Rick Esenberg writes about a comment from one of my favorite Democrats, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, beginning with some music:
The Rolling Stones released Street Fighting Man in 1968, while the world what seemed to be gripped by revolutionary fervor. That fervor would soon die out and, even Mick Jagger seemed to recognize that it would never go far. His revolutionary narrator was not about taking control of anything but rather someone whose name was called “disturbance.” He would “shout and scream” and “kill the king” and “rail at all his servants.” But it seemed like an impotent rage. Nothing would change.Over the weekend, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke tweeted out what some took to be his own call for fighting in the streets. Accompanied by a picture of a bunch of CPAs trying to pose as an angry mob, the most frequently cited Clarke tweet read:
It’s incredible that our institutions of gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time
There were other tweets referencing “pitchforks and torches” because, if twitter is about anything at all, it is about getting the right slogan. The legacy media, of course, guppied on this, expressing consternation that a law enforcement officer would support — not to put too fine a point on it — breaking the law.
Was that what Clarke intended? Twitter is the ultimate in post-modern communication because its brevity often forces the reader to construct the meaning of the text, but, of course, it isn’t. His subsequent teasing about the sale of garden implements at Home Depot immediately suggested that he was speaking metaphorically. On Monday, Clarke wrote a blog post confirming that he was speaking in hyperbole.
But let’s put Clarke and his tweets aside. What about that metaphor? Is it really “pitchfork and torches” time? As in 1968, there certainly seem to be people who believe so. This is, we are told, a “Flight 93 election.”
The anger among people on the Republican side — often directed at other conservatives who can’t quite get their heads around a Trump presidency — is bitter and consuming. At a Trump rally in Green Bay Monday night, a putatively conservative crowd chanted “Paul Ryan sucks” — turning against one of the brightest lights in our movement because he is now less than enthusiastic about a Republican nominee who is not conservative and who has arguably become toxic to the Republican cause.
The willingness of some conservatives to not merely support Trump as the lesser to two very bad evils but to tie themselves into knots to pretend that he isn’t who he seems to be suggests that this election has become political total war. There are no rules.Indeed, Trump’s very presence on the ballot seems like the act of an angry mob. Whether or not conservatives should rally around him in the general election, the very idea that Donald Trump ought to have been nominated is an idea whose name is called disturbance. It certainly seems like an act of either desperation or nihilism — the electoral equivalent of burning downtown Ferguson. It was less a rational decision than a collective tantrum.
Should we be tearing ourselves apart in this way? Whether or not we support Trump, do we really have to abandon our principles in order to support the Republican nominee?
I fully appreciate what is at stake with a Clinton presidency. The Supreme Court and lower federal courts, the further consolidation of power in Washington and the executive, the administrative imposition of the goals of the cultural left and erosion of freedom of speech and religion — all of these will continue. It is only the threat of this type of damage that can make a vote for Trump conceivable.
But there is danger in exaggerated rhetoric and in the GOP’s ongoing fratricide. The danger is not, as the mainstream media and their “serious people” would have it, that there will be actual violence. The danger is to a conservative movement that is defined by such hyperbole and self-consuming rage. In short, we are hurting ourselves.
I don’t want to be angry. I want to win. I want to advance conservative ideas. Unfortunately, winning — and for that matter “conservative ideas” — are precisely what nominating Donald Trump was not about. This has left us all with a conundrum. Whether winning nevertheless means continuing to support his flailing campaign (2016 is not the last election) is a far more difficult question than many of us recognize. Do conservatives support the GOP’s our despicable and not conservative — but perhaps not left wing — nominee to avoid the election of their corrupt — and left wing — nominee?
However you answer that question, rhetorically storming the barricades is not an exercise of power but a confession of weakness. Forming a circular firing squad in which we attack some of the best among us is self destructive. We “scream and shout” because we believe there is nothing else we can do. It may feel good to indulge in white hot anger — to call Paul Ryan a RINO and boycott Charlie Sykes as a “liberal” — but it’s straight up nonsense. It does not reflect reality — things are bad but not that bad — and destroying the village to save the village rarely makes sense.
Self righteous outrage sets us against ourselves. And it marginalizes us because — just like in 1968 — most people do not want fighting in the streets — metaphorical or otherwise.
To paraphrase John Lennon from that same year, “we’re all doing what we can.”
Oh, he means …
This year is a perfect example of the fact that government is far too large and therefore the stakes are too high in elections, and one wonders what it will take — assassination(s)? Riot(s) after Nov. 8? — to make people realize that. When government and politics become careers, government grows. When government can close a business and take away people’s livelihood, government is too big.
Everything bad happening in politics today is the result of the excessive size of government, including (some people’s opinion of) excessive campaign spending and efforts to bring in donations, the increasing nastiness of campaigns, people from the same party turning on each other, people from opposite parties turning on each other … the list could really depress you if I went on.