The Rittenhouse Affair

The outcome of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial was in no way surprising. Nor were reactions from sundry quarters of the political landscape.


I am prepared to gnash my teeth and acknowledge that it can be argued that the jury came to a reasonable conclusion under Wisconsin law, as Jonathan Capehart did yesterday on The PBS NewsHour:


I read parts of the statute, and I'm looking at it. And I'm thinking, if I were on that jury, and this was the evidence that was presented to me, and I take my role as a juror seriously, what else am I left to do?


But that's not an indictment of the jury. That's an indictment of the law.


Adam Serwer discusses this in detail at The Atlantic (Of Course Kyle Rittenhouse Was Acquitted):


The United States is a nation awash in firearms, and gun owners are a powerful and politically active constituency. In state after state, they have helped elect politicians who, in turn, have created a permissive legal regime for the carry and use of firearms, rules that go far beyond how courts originally understood the concept of self-defense.


These laws have made it difficult to convict any gun owner who knowingly puts themselves in circumstances where they are likely to use their weapon—that is, anyone who goes looking for a fight.


As David French wrote on November 16, "The narrow nature of the self-defense inquiry is one reason people can escape responsibility for killings that are deeply wrongful in every moral sense" (Kyle Rittenhouse’s Acquittal Does Not Make Him a Hero).


A slavering pack of the usual suspects on the right, with the noted conservative political thinkers Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz at their head, were quick to adopt as their movement's new mascot a young man who has not to my knowledge expressed the slightest degree of remorse for having taken two lives. Some welcome the killings: "Conservative media personalities celebrated that he had 'a couple of pelts on the wall' and was 'gonna have to fight off conservative chicks with a bat.'" (Ryan Busse, Prepare for the Shock Troops, The Bulwark, November 11, 2021)


Kyle Rittenhouse may in a narrow, technical sense be innocent of the charges leveled against him. That he should bear no consequences for acts that are deeply wrongful in every moral sense provokes justifiable outrage. That his actions are applauded not only by random blockheads but also by holders of high public office is horrendous.


None of this excuses loose rhetoric predictably slung from the wing where I once staked my flag but no longer feel at home. The usual charges of race, racism, white supremacy, are thrown around without qualification in a situation where their invocation muddies more than it illuminates. Race and racism play into it, if nothing else by virtue of the fact that Kyle Rittenhouse would likely be dead if he were black. But reduction of every wrong, every injustice, to race and racism blinds even observers acting in good faith to the role played by deeper and darker forces within the GOP and Trumpist movement where many public figures are dangerously contemplating violence, seeking to unleash "the force of nihilism in American politics—the mad desire to blow up our political order and put citizens at one another’s throats" (Michael Gerson writing in The Washington Post, quoted by Ron Radosh, Steve Bannon and MAGA Martyrdom, The Bulwark, November 18, 2021).


The NAACP did itself no honor with a tweet that said, "The verdict in the #KyleRittenhouse case is a travesty and fails to deliver justice on behalf of those who lost their lives as they peacefully assembled to protest against police brutality and violence." Buildings and businesses were destroyed by a riotous mob. Fire damages in Kenosha reportedly ran into millions of dollars. That was not peaceful assembly.

Last night in Portland some two hundred so-called protesters advanced the cause of racial justice by breaking doors and windows, throwing stuff at police, and fortunately only talking about burning down the Justice Center (CBS News, Riot declared in Portland as Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal sparks some protests). Apologists will say that people are angry and frustrated, pushed to a breaking point by injustices that just keep coming, never to be addressed. I do not dismiss this or take it lightly, but I would also point out that other people are angry and frustrated by mask requirements, vaccination mandates, school closures, and an election they wrongly believe was stolen. Are disruption of school board meetings and threats of violence directed at board members and election officials thereby okay?


I am angry, frustrated, saddened, weighed down with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Beyond that, I have little to add to what I have written previously about the Rittenhouse affair.


Kyle Rittenhouse is a foolish, 17-year-old kid who got in over his head in a place where he had no business being. There have to be consequences for his actions. But it is the moral defectives who put out the call for militias to come to Kenosha who should have the hammer dropped on them. The same goes for people who use protest as a cover while they play at revolution with pyromaniacal intent to burn it all down naïve in their faith that a better world will rise from the ashes. (Portable Bohemia Newsletter September 1, 2020)


The Kyle Rittenhouse proceeding is a cluster mess. The judge seems to be a raving whack job, the prosecution a team of bungling feebs, the accused a kid who killed two people and considers himself the victim.


The romanticization of violence for a good cause, which is to say, a cause one supports, is nothing new. It is now a feature baked into the American landscape. (Portable Bohemia Newsletter November 15, 2021)


I think of historian Tony Judt's book Ill Fares the Land, its title taken from lines by Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, 1770:


Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

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