Mutually Assured Destruction Goes Domestic
Mutually assured destruction, or MAD, was the doctrine that conventional wisdom believed said for decades kept Soviet troops in Berlin on their side of the city. The only thing keeping the United States and Soviet Union from going to war was that the war would bring about certain ruin upon the attacker as well as the defender. The doctrine was not warmly embraced by all, Ronald Reagan being perhaps MAD’s most influential opponent. The idea that the only way to save human civilization was to threaten to eradicate it struck the 40th president as morally unconscionable.
So it is with politics because, here we are in 2019 with another form of MAD. This time the weapons are not new missiles launched from even stealthier submarines, but our own personal lives and the battlefield is not a divided Berlin, but a domestic culture war. The New York Times reported on Sunday that:
A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists.
The reporting comes after Times editor Tom Wright-Piersanti was shamed and forced to apologize for racist and anti-Semitic tweets dating back to 2008.
Much of the reaction to the reporting by the Times is that this is a continuation of Trump’s war on the press and that the president’s allies are trying to intimidate journalists and make it harder for them to do their jobs. That is true up to a point, but not the whole picture.
The White House and its allies to do not need to try to discredit “news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump,” for those news organizations have largely done that themselves. Kyle Kashuv, the Covington Catholic kids, that random GIF maker, that random elderly woman from Florida, that random forklift driver from New York have all been victims of one form of this type of “reporting” or another.
The mainstream press has gone after and harassed private individuals in the name of honest reporting for the crimes of making fun of CNN or posting a meme on Facebook. Of people listed above, only Kashuv is a public figure and he just finished high school and while the media may not have dug into his Google Docs they largely took the side of Harvard.
The Times defended itself and the media and voiced it’s disapproval:
But using journalistic techniques to target journalists and news organizations as retribution for — or as a warning not to pursue — coverage critical of the president is fundamentally different from the well-established role of the news media in scrutinizing people in positions of power.
This would make sense if it were true. CNN did not go after a GIF maker to defend the idea of a free press, they went after a GIF maker to silence any criticism they could. Those who cheered Harvard rescinding Kashuv’s acceptance into the university for comments he made when he was 16 did not do so because they are the defenders of racial justice in America, they did so because Kashuv was seen as a protégé of Ben Shapiro. The media smeared a bunch of high schoolers from Kentucky, because the narrative of racist Trump supporters disrespect Native American Vietnam veteran was too good to check.
Of course, the same same is true of this initiative as it’s advocates make clear. “A culture war is a war. There are casualties in war. And that’s what you’re seeing,” one advocate is quoted as saying in the Times. Martial analogies should always concern us, as General William Tecumseh Sherman once said, “If they want eternal war, well and good — we will accept the issue and dispossess them.” The media made the mistake of asking for a culture war, because they got one and now they are targets as well. Spend years of unfairly calling people racists and your complaints will ring hallow when the same rules are applied against you.
Most Americans are probably willing to grant that Kyle Kashuv is not a racist and that Tom Wright-Piersanti is not an anti-Semite, they both made mistakes in earlier in life, and who hasn’t, and the only reason their dirty laundry is being aired for the whole world to see is because they are public figures who have certain public enemies. It is a shame we have gotten here. We have turned politics into a religion which is bad enough, but this new religion has no concept of forgiveness. Because only (“only”) careers, as opposed to all of human civilization, are stake in this form of MAD, it is sure to be much less effective than the original. If we want a better civic discourse, it is time we stop looking to politicians and the shouting fests on cable news and on Twitter and start looking at ourselves and what exactly motivates our political actions.