WHO IS 'WE'?

My least favorite genre of journalism is the retrospective "How did we miss this?" piece that comes after years of the profession sticking its head in the sand and refusing to see something inconvenient. The New York Times actually had the balls to print a headline like "The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, and How We Missed It."

Who missed it? That's a serious question. Who makes up the demographic "Did not see a disturbing rise in explicitly racist and xenophobic politics" and where were these people during the eight years Obama was president? It seems unlikely that an even mildly observant person could have failed to notice that about 20% of the people in this country came psychologically unmoored over the idea of having a black president.

This is one of the fundamental flaws of centrism, with its obsession with Decorum and playing nice – people get chastised for trying to call problems what they are when they first appear. "It's rude and unproductive to call people you disagree with politically racists or Nazis, tut-tut!" Yes, well, these people are really racist and some of them are taking that to the logical extreme of becoming actual Nazis. Like, with swastikas and stuff.

No no, they're merely expressing economic anxiety. They're resorting to shocking imagery because they feel like their voices aren't being heard. They're just raising some valid questions about the "character" of the American population. One excuse, one downplaying, one euphemism after another.

We saw these Retrospectives in waves in 2005 and 2006 as the George Wills of the world wondered aloud How We Got Iraq So Wrong. Then, as now, the answer is very simple: You got it wrong because you willfully ignored all of the disconfirming evidence in order to reach your predetermined conclusion.

Add to that the seriously misplaced priorities of the establishment media, which values blaming nobody and everybody equally (Both sides are wrong!) over identifying problems and assigning responsibility even when it's patently obvious. The only way to miss right-wing extremism's rise is to operate your media outlet while more afraid of being chided by right-wingers than of totally missing a crucial story.

"We" is an ego-saving rhetorical device to lessen the embarrassment of having whiffed on something a blind man could have – and should have – seen coming. If they convince themselves that nobody could have foreseen it, it exculpates everyone. The rise of white nationalism becomes like the weather, a phenomenon nobody can do anything about and which can only be fully explained in hindsight.

We didn't miss it. You did.

31 thoughts on “WHO IS 'WE'?”

  • I'm sympathetic to the rant. I'm not a political scientist (I'm a philosopher) but sometimes major phenomena really are missed because there's too much noise covering the signal. Like 9/11 — the signal was there but it was missed in all the noise. So what makes missing the rise of the alt-right NOT epistemic Monday-morning quarterbacking?

  • Really frustrating to read that piece. It was obvious, even to an early 20-something at the time, that the far right were gaining traction throughout Obama's tenure.

    And with the rise of gamergate around 2014, which so many people dismissed or have forgotten about, we saw the formation and the initial tests of many of the tactics now used by the alt-right and other fascists/grifters to recruit new members, create conspiracies, and form online smear campaigns. Those were early warning signs I never stopped shouting about but were largely ignored by the centrists and media types.

    Asking who the "we" is in a piece is always a useful device to improve writing and I'm almost (ALMOST) surprised they used it so broadly and cavalierly here.

  • "So what makes missing the rise of the alt-right NOT epistemic Monday-morning quarterbacking?"

    No noise, all signal, doof.

  • The title appears to have been changed to "The Rise of Right Wing Extremism and How US Law Enforcement Ignored It" which is legitimately a better title.

    The answer also seems obvious: every time US law enforcement tried to do something about it, Republicans went bananas. The media treating Ammon Bundy like a Real American Who Fell Through the Cracks rather than a freeloader and a terrorist didn't help.

  • What makes missing the rise of the alt-right…thefuck

    Is that a serious question by someone who slept through the better part of the last decade, or some extra raw edge lord contrarianism?

  • Anyone who read the Breitbart comment section knew that a segment of the population had become super racist (or at least, had become more comfortable saying it aloud in publuc). I just imagined those people were a small, isolated section of the internet. I was willfully ignorant about how mainstream that racism actually was.

  • Like 9/11 — the signal was there but it was missed in all the noise.

    Yes, the noise like "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in the US" and the FBI director denying FBI agent's request for a warrant to search Mossasaoui's computer (which would have uncovered the polt).

    Oh yeah, ignoring ALL of the outgoing Clinton Administration intelligence officials saying "PAY ATTENTION!".

    Lotta noise; and all of it was emanating from the Bush Administration, because they didn't care about Bin Laden, they had a war in Iraq to foment!

  • When you’re right, you’re right. Especially apt the linkage to the MondayMorningQuarterbacking of the war in Iraq.

  • As to 9/11, the USS Cole bombing was a pretty clear warning shot. As was the direct threat made afterwards by Al Qaeda to attack the US mainland. See also the first WTC Al Qaeda attack.

    As to the rise of the literal nazis, see also, the Internet, comments section.

