Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Next Terrifying Crisis That No One's Talking About

Earlier today I was idly turning over the shards of all this fractured lunacy and I came to a terrifying hypothesis. The antecedents take a few lines each but I hope not to waste too much of anyone's time with this. I didn't revise for language, so I hope you'll forgive the noticeably folksier style for a start. But for better and for worse, here, first, are the building blocks that self-assembled for me over coffee this morning:

1. Hard-line Republicans aren't hypocritical and disingenuous by accident; they say the things they say because they've convinced themselves that the other side are *so* horrible and *so* worthy of hatred that any means can be justified as long as Democrats are kept from power. 

I had an extremely smart, extremely conservative student in Gainesville who in October 2004 said to me in total seriousness and good faith, "John Kerry's stated objective if he wins the election is nationalize all private-sector businesses." (Emphasis original.)

This was, I reiterate, an extremely smart and apparently critically inquisitive guy -- and by the way, not a kid either: I'd have put him in his early-to-mid-30s at the time. And there he was saying something so inherently ludicrous that in any other context he would have seen it as utter gibberish from six blocks away. 

A better thinker than I said the same thing recently, though I couldn't find the link just now. His version went like this: "I don't trust my used-car salesman, but if you told me he was cannibalizing dead children from a failed pedophile ring that he'd been running out the back room of a pizza parlor, I'd still have a pretty hard time taking you seriously." You can't just distrust someone to get to this kind of monstrous de-humanization of their point of view. You have to hate -- literally and viscerally -- before you can get to a place like that. Rationality has to be skewered to a corkboard in the next room.

2. For these people the Covid-19 epidemic has thus never, never, never actually been about whether or not it's real or a hoax.

From the very beginning, and like everything else, it's been about optics: If I say it's a hoax, it's not that I think it's a hoax; it's that I'm sowing a very particular and premeditated uncertainty that will undermine your otherwise inescapable conclusion -- that my one and only savior of the country messed this up.

If you hesitate to agree that this is how modern Republicans operate, you need only examine just how drastically and how abruptly the Republican foreign policy reversed direction when Trump came to power: Clearly those folks never actually cared any more than the rest of us did that Constantine Chernyenko was repressing Christianity in suburban Moscow. They wanted *YOU* to care more than the rest of us, so that you'd vote for the guy who wasn't a Democrat. Because that, that was what had mattered all along.

3. When reality comes into unusually sharp collision with this kind of faithlessness in an ideology, people never, ever, ever respond by coming out with their hands up about it.

The simple explanation is that they've already pushed too many of their chips on the "no it's not" square, to retreat with anything like graciousness and preserved credibility. This is why sixteenth-century philosophers get jailed for looking through telescopes: The aggrieved cohort have all already said that the earth is the center of the universe, and they know better than the rest of us that they've said it in an absence of good faith -- and with the ugly ulterior motive of using it to control the social discourse and economic- and political mobility. If they say, now, "Okay, maybe the earth isn't the center of the universe after all," they haven't lost the point; they've lost the game. And they know it.

4. These factors taken together would make the present crisis with the President's health artificially unnerving at *any* time. 

Even before I was able to assemble the pieces, the thought of just how gleefully un-grounded the narratives will have to get from here, was enough to just about stop the heart. But here's the thing about that:

5. A cornered faithless ideologue isn't his usual run-of-the-mill dangerous when we're only a month away from his preferred guy's appointment with electoral defeat. 

Okay, roll-play time: Imagine that your life was defined by the thought that Joe Biden was a puppet of forces bent on harming everything you value and rely upon, from your job to your dominion over how you raise your children. Now imagine that something happened to make it extremely unlikely -- even in your own mind -- that Joe Biden would emerge from the crisis in a much stronger political position than the persons you support. Imagine that this thing, whatever it was, happened thirty days before the election, and with no apparent timetable for its remedy or even enough time for an attrition-based change-of-subject. Imagine that your only sources of information are unhinged, screaming vitriol, and that every time you try to inform yourself, the purveyors of that vitriol only agitate you even more than you were before you checked the news.

Now imagine one more thing. Imagine that, in anticipation of whatever awful terror might befall you at any liberal whim or any post-election moment, you have been proudly and overtly arming yourself for years. 

You see where I'm going with this?

A few days ago I posted on Facebook that Donald Trump was only going to be more dangerous now that he was cornered, but I'm afraid that post managed to quite spectacularly miss a terrifying point: It's not that Donald Trump is going to be more dangerous because he's cornered; it's that his followers are. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, the conclusion to which I came this morning when this realization finally presented itself, is that someone will very shortly now be making a credible attempt on Joe Biden's life. Someone's going to try to shoot him. 

Will there be mass casualties? Maybe. An incident at a rally would certainly check all the familiar boxes. But to dismiss the idea that someone will probably now at least try for the candidate himself, is to discount the principle that Mr Trump's base can and often does choose self-defeating violence over admitting that it was wrong. And anyone who would dismiss *that* idea, has been watching a very different electorate than I have for the past four years. 

David O'Gorman 
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
4 October, 2020

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