Plausible deniability. This is the grown-up term for what is otherwise known as “playing stupid.” Plausible deniability is the language politicians speak. Really it’s the language lawyers speak, but since politicians tend to be lawyers, and those that aren’t lawyers are around lawyers-turned-politicians, politicians become fluent in plausible deniability. The room that plausible deniability allows for, from the deflection of responsibility to the denial of accountability, is what makes listening to a politician’s answer, from a layman’s perspective, a torturous affair. One seldom hears a politician give a direct response because if they did, they couldn’t play politics. A good team member does not score a goal on their own net. A good team player, one concerned with only half of the ethics necessary to stay on the roster—as all politicians must be—defends their turf. America’s political parties, Republicans in particular, are playing with a win-at-all-costs mindset that may well cost them the stadium upon which their game is played. What I find annoying about this situation is that because of plausible deniability, the people responsible, those in power, will point the finger somewhere else up to, and way after, the bitter end.
The Continuing Degradation of Trust
This blog was not intended to be an anthology of the warning signs that this country might be in some trouble, but it has turned out to be, if nothing else, an infrequent chronicle of silent alarms. The latest sign, again aided by plausible deniability, concerns the persistent occurrence of mass shootings. Listen to—and I’ll be clear here—Republicans talk about the latest mass shooting and you could plausibly guess their public statement, like a Wheel of Fortune phrase: Thoughts and prayers; This is not the time to talk politics; The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that I could input “The only thing” into a text and have Google complete the phrase for me. I’m encouraged to see increasingly direct outrage over the recycled and, at this point, meaningless phrases that nevertheless get uttered from the latest talking head fluent in plausible deniability (see Ted Cruz feign outrage over a reporter who asked about American Exceptionalism with regards to mass shootings, by pretending that American Exceptionalism itself was being criticized).
Plausible deniability amounts to a passive aggressive blame game where the cause of any one particular problem, such as mass shootings, is not the result of one’s direct action—or, as is more accurate in this context, inaction. The storming of the Capitol, which was the result of direct action, the January 6th Committee shows us, could only be painted as the fault of everyone (see Kevin McCarthy’s answer to a reporter’s question about who was responsible for the storming of the Capitol) through the use of plausible deniability. Yes, Minority Leader McCarthy, I suppose in some metaphysical way, everyone really was responsible for why those who stormed the Capitol stormed the Capitol, but that answer does not get us closer to how it was that everyone was responsible in the first place—though, to be fair, the loss of prayer in schools has been floated around as a cause. We cannot properly work backwards to solve for x when we are only given—never mind what we really know—the final answer.
Republicans are currently encouraging the proliferation of guns. Our nation of laws—I’m speaking of the laws now—will somehow be protected by the individual judgment of armed citizens. Armed citizens who, by the way, are also told to demonize higher education solely for the sake of demonizing higher education (encouragement to attend trade school is usually mentioned as an afterthought, not unlike this parenthetical). The nation, we are told, will be secured by a citizenry that is not only actively encouraged to be suspicious of government, which may have some merit, but who is also encouraged to be increasingly, if not actively, hostile toward it. What was January 6th if not an eruption of pent-up frustration by a misled, or altogether too well-led, mob? Those who stormed the Capitol might have been idiots (see Tucker Carlson basically saying as much) but I can’t help myself from seeing them as symptomatic of serious malignance. Why wouldn’t this event be recreated by an armed, hostile citizenry with concealed weapons? I wonder how many of them regret being armed with hockey sticks and bear spray, rather than any gun, no matter how severely unfit for hunting elephants. The Capitol police might be wise to that possibility now but the view toward government, by those who are government (talking about Republicans, here), suggests that the us-versus-them lines have only calcified since January 6th and any individual incident that happens from now on will be isolated tragedies with no connection to anything else. Unless, of course, plausible deniability kicks in and what needs to be deflected can be, only to be re-focused toward one’s preferred boogeyman.
There’s serious irony when Republicans push for guns, so that, I’ve heard it said, one is not intimidated while standing in line to vote, and then realizing—though probably not realizing anything at all—that it’s a bad thing when some random person shows up with a gun outside the home of a Supreme Court Justice. In essence, this scenario is the perfect illustration of what is really advocated for here, if Republicans truly wanted everyone armed. This person who brought a gun (boo, Republicans) to a conservative Justice’s home (boo, Democrats) saw it fit to take the law into his own hands. Somehow, I can only imagine, killing Justice Kavanaugh was the answer to some injustice. Why would we need judges, let alone Supreme Court justices, when judgment could be so quickly rendered by our informed and armed citizenry? Rather than retract any “let’s arm more people” arguments, minority leader Mitch McConnell blamed the failed assassin’s presence on the leak of the likely upcoming Roe v. Wade overrule, and, in further demonstration of plausible deniability—because guns are not to blame—pushed for providing greater security to Supreme Court justices (you see, more guns will fix this issue).
Our leaders are not leading. Plausible deniability makes it so that they do not need to. When you never need to take responsibility, or are not held accountable outside of elections, there is little to no incentive to reflect and look around at what effects your actions, inaction, rhetoric—your own and that from your team—are causing. How can American society be less confused, be less on edge, when guns are offered as the solution for how we can be safe in concerts, in schools, in the street. Plausible deniability has Republicans currently trying to defend the indefensible by continuing to support a man who has been caught repeatedly, in many different ways, lying to the American public for private gain—incredibly lucrative public gain, it turns out. Absent any show of penance, plausible deniability will always be available to explain why nothing needs to change. The January 6th Committee hearings is Congress’ latest attempt, from those truly interested in leading, to either prove plausible deniability will not win the day, or to succumb to it.