Unlearning "Tyranny"

Conservatives used to understand the concept

“I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory,” William F. Buckley Jr. once quipped, “than by the Harvard University faculty.”

It was a sentiment he repeated frequently, sometimes amending it to specify that he was talking about the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book. “Not, heaven knows,“ he explained, “because I hold lightly the brainpower or knowledge or generosity or even the affability of the Harvard faculty: but because I greatly fear intellectual arrogance, and that is a distinguishing characteristic of the university which refuses to accept any common premise.”

Even so, Buckley would have been gobsmacked by the notion that Harvard’s professors posed a greater threat of tyranny than the government itself.

College faculty members notoriously can say and write foolish things, but they do not, after all, have the ability to imprison you, seize your property, or shoot your dog without consequence.

Conservatives used to understand that not very subtle distinction. But that was before our Golden Age of populism cum demagoguery.

William F. Buckley has been replaced with Dan Bongino, Sean Hannity, Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, and Deep Thoughts like this from Ben Domenech.

"The real threat to American liberty,” opined the founder of the Federalist and newly-minted Fox News host, “is in the halls of Harvard and the boardrooms of Google and the cubicles of The New York Times. Our unelected rulers are more dangerous to our freedoms than the elected."

Libs owned, I suppose, but logic, history, and centuries of political theory shredded.

Conservatives used to understand while big corporations can pose threats to the polity, there was a bright line between the State and the private sector: only one has a monopoly on force.

They also used to grasp the actual meaning of the word “tyranny.” But while you might think Stalin, or Mao, or Hitler, or Ivan the Terrible, Ben Domenech thinks “Google”. And newspaper reporters in cubicles.

Of course, Domenech is hardly the first conservative to criticize The New York Times — Buckley himself reveled in tweaking the Gray Lady. But Domenech’s new wrinkle is to see journalism as a greater threat to liberty than politicians. The First Amendment had it backward: we need protection from the press rather than the other way around.

Domenech does, however, seem concerned about some attacks on free speech.

“The first thing tyrants do when they’re in charge is ban speech,” Domenech explained. “But not just any speech, they ban the speech that threatens them.” And, again, here he is not talking about government censorship, but Twitter and Facebook and universities.

“They always pretend to learn from our history and assume we are somehow more enlightened than our ancestors, that they were evil, but we are fit to make our own rules our own history, to ban ideas. To ban George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and Dr. Seuss, and those Catholic teachings that inconvenience us. We’re experts now. We’ve got this,” Domenech said.

The good news, of course, is that neither George Washington nor Abraham Lincoln have been “banned.” The Catholic Church remains ungagged. The books of Mark Twain remain extant and, outside of the fevered imaginations of Fox News, Dr. Seuss continues to be read.

In fact, the only ideas and theories that are actively being banned by government fiat at the moment concern the teaching of racism — and those are being passed by GOP legislatures.

But you get the drift here.

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Meanwhile…

Another strange thing has happened to what remains of the Don’t Tread on Me advocates of “small government.”

“FREEDOM!” has now morphed into the use of coercive government force to protect the citizenry from the tyranny of health mandates by Waffle House.

Florida Republicans — who used to run on a pro-business, small government platform — have banned private businesses from requiring proof of vaccinations for employees or customers.

Texas has followed suit:

“Texas is open 100%, and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want without limits,” [Governor] Abbott said before signing the law, in a video he posted Monday on Twitter. “Vaccine passports are now prohibited in the Lone Star State.”

Of course, vaccine mandates remain in place for school age children; and proof of vaccinations are required for a good deal of international travel.

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A quick thought experiment:

Watch Governor Abbott declare that “Texans should have the freedom to go where they want without any limits, restrictions, or requirements.”

Now imagine how the modern-day GOP would react to the original proposals to require drivers licenses — or license plates on cars.

Mark of the Beast! Papers, please!

Don’t Tread on Me!

I’m not kidding.


Speaking of bat shit crazy. ICYMI: former feminist turned vaccine skeptic Naomi Wolf’s Twitter account “was taken down after a history of sharing conspiracy theories and unfounded claims about vaccines.”

How crazy was her stuff? This crazy:

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Via Media Matters: “Since mid-February, she appeared at least seven times on Fox to discuss her views on the pandemic: twice apiece on Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Revolution with Steve Hilton, and three times on Fox News Primetime.”

Exit take: this is how the Doom Loop of Crazy works.


The real victims, amirite?

James Wigderson in Right Wisconsin:

Johnson’s letter is just more evidence why we need a commission to investigate the causes of the January 6 attack on democracy. We need to make plain what happened so demagogues like Johnson can’t lie about the violent attempt to overturn the election.

But Johnson’s letter is also a sad reminder that he is not fit for public office.

Johnson has previously pledged not to run for re-election. He has since backtracked on that promise, saying he hasn’t decided if he will run in 2022.

It’s time for Johnson to announce he is not running for re-election so Republicans can nominate someone who is actually worthy of the office Johnson now holds. And if Johnson does run for re-election, we should pray that some prominent Republican will find the moral courage to challenge him. Johnson is an embarrassment to Wisconsin, a disgrace as a senator, and it is time for him to go.


Quick Hits

1. The Scandal Rocking the Evangelical World

Peter Wehner in the Atlantic: “The publication of an extraordinary February 24, 2020, letter by Russell Moore, one of the most influential and respected evangelicals in America (and a friend), has shaken the Christian world.”

Moore cited specific examples: “One SBC leader who was at the forefront of these behind-closed-doors assaults had already ripped me to shreds verbally for saying, in 2011, that the Southern Baptist Convention should elect an African-American president,” he wrote. “This same leader told a gathering that ‘The Conservative Resurgence is like the Civil War, except this time unlike the last one, the right side won.’ I walked out of that gathering, as did one of you.”

Moore also mentioned an SBC leader who, during a discussion about Black victims of police violence, had asserted that “only those with guns would prevent black people from burning down all of our cities.”

On top of all that, Moore alleged that “vicious guerilla tactics” had been used against him, including task-force investigations whose purpose was “to keep a cloud over me, and to keep me self-censoring and silent about these matters.”

“‘We know we can’t take you down,’” Moore said an SBC figure told him in 2017. “‘All our wives and kids are with you. This is psychological warfare, to make you think twice before you do or say something.’”


2. Summits Favor Autocrats. Putin Is No Exception.

Shay Khatiri in today’s Bulwark:

Biden’s humanity is his greatest strength and arguably the single greatest reason he won in 2020. But at a summit, soullessness could be a situational strength. In an odd coincidence, exactly twenty years to the day before Biden’s scheduled meeting with Putin, President George W. Bush, another innately humane person, met with Putin and reported that “I was able to get a sense of his soul,” a comment he later regretted.


3. The AR-15 Is ‘Like the Swiss Army Knife,’ Says Federal Judge

Kim Wehle writes in this morning’s Bulwark:

Judge Roger T. Benitez, author of last week’s California ruling, wrestled with this enormous caveat in Heller by calling the AR-15 “good for both home and battle.” Judge Benitez wrote that “bazookas, howitzers, or machineguns” would be on the military side of the line, while “the firearms deemed ‘assault weapons’ are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles.” He noted that lots of Californians get stabbed every year, as if to suggest that an AR-15 is as mild as a kitchen knife.


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