Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Constructive Criticism

I'm sorting out some ideas I might post to Facebook.  If they turn out to hang together, I'll just post them here.  It may take a while, but I hope that before too long I'll finish venting and can return either to slacking off or writing on other subjects.  For now I'll try to be entertaining, at least.

It's easy enough to pick on people who are upset because Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service at a small restaurant in Virginia.  I've tried to explain why they are fundamentally wrong, but it might help to suggest how they could do a better job.  A better job of framing the problem and the controversy, if you will.

For example, instead of fixating on the nonexistent injustice Sanders suffered, let's try a different perspective.  Having been ejected, civilly and politely, from the Red Hen restaurant, Huckabee Sanders decided to use her bully pulpit as White House Press Secretary, her government Twitter account, to stomp on the restaurant and its owner.  A worker at the restaurant had already posted about it on Facebook, but most of the corporate media didn't pick on it until Sanders notified her vast audience that she'd been treated with disrespect.

If a journalist really wanted to raise the alarm about civility, he or she could have begun by pointing out that, inconvenient and unpleasant as it was to be refused service, it was incomparably more unpleasant for the Red Hen to be put in the crosshairs of the Trump base, and vastly more uncivil for Sanders to put it there.  So a really fair journalist might say something along those lines: We sympathize with Mrs. Sanders for having her dinner plans interrupted, though of course she is completely in favor of less godly persons being refused service, but civility and indeed democracy are under threat when a powerful government official takes petty revenge on a small business for putting her to inconvenience.

My Right Wing Acquaintance, RWA1, lamented on Facebook that "We are all the losers" when this kind of incivility takes place.  He was not, of course, referring to Sanders's abuse of her office to trash a small business, though one might have thought that as a (retired) small business owner himself and a critic of big-government abuses (when they hurt the wrong people, that is), he might have thought of the chilling effect her behavior could have on small business owners who dare to disrespect POTUS and his crew.  He might write something like: I would never refuse service to anyone, but Mrs. Sanders's conduct is uncivil and inexcusable, even if she does feel that she should have been served.  As a believer in small government, I shudder to think that small business owners should hesitate to exercise their rights for fear of being attacked by some unaccountable bureaucrat in Washington.

The important thing is, this never seems to have occurred to either RWA1 or the centrist pundits who've been piling on the Red Hen with Sanders.  It's not surprising, of course: RWA1 and his kindred spirits always side with the bigots first.  They may pay lip service to the bigots' targets, but only on the way to offer comfort to the already comfortable, who suffered so greatly by not receiving the obedience and servility that is their due.

RWA1 was very indignant, for example, when Ben Carson encountered resistance to his giving a commencement address at Johns Hopkins and decided to forego the honor.  "I'm for gay marriage," RWA1 commented as he linked to a fatuous and mendacious essay by the centrist writer Michael Kinsley, "but Kinsley is right about PC heresy-hunting in academia and elsewhere."

Carson took flak for a Fox News appearance in which, among other pleasantries, he compared same-sex marriage to bestiality and pedophilia.  He addressed these themes further soon afterwards on MSNBC.  In addition to declaring that they don't make homophobes like they used to, Kinsley pointed out that Carson is a distinguished neurosurgeon and not your stereotypical toothless redneck bigot.  As if he suddenly realized the absurdity of that defense, Kinsley doubled back and acknowledged that even a university-educated military officer of impeccable pedigree can be the commandant of a death camp, but hey, this is America and we should be tolerant of bigots as long as they have advanced degrees and dress nice.  Kinsley also claimed that he and Andrew Sullivan invented gay marriage in 1989, I suppose to establish his bona fides as an Ally, howbeit a delusional one.  That claim was revised in the online version, but only the first time (of two) he made it; as far as I know, the second instance is still there, later in the text.

But I dissected Kinsley's claims at length at the time.  What I still find interesting is that 1) though antigay bigots must know by now that they will get in trouble if they compare homosexuality to bestiality on national TV, they just can't seem to stop themselves from doing it; 2) though apologists for bigotry will admit the absurdity and viciousness of the bigots' discourse, they will still insist that no one should get upset about it and the bigots should suffer no consequences whatever ("why can't [gays] just laugh off nutty comments like Carson's...?" Kinsley asked); and 3) RWA1, who is not as stupid as he often seems (though as time goes on, I'm beginning to reconsider that judgment), could still post Kinsley's gabbling as an exemplary diagnosis and refutation of "PC heresy hunting in academia."  I was going to wonder just how vile someone would have to be for RWA1 and his ilk to refuse to defend their freedom of expression, but then I remembered the Westboro Baptist Church: RWA1 is always ready not just to place them behind the pale, but to deny their First Amendment rights and to hint coyly that it would be nice if someone were to shoot them in the face or something.  So there are limits, but only for "demon-possessed preachers" and unruly rabble on the left.

There's the consistent pattern in the centrist-media outcry about the death of civility in America, into which people like RWA1 fit comfortably: they always side with the bigots first.  Their balanced, but-on-the-other-hand analyses may admit that perhaps the bigots have gone too far now and then, but that's no reason to say mean things about them or make them uncomfortable in public.  This is a consideration that they do not extend to left-wing agitators, let alone the bigots' targets.  We are supposed to grow thicker skins; the bigots and their apologists can feel a pea through thirty mattresses, and that sensitivity is protected by all the norms of democratic society.  It doesn't take an advanced degree to detect where their sympathies lie.  They're entitled to lay their sympathies wherever they like, but so are the rest of us, and if they want to be taken seriously, they should start being honest about their real allegiance.