U.S.

‘Worshiping with the Woke Faithful’

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This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Jim discuss the calls around the country for disbanding police forces, the New York Times revolt, and the eerily religious quality of the recent protests. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

Music

Good Vexations?

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Erik Satie, French composer, who lived from 1866 to 1925 (Gallica Digital Library/Wikimedia)

You’ve heard of “Good Vibrations.” Could you go for good vexations, or is that a contradiction in terms? Erik Satie, the French composer (1866–1925), wrote a little piece for piano called “Vexations.” It’s about a half a page long. A couple of weekends ago, it took Igor Levit about 15 and a half hours to play it.

What the . . .?

The composer directed that his little piece be played 840 times — in a row. Why? Who would ever do it? Who would ever listen to it? Here we enter the realm of the psychological . . .

I discuss this in my new episode of Music for a While. What else is on the menu? An American song, written in the 1940s, dearly loved of Sir Bryn Terfel, the Welsh bass-baritone. It’s “If I Can Help Somebody,” the best-known composition of Alma Bazel Androzzo. She was born in Tennessee, brought up in Philadelphia. Many, many singers have recorded this marvelous song over the years, including Gracie Fields, Mahalia Jackson, Billy Eckstine — and Terfel.

What kind of song is it? A hymn. Or a gospel song. Or a gospel song with a folk element to it. Or a song that can be rendered pop-like. In any event, “it’s a song,” as I say in my podcast.

I also have some Penderecki, paying tribute to that late composer. (He died in March.) I had a brief talk with him several years ago, in a concert hall, immediately after a premiere of his: La Follia, for solo violin. Brilliant piece, and brilliant man.

What else? Well, a lot else, but I end with Berceuse, or Lullaby, which Busoni wrote in 1909, in memory of his mother. Kind of extraordinary, right? To write a lullaby in memory of your mother. He was extraordinary all the way around, Busoni.

At the outset of this new episode, I say, “Got a real smorgasbord for you — even more than usual. An almost wacky variety.” True. Again, here.

Religion

McConnell Condemns ‘Constitutionally Dubious Double Standards’ Applied to Religious Americans

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Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

In remarks on the Senate floor yesterday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) condemned state and local leaders for enforcing harsh restrictions against religious Americans during the COVID-19 outbreak while failing to impose similar regulations to ensure safety during recent protests.

“I have no criticism for the millions of Americans who peacefully demonstrated in recent days. Their cause is beyond righteous,” McConnell said. “It is the inconsistency from leaders that has been baffling.”

In particular, McConnell mentioned D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser, who has actively encouraged and abetted protests but has yet to permit religious services to resume in the city. “Here in the District of Columbia, the mayor celebrates massive street protests,” the majority leader pointed out. “She actually joins them herself, but on her command, churches and houses of worship remain shut. I believe even the largest church buildings in the District are still subject to the 10-person limit for the things the mayor deems inessential.”

He also observed that in both Michigan and New York City, government officials have failed to apply their stay-at-home policies uniformly, giving enormous leeway to protestors while continuing to block or unduly limit worship services. McConnell noted that the rights protected by the First Amendment, including freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, “have the same constitutional pedigree” and thus are equally protected. “But apparently, while protests are still permissible, prayer is still too dangerous,” he added, saying this is akin to playing “‘red light/green light’ with the First Amendment.”

McConnell noted, too, that an order in one California county permits protests involving 100 people but bans outdoor gatherings, whether religious or social in nature, of more than twelve people. “These governments are acting like the coronavirus discriminates based on the content of the people’s speech, but it is the leaders who are doing that,” he said.

McConnell’s remarks came on the same day that Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr, asking that the Department of Justice investigate instances of local officials discriminating against religious believers while allowing protestors to violate stay-at-home orders.

“State officials have violated the free speech and free exercise rights of religious Americans by treating religious gatherings and speech differently than the speech and mass gatherings of protests,” Hawley said in the letter.

“Many jurisdictions across the nation are imposing extraordinarily strict caps on religious gatherings—such as restricting religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people—even as those jurisdictions allow thousands of people to gather closely in protests,” he added.

Politics & Policy

Protesters May Not Abolish Cops, but They’ve Managed to Abolish Cops, the TV Show

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Last week, Alyssa Rosenberg offered a simple, easy, and completely rational way to address the problem of police brutality: “Shut down all police movies and TV shows. Now.”

She’s getting one part of her wish, as the half-hour reality program Cops is now canceled after 32 years. The New York Times contends the show “glorified” police, and it certainly didn’t portray them in a bad light. But as I wrote last Friday, the program often made police work look like a particularly sad or bleak realm of existence. Did Cops make young viewers want to become police officers? Or did it make police work look like a depressing succession of domestic-disturbance calls, separating warring partners who were often struggling with poverty, addiction, mental illness, unemployment, or other problems not easily solved with a badge and a gun? Did the arrested suspects more often look menacing and malevolent, or more often look like sad, wretched, pitiable, walking encyclopedias of problems — Americans who had struggled and largely failed at life, and had few prospects for turning their lives around? If the concept of rehabilitation or corrections was never a theme or discussed element on Cops, was that the fault of the show, or of the criminal-justice system as a whole?

It is remarkable that Cops will depart the airwaves in part because of the belief that having camera crews ride along with police officers is somehow enabling police brutality.

Energy & Environment

Choices, Choices

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Wind turbines in the RWE Offshore-Windpark Nordsee Ost in the North sea, 30 km from Helgoland, Germany, May 11, 2015. (Christian Charisius/Reuters)

The Financial Times:

As protesters unfurl their banner along the canal beneath Germany’s newest coal plant, a barge piled high with coal glides by, the crew whooping and whistling in mockery. It could not be a more potent symbol of the struggle Germany’s environmental movement is facing.

Opposition to Datteln 4, a coal-fired power plant which opened last month in Germany’s industrial heartland, was expected to become the latest rallying cry for Germany’s environmental movement. But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and with recession looming, the fight against the country’s coal lobby has been overshadowed. . . .

Despite being seen as a leader in climate policy, Germany has long been Europe’s laggard over the use of coal. In January, after years of inaction and rising emissions, Berlin finally proposed phasing out coal by 2038. Shortly after — and before parliament has even passed the coal exit law — Berlin agreed to bring Datteln 4 online.

Could Angela Merkel, “the leader of the free world,” have slipped up?

Perhaps it is unkind to point out that a less carbon-heavy alternative to coal could have been nuclear power. Unfortunately, Merkel, so rational, we are always told, a scientist, we are always reminded, panicked after an earthquake triggered disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. Panicked by what that could mean for her politically (nuclear power has been unpopular in Germany for a long time), Merkel’s government then announced the phasing out of nuclear power by 2022. Nearly half the country’s reactors were closed down in the aftermath of Fukushima, and the rest will follow.

Perhaps it is unkind to point out that Germany ranks rather lower in the earthquake league than Japan.

Perhaps it’s unkind to point out that one of the more notable German earthquakes in recent years, the Saarwelligen shocker of 2008, which “reportedly” (according to Wikipedia, in a rare moment of caution) knocked down some chimneys and caused power outages, was probably caused by mining operations. Mining what? Coal.

Abandoning nuclear power has left Germany with an energy-supply problem, which it has attempted to solve by massive investment in renewables. This has been bad news for consumers (Germany may have the highest electricity prices in the world) and been devastating for its utility companies. Renewables have not filled the gap: Coal has. As was noted in a Guardian report in 2019:

The country is the last major bastion of coal-burning in north-western Europe and the dirtiest of fossil fuels still provides nearly 40% of Germany’s power, compared with 5% in the UK.

As mentioned in the FT‘s report, Germany has agreed to phase out its coal-fired power stations by 2038, but in the meantime, here’s Dattel 4.

One of the more curious phenomena of the current pandemic has been the surge of claims by various groups, normally greenish, leftish or both, that the post-COVID world will turn its way.

The omens from Germany (so far) don’t seem to bear that out. Back to the Financial Times:

However, with Germany facing the possibility of its worst recession since the second world war, public attention has shifted away from the Greens and back to mainstream parties. This time last year the Greens were riding high in opinion polls with 27 per cent of Germans backing them. The latest Forsa poll showed support for the party has now slipped to 16 per cent.

Omid Nouripour, a Green parliamentarian, insists his party is regaining ground and will continue to gain support as Germany heads into a third dry summer, putting climate change back on the agenda. He says he is more frustrated by lack of government ambition when it comes to incorporating sustainability into economic recovery plans.

“You know that quote, never let a good crisis go to waste?” he said. “Well, they are missing it.”

Or maybe, just maybe, Merkel has realized that “incorporating sustainability” is going to get in the way of an economic recovery plan that, you know, actually works.

The Financial Times:

Some industry lobbies are pushing Berlin to prioritise growth over environmental concerns. The energy-intensive industries alliance (EID), wrote an open letter last month saying it was “questionable whether the [EU]Green Deal in its current form is helpful for the economic recovery.”

“Questionable” is a very kind word.

PC Culture

The Magical Thinking of Daniel Radcliffe

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Daniel Radcliffe, the former child star who played Harry Potter, has written a statement to express his disagreement with J. K. Rowling, the creator of the series, who maintained her belief in biological sex earlier this week. “Transgender women are women,” he said on the website of an LGBT charity that aims to help prevent suicides. “Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”
Unsurprisingly, Radcliffe did not provide any supporting evidence to back up his absolutist claims. This is unsurprising given that the statement “transgender women are women” is a political dogma not — as he falsely asserts — a scientific truth. As two biologists recently explained for the Wall Street Journal:

In humans, as in most animals or plants, an organism’s biological sex corresponds to one of two distinct types of reproductive anatomy that develop for the production of small or large sex cells — sperm and eggs, respectively — and associated biological functions in sexual reproduction. In humans, reproductive anatomy is unambiguously male or female at birth more than 99.98% of the time. The evolutionary function of these two anatomies is to aid in reproduction via the fusion of sperm and ova. No third type of sex cell exists in humans, and therefore there is no sex “spectrum” or additional sexes beyond male and female. Sex is binary.

There is a difference, however, between the statements that there are only two sexes (true) and that everyone can be neatly categorized as either male or female (false). The existence of only two sexes does not mean sex is never ambiguous. But intersex individuals are extremely rare, and they are neither a third sex nor proof that sex is a “spectrum” or a “social construct.” Not everyone needs to be discretely assignable to one or the other sex in order for biological sex to be functionally binary. To assume otherwise — to confuse secondary sexual traits with biological sex itself — is a category error.

Radcliffe also said he was “deeply sorry” to those who felt they could no longer enjoy the Harry Potter stories: “If you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual . . . then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred.” Sacred? Since when was fantasy sacred? I guess since people began conflating it with reality.

PC Culture

Guitar Center Has Bigger Problems Than the Pedal Guy

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Guitars belonging to British music icon Eric Clapton displayed at the Bonhams auction house in New York March 4, 2011. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Guitar Center has entered itself into the woke-capitalism sweepstakes, boycotting an effects-pedal manufacturer because the owner of the firm made some ugly and unsympathetic remarks about the recent riots originating in Minneapolis. It wasn’t racist stuff, just profane and ugly: “The pussy Mayor and Governor don’t give a s*** about small businesses, and it’s never been more clear,” that sort of thing. The owner later apologized.

This follows a familiar pattern: woke capitalism on the cheap. Franklin Templeton was happy to fire a nobody employee after an awkward confrontation in Central Park, but when the son of the firm’s CEO (and brother of the current CEO) went to jail for beating his wife so badly that he broke her facial bones, he eventually ended up with a seat on the board.

Similarly, Guitar Center is willing to make a cheap gesture when it comes to a small-ball business.

But what about, say, Fender?

Fender is a name practically synonymous with electric guitars. It also employs as a brand ambassador one Eric Clapton and markets very expensive Clapton-branded guitars. Many people believe that Clapton’s most egregious offense against the ears of the public was “Wonderful Tonight,” but he is also an infamous “Keep Britain white!” man, an admirer of Enoch Powell, self-proclaimed foe of “coons” and “wogs,” etc. Britain’s The Week writes:

Like Enoch Powell, Clapton has never taken back his comments or compromised his position. As recently as December 2007 he appeared on the South Bank Show and told Melvyn Bragg that he wasn’t a racist but still believed Powell’s comments were relevant. Unlike Powell, however, Eric Clapton’s career has enjoyed a resurgence — he was given a CBE in 2004, reunited with Cream in 2005 and will be headlining this year’s Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park. Like David Bowie, who once told an interviewer that Britain would benefit from a Fascist dictator, “Slowhand” Clapton has managed to emerge from the allegations of racism seemingly unharmed.”

Fender for a time also offered a Joe Strummer–branded guitar. Guitar Center sold them and still promotes them on its website. Maybe we should talk about, say, Strummer’s estimate of Jamaica: “. . . the place where every white face / Is an invitation to robbery.” Or how about Strummer’s “White Riot,” a call for “a riot of our own”?

Black man gotta lotta problems
But they don’t mind throwing a brick.
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick.

Gibson, another giant in the guitar business, sold Jimmy Page–branded guitars. Fender sells them today, and Guitar Center stocks them. Should that be read as an endorsement of Page’s creepy history with 14-year-old girls? Guitar Center stocks a lot of Aerosmith-related merchandise in spite of the fact that Steven Tyler once went so far as to take legal custody of an underage girl with whom he was sexually involved in order to facilitate the relationship. Guitar Center will happily sell you a Chuck Berry–branded guitar for ten grand, no mention of that awkward prison term or the 14-year-old girl at the center of that story.

If Guitar Center wants to be the moral arbiter of American public life — I cannot think of any obvious reason why it should be or any good that is likely to come of such a blisteringly stupid arrangement — then it can’t credibly do so only when it isn’t too inconvenient as a business matter. The pedal guy is pretty small-time. Fender and Gibson are giants.

What say you, Guitar Center? Are you serious about this or not?

Culture

Wednesday Links

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On June 10, 1964, Democrats’ 57-day filibuster of the Civil Rights Act ended.

How to ship a Beluga whale via UPS.

Ancient methods for storing food.

How to kill snakes and fleas: advice from 1688.

Father’s Day suggestion for the man who has everything: Rhinestone jockstrap belonging to Elvis Presley on sale for almost £30,000.

Gallery of construction photos from 1881-1895: Building London’s Tower Bridge.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include nature’s best toilet paper substitutes, the dark side of Peter Pan, quarantines in the 19th century, and Bronze- Age fighting techniques.

Education

Fewer and Fewer Students Choose to Study History — Why?

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(Pixabay)

At many colleges and universities, history departments have grown over the last several decades while the number of students taught has been falling. Why is that?

Retired history professor David Kaiser thinks he knows. As he argues in today’s Martin Center article, students are losing interest because academic historians are increasingly peddling politically correct material that they, the faculty, find appealing. He writes:

I believe that the main reason for the decline in history is that students don’t care for the product the faculty is offering. Most history courses are now too specialized and often politically slanted to interest them.

He finds the roots of this sad situation back in the 1960s, when young radical historians were allowed to do their own thing rather than teach history in the traditional, neutral fashion. Those young faculty members eventually became today’s tenured radicals (as Roger Kimball calls them) and now history courses are increasingly trendy and “woke.” It’s hard to find courses that deal with topics such as political leadership. As Kaiser writes, “By the turn of the new century, even to study the political leadership of Western countries in detail had become suspect in history because it supposedly reinforced white male hegemony in society.”

The meetings of the American Historical Society show what now gets history faculty enthused: gun control, gender and power, etc.

Kaiser concludes:

One doesn’t have to view American history uncritically or ignore our frequent failures to live up to our ideals to regard this story as a fascinating and inspiring one. Yet that is the story that most university history courses today choose to ignore, in favor of meditations that reflect the personal interests of the faculty rather than the needs or interests of the students. That is why history and the humanities have lost the central place they occupied in our universities a half-century ago, and why they will have so much trouble regaining it.

World

A Startling Report on the CCP’s Global Reach

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A man passes by a billboard depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping as the spread of the coronavirus continues in Belgrade, Serbia, April 1, 2020. (Djordje Kojadinovic/Reuters)

A new report released Monday describes the breadth of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in liberal democracies via its United Front system, “a network of party and state agencies responsible for influencing groups outside the party, particularly those claiming to represent civil society.”

Since 2015, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Alex Joske writes, the United Front Work Department has enjoyed increased influence. Xi Jinping undertook an overhaul of United Front efforts, expanding its jurisdiction to include ethnic and religious minorities and Chinese individuals overseas.

Today, the overseas functions of united front work include increasing the CCP’s political influence, interfering in the Chinese diaspora, suppressing dissident movements, building a permissive international environment for a takeover of Taiwan, intelligence gathering, encouraging investment in China, and facilitating technology transfer.

Case studies explain how members of parliament in the United Kingdom and Australia were swept up in influence operations by United Front–linked businesspeople and leaders in the Chinese diasporas of those countries. Selecting the most shocking incident described in the report is a challenge; here are just two of them:

Deloitte China established a united front association for young and middle-aged employees in 2016, headed by its CEO. At the association’s founding, a Deloitte partner thanked the UFWD for its support and promised: ‘The Deloitte Young and Middle-aged Intellectuals Association will comply with the Trial Regulations on United Front Work’. 

Both major party candidates for a seat in parliament during the 2019 Australian federal election had reportedly either been members of united front groups or had travelled on united-front-sponsored trips to China.

United Front groups also exert influence in higher education through Confucius Institutes and Chinese student groups. Chinese Students and Scholars associations, writes Joske, “are the primary platform for United Front work on overseas students. Most CSSAs operate under the guidance of Chinese embassies and consulates.”

Illegal technology transfers are facilitated by the United Front’s Thousand Talents Program and professional associations overseas. And United Front–linked civil-society groups report back to UFWD with the names of public figures, students, and scientists abroad.

The challenge to Western democracies is twofold. As the report shows, the United Front network enjoys a reach that spans foreign countries, including every Five Eyes member. Tracking down and containing these groups is a difficult task. At the same time, attempts to curb CCP influence must respect the rights to which people in these countries are entitled.

Joske recommends that policymakers take care to distinguish between the CCP, Chinese citizens, and members of ethnic Chinese communities as they work to cast a light on United Front groups. He urges governments protect students and ethnic Chinese individuals from surveillance and harassment by United Front groups, not alienate them. Still, measures targeting Chinese students and researchers remain a topic of fierce debate and often elicit accusations of racism.

While officials should proceed carefully, combating Chinese influence in free societies is important. Measures targeting technology transfers, such as the Department of Justice’s China Initiative, the past two years are just the start. The evolving nature of the United Front’s work calls for a vigorous and well-informed response.

Joske predicts that United Front targets can expect “an increase in the brazenness, intolerance and intensity of United Front work abroad, helped by the party’s increased ability to coordinate and direct that work.”

Culture

Are We Really about Protecting Human Life or Not?

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Some of the language during these coronavirus times has been promising — Andrew Cuomo talking about the pricelessness of human life and all. But then some of the decisions have been grave, as the still-unfolding story of nursing home deaths makes clear. So how are we doing when it comes to having a culture of life? I talked with Jeanne Mancini from the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, John McCormack of NR/NRI, and Alexandra DeSanctis from NR (and formerly NRI, as one of our Buckley Fellows).

Watch the latest of the National Review Institute’s “virus-free programming” at your convenience here:

Culture

Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Nigeria, Intercountry Adoption & More (June 9, 2020)

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1. ‘Steadily Being Transformed into Killing Fields’: 10 Killed in Horrendous Attack on Christian Village in Northwest Nigeria:

As CBN News has reported last month, a report released by a Nigerian organization estimates around 620 Christians were killed in the African country by Islamic militants during the first five months of 2020 alone.

2.  For Older People, Despair, as Well as Covid-19, Is Costing Lives:

The challenge for us, as individuals and as a society, is that two contradictory realities are simultaneously true. Our approach to pandemic containment works, but our approach to pandemic is causing suffering, eroding physical and mental health, and increasing the deaths of old people.

3. Crux: As COVID-19 hits northern Mozambique, bishop says ‘worst virus is war’

4. Chelsea Patterson Sobolik: Why Intercountry Adoption Must Remain a Viable Option:

In some countries, especially developing nations, the only chance a child might have at growing up in a safe, loving, permanent home is intercountry adoption.

5. Crux: Missionary says Navajo can’t be forgotten after COVID-19:

The Navajo Nation, which encompasses portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah with a population of 173,667 as of the 2010 census, has been devastated by at least 5,661 confirmed cases of the virus – a reality that Catholic Extension, which works to support some of the poorest regions in the country, believes could further cripple one of the nation’s most abandoned and forgotten communities.

6.

Continue reading “Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Nigeria, Intercountry Adoption & More (June 9, 2020)”

World

Jimmy Lai: The Last, Best Hope for Saving Democracy in Hong Kong

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When Hong Kong democracy advocate Jimmy Lai last appeared on Uncommon Knowledge in October of 2019, the situation in Hong Kong was dire but still hopeful. Now, eight months later, the situation has gone from bad to worse, and since that interview, Lai has been arrested twice. In this conversation, Lai explains the widening crackdown the Chinese Communist Party is imposing on Hong Kong, including his interpretation of the recently proposed national security law, which Lai believes will give China the ability to control all aspects of Hong Kong’s freedoms and culture and destroy the city’s financial and media businesses. Lai also makes a plea to the United States and the rest of the world: Help Hong Kong by sanctioning China, because in the wake of COVID-19, the country is at its most vulnerable moment in the last 40 years. Says Lai, “If we surrender, we will lose [our] freedom, we will lose the rule of law — we will lose everything.” Whether the world will hear Lai and the rest of the Hong Kong protestors and take action on their behalf remains to be seen. Finally, we ask Lai why he continues the fight for democracy even against seemingly unsurmountable odds. A visibly emotional Lai responds: “Now is not the time for safety, now is the time for sacrifice. . . . I can’t leave; I will fight until the last day.”

Recorded on June 9th, 2020

PC Culture

Vandals Have Fun

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A demonstrator in front of graffiti on a statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, England, June 7, 2020. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

A few years ago, when there was a spasm of social action for removing statues of Confederate figures and the Confederate battle flag from some public spaces, I wrote that the movement taking shape then was obviously bound to take on the Founding Fathers at some point. The argument pitched at the Rebs wasn’t primarily about treason — that was just the aggravating factor. It was about white supremacy, informed by a reading of history that was peculiarly jaundiced about this country. I don’t know if Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times read it, but the extension of the argument that I predicted would come was the argument at the heart of the 1619 Project.

