Ransom Notes 2

Dallas Shipp writes in to ask:  “You once wrote that whenever a talking head on television referred to a storm or a shooting as a ‘tragedy,’ their misuse of the word amounted to nihilism. Could you elaborate and explain your point?

TJF:  I don’t recall using the word “nihilism,” but I have frequently argued against the trivializing of the word tragedy by applying it to accident victims and people who have suffered in a disaster.  The trivialization works in two directions.  First, it reduces to the word tragedy to meaning something like “terrible misfortune” or “incomprehensible suffering.”   It is a parallel to the generally nonsensical “senseless violence.”  A tragedy is, in fact, a dramatic form in which, classically, morally serious people suffer for their arrogance.  It is a means of making sense of the world, not of attributing everything to blind chance and random accident.  Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, while a great man, brought on his downfall by his own actions, similarly Sophocles’ Oedipus and Euripides’ Hippolytus and Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  Suppose Bill Clinton were a good man and a brave ruler whose arrogant behavior toward women brought him down.  That would be a tragedy.  The real story of Clinton is more like a farcical satyr play.

On the other hand, by constantly referring to various disasters, catastrophes, school-shootings, and celebrities dying of their own excesses as “tragedies.” news commentators are repudiating the whole notion that one can distinguish between an innocent person swept up in a hurricane and a career drinker who gets killed in a drunken accident he caused.

A friend asked me today why National Review types are repudiating Trump and declaring him to be anything but a conservative, while Marco Rubio is being lauded as an exemplary conservative.  Some radiohead named Koolidge—I think I heard the name right—read an NR editorial praising Rubio to the skies, denying that there is any real distance between himself and Cruz.  Why are they doing this?

TJF: In the first place, it has been decades since anyone at NR had the slightest idea of what the word conservative used to mean.  To them, a conservative politician believes in open competition, big business, free trade, open borders, and human rights—more or less the ideology of Robespierre.  They hate Trump because he is everything they are not:  independent, successful, proud to the point of arrogance, and not at all afraid to speak his mind. Their knickers are so in a twist they are turning into hangman’s knots.

Why Rubio?  I am not interested in neoconservative social pathology enough to dig to deeply.  Part of it has to do with Rubio’s ethnic background; part of it is the bleeding-heart sentimentalism that oozes from his puppy-dog eyes, but much of it, surely, can be put down to his blind obedience to Israel and his attempt to solve the immigration crisis by legalizing the illegals.

My wife asked me today why it took so long for the press to admit that the robbers and rapists in Cologne were Islamic migrants.

TJF:  That one is too easy, as easy as the other question put to me recently: Why did Obama, in announcing his unconstitutional gun restrictions, mention the fact that controlling guns would not have stopped the shootings in San Bernardino, but excluding Muslims would have.

Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

5 Responses

  1. Robert Reavis says:

    I think Mr. Trump is chump change too but as Clyde Wilson recently wrote ;

    “Donald Trump has certainly revolutionized American politics. And he did so by a very simple act—mentioning substantive truths that other Republicans fear to utter.

    Trump is not perfect. But criticism at this point is like Titanic survivors complaining about accommodations on the lifeboats. No ordinary man would climb into the hog pen and tangle with the whole herd of filthy Republican sows at once.” Sometimes Clyde Wilson’s rhetoric is as pleasant to the ear as Merle Hagard’s music.

  2. Vince Cornell says:

    Mr. Reavis – I am much delinquent in my reading and commenting on websites (things have been quite chaotic on the homestead for some time), but I always enjoy reading your comments. Best wishes to you in 2016.

    Now that they came up with this idiotic “loyalty” pledge for the primary in Virginia I plan on wearing a Trump “Make America Great” hat whenever I go to vote. I was tempted to get a T-Shirt made that just said, “Disband the Republican” party, but I don’t wear T-Shirts and that probably would’ve taken more effort than I cared to invest.

    And while I haven’t watched any of the “debates” I have been tempted to ask the guys to watch the first Trump/Clinton debate in a sort of Super Bowl Party atmosphere. I can’t help but think Trump would be entertaining beyond compare when mopping the floor with Clinton, the biased moderators, and anyone else who gets within arm’s reach.

  3. Robert Reavis says:

    Thank you, Mr. Cornell. I am in favor of all of your suggestions listed above. I once read that sports and politics were known in the television advertising industry as “filler”, whereas the primary purpose of the entertainment was advertising. Polling is another form of filler. Mr.Trump is a very smart marketer who is using all the available filler of running for POTUS to advertise his Trump brand. I too think a Trump/ Clinton debate would be entertaining but would prefer a Trump vs Clintons debate in which ” The Donald” would ostentatiously refuse to debate only one Clinton at a time (as manifestly unfair to them ) and demand they both appear on stage to answer to him in public for their policies and crimes, etc…

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I have been thinking, the past few days as I wrote the next short piece for a magazine I used to edit, and I concluded that Trump’s greatest appeal is that he is not and never has been a “conservative,” a word used much as Dr. Johnson thought patriot was used, as “the last refuge of a scoundrel”–an expression that is almost universally misunderstood. Dr. J was referring to Whig politicos and their allies who justified their opposition to the monarchy on the grounds that they were “patriots” when what they really wanted to do was to grind down the common people into dirt and make their own little class of 1% into a total-powered oligarchy.

  5. Robert Reavis says:

    Yes, indeed. We will all have a “patriot” in Dr. Johnson’s sense to choose from in this election or they will not be a candidate. On another matter, I thought of you this morning Tom listening to an obscure raid announcement that ISIS had leveled the oldest remaining monastery in Iraq. I think it was 1400 years old. American soldiers had recently attended Mass there and somewhat protected it, I guess, when over there in force but only after painting the 101st airborne screaming eagle banner over the ancient murals. ISIS did the rest after we left. There is probably an analogy here our the next election.