The Tragic Danger of Kyle Rittenhouse

Plus: Some thoughts on "Bothsidesism"

Kyle Rittenhouse waits for the jury to enter the room to continue testifying during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 10, 2021 (Photo by Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images)

Three things can be true at the same time:

(1) Kyle Rittenhouse and his family made a series of horrifically bad decisions that led the armed Illinois teenager to the streets of Kenosha, where his reckless behavior resulted in the deaths of two men and the wounding of a third.

(2) The jury is likely to find him not guilty of murder, because they will accept his claim that he was acting in self-defense. (BTW: If Kyle were black, he’d be dead.)

(3) The juvenile vigilante is neither a martyr nor a hero — and it is surpassingly dangerous to treat the blubbering Rittenhouse as either. Unfortunately, it’s probably too late.

Check out these missives from the culture war (h/t @bernybelvedere):

And, of course:

“He did something about it.” And two people are dead. The culture war has already turned bloody, and Vance is here to cheer it on.

In today’s Bulwark, Ryan Busse warns about the “flashing red lights” of a growing culture of violence that openly wonders, “When can we use the guns?”

“[What] non-gun owners may not understand is that these men are not your average gun-owning Americans. They are people who have fallen into a cult where it is normal to organize your entire culture around weapons of war.”

Armed men in Georgia pursued and killed Ahmaud Arbery believing that they were justified in making a “citizen’s arrest.” In Illinois, a 17-year old boy was inspired to grab his AR-15, drive to a neighboring state, and take the law—and the lives of others—into his own hands. At which point Kyle Rittenhouse was viewed on the right not as a cautionary tale, but a hero. Conservative media personalities celebrated that he had “a couple of pelts on the wall” and was “gonna have to fight off conservative chicks with a bat.”

**

Let’s put this into some context.

The NYT is reporting on the wave of threats aimed at Republican legislators who voted for the infrastructure package.

WASHINGTON — One caller instructed Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois to slit his wrists and “rot in hell.” Another hoped Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska would slip and fall down a staircase. The office of Representative Nicole Malliotakis of New York has been inundated with angry messages tagging her as a “traitor.”

Via NBC:

WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan received a profanity-laced voicemail threatening his life and that of his family and staff, criticizing his support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill last week.

In the voicemail, obtained by NBC News from his office, a caller told Upton, "I hope you die. I hope everybody in your f------ family dies," while labeling him a "traitor."

Meanwhile, DHS has a warning.

WASHINGTON — Domestic extremists continue to exploit false narratives to promote violence online, calling for attacks on members of Congress and public health and school officials, even as they share information about how to build bombs, according to a new intelligence bulletin by the Department of Homeland Security that paints a picture of persistent danger.

Exit take: It seems dangerously naïve to think that the demagogues can continue to stoke the flames without mortal consequences.

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The Velociraptors have figured it out.


Some thoughts on “bothsidesism”

Spend any time at all on social media and you’ll probably hear attacks on any argument that suggests that both sides of the political divide bear some responsibility for our political toxic waste dump.

Usually, the argument is deployed by someone on the left rejecting any hint that progressives have contributed to the current polarization. Unfortunately, this tends to shut down suggestions that perhaps the left — like the right — needs to engage in serious introspection.

Matt Labash has some thoughts: “‘Bothsidesism’ is, of course, one of those annoyingly smug internet creations that pretends as though it’s making an honest argument when it’s actually foreclosing all possibility of having one.”

[When] the term is invoked by hard political partisans – and it’s always invoked by hard partisans -  it carries the accusation that people who see both sides of an argument, or who believe that there is plenty of blame to go around, or who think that life is grey more often than it is black or white, are blinkered, or naive, or morally inferior. 

Charges of bothsidesism virtually never take into account that life is complicated. Rarely are our heroes pure or our villains pure evil. It is helpful to remember that the world rarely sits still long enough for us to make complete sense of it. 

Labash offers this cautionary note:

Just because we might feel morally superior, doesn’t always mean we are.  And even if we are, such superiority is often short-lived.  If you think the other side has committed unspeakable war crimes, just wait until your side is back in power. It’s only a matter of time. The only way to be clear-eyed, judicious, and fair, is not merely seeing the faults of the people you dislike – which is easy and satisfying – but the people you have a natural affinity for, which is harder and more uncomfortable. And as a pure matter of political advantage, keeping your own side as honest as possible is the best remedy for throwing the dishonesty of the other side into sharp relief.  If you’re not finding disagreement with all sides on occasion, then you’re probably not the fearless teller of truths you congratulate yourself for being.

**

This leads to Ruy Texeira’s warnings about what he called the Fox News Fallacy.

