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Of White People and the New York Times

  • The latest addition to The New York Times’ editorial board is a young woman named Sarah Jeong, and although it wasn’t the most momentous story on Thursday it was the one that caught our eye. After so many decades in the newspaper business we still follow the big hires, and this one comes with one of those racial brouhahas we can’t resist commenting on.
    Jeong is of Asian heritage, as you might have already surmised from the name, and she’s a liberal, as you might have already surmised from her hiring by The New New York Times, and although those obvious facts should have little bearing on the story of course it does in this day and age. So far Jeong’s generally white and mostly right-of-center critics aren’t criticizing her for being Asian, but these days almost everyone in the public eye has a history of spouting off on social media and other internet niches in controversial ways, and Jeong apparently has a history of writing rather harsh things about white people. The bowdlerized versions of several “tweets” require numerous asterisks to convey her chosen epithet about white people, and another expressed that “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get from being cruel to old white men.”
    Being old white men our first instinct is to take offense, but there’s so much offense to be taken these days by almost everybody that we’re trying to stay off the stuff, and by now we know these things are always complicated.
    Jeong’s defense is that she’d been “trolled” by seemingly white and explicitly racist commenters on the internet, and was only responding in kind. We don’t doubt that a liberal writer with a noticeably Asian name has been subjected to obnoxious harassment by racist old white men in the comments section of an internet site, and can well understand why she might be provoked to respond in unkind, but we’d like to think that such an august American newspaper as The New York Times would hold its editorial board to a higher standard. On the other hand, we’d prefer a Republican president who doesn’t feel obliged to punch back ten times harder in similarly stupid fashion against any caustic internet commenter, and by now we realize that we can’t always get what we want.
    Jeong’s defenders are also reviving the familiar argument that she can’t be guilty of racism because she’s not white, which is as noisome to our old white ears as ever. The argument holds that racism is not merely an animus toward other races but rather a political system or the majority oppressing the minority, and that non-white are therefore blameless by their powerlessness, agency, and even the most well-intentioned white folks are guilty by virtue of how well things might be going for them.
    The argument has never held up in the ope skies of our real lives. We’ve had many fine African-American and Hispanic and Asian and Native Americans friends in our lives, but we’ve also encountered people in each group who had a prejudiced dislike to us based on our skin tone, and if they’re racist by the politically correct definition they’re aspiring racists who would happily oppress us if they could. We’ve had street and school hall encounters with minorities where they held all the power, and can well understand why the guy in the “Make America Great” ball cap at the latest Trump rally doesn’t consider himself more privileged than than the latest hire on The New York Times’ editorial board.
    Still, we can’t blame any of our current woes on the systemic anti-white oppression that somehow persists in the era of President Donald Trump, and we’ll not worry that Jeong’s missives from the editorial pages of The New York Times will much disturb us. There were some conservative “tweets” lamenting that the estimable National Review columnist Kevin Williamson lost a prestigious job at The Atlantic Monthly because of some past “tweets” about abortion that went far beyond even our pro-life sympathies, and finding double standard in the liberal media, and although he’s controversial in conservative circles for prescribing the same harsh get-off-your-ass  medicine to the white underclass that conservatives has always preached to the minority underclass he’s suddenly a darling of the Trump-ian right. He came out squarely on the side of The New York Times’ right to hire whomever the hell it wants, and that’s pretty much all we have to say about it.

    — Bud Norman

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The Lonesome Death of La David Johnson

