The Violence of Faction in 2016

By Neil Reilly
William F. Buckley about to explode on national television in 1968. The beginning of the end of serious civic debate.

William F. Buckley about to explode on national television in 1968. The beginning of the end of serious civic debate.

This blog has been silent on national politics for some time. There are good and incisive insights—and terrible hot takes and spin—erupting from various corners of the internet every few minutes. In general, though, large-scale media coverage (i.e., major newspapers and television) has been abysmal, focusing more on the latest outrageous action on the campaign trail than on the underlying causes of the outrage.

Nearly everyone who is paying attention to this campaign is frustrated or angry. Whether that frustration is about the level of rhetoric, or with the situations Americans find themselves in, we’re all looking for someone to blame. That is the major theme this year. And it’s very sad.

I recall a time when the Republican Party was the “values party,” a masterstroke of political framing and narrative control by conservatives. Today, the “values voters” of this nation are standing—to the tune of 82% of women and 84% of men—behind a racist, fraudulent self-promoter a week after they all heard him bragging about sexually assaulting women, followed by multiple corroborating accusations. For many state-level and Congressional candidates, distancing oneself from Trump has become political suicide, even in states where Trump has no shot, like New York.

Meanwhile, there are still many progressive whites leaning on the incredulous, “I can’t believe so many people out there would support Trump” line. Maybe it’s just a conversation piece, but come on. Really? You had no idea there were millions of people out there who carry the racism or sexism or whatever other evil this man has been stoking? Because it’s pretty clear that this isn’t a surprise to observers of any other race group in this country. I mean, Steve “What have other groups contributed to society?” King has been in Congress for more than a decade.

The list of “Things Trump has done that are individually sufficient to disqualify him from being President” is long. We all know this, so let’s move on.

I recently listened to David Axelrod’s conversation with Karl Rove that he released on his podcast (which is called “The Axe Files” and is probably unsafe to listen to for anyone driving alone at night, but frequently has great guests). I cringed as I clicked play, but it turned out Rove was an engaging analyst with a realistic perspective and a good sense of humor. By the end, I found myself begging, “Can we please get back to people like Karl Rove in the Republican Party?” Which is something I thought I would never, ever say.

But how should I channel my frustration? Should I be angry at Hillary Clinton for being too flawed a candidate? (And please, even if her one legitimate ethics scandal did involve breaking laws, I’d still vote for her this year. Even though I live in New York and “it doesn’t matter,” which is a whole other argument.) At Jeb Bush for being such a lame, low-energy loser? At the closed-primary system for encouraging extreme candidates on both sides? At Millennials for not caring, or Baby Boomers for being cynical about the economic problems their own apathy and greed created? At cable news for destroying this country’s interest in productive or substantive civic discussion? At the Supreme Court for Citizens United? At Ralph Nader for causing Al Gore to lose Florida in 2000, which left the inventor of the internet to stand by helplessly as viral videos emerged and brought discourse to an even baser level than the TV soundbite? How about all of those (except maybe that last one)?

The real answer is that it’s not worth being angry, at least not for too long. Anger is what gets us to support fear-mongering demagogues. Trump is going to lose and we’re going to get a competent, incrementalist, centrist (in the sense that some policies will be progressive and others not) administration. Maybe some outraged Trump voter will actually take up arms. If you’re angry, go do the most democratic thing you can (after voting, of course)—GOTV canvassing in a swing state. Or if you have more time on your hands, start a third party that doesn’t nominate an imbecile for President.

Late in the evening of November 8, when Trump will retreat into his lair only to return with his gilded Trump-Ailes-Bannon television channel, what will be the appropriate reaction? The word “healing” is bouncing around these days. Let’s not try to reach a national consensus on anything, though. And hold the contempt. Let’s just take a deep breath and treat each other with respect.

Neil Reilly is a TBQ Blog Editor.

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