Some of my writer friends tell me that writing is agony. Dragging words onto the page can be like pulling teeth. I agree…sometimes. At other times the words just pour out. I wish it were the latter all the time, and I envy those who seem to be able to turn on the spigot at will. More often than not, however, writing hurts.
Reading can hurt, too.
Sunday, January 27 was Holocaust Remembrance Day. I wanted to commemorate it in some fashion, so I purchased Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I’ve always wanted to read. It’s his account of surviving the Nazi death camps at Auchwitz and Buchenwald. It’s beautifully written. It’s a nightmare. It’s everything you dreaded and feared about such an experience, multiplied a thousandfold. Wiesel’s account finds new ways to stick a knife into you on every page, from banal cruelties to horrific betrayals. You can survive such experiences, you can come out the other side and find (some of) your loved ones, you can rejoice in their deliverance, and you can still carry the dreadful, soul-scarring burden of what happened until the end of your days. Despite the anguish, it’s necessary reading.
News about New York’s new abortion law has been at the forefront of late. Virginia has decided to go one further and is discussing post-birth abortions. Infanticide. As unbelievably disgusting as this is, abortion in America is not the Holocaust, and comparisons to the Holocaust will not only fall short, but serve to minimize the horrors that the Germans inflicted on the Jewish people (and to themselves; the crime will always stain them). I’m not sure if the pro-life movement simply lacks the vocabulary to separate the two things or is simply looking to scrape some of the sickening cachet off the Holocaust to bring home the notion that abortion is horrible, but it’s a foolish, uninformed, alienating comparison. Nobody who’s read Night would make that comparison without knowing, deep down, how false it is. The world has enough unique, appalling crimes to choose from without lumping them together for convenience’s sake. I believe life begins at the moment of conception. And abortion is not the Holocaust.
Reading Andrew Breitbart’s Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World was another painful experience, but for different reasons. I never met Andrew, but I became a big fan of his work in the early days of Big Hollywood. I’ll never forget the day I learned he died: it was early morning in our house in Colorado, and I was feeding my baby son his bottle when the phone rang. My wife. She’d just left for work. Probably forgot something. I answered the call, and she told me that she’d just heard on the radio that Andrew Breitbart died. It was a kick in the gut. The right, which had only just started to get wise to the fact that the Culture War was for keeps, had just lost its most fearless warrior.
That’s what makes Righteous Indignation such a difficult read, even eight years after it was published. Despite everyone’s best efforts, which are often very good, his departure is still keenly felt. He had a clarity and courage that you couldn’t help but admire, and to read about what he’d planned to do after the book was published is terribly sad. He died young, with a wife and small children, and it’s a great loss. The media treatment of the Tea Party back then is the same as the media treatment of Trump voters, except that the media hates Trump voters even more than they hated the Tea Party. The cycle repeats.
The book itself is an amazing primer on media malpractice in the age of the internet, and goes through not just the history of progressivism as it’s practiced in America, but Andrew’s personal history. How he jumped into the Culture War, and why. Fascinating stuff, even years after its publication.
For a real treat (heh), take a look at the acknowledgments at the back of the book. Andrew was friends with everybody. Now the right’s become irrevocably fractured. Establishment vs. Culture Warriors. The Establishment humored the Tea Party because they knew it was, essentially, not a danger to their power structure. Despite a few Establishment pols getting primaried (and losing), their sinecures, think tanks, and publications were safe. Trump’s election changed that. It showed us that the Establishment lives for one thing: maintaining its status. Now that this status is threatened, these Trumpists have to go. Hence the fracture.
Without Breitbart, there wouldn’t have been Trump.