McCain: Obama “Directly Responsible” For Orlando: Dispatches From The Land of Cognitive Dissonance

As we briefly discussed in the Quick Hits, John McCain knew who was to blame for a violent, sexually-confused psychopath buying an assault weapon and pledging vague and meaningless allegiance to a terrorist group.

(via @benjysarlin)

Now, McCain went on to say that he hold’s the President’s policies responsible, not Obama himself. Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate says that “In summary, John McCain is not going to be the Republican Party’s voice of reason on this one,” but in a way he sort of is. After all, unlike a lot of his colleagues, he isn’t whispering that Obama wanted this to happen (or, like the presumptive nominee, he isn’t shouting it). Unlike Ted Cruz, he isn’t saying that the FBI would have kept up their investigations on Mateen due to a series of incomprehensible and contradictory boasts and the fact that he went to Mecca, indefinitely, if only Obama said “radical Islamic terrorism” every once in a while.

The Cruz line is interesting, because, as Simon Maloy points out, the FBI is doing exactly what Ted Cruz says they should do: investigate anyone who might have any connection whatsoever to terrorism, even if it is specious at best. (Even though he, in theory, is against “Big Government”, and the tyranny of insurance regulations, these sorts of prolonged and rights-denying investigations are ok.) But for Cruz, the FBI would have somehow found something, found a non-existent connection, and arrested and stopped Mateen for a crime he hadn’t committed, for allegiances, even tenuous ones, he had yet to pledge, if only the magic words were uttered. It’s less the obvious anti-democratic and terrifying nonsense here, although that’s important, as it is the level of mental contortions that make even John McCain’s fabulisms look logical.

Obviously, Obama demolished this line of thinking, as he has before, but that doesn’t matter. The words “Radical Islam” have achieved totemic power on the right. Their incantation of it isn’t so much to stop ISIS, but to create a witch’s brew of allegations against Obama. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make any sense. In a political climate where certain phrases, like Keystone XL and (of course) Benghzai, take on a meaning far beyond their actual physical weight or strategic merit, the President’s refusal to say a phrase becomes all-encompassing. It becomes an article of faith.

This sort of faith-based fippery of the professional amnesiac is what is driving nearly all of  Republican thinking, especially on foreign policy. They don’t even engage with Obama’s arguments for why he doesn’t say the phrase. There is even a case. Not on their terms, but it is possible to say “Oh, come on- explaining why you won’t say it is basically saying it. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t. It’s not like ISIS is waiting for you to say ‘Radical Islam’ before they get really cocky.” But nope. There is no actual debate. They just get angrier and angrier at it, because it is a worldview, not a thought.

This brings us to McCain. He’s running for office, as we said, so he has no interest in being even a semi-decent person, but it’s more interesting that he blames Obama, directly, for ISIS. On one level, that’s politics, of course- he’s not going to blame himself! But it’s also a matter of deeply internalized cognitive dissonance. The right has wholly swallowed up the idea that we were about to win in Iraq, because it was relatively peaceful, until we pulled out, and then ISIS formed. On a very surface level, that makes some sense. It did happen like that, chronologically.

But think about it more. That basically means that our “victory” was such that as soon as we left it all fell apart. Our great triumph was a “peace” held together only by limitless troops staying there from now until infinity. But that doesn’t matter. The myth has, contra Lord of the Rings, faded into history, and become reality. The present started in January of 2009.

The whole right-wing foreign policy mentality consists of this kind of magical thinking. When McCain says that Obama is responsible for Orlando, or when moderate New Jersey governor Chris Christie says that we have to hit them where they live, when they live here, they aren’t fringing out. They are in the dead-center of their mainstream, and, given the reality they have constructed, are acting perfectly reasonable.


Well, We Have to Bomb Somebody!


Coming soon…


I think just being around Donald Trump makes everyone dumber. Not that I thought Chris Christie was ever an astute foreign policy thinker, but yeesh

“It’s unacceptable to allow this kind of stuff in our country and for us not to fight back, and we need to fight back, and that’s all these people understand,” Christie told the radio show. When the hosts smartly pressed the New Jersey governor on exactly where that fight should take place, he responded: ““You gotta get over there and start making them pay where they live. It’s an ugly and difficult thing but if we don’t get over there, they’re coming here, and they showed it again this weekend.”

Count the cliches!

