Saturday, October 22, 2016

Name that Decimation! I

Mary Pickford in Maurice Tourneur's The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917), via perfectmistake13.
OK so Driftglass has naturally zeroed in on the single most (also, he's having a fundraiser, and he's reprinted one of his earliest pieces, from 2005, which is so good it hurts) grotesquely reprehensible moment in yesterday's Brooks ("How to Repair Moral Capital"), the point where, after the fairly specific, though incomplete, denunciation of the Trump, he makes his ritual bow to denouncing Hillary Clinton as well, just in case you got the momentary impression that both sides may not do it:

This year Trump is dismantling those restraints [the "codes" that "adorn" the "struggle for power" in "decent societies", which I'll be getting back to] one by one. By savagely attacking Carly Fiorina’s looks and Ted Cruz’s wife he dismantled the codes of etiquette that prevent politics from becoming an unmodulated screaming match. By lying more or less all the time, he dismantles the fealty to truth without which conversation is impossible. By refusing to automatically respect the election results he corrodes confidence in our common institutions and risks turning public life into a never-ending dogfight.
Clinton has contributed to the degradation too. As the James O’Keefe videos remind us, wherever Hillary Clinton has gone in her career, a cloud of unsavory people and unsavory behavior has traveled alongside. 
It hadn't even occurred to me to bother to look at the James O'Keefe videos, given that every one of his projects to date has turned out to be a fraud. Expecting an O'Keefe video to provide a useful reflection of anything is like expecting Han van Meegeren's new painting to be an authentic Vermeer—it's never happened before, why would it happen now?

But then Brooks isn't suggesting that they found anything illegal, for goodness's sake, just that the Clinton campaign employs somebody "unsavory", which will remind you that 25 years ago she was associated with somebody called Jim McDougal who you probably wouldn't think of very highly if you met him (you won't, he died in 1998), and after that with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who I generally refer to as "that blood-soaked vampire", and so forth. If you do look at the videos (I did three minutes of the first one), featuring Scott Foval of Americans United for Change, now fired, who may have suggested he might do something illegal while saying words like "fuck" and "shit" to O'Keefe's camera, you may well say to yourself, "He seems nice," meaning that he doesn't. The video is surely meant, as all O'Keefe's work to date has been, to convince you that wicked liberals of some sort somewhere have been up to something luridly disgusting and almost certainly criminal, and Brooks wouldn't dream of alleging such an awful thing, because he's such a decent, code-observing fellow himself.

He'll just use the evidence for some much nicer and more decent purpose, to note, mildly and as if in passing, that Hillary really has some relationships with people who are not quite our sort, darling, if you know what I mean, I'm sorry to say.

And in the next couple of weeks as we get our fix on whatever fraud O'Keefe turns out to have committed this time, the story will sort of go away, and the little bit of slime Brooks borrowed from it will no doubt largely go away too. It was just a throwaway line anyway. But Brooks's contribution to "normalizing" O'Keefe—his use, without explanation, of O'Keefe as a source—helps to plant it in people's unconscious minds that O'Keefe might be a journalist rather than a ruthless manipulator and falsifier, and that's unforgivable.

The column itself is somewhat pro-Clinton, in fact, admiring her performance at last week's debate, in answers to three particular questions:

They were about Donald Trump’s alleged assaults on women, his refusal to respect the democratic process and the contrast between his years of “Celebrity Apprentice” experience and her own governing experience. Clinton’s answers were given in a slow and understated manner, but they were marked by moral passion, clarity and quiet contempt.
That's so perfect. He won't listen to her when she talks about the kind of policy she'd like to implement as chief executive of the United States government, because he doesn't hear any passion in it (those of us who are interested in policy hear a lot of passion, those who are interested in political theater criticism don't). But he really likes it when she sits in judgment on another human being. His concept of what the president does is as ignorant as Trump's; he thinks he's voting for Pope.

Or maybe just for Mom:

The politician is focused on individual interest, but the parent is interested in the shared social, economic and moral environment.
(The hiccup spasm of that "interested" with one meaning five words after "interest" with a different meaning is a tiny illustration of why David Brooks is, so subtly, one of the worst writers alive.)

I'd say the good liberal politician is invested in group interests and focused on the unshared social and economic environments, in particular on behalf of the groups that aren't getting an adequate share, on the basis of her own moral principle, and doesn't see it as part of her job to push her moral principles on others, but hopes to affect the "moral environment" by example rather than diktat.

It’s becoming ever clearer that the nation’s moral capital is being decimated, and the urgent challenge is to name that decimation and reverse it.
Well, I can't resist a challenge, but it's getting long. I'll get back to this later, along with the codes and the adornment and the struggle for power, but I'm going out right now. See Vixen for more useful discussion of O'Keefe.

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