Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Leaning Away From the Crack Buzz

Back in November, I posted Maybe Don't Lock Him Up
I agree with this outspokenly anti-Trump and anti-corruption former federal prosecutor that as much as we'd all thirst to investigate the Trump administration - and as convincing as some of the arguments to do so might be - in the end, not investigating would better serve the greater public good. He makes a well-rounded case for it, so please check out the op-ed (it's a very quick read) before you read my uptake (which doesn't restate all his points).

1. The very worst aspect of these past four years, psychologically, has been the fulfillment of Trump’s fondest wish: an entire nation (supporters and opponents, both) entirely obsessed with Donald Trump. We ate Trump for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The next four years can’t continue to be all about Donald Trump. We must not extend the lease on a madman's inhabitation of our psychic space.

(That said, we’ll see whether mainstream news can resist the ratings candy of his tweets and utterances as a private citizen - which they’ll no longer have a duty to report. If they do remain locked on to that stuff, we’ll see whether weary viewers can create pressure on them not to. It's not a necessity. Alex Jones, for example, has been saying horrific crap all day every day with very little of it reamplified by mainstream media. Trump could and should be relegated to similar irrelevance, though it will likely require viewer/reader/reporter boycotts to convince networks and publishers to do so.)

2. “Lock him/her up” can't become our new normal refrain. Defeat and disgrace must be sufficient (plus less publicly spectacular legal proceedings in, for example, New York State - if litigation and punishment are what you wish for this guy, fear not). As I wrote in "Some Real Talk About Face-Eating Hyenas”:
Here's a simple adjustment to avoid getting your face eaten: satisfy yourself with milder punishment for your perceived opponents and oppressors.”
I may have also offered this observation a time or two:
History always unfolds via a succession of immoderately reactive pendulum swings. Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?
A week later, I turned around and posted Maybe We Should Investigate Trump
The great Rick Wilson dissents convincingly:
"Some people believe we should enter a new era of comity and goodwill... We should offer a soft landing and a gentle exit from the Trump cult, right? To this, I must issue a hearty 'fuck no'.
Only exposure, pain, humiliation, and (inshallah) incarceration will lead to a moment of reckoning for the GOP. It should start at the top and work down from there. ...."
I can't escape the foggy impression that there's a means for Trump and his enablers to have due comeuppance without extending his chokehold on our national attention. But I'm foggily unsure how that would happen. Like all of us, I'm numb and exhausted. I'm pretty sure Rick's right, and I'm pretty sure I'm right, and perhaps there's a way to thread the needle. Don't ask me how, but I'll let you know if anything pops up.
I'm hardly the only one stewing on this question. The Lincoln Project last night conducted a video interview with two august legal scholars, Jack Goldsmith (illustrious Harvard Law prof) and Bob Bauer (Obama's White House Council), who've written a book ("After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency") on what we need to do after Trump's gone to (among other things) enshrine into law the norms we just realized can be shit upon by presidents lacking a scruple. And they were asked this same question: "Punish the guilty?" or "Avoid the Trap of Endless Reciprocal Punishment of Ex-Presidents on the Other Side?" Their replies broke no new ground, but it's good to hear their thoughts. I've cued it right up to that point, below:

Burying my lede as usual, I'd like to share an essential thing I realized while mulling this all over.

Nearly everything broken about America is epitomized by this mode of responding:
"It's perfectly obvious: He broke laws and was corrupt. So he must be punished. Presidents are not above the law. If we don't investigate and punish now, anyone will freely do these things - and more! - in the future. It's simple!"
It's simple!

This sort of glib, cocksure, you're an-asshole-if-you-miss-the-sheer-simplicity mindset (framing!) is like pure crack for Americans on both sides of the political divide.

  • Abortion's murder and murder's wrong, period. Simple!
  • It's a woman's body, she decides, period. Simple!
  • It's my child, I'll decide whether he gets vaccinated, period. Simple!
  • People kill people, not guns, period. Simple!
  • Illegal immigrants broke the law to get in, period. Simple!
A population conditioned by 10 gajillion lifetime advertisements is easily enticed by the reduction of difficult, multifaceted issues into sanctimonious axioms. It even works when the axioms are so reductive as to mean nothing at all. Millions were stirred by Trump's "Make America Great" and Obama's "Change We Need", though both were vacant (albeit stirring) pablum.

In effect, this is worse than mindless simplification. It's deeply anti-intellectual. It communicates to those trying to work through factors and subtleties, "You're allowing yourself to be distracted from the essential moral simplicity. My good old-fashioned common sense (the Right's frame) or my woke clarity and insight (the Left's) empowers me to transcend the tangly thicket you're needlessly fussing through. Shut up and go away and let my greater, cleaner, bolder sanity prevail.

"My tribally-instilled mindframe is always the higher one....self-evidently because it's mine and I'm me." This is the essence of narcissism, and, as I've said before, I've met very few non-narcissists.

"My simplistic gut instinct trumps your nuanced thoughtfulness" explains why we're anti-science. It explains why we're anti-expertise. It explains why everyone shouts each other down rather than carefully listening (I lose readers whenever I attempt to "right whisper" - to explain the Right to the Left). It explains why the Left wants everyone eschewing their views and their language to crawl up and die. It explains the Right's embrace of MAGA. Channeling gut instincts into viscerally reductive slogans smothers thought, engorges spleens, and makes everyone louder and dumber. Over time, it inevitably radicalizes people into extremism.

"We must not extend the lease on a madman's inhabitation of our psychic space" might be pithy, but it doesn't offer a sanctimonious jolt to my bone marrow, like "Presidents are not above the law!" So, for now, I'll stubbornly stick with the former.

"Presidents are not above the law" is an invitation to put away the argument and stop thinking. It's cocksure and resolute, and it brusquely side-steps all the important issues. How many consequences are we willing to suffer in hewing to a simplistic axiom (if you're on the Left, consider "Abortion is Murder!")? Do we truly want every new administration occupied for four base-stoking years with "Locking Up!" the previous one? Do we really want to enshrine Trump's politicization of the Justice Department? Is it really a great idea to stoke prospects for Civil War? All so you can cling to your marrow-jolting axiom? The human race has had a poor track record with that move.

"We must not extend the lease on a madman's inhabitation of our psychic space" doesn't make me stop thinking; it's a starter, not a closer. It side-steps nothing. Most important: it offers no crack buzz. So I'll keep leaning that way. I lean away from the crack buzz. Consider leaning away from the crack buzz! I realize this assertion is, itself, reductive and glib, but I really think we're way too hooked on the crack buzz. Sometimes it's best to just say no.

This is nothing less than a struggle toward sanity in an insane world. It reminds me of the quintessential Slog posting, "The Deeper Implications of Holiday Blues", recalling a time when I kept ping-ponging between actuality - a lovely evening spent in deep comfort and pleasure - and misery-stoking indulgent dramatic mental chatter - canned, contrived notions of what I was missing out on. It should not have been tough to distinguish the sane perspective. But sometimes one fights a headwind. Sometimes one fights a headwind.


Steve said...

If serious crimes were committed, the perpetrators should not be protected because of their political power.

Things are going to get worse. There is no bottom. We have gone through the floorboards already. Playing 'nice' and forgiving serious crimes does a disservice in all respects.

James Leff said...

Now that you've summed it up, the way forward seems unmistakably clear.

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