Now, I see that Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill statues were defaced in the United Kingdom. The name of William Gladstone, the 19th-century liberal reformer par excellence, is targeted for removal from Liverpool University on account of Gladstone’s father’s participation in slavery.

In any case, these events have reminded me of the excellent book, The Final Pagan Generation by Edward J. Watts. Rod Dreher has been a champion of it for some time. It recounts very vividly the classical world in the Roman Empire in which Christians and traditional Roman pagans coexisted uneasily until the ascendant Christian youth rose up and utterly smashed the old spiritual order in a riot of vandalism and desecration.

This zealous youth movement was aided by the sophisticated and aggressive politicking of elites such as St. Ambrose, whose vast fortunes were also deployed to use in the revolution unfolding. The role of bishops in this is replicated now in the role of corporations donating to radical causes.

But what strikes me most of all is the exhilaration among this movement of vandal Christian revolutionaries. I’m sure they were often just as ignorant about the old gods as some of the yobs defacing Lincoln. Ignorance didn’t matter in the result — zeal did.  

Media

‘Radical Chic’ Turns 50

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On June 8, 1970, Tom Wolfe’s prescient cover story, “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,” was published in New York magazine. The piece dissected, among other absurdities, Leonard Bernstein’s Park Avenue shindig for the Black Panthers in classic Wolfe fashion.

Much has changed in fifty years. If Tom Wolfe wrote something like it today, the mob would cancel him, undoubtedly. An embedded Millennial Maoist brigade at New York would mutiny and nix the essay — along with Wolfe’s career. He and William F. Buckley Jr. would be chased off Firing Line for speaking too thoughtfully, too aristocratically. Never mind the substance.

Then again, some things haven’t changed at all. Imagine our own woke celebrities and elites throwing a lavish party to honor themselves, themselves, themselves (and the Black Lives Matter activists and Antifa). John Legend and Chrissy Teigen host in their mansion, perhaps? Guests include: Sophie Turner, Barbara Streisand, Jane Fonda, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Patton Oswalt, Alec Baldwin, Leonardo DiCaprio, RuPaul, Chris Cuomo, Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Chris Hayes, Mia and Morning Joe and third wheel Willie, the DeBlasio family, the Clintons, the Obamas, Nancy Pelosi, the Squad, and Prince Harry and Princess Meghan. I’m swooning.

But can you imagine?

Chrissy was trying to coax the Black Lives Matter peeps into the living room. They were rather uncomfortable, because the white guests were on their knees, kente clothes draped over their shoulders. Cuomo was over in the corner, washing Lemon’s feet. “Has it been 9 minutes?” he whispered to Lemon.

“Johnny!” Chrissy said. “Tell the fascists to come on in!” Johnny was still in the back of the living room, defending his wife on Twitter from @realDonaldTrump. “Fascists!” said Johnny. “Come on in!” Then the Antifa members entered, offering vintage Molotov cocktails.

Never show up empty-handed . . .

Impromptus

Fear, Favor, and More

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Current and former New York City mayoral staff gather to call for reforms during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, NYC, June 8, 2020. (Brendan McDermid / Reuters)

Impromptus today is the usual mélange, beginning with social distancing — and not distancing. What gives? I cite an article from Politico: “Conservatives charge liberals with social-distancing hypocrisy.” Yes, and it’s a solid charge.

To protest against lockdowns was irresponsible and reckless — an endangerment of public health. But to protest against police brutality is kosher? How does the virus know the difference?

People were told not to visit their dying relatives — their parents and grandparents — because to do so would be reckless. But it’s fine and dandy to mass in protest against police brutality?

(I grant that the recent mass protests have taken place later in the year — later in the pandemic, if you will — and that the risk in such protests has perhaps lessened. Don’t know. The country is now “reopening.”)

In that Politico article, Tom Nichols was quoted. He said he was worried that people would simply tune out our public-health officials. Their expertise would be viewed as political — as tainted by politics. As guided by politics. Not real expertise.

Here’s Tom: “You can’t say, ‘Listen to the science and keep your churches at 25 percent occupancy and socially distance your choir singers,’ and then say, ‘but thousands of people pressed together in a giant mass while screaming is worth the risk.’”

Exactly.

You have to be careful about crying wolf. When the wolf is actually at the door, who will believe you? Credibility is key, for public-health officials and many another. Also, it won’t do to say, “Social distancing for thee, but not for me.”

I have never been on the anti-Whitmer bandwagon — “Heil, Whitmer,” and all that. I have never believed that the governor of Michigan is a tyrant, or would-be tyrant, licking her chops at keeping people in and the economy down. I have always thought she has acted out of her sense of the public interest, and prudent policy, whether she is right or wrong.

But when she joins protests? She acquires a whiff of hypocrisy. (On the plus side, the governor wore a mask.)

Further in my column, I discuss the New York Times — you are familiar with the uproar and upheaval over there. I thought of the phrase “without fear or favor” — and that got me Googling. I found a statement by Adolph S. Ochs, made in 1896. He had just taken control of the Times. And he placed the following statement on his editorial page:

It will be my earnest aim that THE NEW-YORK TIMES give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society, and give it as early, if not earlier, than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved; to make the columns of THE NEW-YORK TIMES a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.

As I say in my column, “Sounds good.”

Into every column — or almost every column — a little Trump must fall. The president was none too pleased with Mitt Romney’s participation in a march the other day, so he issued a sarcastic tweet: “Tremendous sincerity, what a guy. Hard to believe, with this kind of political talent, his numbers would ‘tank’ so badly in Utah!”

“In my observation,” I say, “Trump never takes on Romney at the level of argument. Instead, he says, in some fashion, ‘I’m more popular than you.’”

But what about the veracity of Trump’s tweet? What about the claim that Romney’s numbers are tanking in Utah? This morning, I saw an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, which says, “Actually, Romney polls better in Utah than the president, and his approval rating has actually risen in the state.”

Trump also said, “I built the greatest economy in the World, the best the U.S. has ever had. I am doing it again!” Once upon a time, Republicans would have risen as one and cried, “You didn’t build that!”

#nostalgia

Speaking of nostalgia, let me end this post the same way I do my column: with a clip of Herman Munster, that extraordinary gent, talking to his son Eddie in 1965. Fantastic.

Media

The Media Urge to Explain away ‘Defund the Police’

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Protesters rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York City, May 31, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

The hot protest slogan and hashtag of the moment is “Defund the Police.” At times, it’s also framed as a call to abolish or disband the police. Ordinary speakers of the English language would naturally assume, listening to people chant “defund the police” in the streets, carry “defund the police” signs, and literally paint “defund the police” on the streets of D.C., that such people mean “defund the police.”

But not our media! There’s been an immediate rush to write pieces explaining that, of course, “defund the police” does not actually mean “defund the police.” From a Washington Post op-ed by Georgetown Law professor Christy Lopez, entitled “Defund the police? Here’s what that really means”:

Be not afraid. “Defunding the police” is not as scary (or even as radical) as it sounds . . . Defunding and abolition probably mean something different from what you are thinking. For most proponents, “defunding the police” does not mean zeroing out budgets for public safety, and police abolition does not mean that police will disappear overnight — or perhaps ever.

From an Associated Press explainer by Michael Balsamo, Zeke Miller, and Michael Sisak entitled “When protesters cry ‘defund the police,’ what does it mean?”:

But what does ‘defund the police’ mean? It’s not necessarily about gutting police department budgets. . . . Supporters say it isn’t about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all of their money.

From Matt Yglesias at Vox, “Growing calls to “defund the police,” explained”:

The basic idea, though, is less that policing budgets should be literally zeroed out than that there should be a massive restructuring of public spending priorities. . . . Police abolitionists are proposing a scaling-back of the scope of police activities that is far outside the horizon of current political possibility, so they may not articulate the most fine-grained details.

From Emily VanDerWerff at Vox, “The narrative power of ‘abolish the police’: It isn’t just a policy proposal. It’s also an idea of what the country could be”:

Applying these storytelling rules to the political realm shifts the introduction of the main character and the goal — the first act, in other words. Different sides advance different ideas of what goal should be accomplished (in this case, police reform), and which protagonist should be at the forefront (in this case, a broad sociopolitical movement often defined by key individuals). The audience (in this case, the American public) ultimately chooses which story it most wants to hear… So it is with “abolish the police.” Here, the “protagonist” is a combination of over-policed black communities and the protesters who have rallied to those communities’ side in the last few weeks, and the goal is to dismantle the de facto police state those communities live in. Setting goals versus proposing solutions is a big divide in how people on the left talk about politics…

There’s been much more in this vein, but you get the idea. Notably, articles of this nature seek to draw the eye towards legislative and think-tank proposals and away from the voices of the people actually chanting in the streets.

In part, of course, all this explaining is a reflection of what a radical and politically explosive idea “defund the police” is in an election year, and how it divides the Democrats along ideological and generational lines. Leading Democratic politicians are running headlong away from the slogan while trying to embrace the people chanting it. Joe Biden, who for years proudly touted his role in the 1994 “put 100,000 more cops on the street” crime bill, visibly wants no part of the slogan. But unlike the party’s leadership, many of whom were born in the early 1940s, influential younger lawmakers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are pushing the idea. These are the folks who may run the party when the age-77-and-up crowd moves on.

Defunding police is also wildly impractical. The Minneapolis City Council grabbed headlines by voting to defund and disband the city’s police department, but they don’t actually have the legal authority to do that; defunding would require a revision to the city charter, which the voters would have to approve. Until then, the cops report to the city’s mayor, not the city council. Camden, New Jersey actually went forward with disbanding its police department — in theory. In practice, what Camden did is just old-fashioned union-busting: disband the department to get rid of the union, then hire the same cops back at lower salaries and benefits.

What makes the media’s Voxsplaining of “Defund the Police” all so astonishingly brazen is when you compare it with how they routinely treat popular slogans, protests, and broad-brush assertions by politicians on the right. When Tea Party protesters and Republican politicians called for repealing Obamacare, for example, they were roundly mocked in these same quarters for not having a single, comprehensive, CBO-scored plan on which the entire party agreed, notwithstanding the presence of plenty of think-tank proposals and general agreement on a lot of individual pieces. A whole cottage industry exists to lampoon protestors on the right for not fully grasping the nuances of their own slogans. When Tom Cotton wrote an op-ed that the New York Times titled, “Send in the Troops,” it was widely treated as a call to sic troops on peaceful protestors even though Cotton explicitly said otherwise in the op-ed. Conservative politicians and pundits are assumed to be responsible for the literal content of “abolish the IRS,” or “close the border,” or “build the wall.” Liberal media commentators spent years mocking Salena Zito’s description of Trump supporters who “take him seriously, but not literally” — which is precisely what these same voices are now trying to do with “defund the police.”

As always with these sorts of double standards: They think we can’t see what they are doing.

Politics & Policy

Trump Has a Message That Could Work. He’s Just Not Interested in Making It.

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President Trump no doubt believes that he followed his instincts throughout the 2016 campaign and won, and he believes his instincts will not fail him in 2020. He believes that his tweets help him more than they hurt his bid for reelection. (During the last days of the 2016 campaign, the New York Times reported, “aides to Mr. Trump have finally wrested away the Twitter account that he used to colorfully — and often counter-productively — savage his rivals,” but Kellyanne Conway insisted that wasn’t true.)

Many Republicans probably believe that Trump’s ideal message between now and November would be something like . . .

I know I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. I am a fighter by instinct, and my combativeness rubs a lot of people the wrong way. But you saw what the country was like at the beginning of the year — record low unemployment, a booming stock market, wages rising, enacting of the most sweeping criminal- justice reform legislation in a generation, Right to Try giving new hope to the sick, reliable judges who protect the Constitution instead of trying to rewrite it, renegotiated trade deals, America advancing as a global energy leader, border security being built . . . and then the coronavirus came along and kicked us in the teeth. We didn’t handle everything right; no government on earth did. We did the best we could, and we have “bent the curve” and we’re seeing the first signs of economic recovery, with 2.5 million jobs returning in just one month. Consider my flaws, and then consider the alternative: Joe Biden has no appetite for standing up to the Left Wing of his party. He wants to unite his party, and if elected, he will make concessions to the Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party. Biden has always been a cheerleader for closer ties with China. The Democratic Party wants to raise taxes through the roof, killing the goose that’s laying the golden eggs. They want to ban fracking. They want to end immigration enforcement. They want to confiscate guns. They want to make you pay for abortions, regardless of your personal views. They say I’m dividing the country, but their agenda would turn even more Americans against other Americans. And make no mistake, if I am defeated, the angry woke mob will see it as open season on anyone who dares cross them.

But there is no indication that President Trump has the ability or the desire to focus like this. Corey Lewandowski reportedly asked at a recent Trump campaign strategy meeting, What’s our message?” The message of the president for the rest of the campaign will continue to be whatever pops into his head as he watches cable news that day.

Think about it, Democrats just gift-wrapped him the controversial proposal of “defunding or abolishing the police” and this morning, Trump chose to instead focus upon his belief that the 75-year-old protester shoved to the ground had it coming, his contention that his former Secretary of Defense James Mattis “was our country’s most overrated general,” as well as a “lap dog” and an “embarrassment to America.” The president is incapable of prioritizing any message that is important to his reelection campaign over whatever irritates him at any given moment.

Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Hawley Writes to Barr over State Discrimination against Religious Groups

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U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) listens as acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2019. (REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

In a letter sent this morning, Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) called on U.S. attorney general Bill Barr to investigate the disparities between how states are treating ongoing protests and the regulations they have placed on religious services during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“State officials have violated the free speech and free exercise rights of religious Americans by treating religious gatherings and speech differently than the speech and mass gatherings of protests,” Hawley alleges in the letter, a copy of which was provided exclusively to National Review.

Hawley acknowledges that that Americans “are rightly angry about the death of George Floyd, and they should be able to protest peacefully” but points out that local officials’ failure to regulate those protests to ensure public health stands in stark contrast to the unnecessarily harsh restrictions that many localities have placed on churches and worship services as a result of the coronavirus.

“Many jurisdictions across the nation are imposing extraordinarily strict caps on religious gatherings—such as restricting religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people—even as those jurisdictions allow thousands of people to gather closely in protests,” Hawley writes.

He notes that the decision to place restrict religious gatherings while failing to require that protests enforce social-distancing standards is the result of discrimination based on state judgments about the content of the speech being expressed. “State officials have determined that the message behind the current protests is worth saying,” Hawley writes. “But state officials cannot block religious speech while allowing protests simply because the states think the protest speech is more valuable.”

Hawley concludes his letter by thanking Barr for supporting religious-liberty rights in a pending case in California and urging the attorney general to “launch a full civil rights investigation, and bring whatever lawsuits are necessary to secure the First Amendment rights of all Americans.”

Politics & Policy

Will at Bat

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Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer hoists the Commissioner’s Trophy after defeating the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, October 30, 2019. (Erik Williams / USA TODAY Sports)

Who are those guys up there? The Washington Nationals, winning the World Series last year. The guy with the trophy is Max Scherzer, one of the many great former Tigers who pervade the major leagues. This is very painful, for a Michigander like me.

George F. Will has two teams, by virtue of the arc of his life: the Chicago Cubs and those very same Nationals. He is my guest on Q&A, here.

We begin by talking about baseball — he is an authority (see Men at Work, his now-classic book) — and end the same way. Will says he is “desolated” by the absence of baseball this year, but is “of mixed feelings” about whether to try some makeshift season.

On one hand, such a season — 50 games, let’s say, capped by “a make-believe World Series” — would be “deeply unsatisfying.” On the other hand, “for baseball to go 17, 18 months without being in the national mind is a grave risk to a sport that has seen seven consecutive years of declining attendance.”

So, what would Will do if he were baseball commissioner? “This is a moment,” he says, “to number among your blessings that you’re not the commissioner of baseball.”

We talk about the Astros cheating scandal. “Stealing signs is not a punishable offense in baseball,” says Will, “as long as it is not done with illicit technological help, which the Astros clearly had.”

At the end of our podcast, we do some speculating — or rather, Will does (because I ask him to). How would his Cubs and his Nationals have fared in a proper 2020 season? It is “extremely difficult in modern baseball,” says Will, to win the World Series two seasons in a row. He thinks the Nationals would have been very good, however, and the Cubs as well.

But “the cream of the crop,” he says, would have been the Los Angeles Dodgers — who “probably would have won the World Series.”

Among our various subjects is police brutality. “Policing is an extraordinarily demanding craft,” says Will. (Is it ever. I once wrote a piece on policing called “A Job Like No Other.”) “It is honorably pursued, requiring split-second decisions, life-and-death decisions.” It is also dishonorably pursued, as Will says.

A great problem is accountability — a problem “severely complicated by the presence of police unions,” which have “developed enormous muscle in defending even guilty officers against comeuppance.”

Then there is qualified immunity — “a court-made doctrine, with no justification in the Constitution’s text or history.”

Another of our subjects: racism, that American bane (and human bane, of course). Will’s latest column is “A 1946 lynching is still haunting us.” It is a searing column — pardon the cliché — and I highly recommend it.

We also talk the New York Times — the recent turmoil following the paper’s publication of an op-ed piece by Senator Tom Cotton. “I really don’t take pleasure in the degradation of a great American institution such as the New York Times,” says Will, “but degradation is the word for what happened there.”

More: “The children ran the adults out of the room, and the adults were all too willing to be run out of the room.”

More: “The problem is not the children — children are supposed to act like children, I’m afraid, particularly when they’ve been badly educated at great expense and considerable time — but you have to worry that the adults turn out to be not adults.”

Will and I then talk about Walter Berns — one of the adults who left Cornell when the kids acted up, violently, in 1969 — and other estimable scholars. George Will was named after George Sabine, a professor of philosophy at Cornell, who was the dissertation adviser of Will’s father, Frederick.

Back to Berns for a second. “One of the epochal moments in my life,” says Will, “was reading one of his many wonderful books, Freedom, Virtue, and the First Amendment” (1957).

In due course, we get to President Trump, and the episode in Lafayette Park. “The most disagreeable part of it,” says Will, “was the co-opting of the military.”

We talk about Trump’s “base” — an amazing, rock-solid base, as Will says. He then points out something interesting: Trump has spent his presidency stroking that base. Which is peculiar, because it’s going to be rock-solid no matter what. The Fifth Avenue Principle is really in place.

In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million or so, and threaded the needle in the Electoral College. You might have thought that Trump would try to expand his base, out of electoral self-interest, if nothing else. But no.

Will says that the Republican Party, under Trump, is more homogenized than it has ever been since the party was founded in Wisconsin in 1854. Over the generations, there have always been division and ferment. In 1912, you had Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moosers and President Taft’s traditionalists. In the 1940s, you had Tom Dewey types and Taft types (Robert Taft, this time, not his father, William Howard). In the ’60s, you had Goldwaterites and Rockefellerites.

(“I cast my first presidential vote for Barry Goldwater,” says Will, “and I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed a vote as much since.”)

Such division, or ferment, has been salutary, in Will’s view. But today, “there is no dissent within the Republican Party — not out of conviction. I know from intimate experience that most Republicans in Congress despise the president. They think he’s a fool. But they’re terrified of him.” They know that “one tweet from the White House” can end their careers.

As Will sees it, the GOP deserves a drubbing at the polls this fall, for its sake and the country’s. He explains why.

Obviously, most — virtually all — Republicans will recoil from this. Winning is good and losing is bad. But George Will has arguments, as he always does. He has an exceptional mind, which commands an exceptional pen. (And he talks just like he writes.) In my presence, WFB greeted Will as “my leader.”

Before returning to baseball, where we began, we talk about conservatism, and in particular American conservatism. “The adjective ‘American’ modifies the noun ‘conservatism’ considerably,” says Will, “and does a lot of work.”

That’s for sure. Again, our podcast is here.

U.S.

A Few Cities Are Warning about Infected Individuals Who Attended Protests

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Demonstrators take part in a protest in Los Angeles, Calif., June 3, 2020. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)

Did the recent protests, marches and rallies inspired by the death of George Floyd — still ongoing in some communities — spread the coronavirus in a significant way? Technically it is too early to tell, but protests started in Minneapolis on May 26 and several other cities on May 27. The crowd trashed the CNN center in Atlanta May 29.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can develop from two to 14 days from infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the median onset time is four to five days from exposure to symptoms. Anyone infected in those first protests who is going to develop symptoms probably has developed them by now.

Some local media reports already are bringing bad news regarding the potential spread of the coronavirus at protests.

Columbus, Ohio: “Columbus Public Health tweeted it is aware of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in an individual who attended protests in downtown Columbus. Columbus Health says the individual was symptomatic on May 27 but still attended the protests.”

Lawrence, Kan.: “The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is warning residents that took place in Sunday night’s protest to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms. A release sent by the Lawrence Douglas County Public Health Department states that a resident that was downtown at the protest has tested positive for the virus. The Department has stated that it was notified of the positive test on Friday after the test was taken on Thursday. They also say that the person was not wearing a mask at the protest.”

Oklahoma City: “The Oklahoma City-County Health Department reported on Monday that their epidemiologists have noticed a slight increase in positive COVID-19 among young people. The new cases reported between May 22nd and June 5th showed a 13% rise in those under the age of 34. The state’s reopening is believed to play a role in the latest increase, as well as the recent protests.”

Lincoln, Neb.:  “Two members of the Nebraska National Guard who assisted Lincoln police in enforcing a curfew imposed by Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird over recent weeks have tested positive for the coronavirus. . . . While the National Guard made adjustments to follow social distancing guidelines the best it could, and asked members to wear masks, [Maj. Scott] Ingalsbe said it ‘was not always feasible’ while they were working.”

Chicago, Ill.: “With thousands of people arrested in Chicago amid massive protests of the killing of George Floyd, new research from the University of Chicago suggests such mass detentions could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. More than 3,000 people have been arrested in Chicago since May 29, detained for civil unrest, disorderly conduct and looting, police said. A study found nearly 16 percent of all documented cases of COVID-19 in Chicago as of mid-April were associated with people cycling through [Cook County] jail — which has been a hotbed for infections.”

