WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2022
The strains of a very old tune: In this morning's New York Times, Bret Stephens says he's writing "as someone who has long thought that [Donald J.] Trump represents a unique threat to democracy."
We agree with that assessment, and we'd raise Stephens a tad. Beyond that, though, let it be said:
In the course of this morning's column, Stephens places an array of other pro-Trump cadres within the "threat to democracy" camp.
He lists "violent Oath Keepers and Proud Boys," along with "the antisemites who marched at Charlottesville."
He cites "election deniers like lawyers Sidney Powell and John Eastman," along with the "conspiracy theorists" who have "schemed" with Trump to let him "remain in power."
He cites the "mob" which conducted "an assault on Congress" on January 6, thereby "put[ting] the life of his vice president in jeopardy."
Stephens mentions all those pro-Trump cadres along with Trump himself. He doesn't mention the long list of Republican senators and congressmen who have refused to come forward and state the blindingly obvious.
We refer to the many elected officials who have refused to say that there is exactly zero evidence that the 2020 election was stolen—who have refused to say that Donald J. Trump is deceiving millions of voters when he persistently makes this claim in the total absence of any relevant evidence.
For our money, that was a large omission. But Stephens restates his long-standing claim that Trump is a "threat to democracy," and he says that other cadres also form part of that threat.
Stephens cites Trump and many pro-Trump cadres. But alas, it isn't enough!
Stephens goes on to say that Joe Biden's recent speech about "these extremist MAGA Republicans"—actually, his recent set of speeches—painted with too broad a brush. In Stephens' view, Biden "claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them."
Our own reaction to the president's speeches has been somewhat different from that. But we'd have to say that Stephens has a perfectly decent point in what he says in this column.
Stephens condemns Donald J. Trump as a deeply dangerous threat. He lists an array of other cadres who fit in the same category.
Needless to say, this wasn't enough! Let us quote again from Stephens column as we state our own long-standing point:
At times like these, "the 'mobocratic spirit' that Lincoln warned against in his first major address" tends to manifest itself on all sides, from all warring tribes and factions.
In accord with that mobocratic spirit, all the Others must be denounced. To see that spirit seizing the soul of our own increasingly mobocratic blue tribe, you need only read through the many comments to Stephens' column.
Stephens is denounced, again and again, because he suggests that Biden's denunciations of the MAGA Republicans was too "capacious"—too broad.
He didn't criticize everyone who isn't as brilliant and moral as We are. For that reason, by ancient logic, his column must be denounced.
An eternal impulse drives the vast bulk of these comments. The very first commenter of the day voices a (very rare) agreement with Stephens. For that reason, in line with ancient law, this sub-comment appears:
COMMENTER FROM CHARLOTTESVILLE (9/6/22): Most people in the U.S. disagree with you and Stephens. Trump lost and the continue$ attempts at fulminating autocracy will never work. Best if you move to Hungary and let Orban think for you.
Most people disagree with you. So it would be best if you left!
America—Love it or leave it! Back in the street-fighting 1960s, this was frequently the voice of the angry, prowar right.
Just like that, this ancient impulse is stated again, this time representing the voice of our own blue tribe.
We largely agree with Stephens' assessments of Biden's speeches. In his initial speeches about "the MAGA Republicans," we think he cast far too wide a net—and we think this was unwise.
We note that, as of this Monday afternoon, Biden had begun to change his rhetoric, putting the emphasis where we think it more wisely belongs—on "these extremist MAGA Republicans in Congress."
Tomorrow, we'll run you through that change in the president's language and tone. Incomparably, we'll charge no consultant's fee for the president's narrowed focus, which rather plainly came in reaction to our earlier posts.
That said, our reaction to Biden's first three speeches was somewhat different from Stephens'. Just this once, we're going to let you ask us about what we heard when Biden spoke, starting back in August.
We were troubled by what we heard on August 25, when the president made the first of his speeches about "these extremist MAGA Republicans."
It was partly the words he spoke—but more than that, it was the tenor and tone, the sound of his address. We thought we heard the voice of an old catastrophe—a very familiar catastrophe, as experienced, not long ago, in catastrophized Rwanda.
What happened in that sacred land? For one thing, very rough language! Title included, here's the start of Kennedy Ndahiro's recollection, for The Atlantic, of what happened in 1994 in his profoundly unfortunate land:
In Rwanda, We Know All About Dehumanizing Language
In Rwanda, we know what can happen when political leaders and media outlets single out certain groups of people as less than human.
Twenty-five years ago this month, all hell broke loose in my country, which is tucked away in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Hordes of members of the Hutu ethnic majority, armed with machetes, spears, nail-studded clubs, and other rudimentary weapons, moved house to house in villages, hunting for Tutsis, the second largest of Rwanda’s three ethnic groups. The radio station RTLM, allied with leaders of the government, had been inciting Hutus against the Tutsi minority, repeatedly describing the latter as inyenzi, or “cockroaches,” and as inzoka, or “snakes.” The station, unfortunately, had many listeners.
Within the past year, we'd once again watched Hotel Rwanda, the Oscar-nominated 2004 film. That film includes some of the audiotape of those radio broadcasts.
In those broadcasts, one group heard a group of deeply despised Others described as "cockroaches."
What happened next is human history. And no—that isn't going to happen here, at least not in the same cultural trappings.
Also, President Biden didn't refer to "the extremist MAGA Republicans" as "cockroaches." Nor, we feel completely certain, would he ever do any such thing.
Joe Biden would never do that. But behind his words, we heard a tone, and we flashed on Hotel Rwanda and on what happened there.
Back on August 25, President Biden didn't use such ugly language, nor would he ever do so. That said, we heard the tenor and tone of that familiar disastrous conduct in the remarks he offered that day.
We thought his conduct was very unwise. We thought his conduct was dangerous.
The catastrophe which occurred in Rwanda is a very old catastrophe. That catastrophe has happened all over the world. It has happened right here in this country.
The impulse toward such behavior is bred quite deep in the bone. For that reason, very important public figures should stay away from the sorts of remarks which encourage such ancient reactions.
Through his relentlessly ugly remarks, Donald J. Trump invites such catastrophes on a nearly daily basis. Decent people like President Biden should avoid such behavior, in part because human nature remains unchanged all over the world.
Love it or leave it, one commenter says in the New York Times. For what it's worth, the bulk of many such comments to Stephens' column strike us as highly recognizable in human terms, but also as highly unintelligent.
That said, this is the way we humans are wired to react at times like these. Such reactions have led to catastrophe all through history, and all around the world.
President Biden didn't call anyone a cockroach, and he never would. Having said that, let us also say this:
Last Sunday, the third caller to C-Span's Washington Journal offered the remarks shown below. In no way did Biden cause these remarks, but in no way have his recent speeches helped:
EDDIE FROM GEORGIA (9/4/22): You know what? When I woke up this morning and listened to C-Span, woke up and turned to C-Span and saw Donald Trump on there this morning with that, that, that KKK, KKK rally that he's [INDECIPHERABLE]—
He's a maggot. That's what it is to me! There's a bunch of maggots out there, standing out there, listening to him complaining and crying and talking about people...
To hear the full comment, just click here, then move ahead to the 11-minute mark. And yes, the caller was saying "maggots," presumably a play on "MAGA."
When he woke up this Sunday morning, this caller had seen "a bunch of maggots standing out there," listening to Donald J. Trump. We'd thought of Rwanda back in late August, but we thought of Rwanda again.
This Monday afternoon, Biden began to adjust his language. We won't be charging a consultant's fee, but we think his adjustment was (insufficient but) wise.
Tomorrow: Biden adjusts