Against Performing Monkeys
The case for Neithersideism
Sometimes, when I’m going about my usual Slack Tide business - dodging the tax man and outstanding warrants, serving as friend to man and beast, inspiring the next generation to stay out of journalism, all while accepting prestigious awards – I’m asked by readers, “You’re kind of hard to make, politically, these days. Whose side are you on, anyway?” To which I respond: “You’ve heard of bothsidesism? Well in the last decade or so, I’ve become an adherent of neithersideism.” Why should I have to pledge my troth to chiselers, demagogues, and performing monkeys? To partisan gasbags and green-room gangsters and social-media harlots? AOC vs. MTG - to take but two party mascots - ain’t really a choice I’m interested in making, no matter how many partisan hacks stick a gun in my back and tell me it’s my God-appointed duty to do so. Neither, best I can tell, has any real interest in setting our country right. They’re much more interested in outrage - both provoking it and feigning it. Exhibitionistic rage is the fuel that fires their engines. And they’re not opposites, so much as bookends: professional hysterics whose entire careers are designed to agitate and inflame.
But I’m a middle-aged dude who eats red meat and hits the grape’n’grain like they’re going out of style. I’m all stocked up on inflammation. I don’t need any more, lest I end up in a Relief Factor commercial alongside Pat Boone or “Dr.” Sebastian Gorka. Let’s take but one current-events sample of how, the way it’s going unless someone opts for a better way, we’re all doomed to keep running these pointless partisan race-track patterns:
As a lifelong “conservative” - whatever that means anymore - I tend to detest wokeism and thought police and indoctrinating ideologues posing as do-goodniks. I also tend to love free speech and hate censorship, much the way liberals used to before they started rooting for ideological opponents to be banned from social media and/or horsewhipped in the public square. This often puts me at odds, these days, with the Democratic party. As a lifelong honest man (or close enough), I also dislike liars, hypocrites, and nihilists willing to burn all their purported principles down in the service of partisan advantage. Like say, when they actively try to overturn a democratically-held election that they handily lost. Which frequently puts me at odds, these days, with the Republican party.
Enter Ron DeSantis vs. Disney. The perfect Gordian knot/goat rodeo in which nobody’s a winner, everyone just comes out smelling somewhat diminished for having participated. You’ve probably heard the story already: Republicans in the Florida legislature bring a piece of what amounts to spite legislation, addressing a “problem” that nobody is sure was one. The bill is called “The Parental Rights in Education” act. (Who would object to that? Besides teachers’ unions.) But opponents call it the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” since it prohibits “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” which now “may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” (Which even according to the bill’s author, makes it essentially an anything-we-determine is banned ban. And which allows for legal redress if schools allow such speech. An arguably discordant stance for purported anti-cancel-culturists to take.)
Now I don’t have much problem with say, keeping teachers from pushing sex on third-graders – be it of the gay or straight variety. Even though when I was in third grade, plenty of classmates said “gay,” mostly when making sport of someone’s purple Toughskins. (I’m not excusing, merely reporting.) And when it came to gender fluidity, we all assumed that our factory-issued equipment determined which bathroom we relieved ourselves in. (These were the ‘70s, simpler times.) If we wanted to know about sex, it wasn’t our teacher’s place or duty. We learned about it as God intended - on the playground, from our filthy little friends. This was back when kids still went outside. Now, of course, third-graders can learn about sex at home, on the internet, under the neglectful eye of their distracted parents.
But whatever you think of the bill (plenty of people of good faith think it’s an abomination), the actors started playing their predictable roles in our Endless Partisan Pageant. Disney, the wokester entertainment/theme park conglomerate, whose societal role we thought was gouging us for admission and concession prices when we had to drag our young’uns to Space Mountain, seem to now be in the sex-education policy business. After what many thought was a tepid corporate response, the company buckled to demands for more direct intervention after irate employees walked out and wrote an open letter saying the response failed to address LGBQTIA+ (I think I got it all) safety. According to NPR, some who didn’t feel safe to walk out were told not to wear their trans-Mickey pins in solidarity. (Pins that Disney itself sells.) Subsequently, Disney CEO Bob Chapek promised to go on an employee “listening tour,” (always a sure sign someone’s in deep internal doo-doo), and Disney informed Florida they were putting a pause on political donations.
That seemed to get Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s attention. I’m not suggesting DeSantis is the oiliest person in today’s GOP. That would be unfair to Ted Cruz, who has worked so diligently for the title. But rarely, these days, does the faux populist (DeSantis was educated at Yale and Harvard Law) pass up a chance to kick the culture-war hornet’s nest so future presidential voters might mistake him for a Nerf Trump. Even though the bill passed, DeSantis still can’t take “yes” for an answer, and both he and GOP’ers in his state legislature are seeking to punish Disney for their resistance/insubordination by revoking Disney World’s status as an independent special district, a 50-year-old arrangement which allows them to govern the land where their theme park sits.
As National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke ably detailed, Florida has 1,844 such districts – it’s hardly unique to Mickey, be it the trans version or otherwise. “Yes, Disney isn’t ‘entitled’ to its arrangement,” writes Cooke. “But Disney wasn’t ‘entitled’ to it in 2012, 2002, 1992, 1982, or 1972, either, and yet, amazingly enough, the legislature showed zero interest in rescinding it when given the opportunity on those occasions. That it’s doing so now is ugly. That it’s pretending that it’s doing so out of a concern for ‘good government’ is grotesque.”
How good of government that would even be is an open question, since, as the Daily Mail reported, if the arrangement is rescinded, two Florida counties could now be saddled with $1 billion of bond debt that Disney now owes. And of course, before Disney mentioned slowing its roll on political donations, DeSantis and company didn’t appear to be bothered at all by Disney’s special status when DeSantis, according to Politico, received $50,000 from them in the 2020 election cycle, as well as $913,000 to the Republican Party of Florida and another $586,000 to GOP Senate campaigns.
If this smells a lot like performing-monkey business, that’s because it is. Just as they forgot that presidential election results actually count before they tried to overturn one (the most outrage DeSantis could muster over January 6 was saying it was “Christmas” for Democrats and the lamestream media), Republicans also seem to have forgotten that it’s supposed to be Democrats who traditionally clamp government’s jackboot of oppression on the neck of the private sector. But DeSantis doesn’t care. He’s already announced he’s going after Twitter next, for trying to resist Elon Musk’s takeover!
Democrats, for their part, are all too happy to switch team jerseys, as is custom these days. Why just the other day, Colorado governor Jared Polis made a play for Disney World to come to the Centennial State, decrying DeSantis’s “authoritarian socialist tactics.” If you closed your eyes, he kind of sounds like a Republican from ten years ago. Up is down. Black is white. But as the culture-war arms race drags on, one thing we can always remain sure of is that party “principles,” if that’s not too strong a word, will remain forever conditional. It puts me in mind of something the relentlessly honest George Orwell wrote in his 1942 essay, “Looking Back On the Spanish War.”
I have little direct evidence about the atrocities in the Spanish Civil War. I know that some were committed by the Republicans, and far more (they are still continuing) by the Fascists. But what impressed me then, and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection. Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence. Recently I drew up a table of atrocities during the period between 1918 and the present; there was never a year when atrocities were not occurring somewhere or other, and there was hardly a single case when the Left and the Right believed in the same stories simultaneously. And stranger yet, at any moment the situation can suddenly reverse itself and yesterday’s proved-to-the-hilt atrocity story can become a ridiculous lie, merely because the political landscape has changed.
It’s enough to make me stick to my Neithersideism. And here is my battle flag:
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