Freaking Out Over Rank Idiocy
Our deeply stupid culture war
Despite the racist slurs (“Coco Chow”), election lies, trollery, celebrations of the Insurrection, and assorted batshittery, Meta has decided to welcome Donald Trump back to Facebook and Instagram. Because what could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy’s speakership is turning out pretty much the way it began. Our friend Tom Nichols writes in the Atlantic:
Now controlled by its most unhinged members, the Republican Party has returned to power in the People’s House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the ringmaster of this circus, is happily paying off his debts by engaging in petty payback, conjuring up inane committees, threatening to crash the U.S. economy, and protecting a walking monument to fraud named George Santos, who may or may not actually be named “George Santos.”
In the enduring words of Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.
That show is not getting rave reviews.
In a pledge to cut spending, House Republicans have considered proposals targeting Social Security, Medicare and other programs, something that is deeply unpopular. Just 17 percent of Americans in the Economist/YouGov poll said they supported Congress reducing spending on Social Security and Medicare; 70 percent opposed this. A meager 22 percent of Republicans supported cutting Social Security and Medicare spending, along with even fewer Democrats and independents.
BONUS: Who could have seen this coming? “Democrats hammer GOP plan to impose national sales tax, abolish IRS.”
Oh wait, we did.
And, finally, the West got around to supplying Ukraine with the tanks it needs to win this war. As Michael Weiss and James Rushton write, it took a lot of arm-twisting.
[The] unstated policy behind Biden’s surprising reversal was how it was designed to bring Germany, a major European power traditionally soft on Moscow, in line with helping Ukraine not just fend off another large Russian attack but take the fight to its attacker. Main battle tanks are offensive rather than defensive weapons, an integral part of combined-arms warfare, which consists of infantry and the three so-called As: artillery, armor and air power. As of today, Ukraine has or is getting the artillery and armor from Western partners and only lacks the air power, although now even F-16 fighter jets are rumored to be on the table for future security assistance negotiations
All of this is good… but….
The West’s continuing stop-start self-deterrence, and the artificial and tortured distinctions between offensive-defensive weapons, has resulted in deadly delays in getting Ukraine the weapons it needs to defeat the Russian invasion.
So two cheers for the tanks. Now do the F-16s.
Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s Defense secretary, told The Hill that he was optimistic about receiving Western fighter jets such as the American F-16s, which Ukrainians have sought since early last year when Russia first invaded.
“Every type of weapon we request, we needed yesterday,” Sak said. “We will do everything possible to ensure Ukraine gets fourth-generation fighter jets as soon as possible.”
I had some thoughts yesterday:
Ignoring the rank idiocy
Hat tip to a savvy reader who passed along Jeff Maurer’s recent: “‘OMG Stop Freaking Out!!!’ is a bad response to Right-Wing Freak-Outs.”
Maurer starts with the latest kerfuffle about M&Ms, which you may have missed amid the actual news of the week.
To summarize the issue for any Neanderthals who haven’t been following the news: Last year, M&M’s announced a “makeover” for their “spokescandies”. Though nobody asked, Mars, Inc. explained that the CGI M&M’s who hawk B-grade chocolate on TV were being changed to be more “inclusive” and “reflective of modern society”. In a Gandhi-esque turn of phrase that surely brought a tear to the eye of anyone across the globe who yearns for justice, the M&M’s press release declared: “As the world changes, so do we.”
Guess what happened? That’s right: Right-wing media shit a brick/had a cow/passed some other large object through some other small orifice. As I wrote just last week: Right-wing media is built to light their hair on fire. The American right is no longer an intellectual force; it’s a group of hecklers getting their jollies by gleefully shitting on all they observe, sort of like an unfunny, nativist Statler and Waldorf.
We all recognize this story: the faux outrage/indignation/freak-out over some trivial, made-up issue that becomes the latest front in our deeply unserious culture wars.
Think gas stoves. Or the fights over Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss, and a Twix commercial.
But Maurer strikes a cautionary note. The M&M fiasco, he writes, represents a familiar pattern:
Someone on the left over-steps.
The right freaks out.
Many on the left respond with “Wow, can you believe what the right is freaking out about now?”
“The third response is legitimate,” writes Mauer, “but I also think it's incomplete. The problem is that it fails to note that the thing that the right is freaking out about is, indeed, pretty harebrained.”
Take CRT. Please. Maurer writes:
This was a big issue during the off-year campaigns of 2021, and the official Democratic talking point was that Critical Race Theory was not being taught in schools. Which was technically true, but it ignored the fact that there was some weird lefty garbage seeping into curriculum; I parodied this semantic dodge in an article called We Are NOT Teaching Post-Funk Techno-Industrial Nü-Metal In Schools! We Are Teaching Funk-Infused Synthetic Post-Punk Neo-Metal. Voters did not did not appear to buy Democrats’ cheeky linguistic sidestep, perhaps because many apostles of the Racial Reckoning framed the movement as the most momentous event since the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. You can’t tell people that your movement is crucial and important and urgent and broad but also no big deal OMG you are being, like, SO DRAMATIC!!!
Once again, we see this pattern: “Some people on the left have some very goofy ideas. Sometimes, one of those ideas will seep into the mainstream and immediately become the object of ridicule. At that point, the person’s posture quickly shifts to: ‘Haha jk y’all I fer reals can’t believe u think that I thought that!’”
Normie liberals like me are embarrassed by lefty idiocy, so we sometimes act like it doesn’t exist. When the right devolves into hysterics over some culture war bullshit, we pretend like they’re reacting to nothing, even though…it’s not usually nothing, is it? Most Fox News freak-outs are in response to a thing that is, in fact, quite dumb, if also completely trivial and not representative of opinions held by most people on the left.
But, he notes, “Liberals can also be selective in our disdain for culture war bullshit.” When the right freaks out “we dismiss them as unserious.”
But it’s not like the left never obsesses over cartoons and dumb kiddie bullshit — we focus on that stuff all the goddamned time. It’s hypocritical to start a conversation about how the female rabbit from Space Jam is insufficiently “empowered” and then mock those who prefer the thirst trap bunny from the ‘90s. We can’t invent the widely-despised word “Latinx” as part of a relentless language-policing campaign and then dismiss Sarah Huckabee Sanders as frivolous when she bans the word immediately after becoming governor of Arkansas. We need to be consistent; either all of this stuff is a dumb culture war sideshow, or none of it is.
Maurer sees the pattern in the anti-anti-Trump phenomenon.
This is the dynamic in which Republicans who think that Trump is an embarrassment and a liability focus exclusively on Trump’s opponents on the left. Anti-anti Trumpers have been known to deride “Trump derangement syndrome”, the undeniably real tendency of some on the left to overreact to Trump’s also-undeniable unsuitability for office. Focusing myopically on Trump’s critics allows anti-anti-Trumpers to keep their partisan allegiances aligned; they remain on the right, punching left. It also minimizes the risk of driving Trumpists out of the Republican coalition.
But it comes at the cost of ignoring the rank idiocy emanating from their side.
So, “the left’s ‘OMG stop freaking out!!!’ impulse seems to be the mirror image of the anti-anti-Trump phenomenon.”
We have some extremely embarrassing people on our side, but we don’t want to talk about them, and we don’t want to risk driving them out of our coalition. So, instead of saying “Yes, thing x is stupid, but the overreaction is also stupid, and we should try to focus on what’s important,” we skip the first part and talk exclusively about Tucker Carlson. It’s an incomplete narrative engineered for political purposes.
You should really read the whole thing.
1. 2023’s Biggest, Most Unusual Race Centers on Abortion and Democracy
Reid Epstein writes about the upcoming election for Supreme Court in my home state:
In 10 weeks, Wisconsin will hold an election that carries bigger policy stakes than any other contest in America in 2023.
The April race, for a seat on the state’s evenly divided Supreme Court, will determine the fate of abortion rights, gerrymandered legislative maps and the Wisconsin governor’s appointment powers — and perhaps even influence the state’s 2024 presidential election….
The contest will almost certainly shatter spending records for a judicial election in any state, and could even double the current most expensive race. Wisconsinites are set to be inundated by a barrage of advertising, turning a typically sleepy spring election into the latest marker in the state’s nonstop political season. The seat is nonpartisan in name only, with officials from both parties lining up behind chosen candidates.
Indeed, the clash for the court is striking because of how nakedly political it is.
2. Is Attacking ‘Wokeness’ Ron DeSantis’s Superpower—Or His Kryptonite?
Richard Thau finds that swing voters are kind of meh about the War on Woke.
DeSantis has a choice to make as he inches towards a presidential run: Either consume a lot of time and resources educating voters on the evils of “wokeism,” or stress another issue position that would more intuitively bring swing voters to his side. Attacking the woke may stir the base, but our evidence indicates it may not be that helpful in winning the center.
When Governor DeSantis declares, “Florida is where woke goes to die,” many of these swing voters have no clue what ideology he’s trying to bury.
3. The Democrats’ Senate Map of Doom
In today’s Bulwark Amanda Carpenter writes:
In 2024, nearly half of the Democratic caucus—23 senators—is up for re-election. Of those, eight are considered vulnerable: five in battleground states (Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia) and the other three in solidly red states (Ohio, Montana, West Virginia). Republicans, on the other hand, have only 11 senators up for re-election in the 2024 cycle, and all of them represent states Trump won in 2020.
Retirements could also be ahead for Dem incumbents. Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis earlier this month, and he has since refused to comment on his 2024 plans before “get[ting] through” treatment. The Washington Post’s Liz Goodwin noted, “Ten of the senators who caucus with Democrats who are up for re-election in two years are over 70 years old.” Some of those senators, such as California’s Dianne Feinstein and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, do represent solidly Democratic states, but that won’t protect the party from damaging intraparty chaos and turmoil should one of their seats become open.
So even though it’s early and elections are unpredictable, the map math is hard to deny: Republicans stand a much better shot of taking control of the Senate than Democrats do of keeping it in 2024.
Which, as Sonny Bunch and I noted last week, was not actually made up.
Where the "someone on the left over-steps" narrative breaks down for me is, does the Mars Candy corporation really represent The Left? Or Twix, or the makers of Mr. Potato Head, or the publishers of Doctor Suess? These are all businesses attempting to maximize profits by appealing to the broadest swath of customers. Wouldn't the "conservative" answer be to let the market correct their supposedly misplaced exuberance for woke candy bars or gender dysphoric potatoes or children's books without insensitive racial stereotypes?
This is where I expect the "conservative" outrage is coming from. The market isn't going to "correct" the problem for them, because the average person was not deeply invested in the gender expression of anthropomorphized M&Ms and potatoes. And they don't care that Dr. Suess's four least popular books aren't published anymore (not when they've read Green Eggs and Ham and Oh the Places You'll Go ad nauseum at bed times).
I don’t like analysis like maurer's for one simple reason: harebrained random lefties are not the equivalent of the entire base of the gop.
So yes, some lefties promote some dumb things: the right lives to do dumb things.
Not close to the same.