That graph above dominates the New York Times front page this morning, but not in a normal way. The graph is at the bottom of the page and covers its entire width. The long bar representing current unemployment page runs up the entire right margin; it’s a full 18 inches. This wasn’t necessary to convey the information. It was necessary to alarm readers as much as possible. The Times publisher and editors are assholes.
I have been criticized for using that vulgar word here. I think the first time I used it, ironically enough, was to describe Donald Trump when he first said he was running for President in 2012. I used the word to describe the Christian minister who announced that he was going to burn the Koran at a time when Muslim crazies were murdering Christians in retribution for every perceived insult to their religion. I don’t use the word lightly. I use it when more socially acceptable descriptors like “jerk” are obviously inadequate.
An asshole is a person who willfully and often gleefully defies positive social norms for personal gain or just because he or she can, indulging the basest human motivations and non-ethical considerations to the detriment of society. Jerks can reform; usually assholes cannot. When someone acts like an asshole but is not one, often the simple device of calling them what they are acting like will shock them back into more responsible behavior. This is why the word must remain among our ethics enforcement tools, like a gun, usually holstered, but still available when needed.
It is needed a lot right now.
As I keep reminding readers, in 2015 I wrote a post declaring that if Donald Trump were elected President, he would turn America into a nation of assholes. I was right about that, but completely mistaken about the process. I thought that Trump’s reflexive lack of ethics and civility would poison the young, who typically adopt the values and manners of prominent role models in the culture, and historically no individual exercises more powerful influence over our culture than the President. However, what we have witnessed over the past three years is an epidemic of asshole conduct by those who oppose President Trump, who actually despise him. I didn’t see that coming. The Wuhan virus emergency has especially brought their assholism (“assholery?” “assholicity?” ) into focus.
Ann Althouse said it nicely (without using the word) reacting to Joe Biden’s current strategy of tossing off incoherent insults and second-guessing regarding the President’s handling of the epidemic. She wrote in part…
I’ll say to Joe Biden what I’ve been saying to everyone: Before you do anything, ask yourself: Am I helping? And I don’t mean Am I helping myself get elected? or Am I helping my party gain power? I mean Am I helping us get through this crisis? If the answer is not yes, then do nothing. Stay home and keep to yourself. It’s a relatively simple challenge. You don’t have to do more. In this situation more is less. Unless you’re helping. With the crisis….We only have one President at a time, and Trump is President, whether you love it or hate it, and even if you’re supposed to be the one person with the job of changing it. If you make his job harder, if you needlessly complicate it, you are displaying a failure to grasp or respect the onerous responsibilities of the President.
Her last sentence summarizes what I’ve been saying on Ethics Alarms since early 2017, well before Ann figured it out. A good citizen’s job, as well as the duty of the news media, is to help the President, not make his job harder, because nations need leaders. That doesn’t mean supporting every policy position or standing mute when he says or tweets things Presidents shouldn’t express. Responsible, fair criticism makes leaders better, if it’s perceived as honest and based on facts rather than emotion. During Barack Obama’s long, lazy, mediocre tenure in the White Hous, Ethics Alarms pointed out that the fawning news media betrayed him by not doing its job and delivering tough criticism when he deserved it, which was often. However, simply harping and bitching and filing reflex insults every day about this President’s every word or action no matter how important or trivial does not help. It weakens the country, promotes division, encourages the worst instincts in the opposition party, and causes the nation’s leader to become distrustful, paranoid and insular. In short, it doesn’t help, it hurts, and those who continue to do it anyway, not just during the Wuhan virus crisis but at every other opportunity are assholes. There’s no other word for it.
This post started out as the intro to the Morning Warm Up, and to launch the asshole theme, I had intended to relate the story of one George Falcone, 50, of Freehold, New Jersey. He was shopping for groceries at a Wegmans store a few days ago, and an employee asked him to move further away from her and a food display. Falcone leaned in close to the worker and coughed on her, laughed, and told her that he was infected with the virus. He was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat in the third degree, and fourth-degree obstruction of the administration of law. The main thing is, however, that he proved he was an asshole.
Crises don’t make people into assholes, but they sure expose them when they were assholes to begin with. Bill de Blasio, whose assholery should have been obvious to all (but New York City has elected him mayor twice), put a neon “ASSHOLE” sign on his head when he attacked the President for not acting quickly enough regarding the virus. It was de Blasio who, on March 2, after Trump had closed down flights from China and issued travel warnings against South Korea and Italy, told his city in a tweet,
The multifarious assholes who make up the Times op-ed pages file screeds daily that do no more than reiterate their contempt for the President, telling us that he has “met his Katrina,” that the pandemic is his fault, that he we are doomed because he is President, that the Republican Senators have blood on their hands because they didn’t impeach him when they had a chance. Other analysts for the Washington Post, The Atlantic and many more publications are doing the same thing, because they can and they want to, and because other assholes like the Facebook users on my feed will dutifully post every one of these vicious and repetitious pieces as appeals to authority because they cannot mount a persuasive argument supporting their anger and hate themselves (as they prove every time I stoop to calling out their ignorance and the best they can muster is “He called the virus a hoax!” or equivalent nonsense). Let’s find another, the first one that pops up..bear with me, it will only take a second—AH! Here, on Politico, is a pundit attacking Trump for not being enough of an autocrat, when his being a skulking, opportunistic autocrat/dictator/Hitler just waiting to destroy our democracy has been a theme of “the resistance,” of which this hack is a member.
This has been going on for more than three long years, long enough for many once decent, fair, ethical people who were initially only acting like assholes to become assholes because other assholes—there are so many of them!—provided so much positive reinforcement on social media and elsewhere
Well, we still have to call them what they are, or at least I do. Some may not be lost entirely. Some may, like Michael Douglas’s character in “Falling Down,” who at the last moment realizes that he’s the bad guy, will suddenly snap into realization and think..”Wait…I’m the asshole?”