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Bombgate and the new species of political theatre

The media think the bombs will embarrass Trump and coax voters away from the GOP in the midterms, I’ll bet you a Nate Silver dollar it doesn't.

October 26, 2018

12:16 PM

26 October 2018

12:16 PM

Andrew McCarthy, writing in National Review Online a couple of days ago, was certainly correct that it would have been outrageous and irresponsible to have suggested, at that early juncture of this still-unfolding episode, that the pipe ‘bombs’ were hoaxes devised by leftist activists to make it appear that nebulous right wing activists are targeting famous critics of Donald Trump, from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, all the way down the food chain to Senator ‘Spartacus’ Booker and Mad Maxine Waters.

But the fact that McCarthy’s column is titled ‘Why No One Trusts the Media’ tells you that his prudent restraint is redolent of that device rhetoricians denominate apophasis or praeteritio. ‘After all,’ quoth McCarthy, ‘there is no evidence that the atrocious but thankfully unsuccessful targeting . . . was carried out by political leftists. There is no proof that any Democrat was hoping to cast suspicion on Republican supporters, to suggest to voters, less than two weeks before the midterms, that Trump and GOP rhetoric incites violence. To intimate, in the absence of any proof, that left-wing agitators may be responsible would be a condemnable smear.’ And it is surely premature, not to say unjustified, to say that Mark Antony pimped his wife, had unnatural relations with Octavian, and is guilty of bribery, extortion, and desecration.

Here’s what we know as of Friday morning, October 26 2018, at about 10:30. A dozen, apparently make-believe bombs, none of which has detonated, and at least some of which could not be detonated, have been sent by nobody knows whom to an A and B list of prominent Trump haters. This has precipitated round-the-clock, flood-the-zone coverage. ‘Hundreds’ of journalists have signed a letter condemning President Trump’s ‘attacks on the press.’ CNN even ran a chyron referring to recipients of the fantasy bombs as ‘Trump’s targets.’ And a man in Florida called Cesar Sayoc has just been arrested in connection with the envelopes.

I hope you note the similarity of this cataract of outrage and condemnation with the outpouring of outrage and condemnation that greeted such events as

  • The sending of ricin to Secretary James Mattis and others;
  • The sending of a suspicious white powder to Ivanka Trump;
  • The attempted assassination of Steve Scalise and other Republican Representatives by James Hodgkinson;
  • The performance art of Kathy Griffin, who posed with a fake severed head of the President;
  • Performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which the title character is dressed up to look like Donald Trump;
  • The public harassing of Ted and Heidi Cruz, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mitch McConnell, and others;
  • Threats of violence and murder directed at Sen. Susan Collins and her staff;
  • At least a dozen other instances of real or promised violence you can find for yourself.

Doubtless you noted the round-the-clock outrage machine of the mainstream media wheeling into work to protest these unconscionable provocations and incitements to violence. Hundreds of journalists signed a letter protesting the unseemly and dangerous treatment of the President of the United States, his family, officers, allies, and political confrères.

Just kidding. There was no such coverage, no outrage, and no letters.

But what are we to make of Bombgate? What does it portend? More or less the same thing as The Caravan™, I suspect. It is a species of political theatre — felonious political theatre in the case of the make-believe pipe bombs, I believe — but political theatre nonetheless. Social media is already hopping up and down with excitement about the bomber being a right-wing loon, though as yet we know almost no facts. What that signals, I think, is desperation. H. L. Mencken was a canny observer of the cavalcade of political life. And he did once say that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. But whoever is counting on that to save the Democrats in this instance is backing, if I may alter the metaphor, the wrong horse.

Let me confide to you that I have no idea what motivates the sicko who sent the preposterous pipe bomblets or who is paying for and supplying The Caravan™ with its expensive clothes and Maclaren strollers. But if the goal was to embarrass Donald Trump or coax voters away from the GOP in the midterms, I’ll bet you a Nate Silver dollar it won’t work. The electorate, on both sides of the aisle — if not quite in the emunctory gutter of the left — was disgusted by the treatment of Judge (now Justice) Brett Kavanaugh. It is frightened, and rightly, by the threatened wave of people wishing to invade America’s Southern border. And it is weary and completely skeptical about the rash of stunt bombs sent to anti-Trump political lefties.

We’ll know soon enough who sent the menacing missives. This is exactly the sort of forensic footwork at which G-men excel. And in fact, here it is at 11:30 and the boys seem to have delivered.  Maybe it is a deranged Trump partisan. The van of the suspect is plastered with lots of stickers providing variations of the theme of ‘CNN sucks.’ Nevertheless, it could just as easily be — or have been — an anti-Trump individual who hoped that his threatened violence would focus all attention on the President as the cause or instigator, much as Lee Harvey Oswald, an outspoken Communist, was held to be the symbol of ‘right-wing hate.’  It worked with Oswald. I do not think, despite the complicity of the mainstream media, that it will work in this case.  Will it be enough to push the GOP over the finish line in the midterms? I think there’s a good chance that the answer is yes, thought I understand that that is not how things were supposed to work it.


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