A couple of headlines, just from the past few weeks: “Elizabeth Warren Eviscerate ‘Gutless’ Wells Fargo CEO,” “Trevor Noah Eviscerates Matt Lauer’s Presidential Forum Performance,” “Soledad O’Brien Eviscerates CNN,” “This Celebrity-Packed Political Ad Eviscerates Donald Trump.” The only other arena that sees nearly as much evisceration is sports, but it’s not even close: Politics has become incredibly dangerous. There must be some kind of brutal revolt in progress, an insurrection in which nobody is so secure and powerful that he might not find his guts suddenly sliding out of a gashed-open belly; the halls of government are blood-flecked and stink of human garum, and politicians wade to work through the dug-out viscera of their fallen colleagues. An incredible massacre, surely.
So where are all the bodies?
Every week brings news of gruesome tortures, but the next day the victims are still there, guts still wobbling happily inside their skin, and still pumping out the same old shit. Wells Fargo is still printing money; CNN is still seeping blather; Donald Trump might still stomp his way to a big, beautiful nuclear arsenal. Nothing is tamer, nothing is more toothless, more flaccid, more uselessly limp and passive and sterile than the click-mediated evisceration. In a recent column, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat writes that various liberal monologists have built a new political consensus, “an echo chamber from which the imagination struggles to escape”—which probably says far more about the powers of Ross Douthat’s imagination than it does about the state of the discourse. Political invective is weak, far weaker now than it’s ever been. Look at the gleeful pornographic slanders of ancient Rome or revolutionary France, Marx tearing into Louis-Napoléon, or Malcolm X declaiming the sins of white America, and try to find even an echo of that caustic fury in a talk-show host raising his eyebrows. It’s not just that these things are ineffective (after all, what have you or I ever actually done to stop the banking system? What could we do?), they’re not even polemical. Instead of exposing the evils of the world, our ranters have resigned themselves to laughing at stupid people. Real polemic surges up from below; these people look down and sneer. The left—and these eviscerations are always almost from something that, at the very least, calls itself the left—has lost something important. It still likes to see itself as an agent of merciless justice, cutting through the stomachs of its enemies, but it’s had a bad turn; it can no longer stand the sight of blood.