When the Rude Pundit heard Donald Trump on Sen. John McCain's war hero status, his first thought was "Umm, John McCain isn't a war hero. He's a survivor of awful circumstances and a victim of a worthless war. But he's not a hero." See, the Rude Pundit doesn't subscribe to the Everyone-Gets-A-Trophy view of heroism. You're not a hero just because you're a cop or a firefighter. You're not a hero just because you're a soldier. You're a hero if you do something heroic. And, sorry, doing the requirements of your job (like, you know, fighting a fire) doesn't make you a hero. It makes you a decent employee. The bar should be high for a hero, even in a job that requires a certain amount of courage to begin with. You broke through a door to save a child and a puppy from a raging inferno? Well, yeah, that's pretty heroic. You stood outside and held a hose? Awesome job, glad you're doing it, but not exactly herculean.
The defensive response to the poignant Black Lives Matter movement, which started in the wake of the ongoing string of deaths of black men and women at the hands of police (for the most part, since it began after the Trayvon Martin murder), was the absolutely worthless All Lives Matter (or #AllLivesMatter). First of all, it's impossible. The Rude Pundit can name about fifty people off the top of his head whose lives don't matter, starting with the presidential candidate mentioned at the top of this post. He doesn't wish harm on most of them. He wouldn't do anything to harm any of them. But, really, and c'mon, you can look around the room you're in and know in your heart that at least a few people there have lives that don't matter. That's not even getting into your random serial killers and dictators, whose lives, we should be able to agree, don't matter. Mostly, though, it is an utterly meaningless phrase because it has no basis in reality. (Yes, we can get into a whole ontological argument about the meaning of "matter," but, for the sake of this argument, hell, just say, "Matter to the world.")
Black Lives Matter (or #BlackLivesMatter, to hashtag the shit out of this post) matters because it is a statement of defiance against a tide of evidence and history that, in general, the bodies and being of African Americans must be crushed, killed, wiped out. The phrase doesn't naively imply that all black lives matter. It is an assertion of worth and value for the very existence of black people in the United States against a hegemonic whiteness that insidiously and systematically imprisons, impoverishes, and kills black Americans. The phrase carves out worth against worthlessness. It is confrontational because of its implication that black lives do not, in fact, matter, that they are not equal to white lives. #AllLivesMatter waters it down into feel-good nonsense.
The reason for this discussion is the dismay on the left (and the giddy finger-pointing on the right) to the disruption of Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley at the Netroots Nation conference this weekend. During each of their appearances, they were confronted by protesters in the audience, including Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who, along with Tia Oso, was invited on stage by O'Malley. The former mayor of Baltimore handled it particularly badly when he said, "“Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter." Sanders essentially told the protesters to shut up and let him speak.
Now, you can argue all you like about whether or not cutting off others' speech with your speech is free speech. And no one has to listen to anyone. Also, let's hope that these same protesters and more are willing to shout out at forums for Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. For his part, the Rude Pundit loves it when disorganization breaks out in your nicely-scheduled conference because some people want to be heard. He loves it when others are upset about it. He loves reality over polished bullshit. (He has avoided Netroots because, in general, he avoids all conferences, professional and political. The mixture of insider circle jerking and desperate wannabe-ing just doesn't really jibe with the whole "drink until you wake up in pants you don't recognize" ethos under which he lives.)
When you get angry, you don't go to someone else's house and punch a hole in their wall. You don't throw plates in your neighbor's kitchen. You take it out on yourself and your home. You rage against that which you think you have control over. Of course the protesters had to call out the old white guys in the room who presumed to lead them. Of course those old white guys needed to hear what they had to say. Of course they were enraged by the responses. That's because #BlackLivesMatter has life and death as its stakes. There is no other way to react.