On Tuesday, just before my Thanksgiving travels began, I posted a piece here titled One Thing I Know about Ferguson. I posted version of the same thing on my Facebook page, and a Tea Party guy of my acquaintance reposted it under the caption, “Andy Schmookler attempts to further dumb down the left.”
Here on Blue Virginia, in the comments thread, I made mention of the “discussion” that then ensued, involving a variety of this fellow’s political allies, and I described some of what was manifest there as disturbing. That led to some conversation involving several of us as to whether there was anything much “new” going on in the American body politic or if it is now just more visible thanks to the Internet or what.
I am following up here because I tried to provide a link to that Facebook discussion, and simply forgot that Facebook pages are not available to everyone. Let me here, therefore, provide a glimpse into the darkness that (as I saw it) this piece on Ferguson brought into view.
My view is that quite possibly we are looking at a profound and dangerous development in a segment of American consciousness. Not everyone saw it that way, but as I was unable to provide people with access to that material, the discussion was handicapped. I’ll provide it now.
First, my piece was very careful to make a single point that did not take sides as to the facts of the shooting and as to whether a proper grand jury process would or would not have indicted Darren Wilson for the shooting of Mike Brown. My piece, rather, was a criticism of the Missouri officials — the prosecutor, and the governor — for how they handled the process.
Of those officials, I wrote:
We don’t need to know anything about the shooting to know that the officials in charge here failed to serve the public interest.
Their priority should have been to conduct the process in such a way as to maximize the chance that everyone would have confidence in its integrity and fairness. They didn’t even try.
That should have been their priority because taking care not to damage the larger society by exacerbating a major fault line is what has been most important all along…
That would have meant bringing in a special prosecutor, of unquestioned integrity, in charge of the investigation and the grand jury process.
That was it.
Here’s one of the first responses that it got on that Facebook page.
Andy, your kidding right? If your not your either stupid or foolish or just pandering to the left. You guys on the left and you race baiters are trying to gin up some racist issues that were settled over 50-60 years ago. I am tired of being blamed for slavery when NONE of my family supported and some of them bled and died for during the civil war. Most of the crime within the black community is black on black and the thug mentality that the rap culture portrays seems to bolster this view. Its sad we should be coming together as a country. When black witnesses tell the grand jury exactly what the cop said seems to me to be a slam dunk. But of course if he was indited then the grand jury did its job. We either have a system of laws or we don’t, mob justice cannot and should not be allowed to prevail. What do you want to do not have a trial, throw a rope over a tree and put the cop on a horse and a noose around his neck and slap the horses rump, is that what you wanted? That is sure the way the black agitators wanted it to be. We should be ONE NATION, PERIOD.
One issue that arises for me is the question I put to that gentleman:
How did you get from anything in my piece to this idea you bring up of “mob rule.” Or were you fully aware that that whole ugly image (a lynch mob) had absolutely nothing to do with anything I was saying, but chose to bring it up anyway just to rile people up?
Either way I find that disturbing.
If he did believe that he was responding to my argument, that reveals a failure of “reading comprehension” so huge that I’d fail a 9th grader for such a misunderstanding. Then the question would be, how did a guy who is not stupid get to be so “stupid” in interpreting what my piece was saying. And on that point, I would venture that this manifests someone so caught up in his ugly passions of hatred that he has been disabled from dealing with reality in any remotely healthy way.
And don’t we see a lot of that on the right? Wouldn’t this be a sign of something really sick and twisted and destructive that’s come into the American political process far more than we have seen it historically?
Alternatively, if he knew full well that he was distorting my argument and was giving himself permission to pervert the discussion into an occasion to whip up the worst, Limbaugh-like emotions of outrage, and contempt, and racism, and a fury to make war on the “other side,” then that is disturbing, too.
Don’t we also see a lot of that on the right, too, an irresponsibility in the political conflict that goes way, way beyond how politics was conducted even in the hayday of Goldwater and Reagan?
Similar questions arose around a comment from a different fellow. I had just posted a comment on that thread, saying:
My whole premise is that we want to conduct things in such a way as to make our nation as healthy and harmonious as possible, to avoid unnecessarily wounding it. But perhaps that’s the sticking point here.
One really has to wonder whether making things better is a goal of some segments of our body politic.
Somehow, this created the occasion for this other fellow to comeback with this:
So you should indict an innocent party just so you don’t rile up an ethic group, willing to burn down their own and their neighbor’s property….PASS
Once again, I expressed uncertainty about whether he was speaking his true mind:
Do you really believe I said ANYTHING like that? REALLY? Point to one sentence from me that says he should have been indicted.
