The Covington Kids, the Native American Drummer, and the “Hebrew Israelites”

Until recently we’d never heard of Covington Catholic High School, nor the town of Park Hills, Kentucky, but at the moment they are both unavoidably famous.
One of those “viral videos” that frequently infect the internet showed some Covington students wearing “Make America Great Again” ball caps in a tense encounter with a Native American drummer on Saturday at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the aftermath of an anti-abortion rally, which by Sunday led to all sorts of outraged coverage from left-leaning media about arrogant white youth menacing a an aged minority group member in the age of the President Trump. On Monday another longer video of the same incident from a literally different perspective was released which showed the Covington students had been harassed by some nearby members of a black religious cult known for its hatred of white people, which led to all the right-leaning media grousing about the “fake news” vilifying Trump-supporting white folk. On Tuesday both sides and the Native American drummer in the literal middle of it were all still arguing about what happened.
On the one hand it was no big deal, as no one was injured and such racially and politically charged unpleasantness goes on everyday outside of cell phone camera range, but on the inevitable other hand we can’t blame either side for trying to make a big deal of it.
The original video showed a young MAGA-cap-wearing fellow staring at the Native American drummer with what can reasonably be described as a sneering smirk, and some of his classmates are doing the “tomahawk chop” gesture and shouting something or other that didn’t sound at all friendly, and given that it came at the end of anti-abortion rally it did seem a nicely succinct summation of the liberal narrative about the age of Trump. The Native American drummer they were clearly mocking is elderly and a respected tribal leader and decorated war veteran, too, and the short video looked undeniably bad from its certain perspective.
The libertarian-leaning Reason magazine then came up that longer video from a different perspective, however, and it clearly showed that while awaiting a school bus to bring them home the students had peacefully endured the profane and racially charged insults of a nearby group of “Hebrew Israelites,” a weird cult that preaches black people are the true Jews of the Old Testament and everyone else is damned to hell, and that the Native American drummer, who happened to be there because he’d been involved in an indigenous people’s rally had placed himself between the two groups in an apparent attempt to calm the situation. He chose to direct his drumming at the white students, who might or might have understood his intentions, and although they were arguably disrespectful they were non-violent and didn’t do anything that can be construed as threatening. The “Hebrew Israelites” had been taunting the white students with anti-homosexual slurs, too, and are well-known for their anti-Jewish sentiments and general hatefulness, and it was so hard for the left-leaning meaning media to explain that many were in retreat on Tuesday.
The right-leaning media went on the offensive, plausibly arguing it was an example of the “fake news” rushing to judgment about Trump supporters. Trump himself weighed in via “Twitter,” and is reportedly planning a meeting with his disparaged fans. We can hardly blame them for making the best of the opportunity.
Some of the the left-leaning media are admitting the situation was more complicated than they’d supposed, but still think that a smirking bunch of MAGA cap-wearing and “tomahawk-chopping” white boys at a rally against reproductive rights deserve whatever opprobrium they get, so the debate will probably last through today. No one’s likely to get the best of it, however, and we expect the incident will be long forgotten by all but those were personally involved.
All sides are looking for heroes, but they’re not likely to find any that will last past the next news cycle. Those obnoxious “Hebrew Israelites” are clearly villains from any side’s perspective, but they’re such an ineffectual fringe cult that the right can’t make them much of a bogeyman and the left needn’t muster any defense for them. That Native American drummer might have had the best intentions in inserting himself into the confrontation, and despite his war heroes we can hardly blame him at his advanced age for addressing his drumming to to the skinny white Catholic school kids rather than the burly black power street activists who’d been taunting them, and he strikes us as neither heroic nor villainous. The Covington kids were clearly nonviolent and blameless of any misdemeanor, and it’s worth noting they are after high school-aged boys, so worse could have been excepted, but that one did have what can reasonably be interpreted as a self-entitled smirk and one of his classmates was pulling his shirt off in the cold in a provocative way and they were doing that “tomahawk chop” thing that Native Americans reasonably find offensive, and even as dumb high school kids they could have acted better.
Looking at it from all the cell phone camera-recorded perspectives, it strikes us as just another example of the unpleasantness that all too frequently occurs in our politically polarized society, which we frequently witness even here in Wichita but never bother to record on our old-fashioned flip phone. We blame human nature and Trump and his equally crazed enemies, and the more impulsive right-leaning and left-leaning media, and the occasional Native American drummer who ill-advisedly walks into the middle of it, and all of us on the sidelines who wonder what to do about it and the worse that’s sure to come.

