Black congressmen frogmarched, plus parents to jail!


The strange career of moral panic:
What's the nature of moral panic? And where does such panic come from?

We can't necessarily explain moral panic, but we know it when we see it! Consider a few examples or offshoots in this morning's press.

We're so old that we can remember when liberals and progressives thought there were too many people in jail. That said, we're currently being served heaping portions of schadenfreude concerning the "college admissions scandal" as parents are marched off to jail.

Kate Taylor's brief report in this morning's New York Times starts off like this:
TAYLOR (10/23/19): Jane Buckingham, a youth marketing consultant who has written advice books including “The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life,” was sentenced by a federal judge on Wednesday to three weeks in prison for paying to have a test expert take the ACT exam in place of her son.
Without criticizing Taylor, the source of the schadenfreude is obvious there. We love the fact that a hoity-toity "youth marketing consultant" (whatever that is) is being frog-marched to jail.

To be sure, this consultant's behavior was pitiful and deeply pathetic, as you can see from reading Taylor's brief report. Journalistically, though, we were most struck by the way the short report ended:
TAYLOR: “I know that words alone are never going to make up for what I’ve done—nothing’s going to ever make up for what I’ve done,” Ms. Buckingham told the judge, choking back tears.

“I wake up every morning,” she continued, “and when I remember what I’ve done and how many people I’ve hurt, I know that I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”
In that way, this brief report ends. On a journalistic basis, we'd call that a highly peculiar ending. As a literary form, that's an old-fashioned morality tale.

For a more striking example of moral panic, consider the reaction to Donald J. Trump's attempt to create a distraction yesterday by using the newly fraught term, "lynching," in a way which would make people mad.

In response to Trump's attempt to create a distraction, our Dimmesdales have swung into action. After Candidate Biden scolded Trump from his misconduct, Biden himself is being scolded for having misused the term on one occasion in 1998.

But it wasn't Senator Biden alone! In this morning's Washington Post, two reporters are willing to name other names:
VISER AND WOOTSON (10/24/19): Biden, whose standing in the race has been supported by a huge advantage among black voters, was not alone, however.

The Post identified at least five other Democratic lawmakers—current and former congressmen Danny K. Davis (Ill.), Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.), Jim McDermott (Wash.), Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.)—who talked about a “lynching” or “lynch mob” when it came to Clinton’s impeachment.
Viser and Wootson are too correct to note that three of these other miscreants—Davis, Meeks and Rangel—are socially identified as black. Today, all must repent or be frogmarched far away, into the countryside.

Was something actually wrong with saying what those miscreants said? We'll suggest that you consider the possibility that the answer is pretty much no.

We'd have to say that this latest wave of recrimination is the latest moral panic. It's the kind of "cultural revolution" which tends to come from those who are posturing, can't think of something constructive to do, or are morally lost.

We were especially struck by Michele Norris' full-length opinion column on this topic in today's Washington Post.

Norris has always seemed like the most decent person in the world, which she probably is. Today, she's warning everyone not to "trifle with the history" locked inside that newly-fraught word.

Question! Did Norris fashion any such commentary back in 1998, when the aforementioned miscreants were misbehaving in the manner described? We're going to guess that the answer is no. This leads to a question:

Why not?

"Man [sic] is the scripted animal," top anthropologists keep telling us. Plus, these experts keep telling us that we humans just aren't all that sharp.

That said, what's the nature of moral panic?

We think it tends to come from those who are perhaps a bit morally lost. It tends to traffic in guilt and self-loathing. We're not sure this actually helps.


  1. Well, in my opinion, 'lynching', 'witch-hunt', 'show-trial' - all are perfectly suitable terms, to describe the ongoing zombie attack.

    Especially considering the role of goebbelsian zombie media.

    1. Is zombie the name that Russians are using these days to describe their bots?

    2. Bob,
      How about building a a wall around Colorado? Keep the Mormons out?
      Fucking moron. That's you Bob.
      You would rather critique a book review than deal with assholes like Trump.
      You do not like women so you scour Page 3 of The NY Times to get you rocks off and get thanks and praises from liars like DinC and stupids like Mao.
      Your father was a Vaudeville promoter whho left you a small fortune when he died. He also left you a hatred for women.

  2. "In response to Trump's attempt to create a distraction, our Dimmesdales have swung into action."

    Somerby complains that Weiner said Miller was 23 instead of 22 years old, while he blithely uses the name Dimmesdale inaccurately, making himself ridiculous in his ignorance over a fact that he could easily confirm and correct.

    1. He complained about the NYT as low IQ while showing a knowledge of %ages that a 6 grader would disdain.

  3. "We'd have to say that this latest wave of recrimination is the latest moral panic."

    Trump has no moral standing to complain about his corrupt acts being investigated.

    Use of racially loaded terms is foolish. When Trump does it, he is appealing to his white supremacist followers and one can presume that the racial tinges are intended, a dog whistle. When Biden does it, since he doesn't have a white supremacist base, he is harkening back to a time when racially loaded terms were habitually used by white people with an obliviousness that is now considered racially insensitive or racist. As a politician, Biden should know better.

    But notice that the context of use for Trump is different than that for Biden. Context matters. Motives matter. Intent matters. This is what Somerby ignores when he tries to equate what Trump did to what Biden and others did in their various statements.

    Liberals understand that context matters. Somerby doesn't. Can Somerby be this blind to pragmatics of language? I don't think so. I believe he is deliberately ignoring context in order to castigate liberals over a perceived hypocrisy (his Dimmesdale reference).

    Liberals want to educate the public to the need to be more sensitive to how use of such terms affects those who were the actual targets of lynchings as murder, not metaphor. That is a worthwhile goal in a multicultural society, as ours is. Conservatives want to proclaim that minorities have no right to feel comfortable in a white majority culture, so they aggressively ignore civility toward those they dislike, as Somerby is arguing Trump should be permitted to do, despite being President of all of the people who live in this country.

    This is why Somerby is no liberal.

  4. The lede of course is that presidential candidate Biden called Trump ‘“despicable” and “abhorrent” for saying the impeachment proceedings against him were a “lynching.”’, when Biden himself used the term in 1998, and that he now feels the need to apologize for what he said in 1998.

    Can Biden’s campaign staff not sift through the public record like the Post did to check what he has said?

    Also, the Post found “at least” five Democrats who called the Clinton Impeachment a “lynching.” Which of them has criticized Trump for saying it and also used the term themselves in 1998? To use the Post’s phrasing, at least one of them (Meeks). Listing a bunch of people who said something or other reeks of rank both-siderism if you aren’t prepared to show whether it is actually hypocritical, in other words that these people criticized Trump for using a word they themselves used.

  5. "Question! Did Norris fashion any such commentary back in 1998, when the aforementioned miscreants were misbehaving in the manner described? We're going to guess that the answer is no."

    Times change. Slavery was legal 200 years ago and lots of people engaged in it. Does that mean that someone today should be excused for holding another person in bondage? If you are put in jail today, should you be released because no one was jailed in 1819 for owning a slave or two? Is there no moral basis for opposing slavery because there was controversy about it 200 years ago?

    I thought Somerby cared about logic and reason!

    1. 'I thought Somerby cared about logic and reason! '

      Somerby only cares about attacking liberals and defending Roy Moore, Donald Trump and Ron Johnson

  6. So, some Democrats used the word “lynching” in 1998, and now criticize Trump for using it?

    As good a time as any to quote Emerson:

    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.”

  7. Why is Somerby calling this "moral panic"? The word panic refers to "sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior". I don't see any aspect of anxiety or fear in liberal concerns, even the ones concerning morality.

    I think Somerby is using overblown language to describe a liberal objection that he disagrees with. Unless he has evidence that there is (1) morality involved, and (2) fear, anxiety involved, I think he is using fraught language to propagandize against something liberals care about.

    I think he is the Dimmesdale in this situation because he is doing exactly the same thing he criticizes others for.

  8. "I wake up every morning,” she continued, “and when I remember what I’ve done and how many people I’ve hurt, I know that I’ll never be able to forgive myself."

    This is a quote reported by the journalist. It sounds like the kind of thing accused people are instructed by their attorneys to say to express remorse at sentencing. If you sound sorry you get a lighter sentence. There is no hint of moral panic involved and I frankly think Somerby is hearing things.

    The problem with what this person did is not what she did to harm other people. It is that she compromised the validity of the college admission system, making it seem unfair and biased and incapable of giving every student a fair chance. That is "harm" but it is different than directly hurting another person. It is an abstract kind of harm. I believe that is why her expression of remorse sounds odd.

    But I don't see why Somerby is attributing this quote to liberals, nor why it is any kind of example of moral panic.

    Does Somerby think that cheating to get one's child into college is only something liberals care about? We are all glad that these people are going to be punished, but not because they are high and mighty to begin with -- because they undermined the trust young people have in a system that will determine what happens in their own lives. It doesn't matter whether the person who cheats is rich or poor.

    Somerby almost implies that this person didn't deserve punishment. That would be a very odd stance for a former teacher to take. If tests and grades aren't fair, the whole system will be seen as rigged and students will not strive to learn. It undermine their faith in the system and hope for the future. It is a great cruelty to take this away from a young person dependent on our educational system. Teachers work to instill hope. Cynicism in a teacher is unforgivable.

    So, what exactly is Somerby attributing to liberals here?

    1. Seems that no one gets what Bob is saying. "Leftists," if you can call them that, are all shitting bricks because Urine-Soaked Cotton Candy Hair™ said "lynching."

      Talk about missing the forest for the trees!


    2. Think of it as "setting boundaries" instead of "shitting bricks". If you ignore what Trump says and does, you "normalize" it -- it creates the appearance that it is OK to do this stuff, that anything goes, that Trump is untouchable because he does so much wrong.

      Liberals are as worn out as everyone else by the constant stream of garbage that is Trump's presidency. But the solution is not to stop pointing out that it is not OK to say you are being lynched when you are being investigated for committing crimes.

  9. "So, what exactly is Somerby attributing to liberals here?"

    Hmm. Don't know about Bob, but to me the most accurate characterization would be something like 'sanctimonious crooks'.

    1. ...especially if we include Jussie Smollett into the group...

  10. “we're currently being served heaping portions of schadenfreude concerning the "college admissions scandal" as parents are marched off to jail.”

    Where exactly is the schadenfreude in Taylor’s report?

    “the source of the schadenfreude is obvious there. We love the fact that a hoity-toity "youth marketing consultant" (whatever that is) is being frog-marched to jail.”

    Taylor doesn’t say anything about loving the fact that the consultant is going to jail. The fact that the youth marketing consultant is a...youth marketing consultant is just a fact.

    The liberals that Somerby claims to speak for, the ones feeling schadenfreude about this story, are all in his head.

    On the other hand, liberals, er, people might be glad that this scheme was discovered and stopped.

  11. I’m not as smart as Bob, but just a wild stab in the dark here. I bet a youth marketing consultant is a person who consults with businesses about how to market products to young people, the youth market being, as it always has been, huge business.

  12. I suggest we make deadrat’s assertion come true, that nobody reads this blog.

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