The public square has been overrun by the village idiots.
We are trying to function at a time when right-wing fringe propagandist Steve Bannon is a close advisor and confidant to the President; when the President goes on the InfoWars show with extremist screamer Alex Jones; when the right-wing media environment spews nonsense like Hillary Clinton running a child porn ring out of a D.C. pizza parlor and an armed N.C. man opens fire while investigating.
This environment has been building for years. When many Americans believed that a President of the United States was using a military exercise to declare martial law in Texas as a pretense to seize people’s guns, we really shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves in our current situation.
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, in his broadside against Trump as he announced his retirement from the Senate identified it as “a sickness in our system — and it is contagious.”
E.J. Dionne addressed this in a recent Washington Post column, “The mainstreaming of right-wing extremism.”
“Why have our politics gone haywire, why have our political arguments turned so bitter, and why was Donald Trump able to win the Republican nomination and, eventually, the presidency? A central reason has been the mainstreaming of a style of extremist conservative politics that for decades was regarded as unacceptable by most in the GOP…
“The extremist approach is built on a belief in dreadful conspiracies and hidden motives. It indulges the wildest charges aimed at associating political foes with evil and subversive forces… Ordinary political acts are painted as diabolical. Dark plots are invented out of whole cloth. They are first circulated on websites that traffic in angry wackiness, and are eventually echoed by elected officials.”
This extremism has both fed and been nourished by the digital and social media culture of the past decade or so.
It is important to understand this context and background, this idea that the John Birch Society-types have become mainstream. That understanding helps to see the deeper extent of Russian meddling in our election. They very effectively used our divisions against us. The question remains whether they had any internal help in this.
The absolute must read here is “What Facebook Did to American Democracy; And why it was so hard to see it coming,” in The Atlantic. The extent to which ads could be/were targeted, and the way that advertising and targeting could be hidden is essential knowledge to prepare for our elections in the future. Mother Jones had covered the topic earlier as well.
The Atlantic also gave us some hope that maybe our fellow Americans aren’t as bad as they seem on social media, reminding us “Don’t forget to adjust for Russian Trolls.”
Even the guy who’s administration told us the world doesn’t really work as part of a reality-based community anymore has had enough. In a speech George W. Bush delivered earlier this month he said, “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.”
Senator John McCain spoke to the lunacy of extreme rhetoric when he accepted the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal.
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil… We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”
This is not a “MAGA” statement, but we need to bring a civility back to our politics. This won’t be easy. Politics is adversarial by nature, but we can’t let forces like homegrown Nazis or hostile foreign powers like Russia use our disagreements to create divisions that tear us apart.
We need to return to an old way of politics, where a dispute over health care policy is unlikely to involve treason, but helping a foreign power meddle in our elections probably does and should at least be vigorously investigated.
While we contemplate ways to return sanity to our public forum, enjoy a Vieux Carré cocktail. The translation of Vieux Carré is appropriately “Old Square” even though it technically referred to the French Quarter in New Orleans, the birthplace of the cocktail.
Via Brad Thomas Parsons in his book Bitters, the Vieux Carré is:
1 oz rye
1 oz Cognac
1 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz Bénédictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters (or Dr. Adam’s Orinoco Bitters)
Garnish: lemon peel
Stir over ice and strain into a double old-fashioned glass over a large ice cube.
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