Hints that the already high levels of political hostility were about to reach record intensity gathered like storm warnings in the press last week. According to the New York Times, “Oregon’s 11 Senate Republicans fled their state with little more than spare underwear and their passports. They disappeared into Idaho cabins and motels” to avoid voting for taxes on climate change.
Democrats swiftly sent state troopers after their missing colleagues. They shared outlaw posters on the internet, pleading to the public for help…. So it went in Oregon over the past week as a battle over a climate-change bill plunged the state’s capital into disarray, sending Republicans escaping across state lines and leaving Democrats, who usually control Salem, paralyzed, without enough lawmakers present to pass the climate bill — or anything else.
It was only the latest example of how nasty the political discourse has grown across the nation at a point when either Republicans or Democrats dominate the conversation in nearly every state capitol. Divided control — and compromise — is rarely seen. “The chaos and divisiveness of Washington, D.C., is bleeding over into the states,” Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said from her office this week.
That chaos and divisiveness bordered on open revolt. Jimmy Carter suggested that a full investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election would show that Donald Trump was illegitimate. Not to be outdone, Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro says President Trump liked to terrorize immigrant families by postponing ICE raids until after July 4th. To hear the politicians talk America was living under a tyranny.
The politicians were if anything restrained compared to the press. A guest editorial in the New York Times argued that since the treatment of migrants likely “meets the definition of a mass atrocity,” it would be good if government officials were identified and charged with war crimes.
[T]he identities of the individual Customs and Border Protection agents who are physically separating children from their families and staffing the detention centers are not undiscoverable. Immigration lawyers have agent names; journalists reporting at the border have names, photos and even videos. These agents’ actions should be publicized, particularly in their home communities …
The individuals running detention centers are arguably directly responsible for torture … activists should … should lobby for human rights investigations, for other governments to deny entry visas to those involved in the abuses, or even for the initiation of torture prosecutions in foreign courts.
To say that the conservative-liberal dialogue was heated was an understatement. There was in the drumbeat a buildup suggestive of teams psyching themselves to do something bold, building up a mood of defiance and despair so incandescent that Andy Ngo, a conservative journalist preparing to cover an event in Oregon, feared for his safety. He tweeted on June 29, “I am nervous about tomorrow’s Portland antifa rally. They’re promising ‘physical confrontation’ & have singled me out to be assaulted.” There were actual leaflets announcing the planned attack on Ngo.
He wasn’t the only one nervous at developments. David Brooks warned that “the progressive narrative is dominating … because no moderate wants to bear the brunt of progressive fury by opposing it” — that the movement was increasingly held together by fear. As if to demonstrate the point, Bret Stevens, who argued in the NYT that Democrats were enforcing a punitive program on Americans, was himself given the treatment, dismissed as a “full-on bigot.” In the hyperpartisan atmosphere, no disloyalty would be tolerated.
It was no surprise when Andy Ngo was repeatedly pelted by Antifa with concrete milkshakes on June 30, sending him to the hospital emergency room. “Police have received information that some of the milkshakes thrown today during the demonstration contained quick-drying cement. We are encouraging anyone hit with a substance today to report it to police.”
The reactions were equally predictable. Conservatives were outraged but some on the Left argued Ngo had it coming. “I’d argue what the fear mongering he’s done against Muslims plus the work he’s done to discredit hate crimes, helped create an atmosphere of violence that vulnerable people all have to live through just for being who they are. This is bad, but he’s guilty of worse.”
Still, the combativeness of the last few days alarmed those accustomed to regarding themselves as civilized. Nicholas Kristof tried to explain the savagery by explaining that the natural virtue of liberals had been infected by conservative hate and that consequently, some were succumbing to their baser instincts.
I fear that Trump has made it easy for liberal activists to demonize conservatives and evangelicals. People are complicated at every end of the spectrum, and it’s as wrong to stereotype conservatives or evangelicals as it is to stereotype someone on the basis of race, immigration status or sex. … As a liberal, I mostly write about conservative blind spots. But on the left as well as the right, we can get so caught up in our narratives that we lose perspective; nobody has a monopoly on truth. If Trump turns progressives into intolerant agents of incivility, then we have lost our souls.
There was little consideration given to the possibility that liberalism — and Republican conservatism — had lost its soul long before Trump; that somewhere in the decades of media lies, PR myth-making, money printing, cynical foreign policy, abortion and political flirtation with foreign tyrants the establishment had done a deal with the devil quite without the assistance of the Donald.
But how could it? The Western elite had been dominant for so long that their virtue, no less than their wealth, was undoubted. It was as if Dorian Gray said of his portrait: that can’t be me; I must have been infected by conservatives. The idea that the Thing Western society assured itself did not exist had come for them, at last, was totally unexpected as was the realization that all their tokens of virtue were not keeping It at bay.
Perhaps the magnitude of Hillary’s 2016 loss is only now becoming apparent. Clinton didn’t just lose the White House, she also lost the Democratic center to the radical ornaments. The diminution of Brooks, Stevens, Kristof, and even Biden are the consequence of that defeat. The radicals who once served the useful purpose of putting fear into the other side are taking center stage. It’s not surprising that the French Terror began with the purge of the moderates and the urgency of virtue. As Robespierre put it, virtuous men have no choice but to employ any means necessary:
If the basis of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the basis of popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror; virtue, without which terror is baneful; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie.
The Thing is older than one would think. And more voracious. The intellectual Old Bolsheviks thought their illustrious records would protect them from the ruffian Stalin. Bukharin, who was eventually executed by Stalin, once said: “Koba, you used to be grateful for the support of your Bolshevik comrades.” “Gratitude is a dog’s disease,” Stalin shot back.
It won’t stop at Andy Ngo. There is no safety from It.
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A Long Night in Paris, by Dov Alfon. Debut thriller from a former Israeli spy.
The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II, by Antony Beevor. Using often overlooked sources from Dutch, American, British, Polish and German archives, Beevor reconstructs the devastating airborne battle of Arnhem – Operation Market Garden – the botched plan to end the war by capturing the bridges leading to the Lower Rhine and beyond. It was a bold concept, but could it have ever worked? The cost of failure was horrendous, above all for the Dutch who risked everything to help. German reprisals were pitiless and cruel, and lasted until the end of the war.
The Social Media Upheaval, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds. The book looks at the up- and downsides of social media and proposals for its regulation. Reynolds offers a fix that respects free speech while reducing social media’s toll.
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, by Nina Teicholz. Based on a nine-year-long investigation, Teicholz shows how the misinformation about saturated fats took hold in the scientific community and the public imagination, and how recent findings have overturned these beliefs. She upends the conventional wisdom about all fats with the groundbreaking claim that more, not less, dietary fat — including saturated fat — is what leads to better health and wellness.
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Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific.