Sundries, 2/12/22

Uprisings

Taibbi compares Justin Trudeau to Nicolae Ceaușescu

Ceaușescu’s balcony will forever be a symbol of elite cluelessness. Even in the face of the gravest danger, a certain kind of ruler will never be able to see the last salvo coming, if doing so requires any self-examination. The neoliberal political establishment in most of the Western world, the subject of repeat populist revolts of rising intensity in recent years, seems to suffer from the same disability.

There may be no real-world comparison between a blood-soaked monster like Ceaușescu and a bumbling ball-scratcher like Joe Biden, or an honorarium-gobbling technocrat like Hillary Clinton, or a Handsome Dan investment banker like Emmanuel Macron, or an effete pseudo-intellectual like Justin Trudeau. Still, the ongoing inability of these leaders to see the math of populist uprisings absolutely recalls that infamous scene in Bucharest. From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump to, now, the descent of thousands of Canadian truckers upon the capital city of Ottawa to confront Trudeau, a consistent theme has been the refusal to admit — not even to us, but to themselves — the numerical truth of what they’re dealing with.

Trudeau is becoming the ultimate example. Truckers last month began protesting a January 22nd rule that required the production of vaccine passports before crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. Canadian truckers are reportedly 90% vaccinated, above the country’s 78% total, a key detail that’s been brazenly ignored by media in both countries determined to depict these more as “anti-vax” than “anti-mandate” protests (which seem to be about many things at once, but that’s another story). When an angry convoy descended upon the capital, Trudeau dismissed them in a soliloquy that can only be described as inspired political arson:

The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa, who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing, do not represent the views of Canadians…who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to ensure our rights, our freedoms, our values as a country.

A near-exact repeat of the “basket of deplorables” episode, Trudeau’s imperious description of “unacceptable” views instantly became a rallying cry, with people across the country lining the streets to cheer truckers while self-identifying as the “small fringe minority.” Everyone from high school kids to farmers and teachers and random marchers carrying jerrycans of fuel joined in as Trudeau’s own words were used to massively accelerate his troubles.

Trudeau fled the city, removing his family to what aides called a “secret location” for “security reasons,” a politically disastrous move denounced by just about everyone with a microphone or a Twitter account, including members of his own party. Liberal MP Joël Lightbound took things a step further. He ripped Trudeau’s politics as divisive, saying his government needs to recognize people have “legitimate concerns” while adding, acidly, “Not everyone can earn a living on a MacBook at a cottage.” This has been a theme in the States, too, where the people most dickishly insistent on the necessity of lockdowns or mandates have tended to be Zoomer professionals spending the pandemic in pajamas.

Matt Taibbi, ‌Justin Trudeau’s Ceauşescu Moment.

King Louis Phillipe of France dismissively said that the French don’t do revolutions in the Winter. They forced him to abdicate on February 24, 1848.

I’m finished with Covid Theater

The vaccines have been freely available to all who want them for a year now. Omicron is a negligible death risk to people who got the vaccine. There are no other technical breakthroughs predicted. It’s time to get back to (the new) normal of living life with excess deaths from Covid being the fault of those who refused the vaccine (and probably stopped cowering behind masks months ago if ever they cowered at all).

Lockdowns and border closures would end. Ditto for social distancing. Masking would be optional except among the vulnerable. Workplaces would reopen. Schools would stay open. At least for the vaccinated, COVID testing would be deployed only to diagnose symptoms and avoid particularly risky situations, not as a way to screen the population or decide about joining friends for dinner. Self-isolation for people with COVID could be encouraged but not required, except for special cases like health-care and eldercare workers.

Jonathan Rauch, How to Live with Covid

[S]ignificant numbers of individuals (especially Democrats) continue to assess risk in a way that leads them to refrain from normal activities, keeping the public life of our country frozen in a state of suspension between lockdown and liberation.

[T]he incidence of death last October and November from COVID-19 for someone vaxxed and boosted was about 0.1 per 100,000 infections — or about 1 out of a million.

*But who is dying of the virus? Overwhelmingly adults who choose to be unvaccinated.

Damon Linker.

Freudian Slips

When Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams apologized this week for having taken off her mask during a campaign stop at an elementary school, she came across as a penitent not for hypocrisy but for failing to set a good example for the children “that we wear masks whenever possible.” Worse, she said that she had removed her mask in the first place because she said she “wanted all of them to hear me.” Just imagine how that sounds to students and teachers who have been struggling to understand and be understood for years under mask rules. But Abrams is obliged to support the restrictions because core Democratic constituencies still refuse to budge on what is increasingly security theater. If she were thinking of a general election audience, Abrams would have commiserated with students about how hard it is to wear masks in a classroom setting and how she hoped the restriction would soon end. But that is not an answer that, say, the Georgia Educators Association would like to hear. 

Democrats in many deep blue states are dropping indoor mask requirements or allowing them to expire in the coming weeks. But they are still struggling with the question of schools, which says a lot about the power of teachers’ unions inside the party. But it also speaks to the larger problem Democrats have in emerging from the pandemic, even as voters continue to send powerful signals about their frustrations. Some Democrats imagine that the movement against restrictions is driven by right-wing crazies. That is a delusion that could lead to a wipeout for the blue team this fall.

Here’s Yascha Mounk writing in The Atlantic: “Accepting restrictions that weaken our social ties when they seemed temporary was one thing. Putting up with them indefinitely is quite another. For many, the sense that we will live in pandemic purgatory for months or years to come now poses a heavy psychological burden.

Stirewaltisms: Democrats Have Issues About COVID Restrictions

Prestige progressive media

Misinformation versus fake news

Someone close to me just closed an email with the sort of “postscript” that people on the internet seem to have adopted:

“Misinformation” is the new word for “It’s not part of the approved narrative."

The point is true enough, but rather pointless standing alone. The Right has its own version. “Fake news” is how the Right dismisses truths that are not part of its approved narrative, just as “misinformation” is more characteristic of the left-leaning elite.

There’s another difference I should note, too, for the sake of avoiding mindless bothsiderism: to the best of my knowledge, it is overwhelmingly the left-leaning elite that’s trying to de-platform or otherwise quasi-censor things they find disagreeable. The Right influencers just contemn them.

Legalia

American law has created a system that renders deadly gun battles between innocent American citizens and police officers exercising their lawful duties a near certainty.

… [Y]ou have a system that grants police broad leeway to enter homes without knocking, leeway to make mistakes, and leeway to use deadly force when making those mistakes. And all of it is lawful, blessed by the Supreme Court.

Now, let’s get back to the Second Amendment. The one thing that is currently clear about the constitutional law of gun ownership is that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep a firearm in the home for self-defense. State statutes and other lower-court rulings may expand that right to include, for example, the right to carry weapons outside the home, but in every state in the union, the government must, at least, protect the right to defend your home with a gun.

It does not take a rocket scientist, a policy wonk, or a legal scholar to see the inevitable collisions that result when the courts empower the state to enter your home without warning while also protecting your right to protect your home with deadly force. One result is legal gun battles between police and citizens.

Yes, legal.

David French.

Alabama Congressional Districts

Blue World is lamenting that the Supreme Court is, for just one instance, “Gutting Voting Rights by Shadow Docket.”

Don’t you believe it.

As is so often the case, Sarah Isgur and David French explain the decision ably on the Advisory Opinions podcast, including the “shadow docket” stuff. February really is too close to Alabama’s May primary elections, with early voting starting late March, to mess with the redistricting this election cycle, because of all the steps that would have to be jammed into seven weeks.

It appears, thus, unfortunately true that almost “any challenge to any new … state districting map cannot be heard until at least one election cycle has taken place under the … maps.”

Politics

Right on schedule

If you thought partisanship was making us stupid, just wait till you see how Republicans respond to Democrats lifting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

There are numerous signs this week that Democrats are ready to do precisely that. But will Republicans applaud, cheering on a belated embrace of something they’ve been advocating for the better part of two years? Not on your life. After endless months of hitting Democrats for upholding masking requirements and attempting to enforce vaccine mandates, Republicans are getting ready to hit them again, this time for lifting pandemic restrictions on the grounds that late is really no better than never.

