Charlie’s Thursday podcast had him talking with Donald Moynihan, political science professor at Georgetown University (Nov. 11, 2021).
Charlie led the podcast with a question I have thought about for at least a decade and seems keep getting worse:
Are we really at the moment in American politics?
To me, this is not a new question but is one that has been getting harder and harder in past through administrations it seems. It is worth bringing it up again, because, to paraphrase Charlie here, there is something not normal going on that we, as a nation, really need to slow down and look at it closer.
Even worse is that the nature of politics, on a national level is becoming so divisive and embedded with extreme hints of violence against decenters, especially on the right.
For example, there is growing move for internal retaliation against those who break with the party on things. The 13 House Republicans who decided to vote with the Democrats on the bipartisan infrastructure deal last Friday are being viewed by some as traitors. Why?
There were 6 Democrats, who voted in protest against the bill out of fear that the Build Back Better bill they support will not be taken up. They are Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, and Cori Bush.
No one is avidly calling them traitors on the left for the most part. With them, generally, it’s just a matter of disappointment but with the Republicans it is exponentially more extreme.
The vitriol and hate that is being encouraged and flooded in the direction of those 13 is unsettling and disturbing to anyone who might take note and believe that this is not how things should be done in politics. The New York Timesdiscusses these threats, and the Washington Post had an article on it, in particular the death threats that GOP Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan was receiving.
On the podcast, Charlie plays an excerpt, released to NBC News by Rep. Upton’s office of one of the death threats where the caller claims to seek to kill him and his whole family.
What is going on?
Even more intriguing, and both Charlie has pointed this out and I have written about this, is that these 13 House members are now being targeted for retribution, but no one seems to acknowledge that 19 GOP Senators voted for this bill in the Senate back in August of this year.
What makes the actions of the 13 in the House so egregious? It is really quite unclear to me as it is to many, but it may have to do with the idea that these 13 could have helped really “sink” the whole bill and therefore do damage to President Biden’s agenda. Maybe.
What remains disturbing is the threats, both from other members of Congress, elements in the conservative media, and the voters. These things are feeding each other. Sarah Longwell, publisher and contributor at The Bulwark, on a podcast that came out Friday, Nov. 12, views these three contributors (politicians, conservative media, and voters) as locked in a toxic triangle of doom. They feed off each other and drive a spiral that leads the national party downward into dark places.
A question to mediate on and think about going forward is this: If we tolerate, encourage, and allow this kind of negativity, this kind of pseudo (and possibly real) violent rhetoric and action to permeate our lives and world, are we sure America is a Christian nation anymore?
Something to deeply reflect on because if this is our direction, we are not.
Charlie’s conversation to this point really puts the emphasis, one I agree with, that much of our political discourse these days among other things is really dialed up to maximum. There is a ominous, growing threat of political violence that is becoming hard to ignore anymore, some might still say it is hyperbolic, but just look at it clearly and the picture is one that is becoming bleaker as it progresses.
Because there is NO one there to ratchet it back, tamp it down.
There are not nearly enough people trying to dial things back. Not the Republican party or its leadership, not the conservative media, or the voters, especially not the real diehard MAGA fans out there. They don’t see the consequences of this threat of political violence on the naïve end of things and on the other side many of them may actually want it to happen. Instead, it is filtered into an information network that is breaths fury and grievance and hate and mistrust and suspicion the vast majority of the time.
Right wing media pressures right wing politicians who are pressured by voters who are also pressured by right wing media. There are few or no dissenting voices inside the system anymore, at least not on a national level, it is a near monolith. It creates an incentive structure for many, mainly the national politicians, to stoke the fires of destruction than do anything to try and calm them down.
For Charlie, a microcosm of all of this is taking place where he lives and works, Wisconsin. That thing is the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who faces charges of murder after killing two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin during unrest that became violent. Whether Rittenhouse is found guilty or acquitted, the big mistake noted by Charlie is that there are those who aim to make him into a hero.
Kyle Rittenhouse, like Ashli Babbitt is for those who support Trump and the Big Lie that the election was stolen and who died during the events of Jan. 6, 2021, is a victim and a tragedy.
Neither he nor Babbitt are martyrs or heroes, they are victims of a culture and system that allowed them to become twisted and manipulated.
Those who try to lift them up like martyrs are really lifting up a celebration of violence.