  1. “that’s all these people understand.” This is always a good one, because it makes you sound really tough and realistic. Look, I don’t like violence, but it’s the only language we have in common. No translation needed. You should generally crack your neck after you say this.
  2. “start over there”. This is fantastic. It deals with the “if we stop them there, they won’t come here” reasoning which was one of the big reasons for why we are  supposed to fight ISIS in Iraq, even though the invasion created the conditions for regional collapse. But it’s even better because Christie has no idea what “over there” he’s referring to. As Will Bunch said, he “wants the U.S. military to drop bombs on Port St. Lucie, Florida,” since that’s where Mateen lived.
  3. “making them pay where they live”. He got this directly from a movie. I’m not sure which one. Maybe a cheap knockoff of The Sopranos, one in which the hero is a tough-talking, and tougher-acting, governor, played by Steve Schirripa. I’m not saying Christie wrote this movie (working title: The Boss of Jungleland), but I’m certainly not saying he didn’t.
  4. “ugly and difficult thing”. Translation: this’ll be great, but I have to use the somber face.
  5. “if we don’t get over there, they’re coming here, and they showed it again this weekend.” Mostly a repeat of number 3, because Christie literally has less than three sentences worth of foreign policy knowledge, but with a neat little bow that highlights the cruel absurdity of everything he is saying. They showed again that they’re coming here, like 30 years ago, and creating sexually-confused psychopaths who wrap their hatred up with the thinnest veneer of religion.

The thing is, this incoherent nonsense is essentially no different than what you hear from Lindsay Graham, who, anti-Trump charm tour notwithstanding, still believes we have to invade literally everywhere or we’re all gonna die. There isn’t a major GOP foreign policy “thinker” who doesn’t advocate this in some form or the other. We have to go there so they can’t come here. Action simply for the sake of action. The Max Power way. Christie isn’t saying just because he’s a dumb guy on foreign policy. He’s saying this because it is perfectly in line with his party’s mainstream ideas.

I don’t know guys. Newt “Bring back HUAC!” Gingrich has some strong credentials, but if Christie keeps sounding like such a dumbass he might get that Veep nod.

A Confused and Angry Man With A Gun: An American Portrait

Orlando Sentinel:

At least four regular customers at the Orlando gay nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people said Monday that they had seen Omar Mateen there before.

“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Ty Smith said.

Washington Post:

Further confusing matters, Comey also revealed that in “inflammatory and contradictory” comments to co-workers in 2013, Mateen had claimed to be a member of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia based in Lebanon.

 Now, it’s possible, I suppose, that Pulse just had great drink specials, good enough for a man with outward revulsion toward homosexuality to overcome his loathing and get some Bud. It’s also possible, I suppose, that a man whom no one described as particularly concerned with religion had a sophisticated conversion wherein he moved from Shi’ism to Sunnism, perhaps based on some actions taken by Hezbollah of which he disapproved, revoking his membership and transferring to Hezbollah’s rival, ISIS (and doing this, meanwhile, while frequently getting drunk at a gay nightclub).
In the absence of those not too terribly likely scenarios, though, we need to look at this as what it was: a deeply confused, possibly closeted man, twisted by a culture (both much of Islam and many strains of Christian American life) that has a fierce hatred of homosexuality. He’s someone who hated himself, and hated others, especially those who reminded him of what he possibly actually was, even as he was drawn to them.
An angry and boastful man, who wanted people to think he was something that he wasn’t, in many ways. A manly married man, a tough Muslim with a dangerous background.  With just a few puzzle pieces moved around, a few name substitutions, this could be any of our mass shooters (and many of our non-mass-shooters, and some people who somehow don’t shoot anyone at all).
That he pledged to ISIS is no more indicative of their global reach than was the Newtown Massacre. There is little doubt that he was “inspired” by them, but not in the way we commonly understand. They just gave him an outlet for his rage, and a justification for his actions. But he would have found one anyway. It doesn’t seem he was radicalized by ISIS: he was radicalized by his hate, by something in his personality, and possibly something lurking deep within him. He let ISIS be his final reason, but the reasons were always there. ISIS was, at best, the proximate justification.
That’s what we don’t seem to understand, and the cheap and dangerous political demagoguing coming from the Republican candidate is making matters worse. As Masha Gessen said in the NYRB, declaring “war” on people like Mateen only empowers them, empowers ISIS, and gives the next confused and small and angry man a reason to act. It makes them seem like a great and powerful force, exactly the kind of thing that someone like Mateen wants to be a part of. It isn’t Islam, although there is no doubt that Islam played a role. It’s the roaring anger that exists in so many men, a self that is curdled by tradition and loathing. In his case, it was heightened by the rank homophobia that exists in many parts of American culture, including Islam. (As Chotiner pointed out at Slate, in his speech, Trump clearly separated Muslims from Americans, even saying “them” and “us”, even when talking about citizens. This hideous bigotry is exactly what ISIS wants, and it feeds any angry teenager who identifes with Islam).
It’s this yell, this cancerous rage, that is rampant across the country, no matter the pledged allegiance. Mateen was a product of his won twisted pathologies, but they were heightened by the society in which he lived.
And he had easy and unfettered access to combat weaponry.

