Magazine | October 16, 2017, Issue

Everything All the Time

It’s no longer the case that technologies of communication merely accelerate the public discourse, they now ensure that every possible public discourse happens simultaneously. It’s not one damned thing after another. It’s every damned thing all the time.

And so in place of a deliberative democracy, in which we as a people could acknowledge, and even tolerate, our differences while working through complex tensions at a pace consistent with social cohesion, we get a no-holds-barred battle royale in which all things are always at stake — in which we’re fighting every culture battle, past, present, and future, right the hell now.

The professional Left has been all over this for a while. Your neoliberalism is racist. Your anti-racism is sexist. Your feminism is transphobic. And your intersectionality is appropriated. It’s not enough to be woke, you need to be woke and tweaking on amphetamine salts.

But now the Right has gotten in on the game, and we’ve proven to be naturals.

And so let’s talk about football, I guess, and all the little dumb things that made the “take the knee” controversy the biggest dumb thing yet in an epoch of big dumb things.

There were the competing rhetorics, that Colin Kaepernick was without a job because he was atrocious and that he was without a job because of a league-wide blackball over his protest of police brutality. But the truth lay so obviously in between — Kaepernick is a middling NFL talent with a specific skill set in declining demand who’d probably have a job if he were either better or free of baggage — that all the partisans insisting on the antipodes knew better or really ought to have.

There was the tossed-off ephemerality of the president’s actual remarks, a few minutes in an hour-long free-form-jazz-odyssey campaign event in Alabama, words he might not even have remembered having said in the morning if the rest of the world hadn’t torched its wigs.

There was the fact that the kneeling stuff had run its course to the point where it — like the fight over gay marriage before Obergefell or disco before Saturday Night Fever — was practically dead before a late ejaculation reignited the debate.

There was the self-serving neutrality of the NFL response, the decorous and evasive talk of “unity” from a league that has been quietly taking sides for a while now, nixing cleats honoring the 9/11 dead and decals in memoriam of assassinated Dallas police while standing stock still for Kaepernickism and earlier Ferguson-centered protests. This doesn’t mean the league as a corporate entity is woke, of course. It means it’s corporate. And as we see more and more, corporations can be driven to a kind of half-assed performative leftism by asymmetrical incentives.

There were the sportswriters (nobody likes writing about things that aren’t sports more than sportswriters), all goo-covered with self-righteousness, who threw themselves like junkies at every last special-teams assistant and ball boy, panhandling for react quotes and condemnations.

There was the frenzied anticipation of Sunday morning, by which time the kneelers were being posed alternately as traitors and as saints, and the standers too, and their quarrel was not anymore about the substance of the protest, or even its form, but a tribal referendum on the Very Meaning of America.

There were so many finely laminated layers of nonsense baked into the final product — as if you’d subbed bullshit for butter in a croissant recipe — that I found it surreal that anyone could expect me to have a substantive opinion on it at all. It was like being asked by Kafka’s six-foot talking beetle what I thought of the Electoral College.

But finally there is the endless recurrence of the whole thing, the grim realization that this is the umpteenth of umpteen-hundred such culture-war jigs we will be made to dance until we mercifully collapse from exhaustion.

Because let’s face it, I’m writing this — and you’re reading it — under duress. None of us asked for this, but there’s no way out from under it.

Poor tackle Alejandro Villanueva knows this better than most. An ex–Army Ranger, he was made a hero, and a prop, by well-intended Americans for being the lone Pittsburgh Steeler to be seen hand-on-heart during the anthem that Sunday.

But Villanueva wasn’t trying to make a statement. He was honoring the flag as he otherwise would have and standing out in front of his teammates (some of whom can be seen behind him, hands on hearts, in shots that went mysteriously under-selected by photo editors everywhere) because he had asked to help lead the team out the tunnel. Rangers know something about loyalty, and Villanueva was understandably distressed at being portrayed as having defied the decision his teammates had together reached to stay off the field. Asked the next day whether he had any problem with other players’ kneeling, he said “absolutely” not and noted that some players who’d knelt in earlier games had approached him afterward to thank him for his service.

The same people who’d raised Villanueva up the day before of course interpreted these comments as a shameful coerced apology, and the Steelers’ attempt to avoid a no-win scenario by quitting the field was condemned by all sides. Meanwhile platoons of men, of all colors, who rely on implicit trust to protect their lives and livelihoods were set at each other’s throats for no good reason whatever. Metaphors for us all.

And it will all happen again next week, next tweet.

Are you ready for some football?

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

In This Issue

Articles

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Sections

Letters

Letters

Give Me Your Poesy I very much enjoyed Kevin D. Williamson’s essay on Emma Lazarus (“Wretched Refuse, Indeed,” August 28) and the way in which her famous poem, which had several ...
The Week

The Week

‐ Some stood, some knelt, all winced. ‐ President Trump’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly was a combination of idealism and blunt talk. Most striking was his ode to national ...
Athwart

Take a Small Knee

The National Anthem protests that have taken place around the country could be just the beginning of a backlash against the 'evil' heterosexual white man.
Poetry

Poetry

M.A.C. East Lansing, Michigan On either side, the highway’s barren stretch Is dwarfed by the wide wastes of prairie grass, Its pale dry leaves weaved with dark heads of vetch And clumps of sumac shimmering ...

Most Popular

Culture

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Lessons of the Mueller Probe

Editor’s Note: The following is the written testimony submitted by Mr. McCarthy in connection with a hearing earlier today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Mueller Report (specifically, the first volume of the report, which addresses Russia’s interference in the 2016 ... Read More
Elections

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
World

Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?

What is going on with the unending Brexit drama, the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s election, and the “yellow vests” protests in France? What drives the growing estrangement of southern and eastern Europe from the European Union establishment? What fuels the anti-EU themes of recent European elections and ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1139263782142787585 Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More