The Contagion Has Spread (and the Virus Has Been Bad Too)

From the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman:

Chances are you watch the news and see 1) large, [very] peaceful protests that have been 2) met with [sometimes] brutal force by police, while 3) some opportunistic radicals from both the right and the left, along with people just looking to steal stuff, take advantage of the situation for their own purposes.

[That the protests have been large and peaceful] is what matters most, now and in the future, both in terms of what this activism really represents and the substance of what it demands. These protests appear to be mainly opening many Americans’ eyes to the reality of police brutality and the need for reform.

But what you may not understand is that a significant portion of America — a minority, but still an ample number of people — is seeing something very different.

Millions of loyal Fox News viewers tune in every day to be offered a perspective from the upside-down, in which they’re told that what’s happening in America right now is a smattering of legitimate protest surrounded by a sea of looting, rioting and attempted murder of noble police officers.

In this nightmare vision, violent black people and their terrorist allies are not only destroying cities but also will soon be coming for you, the angry, frightened white people who make up the audience.

“Violent young men with guns will be in charge” when all the police officers are gone, [Fox host] Tucker Carlson warned his viewers on Tuesday. “They will make the rules, including the rules in your neighborhood. They will do what they want. You will do what they say. No one will stop them. You will not want to live here when that happens.”

His colleague Sean Hannity informs his audience that “Black Lives Matter is planning to train armed militia for war on police.” Hannity, like [Sen. Tom] Cotton, says [the president] must deploy the military: “He has the full authority to go into these states and restore order, which he now must do.”


One of those poisoned and poisonous Fox viewers sits in the White House.

From Vox’s David Roberts:

The signal feature of the 2016 election is that it settled the question of whether US conservatism — the actual movement, I mean, not the people in Washington think tanks who claim to be its spokespeople — is animated by a set of shared ideals and policies. It is not.

For many years, many people have convinced themselves otherwise. A lot of people believe to this day that the Tea Party uprising and the subsequent eight years of hysterical, unremitting, norm-violating opposition to Barack Obama was about small-government philosophy and a devotion to low taxes and less regulation, and had nothing to do with social backlash against a black, cosmopolitan, urban law professor and his diverse, rising coalition.

But that kind of credulity can only stretch so far, and Txxxx has stretched it to the snapping point. He abandoned the Very Serious conservative script entirely and the right ate it up. He pledged not to cut Social Security or Medicare, condemned free trade, and insulted the military and intelligence services, and they ate it up….

Before Txxxx, they thought the economy was terrible and Russia was bad. Now they think the economy is great and Russia is good. He’s one of their people, he hates who they hate, and he drives the libs crazy; that’s good enough….

Even the conservative lawmakers alleged to be horrified by Txxxx, leaking anonymously to reporters about how terrible he is, scarcely ever stand up to him, for the simple reason that he’s enormously popular with the base.

So what motivates this swell of right-wing support for Txxxx? At this point, … the evidence is overwhelming: It was cultural backlash, against immigrants, minorities, uppity women, liberals, and all the other forces seen as dislodging traditional white men from their centrality in American culture….

[More than a dozen studies, papers and surveys] all point in the same direction: Race and gender had unusually high salience in the 2016 election, and what distinguished Txxxx supporters most of all, more than income or education, was racism and misogyny, i.e., feelings of hostility toward minorities and women.

What Txxxx revealed, in the most dramatic way possible, is that the conservative base in the US today is driven not by ideology but by white resentment. That’s the underlying thread. Txxxx may lurch back and forth on policy — or more often, demonstrate an almost cosmic ignorance of policy — but he speaks to, and in the voice of, America’s angry whites, who want their imagined old America back. He is the prototypical Fox News viewer, tossing off endless insults, conspiracy theories, and furious aggrievement.

What’s happening in the US today is not a contest of governing philosophies. Txxxx doesn’t have one, and his administration barely tries to pretend it does. It’s not a philosophy or a plan that won — it was a team, a tribe. They are living it up, rewarding their friends and [destroying] everything the other team did before them.

More broadly, what’s going on in American politics is a contest between those who believe America is an idea and those who believe America is a people, a particular culture — white, Christian, and patriarchal. Txxxx represents those who want that culture restored to primacy.

The people who support Txxxx have been embedded in a hermetically sealed right-wing media bubble for so long that they only know liberals as horrific caricatures and only experience politics as a war to save white Christian culture from its sworn enemies. They are exposed to endless lies and conspiracy theories designed to keep them in a frenzy, convinced that antifa is around the corner and Sharia law is imminent.

From Esquire’s Charles Pierce:

The contagion is deep in the people now, reaching everywhere, twisting reality into burlesques of itself…. And the pandemic is pretty bad, too.

[Quoting Washington state’s Peninsula Daily News:]

The family — a husband and wife, their 16-year-old daughter and the husband’s mother — were driving a full-size school bus and had prepared to camp off a logging road spur…The family had shopped for camping supplies at Forks Outfitters and were confronted “by seven or eight carloads of people in the grocery store parking lot… The people in the parking lot repeatedly asked them if they were Antifa protesters. The family told the people they weren’t associated with any such group and were just camping”….

“The family had to drive their bus around vehicles in the parking lot in order to get back onto Highway 101.” The family told deputies that at least four vehicles followed them as they drove northbound out of Forks. They said that two of the vehicles had people in them carrying what appeared to be semi-automatic rifles.They drove their bus … onto a logging spur road, where they pitched a tent to camp for the night, they told deputies, but then heard gunshots in the distance and power saws down the road from where they were camping. They packed their camp to leave. They found that someone had cut down trees across the spur road. They were trapped.

In a very Pacific Northwest manner, these unfortunate people were saved by four high-school students with power saws, who dismantled the impromptu barricade so that the family could free itself from the Talk Radio Militia. This is the contagion which now has spread to the country’s police forces, and which has its primary vector the Executive Branch of the national government, which is edging toward a substantial body count.

Why did these people think the campers were “antifa,” as though there were an actual organization by that name? Because the president* told them so. Because the attorney general told them so. Because various ambitious bobble-throated slapdicks in the Senate told them so. Because their favorite radio and TV savants have told them so.

After all, this was a multi-racial family. Res ipse loquitur.

The contagion is deep in the people now. And it’s spreading. And there is no vaccine, and there is no safe quarantine.