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Fighting Fire with FIRE

No matter how bad the news is these days, the most dispiriting part of every story is usually the comment sections. It’s not just the depressing proof of how very illiterate are the products of our public schools, but the constant reminders of how very rude and red-hot angry and ready to rumble our politics have become.
On Saturday we came across a short item in National Review’s “The Corner” section about how a group clad in “Make America Great Again” ball caps and similarly opinionated t-shirts had shouted down a pair of liberal speakers speakers at California’s Whittier College with chants of “lock him up,” “build that wall,” and “respect our president.” It wasn’t the scariest story we read over a weekend of dreary news, but it did strike us as a disturbing development. Such thuggishness has long been common on the left, which has all too frequently resorted to even more violent behavior to deny the free speech rights of conservative speakers and those who would like to hear them, but it has also long been a point of pride on the right that our side doesn’t stoop so low, and it’s hard to admit it now does.
Our fellow old-fashioned conservatives at the venerable National Review had the same reaction, as did the invaluable conservatives at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which first reported the story. FIRE usually reports on the more common attempts by the left to stifle free speech on campuses, and the all too frequent violence that occurs, but they’re principled enough to have document the same sort of thuggishness on the right. We’d like to think that most of our fellow Republicans are also offended, but the comments sections make clear that some are quite ready to fight it out in the streets with full late-Weimar Republic gusto.
By now we’re inured to hearing such sentiments from the callers on the more histrionic talk radio shows, but it’s still unsettling to see them in the comments section of such a high-brow right-wing rag as National Review.
Some of the commenters hopefully speculated that it was actually left-wingers shutting down the liberals in a “false flag” operation to discredit the right. Although most right wing speculation about “false flag” mass shootings and such is pure crazy talk, there have been documented cases of occasional lefties stirring up trouble at otherwise peaceable conservative gatherings while dressed as Nazis, but in this case FIRE has videotape showing some pretty convincingly middle-aged angry white guys even Hollywood’s best casting agent would have been hard-pressed to find, and few were buying that line.
More common were the comments that it’s about time the right started to resorting to the left lowest tactics. “Fight fire with fire” was a recurring cliche, and the more recently popular “punch back twice as hard” came up. Some thuggish leftists have been doing the same thing and even worse for quite a while now, the argument goes, and the left seems to be winning everything lately except for the White House and the Senate and the House of Representatives of most of the statehouses, ergo the right should do the same. This is most unconvincing to such old-fashioned Republican sensibilities as ours, which at our age have no taste for street-brawling, but certain segments of both the left and the right are itching for an escalation.
We’d like to think that most of the Democrats would also prefer a maximum of free speech and a minimum of street-brawling, and the more venerable liberal news sources seem to agree, so the problem of giving a controversial speech in a public square is probably for now manageable, but a certain combativeness as already infected the mainstream of politics. Democrats who look back wistfully on President Barack should acknowledge his rhetoric about bringing guns to knife fights and jump-starting that “punch back twice as hard” cliche, and all those conservative speakers who have shut down, but Republicans should acknowledged by the abandoned the high ground with President Donald Trump cease from all assaults on free speech.
Except for that unpleasantness in the early 1860s and a few notable labor disputes and race riots, America always has almost always worked out even its most heated arguments with maximal free speech and minimal street brawls, and what with the stock market up and the unemployment rate down we should be able to keep that streak going. For now, at least, let us fight with water.

— Bud Norman

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Football, Politics, and Other Hard Hitting Sports

