On the Cowardice of 'Brave' Stances

Do you remember 2004?  That was when John Kerry suffered a massive blow in the press because of what happened when he was serving in Vietnam.  In a nation full of men and women who avoid military service entirely, one would normally not hold a man's service against him.  But Kerry built a career on claims about his courage in war.  When a host of his former comrades came forward and said he hadn't been the gutsy warrior he claimed – in fact, he may have misrepresented his actions to get awards – his reputation suffered.  Some would argue that the "swift boat" campaign cost him the office of presidency.

To this day, liberals call it "swift-boating" when people propagandize (in liberals' minds, unfairly) against an individual.  They forget that in 2004, the campaign controversy about the candidates' valor began earlier, when Michael Moore produced Fahrenheit 9/11 and stirred gossip that George W. Bush had acted indecorously during his service in the Air National Guard.

Now, the issue of "bravery" is more rhetorical.  One must note with some regret that the John Kerry syndrome has taken hold of people on the conservative side of the dial.  October 7, 2017 marked one year from the disastrous breaking of a "scandal" about Donald J. Trump and Access Hollywood.  In the flap that followed, a host of conservatives cast each other as "brave" for standing up to Trump and calling him out for immoral conduct toward women – at a time when all the polls were predicting a massive Trump loss and virtually the entire media, academy, and religious leadership were condemning Trump in a deafening chorus.

This was the first of four faux bravery events, all in one year.  Let's take a look at them:

Bravely Insulting Trump

Paul Bond wrote in the Hollywood Reporter on October 7, 2016, "Conservatives (Mostly) Condemn Donald Trump after Lewd Recording Surfaces."  Hugh Hewitt and Carly Fiorina, standing up to mean hordes of pro-Trump oppressors, joined other conservatives in calling for Trump to step down and allow Mike Pence to run as president.  Bond rattled off a list of casualties: "Arnold Schwarzenegger says he will not vote Republican for the first time since 1983. John McCain also formally withdraws his support for Trump's candidacy."

Condoleezza Rice also joined the fray:

Condoleezza Rice wrote on Facebook that she thinks Trump should drop out of the race. "Enough! Donald Trump should not be President," she says in the post. "He should withdraw. As a Republican, I hope to support someone who has the dignity and stature to run for the highest office in the greatest democracy on earth."

A long list of people came forward, ranging from Kelly Ayotte to John Thune, to say they would explicitly not be voting for Donald J. Trump because of Trump's remarks in 2005 about touching women.  Russell Moore gave an interview to Ana Marie Cox in New York Times Magazine, published on October 12, 2016, explaining why he would vote for neither Donald J. Trump nor Hillary Clinton.

In many media corners, people praised the independent thinking and courage of those attacking someone whom literally everyone on every side of the political spectrum was attacking.  Lost in the maelstrom were some key points.  The tape was eleven years old.  Trump described touching women's genitals when they let him.  Trump quickly stated that the conversation was wrong, it reflected nothing he had done in real life, and he was sorry for having made those remarks.  The ethical dilemma of assassinating someone's character based on a hidden recording of his private conversation also seemed not to worry any of these "brave" people.

Bravely Destroying the Career of a Gay Sexual Abuse Victim

The thousands of famous gutsy people standing up to the twelve of us who defended Trump in the public square in October 2016 would find more opportunities to showcase their bravery four and a half months later.  After Trump shocked the world and won the election that all his detractors had sworn he was bound to lose, America went into meltdown.  Liberals went insane with hats evoking female genitalia, riots in Berkeley, and embarrassing nervous breakdowns on every major news outlet.  At the center of the whirlwind appeared Milo Yiannopoulos, the British provocateur who'd been jumping from campus to campus facing down mobs of hateful liberals.  It was his scheduled appearance that set off the most closely watched uprisings in Berkeley.

But then Milo suddenly became persona non grata because audio from a year earlier revealed that he joked about his having been sexually abused by a priest as a young teenager.  As I pointed out in a podcast with other people familiar with the gay community, the initiation of pubescent boys into sex by older men is so common in the LGBT world that it's ridiculous to get incensed about it unless you are willing to stand against homosexuality itself (as I and my cohort do).  It is common among sex abuse victims for the victim to remain scarred for life, often expressing contradictory feelings about his own abuse because he copes by rewriting the event and casting himself as far more powerful than he actually was.  Milo seemed to acknowledge this conundrum and went public with statements clearly denouncing any form of sexual behavior with a minor.  He had never claimed that as an adult he had engaged in sodomy with boys, nor did anyone present any evidence hinting that he had.

And yet the "brave" denunciations of Milo rolled in.  He lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster, his speaking gig at CPAC, and his job at Breitbart within twenty-four hours.  Lots of people who'd shown stunning courage in bashing Trump now lined up to bash Milo: David French, Erick Erickson, and a host of others.  In a repeat of the Access Hollywood controversy, anti-Milo articles spurred comments commending those conservatives who were brave enough to stand up and finally do the right thing: destroy a man's career not because he said feminism was cancer or wanted to launch a scholarship for white males, but because he discussed his own past as a sexual abuse victim in the wrong way.  Because if anything requires courage, it's saying you think it's wrong to sodomize children.  And no act is more courageous than condemning someone being condemned in every imaginable corner of the universe.

Bravely Hating Nazis

The march of courage continued six months after Milo's fall from grace, when dueling rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia ended with a woman run over and killed by a white male driver believed to have neo-Nazi sympathies.  Trump was not at the rally, and it was not a rally for Trump.  Trump condemned racism, as he had many times previously.  But press coverage moved rapidly from the issue of people who'd rallied around a Robert E. Lee statue to Trump, Trump, Trump.

A host of conservatives showed their fearless sides by jumping into the media fray and saying that white supremacy, Nazis, racism, and the murder of innocent people are wrong.  They also showed no hesitation in stating that Trump was wrong for not demonstrating a vigorous enough hatred of white supremacy, Nazis, racism, and the murder of innocent liberals.  The Los Angeles Times reported on August 15, 2017 that Evan McMullin, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan all stood up to the scary plague of racism sweeping over America.  Sen. Orrin Hatch reminded us that his brother died fighting Hitler.  Sen. Todd Young came forward to say we should not "encourage" or "embolden" groups of white racists who drive cars over innocent liberal protesters.

Again, the comments swirling on the internet cheered these ostensible acts of defiance by people standing up to something that virtually nobody endorses, not even the people who gathered in Charlottesville around the Robert E. Lee statue.  To the end, the people who gathered for the right-wing rally denied that they hated other races or wanted to harm them.  With the entire media united against Trump, the courage it took to make a tragedy about Trump was minimal, and it cost people nothing to condemn Nazis, who'd been defeated 70 years earlier, or white supremacy, which not even alleged white supremacists seemed to defend.

Bravely Calling Hugh Hefner a Creep

In Act IV of America's March to Bravery, we have courageous conservatives standing up to the corpse of a ninety-one-year-old man.  On September 27, 2017, Hugh Hefner died of natural causes, some 64 years after launching Playboy.  Naturally, conservatives came out of the woodwork to do what is appropriate and respectful when someone dies – they ignored every positive thing a person could note about Hugh Hefner (including his position on racial civil rights at a time when that really was brave) and pointed out that he was a promiscuous sleazebag.

Personally, I detest postmortem ad hominems, whether it's British Marxists singing "Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead" about Margaret Thatcher or gay people rejoicing at Scalia's mysterious death.  Having grown up in the LGBT community, I had to deal with lots of funerals for people who did unsavory things.  You dig deep in your memories for something nice to say about them.  In the LGBT world, you may have friends who infected their boyfriends and dozens of strangers with HIV, and then when they die of AIDS, you have to go and remember that they helped you redecorate your living room before a birthday party in 1989.  I could battle this question out with other Christians citing Bible verses, but my general view is, it's too late to pick bones with people after they're dead.  If you didn't state your objections enough when they were alive, shut up.  If you did, then be satisfied with your past stances and just say nice things to the survivors.

Conservatives danced on Hugh Hefner's grave, in some cases arguing with theological certainty that he was in Hell, in other cases pitting their nasty remarks against a supposed straw man of massive praise for Hefner.  It is true that some liberal media outlets presented rosy retrospectives on his life, but that's what they do when people die.  Ross Douthat writes "Speaking Ill of Hugh Hefner: An Honest Obituary for a Wicked American."  The Public Discourse, to which I have contributed many times, ran a piece arguing that "it's better to think of him as a coward."

As with the other cases of "courage" with scare quotes, the flood of anti-Hefner diatribes would be less grating were it not for the many comments on social media by people saying how great it is that someone finally "stood up" against the imaginary hordes of people trumpeting Hefner as a hero.

There Is No Such Thing as Bravely Pleasing the Crowd

There are times when we agree with majority opinion.  There are times when the least costly and most widely accepted opinion happens to be right.  But if we treasure courage in speech and deed, there ought to be an instinct within us to step away from bandwagons, especially harsh and condemning ones.  Like John Kerry suddenly humiliated by people who remembered him as he was, we should beware performing bravery when our allies far outnumber the people we seek to combat.  And when one's opponent is a small minority, a little bit of graciousness is good.  If you must beat up on twenty people who are hated by three hundred million, do not do so with all the venom and spittle we'd show toward a tyrant.  There's something...well, cowardly, in that.  And dishonest.

Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed on Twitter.