The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Somebody’s Got to Set a Higher Standard. It Might As Well Be Sessions.

Somebody’s Got to Set a Higher Standard. It Might As Well Be Sessions.

The NR editors on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from any issues or investigation regarding potential Russian influence in the 2016 election:

It’s clear now that Sessions’s response to Franken was inaccurate, and the whole episode could have been avoided had Sessions been clearer up front. But the context makes it fairly clear that Sessions was denying coordination with the Russians about the presidential election. There is no indication that Sessions willfully misled the Congress; based on what we know so far, Democrats’ perjury accusations are fantasy.

Nonetheless, the cloud now around Sessions is unlikely to dissipate quickly. Given an ongoing FBI probe into various Trump associates with apparent links to the Russian government (former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former advisers Carter Page and Roger Stone), and Michael Flynn’s recent departure from the administration after he misled White House officials about his own contacts with [Russian ambassador] Kislyak, there is reason to take seriously concerns about Russia’s attempts to influence last year’s election and the new administration. That is why a thorough congressional investigation is in order.

As we’ve said before, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which have extensive oversight powers, ought to conduct a fair, transparent, and expeditious inquiry into the allegations against the White House, and also into the source of the illicit leaks that are responsible for many of those allegations. Sessions’s contacts with the Russian ambassador ought to be a part of this probe. This is a political matter, and it is incumbent upon the people’s representatives to investigate.

In the meantime, Sessions has rightly recused himself from any Justice Department investigations into the Trump team’s links to Moscow. Government officials ought to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Given that that standard has been honored mainly in the breach over the past eight years — especially in the Justice Department — Sessions’s decision is a marked improvement on the conduct of his most recent predecessors.

Look Who’s Rising to His Feet Now!

We may cynically suspect soon-to-be unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick is doing the right thing (announcing he will stand for the National Anthem next season) for the wrong reasons (recognizing he’s no longer as valuable to a team because of the controversy, and this will cost him money in free agency). Kaepernick will leave the San Francisco 49ers next week, and is looking for a starting job with another team.

When somebody does the right thing for the wrong reasons, should we applaud?

Kaepernick no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.

I suspect ESPN’s Stephen A Smith spoke for a lot of people when he said, “It’s incredibly opportunistic, it’s flagrantly so, he’s not fooling anybody this way…. I’d appreciate if he went out and said, ‘I’m going to vote next time.’ That would resonate far more profoundly with me.”

ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt: “He’s making his case to the 31 [other] teams. He has to get a job and eliminate the ‘distraction’ discrimination, [and not] let teams have any reason to not sign Colin Kaepernick. He’s really realizing the practical aspects of what’s going on here.”

Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherdmakes me yell at my radio more than any other host, but he seems to be pretty spot-on in his cynicism here:

Kaepernick now believes he’s made real change — of which, that is, at best, debatable. But now when he’s a free agent… What happened to your altruism? What happened to your ‘this is long term’? What happened to your strong belief, now that you’re on the market and you still want to get paid? Now! Now you won’t kneel for the anthem… Now you know [NFL general managers] don’t want you bringing politics to work. So now it takes courage to do it. It’s one thing when you’re under contract and [49ers backup] Blaine Gabbart is the best [other] quarterback on your team. It doesn’t take a ton of courage. It takes courage now… Feels like selling out to me. And I defended Kaepernick!

David Harsanyi adds his voice to the chorus imploring athletes to keep their political stances off the field and let everyone enjoy sports as a realm far removed from the tense, angry debates of the day.

How many voters are going to change their ideological views because Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox took a leadership position on, well, whatever it is that Todd believes is dividing Americans? Most voters, I assume, conduct business and relationships with co-workers and family who hold philosophical positions other than their own. Should a cashier at Target or an accountant at H&R Block feel compelled to lecture everyone he or she meets about public policy? What would our communities look like if everyone were an activist? Insufferable, that’s what.

Moreover, the MLB’s great diversity reflects not only the bravery of Robinson but also his victory. There will never be another Jackie Robinson. We don’t need another Jackie Robinson. Baseball already proves that rural whites, Hispanic immigrants, African-Americans, and Yankees can all live and play on a team, pull together, aspire to greatness, and make a vast amount of money in the process. The ability of diverse people to live peacefully under a free system is the American ideal. Demanding unanimity of opinion is not. In many ways, we still have the former. The latter is what tears us apart.

