It’s possible to damage a weapon by using it wrongly. For example, no sensible person would attempt to chop down a cherry tree with a broadsword. It’s the wrong tool for the job. At the end of the attempt, the cherry tree would still be standing and the sword would be useless. The owner wouldn’t just be frustrated; he’d also have ruined his weapon. What if he were to need it in the future?
So it is also with political combat. There are political weapons, including rhetorical thrusts, that must be used on their proper targets only, lest misapplication render them useless. proper application requires an assessment of the target. Will he bare his neck to the stroke, or is the blade more likely to bounce harmlessly off his armor? The political tactician must know.
The recently concluded presidential election presents a fascinating study in political weapon selection: largely correct on one side, and badly misjudged on the other.
The Trump for President campaign directed a lot of attention toward the failings of its opponent, former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton’s failings, both personal and political, were considerable. Her slime trail was long and wide; her years in the public eye had made them impossible to conceal. Worse for her chances, they synergized: her decision to “play the woman card” clashed with her tactics in defense of her philandering husband, while her unconcealed, overweening ambition made her claims to accomplishment clash with her actual record. In consequence – and as more than one commentator noted during the campaign – the more Americans saw of her, the less they liked her.
It is probable that the Clintons’ effect on the American political scene was dealt its death blow by the presidential campaign. Bill Clinton is no longer the most recent Democrat to win two terms in the White House. Hillary Clinton is no longer credible as a “champion” for anything. More, the Clintons’ inner circle is tainted by the association, and will more than likely go down with the Clintons’ ship. Dabbling in “spirit cooking” and secret pedophilia / child porn rings does tend to damage a political career. Given those consequences, we may judge the Trump campaign’s tactic to be a weapon properly deployed.
The Clinton for President campaign attempted to swing a similar sword against Donald Trump. The allegations of racism, of sexism, and of personal unfitness for the presidency flew thick and fast. Hillary Clinton could hardly open her mouth without uttering one or more such denunciations. Yet they had little effect, if any, on the momentum of the Trump campaign: Trump’s public record provided little support for the accusations of racism and sexism. (His many successes as a manager of extremely large projects refuted the suggestions that he would prove an incompetent executive.) Whether the allegations were important in reinforcing the loyalty of Clinton’s supporters is unclear.
However, the effect on the political utility of accusations of racism and sexism could well be disastrous for the Democrats, who’ve made frequent use of them over the past several election cycles. The persistence of the Democrats in accusing all Republicans of such biases had “pre-wearied” the public. The slanders had already lost a lot of tread from previous overuse. Clinton’s reliance on them may well have dissipated their effect for the long term, such that even if used against a candidate who fits them, they might prove ineffective.
As an open, gleefully admitted “ist” and “phobe” of every sort, I might seem the wrong person to comment on the ruination of such accusations as political weapons. Well, we all have our jobs, and this is mine: to make wider sense of phenomena frequently remarked upon but with little understanding.
For the moment, the point is of contextual importance only. However, when the next presidential contest begins about
a week from today two years hence, should the Left deploy the above discussed scurrilities against its next opponent, a huge percentage of the electorate will smirk, say, “Yeah, we’ve heard all that from you clowns before,” and dismiss them. Note how smoothly this commentator deflects them in the post mortem. Indeed, they might well rebound against their wielders, as an ineptly wielded weapon will sometimes do; in that connection, note how easily the esteemed Stephen Green scores against them. It puts me in mind of this famous P.J. O’Rourke rant:
Back in London, I was having dinner in the Groucho Club—this week’s in-spot for what’s left of Britain’s lit glitz and nouveau rock riche—when one more person started in on the Stars and Stripes. Eventually he got, as the Europeans always do, to the part about “Your country’s never been invaded.” (This fellow had been two during the Blitz, you see.) “You don’t know the horror, the suffering. You think war is—”
“A John Wayne movie,” I said. “That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it? We think war is a John Wayne movie. We think life is a John Wayne movie—with good guys and bad guys, as simple as that. Well, you know something, Mister Limey Poofter? You’re right. And let me tell you who those bad guys are. They’re us. WE BE BAD.
“We’re the baddest-assed sons of bitches that ever jogged in Reeboks. We’re three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock market crash on our mother’s side. You take your Germany, France, and Spain, roll them all together and it wouldn’t give us room to park our cars. We’re the big boys, Jack, the original, giant, economy-sized, new and improved butt kickers of all time. When we snort coke in Houston, people lose their hats in Cap d’Antibes. And we’ve got an American Express card credit limit higher than your piss-ant metric numbers go.
“You say our country’s never been invaded? You’re right, little buddy. Because I’d like to see the needle-dicked foreigners who’d have the guts to try. We drink napalm to get our hearts started in the morning. A rape and a mugging is our way of saying ‘Cheerio.’ Hell can’t hold our sock hops. We walk taller, talk louder, spit further, fuck longer, and buy more things than you know the names of. I’d rather be a junkie in a New York City jail than king, queen, and jack of all you Europeans. We eat little countries like this for breakfast and shit them out before lunch.”
[From Holidays in Hell.]
Aragorn could not wield the shards of Narsil. They had to be reforged into Anduril to become useful once more. Whether any operation of rhetoric or minority-group pandering can similarly restore the political efficacy of accusations of racism, sexism, et cetera, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m certain there are Democrat Party strategists cogitating over the problem as we speak.