EnlightenmentLiberal Improved My Thinking and Writing

So just a few days ago I wrote a piece titled, “You are not the hero.” I thought I was pretty clear that the problem was that the author of the NYTimes anonymous op-ed about resisting Trump’s orders was being lionized by many in the media, including FtB-friend Ed Brayton (with whom I normally agree).

Enlightenment Liberal came along and wrote a comment to that post that made me uncomfortable. Where I thought I’d been clear, EL expressed disagreement that I should believe every Trump employee has a duty to resign. While we had a short back-and-forth and realized we were in agreement, I wondered why that wasn’t clear already and re-read my piece. There are many times when I write something long, but that includes definitive statement X, only to be told that I believe or assert Not-X. Since I’m pretty careful with my writing, I expected that probably I had been clear and that EL just misread a long-winded post.

But that’s not what I found. In addition to using a vague word “situation” to sum up a few things about the author and the media’s treatment of the author that really should have been spelled out, there was also something important yet entirely missing. Although I took it for granted that an important part of the context is that it’s actually been the Republicans who fetishize rule of law at the national level (and have done at least since Nixon), I realized on re-reading that I hadn’t included that bit of context anywhere in my original post and others wouldn’t take it for granted.

See, here’s the thing: although I would have been mildly irked with anyone of any party being lionized in this circumstance, the depth of my feeling, the true source of my outrage, was that someone who is clearly a powerful person in the Republican party is clearly going to the media to seek not only absolution but also praise for disobeying the law and the lawful orders of the President whose orders that person – if working in the Executive – is bound to follow.

My contempt for, e.g., the author’s co-optation of the term “resistance” in this particular political moment where resistance means something very different than supporting the caging of children but opposing withdrawal from a bi-lateral trade agreement with South Korea is an integral part of my perspective on the lionization of the op-ed author. Slacktivist author Fred Clark captured well the particular flavors of the editorial that were responsible for my reaction to the media’s lionization of the op-ed author:

All of which means that this op ed reads less like an indictment of the president than the feckless defense of some Vichy functionary desperately trying to save his neck by pretending after the fact that he’d been a subversive saboteur all along. (h/t to Jenora Feuer)

I do think that it would be good if every single person currently on the White House staff along with every single senate-confirmed appointee originally nominated by Trump turned in resignations in a rapidly cascading event that left Trump alone in the White House without even anyone to answer the phones or process paperwork to hire new staff. I think that would be glorious. Yet I also don’t think that everyone who needs a paycheck should be ethically required to quit their jobs.

There’s a clear focus to my opposition to the media treatment of this editorial, and it’s dependent on seeing the contradictions between the power to further policies within the government (which the author maintains and embraces, praising the majority of Trump’s agenda) and the powerlessness of a functionary to a mad king (which the author employs rhetorically to absolve, through the ambiguity of anonymity, every single not-President person working in the Executive Branch), as well as the contradictions between the fetishization of rule-of-law to the extent that the right demonizes people with the entirely legitimate view that the 2nd Amendment does not deny the government the power to prohibit private ownership of weapons unneeded for legitimate private purposes and frequently used dangerously or illegally (even murderously) and the editorial seeking praise specifically for violating the rule of law.

For whatever reason, the importance of these contradictions weren’t clear in my original post. Nor was this: rule of law is a very important value, but it’s not the only value. Keeping your job within Trump’s administration doesn’t make you a demon, but you’re still not a hero. And if you’re deluded enough to think you are or should be the hero of this story, deluded enough to write a NYTimes op-ed about your heroic efforts that names yourself, literally, the Resistance, then you absolutely deserve scorn.

But you – and everyone else – also deserve a more carefully worded post than I originally created.


  1. Mano Singham says

    Don’t beat yourself up too much for people thinking you said not-X when you thought you said X. However hard we try to be precise, this will happen from time to time, especially with blog posts where no one else reads the piece before it is posted. As Karl Popper said, “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you are not misunderstood.”

    The best we can hope for is to arrive at some mutual understanding with the reader and sometimes his requires a bit of back-and-forth as you experienced with EL. That is why the comment feature is so valuable.

  2. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Thanks Crip Dyke for that flattering summary. And to be fair, I fear that I misread far too often.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … I would have been mildly irked with lionizing anyone of any party being lionized…

    The meaning comes through clearly here, but expect some heavy knocking on the door by the Grammar Police.

    … if every single person currently on the White House staff … turned in resignations …

    Pls bear in mind that no enterprise with any concern about appearing honest, competent, or having a shred of decency would want a person with a Trump™ regime history on their resumé within a mile of their offices. Fortunately for them, not for us, such concerns seem to dwindle among American businesses with each passing minute.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Crip Dyke… @ # 4 – In my ever-humble opinion, we should reserve the word “lionizing” to, e.g., the Christian experience in Roman arenas.

  5. says

    Yet I also don’t think that everyone who needs a paycheck should be ethically required to quit their jobs.

    Nazi prison guards needed paychecks. They were ethically required to quit their jobs.

  6. John Morales says

    Marcus, you are not disputing what you quoted, but it comes across as if you were.

    ¬(∀x:Y(x)) → (∃x:¬(Y(x))

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus.
    Unless they were helping some escape. Of course, such a situation sounds contrived to me, but I think that is comparable to the original context.

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