Miscellany, 1/8/2022

Fairly Political, but not in a partisan way

Politics of friendship, politics of enemies

[Y]ou can’t operate political systems without friendship, and what has been terrifying in the United States is the replacement of a politics of friends with a politics of enemies. And this then makes any possibility of legislative comity just impossible. That’s why one of my friends has talked about a civil war, because a civil war is a state where a politician across the other aisle regards you as an enemy who is about to destroy everything you value most, and must be resisted by all means, fair or foul. That culture of antagonism is extremely dangerous to the stability of democratic systems. I think we’re living through a very bad period.

I’m a historian, so let’s not set our hair on fire. We can remember periods in American history where, for example, one senator crossed the floor, picked up a stick and nearly beat another senator to death. Now, that was in the run up to the real Civil War. Let’s not forget, we’ve been there before, and we’ve walked it back. And I think we could walk it back again, but I fear that it’s going to take some calamity to wake us all up. And I thought, in fact, that January 6th and the invasion of the sacred precincts of the Congress would have been the calamity that would wake everybody up. But it doesn’t appear to have done so. That’s another sign that democracy in America is in a very, very serious place.

I don’t think there should be enemies in the American house. I don’t think there can be, except one kind of enemy who takes up arms against the system itself. The people who took up arms against Congress on the 6th of January are enemies; they have to be dealt with by the security forces. They have to be put in jail. But apart from that, there are no enemies.

Michael Ignatieff to Yasha Mounk

Whaddya gonna do with your enemies?

I rarely read New York Times Editorial Board opinions, but this one caught my eye (before I noticed its authorship):

[P]eel back a layer, and things are far from normal. Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election.

(Emphasis added, because it’s true and chilling)

January 6 was terrorism

January 6, 2021, was not a riot. It was not a protest, an insurrection, or a (failed) coup—at least, not exclusively so. None of those terms capture the exact nature of premeditated violence done for psychological effect to achieve political ends that characterized the violence at the U.S. Capitol that day. There is a better term, one that does precisely capture that mix: terrorism. January 6 was an attempted terrorist attack on the U.S. Congress. It is important that we call the attack by its rightful name to recognize the threat we face.

Terrorism is, under U.S. law, “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” There is no question the January 6 attack, in which hundreds of people violently broke into the Capitol building to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election, fits that definition.

Most of the protesters on the Mall were peaceful, and even a majority of those at the Capitol did not illegally enter the building. But that is a little like saying 9/11 was mostly peaceful because a majority of New Yorkers were not murdered that day. It somehow misses what was distinctive and noteworthy that morning. Most people act peacefully and lawfully most of the time. But we’re rightly interested in what is unique and unusual behavior—which will be, by definition, a minority of people in a small amount of time—that has outsized influence and does disproportionate damage to public safety and democratic norms.

Paul Miller, ‌Stop Calling It a Riot.

After I wrote this, someone (Matt Labash, I think) said January 6 was a bunch of LARPers who let things get out of hand. That seems too benign, but that "[t]here is no question the January 6 attack …fits that definition" invites the question "then why has nobody been charged with terrorism?" I think there’s an answer, but I’m going to let others develop it if they can.

Freudian slip

Sen. Ted Cruz is very, very, very sorry that he referred to January 6 as a “violent terrorist attack” earlier this week. Please forgive him, 2024 presidential primary voters, he’ll never do it again.

The Morning Dispatch

Never, ever, ever, talk or act as if "cancel culture" exists only on the Left.

Ted Cruz is not a stupid man (see below). That makes him all the more dangerous. But we’re blessed at the transparency of his demagoguery, and his profound personal offensiveness.

Sauce for the Goose

Proving that his political instincts remain just as sharp as ever, Sen. Ted Cruz on his podcast Friday sounded off on the question of whether Republicans will impeach President Biden if the GOP retakes the House. While Cruz’s assessment that House Republicans would be very likely to impeach Biden is quite right, the Texas senator shouldn’t be gassing about it. Cruz is universally known and mostly disliked across the political spectrum, so his comments will provide lots of fodder for Democrats to say that a vote for Republicans this fall is a vote for another impeachment. Cruz justified the idea even if it was not merited, saying “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” “That is not how impeachment is meant to work,” he said. “But I think the Democrats crossed that line." Adding to the miseries of Kevin McCarthy, Cruz even offered some guidance for the House GOP on how to proceed. Democrats will be trying to get Republicans to wade into impeachment issues right up to the election in hopes of forcing candidates to either scare moderates or anger radicals on their own side. This time, the fish jumped right in the boat for them.

‌Chris Stirewalt

Be mindful, folks, that this same Ted Cruz holds forth as the Real Christian®️ candidate.

Fiddling while the pyromaniacs are at work

At a moment when the highest value should be placed on rebuilding consensus around the conduct of elections and restoring confidence in results, both parties remain fixated on revving up their respective bases with boob bait.

Yuval Levin lays it out in his New York Times piece this week: “If we take both parties’ most high-minded arguments at face value, they are worried about problems that barely exist. It is easier than ever to vote: Registration has gotten simpler in recent decades, and most Americans have more time to vote and more ways to do so. Voter turnout is at historic highs, and Black and white voting rates now rise and fall together. These trends long predate the pandemic, and efforts to roll back some state Covid-era accommodations seem unlikely to meaningfully affect turnout. Meanwhile, voter fraud is vanishingly rare. The most thorough database of cases, maintained by one of the staunchest conservative defenders of election integrity, suggests a rate of fraud so low, it could not meaningfully affect outcomes.”

‌Chris Stirewalt again.

Slim pickin’s if you dumb along with dishonest

[A]las, though Cruz, Hawley, and DeSantis have proven plenty dishonest, they’re not that dumb. DeSantis went to Yale, then Harvard Law. Cruz went to Princeton, then Harvard Law. Hawley mixed things up a bit, going to Stanford, then Yale Law. You know, just like all honest-to-God populists do.

That’s why if you’re pulling for the dumb-and-dishonest ticket, you have to endorse someone like Lauren Boebert/Madison Cawthorn, the spiritual future of the party.

Matt Labash, Was January 6 an Inside Job?

Changing with the Times

Sometimes, a column’s title is so evocative that I don’t feel the need to read the column:

The G.O.P. Is Making ‘Critical Race Theory’ the New ‘Shariah Law’

(Charles Blow)

Not Political

Substack

One of my (few) favorite things about 2021 is the emergence of Substack, and that writers at hidebound prestige publications have been able to cast off their employers’ fetters and speak the truth as they see it. Some of them see it quite clearly.

Some, like Rod Dreher, have found in Substack a side gig — a place to write occasionally about concerns beyond quotidian politics. (I’m hoping Rod will break entirely from blogging for American Conservative, since his blogging there keeps setting his hair on fire.)

A few (at least) are finding it markedly more remunerative to write for Substack than, say, for the New York Times or New York magazine (I’m looking at you, Bari and Sully).

And at least one, who sabotaged his employment by a mental health flare-up, is getting almost all his income there.

Such is the left-liberal hegemony of prestige media that most of the fugitives tend to sound right-liberal. If you know of any interesting and honest left-liberal or hard-left Substackers, I’d love to know about them, too.

After I had substantially written this item, Bari Weiss kicked off the New Year asking her readers to tell her a bit about themselves. They obliged, and obliged, and obliged, more than 1500 (and counting) times. The responses are roughly what I would expect. The least common denominator, it seems to me, is a desire to be told, soberly, the truth. Many of us know these truths, but it’s a little disorienting, week after week after month after month, to see nothing but damnable denials in the mainstream media.

Parting shot: Since it is in my conscious working memory at the moment, I perhaps should note that a disproportionate share of my Substack subscriptions are Lesbian (Bari Weiss) or Gay (Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald and David Lat. It will soon leave my working memory, unless writing it down cements it. Since I can think of no plausible explanation for it beyond coincidence, it’s not worth obsessing about.

On cancel culture, deeper than usual

Of course it’s stupid that [Patton] Oswald faced such condemnation for posting a meaningless photo [of himself with Dave Chappelle] in the first place. But come on, dude. Have some self-respect. More importantly, have a little strategic sense here: they’re not going to stop coming after you. They never stop. Apologizing is just blood in the water. You can’t be good enough to satisfy this particular kind of frenzy. What we could do is to advocate for both interpersonal charity and for the kind of moral humility that ancient religions counseled. But then, if you do that you can’t reap the benefits that Oswalt has from carrying the right water for the right people. Those moral forces which you unleash on other people you unleash on yourself, and thus we have Oswalt in a profoundly 21st century dilemma that resonates with lessons from antiquity.

Does anyone involved think that going after Patton Oswalt will materially benefit trans people in any real way? It’s one thing to find Chappelle’s words bigoted and offensive, a perfectly fair position. It’s another thing to think that the people ostensibly fighting against them here are actually motivated in good faith, given that this action can’t possibly help trans rights. Some people just love to rage out on the internet and find juicy targets, and they fall all over the political spectrum.

Social conservatism is essentially dead in American life, as crazy as that sounds; the church ladies and scolds of the right have ceded the ground to bizarre techno-reactionaries, conspiracy theorists, anti-politicians, and crypto-utopians. But there are still a lot of people out there who endorse a bitter and provincial moral vision carved out of folk Christianity and American exceptionalism. The issue is that those people have no presence whatsoever in our culture industries, certainly not in the mainstream media and increasingly little in the conservative media, which is increasingly made up of shmucks trying to get “Intellectual Dark Web” cred who don’t even pretend to care about Jesus.

You can’t be good enough. That’s the point of all of this, if this post is too long and complex for you. You can’t be good enough. They will come to you soon enough. Chappelle was once held up as an idol for the racial radicalism of his show by the people who now reject him. Louis CK was beloved of the woke, until… something happened. Amy Schumer was a hero until she wasn’t. There are others and there will be more. (Your heel turn is coming, Lil Nas X. I can feel it.) Offense is a market, and as long as there’s demand, there will be supply. We’re so desperate for targets of offense that they canceled Norman Mailer yesterday, and he’s been dead for 15 years.

Freddie deBoer, You Can’t Be Good Enough

Face-to-face versus Twitbook

Insightful anecdote from someone I follow on micro.blog:

Many people will write things online that they would never say face to face to someone. We human beings are not wired to see messages on a screen as coming from other full, complex people. I was communications director at a small, nonprofit organization sharply divided by a controversy. Different factions wanted to use the organization’s newsletter to supposedly advocate for their POV, but these "articles" were scorching condemnations of the other side. So I refused to publish them, not wanting to start a slow-motion flame war; which caused its own set of problems and endangered my job. The leadership made some rules: people must meet in person to talk about these things. Several meetings were set up to allow everyone who wanted to, to attend and say their piece. Leadership also announced they would not respond to emails or voice messages on the controversy; you had to come in person and discuss things face to face, with witnesses present. We got through this period only, I believe, because we did not allow the option of online communication. Some people left, but I believe it would have been far worse if the institution had endorsed debates in writing.

To be an American

This quote is not really representative of the long article from which it’s taken, but I think it nails something important:

To be an American is to inherit the gift of living with one foot in the present and one foot in the future, while the rest of humanity has one foot in the present and one foot in the past. Then, every 20 years or so, we trash whatever tenuous equilibriums we have cobbled together and leap off again into the unknown. So it is, and forever will be, until the oleanders bloom outside my door, and California tumbles into the sea—which might be any day now.

