Yes, You Should Blame Roy Moore Voters For Sticking With Him

It’s Saturday, which is supposed to be the day I bask in the joy of all the awesome things I’ve read over the past week. But the Roy Moore scandal happened, and the sound of a thousand conservative voices defending Roy Moore have pissed me off, so here we are.

But I don’t really want to talk about Roy Moore. I want to talk about Erick Erickson, or more broadly, the bizarre persecution complex that so many conservatives seem to have.

(Before I launch into my screed, by the way, I want to acknowledge a couple of things. First, although there are a lot of conservatives–particularly in Alabama–either arguing that the 34 witnesses in the Washington Post story are lying or proclaiming that, hey, child molestation isn’t that bad, many conservatives are also insisting the Moore leave the race: I think John McCain was the first, but there have been others. Secondly, I haven’t checked the Weekly Standard, but the National Review has pretty consistently been on the side of morality and human decency. And Erickson’s own site has also argued that Moore’s behavior with teenagers is unacceptable. So consider this your #NotAllRepublicans caveat.)

The article I really want to talk about is Erickson’s “I Don’t Blame Roy Moore Voters For Sticking With Him.” The very title of this article simply infuriates me. Even if I sympathized with Erickson’s persecution complex, this would be an absolutely ridiculous stance. Feeling left out of the national zeitgeist is not an excuse for defending child molestation! It just isn’t, full stop. The two things are not parallel.

Further, how badly treated can he and his fellow conservatives really be? They hold both houses of Congress. They hold the Presidency, insofar as Trump has any grasp on a political philosophy. They hold 34 of 50 governorships (about to go down to 32, yes, when the new governors of New Jersey and Virginia take office, but that is still a pretty hefty advantage). And they control 32 of 50 state legislatures. And they have plenty of control over media outlets: Fox News and Breitbart are the best known, but the notoriously conservative Sinclair Broadcasting controls 173 local stations in almost 80 markets, and this number is due to go up to 233 soon. So just looking at the raw numbers, it’s difficult to take this claim seriously.

But let’s examine Erickson’s argument a little more closely. Here is Erickson’s evidence: a “militant atheist” committed a shooting in Texas. Now I’m not sure if he is holding all progressives everywhere responsible for this shooting, but the shooter seems not to have been motivated by an animus toward religion but rather by a dispute with his ex-wife’s family. Also, he seems to have had long-standing mental issues. But I’m going to assume that Erickson wasn’t using this single incident in a small town as an example of how conservatives in general are mistreated by progressives, because I think he’s surely smarter than that. Erickson also claims people on social media said that the congregants “got what they deserved.” Really, Mr. Erickson? I follow approximately seventeen million people on Twitter, and most of them are progressives, and I never saw anything remotely like that. And when I Googled “Texas church shooting deserved it,” the first entry was an article from a reporter at the Dallas News expressing chagrin for the way the media had descended on the town, and none of the other search results had anything to do with the victims deserving it. Did someone somewhere say something stupid? There are more than 300 million people in the United States, so probably. But it certainly wasn’t a general sentiment. Most of the commentary I saw was horror at how many children were involved. Erickson also says something news stories about “chainsaws attached to machine guns,” which I admit I never saw and don’t understand. Googling that got me a bunch of how-to videos on YouTube that I have no desire to explore. Moving on.

The next claim is that “a Muslim ran over a bunch of people in New York” (true, although I don’t think he was a progressive) while “Democrats were patting themselves on the back for showing Trump voters running over muslim [sic] kids on television.” Again I did not comprehend what Erickson was talking about so I turned to Google. (Nota bene, Mr Erickson: linking to your examples makes it much easier to follow your argument.) This time the first four entries were to Erickson’s own site and his Twitter account, but I did finally hit pay dirt: this was a Latino Victory Fund ad attacking the Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie. Important point: it was not run by “Democrats”; it was run by an independent progressive group, who was forced to take it down after a backlash from pretty much everyone, including the Washington Post, which I’m sure Erickson considers a liberal rag. It is difficult to see this ad as part of a mainstream trend since the ad barely survived a weekend. Certainly I don’t think Erickson’s claim that “Democrats patted themselves on the back” for it holds up.

Let us not forget, by the way, that Gillespie himself ran ads attempting to tie his Democratic opponent to MS-13 and child pornography. If I were Erick Erickson I would use these ads to claim that the right is “out to get” the progressives in the country and it is therefore justifiable for me to defend child molestation. (I’m sorry, I’m still not following the steps of that argument very well. Also it’s not clear why I would want the right to defend child molestation. I am happy to say I am solidly against child molestation.) I’m not Erick Erickson, so I will just chalk it up to Ed Gillespie trying to win an election.

Next: Erickson brings up the CBS lawyer who made fun of the victims in Las Vegas. At last! A story prominent enough that I remember it and do not need to Google! That happened. That was horrible. Everyone I knew thought it was horrible. Which is why the woman was summarily fired. Again, there are more than 300 million people in this country. You cannot hold the progressive movement as a whole responsible for every gross, awful thing that someone says on Twitter. You seem like a smart man, Mr. Erickson. Do you want me to hold you responsible for everything Sean Hannity says? I bet you don’t. While we’re on the subject, Sean Hannity has spent the last several days essentially calling Roy Moore’s victims liars. Guess what? Unlike the CBS lawyer, Sean Hannity still has his high-paying job. (Oh, and to Erickson’s point about a national media “complicit” with progressives? Where did I learn about that CBS lawyer? Oh, yeah, the national media. Whereas all the anchors on Fox News tend to stare at their shoes and mumble when, for instance, the president’s former campaign manager is charged with conspiracy against the United States. I’m just saying.)

Erickson’s list goes on and on: it’s not fair that gay people are suing bakers and florists. It’s not fair that trans people have the audacity to live in the world. It’s not fair that the left wants to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches. (Erickson’s assumption that all religious organizations are his particular stripe of conservatism is interesting. I belong to a synagogue full of liberals, and it would also lose its tax-exempt status. Lots of churches are also progressive.) None of these things are aimed at conservatives! That is to say, gay people, trans people, progressives in general do not wake up in the morning and think, “How can I screw over the Religious Right today?” Making room for people who are not cis or heterosexual or white or Christian to fully exist in the world may be inconvenient, but it is not an attack. It’s not about Christian conservatives at all.

Here’s what Erickson concludes from all this: “I don’t blame the Roy Moore voters for thinking people are out to get them because people really are out to get them.” I do not think that conclusion follows from the evidence. Some isolated apparent liberals said some dumb things on social media, true. Guess what? There are some conservatives who say some really dumb, offensive things on social media. It’s not reasonable to assume that outliers represent an entire movement on either the left or the right.

But more importantly, progressive policies are not weapons aimed at conservative Christianity. Gay people don’t want the right to adopt children or get married because they are “out to get” Erickson and his friends; they want these rights because they want to be acknowledged as full members of society. Similarly, people who argue for gun control aren’t trying to take your toys away just to be mean; they are legitimately concerned about violence in society. They aren’t pretending; this isn’t some anti-Christian-conservative agenda. This is true of every issue that progressives care about: we (like you, I assume, Mr. Erickson) want the country to be the best country it can be. We may disagree with you on how to achieve that goal. But we don’t hate you and we aren’t trying to hurt you. It’s just that Christian conservatives aren’t the center of the world, and they aren’t the only people in the country whose needs have to be accommodated, no matter how much you want to believe that they are. That’s not an attack. That’s just a fact.

And no, Mr. Erickson, since apparently it must be said, facing disagreement, no matter how vigorous, does not entitle Roy Moore voters to defend child molestation.

He Knew What He Signed Up For

Let’s talk about this week’s news cycle.

On Monday, the president held an ad hoc press conference and the White House press asked him a reasonable question: has he contacted the families of the four soldiers who died in a military operation in Niger?

Here’s what the president could have said: “Unfortunately I haven’t yet contacted them, but I plan to do so immediately.” And then his staff could have cobbled together four letters of condolence, and he could have signed them, and they could have been sent, and the Trump administration could have congratulated itself on avoiding another self-inflicted nightmarish news cycle.

What the president did instead was to claim that Obama never called, and other former presidents never called, but what he liked to do was call and send a letter. He made a clumsy attempt at walking this back, but then he instructed his press secretary to double down on it.1

On Tuesday the president made phone calls to the four bereaved families. On Tuesday night it emerged that, according to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who heard the call on speakerphone, the president had said “He knew what he signed up for” to a pregnant war widow.2

Again we are at a crossroads. Here’s what the president could have said: “I am very sorry for Mrs. Johnson’s loss and I feel terrible that I increased her pain in any way.”

Instead, on Wednesday morning Trump again doubled down, tweeting that the congresswoman was lying and he had proof.

This tweet, like so many, spawned dozens of news stories. The Washington Post started calling the families of soldiers who had died since Trump took office. Subcontroversies sprang up and then popped like soap bubbles all day: One family was instructed to wait by the phone for a presidential call that never came. One man was promised a personal check for $25,000 that also never arrived. (The check is now, reportedly, in the mail.)

And then yesterday, John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff gave an extraordinary press conference, in which he lost me entirely and forever. I’ll grant you that the part of the statement in which he talks about how the bodies of soldiers who die are returned to the country, and how the families of the fallen learn of their loved ones’ fates are very moving. And I do believe that Kelly, who lost his own son in combat, cares deeply about the troops. But because Kelly occupies one of the most powerful offices in the country, we should not allow those parts of the statement, or his own status as a Gold Star father to obfuscate other salient points:

  1. Kelly confirmed the essence of what the congresswoman said about the call. So if you were waiting for “proof” that she was lying, you are probably not going to get that.
  2. If Kelly is really upset that respect for women has diminished, he should probably not be working for President Grab Them By the Pussy.3
  3. If Kelly is really upset that respect for Gold Star families has diminished, he should probably not be working for the man who devoted several days to attacking Gold Star father Khizr Khan because he was mean to him at the Democratic National Convention.
  4. Kelly can’t reasonably complain that Congresswoman Wilson (who has been a Johnson family friend for decades) should not have been “listening in” on the condolence call when he just said he was also listening to it.
  5. Bringing up a speech that Congresswoman Wilson allegedly made about a totally different subject in 2015 is a transparent attempt at deflection4, particularly since he had already confirmed the essence of what she said. While we’re on the subject, calling her “someone that is that empty a barrel” does not exactly drip with respect for women. I thought women were “sacred,” General Kelly?

Kelly wants to make it seem as though the White House press has been terribly mistreating the Trump administration over expressions of condolence all week. No doubt that’s how Trump’s base wants to see it. And I’ve come to expect these delusions of martyrdom from Trump, but I honestly thought Kelly was smart enough and self-aware enough not to succumb to them.

This controversy is entirely the president’s fault. He was asked a fair question, and he bungled it, and then he continued to bungle everything related to it all week long. As always, he made multiple statements that were not true, and then doubled down on them, and then cried foul when they were found to be not true. Checking the president’s statements is what the White House press is supposed to do, because as a citizen, you should know–and you should care–if the president is lying to you. And you should care that the administration cannot summon up the minimum competence required to write and mail four letters of condolence in two weeks, because if they can’t do that, how are they going to handle an actual crisis?

Meanwhile the president is once again tweeting about the “wacky” congresswoman who “gave a total lie on content!” So clearly this week has been a fabulous learning experience for him.

1 I’m assuming he doubled down on it, because I’m assuming Sarah Huckabee Sanders is smart enough to realize that “The president misspoke” was the wise move in this situation.

2 My own theory about this is that John Kelly, in an attempt to help the president say something appropriate, suggested something about the sergeant’s willingness to put his life on the line and Trump’s brain scrambled it into “He knew what he signed up for.” I’m willing to believe the president wasn’t actively trying to make the aforesaid pregnant war widow cry harder. Which is apparently what he did.

3 I have an entire side rant about how treating women as “sacred” (as opposed to treating everyone with respect) is terrible for the world, but I’m restraining myself. You’re welcome.

4 In a particularly Trumpian twist, Congresswoman Wilson disputes Kelly’s account of her speech. Apparently no one’s unearthed a tape yet. But if Kelly couldn’t confirm it, then the story shouldn’t have made it into the statement, especially since what Wilson said about something else in 2015 is not remotely the point.