You do not, in fact, 'gotta hand it' to murderers and antisemites
Zero cheers for Kanye West and Vladimir Putin
Strangling parody past its final breath last week, Politico ranked Russian President Vladimir Putin number one on its “Green 28” list of European environmental heroes. Presumably the news site was impressed by Putin’s tireless efforts to turn Ukrainian citizens into compost.
(Actually, Politico said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine would help the environment because “clean energy is now a fundamental matter of European security,” which is a bit like giving Jeffrey Dahmer an environmental award because we didn’t need to waste valuable land on graves for his victims.)
But you do not, under any circumstances, “gotta hand it” to Vladimir Putin.
Oddly, the compartmentalization of the actions of political figures is commonplace in a culture where full obeisance to ideological leaders is required. Modern politics says that we can look at a politician as a book of unrelated short stories - some of the stories might be good, and some might be downright toxic. But even though the same person wrote the book, we can conveniently ignore the chapters we don’t like and accentuate the ones that make the author look good.
But, of course, this is not how being a human works. Your bad opinions and actions cannot simply be segregated from who you are as a total person, any more than removing a dead mouse from your White Claw can make the rest drinkable.
Nonetheless, this a la carte method of measuring political figures was explained last week in a piece by National Review Online’s Dan McLaughlin, who argued that while rapper Kanye West had said horrendous things about Jews, he deserves our approbation for bringing conservatism to those who have yet to have their lives touched by MAGA magic.
“He’s bringing some conservative or right-leaning messages to people who don’t hear those messages very often, and he’s showing the courage to buck the leftist conformity of the industry and genre in which he swims,” wrote McLaughlin. “It helps that Kanye is, like J. K. Rowling or Elon Musk, too big to cancel. Moreover, like Trump, he simply has a gift for drawing attention to whatever he does.”
“So, one cheer for Kanye,” he wrote.
Keep in mind that on Twitter, Kayne West had threatened to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” McLaughlin brushed the comment aside, saying the rapper “does not appear to be an ideological Jew-hater, or the type of public figure who traffics in this stuff regularly.”
In subsequent days, however, Kanye has been exactly the type of public figure who traffics in this stuff regularly. He blamed “Jewish Zionists” for planting stories about his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, said Jewish people "came into money through the lawyers" and compared abortion to the Holocaust.
So, zero cheers for Kanye West. Seriously, fuck that guy.
In theory, we all have friends that have crazy opinions. But if someone believes that, say, Weezer’s Green Album is overrated, we don’t hold that against them as a major character flaw. (As unforgivable as that opinion is.)
But it is possible to hold opinions so toxic that it impairs our ability to believe another person is capable of rational thought. There are some actions a human can take or beliefs to which they subscribe that simply poison their entire being.
And it makes it impossible to defend those people, even when they are right.
For instance, you never hear sentences like, “sure Dennis banged my wife, but he does a great Seinfeld impersonation,” or “I have been told Alex Jones has a great chicken cacciatore recipe.”
But the entire slate of Republican candidates up for election in November are counting on voters ignoring certain disgraceful aspects of their character while embracing more positive characteristics, as if they are not comfortably housed within the same candidate’s brain.
Georgia voters are being asked to support a man who fathered several illegitimate children, paid for one child to be aborted, pretended to be a police officer, and continues to lie about all these things. Nonetheless, Republican Senators like Florida’s Rick Scott have journeyed to Georgia to rehabilitate Herschel Walker, emphasizing that support a man who “believes America is a great country, a man who has overcome great adversity, a man who wants to bring the people of Georgia together and a man who believes our best days can be ahead of us.”
Arizona voters are being urged to support a gubernatorial candidate who believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen and who has backed virulently antisemitic candidates in other races. Nonetheless, Kari Lake’s supporters believe the campaign is actually about expanding school choice.
Other candidates have gone to extremes to rehabilitate evil people by accentuating their bright sides. When Arizona Senate hopeful Blake Masters was asked in March to name a “subversive thinker” who is “underrated,” he praised the “Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski, a domestic terrorist who killed three people and injured 23 more by sending them pipe bombs in the mail.
“Probably not great to be talking about the Unabomber while campaigning,” Masters said. He distanced himself from the actual bombings, but added Kaczynski “Had a lot to say about the political left, about how they all have inferiority complexes and fundamentally hate anything like goodness, truth, beauty, justice.”
Oh, and he also blew people to bits because he thought toasters were making people too gay.
Oddly enough, while former President Donald Trump is to blame for most of what has rotted today’s Republican Party, he doesn’t easily fit into this phenomenon. Because if you want to excuse a person’s bad personality traits by highlighting their good ones, that person has to have some good personality traits. And Trump has none.
We all know Trump is a self-absorbed imbecile who tried to overturn an election, used American foreign policy to dig up dirt on an opponent, pardoned political cronies, etc. But he doesn’t try to pretend there is anything redeeming about him at all. His appeal is that he is a middle finger to politics and culture at large. And thus, it is impossible to tarnish something that is, by definition, tarnish.
(In fact, the only time Trump seems sympathetic is when the media go overboard in trying to condemn him for something he didn’t do - then he can beat his chest about his innocence while ignoring all the other moronic things that he has actually said or done.)
Of course, people who have bad opinions or behave reprehensibly can reform themselves. The public is typically forgiving of people who show remorse and change their ways. But the new strategy is to never apologize, never give an inch. Simply pretend it was an entirely different person that, for instance, praised Hitler for overcoming homelessness.
Using technicalities to exonerate political celebrities who hold retrograde, racist ideas will make it seem as if everyone who shares your ideology holds the same ideas. You are no better than the worst opinions you are willing to accept in the people you look up to.
And yes, we know, you contain multitudes. But 10 percent of those characteristics just might make you 100 percent of an asshole.
Earlier this week, I published a piece at The Bulwark that argues the biggest problem with Twitter and other social media platforms are that they are too awesome:
Sure, you’ve read all the pieces about how social media (generally) and Twitter (specifically) are ruining society. All true.
Twitter, for instance, encourages mobs to swarm people accused of betraying decency, hoping to brand them so that they can never function in an imagined version of “civil society” again. It turns people into insufferable know-it-alls who yearn to show the world how enlightened they are. It gives users a distorted vision of the world, making people feel alienated and alone even as they meet more people online.
But despite all these obvious downsides, we keep coming back. Why?
Because Twitter is hilarious.
Before social media, you had to seek out laughs on your own. You could read a funny book or magazine, or go see a movie. You could call a friend or take them to dinner and guffaw all night. You could try to spend more time with the one person at work who made you chuckle.
In short, social media’s hilarity both diverts our attention from things we should actually be paying attention to, and it hides all the bad stuff that make us worse as humans. Like meth, it gives us a temporary high but ultimately leaves us broke and toothless.
Read it here.
On Tuesday, I joined Steve Scaffidi on 620WTMJ radio in Milwaukee to discuss the above-referenced column on Twitter’s allure and the future of Saturday Night Live, which I wrote about right here in this very newsletter last week.
Australian punk band The Chats is out with a new album, called “Get Fucked.” Here’s “Struck by Lightning:"
Disclaimer: The thoughts contained in this newsletter are solely mine and not my employer, my mailman, or the old lady in the McDonald’s drive-thru who always tells me a joke as I pay her.