said that “Absolute power does not corrupt absolutely, absolute power attracts the corruptible.” It did and now it does so even more. It attracts those who want that power only for the sake of it and they are the majority. It is becoming the purview of the worst of us.

I want to end on this last question, no answer, but a mediation:

What happens when we let the perfect be the enemy of the good?

This is a question for all out there, right and left, but even more so on the left right now. It is as if they cannot recognize the real threat and are willing to, like the extreme right, destroy what is theirs’s if it is not perfect. Even if it is good, if it is not within the orthodoxy of one’s ideology it must be cast out. 

This is how democracies die.

All for now.

J C Evans


The Bulwark Podcast: “Dana Milbank: McCarthy is All-in”

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