Politics & Media
May 15, 2024, 06:27AM

Apes Together Wrong

Kristi “dog Schmitt” Noem is not strong.

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Gov. Kristi Noem proudly recounting having shot her hapless but presumably adoptable dog years ago should surprise no one.

Leadership, in the minds of most politicians and in the minds of many of the idiots who vote for them, means crushing others without empathy, making them do your bidding—almost by definition. Puppy-killing is the full flower of Trump-era pseudo-toughness, as every honest, weight-lifting neo-Bronze Age enthusiast on the right would likely admit if he weren’t afraid of it being retweeted. Noem loved her brutal anecdote so much that this is apparently the second time she tried working it into a book, having been talked out of it last time.

It has long been rumored that Noem also loved the thuggish Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski (most famous for grabbing an annoying reporter by the arm), enough to have an extra-marital affair with him, which sounds more and more plausible now. Contrary to what I would’ve predicted in my naïve youth—when I assumed sociopaths kept to the shadows, fearful of discovery, maybe adding the occasional severed head to their duffel bag of trophies collected by cruising southwestern desert saloons—the low-empathy “leaders” of this world seem to find each other very attractive. They’re all around us, enjoying each other’s company.

Since the current crop of proudly barbaric tribalists seem to have watched Game of Thrones for political pointers, they should’ve noticed that the more sympathetic characters aren’t cruel even to big scary animals such as direwolves (which may be making something of a comeback as a species, since they’ve been alleged to roam Utah in the present day on the paranormal series The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch).

Whether Noem is flat-out lying about meeting world leaders such as Kim Jong-Un or just blaming her ghostwriter for such exaggerated anecdotes, she obviously displays the sociopath’s love of passing the buck, which the world long ago should’ve noticed is radically at odds with sociopaths’ purported chief virtue and main selling point, fearlessness. If the aimless masses keep begging for “leaders,” this is the kind of thing they’re often going to get, though: slipperiness disguised as strength.

We should always be grateful when sociopaths “let the mask slip,” as psychologists sometimes phrase it. Otherwise, they might keep getting away with their stealthy misdeeds. I’m often torn about whether to remind them we can see them.

I’ve harshly criticized the left-wing writer Amanda Marcotte in years past, since she’s so anti-libertarian she has even likened seasteading—trying to live on platforms out in the ocean away from government—to plotting gang rape and has blamed coalition-building, drug-legalizing civil liberties advocate Rand Paul of all people for the harsh policing in Ferguson, Missouri a decade ago. But Marcotte got this much right recently when reacting to Noem’s publicity problems: Marcotte wrote, “Noem forgot the first rule of fascist Fight Club—you never show your true face to outsiders.”

Marcotte may not realize how close to literal truth that sentence is. A few people on the right participate in fight clubs, finding in sadistic violence a common interest strong enough to overcome the vast philosophical differences among them, such as some being hardcore Catholics while others are Nietzscheans or Darwinians.

But lately, some have also taken a page from the left that late 20th-century academics (bizarrely and hypocritically) earlier took from the Nazis, namely a grudging admiration for the thinking of the chief Nazi philosopher, Carl Schmitt. I don’t mean that either the left-wing or latter-day right-wing fans of Schmitt want war and death camps per se, but they see wisdom in Schmitt’s key sociological insight, which was that an authoritarian regime needs an enemy against which it can rally the populace, whether that enemy’s deserving or not.

At some point, the impulse to rally people by fighting a common enemy becomes so routinized it doesn’t matter whether the enemy is formidable or real. It could be a tiny ethnic group. It could be a dog. It could be that new kid at school. Any target is an opportunity to show your willingness to destroy, ostensibly to the benefit of your own bloodthirsty tribe. Of all the mid-century intellectuals the left and right could’ve united to elevate, they picked the creep who thinks Neanderthalic playground bullies encouraging everyone to jeer at the weak kid are brilliant strategists, gesturing at deep, dark truths.

Maybe that psycho in Midtown Manhattan who hit actor Steve Buscemi with a rock the other day thought a Reservoir Dog sacrifice would somehow make the world a more just place, too. The sane, by contrast, want peace.

Luckily, the sociopaths are, I hope, still outnumbered. After the Noem scandals, I’m reminded that the very first day of my short, unpleasant stint at Fox News years ago, there was an early-morning meeting that began with an executive producer proudly recounting the time that, bored while driving, he duped a wandering dog into chasing his car for miles, periodically slowing down enough to let the dog think it could catch him and then speeding up to keep ahead of the beast, who presumably ended up exhausted and far from home.

The executive producer expected the assembled staff to chuckle along with him at his reverie, but even in that environment, where Noem-like callousness stood a good chance of being tacitly rewarded, I noticed some people around the table furtively glancing at each other with alarm. Perhaps those softies, like me, were eventually pressured to leave Fox. I see the dog-taunter, by contrast, has just been rehired. Perhaps he’s even now deciding how they’ll cover Noem.

Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on Twitter at @ToddSeavey


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