The Not-So-Great Game
Respectability politics had what may be its grandest moment yesterday when an office being rented by the Republican Party of North Carolina suffered fire damage after someone threw a Molotov cocktail through a window. Barely had the embers cooled than a group of Democrats — yes, Democrats — started an online fundraising campaign to rebuild the office; it went, as they say, viral, and within a few hours, it raised $13,000. Sadly, this was not nearly enough money to treat all the shoulder injuries that followed as liberals across the country patted themselves vigorously on the back in self-congratulation over what good and decent people they are.
That this is one of the most ridiculous, repugnant, and profoundly self-defeating things to happen in an election cycle that is already surreally stupid should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it for even a few minutes. But we no longer live in an age of class-based self-interest (well, the people in charge of society still do, which is why they’re still in charge; I speak here of the Loyal Opposition), having fully embraced its opposite, performative propriety. According to this Weltanschauung, it is a far, far better thing to willingly donate what money you have to a political party that despises you and is trying to crush and strangle everything you believe in order to demonstrate your own sweet-smelling moral rectitude than it is to, for example, vote for the candidate whose political views best represent your own. This makes absolutely no sense by any sense-making measure known outside the mind of Aaron Sorkin, but, as this is the age of the explainer, let me try to explain.
- As a practical gesture, this makes zero sense, so everyone calling themselves a ‘pragmatist’ while actually participating in an extremely lazy form of moralism can have a seat. The building was no doubt insured, and if it wasn’t, that’s the Republican Party’s fault. The $10,000 fundraising goal was selected arbitrarily, since we have not been told by any reliable source the extent of the damage. And, because of the relative laxity of GoFundMe’s rules, we probably never will, which makes the entire exercise essentially a highly successful overnight pledge drive for the North Carolina G.O.P.
- And that’s too bad, because as heinous as the national Republican Party is, the North Carolina Branch is especially reprehensible. In the last few years alone, they have been responsible for some of the most repulsive and inhuman legislation in America; they have made it easier for prisoners suffering from racial discrimination to remain imprisoned, substantially weakened abortion rights, used police violence against peaceful protesters, dismantled education on a purely partisan basis, severely restricted voting rights in a way that specifically harms minorities and the poor, and, most famously, pursued a discriminatory law against transgendered people that has turned the state into a national pariah. Do the liberal do-gooders who have financially enabled this sort of thing to continue believe that their lofty gesture will cause the NC G.O.P. to reconsider its wicked ways? Internet gadabout Anil Dash, who practically embodies this sort of painfully smug correctness, seems to think so, saying “It is my belief that being kind decreases the odds that they will be as evil in the future”. Donald Trump put that belief to the fire right away, tweeting that the fire was started by “Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems”. Anyone who thinks that the Right would have done the same for the Democrats is obviously unfamiliar with the past 40 years of Republican politics, and anyone who thinks that it will usher in a kindler, gentler party from here on out is obviously unfamiliar with the man it’s running for President.
- “But,” goes the argument of those who have internalized the idea that ‘when they take the low road, you take the high road’ without ever asking where those roads are supposed to lead, “surely we should help people who are hurt regardless of whether we agree with their politics!” Surely we are. And certainly there are a lot of people, both at home and abroad, who are victims of the kind of politics peddled by the North Carolina Republicans, who could have benefited from a donation to the tune of $13 grand. But mistaking people for property is the kind of thing you do when your politics are liberal instead of left. No one was hurt in this fire; there were no victims, innocent or otherwise. There’s no one to high-road here.
- A further argument is that we have to repudiate this kind of thing because political violence cannot be tolerated. Well…maybe. I’m not entirely convinced that political violence cannot be tolerated; I think it has its uses, and that we’ve basically never seen any kind of meaningful political change without it. Of course, I am a dirty red, and the people making this argument are nothing if not vociferous defenders of the status quo, but one needn’t be a bloodthirsty communist agitator to see the problem. Political violence helped us out quite a bit during the American Revolution, for example, as well as our Civil War, and that little dust-up we had with global fascism back in the 1940s. There’s also the truth, inconvenient for everyone but dedicated anarchists, that all government depends on the use of force by the state; and one very rarely hears about fundraisers for the victims of American political violence (either here or overseas) that yield five-digit returns in less than an hour. I bet Berta Cáceres’ family would appreciate a little of that sweetly righteous liberal cash. But one doesn’t even need to expand the mind to such lengths to realize that the idea that this fund-raising is some sort of repudiation of political violence is essentially silly. The kind of political violence that leads to voter intimidation and a decay of faith in the democratic process certainly exists; but this is not an example of it. That sort of political violence is endemic, not sporadic; it is common, not infrequent; it is easily traced to — even loudly proclaimed by — its perpetrators, not mysterious; and it is injurious, not harmless. This is not something that happened within the context of a massive wave of political violence and intimidation by Democrats against Republicans; it is an isolated event, taking place in a near vacuum, for which no one has claimed credit and which is liable to have zero effect whatsoever on the election. Contrast this to the behavior of the Republican Party, the beneficiaries of this liberal largesse, who have spent decades attempting to suppress the vote through every means possible, up to and including actual political violence.
- What’s more, regardless of where you stand on ‘political violence’ and whether or not it can be tolerated, it is by no means clear that this was an example of same. The fundraising campaign was started before there was much information about the fire; indeed, the investigation had barely even begun, and neither the police nor the fire department of Hillsborough have assigned any blame. Certainly, whoever started the fire wants us to believe that it was political opponents of the Republican Party; but while there is no evidence that it was caused by Republicans or their allies to make Democrats look bad, there’s also no evidence that it was caused by Democrats, and it’s just as presumptuous of liberals to accept blame in support of their ego-stroking apologia as it would be for me to claim on no evidence that it was an inside job. It’s certainly a bit suspicious that the bombing happened at a time when no one was in the office, and it isn’t like we haven’t seen this sort of thing plenty of times before, but regardless, it’s reckless bordering on dangerous to jump to the conclusion that this was indeed terrorism committed by the left without a shred of evidence to support it.
All that aside, though, what’s so infuriating about the liberal response is its utter, rank hypocrisy. From the very moment it became clear that Donald Trump might actually be the candidate of the Republican Party, liberals have moaned that he is a vile fascist, a new Hitler, an unprecedented threat to decency and the American democratic ideal. According to mainstream liberal thought, Trump is such a dire existential menace to the entire world that any deviation from voting the straight Democratic ticket — whether it was supporting Bernie Sanders in the primary, contemplating a third party vote or not voting in November, or even criticizing Hillary Clinton on policy matters — was met with withering scorn and a “Thanks for helping elect Trump” sarcasm. I can’t count the number of times this election that my diffidence about a Clinton presidency has been met with an exhortation that fascism is at the doorstep and I’d better do my part to forestall a right-wing dystopia.
And yet, whenever anything happens even slightly outside the framework of permitted social niceties — essentially, when any resistance is offered to this alleged totalitarian monster beyond voting and/or earnest Facebook posts — this same liberal establishment puts on its frowniest face and tuts like there’s no tomorrow. I thought I had seen the worst of it when, in my beloved Chicago, a bunch of heroic protesters, without causing a single serious injury, sent Donald Trump scurrying away from one of his nationalist rallies like the big-mouthed, gutless paper tiger he is, only to be met with scolding and finger-wagging from Democrats informing them that this is not the proper way to combat fascism. But that was nothing compared to this outburst of stupidity, whose self-defeating nature is matched only by its level of self-congratulation. Different people found different ways of combating the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan, but none of them found it necessary to raise money so their enemies could repair property damage to their rented offices.
I’ve talked before about the sportification of politics, the reduction of governance to a mere contest between two sides, the deterioration of belief in the human cost of bad government to what is essentially a rooting interest. Nothing proves that more than these absurd gestures that make it clear the stakes are so low for some people that they engage in actorly displays of ‘good sportsmanship’ in which the cheers of the crowd for being such an upstanding fellow far outweigh the results of the contest. This isn’t a game; either you believe that Donald Trump is a real existential threat to America (in which case it’s ludicrous to put on these bogus airs of fair play) or you don’t (in which case you can knock off the vituperation against everyone who wishes your own candidate wasn’t such a compromised choice). I won’t bother to spell out the problems with principles; many much smarter people have already done a great job of it. But before you participate in another such ridiculous performance of your own virtue, consider that there’s a lot more at stake here than the public signaling of how swell you think you are. Liberals often accuse leftists of having a “purity test” for politicians, but I can’t imagine any philosophy of governance so pure that it requires you to raise money for the people who claim are trying to destroy you.