The Evil of Banality: America’s Moral Bankruptcy in the Era of Twitter and Trump

In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt’s reference to “the banality of evil” memorably distilled the frictionless ease with which genocidal impulses could scale in ruthlessly efficient bureaucratic states such as Nazi Germany.

More than 50 years later, as the paleo wing of the Republican Party takes a wrecking ball to the (moderately inefficient) bureaucratic state known as the United States federal government, we can talk about the “evil of banality” – something quite the opposite of the Arendt formulation – as a way to describe the lumpy, putrid, and disgusting bullshit that passes for “comforting the nation” while we quiver in response to the Las Vegas concert carnage.

Let’s keep this discussion brief and declarative, with the event-appropriate use of bullet points.

  • Hearts and Prayers – Let’s agree no one gives a shit about or needs any public figure’s “hearts and prayers” (“hearts” apparently having now replaced “thoughts” in this thought-bereft world in which we now live). Enough with the Twitter burps for the victims of preventable tragedies. This is bipartisan bilge, by the way. So I’m talking to you, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Melania Trump. And to you, Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal, and Nancy Pelosi. Why don’t you all just buy a “hearts and prayers” greeting card for $1.99 from Otherwise, just shut the fuck up.
  • Twitter – Really? How is Twitter still acceptably at the center of our public conversations? We are so rat-fucked. Jack Dorsey, please do the world a favor and delete every public figure’s Twitter account. Twitter does not give us the speech of a “free” people. Twitter gives us the “free” speech of a currency that has negative worth. Twitter is the turbocharged Ex-Lax of our century.
  • Sean Hannity – And, inevitably, we have to endure Sean Hannity, who on Tuesday made everyone feel a hell of a lot safer when he boasted of his firearms experience and reduced his moral universe to the size of his “clip” when he said, “If it’s happening within a crowd … you want Sean Hannity who’s trained in the safety and use of a firearm in that room, so when they drop the clip and they start to reload, you’ve got a shot.”
  • Evildoers – Hannity merely apes the impossibly stupid, medieval view that the world is divided between saints and sinners. Donald Trump’s first response to the Las Vegas carnage, after tweeting his “warmest condolences” to the victims (after which, he wished them “all success in their future endeavors”), was to call the slaughter “an act of pure evil.” Which, of course, is always preface to the position of NRA robots like Senator John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, who today said, “I do not think that the United States Congress can legislate away evil.” Sure. Obviously, if we reduce gun violence to wantonly destructive acts of someone who by definition is evil (not perhaps insanely jealous, or assaulted by voices, or suffering from CTE or having a bad day or just fucking stupid), then gun violence will always be at most a law enforcement problem, not a public health catastrophe that requires laws and regulations for managing its risks. The same way we routinely use our laws to manage the public health risks of driving, drug use, toxic chemicals, disease, etc.
  • Second Amendment – As for the Second Amendment, well, what can one say? The Second Amendment has become the Bible Comitatus of our times, the endlessly flexible Scripture that, by virtue of its brevity and inscrutability, provides legal cover and spiritual sanctification for private control, use, and sale of any lethal technology, no matter how distant this technology might carry us from any conceivable militia application for which the founders imagined the flintlock rifle. The ultimate and perhaps inevitable end of this violent race to the bottom is the paranoid survivalism of the Bundy Clan, Joe Arpaio, and gun-toting, horseback-voting, Sharia-smashing Roy Moore, our next U.S. Senator from the humble, God-fearing state of Alabama.
  • Jimmy Kimmel – Which, finally, brings us to Jimmy Kimmel. There’s no need for me to write anything about his monologue following the mass shooting. Obviously, he was fantastic; his message truly and fully a comfort to the bereaved (which is all of us). So of course, the long knives of the paleo media instantly unsheathed, led by the goopy, sanctimonious Ben Shapiro. You can read what Ben Shapiro said for yourselves. For me, the important message around which he wrapped his goop was the idea that Jimmy Kimmel’s “schtick” was “really nasty” and “divisive” because Jimmy Kimmel was suggesting “you and I don’t care,” that “we are bad people.” As it happens, this line has become a trope amongst the Trumpists that dates, at least, to (the truly nasty) Charles Krauthammer’s 2002 postulate: “Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.” In fact, liberals probably think conservatives are assholes, not evil (although perhaps especially pubey, stinky assholes, which might come close to making them evil).
  • Gun Violence and National Security – Krauthammer’s conservative-liberal binary returns us to the evil of banality in our present day. We can argue about who “cares more,” who is “more bereaved,” but from my perspective, at least, all Jimmy Kimmell is saying to the “hearts and prayers” crowd – Democrats and Republicans and Juggalos and Pastafarians alike – is do your fucking job, which means doing reasonable things to keep us secure. To this sensible Jimmy Kimmel request, I might add another. Stop destroying our national political institutions, which are the only part of our government constitutionally and legally required to do these reasonable things to keep all of us secure. And how can anyone say, without exploding their own head, that domestic gun violence has not become a really serious national security threat?


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