by Keaton Weiss
Since his acquittal, Kyle Rittenhouse has been on a high profile right wing media tour. Days after his trial ended, he appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show for an exclusive interview. He then dropped by Steven Crowder’s podcast to discuss, among other things, his taste in women. His latest stop was an appearance at Turning Point USA’s four-day conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
As he took the stage, the packed audience chanted his name as his own custom-written theme song blared in the background – a rockstar entrance if ever there was one.
Complete with pyrotechnics, a thumping soundtrack, adoring hordes of fans, and an American Flag graphic with the name ‘Kyle’ superimposed over it, this was a truly grotesque display of callousness, even by MAGA standards. And I say this as someone who still believes Rittenhouse’s jury was correct in their decision to exonerate him.
Based on the evidence of the case, it was simply impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse had murderous intent on the night of August 25, 2020, when he shot three men, killing two. Despite liberals’ online laments over the verdict, the much anticipated wave of protests and riots in response to it never materialized – a sign that embedded somewhere in their psyches was the understanding that the prosecution failed to make a compelling case.
Whether or not Rittenhouse deserves to be jailed, however, is a separate question from whether he ought to be lauded as a hero. A sober, clear-eyed evaluation of Rittenhouse reveals him to be neither a bloodthirsty killer nor a valiant defender of law and order. Rather, he’s the tragic output of a failed system that allowed for his story to be possible in the first place; one in which a white teenager is allowed to patrol the streets with an AR-15 during a moment of civil unrest that’s itself the product of an increasingly dystopian status quo.
Unfortunately, such an assessment is woefully unsatisfying for a population entangled in such a hostile culture war. The Left is as committed to vilifying Rittenhouse as the Right is to deifying him. In fact, each of these factions only adds to the other’s conviction: the more indignation the Left expresses at the verdict, the more the Right doubles down on their efforts to elevate Rittenhouse as their champion. The more obscene the Right’s spectacle of his coronation, the more the Left roils in anger.
And so the war rages on with no end in sight.
For the Right, the euphoric rush that comes with “owning the libs” seems to be an end worth fighting for in and of itself. The gratuitousness of their Rittenhouse worship is almost certainly a conscious aesthetic choice intended to twist the knives in the backs of their political enemies.
For the Left, Rittenhouse’s victory lap is the cherry on top of a series of recent defeats. “Defund the Police,” the initial rallying cry that arose organically out of the George Floyd protests, has been successfully and predictably delegitimized by establishment gatekeepers in political and media spheres. Even the most modest attempts to reform our economic structures away from their current barbarism have gone up in smoke as the Build Back Better negotiations have collapsed.
And so in a system so broken that it can no longer be reformed by democratic means, the only political battles worth fighting are in the psychic realm, where the catharsis of witnessing your opponent’s emotional pain is the only winnable goal.
To conservatives, this is nothing new. Spite, malice, and resentment have long undergirded right wing ideology, culminating in the Trump movement which seems motivated exclusively by such spiritual pathologies. And as the Left is forced to reckon with the futility of their material aims, their own political project has become similarly defined.
America’s death spiral has become too furious to escape, and so political discourse is now nothing more than a whirlwind of negative emotions volleyed back and forth as we all circle the drain in smaller and faster rotations.
Because the Right is inherently nihilistic, this dynamic isn’t so bothersome to them. After all, theirs is a political movement whose most recognizable trait these past two years has been its open contempt for any and all public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, even as the virus has disproportionately ravaged their own communities. The Trump Right is nothing if not the political manifestation of a collective Freudian death drive which seeks to destroy and be destroyed. And so to them, trolling liberal snowflakes as the country goes to hell in a handbasket is itself a worthwhile cause.
For the Left, who, conversely, have actually spent the past years trying to transform this place for the better, being made to grapple with the reality of our inevitable societal demise is a much more difficult adjustment. In progressives’ minds there exists a friction between the hopelessness they see with their own eyes and their subconscious premise that for all its flaws, America is and must be salvageable.
As those two ideas have become less reconcilable, the Left has become more and more directionless in its mission. As their broader political endeavor crumbles, they become increasingly invested in the same cultural wedge issues that have embodied conservative politics for decades.
As ‘Defund the Police’ evaporates and capital continues to trounce labor, Leftists turn their ire towards individuals like Kyle Rittenhouse, who, for all of the social ills he represents, isn’t and cannot possibly be as guilty as the system that produced him.
But once that system proved too powerful to be toppled, the Left saw accountability for Rittenhouse as the next best thing, and clung to the idea that he was guilty of cold-blooded murder long after the facts showed that he wasn’t. In the wake of his acquittal, the Right is seizing upon the opportunity to pour salt in their wounds, which, once again, has been their animating principle all along.
Meanwhile, our shared decline steadily accelerates as neither political camp is empowered to turn the tide. As has been demonstrated time and again, our government’s unholy alliance with capital has rendered it unresponsive to democratic input. Because of this, all we can do is emotionally torture each other by digging in on opposite sides of cases like Kyle Rittenhouse’s.
It’s an unwinnable war, but for too many of us, it’s the only one worth fighting.
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