Two easy pieces

October 17, 2021 • 1:00 pm

There are two items today that I commend to your attention.

The first is Andrew Sullivan’s latest newsletter on The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot below), in particular his main piece on a new phenomenon: people confronting politicians or those whom thy oppose in private venues, and harassing them or vandalizing their property. You might remember that this started in the days running up to the Trump election, when people would accost Republican politicians in restaurants, scream at them, or, sometimes, the restaurant owner would ask them to leave.  Although some readers thought this was fine, I didn’t. People should be able to dine in restaurants in public with their families and be left in peace, whether they be Trumpites or Bernie bros. (Most of the hectoring was done by the Left, but as Sullivan notes in this week’s column, the Right is not immune.)

Both sides need to lay off disturbing people’s regular lives, for it has no salubrious result; it allows some people to blow of steam while hardening the divisions in America. And it inspires other people to go off on their enemies in public.

Click on the screenshot to read, and remember to subscribe if you read often:

The title itself shows one example of Leftist damage to the home of Oakland’s mayor. As you see, it says “defund the OPD [Oakland Police Department]”, “cancel rent!” (that would work well) and so on. That mess of paint requires serious cleaning up!  Sullivan cites a bunch of examples of similar attacks by the Left, but you can read for yourself. I’ll adduce one more: the mayor of Portland, Oregon had to move because protestors went after his condo, even breaking windows of other people’s offices and throwing burning material in them. Yelling at people is insufficient these days! No, you have to follow them into the bathroom and yell at them in their stalls when they’re trying to micturate, as happened to Kyrsten Sinema.

And attacks by the Right as well:

Although not as persistent or as widespread as the far left’s invasion of the privacy of public figures, the far right is not innocent either. LA Mayor Garcetti’s residence was targeted by anti-lockdown activists; LA County’s public health director was also targeted at home; some folks brought menacing tiki-torches to the Boise mayor’s home; in Duluth, Trump supporters organized 20 trucks to circle the mayor’s home. Over the new year, Nancy Pelosi’s private home was vandalized, graffiti written on her garage door, and a bloody pig’s head was thrown into the mix for good measure.

There are also attacks on school board members around the country, who favor teaching the concepts of critical race theory to kids, or are implementing Covid mask policies. It’s fine and good to protest; it is not fine and good to force these people and their families to live under personal siege.

Anti-mask demonstrators, for example, hounded one Brevard School Board member and mother, Jennifer Jenkins, at her Florida home, at one point coming to her doorstep and coughing in her face. She later testified that she was ok with demonstrators outside her home, but that “I object to them following my car around, I reject them saying they are coming for me and I need to beg for mercy … that they are going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors. That they’re making false DCF [child welfare agency] claims against me to my daughter. That I have to take a DCF investigator to her playdate to go underneath her clothing and check for burn marks. That’s what I’m against.”

All of this is to make the point that the personal is not political, a phrase that never made a lot of sense to me. Sullivan, like me, is opposed to this kind of stuff, and is and was also opposed to outing closeted gays. As he says, “I have long felt that way even about ‘outing’ public figures who have bad records on gay rights. Legitimize outing gays to combat homophobia and you legitimize other people outing gays in order to shame and humiliate.”

Sullivan ends like this:

What we’re losing, I fear, is the idea that we can take on a role as public citizens that is separate from our role as private human beings; that we can place limits on what the state can do to us, and what we can do to each other. As Hannah Arendt perhaps best grasped, a liberal society is almost defined by its belief that politics has limits, and that it exists to defend us from either the government or our fellow citizens leveraging private human flaws for political purposes. There are, in fact, many worse things than hypocrisy. Shamelessness, for example. The first is human; the second is sociopathic. I want to live in a world where the former prevails.

The idea that “the personal is political” is not just a glib phrase. It is actually best exemplified by totalitarian systems, which seek no limits to their authority over private matters, even those matters that are buried deep in your mind and soul, and which enroll citizens into becoming mutual spies in pursuit of heretics. I don’t want to live in that transparent, unsparing, brutalizing world. It turns us all into spies; it gives no one space to think or escape; it is devoid of mercy and gives no benefit of the doubt.

