Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Pussyfooting around torture

Last night, Twitter flared up in response to the latest Trump provocation. Taking up a cry of passion from an audience member, Trump had called Ted Cruz a pussy. He'd crossed another red line, one tweet proclaimed.  He could be the first New Hampshire primary winner to use the epithet, said another.

Taking a very back seat was what the taunt purported. Trump was mocking Cruz for hedging his support of waterboarding -- the war crime for which the U.S. had executed enemies, the simulated death experience that the Bush administration had sanctioned as official U.S. policy. Trump has promised to do "a hell of a lot worse" -- that is, put the U.S. in permanent, proudly proclaimed violation of the Geneva Conventions, the international Convention Against Torture signed by Ronald Reagan, and the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Cruz, for his part, asserts that waterboarding isn't torture, taking as his authority the discredited and withdrawn "Bybee memo" from the Bush administration Justice Department that limited the definition of torture to punishment that induces pain equal to organ failure or death. He's also called for carpet bombing regions in which ISIS holds a civilian population hostage and relaxing efforts to minimize civilian casualties. He's evinced since his early manhood an unsavory passion for the death penalty. But he's not sadistic enough to meet Trump's standard of leadership.

It's not meaningless that Trump seized on a feminizing epithet to denigrate his rival, and one that associates femininity with vulnerability to being dominated. But the epithet was hardly the point. Lost in the grade-school reaction was the appalling fact that a presidential frontrunner was whipping up a crowd's enthusiasm for torture, and taunting a rival for expressing some ambivalence about it. And in fact, re-instituting torture as official U.S. policy is a near-consensus position among Republican candidates (Cruz says he opposes torture, but then defines a practice universally considered torture outside the GOP as not-torture).  Oppose it, and you're a pussy in the Foxosophere.

We are watching democracy degrade before our eyes. It's not done yet; the Democratic debates are an alternate universe, in which policy and political philosophy are debated civilly and with reference to facts. But one major party, primed for years by a sensationalist media that amplifies its worst impulses, is trafficking in dreams of mass deportation, mass murder (via carpet bombing), and institutionalized torture.

We are hanging by a thread.  And the dominant reaction, when the promise of Nazi policies is on most naked display, is "He said pussy!!"

Update: The Intercept's Dan Froomkin is one of the few to look past the name-calling itself and focus on the real story: GOP Candidates Compete Over Who Will Commit Most War Crimes if Elected

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