When Paranoia Becomes Plausible

For as long as we can remember, some people associated with both parties have fretted that if the other party wins communist or fascist style totalitarianism will result. They feared a secret police detaining dissidents in undisclosed locations, and a suspension of democracy to retain power. We always laughed it off as paranoia, and felt vindicated when it didn’t come to pass, but we’re not laughing now.
Over the past several days federal agents bearing no insignia on their camouflage uniform have been roaming Portland, Oregon, in unarmed vehicles and snatching people off the streets without warrants or any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and holding them in places undisclosed to the “suspects.” That’s not paranoia, but something that has actually been happening in the United States of America.
This is in response to weeks of mass protests that have occasionally devolved into vandalism and arson and violence, and Portland is a stereotypically touchy-feely city and its local police response has arguably been to permissive, but still. America has long dealt with similar problems without resort to such Orwellian measures, and leaving law enforcement to states and localities is one of longstanding American principles that conservatives once wanted to conserve.
President Donald Trump has threatened the same tactics in other American cities, lest the “angry liberal mob” bring anarchy and destroy America’s history. By now its one of Trump’ biggest reelection issues, and he hopes it will deflect attention from the rapidly spreading coronavirus and its resultant economic catastrophe, but he’s going to need a lot more rioting to convince anyone who’s not already a die-supporter he’s dealing with an existential threat that justifies any means.
There’s already speculation that what’s happening in Portland is a practice run for what Trump intends to do to “dominate the streets” in the mass protests that would surely happen if he refuses to accept a losing outcome in the next election. We’d like to laugh that off as paranoia, but in a very embarrassing interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday Trump did not promise to accept the election results, and at this point we don’t underestimate his ruthlessness. We’re already seeing internet comments and hearing callers to “conservative” talk radio cheering on armed resistance to a possible Democratic administration, and although it probably won’t materialize and likely would quickly be put down it’s still chilling.
To be clear, we do not approve of rioting and looting and arson and vandalism and violence, and expect local law enforcement to effectively deal with it, but we’re quite tolerant of peaceful protests no matter what the cause. Trump has shown a willingness to disperse peaceful protests with flash grenades and pepper spray and billy clubs, however, and that is more worrisome than those scruffy “antifa” thugs and the sorts of riots that have been constitutionally quelled throughout our lifetimes. As much as the next red-blooded American we believe in law and order, but given his law-breaking proclivities and the pardons and commutations he’s given his law-breaking allies, we don’t care to be lectured about it by Trump.
What’s most worrisome is that we can no longer laugh off the paranoia.

— Bud Norman

A Presidential Conspiracy Theory

President Donald Trump frequently “tweets” up a distracting news cycle’s worth of controversy, most of which are best ignored, but the latest brouhaha seems more consequential and worth considering.
By now you’ve probably seen the videotape of two policemen at the front of a phalanx of riot-gear-clad officers descending on a protest demonstration in Buffalo, New York, pushing a 75-year-old protester onto the sidewalk, then all of the officers walking past the man’s prone body as he bled from the ear. Most viewers see a shocking example of the sort of police brutality that was being protested, but Trump saw it differently. He tweeted that “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”
Which we find troubling for several reasons.
To begin with, it’s worrisome that a president of the United States could could even entertain such fanciful conjecture. The idea that a septuagenarian with a decades-long history of peaceful protesting intentionally injured himself to an extent that he required days hospitalization in hopes that someone was videotaping it to make the cops look bad is far-fetched enough. That he was using what looks to be his self phone to knock out police communications to knock out police communications is all the more implausible.
Trump apparently got such outlandish ideas by watching a report on the America One News Network, an obscure television outlet that has won Trump’s affection with its sycophantic coverage of his administration, which in turn got the scoop from Conservative Treehouse, an even more obscure internet site that traffics in wild conspiracy theories, which in turn got the idea from some anonymous poster on some even more obscure conspiracy theory message board. That a president of the United States is getting his information from such dubious sources is another matter of concern.
The evidence-free allusion to antifa is also worrying. Trump had previously tried to blame the rioting and looting and other mayhem that has occurred during the recent protests on antifa, and even tweeted that he would have it designated a “terrorist organization.” So far as we can tell from reading a wide variety of usually reliable sources, antifa isn’t an organization at all, just a catchall phrase for the pathetic left-wing punks who like to show up at demonstrations and brawl on the streets with any pathetic “alt-right” punks who might also be itching for a fight. We dislike the people calling themselves antifa, and consider them a public nuisance, but we don’t worry they’re much of a threat to the republic, and find no evidence that they’re responsible for any of the rioting and looting and arson that’s lately occurred.
We’re more convinced by the evidence that “alt-right” internet trolls have been instigating trouble to make the protesters look bad, but we don’t care to traffic in conspiracy theories. The mass demonstrations that have sprung up around the country and across the world aren’t because of any conspiracy, as even the most cunning conspiracists couldn’t pull that off, but rather are the result of many, many years of legitimate grievances culminating in an understandable rage. If the president of the United States can’t see that, and prefers to speculate without evidence that an American citizen is part of a criminal conspiracy, that’s more alarming than anything he might “tweet.”