Let’s not lose the distinction between public and private. Let’s remember that everything we decide to do to violate the privacy of others comes back to legitimize others’ violation of ours. The immediate payoff may be gratifying; but what it does to a society over time, as the tit-for-tats cascade, is to remove the chance for civil debate, and enhance the power of personal hatred, and, ultimately political violence. That’s where this leads: a descent from civil argument to civil war.

That last sentence might be hyperbole, but it’s not out of the question.

Can we have a little civility around here? America is so polarized that even at the University of Chicago, when our administration refused to get rid of its police department, students camped out in the street in front of our Provost’s house for a week (an illegal act, but the police let them be for a while), and even painted a parking space for the Provost, who’s of Chinese descent.  She’s not by any means a racist, but that’s the worst thing that the Woke can call someone, and so they painted it in front of her house, helpfully in Chinese and English (I don’t even know if she reads or speaks Chinese). “CareNotCops” is the local student “progressive” group.

This is not okay:


Second item (h/t Paul): a 28-minute interview of Bari Weiss by Brian Stelter, CNN’s lead reporter on the media.  The topic is why she, like Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, and others, have moved from “MSM” to Substack. Click on the screenshot below to go to the page with the audio interview, and then on the arrow by the header below.

As Stelter notes, Weiss now makes a lot more money on Substack than she did before she resigned from the New York Times, but I’m sure she did it for the freedom to write without censorship, not for money (she couldn’t predict that she’d get over 100,000 subscribers). She indicts the NYT for pushing a defined narrative rather than “all the news that’s fit to print.”  She wants her column, Common Sense, to be “the op-ed column I would like to read”, the place that cover stories that the MSM won’t touch.  She gives a laundry list of “the ways that the world’s gone mad”; you’ll be familiar with many of them, including MIT’s cancellation of University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot’s invited lecture, which was completely ignored by the major media save the Wall Street Journal. (She also indicts CNN itself.)

In the end, her aim is to publish things that will affect our “fear-based society” in a good way, so that people don’t become afraid, as many are, to say what they think. Stelter pushes back at some points, and it’s a very good interview.

h/t: Paul

18 thoughts on “Two easy pieces

  1. Moral imperiousness is the highest form of bigotry. That’s why religious zealots can kill non- believers; why racists can lynch suspects; why Communists can kill reactionaries; and why self-styled activists can harass Republicans. The common denominator is that the aggressors always think right is on their side.

  2. Yes, that kind of polarised politics is being heavily criticised in the UK in the wake of the murder of MP Sir David Amess last week. The same happened when Jo Cox was murdered in 2016, and the words “More in Common” (from her maiden speech in the House: “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”) are now written on one of the walls of the chamber of the House of Commons.

    Sadly, this kind of bipartisan solidarity quickly evaporates. Although there are numerous unlikely friendships between representatives on different sides of the aisle these are mostly hidden from the public view because the tribal reaction of members of the respective political parties is not seen as being able to accommodate such “treachery”.

  3. We live in very complicated times. The nation has always had its fault lines, but they have now split wide open. More and more people, so it seems, identity with groups or tribes rather than the nation as a whole. For decades, if not centuries, historians will be grappling with trying to figure out why that is happening. One theory (and it is nothing more than that at this point) is that Americans view the nation as having passed its peak, that it is in decline, meaning that the “American Dream” is available to fewer and fewer people, not only in the economic sense, but the cultural as well. As a corollary to this, they view life as a zero sum gain. One person’s gain is another’s loss. Hence, people believe to advance in life that they must fervently identify with certain groups that can protect them against other encroaching groups. As time passes, the vicious downward spiral intensifies as group enmity increases. We may have reached the tipping point where the descent cannot be stopped. If this is the case then the inevitable result will be the emergence of a strongman that promises to restore the country to the way it was, although this will be impossible. When the dust finally settles, the nation we grew up in will be nothing more than a memory.

  4. “The idea that “the personal is political” is not just a glib phrase. It is actually best exemplified by totalitarian systems, which seek no limits to their authority over private matters, even those matters that are buried deep in your mind and soul, and which enroll citizens into becoming mutual spies in pursuit of heretics. I don’t want to live in that transparent, unsparing, brutalizing world. It turns us all into spies; it gives no one space to think or escape; it is devoid of mercy and gives no benefit of the doubt.”

