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Centrist misdirection

After an 18-year-old with an AR-15 killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket, The Atlantic was quick out of the gate with a piece typical of its radical centrism. The article was “America’s Gun Plague,” by David Frum.

Was the shooter a left-wing extremist? asks Frum in the first paragraph. A vegan animal-rights zealot? But of course it was neither. It was yet another right-wing crazy cracked up on right-wing propaganda.

In the fourth paragraph, Frum writes: “The crucial variable in mass shootings is not ideas but weapons. We cannot control ideas or speech and should not attempt to do so even if we could.”

Sorry, Mr. Frum, but you can’t change the subject to guns. We’re not talking here about “ideas.” We’re talking about noxious, dangerous, right-wing lies, knowingly weaponized by the Republican Party as political propaganda and retailed virtually everywhere — from the halls of Congress to the most noxious internet hidey-holes of right-wing radicals.

The Atlantic, for the most part, is thoughtful and even wise. But The Atlantic also frequently publishes addled-headed pieces by radical centrists claiming to be enlightened defenders of free speech who are horrified by what they see to their left but blind to what is on their right. They crank out breathless article after breathless article about campus leftists (as with the piece in the cover story above).

Centrists, you see, are not capable of doubt about whether they hold the moral high ground. They are absolutely certain that they do. Centrists used to throw around the term “moral leveling” as an insult aimed at the left. Their point was that “ideas have consequences” and that standards and principles exist against which we can claim that some ideas are better than other ideas. Good. But in their blindness, centrists cannot see that they are the greatest moral levelers of all. If the center is the high ground, then it is necessary for centrists to see equally serious wrongness both to the left and to the right. Thus centrists are mired in one of the most dangerous fallacies of our times — false equivalence.

The New York Times, this morning, bless its heart, does not fall into any centrist fallacies. The Times, with little to say about guns, puts this piece in the second most prominent position on its web site: “A Fringe Conspiracy Theory, Fostered Online, Is Refashioned by the G.O.P.” Yes. That’s the problem.

Centrists like Frum do often write about the dangers of Trumpism. But it also seems that, for every piece (or paragaph, or book chapter) critical of the right, they feel it’s necessary to come up with some kind of piece or paragraph or book chapter equally critical of the left. If they didn’t, then how would they display their centrism and their moral superiority?

My view is that, when the history of post-Reagan America up through the Trump era is written, the unintentional blindness of centrists will have done as much damage to the republic as right-wing radicals. Though centrist blindness is dim-witted and unintentional (sadly, they’re not as smart as they think they are), their misdirection is entirely intentional and calculated.

One of the reasons the right wing in this country has become so dangerous is that they have figured out how to weaponize the Constitution. The Second Amendment is cover for right-wingers and their militias armed to the teeth for the purpose of intimidation and the creation of fear even when they’re not shooting anyone. (“When do we get to use the guns?” they ask their politicians.) And the First Amendment is cover for the alternate reality blended with rage that is created by right-wing propaganda. Centrists like Frum call it “ideas.” A centrist will tell you that the remedy for twisted speech is more speech and better speech, not attempts to control speech. Does it follow that the remedy for guns is more guns and better guns rather than attempts to control guns? That seems to be the slippery slope we’re on, thanks to the right-wing weaponization of our Constitution.

I don’t claim to have an answer for the booby-traps in the American Constitution that right-wing radicals are exploiting. But one thing is clear to me: Radical centrists don’t have any answers either.

Note: The cover story for The Atlantic cover above (September 2015) was “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Is what college students want to hear and don’t want to hear really a problem? It may well be, for all I know. Maybe I’ll even worry about it a little in my spare time. But in 2022 centrists are still cranking out breathless warnings about speech on campus — in their articles as well as their books — even as the right actively works to crush the American democracy and its institutions, to ban books, to make laws restricting speech, to whitewash and dictate what students can be taught, and to punish corporations for disagreeing with Republicans, all the while loudly retailing their false alternate reality to keep susceptible minds confused and enraged. If centrists would come to their senses they could be very helpful. But I have never been able to get through to a centrist, any more than I’ve ever been able to get through to a right-winger.

One Comment

  1. Dan wrote:

    Why isn’t the left doing something about the right’s attempt to rewrite history instead of always fighting name-calling and Twitter terms of use?

    The Right in America is good at what they do because, for the most part, they have a solid foundation of social and moral philosophy that guides their political philosophy – conservative religion, racism, small government, and individualism – despite any hypocrisies with those they have. The Left should be trying to win state legislatures over so the courts don’t go full right-wing – that’s the ultimate plan of the Republicans. Control the law, control the people.

    Friday, May 20, 2022 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

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