But some communities are reporting no indications of the coronavirus spreading at recent protests:

Syracuse, N.Y.: “Onondaga County hasn’t seen any uptick of coronavirus cases a week after a large protest in Syracuse against police brutality, County Executive Ryan McMahon said today. ‘There [are] no indications we’ve had cases from that,’ McMahon said of the protests that lasted overnight from May 30 to May 31.”

Arkansas: “Arkansas State Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said at this point, the state hasn’t identified any positive COVID-19 cases from recent protests.”

Most other local health officials are saying that it is too early to tell about the protests in their area, and urge everyone to wear masks and socially distance where possible.

One other local protest and coronavirus testing story of note, in New Jersey: “Gov. Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy have scheduled coronavirus tests after they marched alongside protestors taking to the streets against police brutality Sunday in Hillside and Westfield. But some in New Jersey, including at least one Republican lawmaker, claim the governor should not be let off without a citation as he defied his own executive order on public gatherings in attending the Black Lives Matter events.”

Culture

Sorry, Man — Your Wife Just Got You Canceled

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LA Galaxy forward Aleksandar Katai (7) in action against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., March 7, 2020. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

If things weren’t already chaotic enough, Serbian soccer player Aleksandar Katai was released from the Los Angeles Galaxy last Friday following a day of indignant protests by fans outside Dignity Health Sports Park. What was Katai’s great offense? Being married to Tea Katai, who made Instagram posts comparing police-brutality protestors to cattle, called for violent action against them (“shoot the s***s”), and captioned an image of a supposed looter carrying off a pair of sneakers with “Black Nikes Matter.” Days before releasing Katai, the LA Galaxy had requested the removal of his wife’s posts and had made a statement condemning “racism of any kind, including that which suggests violence or seeks to demean the efforts of those in pursuit of social equity.” Mrs. Katai subsequently took down the posts, and Mr. Katai issued a personal apology in which he rebuked his wife’s insensitivity. But these actions were not enough; Katai was still booted for his wife’s transgression.

To be sure, Tea Katai is a grown woman, and she should have thought twice before engaging in a national controversy in such a bloodthirsty and insensitive manner. And one may certainly argue that irresponsible actions should be met with harsh social consequences. But since when do we punish people so dismissively — LA Galaxy president Chris Klein stated: “the decision … was not a difficult one” — due to actions which are not their own? It would come as a great surprise if an athlete were released because his wife committed assault, or even murder. But being married to someone who has offensive opinions? Woke culture has decreed: “Pack your bags, bud.”

The last few years are rife with examples of people facing backlash for defying certain taboos. Celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson, Dave Chappelle, and Kevin Hart have faced “cancellation” — the boycotting of one’s services due to perceived offensiveness —with varying success at recovery. But being deemed guilty by association is another matter entirely. One cannot help but recall the Russian Revolution of 1917 to 1923 and the Chinese Communist Revolution of the late 1940s. After all, in the wake of these fatal movements, not only property owners and members of the bourgeoise were at risk of displacement, arrest, and death at the hands of their Communist leaders, but even those associated with such people. Of course, modern cancel culture cannot compare with these revolutions either in extent or in severity, but the “guilt by association” point of similarity is nonetheless troubling.

If progressives want to dominate the public sphere by sheer force, punishing dissenters with a permanently damaged reputation and diminished opportunity, so be it. But they should not pretend that they are engaging in anything but a display of might. And when it comes to punishing the spouses or relatives of those found to be irredeemable enemies of progress? At a certain point, it becomes difficult to balance one’s ideals of equality and tolerance with the very real and tangible way in which one treats the nonconformists. Aleksandar Katai is surely a wealthy man capable of handling his setback, but others will not be so fortunate.

Culture

Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Murders in Chicago & More (June 8, 2020)

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1.  27 killed, some burned alive in jihadi attacks on predominantly Christian villages in Mali

2. Chicago Sun Times: 18 murders in 24 hours: Inside the most violent day in 60 years in Chicago:

In a city with an international reputation for crime — where 900 murders per year were common in the early 1990s — it was the most violent weekend in Chicago’s modern history, stretching police resources that were already thin because of protests and looting.”

3. Kapil Komireddi: Show no mercy: The tragedy in Xinjiang:

Beijing isn’t simply detaining people to scare them into submission: it is torturing them in order to break them from within. Its objective is not only to obtain political subjugation. It is also to achieve psychological debilitation — to efface from the mental makeup of the Turkic people of Xinjiang their sense of themselves.

The leaders of the so-called Muslim world have said nothing about the worst sustained atrocities against a Muslim population in the 21st century. Last year, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Pakistan — countries that 12 years ago erupted in rage and initiated a boycott of Danish goods because a privately owned newspaper in Denmark had published a cartoon — rushed to China’s defence after Western diplomats rebuked it for putting a million Muslims in concentration camps.”

4. Jeanne Mancini: Beware the dangerous push to expand telemedicine abortions:

Billed as safe and effective by the abortion industry, chemical abortion is arguably much harder on women’s health than surgical abortion — and there’s certainly less medical oversight. A study out of Finland showed that women are four times more likely to suffer severe complications as a result of chemical abortion than they are as a result of surgical abortion.

5. Public Discourse: Expanding Euthanasia during the Pandemic:

It seems particularly disturbing to imagine legalizing euthanasia in this moment, let alone expanding access to euthanasia if it is already legal. Even so, this is precisely what is underway in Canada.”

6. Wall Street Journal: Covid-19 Stalks Large Families in Rural America

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Murders in Chicago & More (June 8, 2020)”

NR Webathon

Since It’s Now Okay to Smash Things, How about Helping NR Smash Our Webathon Goal?

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Damaged windows at a restaurant which was vandalized during overnight protests and rioting following the death of George Floyd, in Washington, D.C., May 31, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

We are seeking support — our new four-day webathon goal of $150,000 has met with over 1,400 donations, totaling $134,000 as of 5 p.m. on the East Coast, God bless you all who have helped — to call out the window smashers. But unlike the vast majority of American media, let’s be honest: These marauders are more intent on smashing the foundation of our Republic.

Over our dead bodies: We’re keen on fighting them tooth and nail, hand to hand, brandishing the truth, which in the end will always win out. As Rich Lowry put it in his exceptional call to arms:

Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to have a fiercely independent, intelligent, and fearless conservative publication speaking the truth and defending right reason — when everyone around us is going mad, and marauding bands threaten to set our cities back decades.

National Review is that publication.

The webathon — which will sustain NR in this epic battle for the soul of America and western civilization — ends tonight at midnight. We believe there is time for those who have yet to join NR’s band of brothers and sisters to do so. It’s no stretch to believe we can gain that final $16,000. We’re confident that 100 good souls will contribute $100, and that they’ll be joined by another 100 defenders of freedom who can afford to send a $50 donation, along with another 80 friends of conservative principles and enemies of lawlessness who can see fit to keep NR in the fight with a $25 gift.

Helping NR is one way — and a consequential one — of fighting back. Donate here. You do that with our deep and heartfelt appreciation.

World

Racist British Statues

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On Sunday, tens of thousands of people attended protests across the U.K. A small minority of them behaved criminally. In Parliament Square, a statue of Winston Churchill, the man who saved Britain from Nazism, was defaced with graffiti. Vandals scored through his name and wrote “is a racist.” This is (ironically) fascist behavior, which Boris Johnson was right to condemn.

Protestors in Bristol also pulled down a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, which they then pushed into the harbor. Of course, there is a genuine democratic debate to be had about whom we choose to venerate and why. But does this look like a debate to you?

U.S.

George Floyd’s Death and ‘Systemic Racism’

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Police officers stand outside the Florida home of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was recorded with his knee on the neck of African-American man George Floyd, Orlando, Fla., May 29, 2020. (Scott Audette/Reuters)

The protests over police brutality and “systemic racism” appear to be dying down. It is worth asking what the protests were about — they were about George Floyd’s death, yes, but the protesters themselves say that their demonstrations are about more than George Floyd.

Floyd’s death is not really controversial inasmuch as there is broad public agreement that his death was terrible and that the offending officers should be held accountable. Neither is there much controversy around proposals to reform police protocols, or implement deescalation training. Even on a more meta level, few would dispute the existence of tension between the police and minority communities, and even fewer would dispute that the country’s treatment of black Americans is a lasting stain on its history.

But those reforms and concessions are not enough. It is not just Floyd’s death that animates the protesters’ variously destructive demonstrations, but instead a call to end “systemic racism” — a term that they cannot quite define, but nevertheless use to advance a political revolt beneath the language of racial reconciliation. The rioters and their apologists demand the total reorientation of a society that they believe to be systemically and irredeemably racist and beyond hope of conversion — at least, within the confines of its traditions and existing institutions.

Hence Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey’s remark that “America is burning, but that’s how forests grow.” The agitators and their enablers do not want a few changes at the margins — not just reforms in the police force, not just accountability for Derek Chauvin, not just reforms of the criminal-justice system. They want to change everything.

Their intellectual leaders tell us that capitalism is white supremacy. That immigration enforcement and patriotism are racist, and tax cuts reify racial inequality. They effectively protest that the entire Republican agenda is a species of racism, and if you dare mention that fact, you’re said to be insufficiently moved by George Floyd’s death, or callous to some racial incident that happened in the antebellum South.

You have to accept that a nation which contorts itself in knots on questions of race — with an immovable affirmative-action regime, endless conversations about “white privilege,” and a Pulitzer Prize-winning project dedicated to “reframe the country’s history” in terms of its past and present bigotry — remains thoroughly and systemically enthralled by racism.

You should be able to mourn George Floyd’s death without ceding all of your political priors, calling yourself “complicit” in the sins of your ancestors, or assuming an imputed race guilt for which there is no expiation. You should, in other words, be able to condemn Derek Chauvin without condemning the United States of America.

White House

Misunderstanding AG Barr

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Attorney General William Barr attends a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 19, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I wrote about the Attorney General’s speech at Notre Dame University (somewhat critically) last fall, and so this passage from a profile of Barr in the New York Times Magazine sounded wrong to me:

As far as what Barr is hoping to do with his canvas, [his former colleague Stuart] Gerson says he is committed to the “hierarchical” and “authoritarian” premise that “a top-down ordering of society will produce a more moral society.” That isn’t too far away from what Barr himself articulated in a 2019 speech at the University of Notre Dame. In Barr’s view, piety lay at the heart of the founders’ model of self-government, which depended on religious values to restrain human passions. “The founding generation were Christians,” Barr said. Goodness flows from “a transcendent Supreme Being” through “individual morality” to form “the social order.” Reason and experience merely serve to confirm the infallible divine law. That law, he said, is under threat from “militant secularists,” including “so-called progressives,” who call on the state “to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility.”

Here’s one of the relevant passages from the speech

In the words of Madison, “We have staked our future on the ability of each of us to govern ourselves…”

This is really what was meant by “self-government.” It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislative body. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.

But what was the source of this internal controlling power? In a free republic, those restraints could not be handed down from above by philosopher kings.

Instead, social order must flow up from the people themselves — freely obeying the dictates of inwardly-possessed and commonly-shared moral values. And to control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will — they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

Barr goes on to complain that “militant secularists today do not have a live and let live spirit — they are not content to leave religious people alone to practice their faith. Instead, they seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience.”

