An older column, but perhaps useful for reference.
An older column, but perhaps useful for reference.
This is the text of an email that I sent to the office of Jeff Flake (R.-Arizona).
Dear Mr. Flake:
On Tuesday October 24, you made a public announcement that you were not going to run for re-election to the Senate in 2018, on the same day making a speech to the Senate explaining your reasons. Among other things, you said “our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than it is by our values and our principles… We must never regard as ‘normal’ the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals.” Without referring to Donald Trump by name, you specifically said: “Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes normal.” But you concluded by saying that you had to address this matter by retiring at the end of your term, because: “It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party – the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.”
The reaction among Beltway liberals and even conservatives was not entirely sympathetic. Many wondered why you would refuse to fight against a system that you now consider intolerable, while others pointed out that the fact that one can only speak out by refusing to participate in it is the reason it cannot be reformed. But the general mood was one of disappointment. I have even seen one columnist (David Faris, at The Week) say that you and Bob Corker ought to defect to the Democrats if you really want to make a difference by tilting the balance. I can understand why you would dismiss such an appeal. It’s not like Democrats are doing very well on their own merits. Moreover, liberals who seriously proffer such an idea severely underestimate the cultural gap that has to be crossed, especially on issues like abortion rights. They don’t understand the level of persecution complex in conservatism, just as they overestimate their own capacity to argue in good faith. When a leftist says “be reasonable and compromise with us!” the right-winger hears “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”
But your party already has been assimilated, hasn’t it?
You may disagree, but I’ve thought that the pathologies behind Trump were long-developing before he decided to run for office, and that the Republican Party already was more his party than your party. They were just waiting for Trump to show up. As Jonathan Chait put it in a short but potent piece for New York Magazine, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/10/jeff-flakes-rousing-speech-illustrates-trumps-hold-on-gop.html “The conservative identity of the modern party is a function of elites harnessing ethno-nationalist resentment, and using it to advance a policy agenda favored by conservative elites. At times they have succeeded (a series of tax cuts) and at times they have failed (attempting to privatize Social Security and reform immigration). But they largely declined to question the underlying cast of their party and their method of using one kind of political appeal to harvest votes, and using the power acquired thereby on another kind of policy altogether. Trump stole their base from them fair and square by appealing directly to what they wanted. ”
If you believe that anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy, and if you also believe that it is now prohibitively difficult for a Republican like you to succeed in the Republican Party, then you must realize that there is no longer a party there worth supporting. At the same time you want to have genuine political competition, which cannot happen by defecting to the Democrats. But what is really necessary is to realize that this is not a matter of “waiting for the fever to break.” It is not a matter of waiting until Trump is not president anymore and assuming things will get back to normal. Things will not get back to normal. Because “normal” was a dysfunctional political system that was not serving the voters, and that is why they ended it.
For one thing, you have to ask yourself how much of your opposition to Trump is based on his policies (whatever they are, I don’t know) and how much is based on who he is. Put another way, would you still support the same agenda in the Senate if the president were, say, Ted Cruz or any other Republican? And then ask: Would the people who voted for Trump support your party’s legislative agenda if any other Republican were president?
I suspect the answers to these questions are Yes and No, in that order.
And that is why you did not call on Republicans to vote for Evan McMullin or Gary Johnson when you had the chance, it is why you did not make your decision until now, and it is why your fellow Republicans have yet to muster even that much courage.
Because you – and in the broad view, when I say “you” I mean the Republican Party collectively more than you, Mr. Flake – have operated on the same bait-and-switch that Mr. Chait implied in his piece, where the donor class that funds your campaigns wanted one thing and the people that actually vote wanted another and you were trying to split the difference and hope neither of them noticed. The result is that while you may think the Republican Party represented free trade, immigration reform, and small government, its voters wanted a Big Government that looked out for their demographic. Even now, the two factions are lying to each other, and lying to themselves. Steve Bannon, Trump’s “populist” idea man, is currently planning to take the scalp of every incumbent Republican Senator except Ted Cruz. Why? Because he, like Bannon and Trump, supports and is supported by the Mercer family. (Just as Bannon, Cruz and Trump are all connected to Goldman Sachs.) The people who claim they are going to “drain the swamp” are just as much a part of it as all the others.