    Sounds like Texas.

    Here’s the dilemma: The right has perfected ad hominem hate and lies, attacking people who disagree with them personally, and sometimes physically. Worse, they consistently get away with it. Trump is the personification of this.

    The left has (had?) more of a commitment to civility, and also to problem solving. But we’ve had to face the fact that we’re losing on all fronts. Our democracy is slipping away, and once it’s gone, the authoritarians are not going to give it back. So the question becomes, do we hang on to our values and our commitments, or do we adopt the very effective tactics of our opponents, becoming more like them?

    I don’t want to turn into them. I also don’t think our society is taking their threat very seriously. I don’t excuse violence from anyone. I do think, though, that unless we start putting a lot more effort into facing the reality of the authoritarian threat, we are going to find out very soon how bad it can get.

    There have been many, many articles and opinions about how the right wing needs our “understanding”. Has anyone here ever seen even one article aimed at them telling them that the left needs THEIR understanding? Those don’t exist. In the same vein, Biden has made a big deal about “bipartisanship”. When Trump was President, there was not a whisper from the right about bipartisanship. When the Supreme Court handed the 2000 election to George Bush, he said he was going to govern as though he had a mandate, ignoring the half of the country who didn’t vote for him. There was no attempt to bring the country together. Cooperation is not expected of the right; it IS expected from the left.

    I think we have examples aplenty of where we are headed. Texas and Florida are the most obvious. The idea that we can and should spy on each other will be extended to plenty of other areas in addition to abortion.

    Vandalism isn’t right, and it also isn’t very effective. It’s too easy to focus on the lawlessness and lose the main point. But unless we find an alternative, and pursue it relentlessly, we will soon find ourselves in a dictatorship.


  5. This behavior is ammunition to the Right and helps them win elections. I’ve had this argument with some Antifa who defend physical assault on white nationalists and the attempted intimidation of politicians. It turns public opinion against them, but they think they’re morally right in what they do, and don’t care. It’s arrogance.

  6. Yelling at people is insufficient these days! No, you have to follow them into the bathroom and yell at them in their stalls when they’re trying to micturate, as happened to Kyrsten Sinema.

    I certainly don’t endorse the restroom confrontation with Sen. Sinema. But she has now been one of the two US senators from Arizona for two years and nine months, during which time she has thus far failed to hold a single townhall meeting or otherwise to meet with her constituents in any public forum (although she has made numerous personal appearances around the nation at gatherings of corporate and other big-dollar political donors).

    You keep that up — especially when you’re playing coy regarding landmark federal legislation that would have a major impact on many of your constituents’ lives — you have to expect at some point that your constituents may seek to have a word with you in public (even if that public place is the privy).

    As for “the Right [not being] immune” to criticism for such conduct, tell it to the Florida school board members who’ve been threatened and harassed by gun-toting anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers in their parking lots and outside their homes — conduct idiot insurrectionist Republican US senator from Missouri Josh Hawley (he of the raised first salute to the Jan. 6th rioters at the Capitol) claims is protected by the First Amendment. Like to see how fast Hawley would be all over the FBI’s ass if some gun-toting Lefties showed up threatening him and his kids outside their home.

  7. Well of course it is disgusting and disgraceful to make these kinds of attacks on people of opposing political views and to harass them.

    But how does that mean that the personal is not the political? “The personal is the political” never meant “go out and attack and harass people whose political views you disagree with”.

    Also, I am not sure why anyone would not understand this phrase. Consider a gay couple in Afghanistan at the moment, or a woman in Iran going to her wardrobe deciding what to wear. Is there anyone who really thinks that they can disentangle the personal and political?

    I can remember back in the 1980s, going down a Sydney street hand in hand with my boyfriend – something that ought to be something personal. But of course to do so not only risked the violent attention of random thugs, but also of the police.

    There are lots of situations in which personal decisions have political import. Maybe this shouldn’t be the case but for many this can’t be avoided.

    1. Incidentally I don’t think I have heard or seen the phrase “the personal is the political” since the late 1970s. It isn’t the kind of thing politically active people of any side seem to say these days. But it was never, ever a call for the state to have totalitarian control over people’s mind and soul.

