Not long ago, late-night comedian and would-be philosopher Steven Colbert signaled the nation his virtuous outrage over the Trump presidency. Colbert offered that Trump had “a feeble f***ing anemic firefly of a soul.” His puerile efforts at alliteration were not helped by the redundant “anemic.”
Obscenity in service to an announced virtuous progressive cause is apparently now Colbert’s brand — and the more vulgar, the more virtuous.
Yet Colbert’s incoherent crudity is mild compared with the epidemic of assassination chic in which politicians, celebrities, actors, and academics vie to kill Trump by symbolically stabbing, decapitating, hanging, shooting, and maiming his likeness. (The various ways of killing or torturing Trump have exhausted the imagination of the virtuous.) It is as if the more macabre one can be in imagining how to eviscerate Trump, the more virtuous one becomes.
Is vicarious violence and crudity the means by which the modern soft suburbanite — like a Colbert, Michael Moore, or Bill Maher — messages his inner bravery and progressive authenticity?
She later backtracked by insisting that her attributive adjective “murderous” was really discriminatory, not collective, as if she meant that only the NRA members who are actually murderous should be shot, given that not all NRA members are necessarily murderous. But aside from misleading about her intent, which particular NRA members does she think have committed murder, and how would the selective champion of capital punishment, Nancy Sinatra, know them?
Nancy Sinatra tweeted, ‘The murderous members of the NRA should face a firing squad.’
Wanting to kill someone because of his politics is now sort of passé. So is the chilling habit of calibrating empathy for the dead on the basis of their perceived ideology. The now-fired vice president and senior legal counsel at CBS Hayley Geftman-Gold posted her feelings after the Las Vegas massacre: “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans often are Republican gun toters.”
When Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson tried to assassinate Republican legislators during a baseball practice game, and almost killed Republican majority whip Steven Scalise, MSNBC host Joy Reid seemed to all but suggest that Scalise had deserved to be killed, given his conservative politics. She tweeted: “Rep. #Scalise was shot by a white man with a violent background, and saved by a black lesbian police officer, and yet . . . ” And then she followed that outburst with a list of Scalise’s conservative agenda items, such as his vote for a GOP House bill on health care, that apparently were meant to minimize the horror of his near-death. Reid’s commentary was not unusual; the Washington Post reported recently on liberal anger that a recovering Scalise was honored by being asked to throw out the first pitch at a Washington baseball game. His opposition to Obamacare and support for the Second Amendment should evidently have disqualified him from receiving sympathy for his near-fatal shooting.
The social-media practice of predicating empathy for the dead or wounded on the basis of their perceived politics first received wide national attention with Michael Moore. Moore posted unhinged commentary on his website the day after nearly 3,000 were murdered on September 11, 2001. Moore seemed outraged at the carnage largely because he deemed the dead to be mostly blue-state Al Gore voters — and thus the incorrect people to have perished:
Many families have been devastated tonight. This is just not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him. Boston, New York, D.C., and the planes’ destination of California — these were the places that voted AGAINST Bush.
Moore’s infantile use of emphatic capitalization highlighted his focus on voting against Bush.
Note the logic: Once again, whether or not the loss of so many innocent lives is a tragedy hinges on the perceived politics of the murdered. This is a chilling ideology of the fundamentalist that surfaces in times of crisis, but perhaps it’s an implicit way of thinking in most other times as well.
There are lots of examples of left-wing celebrities and public figures either welcoming the death of conservatives or feeling no compunction in celebrating their demise — apparently on the premise that the greater progressive good is always advanced by destroying impediments.
The former cable-TV host Ed Schultz once saw the death of Vice President Cheney, who was then in ill health, as a plus for the country:
He is an enemy of the country, in my opinion, Dick Cheney is. He is an enemy of the country. . . . You know, Lord, take him to the Promised Land, will you? See, I don’t even wish the guy goes to Hell, I just want to get him the hell out of here.
Schultz was only trying to trump what Bill Maher had said earlier about Cheney:
I’m just saying if he did die, other people, more people would live. That’s a fact.
In fact, vicious virtue signaling reveals a lot about the Left.
For all the progressive talk about opposition to violence, capital punishment, homophobia, and racism, liberals often subordinate ideology to the quest for power. Colbert attacks Trump with a homophobic slur (the same way that President Obama wrote off the Tea Party as “tea baggers”). Long ago, PBS’s Julianne Malveaux dreamed of Clarence Thomas dying from too much fatty food: “You know, I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease.” I suppose Nancy Sinatra would mow down 5 million NRA members with semi-automatic weapons if it would ensure an end to semi-automatic weapons, reminding NRA members why they value the Second Amendment in the first place — for protection from the likes of Sinatra and Hayley Geftman-Gold.
Sexual predators such as Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Harvey Weinstein were not sexists deserving censure; they mostly received 24/7 praise, given their commitment to ‘feminism’ and the liberal agenda.
And, of course, selective fury works both ways: Sexual predators such as Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Harvey Weinstein were not sexists deserving censure; they mostly received 24/7 praise, given their commitment to “feminism” and the liberal agenda. Meryl Streep once referred to Weinstein as “God,” and Michelle Obama called him “a wonderful human being” and “a good friend.” As more and more women came forward with decade-old sick stories of Weinstein’s perversity, the mogul noted that he was taking a break to take on the NRA — reminding us of the liberal version of the medieval concept of penance.
The Left’s furor in the Age of Trump has been reignited against the obdurate and unenlightened and deceived working classes as never before. “If we are free to loathe Trump,” the New York Times’ Frank Rich recently wrote, “we are free to loathe his most loyal voters, who have put the rest of us at risk.” If you are condemned for putting millions at risk, then apparently you deserve whatever natural or human calamity ensues.
In the past, Barack Obama felt he was free to write off the population of rural Pennsylvania as clueless, scared haters who had not appreciated his godhead at the polls. Recently a Yale dean trashed a restaurant with the fillip “To put it quite simply: If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!”
After Hurricane Harvey, University of Tampa professor Ken Story explained on Twitter why red states deserved the storm: “I don’t believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize GOP doesn’t care about them.” Referring to Hurricane Irma’s landfall in Florida, he then tweeted: “Those who voted for [Trump] here deserve it as well.”
Shortly after Hurricane Harvey but before the Las Vegas shooting, noted left-winger Michael Tomasky presciently weighed in at the Daily Beast with a sort of counterfactual and conditional “what if” concerning a would-be “gun nut” in a “red state”.
You could say calling Texas politicians hypocrites because they voted against Hurricane Sandy aid but presumably want every federal dollar they can get their hands on now is shooting fish in a barrel. That, of course, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Some fish end up in barrels for a reason. . . . Democrats and liberals need to do a much better job of getting in the faces [an Obama expression from the 2008 campaign] of Texas Republicans, and the ones from all the other deep-red states, and calling them on this. Suppose the next time a gun nut shoots up a movie theater in a red state, Democrats muse about withholding federal crime victim assistance money to that state?
Again, it is hard to repress the liberal impulse that those who died or were injured in some way had it coming because they opposed the progressive agenda.
Something also about Sarah Palin’s accent or look especially infuriated the Left and fed into this idea that right-wingers perhaps deserve any violence they might receive. The smug David Letterman joked about the imagined rape of Sarah Palin’s 14-year-old daughter Willow by New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez: “One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” It’s as if small-town Alaskans are of easy virtue or deserve unspeakable things happening to them given their perceived mindless opposition to global ethics.
There was no liberal pushback along the lines of Hillary Clinton’s former crusades to protect “the children” from adult violence and predation. The hip multimillionaire Letterman earlier had revealed what he thought of flight attendants in general and Sarah Palin in particular when he compared her to a “slutty flight attendant.”
There are many ingredients to vicious virtue, in addition to the ancient creed that progressives and liberals believe that their equality-of-result agendas are so virtuous that the means — any means at all — justify the noble ends. In practical terms, correct politics provide an insurance policy that overrides either any defects (in progressives) or virtue (in conservatives) in individual character.
In the case of contemporary vicious virtue, the agendas of hip, cool, and highly educated social-justice warriors apparently should not be held up by supposedly poorly educated working-class rubes. Certainly, red-state Neanderthals should not count as much as the enlightened. Accordingly, America’s opponents to leftist utopia deserve comeuppance — and sometimes the greater and more violent, the better.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, appearing October 17 from Basic Books.