Monday, October 22, 2018

Demagoguery for Me, But Not for Thee

This is the latest example of a syndrome I've observed before on the Left: alternately agitating about how "extremely dangerous white supremacists are, how they're the new Nazis and if we aren't ceaselessly vigilant there will be a replay of 1930s Germany here in the Homeland" and at the same time "seem[ing] to believe that white supremacists are not really dangerous at all, that because Antifa's heart is pure they need only to chant some slogans and the Fascists will collapse and surrender; the Fascists' bullets will either bounce off Antifa's Breastplate of Virtue, be repelled by Antifa's wristlets of power, or simply dissolve into the air."

In McInnes' case there's no doubt that he's dangerous, he's been cultivating a gang of thugs for street fighting, and they've been actively doing their job.  And I must admit, having grown up on recycled WWII propaganda cartoons on children's TV in the 1950s, that the syndrome I'm describing is neither new nor limited to the Left: it was common to treat Hitler and Tojo as silly-looking clowns who would be brought down by laughter, and as dangerous enemies of all that was holy.  It's probably a lot older than that.  But I don't get it, not least because I remember how effective such tactics have been against Donald Trump: he's fat, he has stupid hair, he has tiny hands (and therefore a tiny wee-wee), he's Putin's cockholster, etc. -- and you see, here we are.  It's of a piece with the popular Internet tropes that this or that celebrity or liberal icon has schooled / taken down / destroyed / EVISCERATED etc. this or that Republican.

I guess I can understand the impulse, it's a way of letting off steam, and not actually incompatible with taking real action against these evils.  But it suggests to me that many if not most people have trouble concentrating on issues for more than a few minutes at a time.  That's just as true of the right-wing base, but liberals and the left like to claim that they're Better Than That.  And please note: I'm not at all concerned about McInnes's feelings.  This has little or nothing to do with him personally.  (Would the person who posted the above tweet feel differently about him if he were a hot Aryan stud, with a prominent chin?  Does it hurt less if you're beaten up by goons answering to a large-sized cartoon earthworm?)  What I find, however, is that many, perhaps most of the people who let off steam in this manner turn out not to be very thoughtful or knowledgeable about the issues involved.  Does that matter?  Maybe not.  Maybe all that matters is that you cheer for your team, which by definition is the Good Team because it's yours.  It puts important, life-and-death issues on the level of spectator sports, which are not important at all.

But is this the only way to build and maintain solidarity?  If so, I think we're in trouble.  If not, I think it's counterproductive.  It's demagoguery.  It's a tactic beloved of the Right: remember the memes depicting Barack Obama as a witch doctor, his family as monkeys?  Those upset liberals and progs no end.  But only, I think, because it was their guy being mocked.  The slut-shaming Melania memes circulated by liberals and leftists in 2016 were just as despicable, but defended by liberals and leftists in the same terms the Right used to defend the racist Obama memes.  And don't forget, kids, what liberals and conservatives alike agree: Michael Moore is fat.

I'm not sure that this kind of mockery is necessary to build and maintain solidarity.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for one, seems to manage very well without it.  So does Bernie Sanders.  I put the tactic's popularity down to intellectual, moral and political laziness.