— Bud Norman

Hard Times, Then and Now

American cities from coast to coast have suffered rioting, vandalism, arson and violence in the aftermath of unarmed black man George Floyd’s death by the Minneapolis Police Department, but we’re happy to say that for now race relations remain mostly amicable here in Wichita.
There were a couple of peaceful and conspicuously multicultural protest marches in downtown over the weekend, which culminated with the mostly black protest marchers and the mostly white sitting police officers sitting within social distancing rules of each other at a local park and sharing some barbecue, but that’s about it. Even our most liberal and reflexively antipolice Facebook friends gave some of the credit to Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsey, who has made a very public and apparently sincere outreach to the city’s diverse communities since taking office and was one of the first big city police chiefs to publicly decry Floyd’s death and even call it a murder, and he also marched in those demonstrations wearing his uniform and a face mask. Although we’re not the name-dropping types we will admit we’ve had beers and swapped jokes with Ramsey, and he seemed an OK guy, and we also we think he’s done a good job of keeping the relative peace around here lately.
We also think it has something to do with the civic spirit and mostly good people of all colors and creeds and classes and the ever-expanding number of genders you’ll find here in Wichita. There’s the usual percentage of awful people you’ll find among all colors and creeds and classes and ever-expanding gender groups, too, but for the most part we open doors for one another and don’t insist on our place in line and sometimes chat in a friendly way while we wait. For now the folks ’round these parts seem to prefer that to rioting and vandalism and arson and violence, and we concur.
America writ large, alas, isn’t faring so well. All the coast-to-coast rioting and vandalism and arson and violence, which we’ll henceforth refer to as “civil unrest,” is said to be the worst since the annus horribilis of 1968, which we well remember because we turned a very impressionable 9-years-old that year. As best as our precocious yet eight-and-nine-year-old minds could comprehend, the “negroes” or “colored people” or whatever the polite adults were calling them were righteously indignant about slavery and segregation and police brutality and a host of other things, but that burning down their own neighborhoods seemed an unlikely way to rectify that. We also felt the anxiety of even the most polite adults among us that the “civil unrest” would reach their neighborhoods, and we carried that anxiety with us as went through most of the ’70s with six years of racially diverse and riot-prone and generally shabby junior high and high schools.
By the end of it, though, we’d survived the worst of all the awful people of all colors and creeds and classes and whatever genders existed at the time, and found that most people are OK, and that most of them seemed to think we were OK. We figured things had calmed down since 1968, when it was seemingly a choice between law and order and racial justice, and that America could amiably move forward, but lately our hopes have been dashed. The politics of the moment are even more convoluted than in 1968.
One things that different from 1968 is that these riots are remarkably more racially integrated, judging by all the video, and that kid leading the riot storming of the Cable News Network last week was clearly a white skateboard punk. Some black speculators have speculated that white nationalist provocateurs have fueled the riots to start a race war, and for now that’s as plausible a conspiracy theory as you’ll find on the internet. Even Trump is blaming the far-left but mostly-white “Antifa” movement for much of it, and has officially declared it a “terrorist organization,” which means he can legally spy on any American citizen who might have visited its website. “Antifa” isn’t really an organization of any kind, though, just a ridiculously disorganized group of like-minded dumbass white goys who want to punch anyone wearing a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, who will likely get their asses kicked..We also suspect that some opportunistic awful people of certain other colors are also taking advantage of the situation.
Back in ’68 Nixon became president on o promise of restoring law and order, despite former segregationist Alabama governor and independent candidate George Wallace’s promise to restore it even more brutally, and President Donald Trump seems intent on replicating that, but that was a long time ago. This time around, a platform of both law and order and racial justice seems attainable, and might be the winning argument. So far, at least, we’ve worked it out here in Wichita.

A Long Weekend of Bipartisan Hate

Last Friday some dreary chores had us up and about earlier than usual, so we wound up listening to Rush Limbaugh’s program on our car’s AM radio, and were further dispirited to hear a once formidable voice of conservatism making an utter fool of himself. Through the rest of the day, we unhappily found, much of the rest of the conservative punditry was doing the same.
On Thursday Limbaugh had assured his audience that the person who had been sending mail bombs to prominent Democratic politicians and liberal activists was surely a “Democratic operative,” as “Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing,” so he struggled to explain the breaking news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had arrested with seemingly convincing fingerprint and DNA evidence a fellow who wasn’t at all a “Democratic” operative and sure looked an awful lot like a die-hard supporter of Republican President Donald Trump.
Limbaugh initially seized on a report from some internet publication he had to admit he’d never of that the suspect was registered to vote as a member of the Green Party, and was also a member of the Seminole Indian tribe, but within the hour he was obliged to tell his listeners to disregard that as every news medium you’ve ever heard of confirmed that in fact the suspect was a registered Republican ever since Trump won the party’s nomination and the Seminoles disavowed any kinship to the man. There was also some widely televised footage of the suspect’s van, which was covered with with pro-Trump and anti-Democrat and liberal-hating decals, but by the end of the broadcast Limbaugh was agreeing with his “ditto-head” callers that those decals looked suspiciously faded than they should be in the Florida sun, and that a “deep state” conspiracy was still plausible.
By the end of the day a lucky Washington Post photographer and several Facebook users were showing their year-old pictures of the decal-covered van, the suspect’s own voluminous social media postings showed him to be a die-hard Trump supporter, the Cable News Network came up with some footage of the suspect waving a sign at a Trump rally with the same “CNN Sucks” motto that was emblazoned on his van, a former employer and several friends of the suspect and even one of his lawyers told interviewers about his intense affection for Trump, and pretty much every news medium you’ve ever heard of had ample evidence that just maybe some Republicans do sometime do these things. Even then, though, some talk show hosts and their callers and internet posters and some more prominent conservative voices were grasping at the straws of those un-faded decals to keep their “deep state” conspiracy theories afloat.
All of which was quite embarrassing to such old-fashioned conservatives and pre-Trump Republicans as ourselves, who prefer to acknowledge how very complicated those stubborn facts can be. Limbaugh likes to call himself the “Mayor of Realville,” so he should be realistic enough to concede that even Republicans human beings occasionally do awful things, and that it sure does look as if this is one of those times. Conservative columnist Ann Coulter assured her readers that “From the Haymarket riot to the Unabomber, bombs are a liberal tactic,” but she seems to have forgotten the death-toll-record-setting domestic terrorist bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City and that bombing of an Atlanta gay bar and several bombings of black churches that can’t credibly be blamed on liberals. Fox News hosts Lou Dobbs and Geraldo Rivera were also peddling the “deep state” conspiracies, but at least Dobbs deleted his “Tweets” and Rivera frankly admitted that he had “outsmarted” himself.
They’re all quite right to argue that from the Haymarket riot to the Unabomber to the latest Antifa thuggery certain people on the left have been guilty of abominable behavior, and that all along prominent Democratic politicians and leading liberal voices have engaged in rhetoric that arguably incited such violence, but we wish they’d also acknowledge the craziness on the right and their rhetorical role in it, and start urging their revved-up faithful to calm the hell down and face up to the damnable fact that none of us are blameless.
On Saturday we awoke to the dispiriting news that some hateful man had slaughtered 11 American Jews and wounded several others as they worshipped God at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It will be hard for the left to pin the blame on Trump, who has an overly well-regarded Jewish son-in-law married to a favorite daughter who’s a Jewish convert and therefore a couple of Jewish grandchildren, as well a very Israel-friendly foreign policy, but neither can the right plausibly blame the massacre on the left. The ancient and still-inexplicable hatred of Jews can be found in both parties and on both sides of the political spectrum, but here’s hoping that the mainstream voices on both sides will condemn it without blaming the other.

— Bud Norman

Charlottesville and the Crucial Center

Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the prettiest towns in America, and home to one of its most venerable institutions of higher learning, but over the weekend it became the tragic focal point of the country’s ugliest and most stupid elements.
A few hundred proudly self-described Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis and various other far-right white supremacists who prefer to be called “alt-right” gathered in a local park with a soon-to-be-removed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to “Unite the Right,” there was of course the usual larger gathering of counter-protestors that included the usual small number of “anarchist” and “antifa” far-left idiots itching for a fight. The inevitable resulting skirmishes culminated with a Dodge muscle car allegedly driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer plowing into an annoying self-righteous but entirely peaceable crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring 19 others, and a couple of law enforcement officers dying in a helicopter crash while dealing with melee. That culminated in another round of street brawls between the self-described racists and the so-called anti-fascist forces on the streets of Seattle, Washington, and much rhetorical skirmishing in Washington, D.C., as well as everywhere in the real and virtual worlds, so at this point there’s no telling how it all plays out.
Everything in the news these days has something to do with President Donald Trump, of course, so he wound up playing his usual starring role in the whole mess. He responded the car-plowing-into-the-peeaceable-counter-protestor situation more slowly than he does to news of Islamic or left-wing terrorism, which drew criticism from the usual corners, and when he did his statement condemned the hatred and bigotry and violence on “many sides,” repeating “on many sides” just for emphasis, and that drew criticism from pretty much everywhere. Most of the Republican party had already issued statements that unequivocally condemned the KKK and Nazism and any other hateful movements that consider themselves the “right,” as they’ve vainly and nobly struggled to do since the Civil War, and of course the Democrats had a field day with Trump’s more tepid response.
The KKK and the Nazis and the “alt-right” and the rest of the hateful movements that claim to be “right” were publicly pleased with Trump’s comments, though, and there was enough of a reasonable argument for them that so were many of his more reasonable supporters. There is indeed a similarly sliver-sized segment at the leftmost corners of the political spectrum that routinely engage in violence, often directed at Trump’s most visible supporters, some of whom no doubt played their role in the unpleasantness in Charlottesville over the weekend, and it’s only fair that should also be condemned. Democrats are indeed too often slow and equivocal in their denunciations of the violence associated with the black-hooded “antifas” or the more deadly riots that have followed Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and the double standard reasonably fuels that lingering reasonable suspicion of a certain anti-white animus on the left which did so much to get Trump elected.
There will surely be plenty of future opportunities to condemn that leftist strain of political violence, though, and to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities the past weekend seemed an especially inopportune moment to do so. In this case all of the tragic events were set in motion when a bunch of KKK and neo-Nazi and more politely named “alt-right” types from around the country invaded a lovely town that is home to a respected university to assert their hateful ideologies, and it culminated with one of that crowd’s muscle car plowing into a crowd of annoyingly self-righteious but entirely peaceable counter-protestors, so it was not the time to assert a moral equivalence between people who are marching down a public street armed with shields and helmets and spears waving Nazi and Confederate flags of a picturesque college town and the people who were tempted to punch them in the nose. It’s not only a losing political argument, unless you’re trying to maintain a shrinking base of support, but it’s also on shaky moral grounds.
Sooner or later those ugly and stupid and itching-for-a-fight types on the left will be responsible for some similar tragedy, and when it happens we want to be able to unequivocally condemn it without any plausible charges of hypocrisy. By now there’s a large segment of the right that argues reasonably enough that the left is willing to resort to the bare-knuckle rhetoric of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and outright violence to achieve their goals, and there’s enough of the right that thinks it must respond in kind to counter the threat, but we’re still hoping it won’t wind up with those end-of-the-Weimar-Republic street brawls between the Commies and the Nazis, which didn’t end well for anybody.
Those annoyingly self-righteous but entirely peaceable folks just left of the center seem willing to work things out amicably, and as old-fashioned and too-old-for-street-brawling re-constructionist Republicans just to the right of the center we’re eager to do the same, and we hold out hope that most of our party’s unequivocal repudiation of the Nazis and the rest of its violent elements will be met with the left’s unequivocal repudiation of its worst actors. Several White House officials have lately emphasized that the president’s “all sides” statements obviously included the KKK and the Nazis and the rest of the “alt-right,” as per usual after his more controversial statements, but as per usual the president himself hasn’t backed down, and it remains to be seen how that will work out.
As we await the culmination of this latest ugly and stupid episode in America’s history, we’ll offer our prayers that peaceable counter-protestor and the brave law enforcement officers who died trying to keep some semblance of peace in a lovely southern town, and our hope that the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman