MONDAY, MAY 23, 2022
How diverse democracies die: Over the past (let's say) ten years, rhetoric from the MAGA world has turned into a deeply disturbing anthropology lesson.
The rhetoric is often jaw-dropping, as are the widespread beliefs. This rhetoric, and this capacity for unfounded belief, raises a question about the ability of us human beings to conduct our own political affairs.
Then too, we now have the remarkable rhetoric which increasingly emerges from our own blue tribe. Consider Brian Broome's recent opinion essay in the Washington Post.
Brian Broome, age roughly 52, is a good, decent person. His essay appeared in the aftermath of the Buffalo massacre, in which ten good and decent people were crazily shot and killed.
It's clear that Broome was upset by these murders. Stating the obvious, there's no reason why he shouldn't have been.
Early in his essay, though, the peculiar rhetoric began—rhetoric which was disseminated to the public by the Washington Post. For example, Broome's third paragraph read like this:
BROOME (5/17/22): The alleged shooter, Payton Gendron, is a man who is reported to have been concerned about immigration and decreasing White birthrates. It’s the same concern that Tucker Carlson shares with his Fox News audience almost every night. Gendron isn’t mentally ill. He isn’t “troubled,” nor is he just a misguided teen. These are terms you will hear when he is discussed. The truth is that he’s simply hateful in the same way that right-wing politics have instructed him to be.
"Gendron isn’t mentally ill," Broome peculiarly said. According to Broome, the Buffalo shooter isn't even "troubled."
(He left open the possibility that the shooter had been "misguided." But that was as far as he'd go.)
Regarding the claim about mental illness, Broome didn't say how he could possibly offer such an assessment—how he could possibly know such a thing.
Discussions of "mental illness" involve a challenging set of concepts and distinctions. Broome has no apparent background in the field.
How in the world could Brian Broome know if the shooter is mentally ill (in some particular way)? There seems to be no way that Broome could possibly know such a thing—but in a MAGA-adjacent way, he just went ahead and said it.
Broome just went ahead and said it—and the Post put his statement in print.
In comments, quite a few liberal commenters called attention to the oddness of Broome's unsupported psychiatric assessment. As for Broome, he moved on to some mind-reading work about Justice Alito's recent draft opinion:
BROOME (continuing directly): It is easy to draw a straight line between the hateful actions of white supremacists and popular right-wing conservatives. It seems that neither group can imagine a world where all people are equal. In their minds, one group must be on top. And the fear of losing the top spot has mutated into an ideology known as the great replacement theory...[T]his fear-fueled, binary thinking will continue to bring harm to people of color.
The same sort of thinking about race and birthrates now dominates the conservative Supreme Court. The leaked draft opinion isn’t about protecting babies. It is about protecting Whiteness. Specifically, White babies.
Say what? Alito's draft opinion is "specifically" about "protecting white babies?"
For the record, the draft opinion doesn't specifically say any such thing. But in a more general sense, how could Broome possibly think that he knew something like that?
How could Broome know such a thing? In what follows, he fails to explain. Instead, he offers the type of sweeping, unsupported rhetoric our blue tribe has increasingly come to enjoy:
BROOME (continuing directly): Many others have pointed out that if Republicans really cared about babies and children, they’d help provide help for poor infants, child care, health care, better funding for schools, and the like. But their concern is not about babies and children in general—only certain babies. The Supreme Court draft decision is about protecting what conservatives believe is a diminishing demographic and their most valuable resource: White people.
For the record, Broome now seems to be reporting what all Republicans think. According to Broome, "Their concern is not about babies and children in general—only certain babies."
Once again, Broome doesn't explain how he knows such a thing. He then mind-reads, once again, about the motives which lie behind the Alito draft opinion:
The opinion "is about protecting what conservatives believe is a diminishing demographic and their most valuable resource: White people." Or at least, so Broome declares.
How could Broome know that? He seems to feel no need to explain. Instead, he gives Post readers a further look at his various "beliefs:"
BROOME (continuing directly): Some will accuse me here of indulging in conspiracy theories—or of believing the worst in people. But, as a Black American living in a racist society, I don’t find it difficult to believe in the worst in people. One tries not to. But we see evidence of it every day in our lived experience. And we have firsthand knowledge of how important Whiteness is to some people. We’ve seen how they conflate Whiteness with righteousness and innocence. And we’ve lived with how the power that this culture bestows upon Whiteness affects us negatively. It is my belief that conservatives couldn’t care less about whether or not mothers of color terminate pregnancies.
The real agenda here is to boost White birthrates, because among the biggest fears of conservatives is the fear of being outnumbered.
According to Broome, the "real agenda" behind Alito's opinion involves the desire to boost white birthrates. This would eliminate (white) conservatives' fear of being outnumbered in the future as demographic change proceeds.
Under the circumstances, this strikes us as a remarkably odd statistical theory. As best we can tell from the basic numbers and from the basic sociology, eliminating abortion would increase birthrates in "minority" communities much more than the birthrate of whites.
"This much is true: In the United States, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women."
It's hard to imagine how five Justices could actually think that overturning Roe v. Wade—or eliminating abortion rights altogether—would be a way to turn back the clock on demographic change. But that's what Brian Broome has said—and the Washington Post chose to print it.
During these Trump-adjacent years, rhetoric from the nation's red tribe has becoming increasingly illogical, unfounded, unhinged, bizarre. Something else has become remarkably clear:
We humans are capable of believing almost any claim, no matter how illogical or unhinged, at times of tribal conflict. Sadly, as these Days of Trump move on, our own blue rhetoric increasingly seems to come from a Trump-adjacent realm.
Brian Broome is a good, decent person. That said, large chunks of his recent essay read like the sort of thing you used to hear in corners bars, though only if you were unlucky enough to be physically present.
Today, newspapers like the Washington Post—and "cable news" channels like MSNBC—are increasingly ready to publish and broadcast such rhetoric. The rhetoric goes out to us the people—and we the people will be inclined to believe and parrot its various statements and claims.
(Cynics say this practice is good for the corporate bottom line. These cynics may well have a point.)
In conclusion, consider this:
In his new book, Professor Mounk warns about the historical difficulty of maintaining "[racially] diverse democracies." According to Mounk, crazy rhetoric from each of two warring sides can help doom such fragile attempts at human governance.
The rhetoric we approve and advance helps define our selves. In this morning's Washington Post, an opinion essay appears beneath this headline:
Disturbing, even inaccurate speech must be protected
Trust us! At present, the U.S. army isn't big enough to protect all that unfettered speech!
In all honesty, nothing is going to change the decline in the rhetoric—in the logic and the rationality—of our own flailing blue tribe. Even so, we'll explore the decline in our tribe's rhetoric during the course of the week.
Does our rhetoric really define our selves? In the face of the Crazy from major elements of MAGA world, is our tribe's devolving rhetoric really the tool with which we should respond?
Tomorrow: Stephanie Ruhle agrees