Dear Weekend Jolter,
Moments of national unity are as fleeting as they are rare. September 12, 2001, was one of them.
It’s become something of a political cliché to call for a return to that post-9/11 mindset. How much it has eroded, from then to now, illustrates why we hear this. Pew dug up an interesting figure — after the launch of airstrikes in Afghanistan, 79 percent of adults “said they had displayed an American flag.” Briefly, at a level that was unprecedented and never again matched in the modern age, a broad majority expressed trust in government.
With each successive administration, we’ve become more distant from that sense of shared grief and shared resolve 20 years ago. We frayed first over the Iraq War, a coming-apart that accelerated through the Obama administration and hit full tilt during Trump’s. It continues today. By 2016, Gallup found that a record 77 percent of Americans viewed the nation as divided (the only time in the last few decades the U.S.A. was not dreadfully underwater on that question was after 9/11). In April of this year, an NBC poll found that 82 percent viewed the country as divided. Yet the need to unite clocked in at No. 2 among most-important issues, right after tackling COVID-19.
It’s unclear whether that latter data point is cause for hope or deeper concern. It indicates a yearning to recover a common national spirit, yet together with the top-line number reflects an inability to achieve this goal. The results of our fracturing are clear. Only in this environment could a pandemic’s every detail be forged into a political wedge. J. D. Flynn discussed these societal symptoms in a guest column last weekend. Michael Brendan Dougherty, marking 20 years and assessing our condition, sees little cause for hope:
After 9/11, we thought we would come together, that this challenge would bring us to a new shared common understanding of our civilizational inheritance and appreciation of each other despite our differences. But today, we know better. We hate each other, and so we doubt that our living together in this way is good anymore. In 20 years, the American people have welcomed the Taliban back into power, armed al-Qaeda in several countries, debased our institutions, and turned on each other as the real enemies, the true Taliban.
These toxic divisions are affecting other aspects of the culture. A more polarized press, for instance, is now more likely to overlook the sins of perceived allies and amplify those of perceived enemies, often in hasty fashion. Kevin Williamson examined the implications of this in the wake of Rolling Stone’s correction to a botched story about an ivermectin-overdose epidemic that didn’t happen. It speaks to something deeper, and troubling:
We have closed ranks, socially, in recent years, for a variety of reasons, many of them just blisteringly stupid. . . . It is not that we do not know how to get it right, or even that we do not have the resources to get it right — it is that our petty hatreds and cultural tribalism have led us to believe that it does not matter if we get it right, that lies and misrepresentations about cultural enemies are virtuous in that they serve a “greater truth.” And this is not an exclusively left-wing phenomenon: Donald Trump’s lies, and the distortions and misrepresentations of right-wing talk radio and cable news, are excused and even celebrated on the same grounds.
The test of a political claim in our time is not whether it is true or false but whether it raises or lowers the status of our enemies.
But hey, you might say, isn’t this lament more than a little rich coming from an editor at a partisan media outlet? To quote Ted Lasso, whose broad appeal might be one of our few remaining zones of agreement, “It’s a good point — consider me dunked on.”
In seriousness, debate and disagreement do keep democracy humming. What’s unhealthy is when the driving force behind our debates is not the desire to improve but the tribal impulse to do what Ted confessed was done to him. This instinct infects the national bloodstream; if 9/11 happened today, would we see anything approaching the unity of 2001, or would we see Twitter warfare break out within seconds over military policy, Islamophobia, and the TSA?
Maybe our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan is connected, somehow, to a lost common agenda — shared experience and shared resolve. We should try to recover it.
But enough from me. Here are some thoughts from members of the NR family far more qualified to write on this solemn anniversary. Andrew McCarthy writes about the improvements, and subsequent backsliding, in counterterrorism since. Richard Brookhiser looks back, and ahead. John Hillen offers strategic perspective on what’s likely to be a very long war. Charles C. W. Cooke recalls what it was like watching the horror unfold from abroad in 2001. Kyle finds a wry silver lining.
Look for more on the home page this weekend. For updates on vaccine mandates and other news of the week, scroll.
NAME. RANK. LINK.
It’s safe to say that getting more people vaccinated would be a good thing. But Biden’s COVID-vaccination mandate on private companies sure smells like an overreach — especially considering his past opposition: Biden’s Desperate COVID Overreach
Rich Lowry: When a Western Society Goes Insane
Kyle Smith: Trump’s Legacy Comes into Focus
Michael Brendan Dougherty: Whatever Happened to ‘Follow the Science’?