This is the idea that if Fox News (substitute here the conservative bête noire of your choice if you prefer) criticizes the Democrats for X then there must be absolutely nothing to X and the job of Democrats is to assert that loudly and often. The problem is that an issue is not necessarily completely invalid just because Fox News mentions it. That depends on the issue. If there is something to the issue and persuadable voters have real concerns, you will not allay those concerns by embracing the Fox News Fallacy. In fact, you'll probably intensify them by giving such voters the impression that Democrats simply don't care about their concerns and will do nothing to address them. That will undermine the Democrats’ ability to respond to predictable attacks against their candidates….and raise the likelihood of a midterm debacle.

He offers a number of examples, including the debate over CRT, border security, and crime.

Start with crime. Initially dismissed as simply an artifact of the Covid shutdown that was being vastly exaggerated by Fox News and the like for their nefarious purposes, it is now apparent that the spike in violent crime is quite real and that voters are very, very concerned about it. This very definitely includes black and Hispanic voters, as indicated by polling data and confirmed by Eric Adams’ support base in the New York mayoral contest. No wonder more and more Democratic politicians are running as fast as they can away from any hint of “defund the police”, the slogan beloved of the activist left that was actually put on the ballot in Minneapolis…and soundly defeated, especially by black voters. Consistent with this, a recent Pew poll found that black and Hispanic Democrats are significantly more likely than white Democrats to favor more police funding in their area.

And yet….Democrats still seem very far from former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s felicitous slogan: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Fox News may exaggerate but voters really do want law and order—done fairly and humanely, but law and order just the same. Democrats, with some exceptions like Eric Adams, still seem reluctant to highlight their commitment to cracking down on crime and criminals because that is something that, well, Fox News would say. Given this, it is no surprise Republicans, according to a recent NBC poll are favored over Democrats on the crime issue by 22 points.

**

This thread seems related to Texeira’s point. (I’ve unrolled it below):

A kind of funny pattern has emerged as it relates to liberal acceptance of inconvenient facts. First, there is widespread denial of the alleged problem. The only ones raising the issue are bad-faith right-wingers!

Then, one EXTREMELY annoying person who is vaguely associated with the left (Carville, Larry Summers) will say “liberals need to take this problem seriously.”

Then the political indicators start to show that this thing is actually a problem. First, it’s polls. Then it is a bad election result or two. Now the frustration is that this right-wing BS talking point has gone mainstream.

At this point, the Professional Center-Left Contrarians come in (thinking @mattyglesias and @jonathanchait) to tell us we really do need to start taking this problem seriously. It’s not just right-wing BS.

That convinces maybe half of Twitter (myself included) to grudgingly admit that the problem exists, but also be extremely annoyed at having to give credit to the legitimately awful people who were right in the first place.

The final stage of acceptance is when a less contrarian influential center-left voice, like @chrislhayes or @ezraklein admits that this thing is a problem.

For examples of this dynamic, see:

-Inflation

-CRT/related issues in public schools.

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Quick Hits

Meanwhile, in San Francisco…

James Hohmann in today’s Wapo:

Consider San Francisco. Mayor London Breed (D) just endorsed the recall of three far-left school board members in a February special election, including someone she appointed in 2018. Other Democratic officeholders and donors also back their removal, and recall organizers submitted 80,000 signatures to remove the commissioners, undercutting the argument that this is some right-wing conspiracy.

The recall has been a long time coming. Anger boiled over in the Bay Area as schools stayed closed months after most districts restarted classes. The San Francisco board voted in January to rename 44 schools, including those that honored George Washington, Paul Revere and Abraham Lincoln, before reversing itself amid national mockery in April. But the board’s most fateful mistake may have been messing around with Lowell High School.

Lowell has long been one of the United States’ most prestigious public schools. Alumni include three Nobel laureates and Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Rather than try to make other schools as great as Lowell, the school board voted to start admitting students there by lottery — and no longer consider grade-point average, essays and test scores.

Eliminating gifted and talented programs has become fashionable on the left, based on well-intentioned desires to close the achievement gap for African American and Latino students, but it’s alienating many parents — as well as graduates — who prospered under higher standards….

Complicating matters is the fact that, as of 2018, roughly a quarter of San Francisco’s children already attend private schools, compared to 9 percent in California. Any parent who can afford to do so will likely consider private school if they believe a public system is lowering standards. “Sadly, our school board’s priorities have often been severely misplaced,” Breed said in a statement. “And parents feel members of the board aren’t listening.”

Breed’s warning is a reminder that national Democrats risk being branded as the anti-education party if they don’t speak out more forcefully against continuing assaults on gifted and talented programs.

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Cheap Shots

What could go wrong?


I’m going to need more popcorn.