Ethics Quote Of The Month: Andrew Sullivan

I understand now: if someone beats a drum inches from my face and insults me, and I just stand there, I’m taunting HIM. My mistake. I did not know that….

“To put it bluntly: They were 16-year-olds subjected to verbal racist assault by grown men; and then the kids were accused of being bigots. It just beggars belief that the same liberals who fret about “micro-aggressions” for 20-somethings were able to see 16-year-olds absorbing the worst racist garbage from religious bigots … and then express the desire to punch the kids in the face. How did this grotesque inversion of the truth become the central narrative for what seemed to be the entire class of elite journalists on Twitter? That’s the somewhat terrifying question.”

—Andrew Sullivan, in “The Abyss of Hate Versus Hate” in New York Magazine.

He goes on…

Ruth Graham on Slate saw a 16-year-old she’d seen on a tape for a couple of minutes and immediately knew that he was indistinguishable from the “white young men crowding around a single black man at a lunch counter sit-in in Virginia in the 1960s” or other white “high school boys flashing Nazi salutes.” Even after the full context was clear, Graham refused to apologize to the kid, or retract her condemnation: The context didn’t “change the larger story” which, she explained, was bigotry toward Native Americans. She cited Trump’s use of the name “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren as evidence. But using a bullhorn to call Native Americans “savages” and “drunkards at the casino” to their faces a few minutes earlier on the same tape was not worth a mention?

Graham was just one media voice among countless others, and I don’t mean to single her out. The reason I do is because her argument about the fuller context is now the norm in elite media, and it’s the underlying reason for the instant judgment. “Racism” now only means “prejudice plus power,” so what the adult Black Israelites yelled was nowhere near as bad as what a white teenager didn’t say. No empirical evidence could ever deny that underlying truth, as a piece at Deadspin insisted, after admitting that, well yes, there were “four black men who seem to belong to the Black Israelites … yelling insults.” No mention of the content of those insults, of course.

Across most of the national media, led by the New York Times and the Washington Post, the narrative had been set. “I’m willing to bet that fifty years from now, a defining image of this political era will be that smug white MAGA teen disrespecting a Native elder and veteran. It just captures so much,” Jessica Valenti tweeted. “And let’s please not forget that this group of teens … were there for the March for Life: There is an inextricable link between control over women’s bodies, white supremacy & young white male entitlement.” This is the orthodoxy of elite media, and it is increasingly the job of journalists to fit the facts to the narrative and to avoid any facts that undermine it.

There’s a reason why, in the crucial battle for the legitimacy of a free press, Trump is still on the offensive. Our mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism. My own trust in it is eroding. I’m far from the only one.

I sometimes don’t agree with Andrew Sullivan, but I give him this: he tries to be a truth-teller, and often succeeds, as he does here. So many others are facilitating more Big Lie propaganda. I’m a bit behind in my newspaper reviewing, and just discovered that as late as the January 24  edition, two days ago, the New York Times was writing in its Business section about a “video of a group of teenagers taunting a Native American protester.” This is The New York Times. The full video was available three days earlier; Ethics Alarms had the story right by the 20th. How is this possible? Sullivan’s diagnosis is correct, if not exactly difficult if one has both eyes and integrity.

More of Sullivan’s essay:

What was so depressing to me about the Covington incident was how so many liberals felt comfortable taking a random teenager and, purely because of his race and gender, projected onto him all their resentments and hatred of “white men” in general. Here is Kara Swisher, a sane and kind person, reacting to the first video: “To all you aggrieved folks who thought this Gillette ad was too much bad-men-shaming, after we just saw it come to life with those awful kids and their fetid smirking harassing that elderly man on the Mall: Go fuck yourselves.” Judging — indeed demonizing — an individual on the basis of the racial or gender group he belongs to is the core element of racism, and yet it is now routine on the left as well as the right. To her great credit, Kara apologized profusely for the outburst. The point here is that tribal hatred can consume even the best of us.

Well, as I began, I don’t always agree with Andrew: I know Kara Swisher too, and to call her a sane and kind person is Sullivan’s bias: sane and kind people don’t write things like that, and my past experiences with Swisher did not lead me to be shocked that she did. And no, tribal hatred does not consume “the best of us.” It does consume a lot of people who pretend to be better than they are, and it would have been helpful if Andrew had the courage to upset his friends on the Left and say so.

Still, it is an excellent essay, and Sullivan’s a lovely writer.

15 thoughts on “Ethics Quote Of The Month: Andrew Sullivan

  1. I feel so sorry for those kids. At that age I just would have been excited to go to DC for any adult opinion excuse, and snuck away to the Smithsonian museums and met at the rendezvous. And look what would have greeted me, one group spewing hate and some old coot getting into a friend’s face for no reason I could see.

    What reaction did these selfish cruel people want? Provoke a fight, and justify how bad teens behave without supervision(right) or white boys behave(left)? Make children retreat or cry because they are somehow equal and have the same meaning as stopping the president they hate? Make excited young men get into a shouting match?

    The kids probably thought they could take the cruelty, hope it would go away, and they would be vindicated by reasonable people for being mature. As harsh, as cruel as this real life Kobiashi Maru has been, there really weren’t that many options for the kids to stay within their personal goal of being grown-up.

