Cowardice, American style

Oh man did I love this Adam Serwer piece comparing Greg Gianforte’s cowardice to that of Preston Brooks (the infamous 1856 Senate caner) and of slavery-supporting Southerners:

The impetus for Brooks’s attack on Sumner was that Sumner had mocked Brooks’s second cousin, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, for his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The law put the question of slavery in the territories to a popular vote, exacerbating the tensions between North and South that would eventually lead to the Civil War. Sumner gave a speech accusing Butler of having chosen “the harlot, slavery,” as his “mistress.” Brooks’s defense of Southern honor was to ambush an unarmed man reaching under his desk. As Sinha writes, Brooks later said that attacking Sumner with a cane, rather than challenging him to a duel, was an attempt to humiliate Sumner for his abolitionism by treating him like a slave. Brooks was re-elected after resigning in protest of being fined for the incident

The antebellum South was a society built on the violent exploitation of defenseless people; it is in no sense strange or odd that slaveholders would see no incompatibility between their concept of freedom and valor and ambushing and caning a man who said something that hurt their feelings. Brooks was a hopelessly craven bully who bludgeoned a man in ambush and then shrank from a fair duel with an equal once he realized he would lose.

I don’t mean to fetishize courage, which can be possessed by good and evil alike. I tell this story to show that in politics, one defends cruelty or cowardice by cloaking it in a delusion of valor…

While the reactions of Gianforte’s Republican colleagues in Congress ranged from condemnation to justification and even humor, many voices in the conservative media eagerly defended the assault (though there were notable exceptions). Pundits on Fox News explained that the California-born, Pennsylvania-raised Gianforte had merely given Jacobs a taste of “Montana justice.” Geraldo Rivera, of Brooklyn, New York, explained that Montanans “are no strangers to the more robust way of living.” The conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, who hails from the mean streets of Glastonbury, Connecticut, asked, “What would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man?” …

Physically attacking journalists for asking questions is cowardly. Every single person who defends it is engaging in an act of cowardice. The notion that Gianforte was merely channeling the rugged frontier culture of Western mountain men when he attacked someone who asked him a question is laughable and patronizing.

It is not 1856, but these are the politics of a false valor forged by fear. It is the undercurrent of a politics that defends grown men who stalk black teenagers in the night and then gun them down when they raise their hands in their own defense; it is the politics that rationalizes Ohio police shooting a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun without so much as a chance to surrender; it is the politics of mass deportation and Muslim bans and Blue Lives Matter bills. It is the political logic of frightened people who need to tell themselves they are brave. This is not valor, it is the celebration of violence against those who cannot respond in kind. [emphasis mine]

Damn.

Advertisements

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: