Friday, October 22, 2021


Yesterday, in what appears to have been a horrible accident, Alec Baldwin shot and killed a cinematographer with a prop gun on the set of a low-budget film in New Mexico; he also wounded the director. Workers on the set had multiple complaints about the film shoot, including objections to the handling of guns on the set.

But to one of the top candidates for U.S. Senate in Ohio, it was all a big joke, addressed to Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter.

I posted a screenshot instead of embedding the original tweet because it seems conceivable that Vance might have enough common decency to eventually feel bad after making a sick joke about an incident in which an innocent person was killed. So far, however, the tweet is still up, and Vance's recent social media posts and public statements suggests that he might never feel ashamed of this tweet.

I'm reminded of what Adam Serwer wrote in 2018, in his Atlantic article "The Cruelty Is the Point":
We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era. There were the border-patrol agents cracking up at the crying immigrant children separated from their families, and the Trump adviser who delighted white supremacists when he mocked a child with Down syndrome who was separated from her mother. There were the police who laughed uproariously when the president encouraged them to abuse suspects, and the Fox News hosts mocking a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub massacre (and in the process inundating him with threats), the survivors of sexual assault protesting to Senator Jeff Flake, the women who said the president had sexually assaulted them, and the teen survivors of the Parkland school shooting. There was the president mocking Puerto Rican accents shortly after thousands were killed and tens of thousands displaced by Hurricane Maria, the black athletes protesting unjustified killings by the police, the women of the #MeToo movement who have come forward with stories of sexual abuse, and the disabled reporter whose crime was reporting on Trump truthfully....

Trump’s ... only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything....
I know that Republicans don't like Alec Baldwin -- he's a successful entertainer who mocks Trump and has left-leaning politics -- but they have no reason to hate or fear the victims of this shooting. So why did Vance post something that's so hurtful to their loved ones?

I think right-wingers' fondness for cruelty goes far beyond the inclination to be hurtful to their enemies, as described by Serwer. I think right-wingers like cruelty for its own sake. Cruelty is a sign to other right-wingers that the cruel person isn't "woke" or "politically correct." To right-wingers, cruelty is fun.

Right-wingers won't be cruel to one another, of course. But being cruel to anyone else is a sign that they're not emasculated or constrained. To right-wingers, freedom is freedom to be cruel. If you can't be cruel, you're in chains.

The free-floating cruelty is the point. Heartlessness is the core of what conservatism means to voters. It doesn't have to be directed toward an enemy. Anyone who's not an ally is a valid target.


UPDATE: Chris Hayes has similar thoughts.

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