The death of Army Sgt. La David Johnson was an American tragedy, and now it’s the latest political brouhaha.
Johnson and Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright were killed on Oct. 4 by an ambush attack in Niger, where they were apparently on an intelligence-gathering mission against the Boko Haram terror gang. The deaths were given scant attention by the national media, and didn’t warrant a single presidential mention until Monday. At a brief press conference President Donald Trump was asked about the 12 days of silence, and of course his response put the story on all the front pages and the top of everybody’s news hour.
Rather than directly answer the question Trump said that his predecessors had routinely failed to offer any condolences to the families of fallen soldiers, which was promptly refuted and quickly backtracked to some extent, but Trump also demanded the press ask his Chief of Staff about how his son’s death in combat was handled by President Barack Obama, who turns out to have invited the family to a seat of honor a memorial dinner, so that was enough for another day of outraged stories. Trump then did get around to calling the Johnson family, but wound up accused of being disrespectful.
Among the people listening in on the call was Democratic Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who coincidentally has had a long and close relationship with the Johnsons, and the told reporters that Trump had callously told Johnson’s widow and the aunt who had raised him as a son that “he knew what he was signing up for,” and that his references to “your guy” rather than Sgt. Jonson or La David had the led the widow to believe that Trump didn’t know her husband’s name. Trump responded with a “tweet” that Wilson was lying, and alleging he had proof, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later acknowledge Trump did not have a recording of the call and assured the media that just because Trump kept referring to Johnson as “your guy” did not mean he didn’t know the name. The aunt soon corroborated Wilson’s account of the call, and that was enough for another day of outraged stories.
Wilson is a partisan Democrat  who strikes us as slightly kooky, and for all we know the grieving aunt is as well, but what they allege Trump said does sound an awful lot like something he might say. Offering empathy and carefully-worded condolences in times of tragedy is not one of Trump’s strong suits.
He infamously dismissed the heroic sacrifice of Sen. John McCain’s extra years in a hellish North Vietnamese prison camp by saying “I like guys who’d didn’t get captured, OK?” He publicly ridiculed the parents of a Muslim American soldier who died fighting in Iraq after they dared speak against him at the Democratic National Convention. When a hurricane left Puerto Rico underwater and without electrical power he “tweeted” about the island’s debt and laziness, lambasted the mayor of the capital city, tossed papers towel into a crowd of suddenly homeless refugees, told individual survivors to “have a good time,” then “tweeted” that the federal relief won’t last forever. He also waited 12 long days of golf and “twitter” feuds with with National Football League players and fellow Republicans before mentioning the four deaths in Niger, and then only because a reporter had asked about it, and there’s still no explanation for that.
The press has other stories, too. Trump promised a personal $25,000 check to the grieving father of a fallen soldier who had been excluded from the Army’s family benefits because of a divorce, but that was last June and the check didn’t get sent until The Washington Post reported the unkept promise on Wednesday, which recalls another and much bigger check that Trump promised to veterans organizations but went unsent until The Washington Post weighed in. The president’s chief of staff has long been careful to keep his son’s tragic death out of the news, too, and his continued silence on the subject has also been noteworthy.
As much as we hate to see the tragic deaths of those four brave Americans become a political brouhaha, we’re glad to see that at least they’re being prominently mentioned in the news. There are valid questions about the nature of the mission they’d been sent on, what sort of intelligence failures led to their demise, what America is doing in a place called Niger in the first place, and why the administration was not more forthcoming with answers. We don’t doubt that there are valid answers, and that some of them can’t be offered without revealing classified information that might put other brave American soldiers at risk, but the grieving families and the public at large deserve that cautious explanation and some carefully-worded empathy. So long as the Trump administration can’t muster that, we expect it will suffer at least a few more days of outraged stories.

— Bud Norman

No Way to Treat a Lady

One should never call a woman a slut, unless she’s into that, and it would have been better if Rush Limbaugh had not done so. Still, the indignation of his critics is hard to bear.

If you’ve limited your news reading to the important things, you might have missed the story. In the wake of the Obama administration’s decision that the Catholic church should provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization for the employees of its hospitals, schools and other large institutions, a Georgetown University law student with the intriguing name of Sandra Fluke spoke before an unofficial congressional hearing about the burdensome injustice of not being provided contraceptive coverage by the Catholic school. Radio commentator Limbaugh disapprovingly commented on her comments during his popular program, and in the course of his commentary he likened her to a prostitute and referred to her as a “slut.” Much tsk-tsking ensued from the rest of the commenting industry, several politicians expressed grave offense, outraged activist groups scared away some advertisers, and Limbaugh wound up apologizing at length on consecutive broadcasts.

Such broadcasting brouhahas pop up from time to time, heaping massive amounts of publicity on the offending speaker before fading from the public’s memory, and this is just another one of them. Limbaugh’s many enemies are hoping to make the most of it, however, and it should be noted that their protests are censorious, opportunistic, and hypocritical.

The president apparently called Fluke “to express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks,” but he won’t be returning the million bucks that was raised for his campaign by foul-mouthed comedian Bill Maher, who has refused to apologize for calling former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin an ever harsher epithet that does not bear repeating here. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Republicans to disavow “the vicious and appropriate attacks,” but had no public opinion when television wag David Letterman insinuated that Palin’s apolitical daughter was promiscuous. Rep. Steny Hoyer is apparently advising Fluke to sue, but offered no such advice to conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz called her a “right-wing slut.”

Examples of such liberal vitriol abound, as any prominent conservative woman will attest, and are in keeping with the generally degraded nature of contemporary popular culture. Since the days of Lenny Bruce and The Berkeley Barb the cultural left has championed vulgarity, profanity, and the personal attack as authentic and liberating, and at this late date it’s galling to hear them complain that some of it has seeped in to Limbaugh’s shtick.

Still, it would have been better if Limbaugh hadn’t said that. It’s not only unseemly, so very like the sort of people he usually rails against, but it also distracted from a fair critique of a ridiculous young woman who chose to thrust herself into the national political discourse. Fluke’s notion that her rights are being violated if the government doesn’t pay for it will prove extremely expensive if put into practice, given that we’ve all got a right to guns and many other costly things, and she deserves ridicule. It’s bad enough when people think the world owes them a living, but Fluke seems to think it owes her some loving as well.

Which is not meant to imply any promiscuity on her part, of course. She’s no doubt a fine young woman, just slightly mistaken.

— Bud Norman