In more halcyon days, back in 1964, at a time when most popular music in America was still about idealized romantic love, radio stations across the US broadcast the sonorous voice of Dean Martin intoning the lyrics of a song composed 20 years earlier: “You’re nobody till somebody loves you, So find yourself somebody to love.” Dan Crenshaw, a Republican representative and former Navy SEAL, upset by the feeling of becoming the innocent victim of Chinese aggression, now appears to be echoing Dino’s performance with his updated lyrics: “Find somebody to sue.”
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Interviewed by Sean Hannity on Fox News, alongside Republican senator and conspiracy theorist Tom Cotton, Crenshaw explains his sacred mission to wage war against China, not with military means, but by using the US judicial system, essentially as a weapon of mass delusion. At a time when President Donald Trump and the media, including The New York Times, are content to simply to inspire patriotic indignation and xenophobic enthusiasm by complaining out loud about the evil Chinese, the former Navy SEAL has defined a pragmatic combat strategy.
Reaching into the depths of US cultural reflexes, Crenshaw has taken to blitzing the media as the champion of an action plan that will hold China responsible for the massive damage done to the US economy by the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19. And, of course, make them pay.
Crenshaw made his case by saying: “So now that we know how they have wronged us, Americans are going to do what Americans do when we feel an injustice is leveled against us. We’re going to find somebody to sue.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Find somebody to sue:
Prove one’s commitment to establishing the truth (or untruth, as the case may be) in a court of law, by hiring expensive attorneys who will know how to use the judicial system and the media most effectively to publicize the cause, with the aim of either receiving monetary compensation following a judgment or settlement or of obtaining an important intangible advantage (such as winning an election), or both
Senator Cotton has claimed that China “deliberately” contaminated the world with COVID-19. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, which he has also published on his website, Cotton makes his case in detail, before admitting: “This evidence is circumstantial, to be sure, but it all points toward the Wuhan labs.” The New York Times describes his accusation in these terms: “Scientists have dismissed suggestions that the Chinese government was behind the outbreak, but it’s the kind of tale that gains traction among those who see China as a threat.”
In a tweet, Crenshaw announces his intention to “make the communist regime pay for their lies and coverup that allowed this pandemic to spread across the world.” The tweet contains another clip from a Fox News appearance in which he once hammers away at the same theme. “There’s an increasing amount of evidence that shows that they are culpable. So what can we do about that? Well, when Americans are wronged, what do we do? We sue somebody.” Repeating a phrase that sounds more like a campaign slogan than a policy proposal may be Crenshaw’s way of signaling to lucid observers his true motivation: feeding a fever of anti-Chinese xenophobia to help Republicans win in November’s election.
Crenshaw has presented a bill to change an existing law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which prevents US citizens from suing foreign countries. That modification would be required before any suit could be effectively adjudicated in a US court. The point of Crenshaw’s legislation would be to amend “the act to create a narrow exception for ‘damages caused by China’s dangerous handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.’” It is, of course, beyond unlikely that Congress would vote such an amendment, and the chances are even more remote that a suit based on this principle could lead to a judgment or settlement.
Nevertheless, the state of Missouri, whose governor is a Republican, has already filed the first suit of this kind. Al Jazeera explains that this is most likely an attempt at political grandstanding that will have no legal consequences, though there may well be diplomatic ones: “The lawsuit’s chances of success are far from certain as US law, under the principle of sovereign immunity, generally forbids court action against foreign governments.” The article cites Tom Ginsburg, a professor of international law at the University of Chicago, who judges that it can best be explained as a political ploy. He observes that “the recent flurry of lawsuits against China serves a political end for Republican leaders facing an election in November.”