Mateen’s Terrorist Ties and the Gun Argument

There’s a good chance that you’ve heard (or made) a comment about how the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, had been investigated for ties to terrorism, but was still able to buy a gun. I know I did, when I heard it: a gnashing of teeth at how easy it is to get an semi-automatic rifle, how insane it is that we have decided, as a country, that these kind of killings are the price of freedom, and just something with which we have to deal, and anger at Republicans for talking about being tough on terror but refusing to close the loophole which allows people on terrorism watchlists to buy guns. That he was investigated is true, of course. Here’s from the Times: 

The F.B.I. investigated Mr. Mateen in 2013 when he made comments to co-workers suggesting he had terrorist ties, and again the next year, for possible connections to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who became a suicide bomber in Syria, said Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the bureau’s Tampa Division. But each time, the F.B.I. found no solid evidence that Mr. Mateen had any real connection to terrorism or had broken any laws.

But see: these aren’t real ties. A bragging 26-year old, looking to sound tough or maybe even joking, or whatever combination of swagger, anger, and insecurity a 26-yr-old will have (I barely remember). The other is that he might have possibly known someone who joined ISIS.

Even if he did know Abusalha, that isn’t enough to put him on a list. These are the kind of blanket connections that can ruin lives. You’re a Muslim, and you went to school with a Muslim who may be a bad guy, so you’re on the list. We’ll make it harder to fly, harder to rent a house, harder to do most everything. That it isn’t harder to buy guns is inhuman hypocrisy, of course, but that doesn’t mean these terrorism watch lists aren’t over-broad and inherently anti-liberal.

Mateen of course is a monster, a twisted wreck of hate and a poisoned culture- both the culture of ISIS and the rampant homophobia that still exists in the US. That he had the right to buy a gun that can easily kill dozens is a crime. That those rights exist easily for anyone is sickening. But the idea that any rights can be curtailed because of blanket suspicion and the merest whiff of connections is also a crime. Mateen isn’t innocent. But many innocent people are on these lists, and we shouldn’t just complain that they can get guns. We should be outraged by their overbroad existence.

A brief note on “politicizing tragedy”

A lesson we’re all going to learn again in the next few days is that a tragedy can’t be “politicized”, or at least that it is ok to do so, if the shooter involved is Muslim and says “ISIS” before killing people, even if he has nothing to do with actual terrorism, even if that is just the thin reed to which he clings in the tidal wave of his own hatred and madness.  Then it is ok to call out political opponents for being weak on terror, and not being manly enough. Then it is ok to score points. Not when a mentally unstable kid shoots up a schoolhouse, killing 20 kids, or a theater or a black church. Then we are politicizing tragedy.

It’s always correct to bring politics into tragedy. Politics, in a society like ours, is the result of our collective action and will. It’s the outcome of our ideas and beliefs. It is messy and angry and at times like these stained with bitter tears. But to not be political, to not try to find reason in the face of horror, is to give up, to abdicate our duties as citizens. There should be, and will be, fights about this. And that is good and healthy. We just need to make sure that we always have these fights, because that is the only way things will get changed. “Politicizing” the shooting at Emmanuel African helped bring down a flag of treason and slavery. It does make a difference.

As we said in regards to FlintBut any human-caused tragedy is inherently political, and response to it needs to be. Accusations of politicizing events are a dodge, an intellectual grift, designed to keep whatever policies caused the tragedy in place. It’s better to just say “it’s a terrible thing”, as if there was some kind of free-floating miasmatic tragedy fog that just happened to land on a place. 

