It is without reasonable argument that the state of the media has reached a low point in American history. At the same time, the level of discourse in our country has devolved to a point that is often one step removed from preschool tantrums. This is a dangerous state of affairs as our free and open liberal republic relies in large part on the free exchange of ideas. To make matters worse, the line between civil discourse and political violence has gone from fuzzy to non-existent in just a few years, accelerating into what often appears to be virtual open warfare on our streets and on our campuses. I find myself nostalgic for the good old days when we only dealt with the Robert Bork confirmation hearings and the impeachment of President Clinton. Now speakers on college campuses are routinely assaulted, free speech rallies are met with thuggish street violence that would be at home in pre-Third Reich Germany and your average banana republic, and people sever friendships and even family relationships over political differences.
I came across a perfect example of this just last week. I stumbled across an article about one Debra Messing. I sort of knew the name but I wasn't sure who she was until I read the article, apparently she was one of the stars of Will & Grace, a show I am pleased to report I have never watched. Ms. Messing apparently is mad at the New York Times and has canceled her subscription. I couldn't care less about a washed up actress and her newspaper subscriptions but the reasoning was interesting. She is mad at the New York Times for running what she and others thought of as a puff-piece about a far right, "Nazi-sympathizer" named Tony Hovater. I was intrigued so I read the article for myself.
The first thing you notice is what a soft and gentle headline graced the article: A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland. That is clearly a sympathetic headline, right? The article itself was actually quite balanced, and featured some actual journalism where the story was not entirely pre-ordained before the first word was typed. Tony Hovater is on the surface a pretty average 29 year old guy, recently married, working at a grill and doing contract work as a welder. I think what really incensed people is that the article didn't go out of the way to paint him as a lunatic, but rather a pretty run of the mill guy who had adopted what are considered to be very extreme views. Richard Fausset, the author of the piece, wrote a follow-up based on the vitriolic feedback to his article where he wrote his reason for the article:
Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?That was the real crime, suggesting that this ideology might appeal to a regular guy and not responding with a caricature. If I was some leftist living in Manhattan, terrified of the scary alt-right types living out in fly-over country, it would seem to me that I would want to understand where they are coming from, the old "seek first to understand and then to be understood" thing. I am not sure how well this article accomplished that but at least he tried. Mr. Hovater is not some drooling, knuckle-dragging mouth-breather who just hates him some colored folk. This is someone who reads the works of Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, two writers I also read, and who speaks clearly and intelligently, even if you disagree with him. But that isn't what the readers of the New York Times, people who fancy themselves as smarter and more worldly than the rest of us subscribe to that paper to get. They want red meat (fair trade, vegan, locally sourced, gluten free, soy based red meat of course), just as the readers of Breitbart want red meat. They didn't get it here and while no rational person would see this as a soft sell of far right ideology, that didn't stop readers of the Times from accusing them of "normalizing" neo-Nazi beliefs, an ironic charge given the title of the article and the reality of Tony Hovater being a pretty average guy with un-average beliefs. Kudos to Marc Lacey and the editors of the NYT more or less standing by the piece:
We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.The aftermath to the story is as predictable as the sun rising in the East. Simply disagreeing and explaining why you disagree is no longer good enough for the Left in America. People figured out, not a difficult task, where Mr. Hovater and his new wife lived and worked. The Washington Post reports that Mr. Hovater both lost his job and is being forced to move: Nazi sympathizer profiled by the New York Times says he lost his job and — soon — his home.
The restaurant’s owners said in a statement Wednesday that they did not know of Hovater’s white nationalist views until the Times article was published. They said the article illustrated “some very disturbing images and thoughts” that they do not share.
The owners also said that they and their other employees have been bombarded with threatening and intimidating calls and social media messages since the article was published. That prompted Hovater to suggest to the owners to “release him from employment,” the statement said. They did so and also fired Hovater’s wife and brother-in-law shortly after.This is what has become normalized in America. Someone on the right, whether someone as extreme as Tony Hovater or as mild as academic Charles Murray, speaks out and rather than being engaged in the battlefield of ideas they are attacked and threatened with violence. How about a "big statement" in response to that:
People who are willing to threaten and often carry out violence against political views they dislike are far more dangerous to this nation than all of the White nationalists put together.I sometimes worry a little about this, about whether something I write about homosexuality or gender or immigration will trigger the seemingly limitless ranks of unhinged people on the Left and they will threaten me or my family with violence. This is not an unreasonable concern. I have run into cultists online that I think are dangerous enough that I stopped interacting with them out of concern that they would come after my family. It is way too easy to find out about someone and where they live with a quick search online and while I can take care of myself, my family shouldn't be threatened by lunatics.
If anything, the response from much of the Left simply reinforces the beliefs of people on the far-right, namely that people on the Left are intolerant and prone to violence. It also reinforces my personal belief that we have walked too far out in the desert as a nation and the only way for us to survive peaceably is to divide up now. I agree that ideas can be dangerous, ideas like socialism and communism have been responsible for over 100,000,000 deaths and misery for untold tens of millions more, but I don't see it as my job to combat communism by threatening the lives of communists or actually attacking them. I will argue against them by reason and logic, I will troll and mock them mercilessly but I don't advocate shooting up my political opponents while they practice baseball or jumping them while they are mowing their lawns. Resorting to violence to suppress political speech is the hallmark of brown shirts and Bolsheviks, not free people. If you are really worried about the incipient rise of a resurgent fascism, ask yourself which political movement today is engaged in the sort of behavior that presaged the rise of fascism, communism or other totalitarian movements. It isn't the 29 year old who works at a restaurant and reads Julius Evola.