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Hullabaloo


Friday, May 26, 2017

 

Violence by proxy

by Tom Sullivan

As this morning's headlines attest, Republican Greg Gianforte won yesterday's special congressional election in Montana. One of the noteworthy and little-noticed effects of his assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was, according to NBC, Gianforte raised $100,000 overnight online. One supporter told CNN the assault charge against Gianforte left her only "more ready to support Greg."

Gianforte is hardly alone. Donald Trump stands in for many, if not most, of his perpetually aggrieved supporters in doing and saying things to political opponents they lack either the nerve, the social permission, or the protections of great wealth to do themselves. The money and support rewards Gianforte for the vicarious satisfaction they receive from violence by proxy.

Conservative pundit Laura Ingraham mocked Jacobs for reporting the attack to the police, tweeting, "Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?" In response, Josh Barro at Business Insider writes that calling the police "when a man grabs you by the throat and slams you to the floor ... is what an adult does in a civilized society." If we were an adult society, that is:

Yet, as Kevin Glass notes, "conservatives" in the Trump era tend to think not like adults, but high-school boys, vaunting the sort of ideal of masculinity that might be imagined by a socially maladjusted 15-year-old and tolerating in our political leaders the sort of behavior that a guidance counselor would never accept.

Republicans are a party that now celebrates the bully who steals lunch money because, hey, at least he's not the nerd who gets his lunch money stolen.

A party for the sort of men who call themselves "alpha males" without irony or accuracy. A party for the sort of women who think it's cool and strong when men get into bar fights.
Republican voters eat it up. Their president makes every photo op, every handshake a contest for establishing dominance. This is infantile. It isn't strength. It's overcompensation.

When asked for comment on Gianforte's assault of a reporter, many Republicans on Capitol Hill refused comment. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) blamed liberals, “The left has precipitated this tense, confrontational approach throughout the country in recent months.” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) told reporters, “It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) joked that “we didn’t have a course on body slammin’ when I went to school — I missed that course.”

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), surprisingly, commented on the politics of rage and Trump's hand in promoting it:

The tacit if not overt approval of violence by proxy is symptomatic of the further hollowing out of conservatism begun decades ago. Conservative politicians, pundits and celebrities once trafficked in innuendo and dog whistles. Now the nudges and winks have largely disappeared. The “kayfabe” is no longer conscious, but ingrained both in the performers and their audience. They believe their own bullshit.

Commenting on the litany of persistent conspiracy theories, columnist Michael Gerson writes that exploitation of the Seth Rich conspiracy theories in particular are "a confirmation of the right’s deformed soul." His Washington Post column continues:

The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased. The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently. Institutions and individuals that once served an important ideological role, providing a balance to media bias, are discrediting themselves in crucial ways. With the blessings of a president, they have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion. They have allowed political polarization to reach their hearts, and harden them. They have allowed polarization to dominate their minds, and empty them.

Conspiracy theories often involve a kind of dehumanization. Human tragedy is made secondary — something to be exploited rather than mourned. The narrative of conspiracy takes precedence over the meaning of a life and the suffering of a family. A human being is made into an ideological prop and used on someone else’s stage. As the Rich family has attested, the pain inflicted is quite real.
They are a party gone mad, and led by a child.