Weimar America & The Michigan Mob
Look at this:
Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today. #milegpic.twitter.com/voOZpPYWOs
— Senator Dayna Polehanki (@SenPolehanki) April 30, 2020
This is horrifying. I believe in the Second Amendment, and I think gun owners are often unfairly maligned by liberals, but this should never, ever have happened. These guys look like antifa. How on earth are legislators supposed to work with armed men standing over them like that? What if they had been members of the Black Panther Party, which did exactly this in California in the 1960s? — what would conservatives be saying today? Liberals are complaining about this, and they’re right to complain.
I am perfectly fine with angry citizens protesting. It’s taking weapons into a legislative chamber that is so alarming. As the Michigan state police have pointed out, that is legal in Michigan. It shouldn’t be, in my view, and even if it’s legal, it looks horrible. The way people protest says a lot about their cause. I have zero interest in paying attention to college kids who occupy the college president’s office. I have zero interest in taking antifa seriously, except as threats to civil order. And I have to say that any sympathy I had for these Michigan protesters went out the door when I saw that image of them on the balcony with guns. This is not the way we conduct legislative business in a democracy. A crowd becomes a mob when it behaves thuggishly. The fact that it is a left-wing mob or a right-wing mob does not matter: a mob is a mob is a mob.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been reading the critic Clive James’s book Cultural Amnesia, a collection of profiles of key 20th century figures. His essay about Hitler speaks to this point; I found a version of it in Slate. James writes, about how few people today remember how Hitler came to power, writes: “One of the drawbacks of liberal democracy is thus revealed: Included among its freedoms is the freedom to forget what once threatened its existence.” One of these factors was the efforts of right-wing German intellectuals, like Ernst Jünger, who paved the way for Hitler. They were “revolutionary conservatives” who believed that liberalism was decadent. James says that they realized only too late that Hitler didn’t care for their intellectual subtleties, except insofar as he could use them as a springboard to power.
It may seem unfair to condemn intellectuals who conspire to undermine vulgar democracy in favor of a refined dream for failing to foresee the subsequent nightmare. And Moeller was only one among many. But there were too many: That was the point. Too many well-read men combined to prepare the way for a pitiless hoodlum who despised them, and they even came to value him for being a hoodlum: for lacking their scruples, for being a drum of nature. Among the revolutionary conservative intellectuals, Jünger is the real tragic figure. Unlike Moeller, Jünger was condemned to live. He saw the light, but too late. In his notebooks he gradually de-emphasized his call for a conservative revolution led by men who had been “transformed in their being” by the experience of World War I. In 1943, in Paris, he was told the news about the extermination camps. He finally reached the conclusion that he had been staving off since the collapse of the Weimar Republic he had helped to undermine: One of the men whose being had been transformed by their experience of the Great War was Adolf Hitler. The quality Jünger valued most had turned out to be the only one he shared with the man he most despised.
Turn off your Godwin detectors: I’m not saying that the Balcony Men are Nazis. What I am saying, though, is that citizens bearing guns inside the halls of a legislature, with the intention of influencing debate, is a line that should not be crossed in a civilized democracy. I don’t care how just their cause may be. What they did may be legal, but the symbolic display works to undermine law and order. How? By the strong implication that if lawmakers don’t do what they, the protesters, demand, there will be gun violence.
I am a gun owner. I was raised in a gun-owning household. My late father, like most of the men of his generation in our rural Southern community, taught their sons and daughters to treat guns with immense respect. Not to fetishize them, but to respect them. My father was a brave man, but I cannot imagine him going into the state legislature with a rifle slung around his shoulder. I cannot imagine him respecting the kind of men who act that way.
One of the reasons I have been willing to vote conservative, despite the rottenness of Donald Trump, is precisely because I see in the activist left, and the liberals who lack the courage to stand up to them, a direct threat to the rights of any and all who oppose the left. The many campus protests, in which college administrators over and over surrendered to the mob, have carried with them enormous symbolic weight. The rules of liberal democracy mean nothing to these mobs, who are so infatuated with their sense of righteousness that they deploy force to get what they want. And it works. As far as I can tell, the Democratic Party is the means by which the activist left will turn the whole country into a college campus. If you don’t believe that, spend some time looking into what Joe Biden and Barack Obama did with Title IX. Now think about Biden in power.
When I see a bunch of angry white guys slinging rifles in the balcony of a state legislature, I see the right-wing version of what I despise about the left and its mobs. The left (well, the non-antifa left) hasn’t carried deadly weapons, but they haven’t felt they’ve had to. They have been able to use a more socially acceptable kind of force to achieve their objectives. I do not fight against left-wing mobocracy only to empower right-wing mobocracy. I did not just spend a year studying and writing a book about how left-wing totalitarianism comes into power, only to ignore similar behavior on the right.
A big difference is that left-wing mobs are privileged people whose mob antics effectively change the policies and discourse within powerful American institutions. The Michigan mob are notable for their relative lack of cultural power. That does not make what they’re doing right. Judging actions like this by the cultural influence of the actors is what the left does, and how they excuse the inexcusable when it is done by “vulnerable minorities” and their allies.
Just yesterday, I published a letter from a center-left reader who expressed his frustration that his liberal friends hate white working class people, and made a much bigger to-do over protesters carrying guns at a Pennsylvania rally than was reasonable, given how few gun-carriers there were. I stand by that letter, and agree with the writer. However, these Michigan protesters brought guns into the state legislature, and compelled some lawmakers to (reasonably!) wear bulletproof vests as they went about their business.
That’s where the protesters lose me. They lose me completely. No lawmaker — and no professor, and no student, and no citizen of this democracy — should be afraid for their lives because of violent political actors, or from political actors that want people to think they are violent. This kind of thing will mean the end of democracy, whether it comes from the left or the right.
And look who has spent the last two weeks encouraging it:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
It’s a hell of a thing, Weimar America.