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November 19, 2015

trigger warning: everyone is a stupid coward

So in light of last week's vote on the odious Syrian refugee bill yesterday in the House, I am hitting the ceiling anger-wise. Oh I was angry before, as a big swath of the U.S. revealed itself to be exactly the kind of patsies that terrorists depend on us to be: "We will make them afraid and then they will do stupid things." "We're afraid! Let's show those mean ol' terrorists by doing stupid things!" Nativist, know-nothing, xenophobic, etc. But mostly chicken-shit, as a whole bunch of erstwhile stand-up people decided that a little empathy cannot stand in the way of cowardice.

But Thursday, we went above and beyond your standard man-on-the-street Ugly Americanism, as a couple dozen Democrats defied the barest grasp of American principles and voted for this dogshit bill, this Pre-Interment Act of 2015. Before there was already this baseline state of anger, a bit more livid than usual, but then the moment passes when an idea calcifies: there existed this quiet but persistent strain of ugliness, this funneling of the fears and nightmares onto first an entire faith and then more recently onto a specific subset of this faith consisting of refugees from a civil war that's already killed a cool million people, and then we blinked and this pernicious tendency crossed over from Dark Underbelly to Consensus. A bunch of sober-eyed appeals to comity masked base intimidation and hysteria, and Democrats who crossed the aisle issued confusing explanations that read like This Is The Worst Bill Ever, and As I Vote For It, Keep In Mind etc. etc. Which is where we remain.

Setting aside, for a moment, the cravenness of those we elect to represent us, and considering that this is a popularly held position, there are glaring reasons to despise this sentiment on pure principal— for the mean-spirited selfishness of it, for the cynicism of it, for its cruel bigotry, etc. But what I really, really hate about it is that it is inexcusably stupid.

So. A reason cited that we are no longer welcoming the tired/poor/hungry refugees from Syria, here to undergo a two-freaking-year vetting process, is because we are concerned that some of them might be a terrorist pretending to be a refugee. Right. The mere idea that ISIS, sneaky and deadly as usual, can only get into the country by sneaking in as refugees from Syria is the dumbest most patronizing thing. Is that how backward these savages are, that we can anticipate their resort to the path of least resistance? Somehow we are life-alteringly terrified of them, but they are so thick- headed that any plot to enter into the U.S. will have been figured out in detail by the keyboard wing of our security analysts, and their plot amounts to basically grabbing a refugee right before they cross the border, pulling them behind a shrub, and emerging in their their refugee uniforms. There are too many ways to enter the U.S. to list, so many easier ways to defeat our counter-intelligence, and we're quaking because we might be foiled if they put on a fake mustache? We're reenacting an episode of "F Troop."

And that criminal idiocy is just the surface. The inciting event, the murder of scores of innocents in Paris, was committed by not-Syrian not-refugees, but French/Belgian citizens. (And that passport? Not only is the passport duh, a fake, but it is now thought to be a red flag.) So, in response, we're amping up our paranoia aimed at exactly the people who did not commit the atrocity. And this scattershot antipathy pointed in the direction of all Muslims everywhere is exactly what ISIS wants. As in, it is their explicitly stated goal. ISIS is not trying to invade Paris. ISIS is trying to provoke, to terrorize. It is not that discrete of a concept. And maybe in some quarters it is a sign of virility and masculinity and American-ness to do exactly what the bad guys want you to do, but in saner environs it is a sign that the person in question should not be trusted with anything more dangerous than a sharpened pencil.

And yet, despite these Howard-Beale levels of things worth shouting about from the rooftops to the choir, there has been a deliberate pushback from writers who would generally be considered as identifying with progressives, which generally goes: Stop making fun! This issue is polling in ways that you might be on the wrong side of!

Specifically, check Kevin Drum (referring to a similar piece by Chris Cillizza):

Cillizza has some poll numbers to back this up, but he's right in more ways than just that. Here's the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country. We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees. And most voters have no idea how easy it is to get past US screening. They probably figure it's pretty easy.

So to them it doesn't seem xenophobic or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees. It seems like simple common sense. After all, things changed after Paris.

"Seems perfectly reasonable" is a light-weight metric to be swinging over one's head in this particular situation. The list of other things that "seemed perfectly reasonable," not just in American history, but in the past ten years, is not a list that anyone stands proudly over and cites as an example of how good and decent the average people are. The government wanting to physically take all guns, recessions caused by the poors and the various libels heaped upon Barack Obama, those also were conceits that "seemed perfectly reasonable." It now makes more sense as short-hand for something despicable than it does as something reasonable.

And yes, the phrase is modified by, "to the average person." That's terrifying, but certainly not an exaggeration.

Ultimately, I'm not sure why it's my job to be nice because people who respond to polls are stupid, and furthermore easily whipped into a frenzy by a political party only marginally smarter that the poll-takers. I guess there's some sort of expediency I'm glossing over, some bridge-building effort that I'm shrugging off. But frankly, I don't see the use in tricking stupid people with lazy evil ideas into voting for my candidates or my party. Actually, the main thing that I care about is that the country I was raised in doesn't turn into some flag-waving, fascism-with-a-smile dystopia. Or I should say turn into such a thing to an even greater extent than it is now.

And of course there is the question: are all of these people really as bad as that? Are they really so short-sighted that they can pretend to be offended that the notional Statue of Liberty might fucking weep at these turn of events? There has been this mechanism, this weird myopia, wherein the holder of a sentiment identifies the sentiment as virtuous along the reasoning that the holder identifies self as virtuous, and therefore the work-product of the heart/mind of the holder can be nothing but virtuous. We're most familiar with this as it relates to racism, that weird line of thought that goes, My racism cannot be racism because racism is bad and I am good (and I had a black roommate in college). Seemingly, a pollable majority of Americans are weak-kneed and more than willing to controvert one of the most basic tenets of this American experiment, but are unable to take a long look in the mirror.

Which I guess makes the short answer: yes.

So I have no intention of shutting up, no matter what Chris Cillizza and Kevin Drum say. And I sincerely hope this passes, and becomes one of those times that we look back on and get the willies, because, ho boy, that was a close one.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:48 PM