  • @ Charlie L,

    What was the 'noise' in this case? As far as I can understand the metaphor, that would mean that there were multiple different ways that republicans as a party were behaving, and though there were a group that were racist/fascist, there were multiple others. That doesn't really match my recollection. The 'responsible' (career politicians, multiple years served in elected government) republicans like Mitch McConnell declared that they would do nothing but sabotage Obama. That's not a governance platform. It's an extreme reaction to one person.

    Even if you argue that Paul Ryan is a 'good faith' budget conservative, that had been the establishment republican party's position for years. So at best, what can be said is some republicans acted as republicans have forever, whereas a number of them, very vocal and very present, began to stop even pretending to govern and instead do nothing but obstruct policy, regardless of the outcomes of that, and all of a sudden start forwarding conspiracy theories and showing up to the president's rallies with guns. So, in order to have judged that it was impossible to pay attention to/take seriously the latter part of that sentence, what was the noise? Because part of a group staying relatively the same while a second large part dissolves in the way that I detailed doesn't seem to be that hard to pay attention to.

  • Joe Jonas: Scary thing…It is not just Breitbart. They (the foamers) are everywhere! Urban planning website? Libertoonians show up babbling about their GAWD GIVEN RIGHT to build a uranium refinery in the middle of a residential neighborhood…and to shoot pesky bicyclists who slow them down in their God-Given Escalades.

    For a scary trolling commentariate, for some reason the somewhat radical Afro-American bloggers at Field Negro have really attracted some doozies!

    Read any newspaper editorial comments. Even in purportedly liberal cities like Seattle, the scary is out there. I know that in the case of newspapers, it is mostly the first cohort Boomers (I am 55…and I say never trust anyone over 60….they are scary! (I KID. I KID) )

    http://field-negro.blogspot.com/

  • @Brian M. and Bitter Scribe:

    My brand new orthopod said, yesterday, "Gee, you look good for somebody nearly 70.".

    I told him the same thing I tell all such commenters. I'd be happy to look like a fucking orc and FEEL good. Fuck appearance, all I want is the ability to properly genuflect–my knees became atheist long before the rest of my body!

  • @Brian M—

    The comments section of Field Negro is certainly one of the most educational out there. See also: The Root’s clapback mailbag, and at least half the “greys” in the comments of any post. The sheer volume of hatemail they get is unreal.

  • White nationalism didn't "rise", the internet has just increased its visibility. It's always been there, waiting to take advantage of any event that can be used to scare white people into surrendering to the bitter angels of their nature.

  • Well I am 55, so I expect to be mumbling "Get off my lawn" any day now. But I am too irresponsible to even OWN a lawn, so unlikely. :)

  • Raymond Gergen says:

    Thank you for that!
    It has needed to be said, out loud, for a long time, by someone with at least a little bit of a "mainstream" audience!
    THANK YOU AGAIN!

  • "My least favorite genre of journalism is the retrospective "How did we miss this?" "

    I think rectalspective might be more apt.

    I didn't miss this fucking trainwreck–I wish, at times, that I WAS less aware.

  • @BrianM, I'm approximately your age, and read HST's Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail '72 in about, I dunno, 1983? Reread it recently, and what really struck me was a quote from (Nixon AG) John Mitchell to the effect of "this country's going to move so far right in the next fifty years you won't recognize it." Sumbitch was right. I blame Obama for many things, but the rise of the Right has been a long term project which as far as I'm concerned was mission fucking accomplished by the time I was old enough to vote.

  • For fux sake, early in Obama's first term the Justice Department issued a report warning about right wing terrorists and Republicans in Congress went crazy. "We" knew damn well that right wing extremism was on the rise, and obsequiously looked away while Republicans tried to sweep it under the rug.

  • "You got it wrong because you willfully ignored all of the disconfirming evidence in order to reach your predetermined conclusion."

    Perfect!! Said it all in one, succinct sentence!

  • @ geoff:

    Like all such missions, Eeeeeeeeeeevil cannot be triumphant for the rest of humanity's history.
    OTOH, at the rate they're going, "for the rest of humanity's history", might be a fairly short period of time.

  • For those who haven't, it is worth listening to the podcast. I was aware of the hard turn domestic law enforcement took after 9/11 (which, to be fair, was pretty understandable.) I wasn't, however, aware of the effort on the part of the Fox News Right to cast domestic law enforcement's efforts to track right wing extremists as surveilling the political opposition. Such efforts, it seems, essentially put the kibosh on even the very idea of law enforcement being able to effectively prepare for events like the Alt Reich's March on Charlottesville. So, a tip of my hat to the Daily for that.

    On the other hand, a wag of my finger at the Daily for not mentioning the FBI's recent pivot towards "black identity extremists." I think that would have been a worthy inclusion that shows that law enforcement has yet to actually correct the problem. Seems like a necessary bit of context to me.

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