A Nation on Edge

Is Maxine Waters really more dangerous than Trump?

As the nation nervously awaits the verdict in the Derek Chauvin case we, unfortunately, have to talk about Maxine Waters.

The judge in the Chauvin case refused to grant a mistrial Monday, but remarked: "I'll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.”

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and the right wing media were more than happy to seize on the moment to feign outrage.

“Maxine Waters is inciting violence in Minneapolis — just as she has incited it in the past,” McCarthy declared in a statement. “If Speaker Pelosi doesn’t act against this dangerous rhetoric, I will bring action this week.”

The NY Post editorial board demanded: “Impeach and remove Maxine Waters” (which is really not a thing). Sensing yet another opportunity for clicks, cash, and relevance, Marjorie Taylor Greene rushed forward with a demand that Waters be expelled.

Waters also quickly became the go-to talking point for the right wing media. In Ben Shapiro’s newsletter yesterday, the top four items all focused on her alleged incitement of violence.

I can only imagine the coverage on Fox News. Oh wait, I don’t have to: Here’s Tomi Lahren accusing Waters of trying to foment a “race war.” And, naturally, Tucker Carlson devoted a segment to explaining that the Democratic congresswoman “has never believed in Western justice” and (echoing the language of the America First caucus) “doesn't have much use for those Anglo-Saxon civic traditions, like jury trials.”

If you have an odd sense of deja vu here, it may be because Maxine Waters has been a useful foil for Republicans for decades. She has a record of intemperate language that makes her an inviting target for the right.

She also makes a much more useful target than Biden, because it turns out that an old white man is far less scary than a black woman. The GOP is perfectly happy to make her the face of the opposition.

Here is what Waters said:

“We’re looking for a guilty verdict. We’re looking for a guilty verdict. And we’re looking to see if all of this [inaudible] that took place and has been taking place after they saw what happened to George Floyd,” Waters said. “If nothing does not happen, then we know, that we’ve got to not only stay in the street, but we’ve got to fight for justice, but I am very hopefully and I hope that we’re going to get a verdict that will say guilty, guilty, guilty. And if we don’t, we cannot go away.”

When asked about what activists should do if Chauvin is not convicted, Waters said that they must “stay on the street.”

“And we’ve got to get more active. [We’ve] got to get more confrontational,” she said. “[We’ve] got to make sure that they know we mean business.”

At first blush, her comments seem rather… generic. But given the fragility of the moment, she (and other public officials) should be far more careful in their use of language.

Even so, much of the reaction seems performative, redolent with a rich and foamy dose of of whataboutism. A NY Post editorial essentially gives away the game here:

In supporting the second impeachment of President Donald Trump, California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters said he was “inciting” his followers, and was “trying to create a civil war.”

By her own standards, Maxine Waters should be impeached and removed.

Tucker Carlson played the same card: "Is Maxine Waters guilty of greater incitement than Donald Trump? Well, of course," he insisted.

This will play well in the right’s media ecosystem, where subtlety, nuance, and distinctions generally go to die.

But take a moment to compare her call for “confrontation” to the rhetoric that was common among the Trumperati before they assaulted the Capitol on January 6.

With his supporters massed in D.C., Trump himself called on them to “fight like hell,” and the crowd chanted “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!”

The threat was not at all generic. It was imminent and tangible. As he called for protesters to march to the Capitol, Trump said, inter alia:

“Let the weak ones get out. This is a time for strength.” This was in reference to Republicans in Congress who weren’t going along with his effort to subvert the election.

—“You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” That was to the marchers specifically.

—“When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules.”

At the same rally Rudy Giuliani declared “Let’s have trial by combat.”

Representative (and future senator) Mo Brooks railed: “Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

In a pre-election video, Marjorie Taylor Greene had been even more graphic, referring to the need to pay “the price of blood.” This was hardly an isolated incident. As Mother Jones reported:

Content from Greene’s social media pages uncovered by CNN and others also showed her endorsing calls to execute FBI agents deemed disloyal to President Donald Trump and to target top Democrats, including “a bullet to the head” for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But memory, like the sense of shame, is a rare commodity in our politics these days.

Cynicism is not.

So, the current flare up has a special appeal for Republicans, because it helps them frame and personalize the issue at the same time it helps them revise and erase history.

In the short term, Republicans know that there may be riots in the wake of the verdict, and they are setting the stage for the talking point that the “Democrats own this.”

That not only allows the GOP to seize back the mantle of law and order, but also serves to memory-hole responsibility for January 6. And that is pretty much what this all about.


Speaking of violence, however…

We’ve commented before on the fascism-curious folks over at American Greatness, the right wing Trumpian publication that regularly features conservative “intellectuals” like Victor Davis Hanson.

ICYMI: the magazine recently published this piece that argued that “Fear and violence are the butter to the bread of our politics.”

“It’s time for decent people who want to make themselves into good people to acknowledge this basic truth—and act upon it,” the AG author declared. 

And “good people,” needed to turn themselves into “monsters.”

Conservatism, Inc.’s leaders are looking out for themselves. Their standard operating procedure is the stuff of wusses and whiners—but certainly not winners. Decent people, and decent men specifically, know that in the last analysis, it is they and they alone—and not, as those in Big Conservatism would have us think, state agents—who are the last line of defense protecting innocents from predators. This being the case, the decent know that they must become ruthless….

To this end, the good man must spare not a moment to train, in both body and mind, to become the monster that he may need to become in order to slay the monsters that prey upon the vulnerable—whomever these monsters happen to be. 

Lest this be too subtle, we are also told:

Any “punch a Nazi” campaign that wound up on the doorstep of, say, the Aryan Brotherhood would end with the campaigners being carved up like a turkey and their remains fed to dogs.  

Christian Vanderbrouk commented:

Must read: The Highbrow Conspiracism of the New Intellectual Right. Laura K. Field writes about the formerly respectable Claremont folks:

For their part, the Claremont Institute was a generative nexus of Stop-the-Steal conspiracism. Prior to the election, they published several pieces that not only gamed out worrisome would-be electoral scenarios, but went much further in claiming that the worst scenario — the Biden coup — was already, in fact, being enacted in plain sight. Most of this happened in the pages of The American Mind. Michael Anton first gamed out a possible Biden coup in September 2020 (see “The Coming Coup?”), and the editorial board was treating the Biden coup as fact within a week (“Stop the Coup”). Anton committed to the reality of the thing on November 4 (see “Game-On for the Coup?”). Soon thereafter, the president of the Claremont Institute (Ryan P. Williams) and other key leaders at Claremont (Arthur Milikh, Matthew J. Peterson, and James Poulos) rallied behind Anton’s vision of resistance to the “coup” and wrote up more detailed plans, complete with overtly militaristic appeals (see “The Fight is Now”). John Eastman was a member of Trump’s legal team, and in a bizarre retrospective discussion of January 6, Charles Kesler refers to Eastman as principal author of Trump’s “theory” that Congress should “pause” the Electoral College count. 

Also, must read: Cornel West and Jeremy Tate write about the decision by Howard University to dissolve its classics department.

Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation.

Sadly, in our culture’s conception, the crimes of the West have become so central that it’s hard to keep track of the best of the West. We must be vigilant and draw the distinction between Western civilization and philosophy on the one hand, and Western crimes on the other. The crimes spring from certain philosophies and certain aspects of the civilization, not all of them.


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