Dana Loesch did a good job at last night’s CNN town hall, if your definition of “good” is displaying a controlled sociopathy on behalf of America’s most heinous death merchants, and hiding the unhinged zealotry and/or soullessness that it must take to communicate a violent, borderline insurrectionary message like this:
Loesch, representing the NRA at Wednesday night’s Town Hall featuring the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High shootings, opted to leave her Civil War fantasies at home and present a capital-S Sensible facade. She even came ready with a few tactics meant to disarm a hostile audience. First, she practically dripped with false sincerity as she offered false platitudes to the students, teachers, and parents of the dead, telling them how brave they are, how heroic, and how she could never possibly understand what they had endured. (No shit, Dana.) Second, she deplored the fact that such an “insane monster” had gotten his hands on an AR-15, subtly deflecting blame from the NRA and onto mental health—a classic pro-gun tactic. Third, and not so subtly, she blamed the federal government for not requiring states to report “prohibited possessors,” which, while it would be a nice development, would not have prevented the Parkland shooter from purchasing and using his AR-15. (She also briefly tried to blame Florida law enforcement before being shot down by her fellow guest, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.) Fourth, she chastised the crowd any time they dared interrupt her or show the slightest sign of rudeness, because after all, being polite is paramount in situations like these.
You can see most of these tactics employed in this clip, and she repeated them over and over:
Now, the NRA is probably pleased with her performance, and I imagine there are dipshit PR people all over the country fawning over the way she managed the situation. But to admire Loesch is to demonstrate a loathsome moral relativism—to believe that the only important matter is whether she staved off humiliation and disgrace.
Maybe she did—the students didn’t get much satisfaction from her, and I’m guessing that in the mind of gun owners and NRA supporters, her transparent concern, her constant deflections, and her purposeful vagueness gave them the justification they needed to remain entrenched in their current positions. For the people who believe that the federal government is just days away from invading their homes, and that the Parkland students are crisis actors, Loesch is probably a hero. (The red pill virgins at the Trump Reddit have already deified her.) And for the rest of us, she’s a despicable flack with just enough vanity (“look at me now, on this stage!”) to deserve total aborrence.
The point is, she did her job of turning the NRA segment of the Town Hall into a land war with Russia, and she did it competently enough.
But is it effective? To me, the answer is “no, unless gun reform advocates actually believe in the possibility of good will from the NRA.” It’s the same story we’ve sign play out in American politics, on numerous issues, over the last 20 years. Each time the left engages with the right in good faith, they watch the football being yanked away, Charlie Brown style, at the moment of contact. It’s taken high-ranking Democrats in particular far too long to recognize the fundamental deception at play on the right, and from the sidelines, it certainly appears that they’ve played by the rules of civility while the enemy fights dirty and fights in the gutters.
So if you came into last night looking for reason and compassion and the possibility of compromise from the NRA, maybe you think you found it. But if you came in identifying them as an enemy that can only be beaten, never joined, then you likely saw Loesch for what she was.
Because the thing is, there’s no substance to her message or whatever sympathetic front the NRA is desperately trying to portray. If incendiary ads like the one above don’t convince you—made a time when the NRA was obviously feeling its oats a bit more than the present—let’s lay out the current situation:
1. The NRA is willing to give up token concessions like banning bump stocks and expanding background checks.
2. They’re doing this not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because they can read the writing on the wall and want to protect their profits.
3. Everything they’re “willing” to give up is going to happen anyway, because public sentiment is trending in one specific direction and they have the brains not to stand in its way. This is not them doing the right thing, but only the necessary thing.
4. Therefore, the only way they can be read as sincere is if they’re giving up more than the bare minimum.
5. They’re not, and therefore it’s true that they’re not sincere.
6. Because they’re dealing in bad faith, we have to ask the critical question—do we even need them? Do we need the cooperation of an enemy who won’t give a practical inch, who will fight you to the (literal?) death at every step, and who will only pretend to care about American lives when they are in an obviously untenable position, and who even then will scrape and claw to yield up only the bare minimum?
7. Clearly, the answer is no. This is not an ally that we need, or even want. This is an entity that must be fought to the bitter end and, if at all possible, ground into dust. Like the Republican party itself, they’ve trained themselves to offer no compromise, and to build a bloc of political influence that can brook no defeat. You either beat them, or they beat you. And when they beat you, they beat you bad.
At GQ, Drew Magary wrote a wonderful piece on the importance of being rude. He was responding to David Brooks’ “let gun-owners lead the gun control movement” trash at the New York Times, but it applies here too. Dana Loesch and the NRA are only interested in success according to their own unforgiving terms. Any faint sign of humanity is a smokescreen designed to free up the necessary space to batten down the hatches and wait for their enemies to give up. (And believe me, they’ll come after any ground they felt forced to concede the minute America looks the other way—look what happened in the ‘90s when Congress managed to pass a background check law.)
These people deserve to be shunned, shamed, booed, and mistrusted. Loesch may have showed up at the Town Hall, but the NRA will never open true dialogue with victims—not really. Every move they make in public, using competent shills like Loesch, is designed to spin, to defuse, to delay. They want to put you off balance before they eviscerate you. Engage with them at your own peril—these people will eat you alive unless you eat them first.