Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Forever Forgiving Villains

Happy Halloween! 

George W. Bush's political rehabilitation is already in full swing, but I think it's a bit premature. I mean, shit and grits! You are not even waiting until he is dead. That's when we traditionally forgive turds.

Sure, Trump is terrible. I agree and understand that you are upset. But let's have some perspective here. Trump hasn't racked up W.'s body count just yet. Although, according to the corporate press, ordering air strikes are what make such obvious buffoons "presidential."

Seriously, Trump had already benefited from this jingoistic media tradition when he bombed Syria. The most macho adolescent power fantasy associated with the office of the presidency confers instant gravitas and maturity in pundit opinion.  You can be the most tantrum-y geriatric baby-man and the press will present the decision as a coming-of-age story of how you grew into the role to truly become president. The exact same thing happened with George W. Bush, remember? Have you already forgotten?

This centrist revisionism prizes bipartisanship over human lives. It's a prefect storm of treacle, desperation, and gnat-like attentions spans. Despite their fetish for pragmatism, centrists decide things emotionally with no eye on the horizon or concept of consequences, whether logical or ethical.(1)

Recently, "Dubyuh" - or as Molly Ivins often called him "Shrub" - delivered an obviously ghost-written speech and somehow managed not to garble it. Since it was filled with indirect, subtle criticisms of Trump, hosannas for Shrub's humanity and wisdom echoed across the commentariat. WaPo provided a largely laudatory and uncritical(2) annotated transcript of his speech - which was helpful to anyone who has woken from a coma recently. Still, I appreciate the transcript itself since it is infinitely heckle-worthy:

"Yet for years, challenges have been gathering to the principles we hold dear."
Like not using torture? 

"[Y]et seem to be losing confidence in their own calling and competence."
"Heckuva job, Brownie!" 

"We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism"
That's what nationalism is, idiot. 

"Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone"
Did "Turd Blossom" write that line for you?(3)

"The Prague Charter, signed by champions of liberty ..."

I am certainly not the first to express outrage. And others have done a far better job than I ever could. Corey Robin predicted we would reach this point with Trump and recently claimed we already have

Corey Robin is correct in saying that tomorrow's Trump will become today's Bush. Tom Tomorrow has acknowledged this possibility as well. This is not denying things are getting worse but the total opposite. The point is they are getting worse precisely because our rose-colored nostalgia normalizes past monsters, giving future monsters more latitude, culturally as well as legally. Think how Obama's failure to prosecute Bush's torturers strengthens Trump's hand today.

This mercurial and unprincipled conservative-coddling has got to stop. Yes, we live in tumultuous times where previous certainties are routinely shattered. But this predilection is not a reflection of the times but of a longstanding centrist tradition(4) if not moronic motor memory.

Remember how quickly James Comney flipped from villain to hero by defying Donald Trump? Here's how Harvey Weinsten rehabilitates his image: 1) Become a Republican politician or pundit (perhaps like former Clinton pollster Dick Morris), 2) Thumb your nose at Trump on the way out the door, and 3) Bathe in instant forgiveness from the centrist chattering class.

Why not? It worked for everyone from Megyn Kelly to Jeff Flake. 

I can understand the premise of rewarding rare good behavior to reform an ogre, but this reflexive sympathy is hardly strategy. After all, the beneficiaries are either retiring or already-retired. From a cost-benefit analysis, this does not seem especially fruitful. For one thing, there’s the laughable fantasy that these reactionaries are actually reflecting and defecting. They are not. For another, there is the doomed hope that if the figure’s conservative credentials are sterling, this will encourage other conservatives to follow suit. It won’t. Either they will disbelieve the event or shun the traitor for breaking rank.(5) And how courageous is it to blast Trump while retiring? Indeed, Jeff Flake's departure quite likely helps the GOP hold onto his Senate seat. What the hell are we celebrating?