  8. Stelter also talked to Bari Weiss on CNN this morning at fair length: It starts with Weiss listing some ways in which “the world has gone mad” and goes on quite a rant. I’m not sure I agree with her that Hunter Biden’s laptop was a story that wasn’t pursued enough but perhaps I misunderstood. Regardless, she’s pretty angry with “people at networks”. Stelter challenges her on it. She goes on to call out the “cowardice of institutions”. Good stuff.

    On a related note, Bill Maher used to sing Bari Weiss’s praises and had her on his show often. But she hasn’t been on in quite a while. What happened?

  9. Perhaps I don’t cast a wide-enough net, but per my impression, we’re already too far gone to turn back. You will see more confrontations and they will be ugly and even deadly.

    It’s easy to blame ‘the media’ or ‘social networks’ and so on, but the bottom line is this . . . it’s us.

    As difficult it is to accept, it’s what humans do, have done, and continue to do. To imagine ‘we are better than this’ is to deny that the path we eagerly take and justifications we make in support of what we believe is ours alone to travel. We always blame others but it begins with each one of us not taking things seriously and not having the vision required to keep it from happening; a vision that goes beyond our self-interest.

    Like countless times before, it gets much worse until someone steps back and says ‘oh-my-FSM! what have wrought!?’

    But before that, much suffering and probably death because no one can imagine that we’ll get to that point and everyone can justify moving just one more inch closer.

    And here ends my optimistic view of the future.

  10. What exactly is the problem here? Some people don’t feel that they can get to say what they want to say on the mainstream media so they get to say it on alternate media and make money while doing so.

    So where is the downside???

    They get free speech by the bucket load and they make money. Sounds like a win-win to me. So why is everyone so gloomy about it?

  11. It is a dilemma, with no clear solution. When everyone plays by the rules, there are winners and losers, but at least the chance for another game tomorrow.
    But once you recognize that the other team is not following the rules, continuing to abide by them yourself can make you seem like a chump.
    This is really a problem if you are really devoted not just to winning this time, but to the integrity of the game itself.

    I understand that most commenters here feel that most of the violence and threats in the US come from the right, and that the left is more committed to civility and problem solving. That has not been my experience, but I see the danger of the increasing incivility as a larger problem than who is winning or responsible for the escalation.

    I think normal people are generally very conflict averse. That is probably the greatest asset held by the radicals. Antifa or BLM can rampage through cities and towns, and know that there is very little chance of anyone fighting back. But we each have a limit that once reached, we are compelled to act.

    The CRT/Public schools thing has me really puzzled, however. School Board members, administrators, and teachers are either minor elected representatives or civil servants. It does not make sense to me that their need to teach Marxist principles to other people’s kids is the hill they are willing to die on (figuratively).
    The typical public school teacher in the US is a married White woman in her mid 40s. Back when I was in elementary school, the teachers were from the same demographic, but a decade younger. It seems an unlikely group to form a devoted Marxist/Leninist cadre. I suspect many or even most are just going along and keeping their heads down, but as a group they seem to be way to the left of society as a whole.
    Parents of the students don’t really have the option to stay uninvolved, once they are aware that their kids are under threat. They still have the obligation to obey the law, of course.
    I do think the desire to sexualize young kids is related to the larger goals of Marxism. It certainly was the case in the DDR, where a lot of kids were really messed up in the process.
    If it comes down to a test of wills, I suspect that the school system’s desire to show erect penises to 10 year olds, or to teach them that they live in a country based on maintaining systems of oppression is going to find that parents who believe their kids are in danger do not surrender easily.

  12. I don’t expect civility to return any time soon. I believe we are well past what can be thought of as merely a political divide. I think we have transitioned into an undeclared civil war. The 2022 midterms may well be the tipping point – if last Jan 6 wasn’t already.

    1. I agree. If the GOP takes control of both houses of Congress in 2022, the Big Lie will become the law of the land. Not only will all investigations into GOP malfeasance come to a halt, they will start going after the investigators. Biden will also be impeached on some pretext. Similar actions will also occur at the state level in red states.

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