States' Rights: Wrestlemania 1984

Montana received two shows for the price of one this week (their allowance for the century). Not only did they hold a special election, but they were also privy to a spontaneous Congressional Wrestlemania showdown. As votes were being cast across the state, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs approached Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, held up a microphone, and proceeded to ask the billionaire questions about his position on the GOP healthcare bill. Evidently frustrated by the gall of a journalist to ask politically relevant questions, Gianforte then proceeded to body-slam and punch Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Not 24 hours later, Gianforte won the Montana special election; although he seemed a touch confused that his prize was a congressional seat and not a title-belt.

According to Politifact, Gianforte “blamed the altercation on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs’ ‘badgering questions’.” However, the health care plan does require some explanation. Indeed, the only way the American Health Care Act (AHC) makes sense is if it were the policy of a Mafia Don, and the word ‘Care’ was a euphemism for ‘kill’. However, the statement given by Gianforte’s spokesman Shane Scanlon, in which it was alleged Jacobs displayed aggressive behavior, was asked to leave, and grabbed Gianforte’s wrist, have been contradicted by Jacobs’ audio, and the reports of eyewitnesses, including a Fox News team.

The audio demonstrates that Jacobs was persistent in his questioning, although ‘badgering’ seems extreme, especially considering Jacobs is a reporter, and Gianforte had previously suggested he would have a more definitive opinion on the GOP health care bill when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report came out. The report had come out, and it was not flattering to the bill. With only hours left in the election, Jacobs clearly deemed it democratically important that the electorate know Gianforte’s so far aloof opinion.

Gianforte is set to appear in court sometime before June 7, where he could be convicted of a misdemeanour assault charge. Admittedly, the assaulted reporter Ben Jacobs should feel himself lucky he was only the subject of a body-slam. The campaigns of both Gianforte, and his Democratic opponent Rob Quist featured ads showing the candidates shooting rifles at their opponents’ commercials. Considering the gun-touting rhetoric of the campaign, Jacobs could have easily been positioned in a field and shot. If states like Montana are as traditionalist as they claim to be, why don’t they duel properly? After all, what’s more American than Hamilton v. Burr (Spoiler Alert: Hamilton dies, but Burr loses)?

Realistically there is no need for Republicans to worry about Gianforte's actions. Even if Gianforte is convicted, ethical concerns have never been high on the list of Republican priorities, especially in a state like Montana. The news cycle will roll on to the next scandal, meanwhile the raised eyebrows and surprised expressions on the faces of the public have already started to recede, having become acclimatized to such absurdities.

Gianforte’s victory speech read as a rehearsal of clichés from every guilty and remorseless political apology in history. His supportive crowd seemed less like a cohort concerned about their representatives’ reprehensible and frankly allusive actions, and more like bloodthirsty fight fans who were disappointed in their man for not having finished the job with a K.O - having to settle for a weak victory by points decision. Such is democracy.

Gianforte began his speech by saying: “Last night, I learned a lesson…I made a mistake and I am sorry,” Following this, an audience member humbly brought it upon themselves to cry out “and you’re forgiven!” It shall be remembered that this was the day in which all courts of justice and public opinion could be dissolved as a Gianforte supporter in Bozeman, Montana, has revealed herself to be the administrator of absolution for the entire nation, and the Fourth Estate on which it relies.  

Unfortunately, there is little to stop such forgiveness – after all, the most reliable factor in U.S. politics is ‘to forgive and forget,’ and while both are readily given, the public has a particular affinity for the latter. Indeed the public forgetfulness, a cultural amnesia, has become so aggressively recurrent that one could be forgiven for suspecting that perhaps the M.I.B (Men in Black) is an operational government department. Not devoted to the administration of extra-terrestrials of course, but rather to using their memory erasing devices, ‘neutralizers,’ to provide a clean political slate to the public each day. It would explain why Will Smith doesn’t seem to think he has to make good films anymore.

However, conspiracy theories are not the answer. It may be that for many, the bliss of ignorance is preferable to the spotted mind of interest. But inaction is an action still. When it comes to politics, the ‘eternal sunshine of the spotless mind’ proves not to be so eternal, especially when drenched authoritarianism knocks at your door. It is not forgetfulness which hinders us so; after all, we have history. It is the speed of vices that distract us from the steadiness of virtues. It’s not that we forget the body-slams or the pussy-grabbings, the gaffes or the scandals; it’s that they go on, and we’re helpless to stop them.

Pick out any period in history and the presence of the apparent public amnesia, and its associated helplessness is there. Take for instance the scandalous 2000 Election. As the author Salman Rushdie wrote in a correspondence at the time: “But then again, nobody has a memory anymore…all this will fade…we give up. We’re confused…We’ve stopped thinking it’s funny, or even sad.” These same words could be printed in relation to any contemporary political affair and be just as acute. However, given the choice between the height of electoral scandal in 2000, and the condescending charade that exists today, few I fear would miss the iPhones.

Politically, Gianforte’s victory is another slap in the face of Democrats who insist an anti-Trump sentiment is on the rise across the nation. The democrats are still failing to grasp the fact that they no longer represent anyone. As argued in an earlier piece following their loss in the General election, the Democrats need to stop playing the Republican game of pretending to represent the people, because they’re clearly unable to contend with the elephant in the room. The Democrats need to decide that if they want to beat their opponents, they have to take an opposing position. 

The real issue illuminated by the Gianforte assault scandal is that the ruling class are shedding their veils because we’re helpless to stop them anyway. We’re moving steadily to, if we haven’t already arrived, at an Orwellian situation in which the ruling class is more or less unaccountable. A politician who feels they can assault a member of the press questioning their policies is a politician who knows the Fourth Estate’s link to the public is meaningless to their pursuit of power. If the media wishes to retrieve some of its democratically important power, it needs to learn that its role is not just to report for the 24 hour news cycle, for that is mere entertainment. The job is to criticize, to ridicule, and to hold the negatives up to the light.