The Supreme Court has done something truly terrible this time.
In a 5-4 decision, the court allowed Ohio to purge its voter rolls of infrequent voters, something the state undertook in a concerted effort to deprive people of color, low-income Ohioans, veterans, the disabled, and students from casting a ballot. Noting that as many as one in eight voter registrations nationwide may be out-of-date or inaccurate, Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion gives credence to the lie that voter fraud is rampant. In actuality, it’s practically nonexistent — and the pursuit of it is the real “witch hunt” — although 1.2 million Ohio residents will feel the brunt of that phantom pursuit. Dogged disenfranchisement flows naturally from a party whose voters and candidates think “diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American.”
Just think about how hostile you have to be to the idea of mass participation in elections in order to support this decision. As Justice Breyer noted in his dissent, it “erects needless hurdles to voting of the kind Congress sought to eliminate.” And we know why they’re doing it: to prevent jurisdictions from electing Democrats. The thought of a younger, browner country voting without constraints is anathema to conservatives. And while this form of discrimination may not be publicly humiliating, it’s particularly insidious. Unlike being told, “My religion says I can refuse to serve you,” you might never know it happened until it’s too late, if at all.
If you skip an election or two and occasionally let your mail pile up, you could be barred from voting and you won’t know it until the registration period has ended. (Complain all you want about how long it’s taking to count S.F.’s mayoral votes, but letting people register on Election Day is an unmitigated good.) Less enlightened states than California may not treat voting not as the precious right that all citizens enjoy but as a pesky bureaucratic trifle to be administered with all the finesse of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
It’s just another in a long string of bad judicial decisions this year that eat into whatever’s left of the Supreme Court’s reputation. If the current court were to hear a case about the proverbial shouting-fire-in-a-crowded-theater test of the limits of free speech, it would probably issue a ruling that the movie theater chain was within its rights to remove the fire exits altogether.
This ruling is part of a systematic deplatforming of vast swaths of our democracy. The whole project boils down to this: If conservatives can’t change the demographics of the United States by fiat, they will re-engineer the system. Make the official count of the population look whiter than it is by scaring noncitizens from filling out their Census forms, then make the electorate artificially whiter than even that — and then, make that whole process appear neutral, as if the endlessly analyzed “white working class” simply gave up on those coastal elite Democrats. It’s facile and untrue, but the kid-gloves treatment of how evil this dynamic is only serves to buttress it.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is only one way to combat this systemic deplatforming of American voters. We have to deplatform the right.
In a sense, that’s not something an editor-in-chief is supposed to say — not even one who’s part of a left-wing alt-weekly. We’re supposed to remain slightly neutral or above the fray — almost, you might say, like robed justices on a dais. But that time is past. As much as I still want to believe in the chiseled-in-marble dignity of the Fourth Estate, the urgency of the present moment has grown too enormous. The people who hate truth and decency, who espouse hatred for women and minorities and want to roll back the last hundred years — these people will hate us no matter what we do. They will scream and play the victim and throw sand in our eyes no matter what. Given enough latitude, they go even further than that.
So we might as well do what’s right instead of handicapping ourselves and passively abetting the destruction of America: Stop giving them oxygen.
The rise of the internet and its Damian Thorn, the social media-enabled right, mean that even neutral fact-checkers look like stealth components of the left. The public square has long since devolved into a Manichean battle between two irreconcilable tribes. Everybody knows that, but it’s been a few months since Nazis killed anybody and the alt-right has collapsed into infighting. So how come I only red-pilled myself now? It’s because I’m actually more worried now. The ebbing of last summer’s far-right violence makes it looks as though the gravest danger is past. It isn’t — and the alt-right is regrouping.
Rather, the Trump administration has somehow gotten more competent as the president feels freer to act on his basest impulses. It took them a year-plus, but they’re starting to get it now. Like anyone whose heart pumps blood, I can’t look for very long at families torn apart by ICE. I feel anxious for Puerto Rico as hurricane season starts. I’m disturbed by the president’s lawyers’ arguments that his obvious financial gains don’t violate the emoluments clause. Boring though they may be, these are the things we have to focus on. Yet the president is extremely gifted at marshalling the forces of the Spectacle to his advantage.
Let’s not play that game. So no more embedding tweets from outrage-fueled performance artists and people who argue in bad faith. No more linking. No more Roseanne. So Gateway Pundit and the dumbest man on the internet have White House press credentials? Ignore them. They exist solely to harvest liberal aggravation, consecrate it with dumb memes, and deliver it back to the base. These fly around looking for hand-wringing and outrage so they can mother-bird it, partially digested, back into their fans’ squawking, insatiable maws. The only way to stop this is to cut off the source. We need to ignore the entire quadrant of the internet that derives energy by fracking liberal tears and we need to stop treating the government like a carnival whose barkers flash occasional displays of decency by expressing angst on deep background.
That’s harder than simply not giving Milo Yiannopoulos a cover story, or quoting unnamed sources about Ivanka “privately opposing” this or that. John Kelly recently said that working in the White House is a “miserable” experience. I don’t know if I believe that or if it’s some seven-dimensional chess move. But look at how The New York Times covered it as if it were all a game: “Mr. Trump, a former reality television star, may soon be working with a thinned-out cast in the middle of Season 2, well before the midterm elections.” Wrecking the country is now just an extension of the darkly comic Trump brand of chaos-tainment. Hey, Maggie Haberman, why not pivot from the Prime Minister of Canada to the White House Chief of Staff and call it From Justin to Kelly?
I get why we are where we are. The labor of covering this national nightmare is exhausting and you can see people’s enthusiasm flagging. Who wants to document that 5,000th untruth? Playing whack-a-mole as the president and his enablers spew forth a broken fire hydrant’s of lies is horrible. And like a busted hydrant, it decreases the water pressure available to everyone else. For all the circa-2017 warnings to remember that “This is not normal,” it’s becoming so. You can feel it. The comparative decency of the Obama administration is almost 18 months behind us, and while November 2018 and November 2020 could be very helpful in fixing the mess, the outcome is far from clear — especially in light of what the Supreme Court just did.
I’ve wrestled with the idea that journalistic outlets should decline to name the names of mass shooters, so as not to give them the glory that they want. It’s always felt fundamentally contradictory to the profession’s duty to inform. (To use a word that’s thrown around a lot, it almost feels a little like collusion.) It also feels slightly silly, a pious refusal to provide information that can easily be found elsewhere. And in the event of a mass shooting in San Francisco — something I hope never happens — SF Weekly would likely publish several stories about it. Would we really be able to hold up the pretense of not identifying the shooter while poring over his — yes, his — background?
I’m tabling that particular thought exercise for now, but I think I’ve come around. I realized I wasn’t as queasy about the principle of not naming the shooter as I was about the selective application of it. We need less quibbling and more getting to work. On Friday night, I saw the film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer‘s anti-factory-farming book Eating Animals, and I noticed that Twitter’s Biz Stone and Ev Williams were producers. They probably gave time and money to a cause they believe in to make the world better, but they could do an immeasurable good by deactivating the president’s Twitter account for flagrantly violating the site’s terms of service. Azealia Banks got banned for scuffling with drag queens. Surely, the stakes are higher here.
We all know the reason they won’t: Right-wing Twitter would explode and knock the earth out of its orbit. But the news needs to break out of its dependency on reporting on something true, treating the inevitable right-wing faux-controversy as a serious matter, then puzzling over why the world looks as it does. The way to do it is to stop pouring accelerant on the fire.
In my darkest moments, I get depressed by the very futility of “informing” people, and not just because I read Of Grammatology in grad school and I’m suspicious of the ideological underpinnings of all claims to truth. Because it’s impolite to call them stupid, civically engaged people are supposed to conceal our hatred for low-information voters, the people who think a triangle has two sides, Sidney Blumenthal ran a child-sex ring from a pizza place, and Chamillionaire founded the Holy Roman Empire.
But it’s “high-information voters” I’m more worried about. I’m wary of politics junkies who amass knowledge only to conclude that every part of the whole system is hopelessly corrupt in equal measure, or that the only solution is burning everything to the ground, or that voting for a third-party to stick it to Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents some higher nobility. Most of all, I’m wary of people who jealously guard their own purity and whose attitude boils down to “I hereby withhold my participation in fixing this broken world until such time as the world is already perfect.” Journalists who abide by some hoary notion that accuracy requires political non-involvement — or that calling the president a liar contravenes vital norms of decorum, or who believe that Michelle Wolf’s roast crossed a red line — are no different than any insufferably smug Jill Stein dead-ender.
The hairline cracks have almost reached both sides of the windshield. If it hasn’t happened already, by next week, Kim Jong-Un will be more popular among likely Republican voters than Canada is. You can’t persuade these people and you can’t reason with them, and we see what happens when they gain power. It is simply untenable not to hold, as a first principle, that the stated aim of conservatism is to destroy America and replace it with something vicious and horrible to behold — a parody of ISIS, even. In light of that, if journalists don’t feel motivated by a duty to warn, then we’re doomed.
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