Charlottesville and the Crucial Center

Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the prettiest towns in America, and home to one of its most venerable institutions of higher learning, but over the weekend it became the tragic focal point of the country’s ugliest and most stupid elements.
A few hundred proudly self-described Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis and various other far-right white supremacists who prefer to be called “alt-right” gathered in a local park with a soon-to-be-removed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to “Unite the Right,” there was of course the usual larger gathering of counter-protestors that included the usual small number of “anarchist” and “antifa” far-left idiots itching for a fight. The inevitable resulting skirmishes culminated with a Dodge muscle car allegedly driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer plowing into an annoying self-righteous but entirely peaceable crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring 19 others, and a couple of law enforcement officers dying in a helicopter crash while dealing with melee. That culminated in another round of street brawls between the self-described racists and the so-called anti-fascist forces on the streets of Seattle, Washington, and much rhetorical skirmishing in Washington, D.C., as well as everywhere in the real and virtual worlds, so at this point there’s no telling how it all plays out.
Everything in the news these days has something to do with President Donald Trump, of course, so he wound up playing his usual starring role in the whole mess. He responded the car-plowing-into-the-peeaceable-counter-protestor situation more slowly than he does to news of Islamic or left-wing terrorism, which drew criticism from the usual corners, and when he did his statement condemned the hatred and bigotry and violence on “many sides,” repeating “on many sides” just for emphasis, and that drew criticism from pretty much everywhere. Most of the Republican party had already issued statements that unequivocally condemned the KKK and Nazism and any other hateful movements that consider themselves the “right,” as they’ve vainly and nobly struggled to do since the Civil War, and of course the Democrats had a field day with Trump’s more tepid response.
The KKK and the Nazis and the “alt-right” and the rest of the hateful movements that claim to be “right” were publicly pleased with Trump’s comments, though, and there was enough of a reasonable argument for them that so were many of his more reasonable supporters. There is indeed a similarly sliver-sized segment at the leftmost corners of the political spectrum that routinely engage in violence, often directed at Trump’s most visible supporters, some of whom no doubt played their role in the unpleasantness in Charlottesville over the weekend, and it’s only fair that should also be condemned. Democrats are indeed too often slow and equivocal in their denunciations of the violence associated with the black-hooded “antifas” or the more deadly riots that have followed Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and the double standard reasonably fuels that lingering reasonable suspicion of a certain anti-white animus on the left which did so much to get Trump elected.
There will surely be plenty of future opportunities to condemn that leftist strain of political violence, though, and to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities the past weekend seemed an especially inopportune moment to do so. In this case all of the tragic events were set in motion when a bunch of KKK and neo-Nazi and more politely named “alt-right” types from around the country invaded a lovely town that is home to a respected university to assert their hateful ideologies, and it culminated with one of that crowd’s muscle car plowing into a crowd of annoyingly self-righteious but entirely peaceable counter-protestors, so it was not the time to assert a moral equivalence between people who are marching down a public street armed with shields and helmets and spears waving Nazi and Confederate flags of a picturesque college town and the people who were tempted to punch them in the nose. It’s not only a losing political argument, unless you’re trying to maintain a shrinking base of support, but it’s also on shaky moral grounds.
Sooner or later those ugly and stupid and itching-for-a-fight types on the left will be responsible for some similar tragedy, and when it happens we want to be able to unequivocally condemn it without any plausible charges of hypocrisy. By now there’s a large segment of the right that argues reasonably enough that the left is willing to resort to the bare-knuckle rhetoric of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and outright violence to achieve their goals, and there’s enough of the right that thinks it must respond in kind to counter the threat, but we’re still hoping it won’t wind up with those end-of-the-Weimar-Republic street brawls between the Commies and the Nazis, which didn’t end well for anybody.
Those annoyingly self-righteous but entirely peaceable folks just left of the center seem willing to work things out amicably, and as old-fashioned and too-old-for-street-brawling re-constructionist Republicans just to the right of the center we’re eager to do the same, and we hold out hope that most of our party’s unequivocal repudiation of the Nazis and the rest of its violent elements will be met with the left’s unequivocal repudiation of its worst actors. Several White House officials have lately emphasized that the president’s “all sides” statements obviously included the KKK and the Nazis and the rest of the “alt-right,” as per usual after his more controversial statements, but as per usual the president himself hasn’t backed down, and it remains to be seen how that will work out.
As we await the culmination of this latest ugly and stupid episode in America’s history, we’ll offer our prayers that peaceable counter-protestor and the brave law enforcement officers who died trying to keep some semblance of peace in a lovely southern town, and our hope that the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman

The World’s Comics Vie for Second Place

All of the late night comedians took most of the Obama years off from political humor, but they’ve been back at it with a vengeance since Donald Trump took office. So far Trump and his staff and most steadfast supporters are unamused, but they’ll have to get used to it. Trump ridicule has become an international phenomenon, and it’s been interesting to see what sort of jokes the various countries have come up with.
Trump’s pledge of “America First” has sparked a competition amongst the rest of the world’s comedians to come up with the funniest reasons why their countries should be second, and much of it is not bad. Some comedy show in the Netherlands was the first to provide an “official” video by one of its late comedy shows explaining why their little-known country should place, and it went “viral” pretty much everywhere, and several of our most begrudgingly pro-Trump friends had to admit it was pretty funny. Apparently everyone in the Netherlands speaks English better than the current American president, as it’s all very ‘merican-sounding and without any bothersome subtitles, and they’ve all been following American politics closely enough to have noticed Trump’s penchant for hyperbole and boasts and saying “believe me” an awful lot. The filmmakers boast about the great ocean the Netherlands built between itself and Mexico, and how effective it’s been at keeping Mexicans out of the country, and how you can see it from space, and how everybody says that the Netherlands builds the best oceans, but it’s also rather endearingly self-deprecating. There are a couple of gags that you apparently have to follow Netherlands pop culture to get, and we don’t even follow American pop culture, but much of the humor is apparently universal.
The late night comic with a reputation as the edgiest in Germany followed suit, with some self-deprecating jokes about how he was admittedly stealing the premise from the Netherlands, and it’s also pretty good. There’s the same emphasis on Trump’s hyperbole and boasts and “believe me” verbal tic, but some more barbed Nazi jokes and a self-deprecating plea that Germany should be second because “Who more deserves a third chance?” By that point the late comics in Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal and Switzerland had joined, with the German comic placing them all conveniently on the same web site. They’re all pretty much the same jokes about Trump’s bombast and poor English skills and nationalistic fervor, and by now everyone in the world is apparently aware of Trump’s “locker room” about grabbing women by the wherever and his apparent affinity for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, but they all throw in some local humor that demonstrates what each country likes to kid itself about, which is interesting to learn even if we don’t know anything about Lithuania’s or Luxembourg’s pop culture.
Trump ridiculed his way to the presidency with such witticisms as “Low Energy” for Jeb Bush and “Look at that face” for Carly Fiorina and a “tweet” that unfavorably contrasted “Lyin'”Ted Cruz’s wife’s looks to his own third bride and an impersonation of some pesky New York Times’ reporters degenerative bone disease, and he’s had plenty to say about past presidents of both parties, so he should have expected some return fire. So far the comedians around the world are coming up with better material that he has, so he needs to either get serious or start being a whole lot funnier.

— Bud Norman

That Unsettling End of the Weimar Republic Feeling

For some time now we’ve been fretting that there’s a certain unsettling end-of-the-Weimar-Republic feel to America’s politics, and watching the gruesome video accounts of a recent bloody brawl between the far-right and the far-left on an ordinarily pastoral portion of Los Angeles’ public parks only heightens our anxiety.
So far as we can tell the far-left is more culpable for this most recent incident, as even such a genteel institution as The Los Angeles Times is obliged to report that even such a genteel institution as the Los Angeles Police Department admits that the far-right had gone through all the onerous chores of getting a permit and was peaceably assembling when the far-left showed up with large sticks of wood and sharp knives to commence the melee. Many of those originally peaceable far-right protestors were self-described Nazis, though, while many of the stick-and-knife-weilding far-left counter-protestors were self-described communists, so just like all those end-of-the-Weimar Republic brawls we would have preferred that some providential asteroid had brought some just retribution to the whole sorry lot of them. Providence always takes it own sweet time about these things, however, so this seems likely play out for at least another election cycle.