— Bud Norman

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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

Shedding the Corporate Label

If there’s one thing that the more fervent sort of modern liberal hates more than capitalism itself, it’s a corporation. Whenever a modern liberal spits out the word  it sounds as if he thinks the longstanding legal tradition of incorporation is some sort of pact with Satan. If there’s one thing a modern liberal hates more than a corporation it’s a Republican, but we think the Grand Old Party can use some of that anti-corporate fervor in its favor on a few important issues.
This counter-intuitive notion came to us while poring through a recent issue of The New the York Times, of all things. The Gray Lady has been uncharacteristically feisty lately, with such lese majeste as to remind its readers that the president has often been on the record declaring his newly pronounced illegal immigration policy unconstitutional, and she even went so far as to run an article damning Obamacare. That grenade of heresy was lobbed from the left, criticizing the law’s rather cozy relationship with the evil insurance companies that the left had cast as the mustache-twirling villains in the melodrama that played out as the health care law was being forced down the public’s figurative and literal throats, but there’s no reason those on the right shouldn’t share in the outrage. The more righteous of the right have long insisted that government should favor no special business interest, whether incorporated or doing business by any other legal arrangement, but rather enforce a level playing field of ruthlessly efficient and red-in-tooth-and-claw competition. What The New York Times convincingly describes is lobbyist-negotiated, government-regulated, taxpayer-funded crony capitalism, and if there’s one thing the modern conservative hates more than socialism itself it is crony capitalism.
A constitutionally old-fashioned sense of civil discourse usually prevents a true conservative from employing such strong language, but in other contexts the modern liberal will call such economic policies “fascism.” Back in the bad old days of George W. Bush our liberal friends were constantly telling us how fascism merged corporate and government power, just like some tax break that the oil companies were getting or that no-bid contract for Halliburton, and they really seemed to believe that we were living under the reign of another Il Duce. We found it odd that their objection to fascism was not  based on its authoritarian insistence on conformity but rather what the more up-to-date academic liberals call “industrial policy,” and were always skeptical of their apparent belief that Mussolini lived in constant fear of the industrialists’ goons rapping that midnight knock on his door rather than the other way around, and can’t help noticing that their outrage about those tax breaks and no-bid contracts has greatly diminished since Bush left office, but perhaps they can be made to see that Obamacare is about as cozy a relationship between corporations and government as American history provides. We’re talking insurance companies, after all, and by now it will be hard for the left to write them a more friendly role in its ongoing melodrama.
Back in that brief, heated moment when Obamacare was being debated the right found the insurance industry a sympathetic character in the play, but it can easily be recast in the continuing conservative narrative. We initially argued that the industry’s 4 percent profit margin was not at all obscene, and certainly less than what the bureaucratic bloat of the federal government would inevitably suck out of expenditures on health care, but no longer felt any obligation to defend them when they signed on to new rules that exempted them from the market forces that had kept those profit margins low relative to other industries. A generous interpretation would be that in the national insanity following the great “hope and change” election of ’08 the insurers feared a single-payer or full-blown national health system would tie them to a metaphorical railroad track and thus felt compelled to sign on to anything that would prolong their survival, which we must admit did not seem at all far-fetched, but that’s no reason the right should hesitate to throw them back into that ferocious pit of pure capitalism. The always-feisty Washington Examiner warns that the insurance companies will resist any Republican efforts to dismantle Obamacare, but this will only provide the Republicans with a villain that even the modern liberal will boo and hiss in their telling of the long, sad story. They might not like the ending where the insurance companies go back to their piggish 4 percent profit margins and people who like their plans get to keep their plans, but even the liberals should prefer that to the bigger profits and promises of bail-outs under a system that would have surely been fascism if the Republicans had created it.
Selective corporate-bashing could benefit the Republicans elsewhere, as well. All Republican efforts to resist Obama’s outrageous refusal to execute federal immigration laws should include some mention of the powerful corporate interests which will benefit as well as and emphasis on the low-wage workers who will suffer. The waste of public funds on various “green energy” boondoggles should emphasize the incorporated but otherwise politically correct fat cats who are cashing in without providing any of the tangible benefits of those oil men. Countless state and local issues, such as that city-subsidized hotel referendum they peddled here in Wichita a couple of years ago, could unite the anti-corporate and anti-crony-capitalist constituencies in opposition. If the public can be made to understand that the comic agitprop of Jon Stewart and his late-night ilk and the usual fare of The New York Times and those up-to-date academic liberals are products of corporate America that would also be helpful.
The Republicans should resist the label of the party of of corporate America, and should continue to purge their ranks of those corporate-financed office-holders who make it plausible, but allow the Democrats to be the anti-corporate party. Those people who voluntary work for or buy from a corporation are going to be at least somewhat wary of a party intent on the destruction of corporate America, and they are probably a large portion of the population. A party of capitalism, which neither favors nor disfavors any of those corporations fighting it out in a ferocious pit of competition where the lowest profit margin survives, might even have some perverse appeal to even the most anti-corporate modern liberal.

— Bud Norman