Trump and the Tale of Two Tell-Alls

As if he didn’t already have enough problems to deal with, President Donald Trump has a couple of “tell all” books coming out soon that he has “tweet” angrily about and try to have censored. One is by his former national security advisor, John Bolton, the other is by his niece, Mary Trump, and based on what’s been previewed in the press by their publishers both books are damning.
At this point most of the media attention has been paid to Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” which alleges that Trump was not only guilty of using foreign aid to get reelection help from Ukraine but also sought assistance from China and other countries, that Trump is woefully ignorant of the world and pays scant attention to his intelligence briefings, indulges the world’s dictators in their most brutal methods of holding power, and openly mused about having American journalists executed. That’s just what’s been previewed, and presumably the full book if chockfull of similarly outrageous allegations.
Many of the media don’t know quite what to say about it, as Bolton is a controversial figure in his own right. He served on previous administrations and was known his decidedly hawkish opinions about foreign, which were sometimes a bit too hawkish for even for the Cold Warriors in the Republican establishment, and naturally he was reviled by the left. He seemed an odd choice for Trump, who has denounced not only the Iraq War that Bolton urged but pretty much the entirety of America’s post-World War II foreign policy, but he’d let his first national security go after he was found to have lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a second one reportedly was let go because Trump found his security briefings too boring and know-it-all, and Bolton was available and helped reassure all the hawks still remaining in the party.
The leftward side of the media is glad for any mud they can hurl at Trump but aren’t willing to forgive Bolton for his past transgressions, and they argue that Bolton should have been more forthcoming in time to testify at Trump’s impeachment trial. The rightward side of the media see him as a traitor to the Trump cause, even if he’s being true to his principles, and will pretend they didn’t once defense Bolton and his hawkish principles. Soon the reading public will be able to draw it’s own conclusions, and so far the books sounds entirely believable.
The House hearings that led to Trump’s impeachment proved that Trump tried to extort Ukraine for reelection help, and Trump told a national television interviewer that he saw nothing wrong with getting help from foreign governments, has openly asked both Russia and China for such assistance, so Bolton’s accounts about that are credible. Trump has said enough stupid things about the world in the past four years we have no difficulty believing that he wasn’t aware the United Kingdom had nuclear weapons and thought Finland was part of Russia and that he would be justified in invading Venezuela because “it’s part of the United States,” as Bolton alleges. Trump told interviewers during the campaign that America lacked the moral standing to condemn other country’s totalitarian tendencies, he looked the other way when the Saudi Arabian dictatorship brutally murdered a Washington Post columnist, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’d openly mused about killing some of the “enemies of the people” in the American press.
Bolton was often a bit too hawkish even four neoconservative sensibility, and we were disappointed when he agreed to be an ill-fitting piece in the Trump administration, and he should have spoken out sooner, but we’re inclined to believe what he has to say.
You’ll also be hearing a lot about “Too Much is Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” whose author is identified on the cover as Mary L. Trump, Phd. The daughter of Trump’s brother Fred, who famously died at an early age for alcoholism-related reasons, she fought a protracted court battle against her uncle over her grandfather’s will, which got so nasty that the current president even cut off the medical insurance that Fred Trump Sr. had been paying for Fred Jr.’s family. There’s clearly some bad blood among the extended Trump family, but Mary Trump’s doctorate is in clinical psychology, and her scathing diagnosis of her uncle also fits with everyone we know about the guy. The juiciest tidbit that’s been previewed so far is that Trump mocked and derided his father when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s disease, and that fits with Trump’s habit of mocking anyone’s weakness.
Trump is still hoping to block publication of both books, even if it seems a little too late to prevent the damage they might do him, and censorship never makes a politician look good. He’s claiming that by recounting any conversation Bolton ever had with the president he’s illegally releasing classified information, and that his niece is bound by a nondisclosure agreement she signed as part of the settlement in that family feud over Fred Sr.’s money. The Bolton book has been scrutinized by federal officials and found to be in compliance with the law, though, and Trump doesn’t look good as one of the very rare uncles who had a niece sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Trump has bigger problems than a couple of books that only confirm what people already knew, and he’d be well advised not to give them any further publicity. Trump fans will either choose to disbelieve what the authors have to say, or to believe that it’s no big deal. Those opposed to Trump were already opposed, and anyone who’s still on the fence probably doesn’t read books or even the snippets that are previewed in the press.

— Bud Norman

The Saga of Ivanka and Wichita

The coronavirus and recession and anti-racism protests and recent high winds notwithstanding, the big story here in Wichita is about Ivanka Trump.
The First Daughter and White House senior advisor was invited to give a “virtual commencement address’ at Wichita State University Tech’s “virtual graduation ceremony,” then was disinvited after hundreds of students and faculty and alumni objected, and since then other alumni and some major donors have raised such a fuss about the dis-invitation that the WSU president found himself facing the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday with his job on the line. For now Jay Golden remains president of the university, but the city remains divided about that.
We’ve not heard any explanation for why Trump was invited to virtually speak at the virtual ceremony in the first place, but guess it had something to do with her attention-grabbing appearance at the school last year with Secretary of State and hometown boy Mike Pompeo, which was in her tole as a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which has something to do with WSU Tech. The outcry that led to Trump’s dis-invitation was more easily understood, given how Trump’s and her father’s policies offend liberal sensibilities.
The offense felt by the city’s many Trump-loving Republicans was also understandable, and some of them have considerable sway with the university, as well as the Board of Regents. There are no doubt many students and more than a few faculty at WSU who like both Trump and her Dad, but at this point they’re less likely than the anti-Trump types to sign petitions and make angry phone calls and send angry e-mails, and what put the university’s president in front of the Board of Regents were threats that many well-heeled donors might stop donating to the suddenly cash-strapped university. Early reports in the local media warned that might include Koch Industries, owned by local multi-multi-billionaire and philanthropist and free-market activist Charles Koch, who annually donates more than $10 million to his hometown university.
A Koch spokesman quickly clarified that the company intended to honor all of its commitments to the university, politely added that Koch’s very libertarian beliefs call for free expression of all points of view, but further explained that Koch did not involve himself in the university’s personnel matters. We were not surprised, given that Koch’s classical conservatism never cared much for President Donald Trump’s trade wars and immigration extremism and deficit spending and other governmental intrusions into a free market economy, and that given his far greater wealth he wasn’t much impressed by Trump’s business acumen. He didn’t give a dime to Trump’s campaign, and said that choosing between Trump and Hillary Clinton was like choosing either a heart attack or cancer. So long as the university’s Wheatshockers basketball team keeps winning at Charles Koch Arena, we figure he’s not likely to abandon WSU nor its president because Ivanka Trump’s feelings were hurt.
The dis-invitation of Ivanka Trump got a lot of play in the national print and electronic media, which is always exciting for us usually ignored Wichitans, and her complaint that it was a result of a “culture of cancel” set off some interesting debates. The rest of the country won’t concern itself with what becomes of our local university’s president in the aftermath, and it’s probably for the best we work that out here in Kansas.
Being from around here and having a rooting interest in the ‘Shockers we’re forced to take sides, although we prefer our usual seat on the sidelines. Even here in conservative Wichita modern academia does tend limit debate to the leftward side, which offends our homegrown conservative sensibilities, but we’re no more inclined than Koch to involve ourselves in WSU’s personnel matters. We also have our principled free-market objections to many Trump policies, and although we’re not nearly so rich as Trump we’re not nearly so indebted and therefore also doubt his business acumen, and we too care little about the feelings of the rich and pampered daughter and her nepotistic position in life.
This Golden guy hasn’t been president of WSU for very long, so it’s too early to assess how goo he is, but until this controversy he’d not been controversial. All in all, we think he’s handled it pretty well. WSU Tech is a technical school that trains workers for the local high-tech aerospace industry, and although it’s on the WSU campus it’s technically a separate entity from the university, so Golden could have plausibly passed the buck on both the invitation and the dis-invitation, but instead he said “I own it,” which we thought impressive in this day and age. He removed Ivanka Trump from the official “virtual graduation ceremony” but didn’t censor her, adding a link to her videotaped “virtual commencement address” for anyone who wanted to hear it, which struck us as a reasonable compromise.
WSU is a crucial component of our humble prairie hometown, which is reeling along with the rest of the country from coronavirus and recession and racial tensions and all the rest of it, and we wish it the best. It’s right across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store, and we know many of its students and faculty, and have watched all construction and activity going on there with great interest. Our liberal friends grouse that Koch and the local aviation industry are driving everything to have a capable workforce, but so long as the fuzzier disciplines are funded we don’t share their concerns about that, and despite a slew of transfers a strong recruiting class should make the ‘Shocks competitive if there’s another basketball season next fall.
Free speech will persist, and Ivanka Trump’s feelings don’t matter, so go Shocks! If This Golden guy is the right guy to make that happen, we hope he lasts.

— Bud Norman

Trump Versus Twitter

President Donald Trump met with head “Twitter” honcho Jack Dorsey on Tuesday, and it made for a lively discussion. According a a “tweet” from “Twitter” the two were to talk about “protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 election and efforts underway to respond the opioid crisis,” but much of it was reportedly spent with Trump’s gripes about his favorite way of speaking directly to the public.
Trump’s battles with the old-fashioned print and broadcast media are well known, but he’s also been picking fights with all the newfangled social media and the rest of the internet industry. He’s accused Facebook of suppressing his supporters’ voices, charged the Google search engine with directing its users to unfavorable stories, and told reporters that the government “might have to do something about it.” He’s now complaining that the number of his “Twitter” “followers,” who automatically see Trump’s “tweets” on their computers or tablets or smart phones or whatever other kind of device they’ve devised, is lately falling.
Trump takes his crowd sizes and poll numbers and television ratings “Twitter” following personally, so we can imagine he was none too pleased, and implying that he would do something about it. Dorsey, a slim and bearded and hippy-looking of typical Silicon Valley youthfulness, who despite having more billions in net worth than Trump probably has was unable to purchase a neck tie for his Oval Office meeting, did not seem intimidated in videos and photographs the old media printed and broadcast.
Dorsey had reasons for Trump’s declining numbers that had nothing to do with political bias, and so far as we can tell, given our considerable ignorance about how this internet thingamajig works, they’re persuasive. He explains that the company routinely reviews the followers of all its “tweeters” to remove fraudulent “spam” accounts, partly to ensure its advertisers that the numbers are real and partly to guard against foreign meddling in the vast political conservation that “Twitter” plays an outsized role in. That might only persuade Trump to rail further against the practice, but at this point Dorsey is probably more intimidated by his paying customers and the Congressional oversight committee looking into foreign meddling and other Trump-related internet issues.
Trump is unlikely to “tweet” that the government should shut down “Twitter,” and this hippy-dippy billionaire Dorsey fellow has no incentive to run afoul of any branch of the government. He’s met with several right wing figures with complaints of censorship, which has angered left wing “Twitter” users who clamor for censorship, but he’s also allied with Facebook and Google and the rest of Silicon Valley’s Big Social Media.
Besides, Dorsey can plausibly figure that Trump needs “Twitter” more than “Twitter” needs Trump. The president has made “Twitter” famous, but it was already famous when Trump started “tweeting.” With some 60 million followers still logged in Trump is an even bigger draw than any of the athletes or musicians or movie stars on the platform, but for now he doesn’t have a better way to speak directly to those 60 million presumably real people without the mainstream media’s annoying edits and annotations. “Twitter” is the perfect medium for short attention span readers who enjoy a good schoolyard taunt and bully boy rhetoric and don’t mind the misspellings and improper punctuation, and we notice that Trump — or @realDonaldTrump” as he’s known to his followers — was uncharacteristically restrained in “tweeting” about “Twitter.”
“Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter,” Trump “tweeted.” “Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue!”
Which sounds very chummy, and might well be, and if so that would probably be for the best. Even if all those damnable @’s and other internet gibberish are painful to our Gutenberg-era eyes, this internet thingamajig is how we’re communicating with you at this moment, so we hope this newfangled idea somehow endures through the old-fashioned principles of the First Amendment and free markets. If that means Trump keeps on “tweeting,” and so do all his equally illiterate and bully boy critics, so be it.

— Bud Norman

Nat Hentoff, RIP

The first notable death of the year is that of journalist and author and critic Nat Hentoff, who died Saturday at the age of 91, and although that’s a ripe old age we wish he could have stuck around a bit longer. For the most of his seven-decades-long career and even right up to the end he was one of those durned back east big city liberals we’re always railing against, but he was one of the rare principled sorts who really did believe in life and liberty and individualism and everything else that liberalism claims to champion, so such principled conservatives as ourselves will need such stubbornly independent allies in the coming years.
Hentoff was born to Russian and Jewish immigrant parents in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, which way back then was a hotbed of both orthodox Judaism and radical politics, and by the age of 12 he was spending Yom Kippur conspicuously eating a salami sandwich on his tenement’s porch steps to signal his affiliation with the latter influence. A star student at America’s oldest public high school, Hentoff went off to Northeastern University, where he ran in to trouble as the student newspaper’s editor by publishing accounts of anti-Semitism at the the school, but still graduated with honors and started a career in journalism.
The jazz-crazed Hentoff’s first gig was as a music columnist with Downbeat, at that time the very Bible of jazz criticism, but despite an avid readership he was forced out after a few years because of his outspoken insistence the magazine hire more black writers. He then started a short-lived but briefly influential jazz journal of his own, and would later write several important books about the subject, and although he liked all that noisome be-bop and modernism more than we did his writings celebrated the glorious freedom of both the old and new jazz with a passion that’s still worth reading.
After that Hentoff wound up at the Village Voice, which was then as now the very Bible of radical chic liberalism, and at that point he was so eager to get out of the contentious field of jazz criticism that he started covering politics. He mostly concerned himself with any governmental attempts to restrict freedom of expression or pretty much any other freedom, and way back in the ’50s and into the ’60s he could find plenty of material about censorious right-winters and foul-mouth comedians and gay bars and Watergate to satisfy his avid liberal readership. He was still at it when we first started reading him in our junior high’s library in the ’70s, and although we picked up the Village Voice mostly because it gave our teenaged punk sensibilities a certain satisfaction to refute its radical chic liberalism we usually had to admit that the Hentoff guy had a point. Something in our own much-later prairie protestant upbringing in a hot bed of conservative orthodoxy had imbued a similar philosophy of First Amendment absolutism, and we vowed not to abandon that even for the sake of our side.
By the time we started our own journalism career in the early ’80s the liberals had been in charge for a while, at least in part because of Hentoff’s compelling arguments, and we already were noticing that they were suddenly the censorious and bossy ones. Conservative speakers were being literally shouted down at campus appearances and orthodox religious viewpoints were being excluded from public discussion, and all sorts of folks were suddenly confronted with new rules and regulations they never voted on. Hentoff couldn’t help noticing, either, and we have to admire that he wouldn’t abandon his First Amendment absolutism even for the sake of his side. He wrote column after column excoriating the rescinded commencement address invitations to conservative speakers, the silliness of a campus culture that insisted on ideological purity, the charges of racism leveled against any who dared speak out against the ostensible consensus on race, or the charges of homophobia against anyone who hewed to traditional religion, or any of the familiar rest of it. Of course it didn’t play well with his erstwhile avid readership on the left, and neither did it gain him much from respect from his erstwhile enemies on the right, but that’s all the more reason we’re going to miss the guy.
In his final years Hentoff was still as outspokenly atheistic as ever, but he was every bit as anti-abortion as any Orthodox rabbi, making a case for life from the very moment of conception to the end that was probably all the more convincing to many readers because it was grounded in the scientific and secular principles he’d always championed, and he even wound up writing admiringly of the radically anti-government Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during that past crazy election year. Although we’re not so crazy about Paul ourselves neither are we crazy about the Republican president-elect with the censorious streak and the crazy idea that his government can make America great again, and although Hentoff was still a back east big city atheist liberal to the end we think we could have used his help in a time when principled conservatives few few and far between. In any case we wish Hentoff well, and hope that the God he never believed in will nonetheless welcome his soul to the perfect freedom he always wanted for the rest of us.

— Bud Norman

Go Ahead and Hate the Press, but Keep Loving the Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press has taken a beating over the past seven years and couple of months or so, and at the moment it doesn’t seem likely to fare any better over the next four years.
The Democratic Party has long shown a censorious streak, with both self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreeing that the country must overturn the hated Citizens United decision that ruled the government can’t stop the airing of an anti-Clinton documentary, and academia writing Orwellian speech codes and carving out “safe spaces” from the free exchange of ideas, and the more robust activists calling for “some muscle” to expel the press the public square, and a news and media culture that shames anyone who expresses certain proscribed opinions. By now we’re used to it, and know from history that it comes as a necessary component of any admittedly socialist movement that would quash a number of other human rights, but until this year we’ve never heard a Republican candidate and self-described conservative openly boasting that if elected president he would use the powers of the presidency to punish his press critics.
That has happened, though, thanks to the always boastful self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul Donald J. Trump, who is somehow at the moment the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Speaking to a typically large and adoring crowd in Texas, Trump denounced entire media as the “most dishonest people I ever met,” sneered at The New York Times as a “failing newspaper” and “most dishonest media outlets I’ve ever seen in my life,” and despite expressing his respect for Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos he said that “he wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it,” which is all standard Republican stump fare, and all fair enough, but of course he went further. Expounding on his seemingly impromptu rant, Trump said, “Believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” After the crowd lustily cheered on this promise of retribution against press outlets for exercising their First Amendment right to publish something that did not serve the interests of Trump, he added that “One of the things I’m going to do, and this is only going to make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope I do and we’re certainly leading, is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws.”
All the Trump apologists who magically appear in the comments section below any article critical of their knight-in-white-armor-and-thin-and-orange-skin will note that the Times and Post are indeed awful publications, which we’ve already acknowledge is standard Republican stump fare and fair enough, and they’ll note how censorious the Democrats are, which is true but irrelevant, and some will even venture some criticisms of the Sullivan v. New York Times decision that has since 1964 defined the wide-open standards of public discourse, although any attempt to explain how a press is still free so long as it meets Trump’s notions of fairness and accuracy and positivity are obviously wrong. What matters, though, and what no Trump apologist can deny, is that their tough-talking truth-telling hero is loudly and unabashedly threatening that if elected his press critics are going to have problems, such problems. Their heroic Trump may have already freed the land from those social constraints of “political correctness” that said you couldn’t discuss illegal immigration or Islam or mock the handicapped or disparage American servicemen who endured wartime captivity or brag about all the married babes you’ve bagged,
With a darker shade of spray-tan and a pair of mirrored aviator glasses on him we could easily see Trump issuing the same sort of threat in that fictional banana republic that Woody Allen created for “Bananas,” but it’s harder to imagine this sort of thing happening in America. Previous presidents have had their legal confrontations with the press, but in the end they always accepted the rulings made by the Supreme Court according to plain understanding of the First Amendment, and all the Democrats are striving to overrule a Supreme Court ruling similarly rendered so that they can exercise prior restraint on any documentaries or articles or artworks critical of Hillary Clinton, but at least they have the decency to pretend that it’s because of those awful Koch brothers and some vast right-wing conspiracy that’s supposedly intent on curtailing free speech. Trump comes right out and says he wants to use the government to silence his critics, eliciting great cheers from his adoring crowds, and after his poll numbers improve we expect Clinton will figure that she will soon make the same appalling promise to her adoring crowds.
Although we’re not fans of The New York Times, despite having several good friends there long argued with, nor The Washington Post, where we don’t know anybody, we do remain great fans of the idea that people should be able to publish whatever they have to say regardless of whether the current occupant of the White House likes it or not. We’ve long availed ourselves of this right, especially through the past seven years and a couple of months or so, and we intend to continue doing so for as long as almighty God, and not the almighty government, grants us. It won’t just be The New York Times and The Washington Post that have problems, such problems in the coming years, regardless of how this implausible election turns out, but one way or another we’ll persist in speaking our minds. If Trump wants to sue us, as is his wont, well, go right ahead, but he and all his high-priced lawyers should know that we possess nothing he can take from us that is so precious as our God-given right to say that he’s a bullying blowhard con artist who will do this country do no good.

— Bud Norman

Battering Rams in Wisconsin

This is America, where a citizen is free to express opinions and participate in politics without fear of retribution. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but the ideal seems to be slipping away. The diminution of fresh speech is not just a matter of the increasingly confined parameters of polite opinion, enforced by boycotts and restricted career opportunities and the howling of mobs, or even the usual heavy hand of government, such as the harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service or the politicized prosecutions by the Department of Justice or the extra regulatory scrutiny applied to those businesses donating to the wrong candidates. It has now come to the point that armed agents of the government have been invading homes, seizing property, and bullying ordinary citizens into silence for no reason other than their political beliefs.
If this sounds like the most far-fetched sort of paranoid right-wing fantasy, we’d urge you to read David French’s chilling article, headlined “Wisconsin’s Shame: ‘I Thought it Was a Home Invasion,'” at The National Review. Although there had already been scattered reports about the outrageous “John Doe Investigation” that a renegade prosecutor and a rubber-stamping judge had launched against various groups that supported Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to reform the state’s collective bargaining laws regarding public sector unions, a fishing expedition which was eventually halted by a higher court that rightly considered it a clear attempt to intimidate the prosecutor’s political opponents into silence, only now are those targeted in the investigation coming forward with stories about doors being broken down with battering rams, computers being confiscated, children being terrified, neighbors being scandalized, and dozens of heavily armed police officers shouting warnings that no lawyers were to be contacted and no was to be told. The descriptions evoke Nazi-era Germany or the Soviet bloc, but it happened in Wisconsin, the birthplace of the “progressive movement.”
One can hope that it was a rare occurrence, now ended by the prevailing cooler heads of a higher court according to constitutional design, but one can only hope. There’s no way to be sure that other similarly terrified citizens are still staying silent as warned, and that an indifferent press is happy to leave it to the likes of a high-brow and relatively little-read right-wing publication such as The National Review to report on such inconsequential news if they ever come forward. Given the gleeful ostracizing of anyone who dissents from the consensus of progressive opinion regarding same-sex marriage or global warming, the hateful lies of the lynch mobs that are roused by racial hustlers and Rolling Stone fabulists and the “community outreach teams” of the Justice Department, the presidential rhetoric that warns any critics their dissent “needs to stop,” the increasingly apparent realization that no one at the Internal Revenue Service or the Justice Department or any of those regulatory agencies will ever suffer any consequences for their misdeeds, the indifference of the press, and the sheer seething hatred toward anything conservative we hear from all the liberal media and all the liberals we know, a hatred that seems to have overwhelmed whatever love they once had for freedom and the rule of law, we are no longer surprised to hear even the stories that evoke Nazi Germany and the Soviet bloc.
Please pass along that chilling story about what happened in Wisconsin, because we expect that most of the mass media will regard it as local and of little consequence and not nearly so important as anything slightly embarrassing they might come up with about Gov. Scott Walker. At the risk of a battering ram at the door, we’ll say it’s a matter of the greatest consequence. This is America, after all, where a citizen should be free to express an opinion and participate in the political process without fear of retribution.

— Bud Norman

Safe Rooms in an Unsafe World

One of our longstanding literary ambitions has been to write a satirical novel about the modern university, something along the lines of Mary McCarthy’s “The Groves of Academe” or Kingsley Amis’ “Lucky Jim” or Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” but it looks as if we’ll have to abandon the project. Academia is now more ripe for ridicule than ever, but apparently to the point that it is beyond satire.
Such a humorless publication as The New York Times recently ran a rather straightforward story that the latest campus contretemps that the combined talents of Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, and the usual gang of idiots at Mad Magazine could not have rendered anything more comical. Headlined “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas,” the story told how Brown University hosted a debate between the founder of a feminist web site called feministing.com and a female libertarian on the topic of the “culture of rape” that now reportedly pervades the American campus, and how members of the school’s Sexual Assault Task Force responded to this exchange of ideas. Worried that the libertarian’s perspective on the issue “could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” and might even be “damaging,” the Sexual Assault Task Force members created a “safe space” for traumatized listeners to retreat from the debate, complete with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.” Even if we had the imagination to concoct such absurd details, we would have rejected them as too obvious a burlesque of the infantilizing nature of modern higher education.
As The New York Times ruefully notes, such episodes are now common at America’s colleges and universities. Almost every day tells of a student being disciplined for merely questioning the veracity of that highly questionable “one if five women on campus are victims of sexual assault” claim, or professors being charged with “micro-aggressions” for patting the arm of a student angered by an opposing viewpoint, textbooks coming with “trigger warning” to alert the possibility of unapproved ideas, or women’s rights activists being barred from campus because they’re advocating the rights of women in the wrong cultures, or some other more mundane case of campus activists chasing dissenting views off campus. Institutions of higher learning once insisted on vigorous debate and an unflinching look at facts as necessary tools to the discovery of truth, but they’ve now determined they have all the truth they need and no longer anything as potentially traumatizing as debate and unwelcome facts. Little good is likely to come of it, and certainly less than one would expect for the tuition prices being charged today.
The same censorious instincts are found in the broader left, and score the occasional victories against free speech, but they are unlikely to prevail outside the campus. Reality intrudes outside the campus, as well as what’s left of the First Amendment, and most people who haven’t undergone an expensive indoctrination at such elite institutions as Brown University find it very annoying. Nor will anyone who has been so carefully shielded from opposing opinions and unpleasant realities be likely to prevail in the rough-and-tumble of American politics. Worse yet for those who took refuge with the cookies and coloring books and videos of frolicking puppies, they’ll be up against conservative foes who spent their years of higher education being constantly bullied, ridiculed, and shouted down for their beliefs, not just by their professors and deans but also by all the movies and television shows and the rest of the popular culture. The right’s arguments will be honed and its spines stiffened by the college experience, if they get nothing else out of it except perhaps for a still-lucrative degree in math or science or engineering or one those other suspiciously “objective” disciplines.
Even those supposedly oppressed sub-cultures that the left presumes to speak for are unlikely to offer the same sort of refuge as the modern university. If those people retreating to the “safe rooms” of Brown University are planning on community organizing in America’s poor neighborhoods, they’ll find that there are no cookies or coloring books or videos of frolicking puppies, and plenty of uncomfortable facts that they’d rather not face.

— Bud Norman

The Unbearable Opaqueness of Transparency

Secretary of State John Kerry recently told Congress “don’t believe what you read” about his negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons, which is reassuring given what we’ve been reading from such news sources as the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal about the deal he is offering, but he also told them that “I’m not going in to what is or isn’t the situation,” which is not at all reassuring. The Obama administration promised to be “the most transparent” in history, but prefers that the public not bother itself with any details about what is or isn’t the situation.
There’s much the public needs to know about the “net neutrality” regulations that the Federal Communications Commissions is cooking up for the internet, and a congressional hearing would be a good place to have the public’s representatives ask of some of the many pertinent questions, but the FCC’s chairman has declined an invitation to provide any answers in advance of today’s vote by his agency. The administration has been similarly reluctant to divulge information on scandals ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme to the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups, or even such seemingly inconsequential matters of interest as the president’s educational and medical and travel records, and it seems quite confident that the public would rather not know what is or isn’t the situation. This confidence may well be justified, based on the past many years of incurious press coverage, but we are the nosy sorts who would rather know what’s going on no matter how grim it might be.
Those numerous press reports that the administration is offering Iran nuclear weapons after ten years of phased-out sanctions seem unsettlingly plausible, given the administration’s past foreign policy, and if they are entirely untrue we’d be delighted to hear someone in a position of authority at the Department of State come right out and say so. Some reassurance that the administration remains committed to its stated goal of denying Iran nuclear weapons would be nice, too, but apparently we’ll have to assume the best about whether that is or isn’t the situation. The right is concerned that the “net neutrality” rules will hand over the internet to international control and beyond the protections of First Amendment, the more principled and practical elements of the left are worried about what a Republican administration might do with the power being claimed by the federal government, and it would also be good to hear someone in a position of responsibility at the FCC put those concerns convincingly to rest, but once again we’ll have to take it on faith. Our faith would be bolstered by some believable answers about Fast and Furious and the IRS and the mysteriously missing chapters of the president’s biography, but by now we sadly accept that too much of the rest of the public is uninterested.
Iranian bombs and the internet and the Internal Revenue Service are not matters inconsequential the public’s interest, however, and sooner or later some attention will be paid. We hope its not when the Iranian bomb goes off in Tel Aviv or some European or North American capital, and that we’ll still be able to register our disapproval on the internet, and that our opinions won’t run afoul of the IRS, but that might or might not be the situation.

— Bud Norman

Even “Team America” Can’t Rescue Free Speech

Although we are not fond of the comedy of Seth Rogen, we were nonetheless dismayed to hear that his latest motion picture is being pulled from theatrical release because of terroristic threats by the North Korean government. When the tinpot dictator of a third world basket case can determine the choices of the American movie-going public it is a blow to free speech, and we are fond free speech. When the likes of Kim Jong Un can even halt a screening of “Team America: World Police,” the kind of movie that free speech was invented for, we are doubly outraged.
“Team America: World Police” isn’t a movie we recommend to everyone, as it is only suited to certain unrefined tastes. The polite word for its style of humor is Rabelaisian, but such a highfalutin term isn’t quite appropriate to such a deliberately foul-mouthed and dirty-minded puppet show. Those whose minds are already in the gutter and whose stomachs are strong enough for such fare will find it hilarious, though, and notice it has more shrewd points to make than the next ten indie flicks that will play your local art house put together. First released in 2004, the movie spoofs the Bushian patriotic fervor of America in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but that’s mostly rendered with the sort affectionate understanding that the great Preston Sturges brought to his classic satires “Hail the Conquering the Hero” and “Miracle of Morgan’s” during the similarly proud days of World War II. By far the harshest barbs are aimed at Islamist terrorists, the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, and their equally anti-American sympathizers in Hollywood. “Team America: World Police” is such a convincingly scathing indictment of Hollywood’s limousine liberalism that it’s a wonder Hollywood ever released it, but at the time Hollywood didn’t have the ready excuse of not wanting to offend any of the various Kim Jongs of North Korea.
Since the original release of “Team America: World Police” the North Koreans have been cast as the villains in several movies, including that awful remake of “Red Dawn” which somehow retained all the stupid improbabilities and bad acting of the original but somehow omitted all the popcorn-chomping patriotic fun, probably for lack of politically correct and liability-proof options. Hollywood stopped doing commie villains as soon as the Cold War ended, and even wound up re-making “The Manchurian Candidate” with some vaguely Koch Brothers-ish corporation as the bad guys plotting world domination, and was more likely to release an adoring bio-pic of Che Guevara. Neo-Nazis still make an occasional appearance in the movies, but that beloved cliche has mostly played out from overuse. Christians and Republicans and especially Christian Republicans can always been employed to stop a high school dance or say unpleasant things about a cross-dresser or complicate someone’s abortion or provide some other villainous plot twist, but that’s only good for the women’s market, and is insufficiently violent for the action-adventure fare that brings in the really big box office, and it probably doesn’t translate well to the foreign market.
Islamist terrorists are widely unpopular domestically, a sentiment that probably prevails in a profitable segment of those foreign markets as well, but of course they’re terrorists and might prove more expensively dangerous to offend than whatever’s left of the Neo-Nazis or the Koch Brothers-ish corporations or Christians or Republicans or even Christian Republicans. From the still-in-hiding Salman Rushdie to that besieged Danish magazine that published the Mohammad cartoons to the murdered Theo Van Gogh, criticizing the Islamists has never proved a profitable enterprise. The same ribald fellows who did “Team America: World Police” also do the foul-mouthed and dirty-minded and frequently brilliant “South Park” cartoon, but when they dared to depict Mohammad in solidarity the Comedy Central network did not air the offend segment. The same network’s Stephen Colbert recently received the effusive thanks of the Democratic party for his long service to its cause, which they will cite as proof of how very daring they are, but they are by no means alone in Hollywood in their preference for a safer sort of daring.
Kim Jong Un has apparently noticed this tendency, if that reports that it’s actually a big publicity push for some otherwise unsaleable Seth Rogen flick can be discounted, and now he can enjoy the same immunity from Hollywood villainy as his friends in Iran and Cuba. The studio has already suffered from a cyber-attack that has revealed e-mails and other internal documents confirming that everyone in Hollywood is as self-absorbed and shallow as you’d always thought, and apparently believes that the North Koreans can make good on its more deadly threats. A few theaters decided to show “Team America: World Police” as a protest against the Sony Corporation’s capitulation to the terrorist threat, but the studio decided to pull even that worthier production from the theaters as well. Any other tinpot dictators of third world basket-cases seeking some say in which pictures get green-lighted can expect the same response, and it will likely have an inhibiting effect on the American cinema. At this rate, the next James Bond will have the intrepid secret agent saving the high school dance that one of those creepy Christian Republicans was trying to shut down.

— Bud Norman

Of Angry Mobs and Freedom of Speech

There’s always a temptation to get out in front of an angry mob, and these days it is especially alluring, but the problem is that you inevitably wind up with an angry mob at your back. Angry mobs are notoriously fickle, as many on the a left have lately learned.
Consider the the case of Kristian Williams, a writer who until recently enjoyed an impeccable reputation as a brave voice in the academic wilderness for opposing rape and other forms of violence against women. We’re not sure how this entails any bravery, as the pro-rape and pro-violence-against-women lobbies do not seem to wield any formidable power in academia or any other corner of modern society, but it was nonetheless considered quite heroic by the sorts of people who take an ostentatious pride in their opposition to rape and other forms of violence against women. Williams was bold enough to write in an essay last year that there is an unfortunate tendency among the anti-rape and anti-violence-against-women preeners to insist that “the survivor, and the survivor alone, has the right to make demands, while the rest of us are duty-bound to enact sanctions without question. One obvious implication is that all allegations are treated as fact.” We read this to mean that the American criminal justice system should should allow a presumption of innocence, and that even a male should not be deprived of his life, liberty, or property without proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which does not seem to us a unreasonable position, but in this day and age a leftist must muster some genuine bravery to make such a claim. Williams recently found himself shouted down at a “Law and Disorder” symposium at Portland State University by some of that Oregon city’s famously strident hipsters.
A widely-circulated video of the fiasco is somewhat comical, as the fashionably disheveled activists with their obligatory up-turned chins chant that “We will not be silenced in the face of your violence” as a response to Williams’ entirely non-violent writings on behalf of a long-standing and quite sensible legal principle that guards against state-sanctioned violence, and Williams’ perplexed expression is by far the best part. He’s clearly threatened by the angry protestors, and understandably so given the unsettlingly contorted faces he confronts, but it’s a “Law and Disorder” symposium devoted to decrying law enforcement so he can’t call the cops to restore order. The cops eventually do arrive, although it’s unclear from the subsequent press releases who dropped the proverbial dime, but the forces of progress and liberalism do seem to have succeeded in keeping Williams from stating his heretical opinions.
A similar sort of censorship by mob has prevented a conspicuous number of graduating classes from hearing the heretical opinions of notable speakers who had been slated for commencement address. Most of the speakers were arguably from the right, and included such estimable figures as former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but some from the left were ousted because they weren’t quite from far enough to the left. Robert J. Birgeneau was a chancellor of the University of California-Berkely, which ordinarily would be sufficient far-left credentials to ensure entry to anywhere in Academia, but he was prevented from speaking to the graduating class of Haverford College. Despite his otherwise meticulous adherence to the prevailing proprieties of liberalism he had called the cops to evict some squatting Occupy Wall Street protestors from campus facilities a few years earlier, and that was enough to render him unfit to still-innocent minds of the school’s graduates. There’s no comic video to record the moment, but we can imagine the look on his face when he found himself cast into the same purgatory of persona non gratis as Condoleeza Rice.
The well-paid folks at America’s universities are quick to defend academic freedom whenever taxpayers or students’ parents wonder why they’re paying to have their children indoctrinated in the latest liberal fads, but Princeton’s Professor Robert P. George is the latest to discover that freedom extends only so far to the right. George is a longtime advocate of same-sex marriage and pretty much the rest of the homosexual community’s demands, but he’s lately been barraged by criticism for his suggestion that other people might have a right to disagree with him. With everyone from Internet engineers to chicken sandwich peddlers to Home and Garden Television reality show stars under attack from the forces of tolerance, he should have seen it coming.
Despite our begrudging admiration for the actual bravery it took Williams, Birgineau, and George to utter their mild heresies, we can’t shake a nagging suspicions that they’d previously cheered on the similar angry mobs that seek to silence dissent from the right. Aside from the stigma that a still-dominant mass media can impose on a society that isn’t paying much attention, the Internal Revenue Service has bee deployed to harass Tea Party groups and the Department of Justice has declared troublesome investigative reporting a a criminal conspiracy and contributors to the wrong causes have wound up being investigated by any number of regulatory agencies, all of which have been excused by the censorious mobs on the left. For now they’re confident that they’re leading the mob, and until the mob turns fickle they’ll probably enjoy the parade.
Those very rich folks with the fashionable complaints about income inequality should keep this in mind, and remember the headless fate of Robespierre during the Reign of Terror that so many leftists want to revive, but the hard-right folks wanting to purse the conservative ranks of the near-right should also pay heed. We’re all heretics on something or another, and should agree that the banishment of heretics from the public square is a bad idea.

— Bud Norman