David Samuels, ‌The Happiest Place on Earth.

I watched an Amazon documentary on vineyards of Burgundy, and this "one foot in the present and one foot in the past" was vividly portrayed.

A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world.

I’ve written before about the value of moderation in consistency, of the need when cross-pressured by countering winds to tack back and forth. Similarly, there’s the need, when trying to understand one’s world, to alternate between specificity and generality. I do a lot better with specificity, because I have seen the ways that the embrace of a Big Theory tends to shut down people’s minds. But lately I have been feeling the absence, in my thinking, of a more general account of who we are, how we got here, and how we might navigate the prevailing winds of the future.

Or is that feeling merely a temptation? — Is the “general account” rather a snare and a delusion? …

[M]aybe a “general account” is not what is needed so much as equipment for acting wisely and lovingly — in a Christlike way — this day. A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world. What that might look like is something I plan to think about a lot in the coming year. Please stay tuned.

Alan Jacobs, ‌the cross-pressured self

Oopsie! I guess we were evil after all!

Black eye for the Google and class action rackets:

Google Street View provides panoramic street-level pictures from across the world, which it obtained from special camera cars. Google: Whoops, our cars also took substantive info, like passwords, photos, and documents, transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi. Much litigation ensues. A class action covering 60 million people settles for $13 mil, with the money going to attorneys’ fees, various costs, and an assortment of nonprofits that promise to use the money "to promote the protection of Internet privacy"—and not a penny to the people whose privacy was violated. Ninth Circuit: That’s fine. Concurrence: It’s time for us to reconsider our precedent okaying monetary awards to third parties instead of damages for class members.

‌Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Crash diet

John Huey—former editor-in-chief of Time Inc.—has a surprising New Year’s resolution: Consume less news. “Having spent more than 40 years reporting, writing and editing the news, I am surprised to conclude that overconsumption of news, at least in the forms I’ve been gorging on it since 2016, is neither good for my emotional well-being nor essential to the health of the republic,” he writes in the Washington Post, arguing there isn’t enough going on to “fill the 24/7 maw” of cable, talk radio, and social media. “I don’t intend to stop fretting about my country. Nor will I give up reading the newspapers and magazines I deem essential to understanding the world around me. But I am planning a crash news diet. … If the news is big enough, it will find me.”

The Morning Dispatch

Not endorsed

If man is doomed to perish, then universal infertility is as painless a way as any. And there are, after all, personal compensations. For the last sixty years we have sycophantically pandered to the most ignorant, the most criminal and the most selfish section of society. Now, for the rest of our lives, we’re going to be spared the intrusive barbarism of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism.

P.D. James, in her dystopian The Children of Men.

Purdue Men’s Basketball

Having had a stellar (undefeated) non-conference start, Purdue men already have dropped conference games to Rutgers and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin loss, this week, was especially bad, as Purdue’s defensive inadequacies were on full, mortifying display while their offense went uncharacteristically cold.

The Boilermakers bounced back today against Penn State, coached by a first-year coach who assisted at Purdue long enough to know the current players, and Coach Matt Painter’s mind, very, very well.

Penn State gave me a scare by having their big guy attack our big guys on offense, getting both Zach Edey and Trevion Williams in such foul trouble that Purdue played ten minutes with neither of them on the court — doing better than I feared they would.

Penn State has demonstrated come-from-behind potential, and they made a late-game run at Purdue, who held them off 74-67.

It’s going to be a "prove your stuff" season for the Boilermakers, ranked #3 just a few weeks ago, but with any luck it will toughen them, show the players that Coach is right about their weaknesses, and get them peaking by March Madness time.

Love isn’t love (acid test)

The government doesn’t really believe that "love is love," and I’m glad of that: No Security Clearance for Employee Who Had Admitted to Downloading Child Pornography

What we can’t not know

Life is and will ever remain an equation incapable of solution, but it contains certain known factors.

Nikola Tesla


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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