Skip to comments.The Madness Returns-ferocious incivility Americans witnessed has arisen largely from the left
Posted on 10/24/2018 5:09:18 AM PDT by SJackson
The ferocious incivility Americans have witnessed for decades has arisen largely from the leftand for good reason
You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about, Hillary Clinton said recently in a CNN interview. Thats why I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, thats when civility can start again. The remark was quintessentially Clintonian in its brazen arrogance: Well act like adults when you give us our power back. She was roundly condemned for the statement on the right, coming as it did after a series of both outrageous rhetorical attacks and criminal physical assaults on Republican officeholders. In June of last year a crazed leftist attempted to murder GOP lawmakers while they played baseballand nearly succeeded in the case of Steve Scalise. Five months later, Rand Paul was throttled by an irate neighbor and suffered several broken ribs. In 2018, Republican officials have been chased out of restaurants, targeted by a failed ricin attack, criminally doxxed online, nearly stabbed by a knife-wielding assailant, and shrieked at by deranged protesters. Conservative intellectuals have been assaulted, threatened, and bullied by students on campuses across the country. If we associate the extrajudicial antics of Antifa with the lefts drift toward incivility, the situation begins to ring alarms.
The news media are attempting to draw parallels between these recent events and spectacles that appear to cast Republicans and conservatives in the role of delirious demonstrators or would-be assassinsthe 2011 shooting of Democratic congresswoman Gabby Giffords or angry voters shouting at congressmen after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009. The parallels dont work. Giffordss assailant wasnt any kind of conservative or Republican. The anti-Obamacare protesters did not appear to hold partisan or ideological allegiances (Republican lawmakers got earfuls, too) and their protests were nothing close to the shrill malevolence and outright violence carried out by todays more strident progressives.
The commentators have a whiff of an argument when they complain about Donald Trumps boorishness and incivilityin particular a couple of instances in which he urged his supporters to play rough with protesters (If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? . . . I will pay for the legal fees). But a single presidential candidate condoning violence isnt the same as hordes perpetrating it, and candidate Trump said these things in reaction to being heckled, not to or about people minding their own business.
The prevalence of vicious and defamatory rhetoric in our politics is a product of whats commonly called polarization. One popular interpretation holds that it all began in the 1990s with the polarizing figures of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. Steve Kornackis The Red and the Blue (just published by Ecco) offers a version of this thesis. Another view, expressed with great clarity by Jonathan Rauch in the Atlantic in 2016, holds that well-meaning reforms of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s that did away with political machines and pork-barrel politics made governing impossible and gave rise to sociopathic politicians. These are valuable accounts, but they avoid one crucial point: that in the United States the political left is much readier to use vicious and defamatory rhetoric than the political right.
No serious observer would deny that people on the righteven some very prominent people on the rightsay unpardonable things about their political foes. But theres no reason to pretend that the ferocious incivility Americans have witnessed for decades has arisen in equal part from the left and the right. That is not true. It has arisen mainly from the left. And not just from the nutjobs and fringe personalities of the left, either. We have just witnessed an attempt by the Democratic partys top leaders to defame a man for no other reason than that his ascension to the Supreme Court would give the court a slim conservative majority.
I use the term defame loosely. To qualify as defamation in most American jurisdictionsslander when spoken, libel when writtena claim must be (a) false, (b) knowingly false, and (c) damaging to the reputation or livelihood of the object. Public officials usually cannot successfully sue for defamation. Kavanaugh would not win a defamation lawsuit against the Senate Judiciary Committees Democrats even though they had a clear hand in trumpeting unproven or demonstrably false allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. Yet by any common understanding of defamation, virtually the whole of the leftcongressional Democrats, scores of commentators and editorialists, and hundreds of screeching, placard-waving protestersdefamed a decent man for political gain by portraying his youth as a sequence of sexual assaults, gang rapes, and drunken violence. And they did so when they had no firm evidence that these things were true. They repeated the allegations again and again. They did not care if the claims were truethe benefit of their being thought true was enough if it meant the defeat in the Senate of a nomination to which Democrats had already expressed savage hostility.
Supreme Court confirmations are a useful metric to gauge political defamation. The supposition that conservatives are as prone to making defamatory attacks as their liberal correlatives is upended by the last three decades of hearings on choices for the High Court, beginning with the Democrats slanderous attacks on Robert Bork in 1987. Ted Kennedy worded his accusation on the Senate floor in a way that avoided any straightforward claim that Bork himself was a racist, a misogynist, and a fan of police-state brutality, but the accusatory intent of his remarks was clear: Most Popular Fact Check: Did Stacey Abrams Suggest Agriculture Is Unnecessary Due to Grocery Stores?
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Robert Borks America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of the government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.
The Democrats reward for defaming an honorable man was the ascension of the far more amenable Anthony Kennedy. Three years later, wishing to avoid another brawl, George H.W. Bush chose David Souter, about whom almost nothing was known. Souter turned out to be one of the Courts decided liberals.
After Souter, Senate Democrats subjected every Supreme Court nominee of a Republican president to defamatory accusations. In 1991, Clarence Thomas was accused without evidence of sexual harassment. In 2005, John Roberts was falsely accused by NARAL, a pro-abortion group, of defending abortion-clinic bomber Eric Rudolph. In 2006, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee labored to associate Samuel Alito with racist and otherwise bigoted statements to which he had no significant connection. In 2017, Democratic senators broadly suggested that Neil Gorsuch was guilty of sexist hiring practices and of holding unjust views on race. The nominee was, further, asked to explain his membership at Columbia University in the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta, which was supposedly known for racism and date rape. And of course in 2018 those same Democrats all but openly called Brett Kavanaugh a gang rapist and a lush.
Senate Republicans, by contrast, even when they strongly opposed a Democratic nominee, refrained from engaging in anything close to such tactics. Nothing remotely similar was done to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, or Elena Kagan. Merrick Garland, Obamas third Supreme Court nominee, appointed late in the presidents second term, was denied a vote on his nomination but accused of no crimes or of holding retrograde opinions. Liberals complained bitterly about the Garland nomination, but who wouldnt rather be garlanded than borked?
Unless were prepared to believe that Republican presidents tend to nominate bigots and sexual criminals whereas Democratic presidents do not, we are left to conclude that Democrats and liberals are more comfortable with imputing base motives and dishonorable conduct to their adversaries than Republicans and conservatives. The question is: Why?
Political Power vs. Cultural Power
Conservatives may relish the thought that their ideological opposites are peculiarly prone to defame their adversaries and otherwise speak and act uncivilly. We should avoid preening. A fine argument can be mounted that conservatives tend more often to act on irrational fear than liberals do. We see the rights susceptibility to fear in the rise of Joe McCarthy at midcentury, the paranoia of extreme anti-Communist groups in the 1960s and 70s, the arming of local police with military gear and equipment a decade ago, and the rise of the alt-right today. The emotion generating these phenomena was fear, not hatred. Likewise, the nomination of Donald Trump on the grounds that he expressed a sharp aversion to progressive excesses of the previous eight years was born of reactive panic rather than proactive hatred.
There are circumstantial reasons for the frenzied and unreasonable behavior of todays left-liberal officeholders and activists. The proximate cause would seem to be Trump. Many, perhaps most, do not consider him a legitimate president, just as many did not consider George W. Bush a legitimate president. Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean could therefore say in 2003 that it was an interesting theory that Bush had known about the September 11 attacks before they happened and did nothing. A large majority of the Democratic party believed the same and furthermore believed that the 2000 election had been stolen. Few on the left expressed apprehension about this and other loose, defamatory allegations of treason. The ideal of honor is weak to the point of death in Western societies. In an earlier era, a public official accused of treasonous conduct would have challenged his accuser to a duel. The duelers might have deliberately missed each other, or not, but the accused would have demonstrated his readiness to defend his reputation to the point of dying or shedding blood, and that would have been the end of it. Dueling seems bizarre in an age without honorabout as bizarre as our casual defamation would have seemed in an earlier one.
But there is far more to the present situation than a chief executive whose policies and personality liberals dont like. Their hostility is frenzied, apt to become violent, and directed at everything and everybody on the other side, not just the hated president and his administration.
Think of power in two parts: cultural power and political power. Liberals hold nearly all the cultural power the United States has to offer. They dominate the universities, even the universities in the South, where liberalism is anemic. Cultural institutionsmuseums, arts agencies, opera housesbelong almost exclusively to liberals. Their control of the entertainment industry is nearly complete. The media, too: Fox News and talk radio notwithstanding, liberals still dominate the most eminent and authoritative divisions of print and televised news. How they acquired all this cultural power is a dense topic; suffice it here to say there was no concerted effort to get it. The sphere of cultural power attracts a certain kind of persona person who believes society ought to be arranged along rational lines and in keeping with the most advanced thought of the dayand such persons are, almost by definition, liberal. To put it less charitably, the cultural sphere attracts people who view themselves as part of an elite, and most elites believe that society should be run by elites. WELL.v24-08.2018-10-29.Swaim-3.MichaelBThomas_AFP_Getty.jpg A ctor Danny DeVito with Bernie Sanders, March 13, 2016.
Political power is something altogether different and, in a republic modeled on universal suffrage, cannot be dominated by the elite simply because they are elite. To achieve the kind of hegemony in the political sphere liberals have achieved in the cultural sphere, they would need a philosophy of government and a field of candidates capable of appealing to people who live in places they would rather not visit. They would need people who can win elections, not just in the boroughs of New York and in L.A. County, but also in Kentucky and Arizona and Nebraska and Alabama.
The problem for liberals is that they believe their political power should correspond to their cultural power. At any one time, Republicans are likely to hold more state legislatures and more governors mansions than Democrats, and they are slightly more likely to hold the two chambers of Congress and the White House. That is a remarkable paradox and a testament to the almost perverse independent-mindedness of the American electorate: About half of them just dont care that much what the most influential people in their country say about politics. Indeed, liberals will protest that the proportion is less than half, since Democratic voters pay an electoral price for their tendency to congregate in large metropolitan areas where their votes are diluted. This is a constant source of pain for liberals, but the pain has become acute since Trumps victory. Hence the complaints about the Electoral College being a countermajoritarian institution; the earnest theorizing about whether populous states like New York and California should be given a third senator; and the sudden obsession with gerrymandering and voter suppression, which Democrats believe must be responsible for Republicans otherwise unaccountable majorities.
All this helps to explain why Supreme Court nominations by Republican presidents (and to a lesser extent their federal court nominations) have become so rancorous. For many years, the federal judiciary was the one area of political power over which liberals held pronounced influence. The judiciary, though dependent for its members on the political branches, especially the executive, functions in practice more like an arm of cultural powerand the vast majority of its members are drawn from elite universities. It is not subject to elections. Ordinary voters outside the capital, even people who follow politics closely, know almost nothing about federal judges; their decisions seem to come from nowhere.
With the defeat of the Bork nomination and three years later the ascension to the court of a furtive liberal in David Souter, Republicans figured out the game and began more deliberately to create a class of conservative judgesjudges who would refrain from the sorts of results-based left-liberal eisegesis for which liberal judges are known. With the nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1991, therefore, and especially with George W. Bushs federal court nominations, conservatives began to deprive liberals of the one arm of political power they had come to count on (and that had supplied many of their greatest policy winsLochner v. New York, Griswold v. Connecticut, Roe v. Wade).
Their unhappiness with this unforeseen deprivation has expressed itself in some of the ugliest smears in modern American politics. One is not likely soon to forget the spectacle of Democratic grandees slowly reciting salacious and uncorroborated accusations before television cameras in the evident hope that the public would forever associate a collection of obscene images with Brett Kavanaugh.
They Need Their Dragons
The ease with which Democrats and liberals defame their enemies isnt entirely a recent circumstance, however. Just as conservatives are inherently prone to fear and must guard against it, modern liberals tend at all times to traduce their adversaries. The urge to defame is intrinsic to modern liberalism.
Modern American liberalism is a messy combination of two major strands of thought. The first and older of these is the Anglo-American Protestant and Puritan heritage of the 16th and 17th centuries. Todays liberals dont much appreciate the Christian component of their inheritance, preferring to think of themselves exclusively as children of the Enlightenment, but the British Enlightenment was always an expression of the Protestant culture from which it sprang. Liberals emphasis on societys duty to protect the weak and vulnerable, and especially their obsession with individual autonomy, didnt come from nowhere. The modern liberals tendency to view everything as a moral struggle against the forces of darkness began as a religious impulse.
The second strand of modern liberalism is the radical Marxian one. This is the source of the modern liberals rationalist economics (sometimes called state planning or statism) and historical determinism (sometimes called progressivism). There is a contradiction at the heart of Marxian thought about the origins of evil, and the contradiction affects everything. On the one hand, man is born innocent and innately good. On the other, there are terrible things in the world and we must find and punish whoever is responsible for them. Where did these bad things come from if man is born good? This is a mystery that no Enlightenment or post-Enlightenment philosopher has ever solved. Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed he had solved the problem by locating mans fall at the moment when he first discovered the possibility of owning property; from that discovery sprang greed and corruption and violence (see the famous opening passage of his second Discourse, on inequality). For Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, similarly, man naturally seeks the good, but the division of labor brings about the class system and thus the opportunity to exploit the masses. Again: Man is essentially good, indeed perfectible, but human life is terrible; someone therefore is responsible. There is plenty of disagreement in early Marxist thought about who is responsible for exploitationthe wealthy capitalists alone? the bourgeois too? those who ran the institutions of the capitalist state?but all agreed that these groups would have to be shamed and eliminated.
These two traditions, the Christian and the Marxian, amalgamated in the 20th century into a creed in perpetual need of bad and immoral things to oppose and destroyand, by extension, bad and immoral people to vilify.
There is no better description of the excesses to which this creed is prone than the first paragraph of the political philosopher Kenneth Minogues masterpiece, The Liberal Mind (1963). The story of liberalism, as liberals tell it, Minogue began, is rather like the legend of St. George and the dragon.
After many centuries of hopelessness and superstition, St. George, in the guise of Rationality, appeared in the world somewhere about the sixteenth century. The first dragons upon whom he turned his lance were those of despotic kingship and religious intolerance. These battles won, he rested a time, until such questions as slavery, or prison conditions, or the state of the poor, began to command his attention. During the nineteenth century, his lance was never still, prodding this way and that against the inert scaliness of privilege, vested interest, or patrician insolence. But, unlike St. George, he did not know when to retire. The more he succeeded, the more he became bewitched with the thought of a world free of dragons, and the less capable he became of ever returning to private life. He needed his dragons. He could only live by fighting for causesthe people, the poor, the exploited, the colonially oppressed, the underprivileged and the underdeveloped. As an ageing warrior, he grew breathless in his pursuit of smaller and smaller dragonsfor the big dragons were now harder to come by.
By the mid-1990s, liberalism accomplished all it was ever going to accomplish. Occasionally it stumbles into easy victoriesthink of the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage, which liberals either opposed or didnt care about just a few years beforebut by and large liberalism is a spent force. Everything it wanted to try, it has tried: social-welfare policies, affirmative action and related social engineering, liberal internationalism, the expansion of the franchise and civil rights to everyone. Sometimes it succeeded, sometimes it failed, but liberalism has no new ideas. It has slain all the dragons its destined to slay.
During the Obama years, liberals roamed the country looking for beasts to slay and found only tiny ones that werent dragons at all. By the end of his second term, we found ourselves arguing about microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and transgendered bathrooms.
