Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable: The Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict

W.J. Astore

Disagreements are part of life. And indeed my friends, and readers of this blog, have been known to disagree with me. And thank goodness for that! Who’d want obsequious toadies for friends? And, if I’m writing articles that are truly “bracing,” obviously I should expect disagreements. And I do, which is one of the best aspects of this site. We learn from people who disagree with us, that is, when they have reasons well supported by facts, or wisdom learned from their own life experiences, and so on.

America is highly polarized today, and it seems as if people can no longer disagree without being disagreeable. Discussions quickly become arguments, which turn into shouting matches, with lots of name-calling and attacks on people and their alleged motives and leanings.

There’s nothing wrong with impassioned disagreement. But too many people start from there and quickly descend to being disagreeable, even violently so. The end result is that no common ground is discovered, nothing is learned, and any kind of concerted action to effect meaningful change is sabotaged.

Take the case of Kyle Rittenhouse. He was recently acquitted of murder after shooting three people during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that turned violent. The jury found that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt. I’ve watched video from the protests, and it appears to me that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. Other people may watch this video evidence and watch the trial and reach a different conclusion, and that’s OK. We should be able to discuss this reasonably and rationally, while putting some faith in the verdict reached by the jury.

Kyle Rittenhouse (SEAN KRAJACIC/PHOTOGRAPHER: SEAN KRAJACIC /GET)

Scanning my Facebook feed, however, I see polarization and vituperation about the verdict. It seems like if you agree with the verdict of “not guilty,” you’re obviously a white supremacist, a gun enthusiast, and a Trump supporter. On the other hand, if you disagree with the verdict, you’re obviously a libtard who hates guns and wants to defund the police. It’s a disagreeable mess with no common ground except mutual suspicion, even hate.

Even as I wrote those words, I got an email with an article on the verdict:

Kyle Rittenhouse, white supremacy, and the privilege of self-defense

Rittenhouse has the benefit of boyhood — white boyhood

By Jeneé Osterheldt

In this article, Osterheldt writes that the three white victims of Rittenhouse were “perceived to be fighting for Black lives to matter,” so their lives were “also up for grabs.” But Rittenhouse, also white, was supported by the system because he “believ[ed] in the authority of whiteness.” His life was apparently never “up for grabs.”

This author then authoritatively declares that: “Had he [Rittenhouse] been white and protecting Black lives in Kenosha instead of purportedly protecting cars, he’d be in prison. Or maybe cops would have pepper-sprayed him instead of giving him gratitude and water. Rittenhouse has the privilege of white power.”

Again, based on the video evidence and the trial, I don’t see this verdict as being driven by “white power” and privilege. Rittenhouse’s first victim was a man who chased him, threatened him, and tried to take his gun from him. The second victim was beating Rittenhouse with a skateboard. The third victim (wounded in the arm) was pointing a gun at Rittenhouse, as he himself admitted during the trial. The jury watched the videos, heard the testimony, and decided Rittenhouse’s actions did not constitute murder or attempted murder. From what I’ve seen and heard, I agree with the jury.

Now, it shouldn’t matter, but all three of Rittenhouse’s victims were white. Two of the three were attacking him before they were shot (the two he killed), and the other pointed a handgun at him (the one he wounded). The first man he shot was mentally unbalanced; video at the scene shows him shouting racial obscenities, including the N-word, at Blacks, daring them to shoot him.

So, I disagree that Rittenhouse’s acquittal is an example of white privilege and power. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ll add that I support the Black Lives Matter movement, that I’m not a “gun enthusiast,” and that I’ve never voted for Trump and never will. (I’m not a fan of Biden either.)

We can disagree based on evidence, reason, facts. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Can’t we?

Trump’s Culture War

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Shameless, thy name be Trump

W.J. Astore

President Trump’s strategy for winning in 2020 is to fan the flames of culture war, including blatant references to white power.  Even some Republicans seem embarrassed, though not enough to make any difference in Trump’s reprehensible tactics.  Trump’s emptiness is incalculable — this and his cult-like “base” make him a dangerous man indeed.  He needs to be denounced and voted out of office; how disappointing is it that the Democratic alternative is Joe Biden, a man with his own record of lies, a man with little going for him except that he’s not Donald Trump.

Along with culture war, Republicans are also doing their best to discourage voting.  The tactics here are many: fewer polling stations, meaning longer lines and wait times; voter ID laws to counter non-existent voter fraud; disenfranchisement of voters through purges of rolls; opposition to mail-in ballots and other efforts to make voting easier and safer in the age of Covid-19; the presence of “monitors” at polling sites as a form of intimidation.

Rally the base while suppressing the overall vote: this, apparently, is what Trump is counting on this November.

Why?  Because Trump has nothing real to run on.  His biggest “accomplishment” was a tax break for corporations and for the richest Americans.  When asked by Fox News about what he wanted to accomplish in his second term, Trump had nothing specific to say.  No policy goals.  Nothing.  The one thing he seems determined to do, besides building his wall, is eliminating Obamacare, which would throw tens of millions off their health care plans during a pandemic.

If cynicism has a bottom, Trump hasn’t found it yet, though not for want of trying.

Of course, Trump’s culture war is as ugly as it is racist.  It’s also a distraction from rampant and blatant kleptocracy.  For example, the latest “defense” budget calls for $740 billion in spending, yet the key issue for Trump is to defend military posts that are named for Confederate officers.  Trump, a New York City trust fund baby, as Yankee as a Yankee can be, poses as a principled defender of Confederate leaders and the Confederate battle flag, in the name of “respecting our past.”  Consider him the quintessential con man as cultural carpetbagger, cynically adopting any position that he can use to inflame his base and drive them to the polls this November.

Truly, these are bizarre times.  Trump, the Vietnam draft dodger, the man of heel spurs infamy, celebrates Generals George Patton and Douglas MacArthur as his ideals.  As military leaders, both were deeply flawed; both were vainglorious; both were over-celebrated and overrated.  Small wonder that Trump sees something in them that he sees in himself: overweening egotism, the quest for victory at any cost, including the deaths of their own troops.

Trump wants America to turn on itself, to consume itself, and as long as he wins another term, he couldn’t care less about the cost.  Why?  Because he doesn’t see us as his fellow citizens — he sees us as his subjects.  And even if you count yourself in his “base,” he likely sees you as nothing more than a patsy.  A sucker.  And, based on his total lack of leadership when it comes to Covid-19, he literally doesn’t care if you live or die.

Trump is a wannabe king, and he will say or do most anything to keep his grip on power.  Having just marked another July 4th celebration of America’s independence from a capricious monarch, King George III, it doesn’t make any sense to re-empower another mad king.

Don’t be distracted by Trump’s culture wars and his incessant divisiveness, America.  Remember its intent: to divide is the way to conquer.  Trump doesn’t want “to keep America great.”  He wants to keep it servile to him.  He wants you under his spell, shouting his name, laughing at his cruel jokes.

Is that what you want for yourself and for our country?