In the case of Ashli Abbitt, it is a celebration of fanaticism and willingness to do whatever they think they need to do regardless of people trying to stop them. That is how she was killed, I’ve seen the video (not edited like some who defend her), by failing to see the consequences of her actions, failing to stop when warned.
With Kyle Rittenhouse the celebration of violence comes from the fetishization of guns and gun culture in this nation that has pushed forward the acceptance of vigilantism.
Charlie cuts right to the point when he says that if this kid, Kyle Rittenhouse, is transformed into a role model, a hero what does that say for a future?
It will tell others who come after him that what he did was right. You should do it to, and that is something that should terrify us.
Why? What if I agree with Kyle’s reasoning and motivation?
Because the person he inspires may decide you or someone you know is the threat worth pursuing and killing. It is a real slippery slope that one should not ignore. To tread that path is to almost give up on the rule of law in general.
Charlie and Donald’s conversation does move to discussions of campus free speech and free speech in general, but I want to end this post by talking about the uncomfortable threat Donald Trump raises if he returns to power.
There is a gentlemen by the name of John McEntee.
This is a prime example of Trump’s conception of how to do things in politics. This is a young man, featured to an extent in Jonathan Karl’s forthcoming book, who was Trump’s body-man in the White House until John Kelly, when Chief of Staff, fired him for failing a security background check (due to outstanding gambling debts). After Kelly resigned, Trump brings him back and puts him in charge of the White House Personnel office where, having no experience, he abuses his power in making appointees, operates attempts to put political liaisons in various cabinet departments to spy and try to dictate actions there, and conducts witch hunts for those who are not loyal to Trump.
It’s worth examining because this example of McEntee is a warning of what might come if Trump returns to office. He will not appoint the best but only those people who are singularly loyal to him and very likely unqualified for their positions to make decisions that will undermine our government at every turn. Why? Simple, out of blind loyalty to one man and one man only: Donald Trump.
Welcome to the New North Korea.
Next time Trump and his minions will know where to go and what to do to cause real damage unlike last time.
To add one more thing, it is worth giving some thought to the ways, not unlike at other times and in my mind particularly the 1950s, the ways that the banning of books is growing again. We are also in the middle of a metaphorical and almost literal attempt to remove or ban books from schools.
Makes you wonder what one is living in? There are school boards are calling for this to be done. There is legislation focusing on what goes on in schools. Banning things is trending.
It is, like before, that those things and that knowledge that makes people feel uncomfortable that is targeted most.
For this era, what is being targeted now are books that tend to deal with race and racial issues, ones written by minority authors, and those dealing with issues surrounding LGBTQ discussion and content.
What’s being targeted tells us about the movement of the people who are opposing these books.
The illiberal attacks in our society do not simply come from the right, but also from the left.. Either way, the loser is all of us.
Though the extremism and censorship exists on both sides, the weighing of it tends to reveal that the greater threat comes from the right at this time, because like the left but because the right has more footholds in local and state governments, their censorship has the backing of the state.
This is playing out right now in Florida, where the University of Florida acting on behalf of the state, is forbidding it’s professors from testifying against Ron DeSantis and state government attempts at possible voter suppression. State sanctioned censorship, very likely.
Where are the defenders of absolute free speech on the right in regard to this?
Donald Moynihan feels that it is unfortunate that we live in a day and age, and this is something that affects perceptions on a political scale towards institutions like universities, that anecdotes and stories have come to be perceived as real data.
The reality is, as Donald points out, that what people don’t understand from the outside looking in, is that university campuses are places designed and full of people who are disagreeing with each other.
That’s good, that’s what supposed to happen.
However, when it makes its way out into the mainstream of our polarized culture it ends up being turning into a situation. Maybe you invited a controversial speaker, a conservative, and there is a campus backlash, so the university cancels. Oh no! Scandal. Censorship! Never mind that someone else may reinvite him to come and speak, it is the first story that is juicier. All of it ultimately is harmful to the mission of universities to be institutions of learning and idea.
The true sign of our polarization problem is really exposed, as Charlie points out, in the hypocrisy that exists when these people who profess academic free-speech and non-censorship of ideas will simply abandon the principle if the situation is somehow reversed.
Yes, but in our information age today, perhaps that was inevitable.
BA in History from Northwestern State, MA in English from Northwestern State, and PhD in Rhetoric from Texas Woman's University. Big into comic books and visual rhetoric. Assistant Professor of English at Claflin University, Orangeburg, SC.
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