The Tyranny of Words

Reader response to last week’scover story, “Enemy of the People,” by Aaron Cantú, was predictable but nonetheless shocking. Predictable, because we’ve heard the right-wing talking points a million times. Shocking, because cognitive dissonance is a hell
of a drug.

Now, such a drug can be an opiate or a stimulant, depending on the circumstances.

One anonymous email, for instance, exclaimed, “The corporate owned mainstream media IS the enemy of the peace loving people of the United States of America!!!”

This fellow must have gotten a strong dose. It’s clearly dulled his sense of irony.

Me, I just copped a contact high, and it got my heart a-racing. I lie awake at night pondering the mysteries of the universe, specifically why folks who call themselves “conservatives” and “Constitutionalists” are so hostile to the very foundation of American democracy, enumerated in the very First Amendment of our hallowed Constitution: the right to free speech and assembly. Sounds like a consensus issue to me.

More to the point, though, why is it that the brand of media they decry—“corporate owned” and “mainstream”—describes the very media products that they themselves consume? Fox News and conservative talk radio are way more “corporately owned” and “mainstream” than our alternative weeklies.

What’s wrong with corporations, anyway? Didn’t the Republican Party laud the Citizens United ruling? Don’t corporations create jobs? Why is corporate ownership, in this one single instance, so suspect?

After days of ultra-focused concentration, I cleaned the house, fixed a dirt bike and came to some preliminary conclusions. The current, Tea-Party-infused amalgam is no longer the Republican Party of principle, as it styled itself in generations past; it is a party that uses the historical heft of its erstwhile principles to maintain a grip on the levers of power, by hook or by crook.

This might be why they’ve lost so many of their own in recent years. The Tea Party vanguard trademarked a catchy name for them. They called them RINOs, “Republicans in name only.” It was a classic political purge, in which party members were attacked not for their beliefs or actions, but because a more ambitious (and ruthless) cadre was in the ascendant.

Most RINOs, of course, weren’t Republicans in name only; they were RINOs in name only. The nomenclature was based on political expediency and interpersonal beefs. President George W. Bush, a term-limited pol with low approval numbers: RINO. Brett Kavanaugh, creature of the Dubya administration, but with a bright future as a human rubber-stamp for executive malfeasance: most definitely not a RINO.

In any case, an incongruous bloc of Tea Party and alt-right finally assumed power and decided who got to name what. Thus the RINOs were named right out of the party (and into the resistance. See this week’s cover story about political cartoonist Ed Hall.)

The Tea Party vanguard has harnessed the charge of yesterday’s principled, logically consistent conservative arguments. They’ve kicked out the folks who originally made those arguments and they’re channeling said charge to suit their one overriding need: to keep the base energized at all costs.

The old, principled arguments don’t always fit the new Machiavellian mission, though, so today’s right-wing talking pointers have resorted to all manner of sophistry.

The “slippery slope” fallacy is fairly common, especially here in Florida, where folks are finally starting to believe their lying eyes about the ultimate effect of industrial de-regulation on our waterways. (Red tide, anyone?) Given a righteous groundswell of woke, the (corporate) talking-pointers propose a new defense. “Fine. That’s as may be, but commonsense regulation is a ‘slippery slope.’”

Another talking-point tactic borrows once again from the ol’ Republican playbook. It’s gerrymandering! You see, if they carve up those old arguments enough, they still (kinda) make sense, at least enough for those who want to believe them.

So free speech is fine and dandy, but not when exercised by “lawless anarchists.” (This one gets double fallacy points for also being a classic “straw man” argument.)

And, by the way, the federal government is cool now, but watch out for that “deep state.” LEOs are still heroes, but the FBI leadership is too “political.” George Soros is part of a global Jewish conspiracy, but Benjamin Netanyahu and the Jewish state of Israel have nothing to do with it. Barack Obama’s executive orders were overreach; Trump’s just TCB.

Ultimately, black helicopters will be acceptable, too, as long as they’re their black helicopters. If that ain’t a slippery slope, I don’t know what is.