There should be a word for this sort of thing. There might be one. If there is, I don’t know it. But, as a concept, it’s something like “throwing under the bus.” Not quite but close. But different. Different enough to be its own thing, to need its own word. I wish it existed. If it exists, I wish I knew it.
The phenomena that I’m talking about is the reinforcement and normalization of a bad premise when attacking a bad idea. The bad premise is more enforced because it appears to be in opposition to a greater evil and it often comes from people who should have rejected the bad premise out of hand. That’s a little complicated, no?
Let me explain.
Maybe an example will help. After all, I see these things around all the time.
Recently, the president made some pretty outlandish claims. (A surprise, I know.) He said in response to a school shooting that he would have ‘run in there, even if he didn’t have a weapon.‘ For a moment, I would like you to ignore that little bit of puke that appears in your mouth whenever you actually have to consider this man’s words. The puke is natural. It’s also beside the point that I’m going to try to make here.
So let’s try to ignore the blithe, arrogant idiocy of what he said. (It’s hard, I know, but we can, perhaps take some satisfaction in how much he dislikes being ignored.) Instead, let’s think about the most common reaction that we, at least I, have seen to this statement.
People opposed to this statement often trot out his draft deferment from Vietnam. They talk about his bone spurs in order to point to a history of cowardice.
The issue that I have with this is – dodging the draft for Vietnam was not an act of cowardice. It was an unjust war. A total atrocity. Many of the people that dodged that draft did so not because they were cowards (as the right-wing would have us believe) but because they were taking an ethical, if sometimes self-interested, stand against the war. They risked prison. Many of them had to leave their country. There were consequences.
Now, we can be almost certain that Trump was not motivated by any of these things and he certainly had to pay no price for avoiding service. Was he a coward? Almost certainly.
But when we use an example such as draft dodging an unjust war to make that point, it’s not the only point we make. We also equate the anti-colonial struggles of the Vietnamese people with the homicidal mania of Florida shooter, we equate military service with heroism, heroism with violence, and we equate avoiding a draft into an unjust war with cowardice. Could the right get people on the left to approve all of these things on their own terms? I doubt it. But these equations emerge in ostensible opposition to the right.
Another example, just a quickie. The president is a sexist. He is possessed by a toxic masculinity. It must be because he has a small dick.
You see the sort of thing that I’m talking about?
Whether it’s talking about him in terms of mental impairment, thus acting like old people are incapable of work and accepting the whole questionable field of psychiatric conclusion without psychiatric examination and the marginalization of people with mental health issues, or definitions of terrorism that don’t seek to question the war on terror but only to expand the definition of terrorism, or claims of treason, which expand the definition of the word at the very moment when we’re dealing with a regime positioned and poised to take advantage of any expanded definition in order to further its own goals, you can probably think of your own examples. You’ll probably see a few today. If you’re like me, they’ll make you uncomfortable in a way you can’t quite describe. There’s something wrong here, you’ll think. But what?
I wish there was a word.
It may seem a bit nit-picky to be concerned with this. Better, some would say, to cast all values aside to fight the problem right in front of us. They might even consider my opposition to this as being a form of cowardice. An unwillingness to dirty my hands. It will bug the man to have his dick-size called into question so we should do that. Bugging him is its own reward. It does something. No one is sure what, but something. Something other than just, briefly, making us feel better as we spit the puke out of our mouths.
Maybe. I don’t know.
But I think I disagree. What concerns me is not any sort of vulgarity of language. (Fuck, shit, ass, finger-finger-finger, there you go.) Nor am I possessed of some terrible sensitivity. My hands are about as dirty as anyone’s. I am, however, very worried by the concepts that repeatedly sneak in through the back door of the so-called resistance. During its tenure, I have seen the republicans of Nixon’s era lionized as exemplars of truth and decency. I have seen the reign of Bush Jr. looked back upon with a foggy nostalgia by those who seek to oppose Trump. Not by the republicans. They did not want to rehabilitate that man’s reputation. They pretty soundly rejected his brother just for having the stink of Bush on him. But the mainstream liberals? They were incredibly eager to make Bush into some sort of affable bozo, who might have been wrong about a few things but was, at least, presidential and cute with his little raincoat. Not so terribly Islamaphobic either. A strange case to make for a war criminal who tortured and murdered so many Muslims for no fucking reason.* But the liberals made that case.
And no one even asked them to do it. They did that shit by themselves.
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
These things give me pause because they are how some very bad ideas become normalized. They are the method through which history is rewritten. It can happen fast.
It is happening fast.
This administration seems to have an almost preternatural ability to coax out these premises and benefit from them. (An indirect but related example is “fake news.” Originally meant to discuss the sort of sites that balance their interested vitamin supplements and bigfoot with heaping doses of paranoid right-wing apocalypse ideology, the regime has managed to retrofit the term to talk about mainstream news outlets. This usage was further normalized by comedians.) They are experts at extracting shit.
Their speed and ability in this regard is enough to give a person pause. Both are enhanced by the internet. We live in an era when far too much of our discourse is conducted through memes. That medium is just not up to the task that the left would set it. These things are simple and measured only through virality. In this, they can only be destructive. Our issues are complex. They require more than two lines and a picture of a cat. To fight a war against stupidity with memes is not only to engage the enemy on their own territory with your hands tied but to grow the very abyss that these monsters emerge from. And it is memes that seem to encourage a lot of these strange premises to get through. They seem like a good idea at the time. They’re not. It is this manner of thought that allowed this manner of man to get elected in the first place.
You know that.
So, the next time you have to hear the president, and you feel that puke rising in your mouth, just stop and think before you share it. Ask yourself what premises is this attack normalizing? Because, believe me, I’ve lived long enough to know, those premises are the ones that you’re eventually going to have to deal with. And they will be worse.
I just wish there was a word for it. I don’t know. Maybe there is.
*A couple of book recommendations for anyone who, under present circumstances, feels, if not exactly a creeping nostalgia for Bush Jr. and his collection of goons, but, perhaps a willingness to think that he was not so bad and belongs anywhere except in a prison:
The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blassim
City of Widows by Haifa Zangana
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
These should serve as adequate reminders of the scope of horrors that were unleashed.