On Holding Your Own Political Side to Account
(Author’s note: I have about fifty different friends who would all like this article to go in slightly different directions. They aren’t by any means being terrible about it, but I wanted whatever ends up in this article to be what I think about this topic, minimally influenced by who I like better and identify more with or who simply is more forceful at me in a way that makes me uncomfortable disagreeing.
The practical upshot of that is that this article is both essentially a disorganized rant, and also minimally edited by outside parties.)
First things first: I really don’t want to write this article right now. I think three or four days ago my plan for my next article was something like “In praise of small, heavy objects” or “Why did good deals stop existing?”.
Those would have both been fun to write, and they would have obeyed my generalized “don’t write too many heavy articles in a row” rule. All was well with the world, and then Ron DeSantis started moving immigrants around like Risk pieces and now I have to torture both of us (you and me, not me and Ron DeSantis). We could have had FUN, folks. You could have liked me better because of my upbeat and weird take on the world. Now we have this mess.
So to be very clear, I’m very sorry and I very much don’t want to be writing this. But the story is uniquely fitted in enough ways to something else I’ve been trying to figure out how to say that I have to write it right at this exact moment or it will change/evolve on me and the points I’m trying to make won’t fit anymore.
This is not an article that gets you from where you are now to understanding exactly what went on, who to blame, and how you should vote in the next election. If this seems like a dereliction of my duty, I would point out that pretty much any other website talking about this story is glad to do that; you are not bereft of options.
If you were sort of foggily following the story, it’s likely your osmosis-learning got you to a story that sounds something like this:
1. Ron DeSantis and some other Republicans (probably) tricked a bunch of Venezuelan immigrants into getting on a plane by telling them it was heading to a migrant utopia of some sort; they would disembark in a land of good jobs, aid, and respect.
2. The immigrants were instead taken to Martha’s Vineyard, a beautiful island where very rich and very powerful
3. As soon as possible, the Immigrants were one and all removed from Martha’s Vineyard to a military base. This should in no way be taken to mean that they weren’t wanted there, and we all very much love military bases right now - they are perfect utopias of fun and joy; we never disliked the military and we would never, ever say that taking immigrants out of a community to hold them at a military base was bad if anyone else did it.
To be very clear, I care a LOT about 1 here and very little about 2-3.
It’s very probable that the immigrants in question are in a materially better situation than they were before. They are now celebrity immigrants whom the state of Massachusetts and the entire Democrat party (at least in the near future) have a vested interest in treating very, very well.
I could not care less about this from a did-my-side-do-something wrong perspective. Sometimes internet democrats will find someone who said something they don’t like and do everything in their power to destroy them, and sometimes this backfires on them and the person on the Right they intended to punish will get a nice PR boost that ends up helping them instead. This does not mean that what the internet Democrats were doing was nice; they very much meant to hurt someone.
So while this might end up being very nice for the migrants in question (and I’m glad for them if it is), it doesn’t answer what I consider to be the material question about item 1 at all. That question is: Was Ron DeSantis a dick to a bunch of poor people?
Because, yeah, we all sort of know that there was no way that Martha’s Vineyard was going to retain and take care of those immigrants. But that’s a given for rich people on all sides of the aisle; there aren’t any homeless shelters inside gated communities. That’s actually why you have the gate.
Yes, the immediate expulsion of the immigrants from Martha’s Vineyard might expose some wacky yes-in-your-backyard hypocrisy on the left. No, that doesn’t matter to what Ron DeSantis did or didn’t do.
If Ron DeSantis or some DeSantis surrogate network told a bunch of immigrants lies to get them on a plane they otherwise wouldn’t have got on as part of a wacky prank, that’s pretty bad. To be clear, I’m against it. I don’t like it; I very much disapprove of it and I don’t think it should be done. It’s very much a “don’t fuck with people” situation, in my view; like, yes, it’s fun to own your outgroup, but do it by yourself.
But is any of this what happened?
I don’t mean that in a big “but none of this is what happened” way. I have, somewhere, a DnD character named “Ron the Saint”; he’s a trickery cleric, essentially just a used car salesman stereotype with a war hammer. If it’s not clear from the name, he’s based on DeSantis; my general vibe of the guy is that he’s slimy and he continually reinforces that by doing weird performative shit. It’s plausible to me he did a bad thing here.
