The Morning Jolt


Unite the Right 2: Electric Boogaloo

White supremacists carry a shield and Confederate flag at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., August 12. /(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Washington, D.C., and the state of Virginia prepare for a weekend white-nationalist rally in front of the White House; another once-trusted Trump aide reveals secret recordings of their conversations; and the Academy Awards creates a special category for films that audiences actually watched.

The Weekend Forecast: Cloudy with a Chance of White Nationalism

Hearing police discuss their plans to keep the peace during a white-nationalist rally and counterprotest in Washington, D.C. this Sunday sounds a little ominous . . . but at least they’re preparing, and perhaps the country will be spared a rerun of the appalling scenes of violence in Charlottesville last year.

Up to 1,000 counterdemonstrators are expected at Freedom Plaza between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday for the DC United Against Hate rally and march, according to a permit issued by the National Park Service on Wednesday afternoon. Two other permits are pending for other counterdemonstrators.

After the rally, the group plans to march about five blocks to Lafeyette Park, the site where between 200 and 300 white supremacists have proposed to rally. The permit for that rally is pending, a National Park Service spokesperson says.

D.C. Chief of Police Peter Newsham says officers will do whatever is necessary to keep Unite the Right rally attendees separate from counterdemonstrators.

In fact, the whole state of Virginia is battening down the hatches.

“We are treating this as a statewide event,” said Jeffrey Stern, coordinator of emergency management for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “We will be in support both of the city and [Albemarle] County here, as well as Fairfax County and other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and our partners across the Potomac [River] in Washington, D.C., for the events on Saturday and Sunday.”

More than 1,000 federal, state and local law enforcement members are expected in the area over the weekend. Officials said roughly 700 members of the Virginia State Police would be in the area and about 300 Virginia National Guard members would be on standby.

Both Market Street Park, where last year’s rally was held, and Court Square Park will be completely fenced off, according to city spokesman Brian Wheeler.

They’re going to set up pedestrian checkpoints in downtown Charlottesville.

Hopefully this all passes without serious incident, but one can’t help but suspect that the most odious white nationalists walked away from last year’s display with a sense of accomplishment. The violence brought weeks of national attention to their ideas, and those who are willing to march under a Nazi flag aren’t deterred by negative media coverage. They probably hunger for it and relish it, believing that some segment of the audience will be attracted to their agenda. And their plan is to rally in front of the White House this weekend.

Who Wasn’t Secretly Recording Trump?

Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the former Apprentice star who President Trump brought to the White House to work as “assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison,” secretly recorded conversations with him, marking the second time in a few weeks that we’ve learned that a longtime associate of Trump’s was secretly recording their conversations.

At this rate, the only party that will turn out to have not wiretapped Trump Tower will be the Obama administration.

Manigault-Newman apparently showcased the tapes while shopping her forthcoming book, Unhinged, which she says will offer a deeply critical portrait of Trump, claiming he is in “mental decline.”

This seems like a good moment to remind Omarosa that back in September 2016 she was declaring that everyone who ever criticized Trump will be forced to bow down to him once he won: “Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.” (If a candidate is battling accusations of being a narcissistic, power-mad aspiring autocrat, comments such as that one do not help.)

Just what could Trump say in a secretly recorded conversation that would be all that surprising or scandalous, considering what he says in public?

President Trump takes great pride in his belief that he is an impeccable judge of character and talent. Back in 2016, he said, “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people. We want top of the line professionals. I really don’t want publicity seekers who want to be on magazines or who are out for themselves.” At the 2016 Republican Convention, Ivanka Trump assured us, “he hires the best person for the job, period.” (Then again, you might feel that way, too, if he kept asking your spouse to handle every important responsibility.)

Whether Trump sees it or not, he attracts and seems to prefer sycophants, who often turn out to be grifters eager to cash in on their connections to him. That person in our life who speaks too bluntly and rubs us the wrong way can sometimes be doing us a favor.

