Not Helping

Maybe the worst thing about them is how little they mean

© 2009 Veri from New York used under a Creative Commons license

I think anyone who is, as Harry Truman used to put it, mentally complete, and not addled by propaganda, knows that when Rep. Ilhan Omar said “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties,” she was saying — not trying to say, not implying, not “could be taken to mean” “in context,” but actually saying, in the plainest meaning of the term — that CAIR sought to protect the liberties of all Muslims from being curtailed because of the actions of a few Muslims.

But you’ve seen the shitstorm that resulted, abetted by the White House and thousands of lesser agents. These people had already made a cottage industry out of misreading Omar for obvious reasons. Now, over a week after the jackals started tearing it up, Bret Stephens of the New York Times does his bit:

Spot the problem with the quoted remarks:

(1) The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was “something some people did.”

(2) Last month’s attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was “something someone did.”

(3) The 2015 massacre at a black church in Charleston, S.C., was “something someone did.”

Now imagine that a public figure with a history of making racially inflammatory remarks — someone like Representative Steve King of Iowa or, better yet, President Trump — had said any of this. (Neither of them did.) Would you not be appalled?

It would hardly seem worth mentioning but it still sticks in my craw. It’s not that this is any dumber than what other conservatives have already been saying, though I have to say it’s in competition (later: “In this case, however, a victim of bigotry is also a major and unflinching bigot in her own right”).

No, it’s because Stephens is supposed to be one of the classy conservatives. And he is, if by class you mean an exalted perch and a certain fussiness meant to distinguish the classy con from the goons who take obvious pleasure in their lack of standards and disregard for basic logic. Not that his standards and logic are any better, but he’s dainty, so if you’re a certain type of reader you don’t have to feel low about getting your propaganda from him.

For my money, though, that daintiness only makes him more pernicious. Back when Trump was eating the Republican Party alive, Stephens, in a sad attempt to keep from having to face the mirror Trump was turning on him, actually compared Trump to Obama (“Trump is Obama Squared... two epic narcissists who see themselves as singularly suited to redeem an America that is not only imperfect but fundamentally broken”). Since the NeverTrump movement died, Stephens occasionally tut-tuts the gauche president (“Trump and the Annihilation of Shame”) to keep his nails clean, but otherwise just turns out dreary doctrinaire columns (“Yes, Venezuela is a Socialist Catastrophe”) as if his readers were driven by policy rather than resentment. If you just skipped his Trump columns you’d think Jeb Bush was president.

It’s all so expected — and in the final analysis so useless. Because how long has it been since Stephens or anyone like him offered his followers anything besides validation of their worst impulses and dumbest ideas? (And how much do they need that?) When did Stephens last — hell, when did he ever — give them an insight, or a counterintuitive idea, or even just something that would help them make sense of the insane world we’ve all been marooned in, and better adjust to it?

Contrast that with something Talia Lavin did recently. Like Omar, Lavin’s a frequent target for idiotic and disproportionate attacks from conservatives (“Washington Post Allows Discredited NYU Instructor Talia Lavin To Smear Ben Shapiro” — Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire; “Talia Lavin smears Ben Shapiro and once again claims victimhood” — Washington Examiner, e.g.). But she’s not as high-profile as the Congresswoman, so she mainly has to defend herself without aid. She’s pretty good at it, too, but it’s a full-time job; the New York Post recently headlined, “Former New Yorker fact-checker Talia Levin spars with leading conservatives,” but that’s like saying she “sparred” with a team of professional assassins.

Since she knows what it’s like, Lavin did this:

She got a lot of grateful responses, and I like to think that many people who didn't respond on Twitter nonetheless appreciated both the useful advice and (perhaps especially) the fact that someone who’d also been swarmed was empathizing and trying to do something for them, rather than just regurgitating their rage in a reaction formation and becoming a yappy little Ben Shapiro manqué.

The difference between Lavin and Bret Stephens is a pretty good paradigm for the two sides of online and, perhaps, human nature.

Thanks guys, have a great weekend.