But that still leaves open an important question: I wouldn’t put it past him to do this, but did he do this? Because to be clear, I can write other plausible stories. The immigrants, for instance, start out in the kind of shitty situation you’d imagine they might agree to leave even if some uncertainty was involved:
There’s nothing else for Carolina and others like her in Eagle Pass. Migrants who cross here are vulnerable to scammers — and political opportunists, said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), an advocacy group.
These people have no money or resources,” Garcia said in an interview in Eagle Pass. “They’re totally vulnerable to any offer of free transportation since they don’t have any resources of their own. If you’re a young mother without any resources, you’re easy pickings for people who are going to use you as political pawns.”
Garcia and other volunteers came to the border to inform migrants of the pitfalls of trusting offers like the one that ended with migrants finding themselves on a Massachusetts island that was unprepared for them.
Ignoring for a moment that the last paragraph is very unlikely to be true (Activists did not go down to Texas to warn people they might get flown to Martha’s Vineyard), it’s plausible that DeSantis would have found some takers for a “Hey, want to go to Martha’s Vineyard? They are gonna kick you out, but there’s no way it’s worse for you than starving in a jobless border town” offer.
Does that seem like a highly motivated stretch? It is! But in noticing that you’ve noticed part of what’s shitty about being a conservative in today’s political market; yes, our politicians are slimy. But at the same time, there’s zero downsides to most media sources immediately and fully believing any worst-case-scenario explanation and regurgitating it.
Later on, they might get caught with their hand in the full-credulity cookie jar but it won’t hurt them in any way; nobody will hold them to account. For people like me who at least think they want to be fair but also don’t want to get taken in on a weekly basis, that means leaving every stretchy, improbable alternate explanation on the table for at least a while.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. At some point, a bunch of 4chan people said “Hey, you know how the media will believe literally anything negative about anyone not on the political left? Let’s tell them the OK hand gesture means you hate black people and let them run with that for months and months”.
And run they did; it’s pretty easy to find pictures of people making fairly common hand gestures. They went crazy on this for months, only starting to cool on it when it destroyed the life of some poor blue-collar guy for popping his knuckles:
Cafferty claims he was just cracking his knuckles.
Soon after the encounter, a supervisor of Cafferty's told him he was suspended and that further action may be taken after an investigation. A few days later, he says he was fired.
Cafferty maintains he was unaware of the hand gesture until the whole controversy started.
"When my supervisor said that I was being accused of doing a white supremacist gesture, that was baffling," Cafferty told NBC 7 on Monday.
"I don’t know how long it's going to take me to get over this, but to lose your dream job for playing with your fingers, that’s a hard pill to swallow," Cafferty said.
When it became clear that they were hurting a Mexican-American working man instead of someone who was more clearly a white Republican, it took some of the wind out of the OK symbol sails, and you stopped seeing it as much.
(By the way, props to the ADL who appears to have got ahead of this about as soon as anyone.)
The song has not been definitively identified, although some — including The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer — said it is titled “WWG1WGA” after the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all,” and is affiliated with the movement. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman speculated Trump may have used a song titled “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer. But, as a music professor who analyzed “Mirrors” after Trump used it in a video told Vice in August, the two songs are “identical.”
“I have listened to both [“Mirrors” and “WWG1WGA”] closely several times now, and I have 100% professional confidence these recordings are identical, not even a reinterpretation of a composition, but the same recording,” David Dominique told Vice News.
That story is from Rolling Stone, which sometimes takes big bites off the “anything bad about conservatives must be very, very true” apple. So from my perspective, the QAnon music narrative every aspect of a “conservatives are bad, and we can say so because there’s no downside to us not doing fact-checking work” story; they can do this, get their points, and then see no retribution of any significant size once it’s shown they didn’t do their work.
But the M. Night Shyamalan twist on this one is, yeah, it looks like those two songs are the same song (see here and here) and the dates line up in such a way as makes it probable that Trump did use that song as a signaling thing. This is important, and I want people to internalize it if they can: Even stopped clocks are sometimes right, and Conservative politicians do sometimes do bad things.
This story popped onto my radar because one of my Discord room’s inhabitants brought it up: Isn’t this a clear sign that DeSantis is bad, and should be dumped? And I end up in a weird place, because yeah, it probably does. The most likely version of this story is that DeSantis did a shitty thing to some poor people; I will not be shocked if that ends up being the pretty confirmed version of this story.
But at the same time I was once reliably informed that Mitt Romney was a Hitler-esque figure who was not fit for office because he had a car-top dog carrier, and one time the media did its best to destroy a teenaged kid for wearing the wrong hat while a bunch of adults were being weird at him as he waited for a bus home, doing it’s best to destroy him right up until and even a little after he had video evidence they had just lied.
This means for every major news story going after the right there’s a period of time where if you lean on me, I’m going to um and ah and look shitty and non-committal no matter how bad it looks for my side. I don’t love this, but I believe I do it because I don’t have any choice - within a week or so of any major story, I’m in a twilight zone where people on my side are often really bad, but any stories I’m reading are also potentially false.
Nobody wants to seem shitty and uber-biased about everything, but when your alternative is getting taken in by your political enemies once every few weeks, what do you do? What’s your good option?
The worst part about all this is that it is, in the end, a one-sided problem. If you are on the left, you can count on nearly the opposite bias - the media will give the best interpretation of moves your side makes. Yes, there will be some sources that grind on your guy, but they will all be Fox-News-at-Best and safely disregarded as bad sources.
The classic recent example of this is the Hunter Biden laptop story (I know that you are very sick of this one and I apologize). Regardless of the truth of the accusations associated with that story, it’s pretty clear that the media (and social media) were protective of Biden in a way they certainly wouldn’t have been for Trump, and very likely wouldn’t have been for anyone on the right.
If you are me - not extremely political, even if you are somewhat interested - that means that people can come up to you all day and say “Look at the supply of organized and codified ‘your side is bad’ stories we’ve accumulated over the years! Our side has nothing like this!”. And no, they don’t; not obviously, anyway. But there’s a big question of whether or not the American left is truly the first honest and moral political class that’s ever existed, or whether it’s just been determined that we never have to look particularly closely at their doings.
This has been, as I will probably notate at the top of the article later, a rant. I’m frustrated by all this. There’s very few republican candidates I like right now, if any. The remainder often misbehave in ways I don’t like. But my alternative to the candidates are other candidates whose explicit planks are objectionable to me in many ways, and whose visible behavior is artificially good, propped up by a reporter class who has no interest in accuracy so long as the inaccuracies they allow are aimed at the right people.
By the time this is published, it’s entirely possible that the whole did-DeSantis-do-horrible-things deal will be much clearer in one direction or another. But regardless of what impression is easiest to get at the time you read this, I think it’s pretty clear to me that we shouldn’t screw with poor people purely to make political points. I don’t have much influence in that purely political sense, but to the extent I do I think we should make it clear that this shouldn’t fly.
But by the time this is published, it’s going to be about a week after the story broke and I’m still saying things like “maybe it’s clear by now whether this was real or fake; perhaps by now harder-working people have stepped in and clarified how correct the default worst-case-assumptions-of-our-enemies take was this time”.
That shouldn’t be the case either; there should be at least someplace I can go that I can trust to proceed with a little uncertainty, even if they don’t like the people they are uncertain about very much. I have even less influence there, but hey, here’s hoping that my disapproval makes a dent in that issue as well; I am the mortal personification of hope.
Regardless, know that I’m going to look shitty on a lot of this kind of stuff pretty often. I don’t think there’s any way around it. But I am trying; here’s hoping I get better at it over time.
You aren’t really supposed to talk about this, but any time I write anything vaguely political or religious I get a lot of unsubscribes. I would like to say I’m not addicted to numbers going up in the sense that this doesn’t bother me, but it does. Figuring out what to write about, what SHOULD be written about, is difficult when you want people to like you.
Note: The word white was added after the “most notably the Obamas” phrasing in the parenthetical. They weren’t intentionally linked, but it was pointed out to me that this looks like I’m calling the Obamas white as some sort of dig. Unintentional, edited out, but left visible for transparency reasons.