Longtime sportswriter Jason Whitlock has observed that sports journalism is attracting a lot of writers who really aren’t that interested in sports, but who are interested in bringing progressive stances and issues to the fore in the sports world.

“This hyper-progressive movement that has lurched into sports and changed the conversation about sports and in sports TV. … So much of the conversation is inconsistent with the values of sports culture. I’m gonna say it until I’m blue in the face: Sports culture is conservative and religious! And we’ve turned ‘conservative’ into a curse word in this country and it’s just not.

“We’re turning off our base, our base of support. The people that coach Pee Wee football, the people that participate in Pee Wee football all the way through, we’re making them uncomfortable by inviting in all these people that really don’t care about sports, don’t love sports — they have a political agenda — and they’re leading the conversation about sports? It’s turning people off.”

Orwellian Dystopia Arrived a Long Time Ago, But Not in This Country

No, this isn’t 1984, President Trump isn’t Big Brother, modern-day America isn’t Oceania, and you’re not running down the aisle in orange shorts with a sledgehammer to smash the screen.

(Yes, I know this is from the Apple commercial and not the book.)

Orwell’s 1984 is a brilliant, unforgettable warning about the dangers of an all-powerful state, cults of personality, mankind’s capacity for cognitive dissonance, and the willingness to believe what is obviously false in order to preserve a fatally flawed worldview. But the book’s memorable phrases and concepts are also now so chronically overused as a criticism of political leaders that they’re clichéd and, I suspect, easy to tune out if you don’t already agree that Leader X is a power-mad, ruthlessly manipulative tyrant-in-waiting.

The America of 2017 is the same as America has always been: a mix of good and bad, noble and selfish, exercised liberties and runaway politicians and bureaucrats. Of course we have problems, but overheated comparisons to dystopian novels obscure more than they illuminate and conveniently forget that we’ve seen much worse.

Maybe Fox News strikes you as a modern day Ministry of Truth, airbrushing away any criticism of the regime. But it’s worth remembering that there was a time when such criticism was criminalized in America by Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act.

If you believe Trump’s private security guards have the potential to become a force of unaccountable loyalist thugs, I’d like to introduce you to Mayor Richard Daley and the Chicago Police Department of 1968.

Perhaps you feel the new administration’s discussion of Muslims and terrorism is scaremongering, and like Representative Keith Ellison, you argue against it by quoting Franklin Roosevelt’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, Roosevelt later rounded up Japanese Americans and put them into internment camps.

It’s not hard to find people who insist Trump is authoritarian because of the things he says. But authoritarians are not defined by the things they say; they’re defined by the things they do. The judicial branch already struck down Trump’s executive order on refugees. Despite Trump’s hyperbolic denunciations of the media, America’s press remains as free and vibrant as ever. The first weeks of the new presidency have not been marked by a meek and obedient Congress but by one that can’t unify behind a single legislative agenda.

Kevin Williamson points out that we’re not quite in 1984 nor in Brave New World either, concluding we’re in “a brave-ish new world at best.”

The development of technology has been a very, very good thing for the world — I, for one, welcome our new ping-pong-playing overlords — but it also has drawbacks that manifest themselves in funny ways. GPS is very useful — I rely on it almost every day, I am sure — but it also has become a substitute for knowing one’s way around. Whereas London taxi drivers have “the Knowledge,” New York taxi drivers, a great number of whom are very recent immigrants, are given a cell phone and the medallion owners’ best wishes. For some years, I lived in an impossible-to-miss building immediately adjacent to City Hall, and the majority of taxi drivers would simply give me a blank stare when I gave them my address…

The worlds of the two great dystopian novels intersect at unexpected points. For years, I resisted demands to give fingerprints for this or that reason, sometimes going to great lengths to avoid doing so. Now, I happily use my fingerprint to purchase Tom Waits albums from the Apple Store.

ADDENDA: This week on #TJAMS, the pop culture podcast, a quick recap of CPAC and the colossal Oscar snafu; some snarky comments about the latest cast of sorta-kinda celebrities on Dancing with the Stars; why Rachel Dolezal gets under our skin; a strangely appealing paid-leave program from Sweden, and what our listeners are giving up for Lent.

Recommended

The Latest