Senator Flake, you correctly decided that the only way to win this game was not to play it. But that isn’t enough. Because walking away is not going to improve the system in the long run. In the short run it means that the forces currently in control will be able to replace you with someone more to their liking.
Returning to Chait’s column: “In his dramatic resignation speech on the Senate floor, Flake holds up as the solution the separation of powers created in 1789:
I stand to say that we would better serve the country and better fulfill our obligations under the constitution by adhering to our Article 1 “old normal” — Mr. Madison’s doctrine of the separation of powers. This genius innovation which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 — held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract each other when necessary. “Ambition counteracts ambition,” he wrote
“Whatever its other successes, this aspect of the Constitution’s design is proving a failure. Ambition is not counteracting ambition. Members of the Legislative branch are able to oppose Trump only if they surrender their ambition. The Constitution did not anticipate the role that would be played by political parties, which has created a reality in which the Legislative and Executive branches are either set in implacable opposition to each other (if under split control or in which the former is a tool of the latter (if under unified control). ”
This is an issue with the system regardless of who the president is. It was a problem with the Democrats under Barack Obama and especially under Bill Clinton. But until now it was not a national security issue.
Donald Trump did basically the same thing as Bernie Sanders, running for the nomination of a major party that he never really belonged to and had never served in office under, because that would have been easier to run for the general election than as an independent. But in Trump’s case, it was also because he knew that an effective sub-branch of government would have no choice but to do what he says. There are reasons why Sanders failed and Trump succeeded, but mostly because the two parties were not in the same situation. The Democrats had a popular incumbent president who (along with senior leadership) decided it was Hillary Clinton’s “turn” after agreeing to support his nomination in 2008. Thus the party put its thumb on the scales during primary season. Moreover, Sanders really didn’t have much of a support base in the South, where he really needed to pick up votes. Whereas not only did Trump appeal to Republicans who felt like they weren’t being listened to before, the Republican leadership was so desperate for power after eight years out of the White House that they would say anything, promise anything and break any other promise to follow somebody who looked like a winner. And so, they did. And they, and you, continued to support him no matter what shameful thing he did, because to you the shame was worth political power. And because doing otherwise would have let the Democrats win.
And so your party continues to support Donald Trump, who is doing that much more than the Democrats to undermine traditional morality and the institutions of government, precisely because you are enabling him to do so.
The party system has become like a cancer on the body politic, and like a cancer, it turns the healthy processes of a body against itself in order to grow.
It cannot be allowed to continue this way. But it will do so unless it is stopped. And you are one of the few people who is in position to do something about it.
My suggestion: change your party registration and run for re-election under the Libertarian Party.
Republican voters are all angry at the leadership, but whereas the Trump fans were mad at them for not making the country a police state, the rest of us were angry at them for going too far in that direction. Your party leadership blew us off because compared to the amount of nativists out there, you decided there weren’t enough of us. But the nativists are all with Trump now. So we’re going to have to be enough.
Your base will have to be the people who have no base. The rest of us. The people who, like you, saw what was happening to the political system and decided we wanted no part of it.
Would running as a Libertarian spoil the next Senate election? The question is, spoil it compared to what? That is a choice every potential candidate has to make if for one reason or another they can’t get a major party nomination. As journalists have pointed out, both Lisa Murkowski (a Republican primaried by the Tea Partiers) and Joe Lieberman (a Democrat primaried for not being left-wing enough) did end up making independent runs and winning re-election without a party. You already are facing the choice of a party that betrays your principles versus a party that always opposed your principles. There would have been some measure of grief if you had acted on principle earlier, but not nearly as much as the amount you have to face now that you’ve painted yourself into a corner.
