Our Sports-Talk-Radio-Caller President

by Jim Geraghty

According to the Washington Post’s database, there have been 721 fatal police shootings in the United States so far in 2017. Out of these shootings, nine were unarmed black males. Only 32 total were unarmed.

The phenomenon of police fatally shooting an unarmed black man can simultaneously be fairly rare and a deeply troubling problem deserving of further effort to eliminate.

We know from video of the fatal shootings of Walter Scott in South Carolina and Philando Castile in Minnesota that there are cases of police officers fatally shooting unarmed black men for no justifiable reason. We also know this is not strictly a phenomenon of white cops shooting black citizens; think of the fatal police shooting of the unarmed Australian woman in Minneapolis. The rise of ubiquitous cellular phone cameras means the public now sees a lot of police work that once had no reliable witnesses; think of the Utah cop who arrested a nurse for no good legal reason.

Americans would be better off tackling this problem with empathy. For the average law-abiding young black man, getting pulled over on a traffic stop can be terrifying, gripped by the fear that one can do everything right and still get killed over a misunderstanding. Similarly, citizens should pause and recognize that every time a police officer puts on his badge and goes out to perform his duties, he wonders if this day will be his last, and whether he will be ambushed by some nut with a grudge against cops.

Of course, instead of understanding, the country got former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wearing cops-are-pigs socks and denouncing police brutality while wearing a t-shirt bearing the image of Fidel Castro.

Still, Kaepernick being incendiary and uninformed about his heroes doesn’t actually change the facts on the ground about police shootings in the United States. The appalling brutality of the Castro regime doesn’t compare to criticisms of law enforcement in the United States. 

NFL players protesting police misconduct and those supporting them would do well to better define what outcome they want to see. A country where every cop wears a body camera? Federal civil rights prosecutions, as seen in South Carolina? More police training? Because police officers are human beings and human beings make mistakes, we will probably never have a country or a world where there are no fatal police shootings of unarmed individuals. We can try to minimize them. The intermittent coverage of this issue, and focus on particularly dramatic cases, can easily create the impression that this is a constant and worsening problem. But the number of fatal shootings of unarmed individuals nationwide in the first six months of 2017 was actually almost half the total in 2015.

How do we know when we’re making progress in this problem? When is it fixed?

Ironically, Kaepernick himself suggested he saw improvement. Back in August 2016, he declared, “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.” He sat or kneeled for the anthem throughout the 2016 season, became a free agent, and then in March he suddenly announced he would stand again: “Kaepernick no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.”

But we don’t know if Kaepernick is standing when he hears the national anthem these days, because no team signed him. Some argued this amounted to a “blacklist” by the team owners; others point out that Kaepernick’s play has gradually plateaued or declined and he’s probably on the down slope of his career. After Kaepernick went unclaimed in free agency for a few weeks, Trump took credit: “Your San Francisco quarterback, I’m sure nobody ever heard of him . . .  It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump! Do you believe that? I just saw that.”

Saturday, at a rally supporting Luther Strange in Alabama, President Trump decided to reignite the issue, and essentially argued that players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a b—h off the field right now. He is fired.”

Once again, we see people’s perspective on whether one’s personal views should cost them their job depend almost entirely upon whether one agrees with their views. If you’re on the left, you think that a baker ought to be fired if he refuses to bake a wedding cake for gays, that Kentucky clerk Kim Davis should have been removed from office, that the Google guy deserved to be fired, and that no NFL player should be fired for taking a knee. Many conservatives feel the precise opposite in each case. Many Americans believe in First Amendment protections in the workplace for viewpoints they agree with and no protections for viewpoints they oppose.

It’s one thing for you or me to say, “they ought to fire that guy.”  It’s another thing for the President of the United States, with enormous power and influence over laws, regulations, federal policy, and government personnel decisions to do so. The National Football League will interact with the federal government plenty of times in the Trump era: antitrust exemptions, military plane fly-overs, security for the Super Bowl and other big events, tax laws. Every time the federal government balks at a league request, some will wonder, is this based of the merits of the arguments, or is this because of Trump’s fight with the players over the national anthem? This is one of the reasons presidents don’t usually weigh in on topics like this. The head of state is not supposed to issue verdicts on every controversy that comes down the pike.

But a lot of Americans want their president to be a culture warrior. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee more or less declared they wanted to be president to change the culture, and it wasn’t Trump’s detailed policy knowledge that won him the nomination or the presidency. In Trump, America has a president who watches television, gets irked at what he sees and Tweets about it – and a lot of Americans don’t just agree; they conclude “he fights!” because of it.

It’s unsurprising that Trump jumped with two feet into the anthem controversy as the Senate Republicans find themselves unable to find 50 votes to repeal and replace Obamacare (again), there’s no easy solution to the threats from North Korea, Luther Strange could very well lose his Senate primary Tuesday, the wall isn’t built, and the outlook for major tax reform is cloudy at best.

The Trump White House may not get a lot of laws passed, but by golly, he sure can irk ESPN commentators, and for some voters, that’s good enough.

Former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who endorsed Trump for president in 2016, is now appalled with the president.

“I’m p***ed off, I’ll be honest with you,” Ryan said Sunday on ESPN. “I supported Donald Trump, I sat back when he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments, and it’s appalling to me. And I’m sure it’s appalling to almost any citizen in our country. And it should be. Calling our players SOBs, and that kind of stuff, that’s not the men that I know. The men that I know in the locker room I’m proud of, I’m proud to be associated with those people.

Let’s face it, this is not the first time Rex Ryan selected a particular person for a high-stakes job and found himself deeply disappointed with the results.

Meanwhile, in Alabama . . . 

Speaking of that Alabama Senate primary, our Alexandria DeSanctis covers the odd twists and turns:

As Election Day approaches, Strange’s polling numbers aren’t sufficient to comfort his fans. The two most recent major surveys have put Moore up by eight points and 14 points. And in August, Moore ended up outperforming his polling numbers once ballots were counted.

In the event that Strange loses on Tuesday, it certainly won’t be because Washington’s GOP didn’t put enough resources into supporting him. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to McConnell, pledged $10 million to support the incumbent leading up to August 15 and into the runoff campaign. And earlier this summer the McConnell-controlled National Republican Senatorial Committee warned GOP strategists not to assist Strange’s primary opponents.

The Free Speech Week That Wasn’t

Lisa de Pasquale, author of The Social Justice Warrior’s Handbook*, offers her take on the cancellation of Free Speech Week events at UC-Berkeley, and offers her speech on feminism that she never got to deliver.

No doubt the university was no help to the organizers, but at times they didn’t seem all that . . .  organized:

Charles Murray, a libertarian conservative political scientist, posted a tweet Friday saying that he has “never heard of this event.”

“I was never contacted by the organizers of this event,” Murray said in an email. “The inclusion of my name in the list of speakers was done without my knowledge or permission. I will add that I would never under any circumstances appear at an event that included Milo Yiannopoulos.”

Pranav Jandhyala, news editor for the Berkeley Patriot, said that the publication was recently made aware of this issue and is in the process of dealing with it.

According to Jandhyala, Yiannopoulos was the primary person organizing the invitations for speakers, so the Berkeley Patriot “had not been in contact with most of the individual speakers.”

“The Berkeley Patriot was under the impression that those speakers were confirmed and it’s seeming like some speakers didn’t know that they were invited,” Jandhyala said. “That’s a big issue and we’re going to try to figure this out with Milo and his team.”

* Lisa’s book is a very funny parody, but it’s so on-the-nose that I suspect some conservatives will denounce her, not recognizing it’s a parody.

ADDENDA: And how was your weekend? Forgive my gloating, I’m not going to get too many chances to do that this year . . . 

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty