I've recently made it a personal policy to stay away from the latest outrages by Ted Rall/Michael Moore/Indymedia/Democratic Underground/Counterpunch/the guy who stands outside of Penn Station all day screaming about the Illuminati. That's why I've left others to expose this latest bit of left-wing excresence, the column by an enlightened "liberal" from some college paper who was of the considered opinion that Pat Tillman got what he deserved.
James Lileks does some good bleating today on what the fact that stuff like this gets published these days means for us, how far we've come and where we're going. He's pessimistic:
Anyway: at the college paper we lived in a warm capacious womb, dogpaddling in the amniotic fluid of our unexamined assumptions, writing sentences as bad as this one and thinking ourselves quite clever. These things we knew: Soviet influence in Central America could be blunted by a complete withdrawl of American support; Ronald Reagan was indifferent to the possibility of nuclear war; Europeans were wise rational Vulcans to our crass carnivorous Earthlings, except for isolated throwback horrors like Margaret Thatcher. All new weapons systems were boondoggles that wouldn’t work and would never be needed, and served as penis substitutes for Jack D. Ripper-type generals who probably went home and poured lighter fluid on toy soldiers, lit them with a Zippo and cackled maniacally. A nuclear freeze was the first step to a safer world, because if everyone had 10,237 ICBMs instead of 10,238 we might be less inclined to use them. The Soviets were our enemy only because we thought they were, which forced them to act like our enemy. Soldiers were brainwashed killbots or gung-ho rapist killbots who signed up only because Reagan had personally shuttered the doors of the local steel mill, depriving them of jobs. Of all wars in human history, Vietnam was the most typical. Higher taxes on the rich resulted in fewer poor people. The inexplicable mulishness of big business was the only thing that held back widespread adoption of solar power.
The world outside the campus was crass and stupid and run by the people who went to frats and sororities. Say no more.
That's what I believed. Althought sometimes I suspected that I really didn't.
This was the mid 80s. I was, at various times, the editorial page editor and the opinions page editor, and an op-page columnist for several years. If the guy who wrote that spit-on-Tillman piece had submitted it to me I would have rolled it up, dipped it in starch, and handed it back to him with the request that he jam it up his blowhole. Ungreased. No one on the paper would have run the piece. So what's changed? Maybe we laid the groundwork back then. Maybe we smoothed the path for those who saw America as an ignoble brute, something had to be checked wherever it moved.
As noted here and elsewhere, the fevered rants of the fringe have not only entered the mainstream, they’ve been embraced and amplified. Add to that the non-contiguous information stream problem, and you have an astonishing degree of polarization in the body politic. You say: duh. You say: what’s new. Well, here’s the problem: there seems to be an expectation that the next election will somehow settle everyone’s hash, and we move on from there. But the next election is just the beginning of the next phase of American politics. It gets ugly after next November. If some people think Bush is Hitler now, who will he be in 05 if he wins? Rabid Super Extra-Plus UltraHitler?
If the Dems lose big, then the party fades and slinks away and sulks, much as the Republicans did when they misjudged the zeitgeist and got pasted for it. How the party reacts, and how the ordinary patriotic Democrat voter reacts, I can’t say. Little impact on the local level, that’s for sure. But what about those people who already regard the Democrats as sell-outs and phonies, bought-and-paid-for corporate whores? That’s a subset, the ranting fringe. But you have to wonder what they’ll do if Bush wins They already seem to regard America as a lost cause; they see the fascist caul draped over the land, just as the demented home-grown terrorists of the 60s and 70s saw Amerikkka as irredeemably evil, a thing that had to be killed for The People to live. Most of the ranting fringe – 99.5% – will whine and seethe in the message boards of the Internet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if domestic leftist terrorism made a comeback this decade. It only takes a few, after all. And it only takes a few sympathizers here and there to shield them.
Again: I’m not saying I expect the author of that excrescence to make common cause with Al Qaeda and blow up buildings; I’m just saying I won’t be surprised when a few flaming nutballs take it to the next level. And I won’t be surprised if, 30 years hence, the editor of the college newspaper that published that tripe is a New York Times feature editor who commissions a profile on the bomber to mark his release from prison, or the publication of his book, or his appointment at Columbia. He would be described as a “unbowed” and a “reminder of a turbulent era” and perhaps someone whose “passion for social justice is undimmed.” Then, as now, the faces of the dead would not intrude on the profile. Although they might deign to mention their names.
I said last year that 04 was going to be ugly. I think 05 will be uglier.
My guess is, yes, you did lay the groundwork, but really, who could have known? Who could have known that the type of people who in the past would have at the most had some poorly mimeographed crank newsletter to spread their hate and paranoia and conspiracy theories would have something so powerful, and so much more superficially professional-looking as the internet to do the job? And yes, some subset of these people will turn to violence. Ismail Royer, a guy who wrote for the crackpot libertarian site anti-war.com, is a convicted terrorist. I at first thought that things might calm down after Bush wins the election, especially if he wins it in convincing fashion, which he probably will. I would think that the realization that it will be Bush's final term, no matter what happens, might placate the lunatic fringe. However, Lileks may be right. The knowledge that Bush can no longer be defeated in an election might drive the nutjobs to go to the next level. I can already see it now. The fever swamps (and as always, some allegedly respectable locales as well) will be filled with speculation that Bush will amend the constitution to allow for a third term or will refuse to step down or some such nonsense. Brain-dead college kids will buy into the nonsense and feel that there's no other way to stop him, or at least no other way so suffused with revolutionary glamour and self-dramatization.
Lileks's little "on a lighter note" moment at the end, where he talked about being sent to this site because of mistyping google also struck a chord with me. It reminded me of the year I lived in Korea. "Ondol" is indeed the name for the way they heat their apartments there. (Nobody has houses). It's very effective having the heat come from the floor, because of heat rising and all that. However, I never really understood why they did it this way because it makes the floor itself unbearably hot. This is a big deal, as most Koreans do almost all their living on the floor and don't really use furniture.