The youngsters will never believe it, but we recall a time when Americans could take weekends off from politics and watch sports. These days politics permeates the entire popular culture, though, and even the football stadia and basketball arenas don’t offer a safe space. Over the past weekend the biggest sports stories were all political stories, with President Donald Trump playing his usual leading role in all of them.
Sunday’s slate of National Football League contests featured the usual pin-point passes and fancy football and hard hits, but the most-watched highlights were the widespread protests staged by the players during the playing of the national anthem. In case you don’t follow either football or politics, the fad started last season when the San Francisco 49ers’ back-up quarterback, a fellow named Colin Kaepernick, knelt to one knee during the anthem to draw attention to the “Black Lives Matter” movement protesting police violence against minorities. All the polls showed that most Americans found the act disrespectful to the country’s most cherished symbols, but it gave Kaepernick a certain cachet among a significant percentage of the population, and a fame far greater than what he’d earned on the gridiron, and then a few other players in the NFL and the National Basketball Association joined in. All the sports talk and politics radio stations talked about it, but they eventually moved on to the next insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things sports squabbles.
Although Kaepernick had shown great promise in his first two starting seasons his performance had dropped precipitously since then, and when he was cut from the ’49ers no other teams chose to add him to their rosters for this season, but of course the story didn’t end there. Some pointed to his past signs of promise and argued he was blackballed in retaliation for exercising his free speech rights, while others pointed to the recent decline in his performances as the reason for his unemployment, so that argument was revived through the entire off-season. We figured that Kaepernick had his free speech rights to be a pretentious jerk but that any team owners who didn’t want to hire Kaepernick for whatever reason were entitled to their opinions, and we aren’t at all qualified to evaluate football-playing horseflesh, nor do we take much interest in the game at all these days, so we were hoping the whole fracas would finally fade away.
Which it might have done by now, if not for that speech Trump gave to a raucous in a packed Huntsville, Alabama, sports arena last Friday. The speech was quite a doozy even by Trumpian standards, and we urge any students of classical rhetoric to study it carefully and revise all theories accordingly. Trump bragged at length about hid electoral victory, assured the crowd the Russians had nothing to do with, basked in the crowd chanting “lock her up” about his vanquished Democratic opponent, had everyone lustily boo Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain, lobbed some schoolyard taunts at the now-nuclear-armed nutcase dictator of North Korea, and made a couple brief mentions of the Republican candidate for Senate he was ostensibly campaigning for, including an admission that he may have made a mistake by endorsing by the guy, who’s currently trailing in the polls to a more zealously Christian conservative. He also marveled at how Alabamans love him so much despite the fact that he’s a much richer guy than any of them “who lives on Fifth Avenue in the most beautiful apartment you’ve ever seen,” and regaled the audience in the football-crazed state with his gripes about the professional game.
First Trump complained that the game is becoming sissified, with attention-seeking referees throwing penalty flags for what would have been considered hard but clean hits back when the game was great. This probably would have been a talk radio topic on both the sports and politics shows, given the mounting evidence that players suffered high rates of debilitating and even deadly injuries to the head other and vital body parts back when the game was great, but Trump also revived the whole national anthem brouhaha from last year.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now Out. He’s fired. He’s fired,’ Trump said, with the language left unexpurgated here because that’s by now apparently one of those things that connect him with Alabama values, as the crowd seemed to love it. Trump predicted that the first owner to do so would immediately become the most popular man in America, where the most pressing problem seems to be a few overpaid athletes you might never have otherwise heard about kneeling during a national anthem, and even scored a few points about all the on-field rules the league has imposed regarding end zone celebrations and some right-of-center statements some players have made tried to make.
As you might have expected, and by now surely know if you follow either sports or politics, an unprecedented number of NFL players made some gesture of disrespect to the flag during Sunday’s games. Most of the players and coaches and whatnots on both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars chose to stay off the field during the anthem, several other teams chose to stand arm-in-arm during the anthem rather than with a hand over the heart, every team had some player making some sort of statement, including players holding a hand on a kneeling teammate’s should while pledging allegiance. Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn, the leagues only Muslim owner, joined his team in its protest, as did the Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, whose team name entails enough trouble already, and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. Thirty of the 32 owners issued statements expressing various degrees of disagreement with Trump, including a few who had been big money donors to his campaign, and not a one of them fired any of the disrespectful sons of bitches, if you’ll pardon an old Alabama expression.
Odd as it may seem to have a president of the United States engaged in a “twitter” war with the National Football League, it’s been a longstanding feud between Trump and those haughty football elitists. They first locked horns way back before the ’83 season, when an NFL franchise cost about $80 million and Trump instead invested a mere $6 million in the New Jersey Generals of the newly-formed United States Football League. The USFL was based on the sound idea that Americans love hard-hitting football but only get it in the fall and early winter, so a league that offered fairly well-played games in the spring and summer should draw a profitable number of ticket holders, but Trump had other ideas. He persuaded his fellow owners to move to a fall and early winter schedule, and when the networks inevitably chose to broadcast the superior brand of NFL football to sue the league for a violation of the anti-monopoly law and win billions of dollars.
Trump’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, who’d previously worked for Sen. Joe McCarthy and various mafioso, won a verdict for the plaintiff, but the jury only awarded the USFL a one dollar in damages, given how ridiculous its new business model was, although the judge trebled the amount, but the three dollars didn’t keep the league from going bankrupt shortly thereafter. By now it’s obvious that Trump was scheming to win a settlement that would have him in possession of the an NFL franchise at the bargain-basement price of $6 million plus legal fees, didn’t much care which of his co-owners didn’t get in on the planned league expansion, and clearly came out the loser in his first clash with the NFL. Trump still talks about how he “hammered” the league, but he can also boast that at least there wasn’t a single New Jersey General who was seen disrespecting the flag on Sunday.
Back when he was signing two consecutive overrated Heisman Trophy winners to multi-million dollar contracts Trump boasted that he could have easily afforded an NFL franchise such as the Dallas Cowboys, but that he’d rather create a professional football powerhouse from scratch than be the poor sap who inherited a powerhouse and got no credit for its continued success or all the blame for its off-seasons. Thus Trump wound up losing an estimated $22 million on his fantasy football team, bona fide billionaire Jerry Jones wound up buying the Cowboys for $140 million and now owns what Forbes magazine estimates is worth $4.8 billion, and Trump surely feels some lingering resentment. He was turned down on a bid for the lowly Buffalo Bills franchise, too, and as they say on talk radio that’s got to smack.
Still, we can’t argue with the idea of standing up for the flag, and we suspect Trump has shrewdly that a vast majority of America does as well. The points these overpaid athletes you might never have otherwise heard about are making involve more complicated questions than most of them realize, and if they wind up with less policing in black communities they could very well result in the loss of those black lives matter, and it’s really quite ridiculous that football players who give one another head injuries for a living are so prominent in the discussion. Trump might just have picked a winning political battle.
The broader culture wars seem lost, though. That flag we stand for at every sporting event we attend stands for freedom, which is why we stand and take off the hats and put hands over the hearts for however long it takes, and merely roll our eyes and heave a sigh at the pretentious jerks who act otherwise for whatever reason they might have. If everyone took a similarly tolerant stand in this all too modern age we think the sports and political talk radio would be much more pleasant and enlightening, and we could all get on with the rest of that ready Monday-through-the-Friday-night-news dump, but there’s a lot to tolerate these days.
All the political talk on radio and television and “twitter” is screamed these days, and all of the screaming from the sports and entertainment and media and corporate and occasionally the military segments of the establishment is screamed at Trump, and even Trump can scream only so loud. Trump can gloat that the NFL’s ratings are down, and that all the flag-disrespecting has something to do with it, but there’s also a guilty feeling about watching all the head injuries all that annoying penalty-flag-throwing is trying to prevent, and the undeniable fact that the NFL is more popular than either Trump or the USFL.
This was going to be the year we completely gave up on football, but so far the Kansas City Chiefs and the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Wichita Heights High School Falcons all look like championship contenders, so we’ll be obliged to look up those scores. If none of those work out we’re done with the game for good, and if we can somehow figure out how to escape politics we’ll be done with that as well.