‘And the Award For ‘Best Film that Audiences Actually Watched’ Goes To . . . ’

The Academy Awards are adding a special category for “outstanding achievement in popular film”. . . in other words, an Oscar category for films that audiences actually watched.

At least as important, in terms of improving the ratings of the Oscars telecast for ABC, the Academy also said in its letter that it “will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film” in time for the 91st Oscars, adding that “[e]ligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.” Some will complain that adding such a category cheapens the prestige of the Oscars, making it more like the People’s Choice Awards or MTV Movie & TV Awards, but that is old-world thinking. More than the length of the telecast or the name of the host, Oscar ratings have been shown to correlate with the popularity of the nominated films among the general public. And the gulf between what the public buys tickets to see and what the Academy nominates and awards has never been greater.

You could argue that by nominating the lesser-known, smaller-release films, the Academy was urging audiences to take a look at films they otherwise might never encounter or consider. Perhaps the embrace of more obscure and smaller films in recent years reflected an exhaustion with the old criteria of “Oscar bait”: sweeping historical dramas, war films that suggest conflict between nations is meaningless, intense performances of tragic historical figures, actors embracing extreme weight gain or weight loss for a role, actors playing characters with mental or physical handicaps, and heavy-handed message movies.

The speech that Anton Ego, snooty Parisian food critic, gives in the Pixar film Ratatouille has a lot of truth in it:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations; the new needs friends.

But let’s throw in a few kind words for negative criticism, or at least acknowledge the occasional need for it. Sometimes a movie, television show, or book just doesn’t work out. The audience isn’t thrilled, and, like taking apart a malfunctioning machine, it’s useful to see where it went wrong, what part isn’t working, what concepts could have been interesting but just never developed quite right. (Ideally, this sort of rigorous evaluation and editing goes on during the creative process, instead of after the final product is presented to an audience.)

Face it, Hollywood in particular is a cynical business. Studios seem to think audiences will buy tickets to watch anything. Giant companies envision the toy line and merchandising first, and the story second.

The negative critic can be the equivalent of the child in The Emperor’s New Clothes. Sometimes everyone wants a project to succeed and convinces themselves that it is working when it isn’t.

For example, someone might ask, “How could Batman v. Superman fail? It’s got two of the most popular comic-book characters of all time!” And as hordes of bloggers and YouTube-show hosts have observed, besides the exceptionally dark vision of the characters, sometimes a movie just tries to do too much. Batman v. Superman tries to be a sequel to a preceding Superman movie, introduce a new Batman, introduce a new Lex Luthor, introduce Wonder Woman and set up a plot point for her own forthcoming movie, set up an adversarial relationship between Superman and Batman, introduce Doomsday and set up a storyline inspired by “The Death of Superman” storyline from the comics, introduce images that evoke the climactic fight from “The Dark Knight Returns,” offer teases of the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, continue the commentary on whether today’s modern world would trust a figure like Superman, set up a philosophical and ideological clash between the title characters, as well as the physical battle . . .  it’s just too much. Few of those goals are achieved well at all. Really handling all of those points, characters, plot points, and ideas would have probably required something closer to a ten to twelve-hour miniseries.

At the heart of a lot of negative feedback is the hope that the next effort will avoid the same mistake and be better.

ADDENDA: Sonny Bunch with a point that many on the left won’t want to hear:

If you create a world in which you appeal to principles and then weaponize these principles in such a way that only one side of the fight is hurt — a world in which Kevin D. Williamson is canned from the Atlantic while Sarah Jeong maintains her position at the New York Times; a world in which right-wing YouTubers are demonetized while left-wing videos skate by; a world in which conservative voices see their tweets disappear while liberal voices flourish — you encourage people to abandon their principles altogether. (That’s why conservative provocateurs tweet about following “new rules”: They see principles as a weakness, and in a total cultural war, they might not be wrong.)


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