You can agree or disagree with these comments of Barr. But they’re not signs of an especially “hierarchical” or “authoritarian” mindset. And it’s notable that he uses a bottom-up metaphor, rather than a “top-down” one, to describe the social order he cherishes.

U.S.

As the New York Times Goes, So Goes Biden

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Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Delaware State University in Dover, Del., June 5, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The resignation of the editorial page editor of the New York Times for publishing an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton calling for the military to quell the riots marks the completion of the long, slow transformation of the Democratic Party. Whatever face the Democrats present to the world, their woke left fringe is now in charge. That fringe has not only abandoned core American principles like freedom of speech and due process, it has reimagined American history as a story of “systemic” oppression and demanded radical transformation along identitarian–socialist lines. If the New York Times can’t stand up to Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of its odious and just-plain-false 1619 Project, how will Joe Biden stand up to a woke New York Times?

Past his prime, without a policy compass to speak of, Biden would be long gone if he hadn’t been the Democratic establishment’s last best hope of blocking Bernie Sanders. Biden is supposed to give the party a moderate face that will appeal to centrist voters. Increasingly, however, the bases of the two parties are becoming the real contestants in this election, while the candidates are just along for the ride. True, Trump is larger than life and a constant media obsession. Yet Trump appeals to Republicans — whether they like his style or not — chiefly because he protects them from the illiberalism and cultural overreach people such as Hannah-Jones. Trump’s larger-than-life personality matters less than it seems because he’s all about the base.

And Biden? His centrist past and doddering persona also matter less. Biden has been shoved out front for tactical purposes by a party that has long since moved on. Biden is peripheral. Here is where we actually are: The left half of the country calls the right half bigots, and the right half calls that accusation bigotry in reverse. Increasingly, that is becoming the core issue in this election, and we’ve been building toward this unhappy impasse for decades. Politicians are always, to some degree, stand-ins for a base. Yet this is out of the ordinary. Precisely because consensus on basic American principles has collapsed, this election is more about clashing bases than clashing candidates. It is less two men vying for the favor of a crowd than one crowd pushing back against the other.

It would have been interesting to see how Biden balanced the centrist side of his party with an increasingly aggressive and empowered Left. But what now remains of a Democratic center to balance with its left? The image of Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey being booed and shamed out of a rally for refusing to abolish his city’s police force is what the Democrats’ internal balancing act has morphed into. Frey is no centrist. He helped set the riots loose by abandoning a police station to protesters who quickly burned it down. Yet Frey’s refusal to actually abolish the police now puts him on the fast-melting right flank of a party gone wild.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been more of a team player since the 2019 confrontation in which she implied that Speaker Pelosi was racist. (AOC called Pelosi “outright disrespectful” for criticizing “newly elected women of color.”) What will happen after the election, however, if Biden takes the White House and the Democrats hold the House, or even take the Senate? At that point, the bigotry accusation game will resume, but now with a massively emboldened Left. Hannah-Jones’s victory at the Times foreshadows a series of successful pressure campaigns from the woke Left against a Democratic administration and Congress. The police may not be “abolished,” but there’s plenty that Biden and his attorney general will be able to do to hamstring law enforcement. And that’s just the beginning of what a now-dominant Democratic Left will demand and receive from a Biden administration.

Meanwhile, the Left is actively defending the politicization of public health by “experts” who claim that social-distancing policies can be set aside or modified for the sake of fighting racism — but not for protesters who want to restart the economy or attend church. The common thread in all this is that the classical liberal aspiration to neutrality has been well and truly abandoned by the Left. Support for expertise that sets aside politics, and for forums like op-ed pages that allow for open debate, used to be consensus positions held both parties. Yet the New York Times — the Democratic Party’s brain — is now well on its way to rejecting all of that.

Via Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project, the Times has committed to the view that America has been systemically racist from its Founding to today. “Systemic oppression” is a neo-Marxist construct incompatible with the classical liberalism upon which our constitutional system rests. From a classically liberal perspective, rights and responsibilities inhere in the individual. Jobs are awarded, and authors are included in curricula, according to individual merit, not group membership. Opinions are neither elevated nor dismissed because of the historical “privilege” or “oppression” of one’s group. Policies on health care, policing, housing, or education that are neutral with respect to race, gender, ethnicity, and religion are not presumed to be bigoted because social outcomes do not always fall in precise proportion to the demographic composition of the population. To believe otherwise is to embark on a massive project in social engineering that will cancel the liberties of Americans — precisely what is intended.

Like many other Democratic candidates for president this year, Joe Biden has now adopted the rhetoric of “systemic racism.” Evidently, he will no more be able to stand up to the demands of the party’s woke Left than the Times was able to stand up to the creator of its 1619 Project.

By the way, the decision to promote a tendentious “history” project run by journalists rather than scholars — and to press it on the nation’s schools — is yet another example of the rejection of classical liberalism. A proper newspaper ought to be reporting on disputes and developments within the history profession, not actively propagandizing for a highly contested and controversial historical point of view. That the Times has committed itself to a project of ideological transformation in the form of the 1619 Project — rather than to fair reporting on contested developments within the history profession — indicates that true liberalism and traditional journalism are dead at the Times. The Cotton fiasco is the logical outcome of the Times’s earlier surrender to Hannah-Jones’s illiberal project. And now Biden is every bit as trapped in this dynamic of surrender as the Times.

The deeper precedent, and a critically important cause of the Democratic Party’s rejection of classical liberalism, is what happened 50 years ago when our universities adopted preferential treatment by race, sex, and ethnicity, and then established “studies” programs built around identity politics rather than the ethos of liberal education. In the early days, preferential treatment and politicized academic departments were seen as regrettable but necessary and temporary suspensions of classical liberal principle. Yet the inability to stand up to accusations of systemic racism from the Left finally drove classical liberalism out of the university. The “studies” departments grew in size and influence. Their commitment to a neo-Marxist critique of liberalism — that its promises of freedom, rights, and neutral treatment were simply covers for systemic oppression by rich straight white men — became the common wisdom of the academy. Academic free speech is on its deathbed as a result.

Now, with a generation of graduates schooled under the “studies” regime, the collapse of classical liberalism has moved into the mainstream. Joe Biden and the editors of the New York Times are essentially caught in the same web as a university administrator. Their impulses are still classically liberal, but they can’t stand up to accusations of racism, no matter how excessive or unfounded, and no matter how much those accusations are used as battering rams against liberal principle itself. Once the “studies” programs were instituted — with a purpose, ideology, and recruiting mechanism that was illiberal from the start — it was too late to back out, too late to say “no,” to whatever demand came next. Similarly, once the Times endorsed the 1619 Project, with its attack on the liberal principles at the core of America’s story, the die was cast. The marketplace of ideas was over for the Times.

The creation of illiberal “studies” programs is a forgotten legacy of the riots of 1968. We know about the Kerner Commission and the battles over urban policy in the Johnson and Nixon years, but the birth of “studies” programs at exactly the same time, under threats of violence and repeated takeovers of campus buildings, is forgotten. This was not limited to the infamous incident of gun-toting students at Cornell, but was repeated on campuses across the country, if in only slightly less threatening form. That is the deeper legacy of the riots of 1968.

Illiberal radicals are a minority on most campuses, yet they rule because their expansive accusations of bigotry, like their willingness to suppress critics and commandeer buildings, intimidate the majority, and cow liberal administrators into submission. A President Biden will be a perfect stand-in for a meek liberal college president who can’t afford to get on the wrong side of a Left that knows it won’t be disciplined and is only too happy to silence others. Biden is the face of the Democratic Party, but far from the fact of it. Once the Times goes, the media go. And without media backup, a Democratic president has nothing. The Democrats’ center has collapsed, leaving Biden little choice but to play to his illiberal left. If Biden wins, the Left is in charge. And they aren’t just straining to abolish the police. Their real target is 1776.

Law & the Courts

When Police Stop Policing

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Police officers stand guard during a protest against the death of George Floyd in New York City, June 5, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

In a piece last week, I mentioned a forthcoming study by Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer about what happens when cops stop doing their jobs, specifically in the wake of viral incidents such as the one in Ferguson, Mo., a few years back. That study is now available in its entirety.

Basically, it looks at what happens when federal or state authorities investigate police departments accused of having a “pattern or practice” of violating civilians’ rights. The good news is that these investigations usually lead to a measurable decrease in crime, including homicides.

The bad news is that, after five of the 27 investigations Devi and Fryer looked at closely, crime went up instead. And it turns out that those five investigations were the ones “preceded by ‘viral’ incidents of deadly force,” specifically “the deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD, Laquan McDonald in Chicago, IL, Timothy Thomas in Cincinnati, OH, Tyisha Miller in Riverside, CA, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.”  The authors “estimate that these investigations caused almost 900 excess homicides and almost 34,000 excess felonies.” For comparison, American cops kill about 1,000 civilians — in total, throughout the country — each year.

Why does crime go up when viral killings set off investigations? The data from the cities where this occurred seem consistent with the “Ferguson effect” theory:

The leading hypothesis for why these investigations increase homicides and total crime is an abrupt change in the quantity of policing activity. In Chicago, the number of police-civilian interactions decreased by almost 90% in the month after the investigation was announced. In Riverside CA, interactions decreased 54%. In St. Louis, self-initiated police activities declined by 46%. Other theories we test such as changes in community trust or the aggressiveness of consent decrees associated with investigations — all contradict the data in important ways.

I think there are a few simple, important takeaways. First, anything we can do to reduce police abuses will remove the raw material these problems stem from. Second, while it would be insane to suggest people shouldn’t protest misconduct by law enforcement, I do think it’s wise for activists to choose their cases wisely — because some viral shootings, such as the one in Ferguson, have turned out to be perfectly legitimate uses of force. (For what it’s worth, my general impression is that activists already have become a lot more careful these past few years.) And third, cops should not be allowed or encouraged to stop doing their jobs in response to viral videos.

These data also draw attention to some important political dynamics. There is undeniably a shift in public opinion in favor of police reform, and as I wrote last week, I agree there are things we could do to improve law enforcement. But if we end up with less policing, rather than better policing, we’re just going to get more crime and eventually a shift back to tougher policies. Last time around things got so bad that New York City elected a Republican mayor, for God’s sake.

There’s a temptation in some quarters to think this issue is like gay marriage or marijuana legalization, where there’s a turning point in public opinion and a rapid shift in policy and then everyone wonders what the big deal ever was. See, for example, Tim Alberta’s piece in Politico today, which bizarrely claims we may be seeing the “last stand” of law-and-order Republicans and draws those two parallels explicitly. But crime isn’t like that. When the streets become unsafe, public opinion shifts back in favor of the folks who stand between the innocents and the bad guys.

World

Asymptomatic Infected Rarely Spread COVID-19

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Well, well. The World Health Organization now says asymptomatic people with COVID infection rarely spread the disease. From the CNBC story:

Coronavirus patients who don’t have any symptoms aren’t driving the spread of the virus, World Health Organization officials said Monday, casting doubt on concerns by some researchers that the virus could be difficult to contain due to asymptomatic infections. . . .

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said at a news briefing from the United Nations agency’s Geneva headquarters. “It’s very rare.”

Pardon my whiplash.

So, now that we know COVID is not as dangerous as was initially thought, will those calling for mandatory vaccines and mask-wearing retract their advocacy?