— Bud Norman

Watching Liberty Booed Off the Stage at Two Conventions

Despite our particular aversion to the whole “reality show” genre of television, and our general disdain of the entire medium altogether, we did make a point to log onto the internet Wednesday evening to watch and listen to C-Span’s coverage of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ address to the Republican National Convention. Our oddball tastes in entertainment include an affinity for political rhetoric, and Cruz is as good at it as anybody these days, and his address did prove a most fascinating episode. The Senator seemed to deliver a robustly persuasive argument against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but he he only once mentioned the official Republican nominee by name, and at no point was there an unambiguous endorsement, so those who have been closely following the plot of this dreary tale are sure to have noticed some fascinating further ambiguities.
If you’ve been happily distracted from this dreary tale you need to understand that Sen. Cruz is better known to fans of the habitually lying official Republican nominee as “Lyin'” Ted Cruz, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, and that back when they were the last two contenders still vying for the nomination the now-official Republican nominee threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’ wife and “tweeted” out his gloat that she was uglier than the now-official Republican nominee’s plagiarizing-from-Michelle-Obama third super-model trophy wife, and claimed that Cruz was actually an oh-my-God punting-on-third-down Canadian and that his Cuban-born father had been in on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, based solely on the reporting of the official Republican nominee’s good friends at The National Enquirer, so the address was full of intriguing plot lines. There was a gracious and specific congratulation to the now-official Republican nominee who had shamelessly and ridiculously slandered Cruz’ wife and father and personal history, and a rousing denunciation of the undeniably awful presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but in terms that don’t reflect well on the now-official Republican nominee.
His strikingly brief address quite persuasively made the case that the traditional Republican value of freedom of speech is at odds with a presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee who would overturn the Citizens United ruling that people are free to criticize her, and generously neglected to mention that the official Republican nominee has promised that anyone who criticizes him will have “problems, such problems” should he win. He affirmed the right of homosexuals to pursue their preferences but stood up for the right of others not to be involved, without mentioning that both of America’s major parties now seem on board with more authoritarian post-sexual-revolution measures, and he spoke against open borders while also speaking well of the father who legally came to this country from communist Cuba and all the other legal immigrants who had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy. He spoke about giving parents a choice in educating their children, which neither party’s official or all-but-certain nominees ever mention, and the state’s rights on everything from marijuana to California-style taxation that also largely go unmentioned. All in all it was a stem-winding speech against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but hardly a ringing endorsement of the now-official Republican nominee.

Which of course wound up with him being booed off the stage by the Republican National Convention. He ended by saying that “We will unite the country by standing together for shared values by standing for liberty,” and in this sorry virtual reality show that seems to define our actual reality that will get you booed off any of the available stages. We’d have preferred that he defended the honor of the one wife of his youth and the pro-American immigrant father who surely had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy, no matter what craziness the official Republican nominee’s friends at The National Enquirer concocted, and been more frank about the lies being told by both of the major party candidates, but at this point we’ll argue that “Lyin’ Ted” was at least more truthful than either of the official and all-but-certain major party nominees and made a stronger case against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee than the now-official Republican nominee ever could, and we’ll hold out faint hope that next time around will be better.

