I am going to preface this essay by admitting that I haven’t gambled in a very long time, and for some reason when I initially thought of the “doubling down” metaphor I only had a nebulous idea that it applied to card games. So, after typing this sentence I googled it and found that it relates, exclusively, to blackjack. I assume I’m in the minority of people who were unaware of this, however, there are lots of expressions we are carelessly using without any real knowledge of their etymological and, in the case of “double down,” metonymic origins.
The thought of doubling down on political rhetoric hit me a few hours after the terrorist attack in Nice. For some reason, the commentary surrounding this incident reminded me of a section in David Cole’s Republican Party Animal, in which he summarizes the most enduring aspect of Andrew Breitbart’s legacy:
What Breitbart taught conservatives was to always double down if the left accuses you of being wrong. But conservatives can be wrong. The knee-jerk instinct that Breitbart preached, to meet any leftist criticism with a twice-as-strong affirmation of the thing you’re being criticized for, is disastrous. Admitting a mistake is seen as “kowtowing” to the opposing side. It doesn’t matter if you actually were wrong. Double down! Defy![i]
This was a strategy that Breitbart pioneered, Cole’s singling it out as significant is due to the manner in which it has slowly permeated the entire mediascape.
It is easy to think of the discursive spaces hosted or dominated by the media as spaces that do not serve the goal of reciprocal communication, favoring instead a medium in which the tenets of liberal globalism are dictated to a passive audience. Nevertheless the media elites have to be aware that political polarization in the US has escalated, and will continue to escalate, and that terror attacks are going to play the role scandals did in previous elections.
If you think about it this is a pretty remarkable transition. There are essentially three types of events that have necessitated PR navigation on the part of political actors. They have occurred in chronological fashion and are as follows: twenty years ago campaign advisers went to great lengths to navigate around their candidate’s personal/political scandals. These involved hypocrisy (like conservatives hiring illegal gardeners, etc. ), sex scandals and so on. Then, around ten years ago, the strategy shifted slightly towards managing gaffes candidates made during speeches. Now, the strategy involves navigating the candidate’s statements around events that have taken place outside his sphere of political influence.
The exemplification of the first case that occurred in the previous election cycle was the FBI’s decision not to recommend prosecution for Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. This decision plus the lack of sufficient news coverage was the metaphorical nail in the coffin for the political/personal scandal trope. This is especially notable in a historical sense because Hillary’s evasion of justice slayed a dragon her husband never could. Bill weathered scandals of varying natures, but he weathered them. In one way or another, they seemed to take some kind of toll on his persona and the public’s perception of him.
It could be argued that this scrutiny was primarily due to the scandals being lurid in nature, and there is validity to this argument. However, it should be counter-balanced with the acknowledgment that the media had a caricatured image of Bill that they found comically irresistible, and for this reason, they used his scandals as a means of expanding this caricature. Hillary by contrast, has come under no fire from the media (outside of Fox News), for anything she has done. This most recent run-in with the FBI only served as an excuse to bronze her “get out of jail free” card.
Moving on to the management of gaffes, this is still a legitimate issue, however, those gaffes are more frequently related to events that fall into the third, and most recent category: violent episodes of social unrest. Whereas a gaffe for George W. Bush might have involved misquoting the Who, today’s gaffe is an inappropriate or “insensitive” comment made in the wake of some kebab- or BLM- manufactured disaster.
The key difference is that the damaging gaffe of a decade ago was damaging because it revealed faulty logic or knowledge; the candidate was being shamed for his ignorance. Today’s gaffes are perceived as damaging because they display the speaker’s insensitivity to the issues media elites have been foisting upon us at ever-increasing intensity. Even Trump’s most “inflammatory” comments about radical Islam and immigration are essentially about events that have violent repercussions.
This transition from criticism based on intelligence to criticism based on feels brings us back to Cole’s criticism of Breitbart. If the right was doubling down in the past, it was doubling down on factual matters that it employed towards achieving a political end. The example that prompted Cole’s assessment was the way Breitbart handled the Shirley Sherrod incident, in which a clip of Sherrod making an anti-white statement was taken out of context and used to attack the NAACP, and by extension the Obama administration. According to Cole, pushing the clip as an attack on Sherrod was maliciously deceptive, not to mention untenable because the left would eventually unearth the discarded context. This incident mirrors the edited 911 call made by George Zimmerman the night he shot Trayvon Martin two years later, the only difference being that the individuals who were certain to unearth the context of Sherrod’s statement were the same people editing Zimmerman’s call.
Which brings us to the question: who is doubling down now? Returning to the origin of the expression, what is the context in which it is non-metaphorically employed? It is employed in the context of gambling, and it involves a commitment to a certain amount of deception and manipulation at the expense of one’s opponent. The admittance to doubling down on your political rhetoric is an open admission that you have a story and are sticking to it regardless as to what factual evidence might contradict you. The leftist media now owns the monopoly on this strategy –- and the more leftwing the outlet is, the stronger the claim of ownership.
I stated early on that the space in which the media operates is bereft of reciprocity. This is not entirely true. A communicative aspect exists to the extent the media, and leftists in general, go to maintain their primary talking points when confronting their ideological opponents. One excellent example of this is the recent For Whites Sensing Decline, Donald Trump Unleashes Words of Resistance article in the New York Times, which decries the extent to which Trump has become a rallying symbol for whites who are in the throes of dispossession. There is nothing shocking, innovative, or new about this article. It is in fact a forgery insofar as it is a repetition of allegations that have been repeated since day one of Trump’s candidacy. Why write another article about Trump supporters being white supremacists, unless it’s to elicit a response within the alt-right media?
In a sense there is a communicative rapport at work here. However, it is operating within parameters that are the reverse of what Cole attributed to Breitbart. The left is now doubling down on its narrative. It has defined it in terms of the language of political correctness and now all it needs to do is defend it.
As the right abandons unrestricted free trade and hawkish adventurism in favor of nationalism, its message becomes less ideologically defined, and hence, more resistant to attack. In this way, traditional values can resurge, insofar as they are the foundation of our general ethos and not the product of so-called doubling down. This will be successful so long as we are unflinching during confrontations, and refuse to allow ourselves to be guilted into relinquishing our core beliefs. This is easy, once it is clearly ascertained that the guilting consists primarily of ad hominem arguments and dubious fallacies, and these only come into play when it comes to attacking Trump, or the right directly.
The left works its angle hard when it comes to this kind of head-on confrontation. Conversely, it deals with BLM/terrorist attacks in unexpectedly convoluted ways, e.g. commemorating the Bataclan massacre with performances of John Lennon’s Imagine. Spectacles such as these are intended to distract the public from the events themselves, thereby forcing the whole enterprise to operate on a variety of levels. Of course this evasion is just smoke and mirrors intended to distract us from the fact that the elites are failing miserably at effectively addressing, the violent events that they have, in fact, instigated.
[i] Cole, David (2014) Republican Party Animal. Feral House, p.226