    A pity it looks like they were the only ones in the vicinity who were. A tragedy that people around the country are piling on with the abusers over a teen’s smirk.

  2. Is it that tribal hatred consumes the best of us, or is it that those who presume to be “the best of us” are, in fact, nothing of the sort?

    • Is it that tribal hatred consumes the best of us, or is it that those who presume to be “the best of us” are, in fact, nothing of the sort?

      I see this statement as being a good deal more complex than it appears. It says, if I understand right, that those who think *tribally* (a term that requires detailed explanation) are not the best among us, and are the inferior among us. This indicates a sort of ‘maxim’.

      This leads to the simplistic view that all we need do is eliminate those people from the conversation. And this supports the centrist declaration that the problems we are dealing with come from ‘extremists’ at each end: either Antifa/Anarchists or White Supremacists/nationalists.

      This also explains, or gives some justification, to the idea that those people out on the fringes needs to have their platforms removed, to be demonetized, so that they do nor exert influence.

      But, from another POV I might say that it is not the extremes that have created the conditions of the present, but rather the center. Those people, interests, sectors of the economy, and in the intellectual establishment, that constructed the Postwar. Within that ‘center’ one finds the ideology of multiculturalism, egalitarianism and what I call Hyper-Liberalism (liberal tenets taken out of their social- and value-context and turned into huge abstractions).

      *Tribalism*, if deciphered, could be taken to mean the activism and the interests of specific people who have become *victims* of a centrist ideological movement that, in the end, destroys them. I know that what you mean is identity politics within our democracy.

      But it is that democracy (taken here more as multiculturalism and a specific economic creation), with its inevitable tenets, in the context of deliberate shifts in demographics, that have produced the conflicts that plague us.

      To say that it is ‘the worst’ among us who reject some aspects or the present, here and in Europe, is a misleading characterization. While it is true that ‘the worst’ do show up and contaminate things, it is in no sense ‘the worst’ who are looking at our reality and questioning it. Thinking of alternatives. Looking to the future and seeing where this all goes, et cetera.

  3. And no, tribal hatred does not consume “the best of us.” It does consume a lot of people who pretend to be better than they are, and it would have been helpful if Andrew had the courage to upset his friends on the Left and say so. [my emphasis]

    I think it’s more fundamental than that, although you are by no means wrong.

    Sullivan’s statement smacks of “bubble thinking.” He is trying to be a truth-teller, but the fact he lives in a bubble of like-minded leftists gives him the perceived authority to speak about who is “the best of us.” I don’t think his list and mine would have many common members.

    We all have to be on guard for this, though. We tend to think of those with whom we agree or associate most strongly as among “the best of us.” That’s inevitable human bias. Sullivan seems to be unaware of this tendency.

    That’s what keeps Sullivan from being someone I can trust to tell the truth. Even when he does make good points in his essays, all too often it comes along with with the very nastiness he is trying to expose. He just can’t keep it out, or look at it honestly.

    • I agree that we all have to guard against this. My experiences here at EA (Thanks Jack!) made me aware that my tendency to believe progressives hate conservatives, men, and whites (in any order), wish them dead, and will act on that given the power or cover to do so. This biased thinking was a result of my own bubble, where stories were viewed for confirmation of that bias, and objectivity wasn’t.

      So I came out of the bubble, learned how to consider all sides of an issue (“Understanding is a three edged sword”) and learned to apply standards to all sides. Ethics judgements must be as objective as one can be, after all.

      Then I watched the meltdown of 2016, an ethics trainwreck which has continued to roll right into 2019, and realized that progressives hate conservatives, men, and whites (in any order), wish them dead, and will act on that given the power or cover to do so.


          • One of the last great syndicated shows before the cable companies dramas and streaming appeared, Five seasons, a spinoff, and some movies- with moral and deliberate ethical issues galore was a pretty good run outside the big 4 networks and HBO in those days. I consider it easily in the top 5 SF TV shows- and the best with a story arc. I wish it wasn’t forgotten, as it covered issues that remain relevant.

            • The story overall story arc was written before the show piloted, with character arcs determined. Did you know every actor had a ‘trapdoor’ written to get them out of the series without replacing the actor?

              This was used when Andrea Thompson (played Talia Winters) got married to Jerry Doyle (played Garibaldi), Her character was replaced by Lyta Alexander.

              Michael O’Hare had mental issues, and Bruce Boxleitner took over his story. Claudia Christian, as Susan Ivanova, was to take over the station, but wanted more money for season 5, and was written out using the predetermined outlet… trapdoors.

              One reason the acting was so believable is that the emotions were real. Garibaldi struggled with alcoholism, and Doyle died of it. He lived it in real life, and thus was good at playing it. Thompson and Doyle had some of the best love/hate scenes I have ever seen… because they were living it in real life. Boxleitner’s Sheridan lost his wife to the Bad Guys, and when she showed back up (having been taken over by the Bad Guys) the emotions were real… she was Melissa Gilbert (from ‘Little House on the Prairie’) and they were really having issues that married couples have (and eventually got divorced.)

              So much that goes into an iconic show!

              • Agreed to all, But I appreciated the arcs for Vir, from being pawn to good ruler, While Stephen Furst went from Animal House to a director. And I believe Lyta Alexander was in the original pilot and brought back when needed.

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