The cycle of violence has been going on for a while now, and although the left has always seemed more culpable there’s plenty of blame to go around. We recall the ’60s when the Weather Underground was a terrorist threat, and the ’70s when Woody Allen in “Annie Hall” was joking about how brickbats were a more effective response than op-eds to Nazi rallies, and of course how the current President of the United States was an unapologetic friend of the Weather Underground’s apologetic terrorist leaders, not to mention all those brutal assaults on everyday Americans who who showed up at the presumptive Republican presidential nominees rallies, and although that violence largely negated the story we’re obliged to admit that the presumptive Republican nominee truly did promise to pay the legal fees for anyone who roughed up the peaceful protestors at his rallies.

So far the presumptive Democratic nominee’s rallies have been free of violence, and there’s no evidence that she’s at all responsible for the violence that has plagued her presumptive Republican opponent’s rallies, and we hope this situation will somehow persist until Election Day. Still, there’s a certain end-of-the-Weimar-Republic feel to the whole thing, and we’re hoping that providence will prevent it.

— Bud Norman

A Consummation Devoutly Not to Be Wished

A recurring theme in the spate of dystopian futurist movies popular in our youth was that someday the government would start killing off all the old people. The notion provided a memorable scene in “Soylent Green” where Edward G. Robinson shuffled off to the local suicide center where the aged were treated to soothing music and images as they ceased to be a burden, and the entire plot of “Logan’s Run” was based on a society that maintained its perfectly organized order by offing anyone over the age of 30. In the late ’60s and early ’70s audiences found this plausible, with the younger and hipper movie-goers smugly assuming it was just the sort of thing that President Richard Nixon and his right-wing buddies would love to do, but it’s not been until the era of hope and change and the left-wing ascendancy that we’ve started to worry about it.
Our worries were heightened by the once-venerable Atlantic Monthly’s recent publication of an article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in which he expresses his desire to die at age 75 and urges the rest of us to do the same. This morbid advice would ordinarily be easy to ignore, but Emanuel is the brother of former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, has served as a special advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and is currently a fellow at the Obama White House-affiliated Center for American Progress. He painstakingly insists that he’s not advocating euthanasia, and he couches his argument mostly in terms of the individual’s best interests rather than society’s or the government’s bottom line, but there’s no shaking a discomfiting feeling that his enthusiasm for a mass early exit from this earthly plane isn’t entirely apolitical, or that it won’t have some appeal to the bureaucrats charged with balancing Obamacare’s hard-to-balance books.
His arguments for dying at age 75 probably won’t be persuasive to anybody else. He correctly notes that people tend to have more aches and pains and get around less energetically after 75 than they did in their younger days, but throughout history most people have found that more tolerable than the proposed alternative. Some people are afflicted with aches and pains and limited mobility early in life, too, and although Emanuel isn’t quite so bold as the Nazis were in suggesting that these unfortunate folks should also cash it in neither does he bother to discount the idea. He further notes that the vast majority of people are less productive after the age of 75, and cites some studies suggesting the decline begins well before that point, but the notion that an individual’s life is only of value to the extent that it serves the collective is also abhorrent. He acknowledges that some people retain great creativity and usefulness late into life, without considering how someone might know if they’re one of them until they reach an age well beyond 75, and he begrudgingly concedes that even the most debilitated oldsters still provide love and meaning to the lives of the families and friends, although he seems to regard this as a silly sentimentality, but he still insists that the rather arbitrary age of 75 is when shuffling off this mortal coil is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
What’s most unsettling, however, is that Emanuel’s arguments are so consistent with a predominant anti-life strain in modern liberalism. The enthusiasm for abortion even when a baby has survived the procedure, the advocacy for other extreme means of population control, the antipathy toward the scientific advances that have allowed agriculture to sustain the lives of untold billions around the world, and the younger generations’ apparent aversion to procreation and preference for polar bears, all reflect a peculiar post-religious belief that human life is not a precious gift granted by God to each human being but rather a problematic privilege conferred or revoked by┬ámore earthly┬áruling elites. Throw in the facts that the president of the United States has told the daughter of a centenarian that her mother should “take a pill” rather than get the expensive surgery she needs to continue a vital life, and his former Secretary of Health Human Services has explained a decision to deny a young girl life-saving treatment because “some people live and some people die,” and one of his former advisors is advocating death at age 75, and those old dystopian futurist flicks no longer seem so far-fetched. Nixon and his right-wing buddies have nothing to do with it, but otherwise they’re starting seem to prophetic.

— Bud Norman