Friday, May 26, 2017

Gianforte, tribalism and the increasing brittleness of post-American society

First, let me state that I'm glad he won.

Yes, I'm inviting the temptation to the disingenuousness that would take that statement out of context, but it's really not that hard to defend.

It's always good when Democrats get defeated. In this case, there wasn't much to recommend Rob Quist. He does have a small-business background, which seems to be his motivation for advocating tax reform, and he's a Second Amendment supporter, but on just about anything else, he's decidedly to the left. Supports the "right to choose" to exterminate fetal Americans. Supports the Paycheck Fairness Act. Has that leftist fetish for public schools. He campaigned with Bernie Sanders, and is on record as advocating single-payer health care.

Gianforte is pretty much his mirror opposite. With regard to an entrepreneurial background, he's distinguished himself impressively by founding RightNow Technologies, which was eventually sold to Oracle.

Rather than talk about how government ought to facilitate a citizen's ability to retire, in his remarks on the subject, he's stressed the notion that it is noble to work in some fashion throughout one's life.

He understands that shuttering coal-fired power plants would not affect the global climate one bit.

And I really dig that fact that he only came around to supporting Trump with notable reluctance.

Okay, so that explains that.

Now, we of course have the incident from the other evening in which it's pretty clear he roughed up Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. FNC reporter Alicia Acuna seems to have the most credible eyewitness account of the occurrence, and there is audiotape that makes it clear that Gianforte was steaming mad.

Now, a display of anger can be an attractive thing. (There, I've offered some more low-hanging fruit to those tempted to disingenuousness.) There is that legendary bit of videotape from 1968 of William F. Buckley telling Gore Vidal he'd "sock [his] god-damn face, and it'll stay plastered" in response to Vidal calling him a crypto-Nazi on national television.

It was clear that Gianforte was one fed-up dude at the moment of the scuffle. It would be interesting to know what he'd dealt with in, say, the hour previous to the incident.

But, finally, we cannot excuse this. He crossed a line of self-control and in the process did harm to societal standards of decorum and civility.

What is truly dismaying about all this is the reaction from some on the Right. In the cases of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, I'm not the least bit surprised, given that they became shills for the idea that Trump is a worthy figurehead for the party where conservatism finds a home. They are Kool-Aid guzzlers, and their reaction, particularly exemplified by Ingraham's grilling of Acuna on her radio show on the irrelevant point of whether Gianforte picked up Jacobs by the skin of his neck, as if justification hinged on whether it was neck skin, or Jacobs's shirt.

But why is Brent Bozell lending his full-throated defense of this? His whole career has been spent struggling against the coarsening of our culture, and if a Congressional candidate thrusting a reporter to the ground and screaming at him doesn't qualify as a coarsening occurrence, what does?

Now, as to the Left, I have no patience with its howls. Not when Middlebury College is going to drop its inquiry into the violent harassment of American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray when he attempted to speak on that campus. Not when UC Berkeley similarly handles the rioters among its student body with kid gloves. Not when The University of Missouri changes presidents in response to the demands of its student jackboots.

This situation drives home what a hair-trigger state post-American society is in. How long did we think it was going to take for the shrill invective that characterizes most social-media polemical exchanges to boil over into physical altercations?

What can be done to dial it back?

What occurs to me offhand is an insistence on clarity and keeping discourse on the level of ideas and principles.

Acquiesce to no one in your defense of those, but resist, however challenging it might be, the urge to take it to the levels at which it becomes a mere bar fight.

And here's praying that Gianforte understands all this and will display exemplary behavior without fail when seated in the post-American House of Representatives.

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