The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Real Life Is Not Twitter or a Video Game

Posted on | January 7, 2021 | 2 Comments

Practically everybody on Twitter today is sharing their opinion of what happened Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Not only are Democrats using the mob scene at the Capitol to smear all Republicans as traitors, etc., but a lot of “conservative” are making a point of how much they deplore the unruly rabble. See, it is not enough — from the moralistic standpoint of political Twitter — that we refrain from bad behavior, but we are expected to ostentatiously proclaim how much we despise those who do. To maintain one’s status as a pundit, you must “distance” yourself from Those Deplorables Over There, heaping up a pile of epithets and pejorative descriptors, to make clear In No Uncertain Terms that you’re a Serious Intellectual, rather than part of the lumpenproletariat.

Homey the Clown don’t play that game, see?

However much I might ever have aspired to be a Serious Intellectual, I am at heart a redneck populist, whose chief claim to be heard in our national conversation is that I speak in defense of the dignity, and on behalf of the interests, of the Ordinary American.

Ashli Babbitt was the prototypical Ordinary American, 35 years old, a small business owner who had spent 14 years in the Air Force. She was an enthusiastic Trump supporter who sincerely believed the election had been stolen. There were some 200,000 Trump supporters in D.C. on Wednesday, although the crowd that breached the barricades to storm the Capitol was much smaller, certainly less than 2,000. Considering that 74 million Americans voted to re-elect Trump, 200,000 protestors was merely the tip of a massive iceberg of political disappointment, and the ones who overran the Capitol were the angriest part of the crowd.

It has been asserted that some Antifa radicals apparently played the part of agents-provocateurs Wednesday, inciting the pro-Trump crowd to violence in order to discredit the pro-Trump cause. Without regard to this, however, most of those who stormed the Capitol were, like Ashli Babbitt, sincere Trump supporters — too sincere, perhaps.

Politics is a cynical business, and excessive sincerity can be dangerous. As a professional journalist, I have to struggle to maintain the appropriate level of cynicism, lest I destroy my credibility by morphing into a wild-eyed fanatical True Believer. There is never a shortage of fanatics in the vicinity of politics, just like there is always a ready supply of opportunists looking to cash in. My job is merely to chronicle the passing political parade, a task that will neither make me rich nor change the world.

My efforts to maintain an appropriately cynical attitude toward politics have never been entirely successful. I am prone to enthusiasm, to act the role of cheerleader for Our Team in their constant battle against Those Other Guys. For three or four years, I zipped around the country on the campaign trail, covering every fringe-kook Tea Party challenger who seemed to offer the slightest hope of stopping the Obama machine. I ended the 2010 campaign at the Boca Raton victory party for Allen West, and then immediately jumped aboard the Cain Train for the 2012 Republican presidential primary campaign. After the crushing disappointment of Obama’s 2012 re-election (“Doomed Beyond All Hope of Redemption”), I more or less abandoned politics, as such. It was better for me, from a standpoint of mental health, to devote myself to covering the cultural fringe, radical feminism and all that, than to let myself be dragged down into the depressing tedium of politics.

Meanwhile, however, Alex Jones had acquired a massive audience for his paranoia-inducing variety of populism, and Ashli Babbitt appears to have been part of the core InfoWars audience. She was all into QAnon and other conspiracy theories and you know what? That still doesn’t mean she deserved to get shot by a plainclothes Capitol Hill police officer.

Wednesday night, I watched this 44-minute video from an InfoWars cameraman who was part of the crowd that stormed the Capitol:


What is so sad about that video — besides, of course, Ashli Babbitt getting shot in the neck at the end — is that, having once breached the security perimeter and entered the Capitol, the protesters seemed to have no idea what they were there to accomplish. I saw a video of one woman claiming this was a “revolution,” but it was more like a bunch of unruly middle-schoolers on a field trip. The protesters wandered around, amazed at the glory of their sudden triumph, apparently with no clue what to do next. Almost accidentally, some of them ended up outside Speaker Pelosi’s office, which is where the armed officer decided that gunfire was necessary to prevent any further intrusion.

Real life is not a video game. You don’t get another life after you get shot dead. Real life is not cosplay. It’s not a Twitter argument.

This business of constantly escalating rhetoric, turning up the outrage meter to 11, and then declaring that anyone who isn’t 100% as angry as you is some kind of half-hearted sellout — well, there are consequences to this kind of attitude. Some of the people who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday will go to federal prison as a result of letting themselves be incited into this stupid and futile gesture. And no one will be able to speak out in their defense, because how can we be taken seriously when we condemn Antifa mobs if we defend mob behavior on “our side”?

So the people who go to prison for storming the Capitol will find themselves without defenders, simply because of the way the game is played. Those who insist on the Rule of Law — which is what conservatism means, if it means anything — are effectively powerless to help anyone on “our side” who decides breaking the law is OK. And certainly, we can do nothing to help you if you get shot dead amid the chaos. Nothing I write can bring Ashli Babbitt back from the grave.

People seldom ask for my advice — “Hey, Stacy, is it a smart idea to overrun a police barricade in D.C.?” — and when I volunteer my advice, people usually ignore me, so I’ve long since given up on the illusion that I can persuade people not to do stupid things. Republican primary voters made Mitt Romney the 2012 GOP presidential nominee despite me doing everything I could to stop them. The “Anybody But Mitt” (ABM) movement had my enthusiastic support, but when it failed, I made the best of a bad situation and tried everything I could to prevent Mitt from losing to Obama, but that effort was ultimately futile. We got here, at this dark abyss of desperate hopelessness, not because of anything I did, but despite everything I could do to avoid this situation.

Less than a month ago, I wrote “How to Maintain Your Sanity,” advising people not to let themselves be driven mad by all this political noise. How many people read that and took it to heart? Not enough, I guess.

No doubt many more people will go crazy and do violent things inspired by politically motivated rage and despair. There will be mass shooters and bombers and lots of “Lone Wolf” type terrorists. Nothing I write on my blog is apt to dissuade these kooks from their kookiness. All I can do is to try to keep the regular readership from flipping out, so that I never have to talk to an FBI agent after they discover that some crackpot bomber has cited me in the footnotes of his deranged “manifesto.”

Don’t go crazy, please? If I can maintain my grip on some semblance of sanity amid this whirling vortex of craziness, anybody can.

And if you’re ever in a crowd where somebody says, “Hey, let’s storm that police barricade,” maybe you should skip that opportunity.

Just a suggestion.