— Bud Norman

The Greatest Degeneration

The pleasant thought hadn’t occurred to us until we came across it in the lurid pages of New York City’s tabloid press, of all places, but it seems the upcoming presidential election “will likely be the last hurrah of the baby boomers.” No matter what horrors the race seems likely to inflict upon America’s once-great republic, well, at least we’ve got that going for us.
We came along at the very end of the officially-defined “Baby Boom” and are thus counted in that demographic cohort, even if our parents watched World War II on newsreels and instead served nobly in the subsequent Cold War and we therefore missed out on all the wild hippie sex at the rock festivals and anti-war protest rallies, so we’ve long been resentful witnesses to what n awful mess the bullying older brothers and sisters in our demographic cohort have made of things. Still, even we are disappointed that so many decades after the dawning of the Age of Aquarius all that talk of free speech and free love and Peter Max psychedelia the “baby boomers” are offering up the likes of 68-year-old Hillary Clinton and 69-year-old Donald Trump as leaders of the land, and that the slightly ahead-of-the-demographic-cohort 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, who is merely offering free stuff, seems to be the favorite of all the dimwitted young hipsters we know. Yet here we are, and in retrospect it all seems so predictable.
The world we were born into was by means no perfect, as there was undeniably a brutally and officially enforced racism in much of America and a more insidious but effective social restraints everywhere on women’s ambitions and opportunities and freedom to engage in wild hippie sex at rock festivals and anti-war rallies, and back then hardly anyone talked about homosexuality, much less transgenderism or any the other of a plethora newly found sexual identities, but it had its points. The “Greatest Generation” — or the “Greatesht Generashion,” as Peter Jennings once so memorably put it — had survived the Great Depression, albeit with a massive and unsustainable-over-a-century governmental bureaucracy, and had defeated Japanese Imperialism and Italian Fascism and German Naziism, albeit with a generation-long and potentially-apocalyptic Cold War against our erstwhile communist allies to follow, and it created Hollywood movies that still play well on late-night television and swing music that still sounds good on the old folks’ AM radio station and presidents who still stand well with the historians, and it was cautiously moving away from racism and sexism all on its own. The greatest generation’s children, and although we barely knew it we will miss it. Since then, the results of the greatest generation’s children have been decidedly mixed.
There’s no more Jim Crow anywhere, and we are glad of that, and we celebrate the entry of most of black America’s entry into the middle class and beyond, but we note that black lives are still disproportionately lost to the violence of liberal-run and economically depressed black inner cities, and that a “Black Lives Matter” movement more concerned with the relatively small number of black lives lost as a result of enforcement of the law is somehow as incensed as ever. Women are now empowered to run for even the highest office in the land, even if they’re under investigation for serious criminal charges by the feds, but after all that free sex now has the feminists huffing about a “culture of rape” on the liberal-run and ecumenically privileged campuses, and that woman who is running for president suddenly sounds ridiculous talking about it in light of the behavior of her predatory husband, whose “Baby Boom” presidency was supposed to wrap her candidacy in a warm sort of “Big Chill” nostalgia. We’ll no longer listen to anything about “free speech” from the baby boomer left, which now wants to constitutionally overturn the “Citizens United” decision to allow prior restraint of troublesome speech and calls for “some muscle” to turn away journalists from the public square, and we don’t even want to hear anything about free sex, given the legalistic consent forms that the feminists now want signed before a collegiate tryst, which is more onerous than anything those blue-nosed puritans on the ’50s right ever requested. There was some good rock ‘n’ roll, which pretty much had to happen once the ’50s had turned into Mitch Mitchell and there were all those cool brothers and hillbillies standing in the wings, and we still fondly recall a few of the more adventuresome movies, but for the most part it’s been all downhill.
Alas, the mostly downhill progression from good the ol’ Dwight D. Eisenhower of our birth to the current slate of presidential candidates of our middle age best tells the sorry tale. By now all the lefties fondly recall the 90 percent top tax rates and the deliriously high union membership rates and frank acknowledgement of the New Deal’s unsustainable-over-a-century bureaucracies, and they even acknowledge his cautious nudges toward racial and sexual equality, and although the right can only argue that those tax rates and union memberships would only work if you replicated the ’50s conditions of racial segregation and female workforce participation and a world where all the global competitors had been reduced to rubble by a world war, and that racial and sexual equality is best reached deliberately if not slowly, there is still a consensus that we all like the Ike who whipped the Nazis. Good luck to any of the aging current candidates who hope to achieve such a broad public agreement on their behalf, as they all represent the worst of their generation and have no one to fight with but one another and all those inconvenient Seventh Century Islamo-Nazis who seem to have followed the Cold War.
Hillary Rodham was the idealistic young woman who joined the effort to uncover the hated right-wing President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and wound up getting kicked out for her overzealousness, then married a philandering cad who would propel her political career as a feminist heroine, and would slander whatever women her husband assaulted when he was the first “baby boomer” president, and did nothing memorable with a Senate seat won on his record of giving jumbo mortgages to subprime home buyers, and spent four years rolling over to America’s enemies as Secretary of State, and she’s now running with Wall Street cash and a Nixon-level investigation hovering over head as Hillary Clinton on her credentials as the First Woman President. Meanwhile the road followed by the presidential campaign of real estate mogul and gambling tycoon and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer Donald J. Trump has already been paved by the free speech heroism of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt and that kid who used to mock the handicapped children on your ’60s playground, and whose candidacy so uncannily recalls the “Me Decade” of the ’70s, and it seems to have missed the brief interregnum of the ’80s and gone right into all the strutting and bling-wearing of the dot-com and go-go ’90s, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican front-runner.
No wonder all those even more dimwitted young whippersnappers we run into in the X or Y or Z generations or whatever the hell they’re called these days are going with an even more geriatric old coot of a Democratic candidate such as self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander. There’s some debate among the old-time leftists about where Sanders is Old Left or New Left, as if that makes any difference, but least he’s promising free stuff, which at this point is bound to be more tempting than all that free sex and its attendant “culture of rape” and consent forms or that icky free speech stuff that now necessitates safe spaces and trigger warnings, so we can well understand how a dimwitted youth might buy into it. On the heels of a “baby boom,” such damage should probably be expected.
That oldest coot Sanders has a new ad showing an old Hollywood-style montage of regular ol’ hard-workin’ and mostly white Americans working hard in what looks for all the world like the America of our birth, and the targeted baby-boomers will immediately recognize good ol’ Simon and Garfunkel singing about going to look for “America” on the soundtrack. The ones who still retain a good memory, however, will also recall the song is a very sad one about a young couple who go out looking for America and wind up in severe nicotine withdrawal and a lovers’ spat and then sullenly read a magazine as the beautiful countryside rolls by the window and never do find America. All in all, it seems a perfect last hurrah for the baby boomers, although we wonder if Sanders paid the usual exorbitant fee for the rights to the song or if Simon and Garfunkel’s in-kind contribution to the campaign will be listed on the candidates expense reports.
Unaccustomed as we are to voting for people less seasoned than ourselves, we find ourselves with little choice but to invest our last hope in a younger generation. We can only hope that some corny old kernel of the church-going and child-raising and nudging toward equality of that old Ike world still persists in the new, and will find purchase in the soil of a still-fertile America, for we fear that our generation has cast its seed upon the ground.

— Bud Norman

Our Foul-Mouthed and Politically Correct Politics

By now you’ve probably seen the video of two cute young Latino children cussing Donald Trump with all the vulgarity of a late-night cable television comedian. It’s “gone viral,” as they say in the internet biz, and has no doubt generated a lot of t-shirt sales for the “Deport Racism 2016” group that came up with the idea. We don’t expect it will adversely affect Trump’s popularity, however, as the average viewer will probably be more inclined to support him so that he might deport the foul-mouthed urchins at the first opportunity. What we find most interesting about the video is the left’s continuing fondness for obscenity.
Drop in on any left-leaning web site or “alternative” newspaper and you’ll notice a proliferation of profanity, of course the movies and television shows that the vast west wing of Hollywood produces are full of foul language, a similar vulgarity seems to pervade the conversations of most of our liberal friends, even the Vice President of the United States felt compelled drop an “F-bomb” to commemorate the passage of Obamacare, and this isn’t the first time that children have been dragged into it. The left regards cussing as authentically proletarian, even though the authentic proletariate is still saying grace before a meal and washing its kids’ mouths out with soap for such outbursts, and it fancies itself bravely defying the stultifying conventions of bourgeois society, even though it’s been a long time since the martyrdom of Lenny Bruce and by now what’s left of bourgeois society is no longer capable of stultifying even the most obnoxious behaviors.
Our newly-won freedom to spew curse words might be considered a small and insignificant expansion of liberty, but it’s hardly ample compensation for all the restrictions that the left wants to impose. Everything from %&*# to *+$@ is now allowed in the public square, but all sorts of formerly useful and respectable terms are now forbidden in polite company. “He” is an offensive word if used in reference to men who consider themselves women, “merit” and “hard work” are considered racist code in the more refined quarters of academia, of course “illegal immigrant” is not allowed to describe an immigrant who has entered the country illegally, and in the Democratic presidential race presumptive candidate Hillary Clinton is accusing pesky challenger and self-described socialist — which was formerly a dirty word — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of being racist for using the word “urban” in their ongoing gun control debate. Try injecting any honest acknowledgment of the higher rate of criminal activity in certain communities into that debate or the related arguments over the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the police, and you’ll find that the certain points of view are now out of bounds no matter how profanely phrased. Anything having to do with sex, of course, is similarly constrained by the new rules of polite discourse.
Sooner or later, we fervently hope, the public will grow weary of it. Those foul-mouthed kids are getting a lot more “dislikes” than “likes” on their “viral video” on YouTube, although the number of “dislikes” seems to grow suspiciously smaller each time we check, and still the comments are mostly negative and many of them are coming from self-described Latinos who are insisting that it is more representative of liberals than Latinos. We’re no fans of the buffoonish and insulting Trump, and would have preferred that someone had championed the border-enforcement cause with equally forceful but more carefully phrased arguments, as regular readers of this publication know, but we had to sympathize with the many commentators who said the video seemed to prove his arguments for even the most bluntly explained crackdown on illegal immigration. The arrogance and ignorance of the child stars will not persuade anyone that America should abandon its borders, the objective fact that some parts of town are more dangerous than others will not go unnoticed, and all the rest of that nonsense about gender-neutral pronouns and the hidden racism in everyday idioms will eventually become too much of a hassle for busy moms and dads. It’s a bunch of %&*# and *+$@, as far as we’re concerned, but at least we’re free to put it that way.

— Bud Norman

Free Speech and Racist Frat Rats

The latest battle against censorship on campus is being fought at the University of Oklahoma, just a few hours drive down I-35 from us, and it’s an ugly affair. Modern academia and its censorious impulses provide free speech advocates with plenty of opportunities to stand up for reasonable opinions that somehow offend liberal sensibilities, but in this case we are obliged to defend the right to some unabashedly old-fashioned racist boorishness.
It all started when the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers chartered a party bus and decided to celebrate the occasion with a boastful chant about their racially exclusive admission policies, replete with frequent use of a certain notorious fighting word and a jocular reference to lynching, and not in the ironically anti-racist manner of the more up-to-date nightclub comedians. Somebody recorded the event with a cellular phone’s video camera, of course, and it wound up on the internet, of course, and of course much offense was taken. The outrage was such that hundreds of OU students and faculty staged a protest, the national fraternity revoked the offending chapter’s charter, and the university’s president summarily expelled the two students who had been identified as leading the chant.
As free speech advocates we have no quarrel with the peaceful protests, and acknowledge the national fraternity’s right to restrict its membership however it chooses, but the expulsions are another matter. The courts have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment and cannot punish students for their speech, no matter how offensive, and for a variety of good reasons. Aside from the plain language of the Constitution, any restriction on free speech will inevitably lead to another, important ideas will be squelched because some well-organized group or another will find them offensive, and given how very touchy academia is these days there’s no telling where it all might end. Already America’s universities are restricting debate on a variety of issues, from the global warming issue to Israel to the “culture of rape” that is said to pervade the modern campus, but the dialogue about race is especially constrained. Anyone challenging liberal orthodoxy on matters of race is routinely branded a racist, even if they are trying to address the frequently disastrous results of liberal orthodoxy for black America, and any effort to ban racism, no matter how well-intentioned, will allow the keepers of the faith to shut down debate completely. Given how many well-organized groups are taking offense at the slightest provocation these days, placating them all would require limiting scholarly discourse to quiet, guilty shrugs and sympathetic nods.
Which is not to say that you shouldn’t be offended by those boorish frat boys and their witless chant, or that you shouldn’t avail yourself of a heaping portion of free speech to express your offense, or that widespread public scorn isn’t an appropriate way of dealing with such unambiguously racist sentiments. In fact, we note that such stigmatizing has rather effectively made the public expression of such racist sentiments rare, and improved race relations to the point that a bunch of drunk frats joking about lynching seems to be a more pressing problem than actual lynchings. Similar results might be achieved if society were to once again attach a stigma to deliberately vulgar language and contraceptive abortion and unwed parenthood and a host of other social ills that the left doesn’t seem to find offensive, but even in these cases we would prefer social persuasion to governmental coercion.
The president of OU might soon find himself in one of those courts that have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment, and we won’t mind seeing him lose this one. He was formerly a governor and senator for Oklahoma, back when then state used to elect Democrats to such high offices, and was known for his occasional liberalism and constant devotion to state’s oil and gas industries, so we suspect the same political instincts led him to expel those two students. The controversy caused OU to lose a potential football recruit to the University of Alabama, after all, so the students had not only offended liberal sensibilities but also posed a threat to a crucial business interest. This will only exacerbate the public’s scorn for the two students, and further deter future racist chants on campus, but we’re not so concerned. If that potential football recruit truly believes he won’t encounter any racist frat boys at the University of Alabama he won’t be able to comprehend a playbook, much less an American history textbook, so he probably wouldn’t have done the Sooners any good even if those racist frat boys hadn’t been too stupid to know that there are cell phone video cameras everywhere these days and everything winds up on the internet.

— 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

Illiberalism and Free Speech

The deadly Ebola virus has flown from west Africa to the United States, the head-chopping terrorists of the Islamic State are within striking distance of Baghdad, and the stock markets are retreating in the face of dire economic news, and there are more scandals and screw-ups and sob stories afoot than can possibly be fit into a lead paragraph, but at least we’re free to gripe about it. Even that small compensation is increasingly endangered, though, and that might be the worst of it.
The latest outrage against free speech comes from the formerly sane community of Houston, where the municipal government is threatening a contempt of court charge against a group of Christian pastors if they don’t turn over copies or recordings of any sermons mentioning homosexuality, “gender identity,” or the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. Throughout the past governments within the United States of America have not concerned themselves with the content of sermons in the nation’s churches, a blessing conferred by the First Amendment to the Constitution and the sanity that once prevailed in our communities, but of course homosexuality and “gender identity” and openly lesbian mayors are now more important than such timeworn traditions. The subpoenaed pastors had been part of a coalition that included 400 Houston churches opposed to a city ordinance that would end sex segregation in public restrooms, among other things, so there was a special urgency to scrutinize their opinions.
Such fashionable causes seem especially censorious, and have frequently proved intolerant of any chicken sandwich shops or computer geniuses or t-shirt printers who won’t conform to the expected enthusiasm for homosexuality or trans-gendered identities or whatever they’re peddling on the premium cable channels, but the modern left’s intolerance of dissent is spreading into other issues. The Internal Revenue Service’s unequal treatment of conservative groups, that proposal to amend the First Amendment to allow for regulation of political speech, all those stories out of academia about speech codes and bans on conservative speakers, the pesky litigiousness of climate scientists, the denunciations of pro-capitalist private citizens from a Senate floor that is exempted from any libel suits, and a seemingly endless stream of similar stories all testify to the left’s ardent desire that any dissenters be made to shut up.
There’s not much chance of us right-wing bastards complying, however, and it should make for an interesting battle. The left has been getting the best of it lately, but Houston seems the wrong place to pick a fight and unisex restrooms a most unpromising issue. Our experience of Houston suggests that most of its women will not be pleased to share restrooms with the sort of creepy men who will insist on invading their formerly segregated space, the men will be just as put off by the far more infrequent women who prefer their facilities, and that even the most heathen among the will sympathetic to the pastors who raised objections. Our experience of the city further leads us to believe the Democratic coalition that elected the city’s first openly lesbian mayor is largely comprised of black and Hispanic voters who aren’t entirely comfortable with the latest addition to their identity group coalition, and there is likely to some backlash even if some court doesn’t rediscover the First Amendment. It’s easy enough to suppress the free speech of an unpopular minority, but a multi-racial majority that includes a whole lot of women is going to problematic for the left. Targeting Christian churches who hew to a traditional disapproving but tolerant view of homosexuality for scrutiny while forbidding investigation of mosques that advocate an even harsher attitude will also be a hard sell, but until the heads start getting chopped off in Houston we expect liberal sensibilities will continue to insist on such inconsistent notions of tolerance.

— Bud Norman

Totalitarian But Honest

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. thinks we should be in prison for our skeptical opinions regarding the more alarmist anthropogenic global warming theories, and we appreciate his honesty.
The scion of the liberal dynasty argued for imprisoning anyone who harbors doubts about his anti-capitalist political agenda to solve the alleged global warming problem during one of the big “climate change” protest marches the past weekend, which all sorts of celebrities had flown in on private jets to attend, and although his harshest words were of course directed at those all-purpose villains the Koch brothers he made it clear that anyone dissenting on the issue should be behind bars. It’s about as illiberal an opinion as anyone could utter, and was part of a rant that was full of staggeringly stupid misinformation, including the claim that the Kochs were responsible for the war in Iraq despite their outspoken opposition to it, which is one of our rare disagreements with the brothers and one we don’t wish to see them imprisoned for, as well as the laughable claim that they support only policies that enrich their business when the environmental movement’s prohibition against building competing oil refineries has probably done more than anything to enrich them, and there was also some galling hypocrisy, but at least he came right out and said it. A desire to criminalize political opposition is quite common among what passes for modern liberals, we have found, but few are so willing to abandon any pretense of support for freedom of thought and speech.
Kennedy isn’t the only one willing to confess his censorious and totalitarian instincts, alas. The Gawker and Talking Points Memo web sites and a former Clinton administration official named Joe Romm and a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration worker named James Hanson are among those on the record with the same view, and those Attorneys General who have been targeting the governors of Texas and Wisconsin and the Internal Revenue Service agents who were scrutinizing those “tea party” applications for tax-exempt status might as well have made the same confession, along with all the Democratic Senators who voted for that proposed amendment to the First Amendment, but he does have the most prominent name of those who brazenly support crushing dissent. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have a real job at risk, and can be assured that prominent name will protect him from the guillotine once the blades start falling, but his honesty is still commendable.
If the rest of modern liberalism were as frank it would be easier to deal with, and would spare the public discourse all sorts of disingenuous blather about civility and dissent as the highest form of patriotism and all those other high-minded concepts the left still claims to believe in even during periods of Democratic rule. The vast majority of the public that isn’t at all worried about climate change, and doesn’t fly in private jets and rightfully resents the efforts of those who do to shoe-horn the hoi polloi into those phone-booth sized automobiles or inefficient public transportation systems, would also be more easily convinced to rally to the right. That’s not Kennedy’s intention, we’re sure, but he’s obviously an idiot who doesn’t carefully consider the consequences of his deranged views.

— Bud Norman

Searing and Wearing Words

One of the many peculiar features of our modern age is the t-shirt controversy. Obsessive news-readers will encounter several of them almost every month, usually involving a student who has run afoul of his school’s dress code, sometimes a disgruntled shopper complaining that some censorious rent-a-cop denied him entry to the local mall, and always a result of our popular culture’s strange insistence on expressing itself on its chest. These days the offending opinions are likely to be religious, patriotic, or otherwise offensive to prevailing polite opinion, which is yet another peculiar feature of our modern age.
The latest spate of t-shirt controversies include a young girl who was forbidden to wear a t=shirt declaring that “Virginity Rocks” and a prominent quarterback for a professional football team wasn’t allowed to appear before the press in a t-shirt with the words “Know Jesus, Know Peace.” There’s another story about an Army officer who wasn’t allowed in his daughter’s school because of his uniform, and of course the recent federal court decision upholding a school’s right to ban any wearing of the American flag for fear of offending the foreign students. The Arkansas middle school that objected to the pro-virginity slogan said it was simply trying to avoid any uncomfortable discussions about sexuality, the professional football league invoked a higher power by saying that the pro-Jesus t-shirt wasn’t an officially licensed Nike product, the Detroit school that stopped the Army officer at its door hilariously explained that it was because he wasn’t wearing a tie, as if anyone in Detroit wears a tie and an Army uniform isn’t sufficiently businesslike by the standards of the Detroit public schools, but even if one buys in to any of this a trend is apparent. Another controversy occurred when some college students wore t-shirts with an obscene suggestion for “Safe Zones,” but that was because of its offense to the school’s up-to-date speech codes rather than any concern for old-fashioned notions of propriety.
Although we stand foursquare for middle school virginity, Jesus, the United States Army, and the American flag, and certainly find them less offensive than the obscenities and insults and likenesses of Che Guevara that shout at us from t-shirts all over the public square, we find it hard to work up much indignation over a t-shirt. Here’s hoping the unwelcome Army officer gets even more groveling apologies from that school for its absurd insult to his service, but the people who could have shown up in primary colored t-shirt free of unasked opinions, or even a nice button-down, must fight their battles without us. Libertarian principle forbids us from any governmental attempt to squelch even the most frivolous forms of free speech, but a traditionalist streak in us can’t help yearning for a bygone era when people voluntarily didn’t wear their opinions on their chest.
In most cases the t-shirts proclaim the wearer’s allegiance to some sports team or rock ‘n’ roll band or clothing manufacturer, which is probably a starter to the most interesting conversation you can have with him, but otherwise it is always something calculated to give offense to somebody. Even when the words are agreeable to us we can’t help wondering if any idea that can be expressed on a t-shirt is worth expressing, and whether those ideas wouldn’t be more persuasively expressed by someone dressed in an adult and serious fashion. The notion that individuality is best expressed by t-shirts and tattoos and vaguely Afro-French-sounding names is of recent and uncertain vintage, and cannot explain why the most daringly transgressive and individualistic figures of the pre-modern era all looked pretty much like else. There were always the extravagant sorts, from Oscar Wilde to Gen. George Custer to Isadora Duncan and her fatally-long scarves, but even these showboats would never have thought of donating their chests to free advertising for some sports team or political cause or foul-mouthed joke. According to the old black-and-white movies even the gangsters aspired to look like respectable Republican businessmen, and and embarrassingly betrayed themselves with a street-level garishness.
So far as we can tell the clothing controversies started when switchblade-wielding kids started showing up at mostly-white high schools with black leather jackets and white t-shirts and rolled-up jeans and basketball shoes a look now regarded as classic continually evoked by subsequent counter-cultures, and intensified when all those long-haired and tie-dyed hippie freaks started filling the local parks with that odd sweet smell. Anyone old enough to recall that era is probably discombobulated by a time when virginity and Jesus and the American flag are the controversial attire, but we mostly lament that people no longer feel free to be themselves without imposing themselves on the fellow just ahead in the grocery store check-out line.

— Bud Norman