Because I have seen you as smarter than that, I must wonder if you are speaking in good faith.
I was uncertain, then, and I remain uncertain– neither of those guys ever responded to the question I posed to them about whether they really believed that what they were saying was a responsible reply to my argument that they were so grotesquely distorting.
Nor did I get any response from a question that I posed them by which I sought to get a genuine engagement on the issue I was raising in the piece:
Do you agree that it was important to do things in a way that would maximize the chance that everyone would believe in the integrity of the process, no matter what the outcome?
Do you agree that a great many people — either rightly or wrongly– do not believe that now?
Do you agree that decisions were made that quite predictably assured that this lack of confidence would accompany a decision — whether that decision is right or wrong — not to indict?
That is my whole argument. What in it do you think is mistaken?
What does this mean? I believe that we are here getting a glimpse of something profound that has happened to our country. I believe that we have a subculture that has been cultivated in our country over the past generation or so that basically makes a healthy democracy impossible.
A healthy democracy requires that people be able to talk over their disagreements and come to solutions that meet the needs of the nation and help it grow in good directions.
How can one accomplish that when one of the main forces at work in the political realm is caught up with the spirit we see on those comments– full of the spirit of war, and completely disconnected from reality? *[see Note below]
Yes, ugliness of this sort has always been around. But I think that is a mistake to see that continuity as the central truth, rather than some profound discontinuity that has developed in the American political system. That discontinuity is the rise to considerable power of what I am calling an “evil force,” a rise during which that force has taken over the political right, and made one of our two major political parties an instrument of its destructive purposes.
Here’s how I described how I see it on a comment on that earlier Blue Virginia thread:
I agree that this kind of ugly and irrational stuff has always been there. But I believe, though I would not know how to prove it, that there is another element in the picture.
The issue is not whether the phenomenon is new, but whether it has become a larger part of the national picture. For a variety of reasons — the dark force that’s taken over the right, including the rise of things like Fox News and Limbaugh, and as you say the Internet — we have an interconnected subculture that has been fostering and fomenting some of the darker aspects of the American mind.
Through the workings of collective processes, pushed along by dark forces, what was once a fringe craziness of the John Birch sort has become a powerful part of one of our two major parties.
Likewise, at the grassroots level, people whose parents might have been, say, 5% caught up in political craziness have developed together a set of crazy doctrines and destructive habits of thought and feeling that occupy a controlling portion of their political consciousness.
Two lessons here that seem salient to me, if I’m right about this:
1) The power of collective cultural processes to mold people’s consciousness (thought and feeling) is enormous, and should be kept in mind as we consider what’s happening in our country. (I find myself amazed at how fragile rationality turns out to be.)
2) It is of vital importance that we be alert not only to new things that arise, but also to dramatic shifts in the proportions of things, which can usher in major changes in a society using only old ingredients.
Our nation is in serious trouble. If my perceptions are correct, we have had a significant portion of our fellow citizens enculturated into a mindset that cripples our democracy, and results in our nation evolving in all sort of directions that are contrary to our values. (On plutocracy, on climate disruption, on what spirit is manifested in our political process.)
This is dangerous, and it is important that we perceive the nature of what it is that we’re fighting against: the thing that produces those ugly responses to my Ferguson piece is the same thing that gave us official torture promoted from the very top of the American government, that gave us the Citizens United disgrace, that entitled a political party to make the failure of the president its top priority in a time of national crisis.
It is ugly. It is far more dangerous than almost anyone seems to be recognizing. And it must be fought and defeated.
See the evil. Call it out. Press the battle.
Note from above:
* To a supportive commenter that had come into the conversation through my Facebook page, and whom I’d gotten to know when I was running for Congress, I wrote:
We are dealing here with a frame of mind in which, among other things, reality is not given the kind of respect that some of us were raised and educated to give it.
Someone here claims that the grand jury did its job just fine. How he or anyone else can know that beats me. Grand jury proceedings are secret. Is it because he likes the result that he “knows” that. Is it because whatever he wants to be true must be true?
I don’t know if they did there job right or came to the right conclusion. But one acknowledges one’s ignorance only if one has the intellectual discipline it takes to work toward the truth.
I would bet that these same people “know” that climate change is no big deal. And “know” that Benghazi IS a big deal.
Truth, for one of our present political subcultures, consists of whatever serves one’s agenda.