Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 17, 2021
We’re becoming inured to repeated Outrage — usually partisan — upon seeing an event or hearing some public statement.
What is concerning about Outrage is not the pushback, but the apparent need to attack the event or statement rather than what gave rise to it.
When news broke this week about moves by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to rein in possible orders from an erratic Donald Trump for nuclear attacks or other irrational military moves in Trump’s last days and weeks, the Outrage filling television airwaves was more over whether the general had overstepped his authority than on whether Trump was unfit to make a presidential decision.
Any number of Republican leaders are standing on their hind legs to bray “treason” over perceptions that Milley undercut Trump by insisting that the Pentagon route any White House calls for nuclear attacks through the general and for calling his Chinese counterpart to warn him before any potential attack.
Trump, who is presenting himself as the odds-on Republican candidate to return to the White House, immediately called colleagues to go on the air to attack Milley for the quotes attributed in excerpts in the new book, Peril, by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
Upset by Embarrassment
Beyond details about Trump or the loud Outrage, one thing we should note is that we’re seeing a new trend: Those expressing upset are more upset about the embarrassment or perceived political injury than they are about the conditions that gave rise to the issue.
Just this week, we watched Secretary of State Antony Blinken spend hours before two Congressional panels filled with Outraged lawmakers who wanted someone or something to blame for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Generally, however, the various lawmakers and senators wanted to deal with 20 years of decision-making — or in the case of Congress, non-decision making — in waging a war without goals in Afghanistan.
By the end of two days, we were exactly where we had been at the outset — except for the vocal Outrage.
The early and rapid collapse of the Afghan army and flight from the country by its president and leaders undercut whatever planning had gone on by American diplomats and military, leaving an ugly, disastrous week that also was marked by bravery and an unprecedented airlift of 120,000 U.S. and Afghan personnel. Still, an estimated 100 Americans and tens of thousands that some Americans would want to rescue remain in that country, now under the control of the Taliban.
The price sought by Outrage proponents was public blame. But there is nothing now in place that either would have changed the outcome or that guarantees a better result going forward.
Republican governors and supporters across the South are attacking coronavirus vaccine mandates ordered by Joe Biden with a high degree of Outrage, but with few moves that practically or effectively lower contagion and public exposure. Their outraged support for vaccine and mask resistance is filling their hospitals, putting students under 12 ineligible for vaccines at risk, and providing a public laboratory for covid to continue to manufacture mutant versions.
What dress AOC is wearing as a public protest, what Hunter Biden’s unprofessional artwork is selling for, what Nicki Minaj’s opinions about vaccine dangers suggest simply are not cause for Outrage.
Politics as Outrage
Outrage filled the political message this week in California for Republican Larry Elder, whose claims of voter fraud even before voting came to an end. Of course, the results of the voting were so lopsided against Elder that the fraud idea or claims of a “rigged election” proved absurd.
Some will read the California results as rejection of Trumpism or a defense of vaccine mandates and other public health. I’d prefer to see it as a pushback against faux, misplaced or hyper-amped Outrage. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of reasons to criticize Gov. Gavin Newsom, but they don’t mount to require a multimillion-dollar election when he will face election again shortly.
I’ll take the criticisms more seriously when I see Republicans in California and elsewhere show sufficient concern about covid hospitalizations and deaths rather than promoting horse-dewormer medicines.
The “news” of the Peril book excerpts released this week is not on whether General Milley overstepped his bounds; indeed, we’ve seen reporting that the military leaders of major nations talk with one another with enough frequency to avoid unintended provocations.
Rather, we should be smacked on the side of the head with reminders that Pentagon generals and defense secretaries, Cabinet members, Congress and even White House staffers and advisers thought that Trump was unfit to remain in office. That we need to learn this repeatedly in books that sufficiently hide the identities of most of the taletellers should be its own source of Outrage.
It should engender Outrage that someone so in need of reining in should once again be a legitimate candidate for president.