As citizens of a democracy, it is our duty to create a political response to the actions of human, especially when those actions target a group vilified by so many. That’s not to take advantage of the dead, or turn them into unwitting martyrs. We don’t- I certainly don’t- speak in anyone’s name. We just need to be able to try to turn an unimaginable massacre into a better place, where it is harder and harder to kill so many people, to destroy so many lives, simply because you want to.


A Wild Howling Madness: It Does, and Doesn’t, Matter That Orlando Gunman Pledged to ISIS


Omar Mateen, the alleged Orlando shooter. Image from The Washington Post

At least 50 dead. At least 50 more wounded. As the staggering numbers gutpunched their way in this morning, and America woke to the reality that in a violent nation, we reached another grim milestone, people struggled not just with the enormity of pain and sorrow, but with what to call this. Was it a hate crime, targeted as it was at an LGBT club? Was it an act of terrorism, as we learned that the shooter had a Muslim-sounding name? Was it a mass shooting?

The last two seemed like they could be in opposition, while a hate crime can apply to both. The problem is that it is (most likely) all three. While this is (as of the writing) unconfirmed, it seems that Omar Mateen called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS shortly before the shooting started.

A few things about this make it less an act of international terrorism, and more the actions of a sick and depraved man influenced by many factors, including the religious nihilism of ISIS. But there doesn’t seem to be any training, and certainly not any real membership in ISIS. Not to be glib, but one doesn’t join ISIS by calling 911. They generally don’t relay the message. You have to actually join.

(Obviously, there is a real danger of people actually joining ISIS and receiving training, and possibly using it in the homeland. Foreign fighters are a key part if ISIS strategy. This isn’t that. It’s a different danger.)

This idea is furthered by Mateen’s father, who said that the crime was more motivated by a hatred of homosexuals.

“We were in Downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Mir Seddique, told NBC News on Sunday. “They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’ And then we were in the men’s bathroom and men were kissing each other.”

Seddique added, “This had nothing to do with religion.”

But…of course, it does. ISIS is explicitly opposed to homosexuality, and punishes it by death, as does al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and even “friendly” regimes in many Islamic countries.  Christian ones, too, if you look at Uganda. And you barely have to twist the radio dial to hear religious-based (or at least justified) hatred of gays throughout the country. Liberal laws about transgender rights have sparked an upswing of hate speech about them as well, with Republican candidates tripping over each other to issues the loudest condemnation. A hatred of gays is both created by, and justified by, religion.

And that, to me, is why it does and it doesn’t matter that he “pledged” himself to ISIS. For years, terrorism experts and laypeople alike were wondering why there weren’t mere lone wolf attacks in the name of Qaeda or ISIS. Now, that door has fully opened, and the number of people carrying out mass shootings in the name of ISIS is going up. I think it will certainly increase. But let’s not say that this is a sign that ISIS is getting powerful, or more absurdly, that it means we are “losing” in struggle against radical fundamentalism. We may be, but these are not signs of it.

What they are signs of is that it is extremely easy to kill a lot of people in America. It happens all the time. There is a sickness and violence in our culture, a roiling anger at immigrants or gays or Muslims or Southerners or just fucking life in general, just the dispossession of a post-industrial and unequal society, where binds are breaking, and every day we hear the snapping tendons of what once held us together.

Some of these people will identify as Muslim, and decide to tell 911 or Twitter that they love ISIS before billowing out into a hurricane of murderous insanity. Some will tell a Mens’ Rights message board. Some won’t tell anyone but the diary they keep next to a dog-eared copy of misread Nietzsche.

Of course, this is what ISIS wants, by telling anyone that they are “part” of ISIS if they pledge allegiance in public. But that’s even more to the point: they are taking advantage of a sickness, of people who feel weak and helpless and want to be part of something bigger. It’s little different than Eric Harris or Adam Lanza or Jared Loughner or Dylan Roof.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which imaginary idol is being propitiated by violence, whether that is white pride, Jesus, or Allah. The slaughtered are no more or less dead due to which angry god is invoked. The suffering of the families is no more or less real. We will argue, in the days and weeks, as to whether this is terrorism, or a hate crime. Liberals will hear smug lectures about how we should now see that terrorism is bad, as if we didn’t already know that. That he pledged to ISIS will be a data point in people’s absurd spreadsheets about winning or losing, and we won’t look at the main question, the one that is truly about ourselves, about the dark heart thumping madly in the center of this nation.