In short, free forgiveness doesn't accomplish anything beyond feeling sanctimonious and magnanimous. It's just a feel-good ritual that re-advertises that we are saps.(6) 

Worse, it's a systemic sickness that normalizes monsters, corrupts our judgment, and further diminishes our already dismal international standing. And, if you think that’s hyperbole, remember this: Just last year, Hillary Clinton praised Henry Kissinger in the Democratic Party primary debates(!) Note that I italicized two surprises. If Josef Mengele were a registered Republican, centrists would find something nice to say about him. Kissinger is a war criminal who cannot travel abroad for fear of being extradited to stand trial. Of course, George W. Bush had to cancel a trip to Switzerland for similar concerns

What does this ingrained tendency tell the world about our moral authority? Nothing they don't already know. Nothing that praising George W. Bush recently has not reconfirmed once again.

Richard Nixon's blood-soaked Secretary of State should be shunned by both parties, not hailed as a respected exemplar of statecraft. Similarly, Shrub doesn't deserve all the hugs and petting he is getting.

It's something to contemplate on this next Day of the Dead.

EDIT 03/05/18:

Anthony Bourdain said something about Henry Kissinger which aptly sums up our vacuous callousness. It may sound like an adolescent cri de coeur, but it it grounded on acknowledging horrific historical facts that self-anointed "grown ups" studiously ignore - thereby abdicating any claim to be adults:
Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia – the fruits of his genius for statesmanship – and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević. 
Bourdain righteously stands by his comment. All America's rhetoric about human rights and being a nation of laws is hollow posturing as long as Kissinger walks free. I expect such unconscionable humbug from conservatives, but it is exponentially more outrageous coming from supposed "liberals." An actual adult would not accept such corrupt outcomes and ask what can be done to avoid more of them. Instead, centrists celebrate them and their architects as serious thinkers.


1) For example, they yearn to impeach Trump without considering the dangers of  a President Pence. That tantalizing prospect eclipses all other considerations. And how wise was it for Hillary Clinton to petulantly flip off progressives by picking Tim Kaine as VP? As I blogged at the time, not only would tapping Sanders or Warren have improved party unity and generated much needed enthusiasm, it would have been pretty decent impeachment insurance. Because you know that if the GOP held Congress, they would impeach Clinton on day one, with or without cause - UNLESS a genuine progressive was waiting in the wings.

2) They could not help making one superficial barb, but politely ignored more important points. It opened noting, "George W. Bush delivered an unexpected and rather eloquent speech." Yes, eloquence is indeed unexpected from the president who spoke of putting "food on your family."

3) This is, after all, a man who as Governor of Texas mocked a woman he was about to execute. But, you know, maybe he grew by becoming president. The presidency isn't therapy, people. If it is, it's the most expensive therapy in existence and we cannot afford it. But I love how bipartisanship-fetishists are oblivious to their own logic. If power mellows awful people, it doesn't matter who we elect because they will get help and grow in the role. In the words of Voltaire's Candide, "It's all for the best."

4) According to popular lore, Robert Frost once quipped, "A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." Of course, such people stopped calling themselves liberals around 1988 after Michael Dukakis was tarred as an "ACLU card-carrying liberal." (Forget Dukakis' manifestly centrist economics.) Frost's alleged caricature was of someone too neutral to defend himself, but the current incarnation is quite different. This political specimen is not neutral at all. He is quick to defend conservatives and is always hot to assault his own side - so much so that it is not unreasonable to ask what side he is really on. Indeed, his unreasoning zeal seems downright ... partisan. Either the type Frost once described has devolved or a crop of conservative doppelgangers have emerged to exploit this unique weakness. It’s probably a combination of both, but the upshot is the promotion and proliferation of the professional anti-liberal “liberal” who sabotages Democrats and dominates opinion pages today.

5) Why? Because “principled conservatives” are tiny minority. This is in part because the phrase is an oxymoron, but also because it is very generous to call tribal authoritarianism an ideology. It’s not. It’s just a crude animus. All the rank-and-file conservative wants is a pecking order and an enemy and they are happy. Trump gives them what they want without any boring, abstract egg-headed complexity. If forced to choose, they will assume the conservative ideologue is untrustworthy because any intellectuality is suspect, whether it's artificial or actual. William Kristol (a.k.a. "Dan Quayle's Brain") praising Sarah Palin only goes so far. In the end, "Never Trump" Republicans proved politically impotent.

6) Of course, this is childish nonsense to self-proclaimed "realists" who also insist campaign donations do not impact policy making and fret that saying any different is civically poisonous "cynicism." I may be biased, but I think those labels are mis-pinned on the opposite parties.

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