So, how solid is Cotton’s accusation and Crenshaw’s claim? On April 20, The Australian newspaper published an article reviewing how the rumor claiming that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab has evolved over the past few months. When suspicion first arose, an investigation into the records of all the activities in the lab led to the conclusion that “the sequencing of the new infections did not match those of the viruses her team had sampled.” That scientific evidence seems to have convinced a majority of scientists across the globe that the virus couldn’t have originated in the lab. The most likely hypothesis of its origin remains the wet market in Wuhan that had been evoked since the very beginning.
The Australian explains that “the scenario was pushed to centre stage last week by hawks close to Donald Trump, with the fans flamed by the President.” We also learn that “last week the US brought the rumours into the mainstream, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying US officials are doing a ‘full investigation’ into how the virus ‘got out into the world.’” This has clearly become the focus of what is likely to be six months of electioneering and TV ads based on the Trump administration’s neo-Cold War attitude of getting tough with China.
Dan Crenshaw reveals his deep understanding of the most basic principle at the very core of US culture when he promises to “do what Americans do when we feel an injustice is leveled against us.” The history of the nation began with a reaction of a group of people who, after “feeling” an injustice leveled against them by an overseas government, successfully rebelled against it. The first version was a spectacular raid of British ships, followed by what became known as the “revolutionary war” leading to the establishment of the world’s first democratic nation-state. The modern version of that process is to take the villains to court.
Crenshaw believes he is simply reconnecting with the principle that spawned the colonists’ war of independence against the British crown. In 1773, instead of taking King George III to court, which would have posed serious logistic problems, the colonists, dressed as Native Americans (in a bold act of what would now be called “cultural appropriation”), boarded British ships and dumped the cargo of the British East India Company’s tea into the sea at Boston harbor. (This act of insurrection was motivated by the fact that the colonists preferred to consume the untaxed tea illegally smuggled into the colonies by the Dutch.)
Nearly two and half centuries later, the principle remains, but the methods have changed. The injustice Americans “feel … leveled against them” isn’t even the coronavirus. That is simply the convenient pretext. The real issue is the sense that China has begun to threaten the prerogative — assumed by the United States for the past 70 years — of controlling the global economy. It’s something Americans don’t even need to think about or require evidence for, precisely because they can “feel” it. In any case, it’s the kind of thing that stirs emotion during electoral campaigns.
Interestingly, conservative Republicans who spend more time thinking about it than simply feeling its effect, and who are not up for reelection every two years, have started showing serious concern with this kind of showboating initiative. Writing for the conservative National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy details all the complex reasons for understanding that this attempt to humiliate China makes no sense. He sums it up in this remark: “This is foolish on so many levels it is tough to know where to begin.”
At the end of a lengthy article, McCarthy caps his multi-dimensional argument with this: “Do we really want to encourage the adoption of a principle that sovereign immunity from lawsuits should be denied to a country that was acting within its legitimate rights if its actions caused unintentional harm?”
The fear he expresses is that, if such a precedent is established, the US could become a target of similar action. He undoubtedly realizes — though he doesn’t admit it — that the US is far more exposed than China concerning actions that cause damage to other nations. Regime change wars, invasions, ongoing drone attacks, crippling sanctions — none of these actions can be confounded with accidents due to negligence. And evidence of deliberate malfeasance abounds.
Tom Cotton admits that “we may never have direct, conclusive evidence” of the crimes for which he wants to sue China, but when the point is to focus the blind hatred of voters toward another population, evidence — which is required in the courtroom — is never required in the court of public opinion. The media, in particular, clamors for stories, not for evidence.
As Cotton himself says, with a sense of seriousness and logical clarity that Lewis Carroll or the Monty Python might appreciate, “Americans justifiably can use common sense to follow the inherent logic of events to their likely conclusion.” That could qualify for the most spectacular concatenation of meaningless clichés of the 21st century: “common sense,” “inherent logic of events” and “likely conclusion” — all in a single phrase to conclude a sentence that begins by acknowledging a lack of evidence. Who couldn’t be convinced? And once convinced, it shouldn’t be too difficult to “find somebody to sue.”
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.