Last week, I blogged about the beclowning of the political press corps by a bunch of seventeen-year olds. In that post, I discussed the problems that the political press corps filter creates. I wasn’t really happy with the post (that happens), but over the weekend I found some good discussion of what I was stumbling into. The first piece is about LeBron James’ response to professional bigot* Laura Ingram’s attack after James criticized Il Trumpe (boldface mine):
“Whatever her name is.” This is how LeBron James referred to Fox News host and professional bigot Laura Ingraham. The Ann Coulter mimeograph devoted an entire segment to disparaging LeBron James’s intelligence and telling him to “shut up and dribble.” It is a tired routine that has been used to shut down outspoken black athletes for as long as there have been outspoken black athletes.
Ingraham was melting down on air like a certain particle of snow because James and fellow all-star Kevin Durant had criticized Donald Trump… for being Donald Trump. James in particular earned her ire for saying, “[Trump] really don’t give a (expletive) about the people…. While we cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, as this is not the way.”
…It started when he [James] said, “We will definitely not shut up and dribble. I will definitely not do that…. She did the best thing to help me create more awareness…. I get to sit up here and talk about social injustice, equality [because] a woman on a certain network decided to tell me to shut up and dribble. So, thank you, whatever her name is. I don’t even know her name.”
…What seems to have upset Ingraham the most is not the uniform charges of racism but the sentiment expressed by Charles Barkley, “LeBron James is LeBron James. Who’s Laura Ingraham?”
The avalanche of response actually put Ingraham on the defensive, compelling her to both invite James onto her show and make the following back-pedaling statement: “There was no racial intent in my remarks—false, defamatory charges of racism are a transparent attempt to immunize entertainment and sports elites from scrutiny and criticism.”
So now we have Laura Ingraham having to defend herself from charges of racism and her own obsolescence…
It’s never been clear to me why the opinions of celebrity journalists matter (including those way down on the food chain). They often have no idea what they’re discussing or writing about, yet their opinions supposedly matter. James blew that up a little. Which brings us to this Dalia Lithwick piece about the Parkland student-protesters (boldface mine):
These kids aren’t naïve. They are just better at this than we are. Here are a few of their insights:
1. Give Donald Trump Precisely 5 Percent of Your Mental Energy
These students aren’t wasting their time and energy on the president. Outside a handful of tweets on the day of the shootings, and a line or two in speeches and television appearances, the student protesters are modeling how to essentially ignore Donald Trump. They have no interest in talking to him or even about him. They have internalized the lesson that he is a symptom of the problem but unworthy of credit or blame. I suspect that if the rest of us ignored the president half as ably as they have, we’d all have vastly more emotional energy for the fights that really do matter.
2. Don’t Waste Time Fighting People Who Don’t Share Your Values and Goals
The Stoneman Douglas students don’t seem to be wasting their time debating or negotiating with the gun lovers on the other side. They are simply working to get gun legislation passed, to raise awareness, and to energize other young people. As someone who has devoted the greater part of the past year to an intramural media debate about whether to give up completely on the other side or to strive to change hearts and minds, it’s refreshing to see that this doesn’t really matter. Stoneman Douglas can’t be bothered with David Brooks. Endless progressive debate over engagement with opponents or the lack thereof and the complex moral nuance of allyship is a luxury these kids cannot afford and aren’t bothered by. Good for them. They have work to do. If Wednesday night’s CNN town hall proved anything, it was that the National Rifle Association and GOP senators literally have no answers for them. They aren’t wasting time on gentle persuasion. They know when they are being lied to.
…Conservatives prefer their victims silent and passive. When they start to actually evince anger, they are denounced as either lying fabricators (like Rob Porter’s former wives) or “crisis actors” (like the students at Stoneman Douglas High). Unless you are calling for more cops, more guns, more walls, more prisons, and more punishment, you are a nuisance to be derided and denied. And that’s the beauty of the Parkland kids. They don’t care. We scoff that theirs is a generation raised on reality shows, Instagram, and YouTube, but they are more aware of what is real and what is fake than the adults around them. Far from acting, or ritualized performance, these students have veered so far from any received post-tragedy script that, one week after the shooting, they are still dominating the news cycle. This is what being awake and alive and human and compassionate actually looks like. Pitting all that against Dana Loesch’s hard, shiny little NRA talking points reveals the made-for-cable fakery we’ve bought into en masse…
The central mistake we have made this past week is trying to understand how this vast army of eloquent, purposeful, and clear-eyed students has been all-but-invisible to us until now. The better lesson we can take from them is that, thankfully, we have been almost entirely invisible to them. They are unconstrained by our norms and unmoved by our plight, and not really all that interested in our corny media tropes about childhood, suffering, and power. Good for them. It’s about time.
So James flipped the script, and the kids refuse to play by the old rules, and have invented their own rules. And not a moment too soon (boldface mine):
…too many of us well-meaning liberal/progressive adults have been cowed by the gun lobby. We’ve resigned ourselves to quasi-defeat and accepted the NRA’s framing, the mythological sanctity of “gun rights.” So we speak of “responsible” gun owners. Proud rural folk taught to shoot by Granddad. “Commonsense” gun laws. Respect for the Second Amendment. We say, “We don’t want to take away anyone’s guns.” For progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, deferring to the NRA was, at one time, not just a perceived political necessity but also a way of signaling respect for the values of (white) rural voters. Even saintly Paul Wellstone, longtime gun-control advocate, introduced a 1997 bill watering down a ban on guns for those convicted of domestic violence.
The commentariat hasn’t always been much help, either. In the mainstream media, playing the pundit who takes weird and contorted “contrarian” positions is good for your career. A few years ago, libertarian writer Megan McArdle wrote a piece in The Daily Beast claiming that nothing much could be done about guns, so kids should be taught to rush the shooter: “If we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.” Let the kids handle it! McArdle, by the way, just got a column in The Washington Post…
Enough with the craziness, and enough with the clever pundits and the quiet politicians and the defeatist citizenry, too. There’s no reason why anyone—of any age—needs to own an AR-15… So show up for the gun-control marches and bring your friends. Follow the money—the NRA money—and work like heck to elect anti-gun candidates. The Douglas students have changed the conversation. It will take a whole lot of us to keep it going.
As the Irish side of the family would say about those who would constrain us–and those whom we would let constrain us, “Who’s he when he’s at home?”
We should aim to misbehave more often. About everything.