Doesn’t running as a Libertarian mean abandoning conservative principles? What principles are those, or rather, what principles do conservatives still have in practice? Are you worried that you would have to give up being anti-abortion? The Libertarian Party is not as specific on the issue as the Democratic Party. The party platform (at lp.org) says: “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.” In any case, weighing the unknown number of potential unborn versus the thousands upon millions of people in Korea, Japan and the United States being endangered by Donald Trump’s vanity, the matter of being “pro-life” is a simple question of priorities.
But you said you didn’t want to go through the stresses of running a campaign. Well, that’s the beautiful part. If you’re running as a Libertarian, you won’t have to run all across the country, hat in hand, schlepping for campaign contributions. Because you won’t get any. Certainly not from the Koch Brothers, who are often cited as founders of the Libertarian Party but are not helping them now. It’s almost as if, contrary to liberal propaganda, corporate billionaires want a regulatory state, as long as they can control it. So don’t even bother. Just do your job like you’re doing now. In fact, you’ll have just as much chance of getting elected as a third-party candidate as you will by taking your current choice of action and not running at all.
What you will have is something no other third-party candidate has, and that is the advantage of incumbency. That in turn means you can use the media exposure you already have to promote a new concept of politics, that holds freedom of trade, freedom of movement and freedom of conscience as primary values, that holds the Constitution as the law of the land, not the whims of the political class. That is what you and a few other Republicans like Rand Paul have always said you believed in, but perhaps if you had gotten that across with your legislation, you might not be in this dilemma now.
If you don’t want to do this, that’s okay, but if you are remaining in the Republican Party for the duration of your term and thereafter, that means you are going to have to answer some questions when, not if, they come up. Like, if “Chemtrail” Kelli Ward is nominated to take your seat, will you endorse her, for the sake of party? Or will you say that there are bigger issues than party? If you don’t run as a Libertarian, if you don’t at least try to get out of the trap, then you’re in the same situation you are now: wait until the primary and watch a Trump sycophant take your nomination or wait until next November and watch a Democrat take the seat. Quite likely both. At least this way you can try to change the terms of debate, and that is the only way anything can start to improve.
Because like I said, Mr. Flake, some of us already made your decision some time ago. We did not know exactly how the crisis would manifest, but we knew something was coming, based on the decisions that Republicans were making, and we knew that the system they created could not last. As you came to realize this week.
As they used to say on the Left: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
P.S.: The response I got from the Senator’s email was: “Thank you for contacting me. Because of the overwhelming number of e-mails I receive every day, I can only respond to residents of the State of Arizona.”
People are still wondering what to do about Harvey Weinstein.
CBS’ James Corden mentioned the issue – after late night hosts were taken to task for NOT mentioning the issue – at an October 13 event in Beverly Hills, by opening with ““This is a beautiful room, it’s a beautiful night here in L.A. It’s so beautiful, Harvey Weinstein has already asked tonight up to his hotel to give him a massage.” And later: “Harvey Weinstein wanted to come tonight, but he’ll settle for whatever potted plant is closest.”
This did not go over well. Rose McGowan, who was at the forefront of this issue, called Corden a “motherfucking piglet” and said that he was a friend of “HW.” Anthony Bourdain, whose girlfriend Asia Argento has (like McGowan) accused Weinstein of rape, ripped that much deeper into Corden, saying “NOONE stood up and said, ‘fuck you, Pop’n Fresh!'” and “Mr. Corden is free to tell whatever jokes he likes. As he should be. I’m free to suggest he’s a porcine, pandering tool”.
I was struck that while both McGowan and Bourdain were trying to strike out to stop women from being objectified, neither felt qualms about making fun of Corden’s weight. Now I love Anthony Bourdain, but: He’s on CNN. Not only that, he’s a chef, and should be a little more sensitive to the fact that weight gain is a possible hazard of gastronomy. I could ask Bourdain if his ability to eat without getting fat is a beneficial side effect of his former heroin addiction. But that would be mean.
I can understand the resentment somewhat. Harvey Weinstein is simply one very obnoxious example of something that has been tolerated in management-labor relations for longer than anyone has reported, and the culture is getting to a point where people want to do something about it. So they want comedians to bring it up. But then when comedians tell jokes about the subject, they go, “how DARE you! This has been made light of for far too long! The time for tasteless jokes about sexist millionaires is OVER!”
Oh, of course. When all the tasteless jokes and sexist millionaires have monopolized the Republican Party, there should be no place for them in our sense of humor.
But this is a serious subject. When Harvey Weinstein’s own brother says their relationship was so poisonous that he could barely deal with him on a professional level, the brand of the family name has gotten to the point that the future of The Weinstein Company – which produced the Lord of the Rings films and award-winning works by Anthony Mingella and Quentin Tarantino – is almost certainly limited. And it struck me: How does the rump organization survive when people still know it was associated with the lowest form of sexist, bullying boor?
Have Donald Trump buy it!
After all, he has much the same reputation, and he actually got elected.
And it’s no secret that Trump craves media attention and respectability. He tried to make himself an Atlantic City casino mogul in direct opposition to the industry in Las Vegas. And ran four casinos into the ground. He became a major owner in the spring-league USFL. And ran it into the ground. Then he lent his name to NBC’s The Apprentice. Which got cancelled in its first iteration after steadily declining ratings. So if anything happened to the (former) Weinstein Group under Trump, at least it doesn’t have much to lose.
And it is testimony to how surreal and reality-threatening this Administration is that just after I came up with that idea, I saw this article while web-surfing:
Close Trump Associate Invests in Weinstein Company, Will Presumably Also Pursue Cosby Partnership
“On Monday, the Weinstein Company announced that a financier named Tom Barrack has agreed to provide it with “an immediate capital infusion” and begin negotiations regarding ‘a potential sale of all or a significant portion of the Company’s assets.’ … In other words, it appears that Tom Barrack is bailing Harvey Weinstein and his enablers out.
“What are some of the other items on Tom Barrack’s professional résumé? Let’s hear from CNN:
It was 1994 and the land once known as “Trump City” was an embarrassing boondoggle, crumbling at the feet of an erratic namesake who took out $400 million in loans and seemed all too willing to default on more. Chase realtors could not see a path to black for debt king Donald Trump.
Tom Barrack could.
“Barrack, the network writes, then traveled from “New York to Los Angeles, Taiwan, London and Saudi Arabia, begging billionaires to buy the loans and keep the bankers from Trump’s throat.” And it worked! Barrack would go on to become a major fundraiser for Trump’s presidential campaign and chair Trump’s inaugural committee. Trump, of course, has been accused of sexual assault by 15 women.”
Truly, birds of a feather.
One has given lots of money and media attention to Bill and Hillary Clinton. One has been known to be violently abusive of his male associates and underlings, in public. One has an unproven but well-rumored reputation of of philandering, sexual harassment and even physical abuse and rape. And such rumors never get anywhere because said person has always used his legal and media connections to crush any individual victim’s attempts at exposure.
What’s the real difference between Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein? Clearly, the difference is that when one is a Democrat, Republicans actually care.
That’s the key. Republicans are clearly willing to tolerate the exact same things in Donald Trump that they would never tolerate in any other person. Not even any other Republican. Why? Because Republicans are good Christians. Because you have to have faith. And faith is trust in things unseen. Such as, Donald Trump’s intelligence, competence, and moral integrity.
Weinstein, or more directly, his company, needs a rebranding. Trump desperately craves legitimacy in the media. He can get it by attaching his brand to an equally desperate institution that used to have success and prestige and is now just trying to survive. Like he did with the Republican Party.
Trump. Weinstein. It’s a match made in Heaven.
That is, if you, like me, are an atheist.
Basically the same thing I said the other day, only with academic credentials.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.
-George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
This week, one of the biggest news stories was the sudden and cascading decline of movie producer Harvey Weinstein as testimony about his history of sexual harassment continued to reach the media. Things have gotten to the point where The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Weinstein from the institution “well in excess of the required two-thirds majority”.
There’s not too much more I can add except to touch on two points people have already made. One, Harvey Weinstein resembles nothing so much as a bowl of oatmeal with a beard on it. Second, Republicans cannot accuse feminist liberal Democrats of hypocrisy in supporting fundraiser Harvey Weinstein if they’re going to continue to enable Donald Trump, whose sexist behavior is that much more thoroughly documented and whose bullying and vengeful temperament is that much more publicly obvious.
Rather, I want to use this issue to touch on something that has been bugging me for a while and ties into it in several ways.
During this week, former actress Rose McGowan has been increasingly active on social media, especially Twitter, in regard to the Weinstein case. Eventually she stated that she was not merely harassed but actually raped by Weinstein. But on Thursday October 12, Twitter suspended her account, which caused McGowan to respond on Instagram asking concerned people to boycott Twitter over the matter. Twitter stated – after the fact – that the reason for McGowan’s suspension was that she had posted someone’s private phone number. They also said, “We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”
But as Vox.com pointed out, the miscommunication led to intense controversy for Twitter, along with accusations of inconsistency. “Because the offending tweet that included the phone number had been deleted, it wasn’t initially clear from McGowan’s Instagram post or a perusal of her Twitter feed which of Twitter’s rules she had violated. McGowan didn’t appear to have threatened anyone, and she wasn’t sharing graphic content or engaging in hate speech or violent speech.
“The industry veterans McGowan had been discussing in her tweets, however, are all powerful public figures in Hollywood. This fact, along with the lack of initial clarity about why she was suspended, led to rampant speculation that she was being silenced for being too aggressive about calling out the many men who allegedly stood by while Weinstein continued his pattern of assaults on women for years. ”
On Saturday, the ABC News site released a story about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s official response to the issue. And reading this piece I was struck by two things. One was that the platform was going to be clarifying new rules: “New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence. [sic] These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week.”
Secondly, for Dorsey to make his statement on Twitter, he had to release it in multiple posts. This is an increasingly common usage of the platform known as a “tweetstorm.” In this case, the article shows an excerpt starting with post 6: “We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them. 7/ New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence. 8/ These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week. ” As in, the quote that I just gave from the news article had to be posted as two separate posts in Twitter, within a larger announcement.
This phenomenon has started to develop some criticism within Twitter. One article on Buzzfeed implied that much of the need for the tweetstorm could be solved by just getting a blog. But it went further and mentioned complaints that the tweetstorm violates Twitter etiquette (‘Twitter etiquette’ being an oxymoron that ranks up there with ‘gaming journalism’) in that the “stormer” is making a multi-post statement with no indication of when it winds up, although there are some exceptions. This already shows signs of escalating: “Imagine, for a moment, a future version of Twitter where the tweetstorm™ convention spreads, bleeding first through the tech venture capital and entrepreneur community. Then the tech reporters catch on, issuing long monologues on the future of the industry/a given product. Tweetstorms™ are rebutted by other tweetstorms™, which is manageable and contained in a niche media sphere until Politics Twitter catches on. Always on the lookout for a new broadcast platform, the tweetstorm™ spreads from reporters to pundits and think tanks and then to the politicians themselves. Once a frenetic but followable place, your timeline is now virtually destroyed by an avalanche of soliloquies. ”
But the tweetstorm is simply bringing up both the deliberate and practical limitations of Twitter. When the press interviewed Dorsey in 2009 about the origins of Twitter, he said that at the time (2006) he and the other developers were working with the constraints of the instant-message (IM) format for mobile devices, where basic phones were limited to 160 characters before they split the message. Limiting a username to 20 characters and the main text to 140 was where the concept developed. They worked with that format precisely because it allowed the user to update from anywhere. Dorsey said the “twitter” name came from that idea: “We wanted to capture that in the name — we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. It’s like buzzing all over the world. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word ‘twitch,’ because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But ‘twitch’ is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word ‘twitter,’ and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds.’ And that’s exactly what the product was.”
Unfortunately, Twitter is too aptly named. Tweets are exactly that, short bursts of inconsequential information, but that very informality has exploded the popularity of the format such that people are using it in ways that just don’t work. Thus, the tweetstorm. The tweetstorm is for people who are trying to express complex, paragraph-length arguments in a format that is deliberately hostile to the complete sentence, let alone the paragraph.
But the popularity and convenience of Twitter ties into the other issue, namely that the tweetstorm implies the question, “why not just start a blog?” Twitter and other social media like Facebook are designed for immediate transmission and feedback. They are impulse media. I believe that if you are going to have a social media presence, you should know the right tool for the right job. I don’t need a blog to share cute animal videos to friends. For that I have Facebook. I don’t post to this blog every day or even every week because I don’t always have time to elaborate on my ideas, whereas I can usually find the time to post something on Facebook. But I decided to create my own blog not only to post essay-length pieces but because I could control the content to a greater degree than something I posted or liked on Facebook. I had already mentioned that this blog has no comments option because I had noticed the same problem on Facebook that critics are finding with Twitter, the capacity of people to hijack the thread with their own opinions which end up becoming bitter debates that crowd out the original post. Just as the posting format affects the content, so does the larger context of the medium. Just as Twitter is built around the “short burst of inconsequential information” to an even greater degree than other platforms, that is the way its reply/comment function works. In that respect, for the Buzzfeed writer to complain about the extended reply is to miss the point. To be worried about such a thing is to believe that the other person’s opinion is consequential and worth respecting. That’s not what Twitter is about. Twitter is not about considered opinion. Twitter is about hit-and-run posting.
Which brings us to the most problematic Twitter abuser. Liddle Donnie Trump. The Harvey Weinstein of presidents.
There’s usually a recurring theme in Washington DC’s assessments of the “president”, even from Republicans who have always supported him. It’s words to the effect of “somebody needs to take away his phone.” That is, someone on Trump’s staff needs to make him stop tweeting. The most glaring recent example of this problem was when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced indirect efforts to talk to North Korea and Trump tweeted, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”. This is not the sort of thing that a president does if he cares about his Secretary of State and his position as a representative. But that’s not the sort of thing that you do if you care about actions, period. And yet every time the subject comes up, Trump and his shills defend his use of his personal account to blur the line between personal and political statements, saying that it is how he speaks “directly to the people.” Trump would not be the first president, especially in the Republican Party, to try to bypass the media gatekeepers of information. But as with everybody else who uses Twitter, his choice of platform both shapes and becomes the message. Analysts have noted that a lot of his tweets take place at 3 am or some other time when he is in bed or sleep-deprived, which only increases the likelihood that the posts are impulsive rather than deliberate. Or perhaps, Trump’s actions are deliberate only in that he has just enough concentration to be impulsive. Given that Trump was caught on tape in 2000 saying he couldn’t support Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign because it was supported by David Duke, there is evidence that Donald Trump once had a brain. But Trump, like his party, has since become prone to unsubtle, unconsidered opinion to the exclusion of serious thinking. Before social media, you had AM radio concentrating “conservative” positions down to emotionalism. Now on the Internet, the medium of expression is that much more prone to opinion that is literally reactionary.
The concepts that George Orwell referred to in Politics and the English Language were developed in setting for his novel 1984 with Newspeak, the Party’s official version of the English language. Characters in the book mentioned that Newspeak was the only language in history whose dictionary got smaller with each new edition. In the book’s appendix Orwell stated that the language was deliberately constructed by the Party for specific goals: “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. … Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. ”
Orwell’s legacy is full of ironies. A defender of cooperative anarchism, he has become the right-winger’s favorite critic of socialism. More ironic than that, his concept of language control is being best realized not by a state socialist program but by a capitalist endeavor.
In this context, Aja Romano’s Vox article is worth reviewing in that it emphasizes the political element of Twitter’s inconsistent enforcement of policy. “The suspension of McGowan’s account neatly illustrates what has become a pattern in terms of how Twitter deals with harassment and abuse on its site. That is, while victims of abuse and marginalized users who deal with harassment are frequently censured over strict readings of Twitter’s abuse and safety rules, like McGowan, users who are widely seen as perpetuating real ideological violations of those rules are rarely censored.” Milo Yiannopoulous is only one famous example. Donald Trump himself is considered above censure on his Twitter account on the ground that his position makes his posts “newsworthy.” Of course threatening national security by threatening regional nuclear exchange over North Korea is going to be newsworthy. Romano continues: “McGowan’s suspension makes clear that Twitter’s abuse policies, or at least its inconsistent and confusing enforcement of those policies, do not protect abuse victims. In particular, women like McGowan who have experienced harassment and attempted to speak out about it on Twitter can be silenced at any time using the same inconsistent policy that Twitter refuses to levy against a Richard Spencer, a David Duke, or a Donald Trump — men who take advantage of the vagueness of Twitter’s abuse policies to perpetuate racism, violence, harassment, and fear.”