Gideon Rozner: Australia’s Insane COVID Crackdown Should Frighten Us All
Sarah Schutte & Co.: A Better High-School Reading List
Jay Nordlinger: Refugees and America
John McCormack: Terry McAuliffe Won’t Say if He’d Veto Radical Abortion Bills
David Harsanyi: You Should Definitely Get a Job
Dan McLaughlin: Abraham Lincoln on Why You Should Get a Job
Charles C. W. Cooke: Mr. President, Tear Down This Travel Ban
Charles C. W. Cooke: Biden Is Stuck in a Bind of His Own Making
Alexandra DeSanctis: The ‘Women’s Rights’ Movement Goes Woke
Sean Higgins marks Labor Day by exploring what could be an existential problem for America’s unions: Unions Look to Congress for Survival. They Should Try Listening to Workers Instead
Who doesn’t love a listicle? Chris Edwards has compiled one on why you — yes, you — should oppose more federal spending: Ten Reasons to Oppose More Spending
Boris Ryvkin explains how the American government’s terrible treatment of U.S. expats could get even worse: A New, Two-Pronged Attack on U.S. Expats?
LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.
Armond White is not so charmed by Marvel’s latest addition as was Kyle. The words “sly, globalist trash” were used. Come for the headline, stay for the takedown: Marvel’s Shang-Chi — Crouching Cinema, Hidden Agenda
Brian Allen spotlights the Getty’s extensive contributions to culture and community in Southern California: The Getty Museum’s Good Citizenship and Groundbreaking L.A. Art
EXCERPTS ARE LIKE TWEETS, BUT WITH MORE CHARACTER
John Hillen marks this anniversary by looking ahead, and noting that the dynamics that led to the 9/11 attacks persist:
Twenty years after 9/11, our president and other leaders should be reminding Americans of the profound good that has been accomplished over the past two decades in keeping the country safe and helping many others abroad. But the president should also be steeling his countrymen for a prolonged encounter with, and battle against, militant Islamic groups who aim, as in bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa, to kill Americans. The battle itself is being waged on our behalf by a very small and professional all-volunteer force who exercise their craft and their profession on foreign soil. They prefer to play “away” games. The ones at the tip of the spear, as John Paul Jones famously directed, “intend to go in harm’s way.” Their lives and efforts are not to be wasted, but neither is our military to be pitied or sheltered — as the president implied in his speech of August 31. These military professionals are not seeking to end these deployments if the national-security interest calls for keeping some pattern of them going. We must drop the greatest-generation sentiment of “bring the troops home” while at the same time ensuring that their employment overseas is done with great prudence and discrimination.
Our leaders have done a poor job of preparing the American public to understand the phenomenon of a continued global threat to U.S. national security that is best deterred with a robust, forward presence. Our political leaders must articulate, as some members of Congress have, the relatively low cost of having a high-impact/low-footprint set of deployments around the world (including in Afghanistan) to guard against terrorism and protect American interests. And the public needs to be given the rationale for periodic high-impact/high-footprint deployments in advance of their happening.
Churchill famously told his countrymen in wartime, “I have never promised anything but blood, tears, toil, and sweat.” Our leaders don’t need to ask anything approaching that sacrifice of the American public. But a concerted campaign to explain and support the need for and benefits of a robust and forward-deployed strategy to counter Islamic terrorism for the foreseeable future would be a very fitting observance of the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Rich Lowry talks to those on the ground and details how the Texas abortion law has, to the surprise of even its supporters, effectively served to halt most abortions in the state:
The animating idea was to keep the law out of the courts entirely by forbidding state officials to enforce it, thereby denying the federal judiciary the ability to “enjoin” the enforcement of the law, while simultaneously making the civil-liability sanctions for violating the law so severe that abortion providers would comply, obviating the need for anyone to sue them in state court and keeping the state judiciary from weighing in on the statute’s constitutionality.
Both of those mechanisms have worked brilliantly so far.
The Supreme Court didn’t grant the abortion providers their request for emergency relief because there was no one to enjoin, in a stark illustration of Jonathan Mitchell’s point about how judicial review works. There were eight defendants, including a state judge, a court clerk, various state officials, and Mark Lee Dickson.
The defendants who were state officials have nothing to do with the enforcement of the law, so they cannot be sued in federal court. . . .
Meanwhile, there is a huge sword hanging over the heads of Texas abortion providers that compels them to comply rather than risk the prospect of endless private-enforcement lawsuits.
Any abortion provider who violates Senate Bill 8 can be sued by anyone (other than a state-government official or employee) and required to pay at least $10,000 for each illegal abortion performed, plus court costs and attorneys’ fees. Since anyone who aids or abets the abortion is equally liable, the administrative assistant can be sued, the landlord who rents the property can be sued, any vendor providing material support can be sued.
Australia’s COVID-lockdown craze is a warning to the Western world. Here’s Gideon Rozner with a detailed account from Melbourne about how bad it’s gotten:
Whatever happened back in March 2020, it has set off some kind of bureaucratic chain reaction — one that has overwhelmed our checks and balances, upended almost every norm of liberal democratic governance, and radically altered the relationship between state and citizen, perhaps for decades.
Almost 18 months after the coronavirus hit our shores, Victoria and New South Wales — our two largest states, making up almost 60 percent of Australia’s population — are under lockdown. Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, is at the time of this writing about to surpass London’s record as the most locked-down city in the world, clocking up a combined 207 days and counting.
Our lockdowns are also among the world’s harshest. Here in Melbourne, you’re permitted to leave your home for no longer than two hours a day for exercise and once more to go to the shops. A curfew is in place between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Travel farther than three miles from your home is prohibited. Fines for breaching these and sundry subsidiary restrictions range from $1,300 to $15,000 (U.S. dollars).
The rest of the country is technically “open,” but many places are subject to various restrictions, including mask mandates — even outdoors — and occupancy limits so stringent that they render many businesses unprofitable. And lockdowns are never far away anyway, as state leaders tend to trigger stay-at-home orders after absurdly low case numbers. Sydney’s lockdown was declared in June when the state had just 82 active cases. Melbourne’s lockdown needed only six.
We ran a few items this week on the importance of, well, getting a dang job if a dang job is available (and many are). But Dan McLaughlin, NR’s resident history buff, brings home the point wielding the contents of Abe Lincoln’s brutally honest letters to his mooching stepbrother. Here’s a snippet; read the post for the rest:
Your request for eighty dollars, I do not think it best, to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little, you have said to me “We can get along very well now” but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler. I doubt whether since I saw you, you have done a good whole day’s work in any one day. You do not very much dislike to work; and still you do not work much, merely because it does not seem to you that you could get much for it. This habit of uselessly wasting time, is the whole difficulty; and it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your children that you should break this habit. It is more important to them, because they have longer to live, and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it; easier than they can get out after they are in.
Steven Malanga, at City Journal: When Flags Waved
Peter Hasson and Houston Keene, at Fox News: State Dept trying to steal credit for rescue of 4 Americans from Afghanistan, organizer says
Patrick Hauf, at the Washington Free Beacon: Labor Board Rebukes Union for Threatening Worker
Eric Boehm, at Reason: North Carolina Banned This Beer Because Bureaucrats Dislike the Label
Speaking of national unity, we did experience one more moment of it on a Sunday night in May ten years ago. Many of us in the news business were called to work, having picked up rumors about a big announcement from the White House — maybe the big announcement. It sure was. “Justice has been done,” Obama reported at last. Osama bin Laden was dead, killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. For a beat, all the vitriol of the Bush and the Obama administrations — of the War on Terror and the Great Recession and Obamacare — evaporated. Crowds emptied into the streets in Manhattan, outside the White House, likely in cul-de-sacs across America. The great national wound had been avenged, and this is part of what drove us into the streets. This writer will submit as well that we were a country in desperate need of something to agree on; only the morally unmoored could mourn the death of a man so vile. So we celebrated.
What does this have to do with a song? It’s a memory is all, and part of that memory is listening that week to the radio, which marked the occasion by playing “Don’t Tread on Me,” of all things. The Metallica song never exactly achieved anthem status, but it felt right in the moment. It apparently caused a stir when it was released, too. This Rolling Stone interview from 1991 with James Hetfield is fantastic. He speaks, in the way only the profanity-weaving front man of Metallica can, about the negative reaction the band faced for writing something so pro-America on the heels of an album renowned for its anti-war themes:
He contends that “Don’t Tread on Me” is really a reaction to what he now feels was the overzealous anti-American tone of Justice.
“Like, ‘Oh, what a bunch of complainers,’ ” Hetfield says. “This is the other side of that. America is a f***ing good place. I definitely think that. And that feeling came about from touring a lot. You find out what you like about certain places and you find out why you live in America, even with all the bad f***ed-up sh**. It’s still the most happening place to hang out.”
“People have hated us for worse things,” Hetfield adds with a bored shrug. “If they don’t like Metallica because of one thing I said in one song, then they’re really f***ed.”
Here’s John Miller with a shout-out to this same song back in 2006.
Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.