What, and ruin all the technocratic fun? If it saves just one life!

NR Webathon

Calling All Unwoken Foes of the New Cultural Revolution – Half a Day Remains

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

The escalation of leftist claims and tactics and denunciations (have you yet been called out for being insufficiently hateful of law and order, for mistaking common sense for unwoke privileged rhetoric?) and the ultimate goal of destroying America as a country based on special Founding principles are what we fight now at National Review. Keeping the lights on and keyboards humming has always been a challenge, but our mission and our relentless efforts to speak the truth and to provide a sane and imperative alternative to media ideologues has created a brotherhood of supporters who see NR as a vital institution, a passionate cause, more necessary than ever in its 64 years. Hence our short-lived effort (it expires tonight) to expand these ranks, to gain financial aid — yes, sought in the heat of this current combat, which is sure not to be short-lived. We now seek to raise $150,000. As of noon on the East Coast, since Friday 1,129 good people have donated $107,287 to this effort. Some tell us why, such as . . .

  • Keith donates $50 and staples a powerful message to it: “I don’t care about tribal affiliation; I do care about clear-eyed analysis, which is why I’m doing this. It’s not about resistance (although conservatives are clearly becoming the resistance now), it’s about courage and telling the truth. Thank you — all of you — for what you do.” You’re welcome, but whatever is done is only done because you and others see to it.
  • Martha sends $1,000 — yes, we are reading that right — and has solid grounds for such generosity: “As the incredibly corrosive tentacles of the ‘woke’ progressives reach ever further into our lives, we need your calls for limited government and personal responsibility more than ever!” Amen to that, and Amen to your powerful selflessness.
  • Stephen sends $100 from the other side of the world. He has a story: “I’m an expat living in Hong Kong the past seven years. I’m not sure what the bigger threat to truth and freedom is, the encroaching reds north of me or the internal progressives back in the states. Keep up the fight!” This means more than you will ever know. Thanks so much.
  • Jennifer sends $50 and blames the Morning Jolter: “Jim Geraghty: ‘I can’t recall a time where I’ve seen more people in positions of power and responsibility insisting that you should believe their words instead of what you’re seeing with your own eyes.’ — This is why NR is so vital. Gaslighting is most of what I read elsewhere. I trust and appreciate that NR provides thoughtful and factual analysis.” Thanks so much, Jennifer.
  • Mark spots us $20 and addresses The Editor: “Rich — many thanks, I also am deeply concerned and agree with your grim assessment of the direction our country appears to be heading. The damage that would result should the radical left gain control and implement their agenda is incalculable. Again, I am grateful for you and your colleagues standing up against the mob. Godspeed.” Great to have you with us on the barricades, Mark.
  • Alan finds $50 to donate and speaks for many a supporter: “I am a new contributor. Thank you for your honest and tempered reporting. There are several news organizations that in my opinion, have gone mad. National Review routinely publishes great, informative articles. Thank you.” Alan, our appreciation is deep, and be assured your help indeed does help.
  • Another $50 comes from Tami, bundled with true worries: “I’ve never been so concerned as now. It seems like many friends and acquaintances have swallowed with gusto, not just the blue pill, but the crazy pill. A dedicated mother I admired, the parent of my child’s classmate, posted a meme endorsing the asinine ‘this is an uprising’ excuse. If my kids ever get back to school, will she want to enlist them? I rely on NR’s cogent reason.” Corrupting the youth is at the center of all this Tami — we’re there for you, and with thanks.

The success so far of our four-day effort, whose goalposts have now been moved a third time, is an indication that NR readers find NR to be an increasingly lonely, ever-more-important voice of media sanity, one that is unafraid to call out rioters and leftists, one that is determined to highlight their endgame, which is the destruction of America as we know it. These readers — you? — find NR to be a cause, a righteous cause, and they’d be right to think so. And you’d be right to join it. Your donation is instrumental to NR’s short- and long-term efforts — if you can help, do so here. If you can contribute $10, $100, $1,000, do so knowing each and every buck matters, that each and every donor matters, and that all are beloved for their selfless desire to be with us in this truly critical battle for our country and civilization. Help us reach our goal (we need to raise $43,000 by midnight). Donate here. If you prefer to send your support by mail, make your check payable to “National Review” and send it to: to National Review, ATTN: Defeat the Left, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036. We need your help to get us the other half.

Politics & Policy

More Public-Health Follies

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Slate has another article arguing that protests that raise the risk of COVID-19 transmission are terrific from a public-health perspective. It has the perfect closing line: “Experts shouldn’t adhere to a flawed vision of neutrality or the false idea that public health is apolitical. That’s what people are marching about.”

It’s perfect, that is, in being wildly implausible, even absurd, and accompanied by no supporting evidence.

 

Politics & Policy

Madison, Wis., Officials Alter Reopening Restriction that Targeted Churches

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Organist Elizabeth Noone plays to an empty Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Palm Sunday in Worcester, Mass., April 5, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

After religious leaders threatened to sue the City of Madison and Dane County, Wis., for First Amendment violations and discriminatory treatment, the local government has altered its reopening policies to apply the same standards to churches and businesses alike.

In its reopening plans, the city and county crafted regulations allowing most organizations and businesses to begin operating at 25 percent capacity, but it designated all worship services as “mass gatherings” and subjected them to an inflexible 50-person cap. As a result, even churches that could safely operate at 25 percent capacity with far more than 50 people were disallowed from doing so, and local officials threatened to send law enforcement to monitor and fine churches that violated the policy.

Now, in the wake of a letter from several attorneys threatening a lawsuit on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Madison, the City of Madison and Dane County’s Public Health Department has revised the policy, removing the 50-person cap for worship services and applying the 25 percent capacity limit.

“Religious worship services will no longer be categorized as a ‘mass gathering,’” local officials said in a statement announcing the new policy. “All restrictions applicable to businesses will continue to apply to religious services.”

The local government announced the policy change last Friday, the day that the diocese had specified as the deadline by which it would file a lawsuit if the county had not amended its regulations to treat churches equally. In their letter, attorneys writing on behalf of the diocese called the policy unconstitutional and a “discriminatory restriction.”

The new policy will allow Catholic churches — along with other religious institutions — to begin celebrating public services for a greater number of parishioners, following protocols that the diocese has outlined in an eight-page document, specifying health precautions and social-distancing policies it will implement modeled off of Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Although it is reasonable for government officials to be concerned about the unique health risks related to conducting public worship services — including reception of communion and singing — it is particularly galling that religious leaders have had to threaten lawsuits in several localities in order to reverse regulations that imposed unnecessarily strict rules targeting churches. Especially considering that government officials around the country are declining to enforce social-distancing policies against those involved in mass protests, they should take care not to discriminate against religious communities with harsh limitations that do little to promote public health.

Economy & Business

The Jobs Numbers Weren’t Fraudulent

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Job seekers at a job fair in Uniondale, N.Y., in 2014 (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Commentators and economists alike were shocked last Friday when the government reported the U.S. added 2.5 million jobs in May, and that the unemployment rate dropped to 13.3 percent from 14.7 percent a month earlier. Forecasters had expected the economy to shed 7.5 million jobs in May, not to add millions to payrolls. Instead of trying to figure out what the numbers meant, some of the president’s critics were quick to challenge the numbers themselves. Paul Krugman, for example, wrote on Twitter about 20 minutes after the numbers were released that “you can’t completely discount the possibility that” the president’s political team had “gotten to” the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government agency that produces the monthly jobs report. To his credit, Krugman quickly apologized. But some are still questioning the integrity of the numbers.

This is absurd. There isn’t a shred of evidence the BLS fudged the numbers, let alone violated its integrity. It’s important to learn from this controversy, because the U.S. will likely see more such surprises in economic data in 2020.

To calculate the unemployment rate, the government surveys 60,000 households each month. These households — which create a statistically valid picture of the U.S. population as a whole — are not asked directly if they are unemployed. Instead, they are asked a series of questions designed to obtain an accurate picture of their job-market activities.

People who reported that they didn’t work in May and expected to be recalled to their jobs should have been classified as unemployed on a temporary layoff. Many were, but several million workers who should have been counted as unemployed were instead listed as employed but absent from work. If these workers had been properly classified, the unemployment rate would have been 16.3 percent according to the BLS, not the 13.3 percent that was officially recorded.

If the BLS thought the official number was wrong or misleading, why didn’t it just change the number? The bureau’s longstanding practice is to accept data from the survey as recorded. This helps ensure the integrity of the data by keeping it free from exactly the type of ad hoc changes the Trump administration’s critics are worried about.

Challenges in properly classifying workers in the middle of an economy-shaking pandemic are a far cry from fudging the numbers for political purposes. Besides, the reason everyone knows this happened is that the BLS announced it in its monthly employment report. If officials were trying to cook the books, they wouldn’t have put the recipe on page six of the report. The same problem happened when calculating the unemployment rates for March and April, as well — and the BLS noted it in both reports.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: Reassigning the status of the workers in question from employed to unemployed would increase May’s unemployment rate by three percentage points. But making the same change for April would increase the unemployment rate in that month by 4.8 percentage points. So the drop in May would have been larger if the misclassification hadn’t occurred. The upshot is that, if anything, the president’s supporters have a stronger case that the BLS is cooking the books against them than his critics have that the numbers are being fudged to help President Trump.

Economic statistics are constructed for normal times. The U.S. economy, shaken by the pandemic, is not in a normal time, and that makes answering standard survey questions much more difficult. If you are absent from work at the time of the survey due to illness, then you should be counted as employed. But what if you aren’t at work because of fear of getting sick?

You should be counted as employed if you’re absent from work because of a vacation. But if you’re not at work but are getting paid through the Paycheck Protection Program, how should you answer the survey questions? If your employer shuts down, then you’re supposed to be counted as a temporary layoff. But if your employer tells you that he expects business to be back to normal soon and will want you back, you may not think of yourself as having lost your job.

Labor-market statistics are not the only ones that are harder than usual to forecast and interpret. The average monthly increase in personal income in the five years before the pandemic was 0.4 percent. In April, personal income increased by 10.5 percent. Forecasters expected a 6.5 percent drop.

In the five years before the pandemic, the average personal savings rate was 7.4 percent. In April, households saved 33 percent of their income. Is this because people were locked at home and couldn’t spend? Or has the pandemic changed people’s preferences or expectations about their future income, increasing their desire for a large rainy-day fund?

Economic numbers will continue their wild ride throughout this summer and into the fall. Typically, around two million workers transition from unemployed to employed every month. In May, 7.7 million did — by far the largest flow in the history of the data. Flows into unemployment were unusually large, as well. Forecasting net changes in this environment is a major challenge. Observers should expect to be surprised by economic data.

False accusations of foul play may not be confined to May’s employment report. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects the economy to grow this summer at a record 21.5 percent annual rate. In the fall, the budget office forecasts 10.4 percent growth.

Expect the president’s critics to claim that the books may be cooked. Their suspicions about corruption would be wildly misplaced, but their sense that the numbers are off will be well-grounded in the reality that the economy will be in terrible shape despite this impressive growth.

It’s important to smack down hard this nonsense about foul play. The data are only as good as the quality of survey responses. And the data are used for critically important decisions.

If the government’s measure of consumer prices is off by even a little bit, Social Security payments for retirees, determined in part by price inflation, will be off. Hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funds are distributed to states each year based on government survey results. The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy is heavily influenced by economic data. It’s important for the data to be as accurate as possible, and that requires public trust in the data and in the process.

Mr. Trump’s critics are rightly concerned about the damage he is doing to institutions and norms. By hinting that the books are cooked when good economic news unexpectedly appears, they are guilty of the same crime.

U.S.

Mayor Frey as a Hester Prynne

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This is one of the most embarrassing episodes involving an elected official in memory — Mayor Frey seeking acceptance at a woke revival meeting and getting ousted as an unrepentant sinner:

Politics & Policy

John Oliver Repeats Lie about Trump’s George Floyd Remark

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John Oliver presents the award for Outstanding Directing For A Limited Series, Movie Or A Dramatic Special at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California September 20, 2015. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

On Friday, social media comprehensively litigated the question of what President Trump said in his press conference touting, among other things, an unexpectedly encouraging jobs report. It turned out that at least two reporters who had falsely claimed that Trump had said Floyd would be happy about the jobs numbers later reversed course because this isn’t what happened.

Sunday night on his HBO show John Oliver revived this lie, saying that Trump “also, in announcing jobs numbers on Friday, invoked George Floyd’s name, saying, “This is a great day for him,” which is utterly f***ing disgusting.” (Note that there’s no joke here, just performative outrage about an imaginary Trump statement.)

As our Tobias Hoonhout reported Friday afternoon after several hours of misleading reports about what happened, at the press conference in which Trump discussed the jobs numbers, he invoked the presidential privilege known as “discussing more than one subject at a briefing.” His next topic was civil rights. “Equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, color, gender or creed,” Trump said. “They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement. They have to receive it. We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen. Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, ‘This is a great thing that’s happening for our country.’ This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody, this is a great, great day in terms of equality.”

Reporters such as Peter Baker of the New York Times and Gabby Orr of Politico deleted tweets suggesting Trump had claimed George Floyd would be happy about the economic news. Baker originally tweeted, “Trump suggests that George Floyd would be happy about the jobs numbers,” but later deleted the tweet. Politico’s Gabby Orr said in a tweet that Trump said “Floyd is marveling at today’s jobs numbers from Heaven,” but deleted that remark. (Other outlets including Time, the Daily News, and the Associated Press did not delete tweets making the false claim.)

After Oliver’s broadcast, an entertainment reporter at The Daily Beast used Oliver’s lie as means to dust off and repeat the original misrepresentation of Trump’s remarks. It was as if Oliver (and the many sycophants in the media who cover his rants as though they were news) learned nothing from Jimmy Kimmel having to retract a similar non-joke asserting that Mike Pence had delivered empty boxes of protective equipment to a hospital.

If comics are going to behave like political commentators, then they must face the same factual scrutiny as political commentators. There’s no, “I was being ironic” or, “I was only kidding” defense to the false statement that “[Trump] also, in announcing jobs numbers on Friday, invoked George Floyd’s name, saying, ‘This is a great day for him.’” Trump didn’t do that.

Law & the Courts

Chauvin Makes His First Court Appearance

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Lots of media are reporting about today’s first scheduled court appearance by fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in connection with the killing of George Floyd.

As Rich and I discussed on The McCarthy Report podcast last week, Chauvin was arrested on a complaint, was amended last week (see my column, here). Neither he nor any of the other three officers involved in the killing of George Floyd has been indicted yet.

Under Minnesota law, in a first appearance on a complaint, no plea is entered. Rather, the defendant is advised of the charges and the court ensures that counsel is assigned, that bail is set, and that the defendant understands his rights.

Because it is a homicide case, the prosecutor may advise the court and counsel whether the prosecutor’s office (in this case, the State AG in conjunction with the Hennepin County Attorney) will be proceeding to the grand jury to seek an indictment. Ordinarily, though, that advisory does not happen until the defendant’s second appearance on the complaint.

It should be a brief hearing, and future proceeding of more consequence will be scheduled.

Politics & Policy

Missing the Forest for the Trees

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Police officers kneel down in solidarity with protesters during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd in Washington, D.C., May 31, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Austin Petersen, a libertarian with whom I am in agreement on a good number of things, tweets:

I think that this misses the forest for the trees. The people primarily responsible for the recent COVID-inspired restrictions on church attendance were not the police, but our legislators and executive officials. The role of the police was to enforce their decisions. To observe this is not to give carte blanche to the police purely because they are “following orders”: As with anyone else charged with upholding the rules, police officers can do their jobs well and they can do them badly; they can do them too officiously and they can do them too carelessly; they can do them judiciously and they can do them unfairly; and, in extreme cases, they can even resort to murder. Rather, it is to note that the police are, ultimately, tasked with enforcing, not with making the rules. Want to avoid being ticketed at church? Vote out the people who made church attendance illegal.

Petersen uses the word “defund.” This, I suppose, could mean defund entirely, or defund partially. Because I am not a child, I’m open to hearing arguments for both. But I can’t see how either one would lead us to a more libertarian — or fair — world. If, in an attempt to reduce the reach of the government, we were to defund the police completely, we would be limiting our capacity to enforce even those laws that libertarians believe are necessary: those against murder, assault, rape, robbery, and so forth. If, in an attempt to reduce the reach of the government, we defund the police partially, we would be forcing officers to prioritize which laws they uphold and which they do not. Not only would that be a poor way to get rid of rules that we dislike — the way to do this is to repeal those rules — it would almost certainly lead to people in more heavily policed areas being harassed, and to those in wealthier and better-connected areas being left alone. Would that be “justice”?

Petersen himself hasn’t endorsed an alternative, but many who are jumping on this train — including the city government in Minneapolis — have talked about replacing the police with a “model for public safety.” At this point, that term is so vague as to be meaningless, possibly by design. And yet, in practice, there are really only three ways in which it could be fleshed out. It could be little more than a euphemism for “a changed police force,” in which case the topic at hand is not the “abolition” or the “defunding” of the police, but their reform. It could imply a return to the mixture of private security, quick-deputizing sheriffs, and assorted militias that marked out the early republic and the Old West, which seems unlikely to be the preference of the sort of people driving this trend. Or it could presage the institution of precisely the sort of vicious, ideological, and inescapable political organization that has accompanied the worst of the world’s revolutions. One doesn’t have to change too many words in “model for public safety” to get to “Committee of Public Safety.” And we all know how that worked out.

Whatever it is that they want, a better course of action for limited-government types such as Petersen would be to reduce the number of laws on the books, and to ensure that there are strict rules governing how they may be enforced by the authorities. Anything else is a recipe for caprice — and caprice is the opposite of equal protection under the law.

Media

The Guard Is Always Changing at the New York Times

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Author and presidential historian Tevi Troy reminds me of a quote from the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a 1970 memo to President Nixon about the changing nature of the news media in that era, particularly at the New York Times under Abe Rosenthal: “Every time one of [the veterans] goes and is replaced by a new recruit from the Harvard Crimson or whatever, the Maoist faction on West 43d Street gets one more vote. No one else applies.”

Fifty years later, James Bennet — younger brother of Democratic senator Michael Bennet, formerly of The New Republic and Washington Monthly, who set limits on the usage of the term “terrorists” to describe Palestinians attacking Israel, whose editorials were consistently progressive and consistently scathing of the Trump administration, who said he believed the Trump administration represented an attack on the core values of the country — is now the old establishment, driven out by the “Maoist faction.”

Politics & Policy

In Defense of James Mattis

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Defense Secretary James Mattis waits to welcome Chinese Minister of National Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe to the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., November 9, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

I think National Review mischaracterizes his famous recent statement, although I’m unsure what he meant in one crucial respect, and so am also unsure how important the mischaracterization is.

Mattis writes: “I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

NR writes in a subsequent editorial: “Mattis is wrong to paint all military assistance to law enforcement as a mission to ‘violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens’ that necessarily ‘erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect.’”

I’m not sure how Mattis “paint[ed].” But he did not say that all such assistance violates constitutional rights. Nor is the claim implied. Indeed its negation is asserted. Mattis goes on to say: “At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors.” Mattis cannot believe that all domestic uses of federal troops violate the Constitution if he’s right there painting the condition in which he thinks federal troops should be domestically used!

The editorial similarly misrepresents Mattis when it accuses him of insufficiently understanding that “the Army’s mission cannot be completely detached from the domestic tranquility of the nation it serves” and then invokes against him Eisenhower’s dispatch of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock in 1957. If Mattis thought that domestic tranquility and the Army’s mission could be completely detached, he would not have enumerated a criterion for their non-detachment! (It’s true that the Arkansas example goes against the letter of the Mattis criterion for using federal troops — that criterion being, again, only at the rare request of a governor. But when Mattis advocates deference to governors, surely he means law-abiding governors, not governors who are defying federal authority with force of arms. I think we can safely assume, for example, that Mattis is cool with the Union Army. Also that when he wrote his statement he was not thinking about 1957 Little Rock for the very natural reason that 1957 Little Rock sheds no light on the specifically Trumpish course of action that sparked his ire.)

These little misstatements of Mattis’s view are ultimately trivial if he meant something close to what the editorial says — if he meant, for example, that it’s necessarily a violation of constitutional rights to deploy federal troops other than at the request of a lawful governor. I doubt he meant something like that. That sounds to me like a technical and creative legal theory and, therefore, not the sort of thing a retired general and former defense secretary would vaguely propound. (He is of course also a scholar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did have a theory, but I think he’d have been more specific about the details in that case.) So to me the most natural reading is that he thinks the particular use of force in Lafayette Square was, in some way, excessive, unjustified, and thus a violation of rights, and that if it were to serve as a pattern for the tactics of federal troops — as, to judge by Trump’s statements at the time, it seemed it might — then those troops would be violating people’s rights. (The protesters in Lafayette Square were dispersed by the Park Police.) Mattis’s remark about governors I take to be advice of prudence rather than of law.

It is disputed whether the protests last Monday were peaceful; as far as I can tell they were mostly so. I don’t know, but I know it matters, and I expect the threshold for uses of “pepper balls” and other painful or violent weapons and tactics to be high, and I certainly expect those weapons and tactics not to be used so that the president might have a photo op, and I am outraged by the rioting, and I am choosing my words deliberately, and I am outraged not least because I agree with Mattis that the rioting does not define the protests, which are just and good, if not altogether great from the public-health standpoint; and there is no contradiction here.

As for Mattis’s broader point that the president is needlessly divisive and seems at times to think of the military as a meretricious prop (time for another parade yet?), it appears, I’ll just say, true.

Update: The Washington Post, using video footage and recorded police-radio transmissions, has reconstructed the events in Lafayette Square last Monday as well as it can. Please watch if you have a dozen minutes. The reconstruction seems consistent with my characterization of the protests except that: (1) It presents evidence that officials used rubber pellets and at least one tear-gas canister, not just pepper balls, to remove the protesters; and (2) it shows that more than the Park Police were involved in the operation, among them Secret Service, D.C. National Guard troops, and federal prison officers. Perhaps the presence of National Guard troops clarifies Mattis’s remark about his oath to support and defend the Constitution; the National Guard oath is almost identical to that of the regular armed forces, differing only in certain details pertaining to the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In any case, every officer or trooper present that day had taken an oath, in some form, of fidelity to the Constitution.