It would be easy to melt down over the extremely silly, but therefore troubling, spectacle that unfolded over the Independence Day holiday, pursuant to Donald Trump’s tweet of a “meme” GIF depicting him body-slamming and pummeling “CNN.”
Our contributor Ben Bowles wondered on Sunday exactly why the president needed to devote time to such frivolous communications.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
Certainly, we can say that if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been treated to this particular spectacle.
On Monday, CNN cited the Anti-Defamation League on the origin of the video, which seemed to trace to a Reddit user with a history of highly offensive comments.
CNN pursued the Reddit user, a person with the promising handle HanA**holeSolo, and proceeded to identify his real name with online searches. On 4 July, Andrew Kaczynski of the KFile published a report on this scoop.
The report has justifiably prompted a massive social media backlash, because it outlines with startling clarity that CNN is basically blackmailing the individual in question.
Kaczynski reports that HanA**holeSolo has fallen all over himself to apologize, quoting from the lengthy apology he posted on a subreddit (/ The_Donald), and noting that he had deleted all the other posts from his account. (The user account is now apparently deleted entirely.)
But Kaczynski goes further, clearly implying a threat of exposure to HanA**HoleSolo, whose identity CNN has so far declined to publish:
After posting his apology, “HanA**holeSolo” called CNN’s KFile and confirmed his identity. In the interview, “HanA**holeSolo” sounded nervous about his identity being revealed and asked to not be named out of fear for his personal safety and for the public embarrassment it would bring to him and his family.
CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same.
CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.
So CNN is using its media power to intimidate a person who posted a bunch of offensive BS online – some of it revolting in the extreme, but none of it illegal or defamatory. Out of what others have reported on the HanA**holeSolo Reddit oeuvre, it appears that the only real individual target was CNN, whose logo was used in the Trump body-slam GIF. CNN couldn’t even get in the front door of a civil court with a complaint about that.
But the full picture mustn’t be ignored. The ickiness of this interlude is equaled by that of HanA**holeSolo’s reported Reddit history, which the Guardian lays out in some detail. You’re welcome to peruse what they’ve got; I don’t have time to bleep and blur out all the vile pig excrement the user was spewing about blacks, Jews, Muslims, etc.
Clearly, HanA**holeSolo is no choirboy. Clearly, also, he feels a form of compunction, probably involving inward cowardice, about making, well, a racist a**hole of himself on social media. Getting caught has been a lousy experience.
#CNNBlackmail has been trending on Twitter for several hours now. The latest piece of “evidence,” posted by an anonymous Reddit user and impossible to verify, is that HanA**holeSolo is 15 years old. At some point, if he’s an adult, it seems likely that the individual will think it wiser to simply expose his own identity.
In the meantime, tweeps are pointing out – fairly, as it happens – that CNN hasn’t been nearly as dogged and diligent about unearthing actual news as it was about tracking down HanA**holeSolo. Who, except for creating a GIF that Trump later tweeted, is just an anonymous racist jerk posting garbage on time-waster forums.
CNN didn't dig into the shooter that tried to ASSASSINATE THE GOP as much as they dug into a punk who made a meme???? #CNNBlackmail
— Vincènte???????? (@VincentElijahh) July 5, 2017
Others are urging social media mavens to post as many “CNN-slam” videos as they can come up with. The videos are showing up in the #CNNBlackmail thread by the truckload.
Still others are pointing out the likelihood that Reddit and 4chan users will use their special talents to dox the employees of CNN, in retaliation for the network’s move on HanA**holeSolo.
Indeed, just before midnight Eastern time, a flurry of tweets relayed a list of CNN names with personal address and contact information. Twitter was scrubbing these as quickly as possible, but I’m sure at least some users managed to save them. The screen-cap image below has all personal information blanked out, and is provided only as proof of the claim made in this post.
Just a few points about all this. One, as Joel B. Pollak says at Breitbart (link above), the video in question need not have been retrieved for Trump from Reddit, and the White House says it wasn’t.
[CNN reporter Tom] Foreman noted that the White House had not revealed where it found the video, except to say that it was not on Reddit. (This author remembers seeing the video on Twitter before Trump tweeted it.)
That said, there is no whitewashing the tawdriness of this whole interlude. The president himself is not blameless, even if it is whiny and irresponsible to say that he is at fault for the whole thing. He is not – and for what it’s worth, I continue to perceive Trump’s calculated tactical communication pattern in these tweets, and not the simplistically juvenile lack of self-control or self-awareness that others see. (The crudeness, however, I think we can all agree on.)
But Trump could tweet effectively, for his purposes, and yet avoid participating in muddy slap-fests.
CNN, meanwhile, has been exposed as petty, vengeful, and nakedly extortionate in its approach to the unfortunate HanA**holeSolo. Some people may be satisfied to think the proper norms of social discourse are being enforced on such terms. I emphatically am not.
Inevitably, the power to intimidate people gets used for the wrong things. Believe me, no matter who you are, and no matter how high a standard you hold yourself to, if you get crossways of CNN at some point, you too will be subject to just such extortion – as if you were no better than HanA**holeSolo; just because CNN can intimidate you, and may find it desirable or convenient to do so.
We can take heart from at least one thing exposed in this little drama. That’s the essential cowardice of systematized hatreds, like the ones expressed in HanA**holeSolo’s banal, tiresome rants.
Listen well to what I’m going to say here. The threat posed by these hatreds, regardless of which radical fringe they come from, is meaningful when it is organized, and accommodated or even used by the political authorities. There is zero evidence of American political authorities anywhere accommodating or making use of racist, anti-Semitic, or anti-Muslim hatred of the kind expressed by HanA**holeSolo.
This wasn’t happening before Trump entered office, and it isn’t happening now. There is no evidence whatsoever that it is going to happen.
This is in contrast, it must be noted, to the evidence that local authorities in some areas have accommodated organized violence and threatening speech by groups like Antifa and BLM-linked groups. Antifa, in particular, is being allowed to exercise a heckler’s veto over the legitimate speech rights of others – on college campuses, in public events – whereas the racist fringe forums on social media have yet to shut down anyone else’s right to speak or act freely.
That doesn’t excuse their evil sentiments. What it does is clarify the political selectiveness of some of our government authorities. Our actual political violence problem comes from Antifa and similar radical, far-left groups. Yet in places like Berkeley and Portland, Antifa is allowed to terrorize legitimate, lawful demonstrators and shut down the speech and community activities of others.
Trump keeps defying the narrative in people’s heads
What principally strikes me from this whole situation is the seeming irony that a president who so regularly disappoints our expectations of seemliness is nevertheless the one high-profile political leader who gets it right on some big things.
There is hardly anything bigger to get it right on than the sacredness of a child’s life and parental authority. Trying to shade this issue on the edges is the most dangerous of games; in fact, even playing the game is evidence of a wrongly coercive attitude toward our fellow men. There is no argument for government ordering parents to give up their hope for a child that is not, more fundamentally, an argument for government dictating the terms of life itself to all of us.
Trump got that one right. Other than Fox News, not one single outlet of the mainstream media got it right. The media, to a voice, reported as if it were a weird conservative obsession, to object to government dictating to the parents of Charlie Gard when they must give up hope for him.
There are multiple factors that in a given medical situation may well seem to dictate giving up hope. But none of them should be the armed state. That’s why nationalized, single-payer health care is such a dangerous thing to buy into. Government is not a source of knowledge, wisdom, or compassion, in that regard or any other. Government’s role in society is as a source of enforcement. It doesn’t do hope; it does mandates. We cannot permit it to limit what we’re allowed to believe and hope for, when it comes to literal issues of life and death.
We’ll never know if Trump had to think about that very hard. All we know is that he landed in the right place, unlike the collectivist authorities across the Atlantic – and unlike the chorus of our “elite” punditry on this side.
I don’t agree with everything Trump does, of course, and I always wish he were a more expressive, systematic thinker. But he’s right on other key things, like the urgent need to roll back economy-strangling regulations, the need to free our schools from the constraints of a hyper-politicized, increasingly radical education establishment, and the need to rebuild the military. These are things the mainstream, big-government left has been ascendant and wrong on for decades. They’re things too many Republicans have been weak-kneed and complicit on.
Trump also gets that the “mainstream media” are not what the public has reflexively been giving them credit for, and that they haven’t been for some time. The MSM are so far from being outlets of impartial integrity, it’s laughable to even put all those words together in one sentence. The overtly partisan new media, on both the left and the right, are more honest actors in that regard.
Trump’s understanding about this may come off to some observers as a sort of feral instinct. But the point is that he has it, and he is not playing along with the charade of magisterial MSM objectivity. That matters. In fact, if it didn’t matter, Trump wouldn’t keep getting such a glass-shattering reaction whenever he exposes the MSM for what they are.
For the record, I wouldn’t tweak them on the nose the way Trump does. And not for superficial reasons, but because I think it’s truly wrong to go around gratuitously attacking people.
But what I cannot do, more than anything else, is pretend that acting like a nicer person than Trump makes someone right on the issues, when it so obviously doesn’t.
Things like the power we cede to the state, the power we cede to the media, and the power we cede to ideologues who want to coerce us, and fringe radicals who want to hold us all at risk – these things are too important to our very lives, and everything we hold dear, to let the wrong clues confuse me.
It is bemusing, jarring, sometimes ridiculous to watch what’s going on in the country today. But in an important sense, that is only because we are awake now. It should have been bemusing, jarring, and ridiculous before. But our organized public eyes either didn’t see it, or pretended there was nothing to see.
The more polished personas of previous presidents have blinded us for a long time to how far we have strayed into a corrupt, dangerous idea of government and its conventions.
Let me put it this way: as many beefs as I have with him, I see no evidence of despotic tendencies in Donald Trump. But that doesn’t mean I want him to have the kind of power I also didn’t want Barack Obama to have. And frankly, whatever reins of government you wouldn’t trust Trump with, you shouldn’t trust Obama or anyone else with. Government itself must not stand in that relation to us. The problem is that we’re looking at personalities, instead of at that.
Obama’s less abrasive style was meaningless in terms of the tendency of his government, which was relentlessly toward concentrating improper levels of power in the presidency, and its regulatory agencies.
Rather than sleepwalking over a cliff, lulled by conventional-seeming politics, America has the remarkable opportunity now to see clearly where we are, and decide, after recognizing some painful truths, what we need to do about it.
I wouldn’t have chosen for this moment to involve Twitter and doxxing wars, or fake-wrestling videos and social-media memes. If I had my druthers, it would be all classical music and debates on PBS between Bill Buckley and Pat Moynihan. But we don’t live in that world today, and the most important thing of all is not to sell our lives and liberty out in the effort to pretend we do.