With the election of Donald Trump, suddenly there appeared a fierce and detestable dragon, and liberals have thrown all their energies into the morally redeeming work of destroying it. Trump often jokes that he has saved the failing New York Times, meaning he has given the newspapers staff and readers something to get excited about in opposing him. I dont know if his claim is true, but in a real sense he has saved liberalism from despondency. Suddenly liberals have turned against the identity politics on which they were wasting their energies just a few years agonote the number of prominent left-wing intellectuals whove publicly condemned identity politics since Trumps victoryand given themselves completely to the morally uplifting work of saving the nation and the world from this unlikely tyrant. In an inversion of an old evangelical dictum, liberals hate the sinner but love the sinthey hate the man Trump with all their souls but love what hes done because it has given them new life.
This newly revived liberalism doesnt use swords but wordsstrong words. It is no defense of Trumps sometimes egregious conduct in office or his administrations fitful competence to acknowledge that todays liberal will write and say just about anything to pierce the presidents scaly exterior. Every day the opinion pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post are little more than recitations of his awfulness, as if liberalism itself consists in whatever brings about his humiliation. The need to destroy has returned to American liberalism like an old madness, and those who show up in the wrong place at the wrong time will find themselves maimed by the lunatic lancerslandered, screamed at, assaulted. Brett Kavanaugh can attest to this with chagrin.
Hillary Clinton was basically right. Democrats cant behave civilly. To do so would be to renounce their purpose.
If “largely” means 99.9%, then the headline is correct.
“The ferocious incivility Americans have witnessed for decades has arisen largely from the left”
Duh. The author uses many words to state the blatantly obvious.
Don't count them out yet. They still have their mobs...
When did so-called Progressives give up identity politics?
Their entire focus is to demonize White men at every turn - most especially White, Straight, Christian, Southern men. They HATE those with these characteristics (the more of the above describe you, the more they hate you) at least as much as any religious fanatics have ever hated infidels. Thats what they are by the way - religious fanatics. I often call them neopuritans. Theyre every bit as fanatical, intolerant, humorless, scolding and lustfull of power and control over others as the first group of puritans. Its no coincidence that its the original groups descendants - New Englanders - who are at the heart of it.
As a headline I read recently summed it up: “Civility if for Suckers”.
American’s civic religion of niceness evolved into an ethic of “toleration for me, but not for thee”. Civility was always one-sided. Those who were victims of intolerance by those preaching tolerance and civility finally learned how to fight back.
I read this article a day or two ago and was very happy to see it. There aren’t enough articles that point out that the problem with violence and “incivility” in American politics is a Leftwing phenomenon, and has been going on since the late 1960s. The Left hated Nixon, Reagan, Bush II and now Trump. In the 1990s when Clinton was president, they hated Bob Dole — Bob Dole, of all people! And, of course, they hated Newt Gingrich in the 90s too. As in Orwell’s 1984, they need a hate object so they build anyone they can into one. Once Trump goes, they will hate the next leader of the Republican Party just as much as they hated Trump — and Reagan and Bush.
Had to stop reading here:
the rise of Joe McCarthy at midcentury, the paranoia of extreme anti-Communist groups in the 1960s and 70s
MCCARTHY WAS RIGHT.
The Leftist narrative has been completely disproven, and McCarthy only serves as another example of Leftists destroying another fine American patriot. Im sick of the continued smears while vile tyrants and their acolytes are heaped with praise and their crimes against humanity glossed over.
COMMUNISTS ARE EVIL KILLERS OF MILLIONS AND THE DEMOCRAT PARTY HAS BECOME THEIR AMERICAN ARM.
ENTIRELY FROM THE LEFT.
I thought Mitch McConnell showed great dignity and self-possession when he was assailed in a restaurant.
Wrong. They use bike locks, boulders, fecal matter, ...
... Trumps sometimes egregious conduct...
You mean to tell me you didnt know Trump puts ketchup on STEAK?
Huh? I thought the left was "pro-choice"?
Does Trump use Israeli ketchup? Mushroom ketchup? Green ketchup? What's the problem?
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