The line we’ll likely hear is this: Your polling must really be in the tank if you’re conceding we were right all along!

Damon Linker, The pathological politics of leaving the pandemic behind, February 9

The polls must be bad: Though none of the science around masking is changing, Democrats have started saying that the science around masking is changing. Some are enraged that it took so long. We get it. But also: we’re thrilled. 

The ritual of wearing a face covering to talk to a maitre d’ and walk to your table before eating in a crowded restaurant turns out to be mostly about power and control and symbolism—and not at all about health. Across the country—in California, Connecticut, Delaware and Illinois, New York and New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island—mask mandates are falling. Showing vaccine cards at the door is ending too. What happened? The politicians hired special groups to figure out what voters are thinking. And voters are very done with all this.

Nellie Bowles, ‌Champagne for Socialists, Masks for Kids, and Meth Pipes for All February 11 (emphasis in original)

But here’s the thing: that it was predictable doesn’t mean it’s false. I see it in my two worlds: daily and church life versus musical performing arts life.

RNC Geniuses

Summary of one segment of the Dispatch Podcast: the RNC wanted everyone to stop talking about January 6, so they censured two Republicans for cooperating with Democrats in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Now every Republican, high and low, is forced to answer questions about whether they agree with the RNC that breaking into the capital, chanting for the hanging of the Vice President, and smearing feces on the walls is “legitimate political discourse.”

Brilliant!

The RNC’s fallback position is that they’re talking about the “legitimate political discourse” of six members of the RNC who have been subpoenaed by the Committee but weren’t even in DC! Apparently, they were back home preparing fraudulent slates of electors to muddy the waters.

Oh.

It’s a repeat of 2020, when all the Democrats had to do to sweep the elections was “not act crazy,” and they couldn’t do it! Now it’s the Republicans’ turn.

Wordplay

Existential

A Boston Globe columnist wrote last summer, “Philosophers have struggled for millennia to answer the existential question: Why did the chicken cross the road?” Here’s my question: Why are writers and politicians today trying so hard to shoehorn the word existential into sentences?

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the other day that “climate change is the existential threat of our time.” The New York Times editorialized that Donald Trump and his supporters pose an “existential threat” to the Republic. Scientific American declared that wildfires are putting giant sequoias at “existential risk.” A Barron’s headline read, “Bitcoin is facing an existential crisis.” Bloomberg Law wrote, “Wall Street ends crazy year with existential angst.”

Axios reports there are “existential stakes” in the debate over voting rights. Then, too, Axios tells us that Covid “has presented an existential challenge to live music.”

Peter Funt, ‌Roll Over, Kierkegaard, It’s All ‘Existential’

Imminent

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday the Biden administration is no longer using the word “imminent” to describe a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. “It sent a message we weren’t intending to send, which was that we knew that President Putin had made a decision,” she said, adding that it’s “still true” Putin “could invade at any time.”

The Morning Dispatch

My wife took a very popular course in International Relations taught by a learned Hungarian expat 50+ years ago. “Diplomatic language” is not just a euphemism for euphemisms, and even today, she recognizes that “imminent” was a diplomatic no-no for the Russia-Ukraine situation.

But Biden was propagandizing us, not speaking to Putin. He’s backing off because “imminent” becomes transparently bogus when you’ve been shouting it for three months.

Shibboleth

After two years in which masks and closures became powerful shibboleths for the American left, letting go is proving very challenging.

Chris Stirewalt, ‌Democrats Have Issues About COVID Restrictions. I’ve been seeing what Stirewalt sees, but the word shibboleth eluded me. It’s perfect.

Beclowning

See my item, above, on the RNC Geniuses. This sort of thing is why I cherish whoever invented the the expression, the infinitive of which is “to beclown oneself.”

Bon mots

Dégagisme (noun): the French keenness to evict any leader they vote into office.


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