I would assert that the “vagueness” that Twitter’s critics observe is in fact consistent with the site in operation. Twitter is intended to be used in haste. It is intended to change the terms of debate to favor snark, insult and negativity. The positions of users like Richard Spencer or (pre-election) Donald Trump were less provocative to Twitter management than those of a Rose McGowan because whether Twitter’s users or management admit this or not, people like Donald Trump are the ones using the platform in the manner it was designed to be used.
I cannot say that this is a deliberate position on the part of the site developers, given that Jack Dorsey has apparently only now been made aware that such antisocial behavior needs to be discouraged. But that very fact indicates it was not something he was concerned with up to now.
This is also a cautionary example. Twitter became very popular with the liberal pop culture because of its wide access and ease of use, but as with much of liberal culture, it has become co-opted by the authoritarian Right, which is that much more committed to a mindset of whim and irrationality.
In the Vox article, media critic Matt Zoller Seitz was quoted (from Twitter) saying “I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it now: if a superior alternative to Twitter appeared tomorrow, I’d be gone from here in a heartbeat.” My advice to Seitz would be to get together with like-minded people and come to a consensus about what “a superior alternative to Twitter” means, and then find people of means to finance it and experts to create it. My personal goal is to make enough money to where I can buy out Twitter with the specific purpose of destroying the website. Either that, or use the space for something more ennobling, like bumfights or fetish porn.
How long must we sing this song?
-U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday
So this morning I got up with the radio alarm at 3:30 and the station’s “morning zoo” crew was on early to update on “The Violent Incident In Las Vegas.” And as happened over 15 months ago in Orlando, I got my phone and checked Facebook and there was a page asking people to report in to tell their friends they were safe.
But it was happening here.
It remains unclear exactly why the hell things happened the way they did on Sunday night in Las Vegas, but at last count 59 people were killed and over 500 were injured because a man got a full collection of weapons into his hotel room and was able to fire from a distance of 1200 feet towards an outdoor country music festival towards the crowds of people on the ground. Beyond that reports are conflicted as to whether he had 10 rifles, or 18, or 20. And certainly nobody knows why. But hopefully in the next few days Metro police will be able to give us more details.
Where did the attacker get his weapons? And how was he able to get all of them into his hotel room? Because if you know anything about being a security guard in a Las Vegas Strip hotel, you will know that a collection of semi-auto rifles is not the most bizarre thing that you could confiscate from a hotel room.
One disturbing thing that witnesses and ballistic experts agree on is that based on the sound of the gunfire, the shooter’s attack was with full automatic fire. However the police have not confirmed that that was in fact the case, nor whether the semi-auto weapons allegedly found in the hotel room were modified for full auto fire. In any case Metro police did confirm that the shooter did have some guns in in the home that he bought in Nevada legally, and fully automatic arms are, since 1986, not only illegal for civilians to purchase but also illegal for gun companies to manufacture for the market. (New York Magazine’s Benjamin Hart points out “(the) NRA’s Wayne LaPierre actually advocated for that provision, which seems unimaginable now.” In other words, if the main weapon in the attack was either made full-auto or modified for automatic fire, it was already illegal.
The reason we can’t have a “sensible argument about gun safety” is that every time liberals ask for one, somebody like me has to point out inconvenient facts like this.
At the same time, the facts do not favor a right-wing agenda. In particular the talking point that “a good guy with a gun” could stop the bad guy. The bad guy was firing down on a crowd in front of a lighted stage while he was on the 32nd floor of a high-rise hotel directly across the street. A good guy with a gun could not have stopped the attacker. Not from uprange. Not unless he was a much better sniper than the attacker.
And contrary to what national media have been saying, Nevada has passed at least one “common sense gun safety regulation”, that being Question 1, which was on the ballot last year and narrowly approved. Question 1 prohibits private sale of firearms without a federal background check. However Nevada’s attorney general (a Republican) states that the provisions cannot be enforced because the FBI refuses to enforce a state regulation. (In the 2016 election, Nevadans also voted to legalize possession of marijuana, which does NOT prevent a federal agency from prosecuting marijuana possession.) In other words, a case of mutual buck-passing.
As I said with Orlando, it doesn’t particularly matter, because again: THERE WILL BE NO ANTI-GUN LEGISLATION PASSED DUE TO THIS MASS SHOOTING. And it’s not like the reasons why matter. Which doesn’t stop political advocates from saying so. Today in The New Yorker, columnist Adam Gopnik was straightforward: “In The Wake Of The Las Vegas Shooting, There Can Be No Truce With The Second Amendment.” Substitute “First” for “Second” and you can see why people might get offended. But even the constitutional arguments are a red herring. It’s not like this government cares much about the other nine Amendments, so why is the Second the only part of the Bill of Rights that matters? We all know that if some liberals like Gopnik enshrine the First Amendment and wish to destroy the Second, a lot of conservatives in this government want it the other way around.
Rights are not the issue. I have a right to own a gun. I also have the right to vote. My right to vote implies that I and other voters had a right to vote for Donald Trump. Did voting for Donald Trump make the world any better? Not necessarily.
The reason people like me are suspicious of more laws is not just because of the practical considerations – like, any gun prohibition or gun confiscation program would have to be administered by Jeff Sessions. To libertarians, it’s the principle of the thing. Human beings can perform any task that is within their abilities whether government gives us the “right” to do so or not. That is something libertarians realize that the general population doesn’t grasp. Government simply exists to protect the rights that we have. But by the same token that means government exists to serve legitimate needs. And this is something that the general population grasps better than libertarians. Why does government grow? Because it serves a demand. Whether that demand is legitimate or not is up for debate. But as I keep saying, the reason that the Affordable Care Act passed despite all the problems with the bill and all the problems revealed since passage was because Americans found the prior state of healthcare intolerable. Why do legislators campaign to pass laws restricting the activities of businessmen? Because frankly, business concerns can be unethical. Why do we pass labor laws and minimum wage laws? Because we can’t trust that businesses will do “the right thing” by their employees out of the goodness of their hearts. Nor should we even expect this.
For the creep in government and regulation to reverse, people have to be capable of living ethically, not in the expectation that they will need no government at all, but in the knowledge that government can’t be expected to regulate basic decisions for everyone. This might seem unrealistic to people who are disturbed by free will. But the alternative is to give government more and more power. America has become a country where the citizen has more responsibilities than rights, because it is easy to make the case that people assume more rights than responsibilities.
Simply having the power to do something does not give you the right to do so, and in any case, having the power to do a thing does not mean that one should do a thing. Knowing this is part of being an adult, but we seem to be demanding that laws take the place of common sense and morality. Morality is often thought to be subjective, but I think a common denominator is to leave the world a better place than you found it. And if you can’t do that, don’t die after actively making the world worse. This mass murderer deserves to be called a coward because he killed himself rather than live with the consequence of his action, which was to make the world more violent, and thus more fearful, and thus more susceptible to appeals to control. A cycle that has been feeding on itself since at least 9-11.
In that regard, my advice in the short term, if you live in the Las Vegas area, is to schedule an appointment to donate blood. But in the long term, we must accept that each of us has an individual responsibility to stop violence. You cannot trust the collective to do so. Because collective action is enforced by government, and as we see with healthcare and other issues, the collective has its collective head up its collective ass. Until of course you take responsibility to help change that.
Prior to the next election, however, responsibility is an individual commitment. So if you are concerned about the spread of violence in this country, my best advice is:
Try not to kill people.
I know that for some of you, that may be too much to ask. But we have to start small.