THURSDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2021
The germ of a good idea: We experienced a lightly comical manifestation as we read this morning's newspapers. It came to us courtesy of Ben Ritz—and the New York Times.
Ritz is director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute (the PPI). For the record, the PPI is an organization which generally wouldn't get scored as "progressive," given current conventions.
More generally, the PPI would be scored as centrist, New Democrat, neo-liberal. Needless to say, that doesn't mean that the things its directors say automatically have to be wrong.
In a guest essay in the Times, Ritz is urging Democrats to go back to work with Senator Manchin. He recommends passing a version of Build Back Better which satisfies Manchin's demands.
"I believe abandoning Mr. Biden’s agenda would be a massive mistake," Ritz writes. But even within the Manchin frameworks, Ritz also says this:
"There is a clear path forward to deliver a historically significant, fiscally responsible bill that supports working families, expands access to affordable health care and combats the climate crisis."
We don't know if some such outcome is possible. If it is, we'd support that outcome too. Still and all, we had to chuckle when we came to this:
RITZ (12/23/21): Unlike those on the left now unleashing their righteous wrath on Mr. Manchin, I have long sympathized with his objections to this approach, as well as his concerns about inflation and the unsustainable growth of our national debt.
Ritz has "long sympathized with" Manchin's concerns about inflation and the national debt? Since Ritz is only seven years out of college (George Washington, class of 2014), we allowed the analysts to chuckle at that a bit.
The chuckles turned to outright guffaws when we clicked Ritz's link. How long has he sympathized with Manchin's concerns?
This long! The link he provides leads back to this column in The Hill. The column was published less than two months ago, in late October of this very year!
Ritz has long sympathized with Manchin's concerns, dating to late October! Sometimes, it helps to laugh at the silly posing which finds its way into print.
Thumbs are routinely placed on the scales as elite insiders debate. For our money, the New York Times should have asked the talented Mr. Ritz to clean up that one silly statement.
None of this means that Ritz is wrong in his basic view—in the way he says we should move on from here. Among other suggestions, he seems to suggest that "those on the left" should stop "unleashing their righteous wrath on Manchin."
We're inclined to agree with that view. But we thought we'd share that bit of humor before we turned to the sorrow and the pity—the sorrow and pity a person might feel in reviewing events of the day.
In part, we refer to this news report, in today's New York Times, concerning the deaths by suicide of college freshmen at West Virginia University and at Yale.
We refer to the limited judgment of the conservative group which recently featured Kyle Rittenhouse in a sprawling stage production.
We refer to the ways our own liberal tribe keeps moving on with our demonizations of Rittenhouse—demonization which are often based on bogus factual claims.
We also refer to the unfortunate behavior of Bette Midler, a good, decent person who recently tweeted this:
MIDLER (12/20/21): What #JoeManchin, who represents a population smaller than Brooklyn, has done to the rest of America, who wants to move forward, not backward, like his state is horrible. He sold us out. He wants us all to be just like his state, West Virginia. Poor, illiterate and strung out.
Forty minutes later, Midler apologized. That said, this has long been part of our tribe's DNA. This is the way we routinely refer to The Others, the "scum."
Midler is a good, decent person who made an unhelpful remark. According to experts, the tribal loathing she expressed is wired within our human brains—and is encouraged by our new technologies and by our profit-based corporate arrangements.
Also in this morning's Times, Samuel Earle opines that our modern-day Internet is more destructive than anything pictured in the 1999 film, The Matrix.
The tribalized nature of Internet / social media culture is a large part of that problem. So is the tribalized nature of "cable news," in which we segregate ourselves into two warring tribes and persistently demonize Others.
Two years ago, Kirsten Powers apologized for her previous role in that system. She did so in her regular opinion column in USA Today.
Powers lamented the various ways she'd behaved. In our view, she was expressing the germ of a good, sound, decent idea.
What had been wrong with Powers' conduct? You can assess her full column here, but this is the way she started:
POWERS (2/19/19): I recently took a hiatus from social media to reflect on what role I might be playing in our increasingly toxic public square. I was not proud of what I found.
During this time, I reflected not just on my behavior on social media, but also in my public expressions both on TV and in my columns. I looked back over the past decade of my work with a clear eye to assess whether I was shedding light on issues or just creating heat.
I cringed at many of the things I had written and said. Many I would not say or write today, sometimes because my view has changed on the issue and sometimes just because I was too much of a crusader, too judgmental and condemning.
What’s interesting is that at the time, I was convinced that I was righteous and “speaking truth” and therefore justified behaving as I did, and that anyone who didn’t like it just “couldn’t handle the truth.”
According to Powers, she had felt sure that she was right, and that everyone else was wrong. More to the point, she had been entirely sure that The Others were simply bad people.
From 2007 to 2016, Powers appeared on Fox News as an outspoken liberal commentator. In 2016, she moved to CNN, where she can still be seen.
In September of this year, Powers published a book, Saving Grace, in which she discusses her views on "our increasingly toxic public square" in much greater detail.
In our view, she still hasn't thoroughly sorted out her views on these matters. After reading the book, it seems to us that her views on these matters are still substantially jumbled.
That said, we think her regrets about her own role in this maelstrom provide a good model for others.
"I was too much of a crusader, too judgmental and condemning." Powers wrote in that column. Her book supplies much more detail.
In the column from which we're quoting, Powers also said this:
POWERS: When I took to Twitter Monday to apologize for my lack of grace in the public square, many people expressed concern that I would stop speaking with moral clarity on important issues. This is not my goal. I will continue to stand on the side of equality and justice, but also mercy and grace. My goal is to speak in a way that remembers the humanity of everyone involved.
...[That] includes Trump supporters whom I, in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue of white privilege, not too long ago regrettably characterized as uniformly racist for voting for him. Not exactly a conversation starter.
Are Trump supporters "uniformly racist?" They are if you read a lot of the work our own angry tribe presents. According to many of our own tribe's "thought leaders," Those People Are All Just Alike.
For the record, much of our tribe's mandated work is also factually bogus. Our tribunes play those games all day, even Over Here.
In her column, then in her book, Powers has apologized for many things she said and did down through the years. We've been sorry to learn about the amount of turmoil she has experienced during her years in the cable news wars, but ugly, deeply stupidified discourse takes a toll on us all.
We assume that Bette Midler is a good, decent person. By way of contrast, her recent tweet was the deeply unhelpful product of a long, ongoing war.
Tomorrow, we're going to ask you to think about the ways we may get misled Over Here. In the process, we'll suggest the possibility of rethinking Kyle Rittenhouse—who's just 18, after all.
Beyond that, we'll ask you to think about the late Joseph Rosenbaum, the first person Rittenhouse shot and killed in Kenosha that night. Rosenbaum, a human being, was also a mentally ill, presumably dangerous person who was chasing Rittenhouse through the streets, having earlier threatened to kill him.
(One was lugging a fire extinguisher. Do we know which one that was?)
Two nights ago, we saw Professor Cobb seem to say that Rittenhouse had been chasing Rosenbaum through the streets that night. In such ways, the people we're inclined to trust may be inclined to mislead us, perhaps in the unthinking, reflexive ways Powers has discussed.
Our tribes are invested in churning out demons. Such conduct is bogus, unhelpful. It's the stuff of an onrushing war, an onrushing war which decent people are perhaps unlikely to win.
Tomorrow: There but for fortune! Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse, Trump