04 April 2019

Malice in Wonderland

The American commentator Tucker Carlson is known for his warnings about immigration and diversity. In this monologue, he uses several rhetorical tools with venomous effect: extreme interpretations, rhetorical questions that imply extreme or unacceptable answers, unsupported allegations.

The technique is clever; it enables him to charge his opponents with extremism without ever producing evidence. For example, he asks if we have enough doctors to take care of immigrants, and whether we can afford their care. On the face of it, the question is reasonable. However:
  • He charges that the Democratic party and the tech barons don't want you to ask questions like this. How does he know?
  • He apparently wants you to assume that the answers to his questions are always negative or extreme -- without making a place for research, without considering the possibility of better health care arrangements, and without considering the contributions immigrants make to tax revenues, insurance company revenues, etc.
  • He seemingly wants you to see immigrants as competition for a limited pool of resources -- and unworthy competition at that.
Sometimes he doesn't hide behind a rhetorical question. "If you agree with her [representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], you're virtuous; if you don't, you're a monster. There can be no compromise!" "Big business ... likes their immigrants low-skilled and cheap; Ocasio-Cortez does, too."

Over and over, he charges that anyone who asks his kinds of questions will be charged with "racism." I've rarely if ever heard of someone being called a racist simply for asking questions for the sake of genuine research and policy design. (I'm sure it might happen; dishonest rhetoric is not an exclusive monopoly of the right.) However, tendentious questions advocating favorable treatment for some and exclusion of others might well deserve that "racist" label.

It is so tempting to slap this iconic Fox News figure around by treating him the same way he treats his opponents -- with sly, dishonest rhetoric and snarky comebacks. Instead, I have a sincere, if partly rhetorical, question of my own.

Before I get to that question, I want to concede a generous assumption to Carlson and his segment of conservative media. Let's assume that all who call themselves conservative (and particularly the Christians among them!) want the USA to be a blessing to the world. One way or another, we all want God's will on earth as it is in heaven, with everyone treating neighbors as themselves. If someone in our current rhetorical battles wants a future that is nice for them but wretched for others, or disclaims any responsibility for those who suffer, let them say so publicly instead of simply trading on fear, jealousy, and resentment.

Given that assumption, can you discern a vision of a desirable future for the USA and the world in the anti-immigrant, anti-diversity party that makes up so much of Trump's base? With all that malice and venom, is there another side of the coin that would compensate? Persuade us with a conservative vision of a country and world at peace, where the better angels of our nature could come out and play. Let us hear the policy implications, and let us subject those proposals to the same questions of resources  and realism as Carlson asks ... only without the mocking tone and implied eyerolls. Since it's fun to point at failures of socialism, what examples are out there of conservative success stories that have been blessings to the world?

Or does this party simply foresee permanent conflict? Walls alone will not solve the problem: full isolation from the world would impoverish us as well as the world in countless ways. Furthermore, it's too late! We already have diversity -- both its richness and its discontents -- within the country, along with a huge number of people advocating for that diversity and rejoicing in it, even as they wrestle honestly with its complications. The monolithic "radical left" of Carlson's rhetoric is a myth, and the real left (including its Christian components) is constantly grappling with nuances.

Example: the controversy over Joe Biden's tactile bonhomie, currently a source of amusement to Carlson and friends. It's a serious issue (and reminds me of John Turner's troubles 35 years ago), but I see people making reasonable arguments on all sides (some finding it hard to see how Trump supporters could exploit this issue). Same with border enforcement, reparations for slavery, health care financing, and all the other instances where there are no actual jack-booted socialists in evidence.

So, once again: How would a militarized border, tax concessions for billionaires, ruthless trimming of low-income protections, and the other features of today's political right, build the beloved community? We know a lot about what that group is against, but what vision of the future are they actually for? Whom does it bless, whom does it cast out?

Rowland Scherman; source.  
Today is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I've written about my own memories of this event in previous posts. Today, in the service of actual vision, I want to pass on a blessing from Martin King, a blessing dated August 28, 1963. His paired contrasts ("Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics") might today form a longer list, but the breadth of his vision is still breathtaking -- and we are still falling short. In today's atmosphere of malice and division, it's an urgent antidote:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the day. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire; let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York; let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania; let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado; let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia; let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee; let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. “From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
Within this vision, there is methodology: "...With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together...." As E. Stanley Jones said, there is room in this vision for conservatives and radicals keeping each other honest -- "The conservative conserves the values of the past, and the radical wants to apply them to wider and wider areas of life." But I don't see any room for lies and malice.

Becky Ankeny on approval vs obedience.
...[I]t comes as an unpleasant shock to hear Jesus say as reported in Luke in the anti-beatitudes: “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that’s how their ancestors spoke of false prophets” (Luke 6:36).
What would 40 acres and a mule mean today? (Thanks to Steven Flowers for the link.)

Rising mortality rates challenge one of Vladimir Putin's top priorities.

Madeleine Ward on the crucial importance of social cohesion in post-Brexit Britain. (Thanks to Fulcrum for the link.)

Once again, Otis Spann's tribute.

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