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Charlie Sykes
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Morning Shots with Charlie Sykes

The Agony of the Anti-Anti-Trumpers

BUt tHe mEDiA!
August 14, 2020
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It’s mid-August and I find myself thinking about Dante lately. Maybe it’s because all the bugs around here make me think of certain scenes from the Inferno, or maybe it’s because I have been reading too much Twitter.

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 81 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day.

One of John F. Kennedy’s favorite quotes was something he thought came from Dante: “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.”

As it turns out, he got the quote wrong. But what Dante did write was far better.

In Dante’s Inferno, the moral cowards are not granted admission to Hell; they are consigned to the vestibule, where they are doomed to follow a rushing banner that is blown about by the wind. When Dante asks his guide, Virgil, who they are, he explains:

This miserable way is taken by sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise.

They now commingle with the coward angels, the company of those who were not rebels nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.

They are destined to be forgotten. “The world will let no fame of theirs endure,” Virgil explains. “Let us not talk of them, but look and pass.” Dante describes the vast horde who chase after the elusive banner that “raced on so quick that any respite seemed unsuited to it.” Behind the banner, he writes, “trailed so long a file/ of people—I should never have believed/ that death could have unmade so many souls.”

This, of course, got me thinking about the anti-anti-Trumpers and their season of agita.

A cry went up this week from the precinct of the anti-anti-Trumpers suggesting that the selection of Kamala Harris was the moment for their decisive break into formal indecisiveness. As much as they loathed Donald Trump, they insisted, there was no way that they could support a Biden-Harris ticket.

But the choice of Harris wasn’t really a tipping point, because the anti-antis were never going to support a viable opponent to Trump. The essence of anti-anti-Trumpism is the full recognition of the awfulness of Trump and all of his works, but a firm resolve not to actually do anything to confront them.

They have found a sweet spot where they can criticize the president, but also sneer at his critics, thus keeping their conservative credentials (if not their consciences) intact.

National Review’s Dan McLaughlin could have provided a bumper sticker slogan for anti-anti-Trumper’s by declaring on Twitter the other day that he could never support Biden-Harris, because Kamala Harris was willing “to break norms & disdain limits on executive powers & the rule of law. The most anti-Constitution candidate you could pick.” (I’d like to tell you about a man named Donald.)

That may seem like rather an audacious leap, but it’s what you have to believe if you are anti-anti-Trump. If you recognize Trump as a corrupt threat to the Republic, you can’t regard the Democrats simply as conventional progressives. Kamala Harris cannot be seen merely as an opportunistic Democratic politician with a somewhat inconsistent ideological streak. No; she must be seen as much worse than Donald Trump. Seriously worse.

Back in 2017, I wrote about how this works:

For many in the conservative movement, this sort of anti-anti-Trumpism is the solution to the painful conundrum posed by the Trump presidency. With a vast majority of conservative voters and listeners solidly behind Mr. Trump, conservative critics of the president find themselves isolated and under siege. But, as Damon Linker noted, anti-anti-Trumpism “allows the right to indulge its hatred of liberals and liberalism while sidestepping the need for a reckoning with the disaster of the Trump administration itself.” . . .

Here is how it works: Rather than defend President Trump’s specific actions, his conservative champions change the subject to (1) the biased “fake news” media, (2) over-the-top liberals, (3) hypocrites on the left, (4) anyone else victimizing Mr. Trump or his supporters and (5) whataboutism, as in “What about Obama?” “What about Clinton?”

In the last three years, that has become a way of life, both in the tonier precincts of the right’s intelligentsia, and its trollier suburbs.

For some being anti-anti has been a simple matter of business model prudence. It is one thing to criticize Trump’s arrogance, recklessness, narcissism, and lawlessness—but quite another to take a stand in favor of his impeachment and removal, or now of his defeat. Best to hang back and prepare to slit the throats of the wounded when the battle is over.

So Trump can preside over a massive public health failure, tweet racist memes, and behave in ways that might bring a blush to a banana republic dictator—but how about that media bias?