Blow, Cohen and Collins

In “A Crass Act” Mr. Blow says the current Republican front-runner is what happens when the media plays footsie with a demagogue.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Evil That Cannot Be Left Unanswered,” says the central question looming over the coming year is whether or not the Islamic State is an existential threat to Western societies.  In the comments “Richard Grayson” from Brooklyn, NY was succinct and said “File under: More Cohen Hysteria.”  Ms. Collins considers “Republicans, Guns and Abortion” and says there’s a whole new way of looking at things, courtesy of Missouri.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Republican front-runner keeps inching closer to all-out fascism — assuming that you don’t believe he’s already there, camped out and roasting marshmallows.

(I don’t even use that man’s name in my columns anymore. That avoidance can drive some readers crazy, but he drives me crazy, so there, we’re even.)

The most recent movement in that direction came in a campaign release that said he was “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Not only would this prohibition be completely impractical and xenophobic, in practice it would most likely be racist. But when has that ever bothered this man? Right, never. Much of what rolls off that tongue is dripping with poison.

Condemnation of this anti-Muslim rhetoric was swift and broad. Predictably, liberals and civil libertarians condemned the comments. But so did the Republican establishment, finally. (In general, they keep hoping and praying that he will eventually flame out and a “serious” candidate will take his place. They also want him to exit the race with good feelings and not mount a third-party run that would basically guarantee a Democratic victory.)

Speaker Paul Ryan said at the House Republican leadership’s weekly news conference, “This is not conservatism.” Maybe it’s not traditional conservatism, but it is modern Republicanism, or at least a large enough portion of it to make the most inflammatory Republican candidate the most liked Republican candidate.

Ryan continued: “What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and, more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”

I’m not sure which party Ryan has been paying attention to for the last decade, but to my eye and ear, extreme rhetoric is increasingly becoming intrinsic to the Republican Party. The front-runner is simply saying out loud what many conservatives are feeling — he’s not Svengali; he’s a crowd reader.

The truth is that even candidates with more graceful language and elegant delivery than the current front-runner express views that sound eerily similar to his.

To think about how this all came to be in this political cycle we have to examine how the front-runner became the front-runner.

You see, this is what happens when the media plays footsie with a demagogue. This all started, I believe, as a sideshow. The media exploited the man for ratings — they saw an entertaining jester prone to outlandishness who supplied airtime and column inches, and he exploited the media to fill his bottomless pit of emotional need and to stroke his immense ego. For him, it was a branding exercise, something interesting to do that might help sell a few more shiny ties or increase his leverage for licensing his name to more real estate.

Everyone was fully aware of the incestuous relationship. It was all about money, money from ratings and name recognition.

But something happened, rather quickly: The media realized that it had to keep feeding the beast it had created, and the real estate developer started to believe his own bluster — he started to believe that he could actually win and, more important, realized that he wanted to win.

Now just a couple of months from the earliest contests, he has held front-runner status — often by overwhelming margins — for much of the time he’s been in the race, even as he has weathered several controversies. Indeed, it appears that many of his supporters like him because of his controversial statements, not in spite of them.

You see, it is not only about the head of this snake, but also the body.

Bloomberg reported that a Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies PulsePoll, an online survey conducted Tuesday, showed “almost two-thirds of likely 2016 Republican primary voters favor” the front-runner’s “call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S., while more than a third say it makes them more likely to vote for him.”

The leader of the Republican presidential field may know more about the current Republican Party’s sensibility than the Republican speaker of the House.

This ability to connect has only fed the front-runner’s megalomania and buttressed his sense of invincibility. Indeed, it seems that the more people attack him for his views, the sturdier his support becomes, and if you think about it, that makes sense.

Attacking the front-runner for what he says is like attacking his supporters themselves, because he is voicing their deeply held views. He has mainstreamed the marginalized and the mocked.

On one hand, the success so far of this front-runner is a gift from the electoral gods to the Democratic Party. His winning the Republican nomination would be the best-case scenario, not only for the presidential race but also for down-ballot Democrats.

But the question becomes: How much damage will he and his supporters do to the national dialogue and this country’s international standing in the meantime?

He is dangerous, but only because he has enough followers to make him dangerous. Without them, he would be what he has always been: another crass man saying crass things to which few serious people listened.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

This is an article from Turning Points, a magazine that explores what critical moments from this year might mean for the year ahead.

Turning Point: ISIS strikes targets in Paris, bringing its fight to the West.

Just outside Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, there is a refugee camp where more than 2,700 Yazidis languish in makeshift tents more than a year after being driven out of northern Iraq by Islamic State fanatics.

I was there recently, chatting with a couple who showed me photos on a mobile phone of a man who was beheaded in their village. “They are slaughterers,” said Anter Halef, a proud man stripped of hope. In a corner sat his 16-year-old daughter, crying. I asked her why. “We just ran from the war and…”’ Feryal murmured. Uncontrollable sobbing swallowed the rest of her sentence. I had seldom seen such undiluted grief etched on a young face. Life had been ripped out of her even before she had begun to live.

The Yazidis, a religious minority viewed by the Islamic State jihadis as devil-worshipers, constitute a small fraction of the 2.2 million refugees who have fled to Turkey from the Syrian war and from the spillover violence in Iraq. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has described the killing of Yazidis as an act of genocide.

Across the wide area of Syria and Iraq that it controls, the Islamic State enacts its nihilistic death cult drawn from a medievalist reading of the Koran. They slit throats at public executions, butcher “infidel”’ communities like the Yazidis en masse and turn women and children into sex slaves as they build a self-styled caliphate based on oil revenue, absolutist zealotry and digital slickness.

From time to time the group exports the terror it finances with oil revenues from its sprawling fiefdom. The downing of a Russian passenger jet with 224 people on board, the random slaughter in Paris of 130 people enjoying a Friday night out, and the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, in San Bernardino, California, put an end to the complacent nostrum that the Islamic State was a local threat.

Nobody can switch off the Islamic State blockbuster. Its magnetism is undeniable. The group traffics in movie images whose effect is at once riveting and disturbing. In an environment of growing unease, rightist politicians like Marine Le Pen in France or Donald Trump in the United States find their nationalist messages resonate. It’s already clear that the 2016 American election will not be politics as usual. Fear and its other face, belligerence, will be front and center.

How bad that gets may depend on what ISIS does next. A whole relativist school has emerged that’s inclined to belittle the militants as a small Internet-savvy bunch of thugs, a “JV team,” as President Obama once called them, whose importance we only magnify if we confront them with the means they themselves use against the West — all-out war, that is.

For this school of thought, massive retaliation is precisely what the jihadis want; it will drive recruitment. Better to exercise the Obama doctrine of restraint. After the Paris killings, Vice President Joe Biden declared: “I say to the American people: There is no existential threat to the United States. Nothing ISIS can do could bring down the government, could threaten the way we live.”

Nothing? Try saying that to the people of Brussels, in near lockdown for several days after the Paris attacks. Or the people of San Bernardino, where one perpetrator of the mass shooting, Tashfeen Malik, had pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

The central question looming over the coming year IS whether or not Islamic State is an existential threat to Western societies, and by extension whether or not it can be allowed a continued hold on the territory it uses to marshal that threat.

Today, Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa, much closer to Europe than the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, is tolerated as a terrorist haven, whereas Al Qaeda’s Afghan sanctuary was shut down by military force after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is as if the metastasizing jihadi ideology of which Islamic State is the latest and most potent manifestation has sapped the West’s will.

At year’s end, for the first time, in some polls, a majority of Americans favored the use of ground forces against ISIS — a policy rejected by President Obama, although he called in a speech to the nation after the San Bernardino attacks for Congress to give final authorization to the use of military force against the terrorists.

President François Hollande declared after the Paris attacks that France is now at war with Islamic State and that far greater urgency must be brought to the fight. But he has been a lone voice. So far, the Obama administration prefers to believe that its air-campaign strategy is working and that, post-Iraq, putting military forces on the ground is folly.

I do not see how the Islamic State can be seen as anything other than an existential threat to Western societies. It stands for the destruction of all the Western freedoms — from the ballot box to the bed — that grew out of the Enlightenment and the rejection of religion as the ordering reference of society. It would take humanity back to the Middle Ages and target every apostate for destruction.

The wait-them-out, relativist school has at the very least to clarify why it is confident that the militants will not use the land they hold and the oil revenues they amass to develop weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, or to launch a devastating cyber-attack on the West. It needs to explain why it believes time is on our side.

Freedom is not for everyone. The road to Raqqa is in many ways the road from freedom’s burden — from personal choice and its dilemmas to submission to an all-encompassing Islamist ideology. If the free world and potential allies from the region are to fight this magnetism, they must rouse themselves from liberty’s consumerist drug.

For evil, unmet, propagates. To allow Islamic State to consolidate its hold over territory and minds over the coming year is to invite, or at least to accept, an inevitable replay of the Paris or the San Barnardino slaughters. It is to accept that the Syrian debacle will worsen for another year. And that, in turn, will further exacerbate the anxiety and fears on which nationalist, often Islamophobic politicians in Europe and the United States thrive.

At the Yazidi refugee camp, Anter Halef said to me, “We no longer have a life in this world. It’s empty.” He was broken, but at least, unlike his children, he had lived his life. “ISIS has no religion,” he went on. “No sane man would slaughter a child. In one night, they killed 1,800 people.”

Since we spoke, Kurdish and Yazidi fighters have retaken the town of Sinjar, the area that the Halef family comes from. The Kurds are investigating a mass grave said to contain the remains of older women that the Islamic State, which had held the area since August 2014, did not want to use as sex slaves.

Perhaps the Halefs will be able to return one day to Sinjar, the scene of these abominations. But my impression was that for the teenage Feryal Halef at least, there was no road back.

I do not know precisely what had happened to her but she had been destroyed, just as the journalist James Foley had been before he was beheaded in August 2014. I will never forget that young Yazidi woman’s eyes, turned into empty vessels. They demanded that humanity rouse itself.

Maybe when he comes out from under the bed he’ll urge Hollande to form a coalition…  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The presidential race has degenerated to the point where I am going to attempt to cheer you up by talking about abortion and guns.

And state legislatures. We do not, as a nation, devote a whole lot of attention to what happens in state capitols, although I personally enjoy those fights about selecting an official rock or state muffin. In recent years, one of the most popular activities in many legislatures has been finding new ways to expand the right to bear arms in places like schools (Utah) or bars (Tennessee) or airports (Georgia). The other is tromping on reproductive rights. I am telling you all this as a lead-in to a fascinating bill that was recently proposed in the Missouri House of Representatives. It would treat Missourians seeking to buy firearms the same way it treats Missourians seeking to end a pregnancy.

“For instance, there would be a 72-hour waiting period,” said the sponsor, Representative Stacey Newman.

Missouri has piled so many unnecessary requirements on abortion providers that it’s down to one clinic in St. Louis. Newman didn’t attempt to limit the state to one gun store — her bill just requires that residents buy their guns at a licensed dealer located at least 120 miles from their homes. After cooling their heels in a local motel for three days, the prospective buyers would have to listen to a lecture about the medical risks associated with firearms and view pictures of people with fatal gun wounds.

Most Missouri lawmakers regard themselves as pro-life. Therefore, Newman feels, they ought to want to do something about the fact that St. Louis and Kansas City both rank in the top 10 American cities for firearm deaths.

“It was one way to get people’s attention,” she said.

Nobody thinks her bill is going to pass — or even get a hearing in the Republican-dominated legislature. Newman says the odds are far more favorable for proposed legislation that would allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses and require that women who want abortions get permission from the man who impregnated them.

We live in hard times, people. But when you think of Missouri, give a fond mental shout-out to Stacey Newman. And remember her lesson — when it comes to civil liberties, there’s currently far more concern in this country over the right to buy weapons than there is over a woman’s right to control her own body.

All the major Republican candidates for president are pretty much on the same page when it comes to firearms. So much so that you probably can’t guess which one of them said: “I used to think they needed to be registered, but if you register them they just come and find you and take your guns.”

O.K., it was Ben Carson.

All the major candidates are also opposed to giving women any rights whatsoever when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. But lately, there’s been disagreement on the far edge of the issue: whether bans should include an exception for rape and incest victims. It came up at a recent gathering of a group of donors and activists called the Republican Jewish Coalition. (This was the same event where Donald Trump told his Jewish audience: “I’m a negotiator, like you folks … Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals?”)

Senator Ted Cruz, the up-and-coming darling of social conservatives, was asked about his abortion positions, and he rambled on about the evils of contraceptives without ever acknowledging that he does oppose giving any leeway in the cases of rape or incest. Cruz is also, of course, an avid protector of all things gun-related, and recently theorized that the man arrested in the mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic was a “transgender leftist activist.” Ah Ted Cruz, Ted Cruz.

“If the nominee of the Republican Party will not allow an exception for rape and incest, they will not win,” predicted Senator Lindsey Graham, who followed Cruz to the podium. The presumption is that voters will demand some show of mercy, but there are plenty of women who are not victims of rape whose stories are equally heart-rending. Girls who become pregnant before they’re old enough to know what they’re doing. Poor women with several children and two jobs whose birth control method fails. Women who desperately want a baby but discover the fetus they’re carrying is too deformed to survive after birth. Most Americans don’t want to prioritize — they’d leave the whole matter to the women and their doctors.

But the current debate on the Republican side has slid so far to the right that the moderates are people who do not want to force rape victims to carry the fetus to full term. Or allow concealed weapons in kindergarten.

Maybe what this campaign needs is a 72-hour waiting period for everything.


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