Making the click-through worthwhile: Kevin Hart is defenestrated, a shakeup in the White House, and the special counsel sits on two documents that people are eager to read. Jim Geraghty will be back next week.
Kevin Hart is the latest casualty of old tweets. The comedian was set to host the Academy Awards until tweets surfaced from 2009 in which he made a series of homophobic jokes. For a time, Hart was silent, before posting an Instagram video in which he did not apologize, but instead said this: “If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don’t know what to tell you. If you want to hold people in a position where they always have to justify or explain their past, then do you. I’m the wrong guy, man.”
They did them, all right, by which I mean the masses acted like the masses by continuing to demand Hart’s head on a pike while culture-industry decision-makers acted like culture-industry decision-makers by (likely, I’m no entertainment insider) informing Hart that he was to apologize and withdraw from the Oscars gig. Which he did, twelve hours ago, via Twitter. There’s a perhaps impolitic observation to make about Hart’s being forced out of hosting an awards show that made self-flagellation for its purported lily-whiteness and outreach to African Americans its major priorities in recent years. Speaking of priorities, here’s another impolitic observation from Jerry Dunleavy:
It is pretty interesting that Harvey Weinstein’s egregious sexual misconduct was an open secret in Hollywood for like decades but it took Kevin Hart roughly 24 hours to get pushed aside over his offensive tweets.
— Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) December 7, 2018
When the most-recent storm of performative outrage caused another comedian to apologize for his comedy, Kevin D. Williamson was (as usual) a must-read. “At some point,” he wrote,
. . . maybe in a few weeks and maybe in a few years, this current fad of serial mass hysterias — driven in part by social media and amplified by the news media and entertainment media — will pass. Some people will look back on it and be embarrassed, but most people will not, because they do not have the intelligence or the moral depth to be embarrassed by it. It will go the way of hula hoops and screaming at the Beatles with religious fervor. This is mostly a game, not a moral panic . . .
Accordingly, KDW advised the comedian in question to stop apologizing: Treating these serial mass hysterias with the seriousness they deserve — i.e., none — and refusing to play the game is the appropriate response, and if enough entertainers do that, then people will stop trying to defenestrate them. But as the Hart episode illustrates, there’s a sort of collective-action problem here. Defending yourself rather than apologizing imposes costs, intensifying outrage in the near-term and generating uncertainty in the longer-term. The first comedian who doesn’t apologize stands out. Why didn’t he just bite the bullet? What’s going to happen to his career? These cycles have a familiar rhythm: First the problematic material surfaces, then the pile-on ensues, after which the public figure apologizes and people eventually forget what happened. But if you don’t apologize, well, you’re in uncharted waters. Good for Hart for trying to defend himself, at least at first, but his eventual capitulation was as depressing as it was foreseeable.
An Uncontroversial Barr
Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general was one of the more appropriately controversial moves of his presidency. Whitaker was once a talking head on cable news who often criticized the special-counsel probe and now finds himself in charge of it, but the more-pressing issue has been whether his appointment is constitutional. The Vacancies Reform Act empowers the president to appoint temporary replacements to offices left vacant, but the Constitution stipulates that “principal officers” — those who report directly to the president — must be confirmed by the Senate. Before his appointment, Whitaker was Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff, which is an “inferior office” not requiring Senate confirmation. Constitutional scholars found themselves debating a question that had never been litigated before — and was now at the center of our politics.
Interesting as it is, the question is likely now moot, as Trump has decided to nominate William P. Barr to be the next attorney general. Barr was attorney general in the George H. W. Bush administration between 1991 and 1993, so qualification for the position is not an issue. Barr boasts a strong résumé and has been out of the public eye for years, so it’s difficult to see any obstacles to his being confirmed.
Trump’s New Orbiters
CNN reports that White House chief of staff John Kelly is “expected” to resign “in the coming days.” “The two have stopped speaking in recent days,” the network reports. Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, has long been seen as next in line. There’s been chatter about Kelly’s future since he took the job, so wait-and-see might be the best approach. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal notes other moves inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:
The president’s election campaign said Friday that two senior White House aides, Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, would be leaving their posts and joining the 2020 Trump campaign team. Mr. Trump also told reporters before leaving the White House that he would nominate Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, as the new ambassador to the United Nations.
Also, Ben Howard, an aide to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.), will be joining the White House as a deputy on Mr. Trump’s legislative-affairs team, Mr. Scalise said Friday.
Meanwhile, Trump sent a series of tweets this morning attacking Robert Mueller’s investigation, hours before Mueller was set to file more details in the prosecution of Paul Manafort and the plea agreement with Michael Cohen.