Watching Us Watching Him

I did not watch the Emmys because I generally do not watch television, as it were—my most recent TV kick has been a DVD binge of the superlative early-2000s Veronica Mars—but I am glad I skipped it for another reason, in that it was apparently an insufferable few hours of progressive self-stimulation:

From the moment Sean Spicer — yes, the real one, not Melissa McCarthy — stepped on stage at the Emmys on Sunday night, the show amounted to a full-out roast of President Trump.

“And in 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” said Lily Tomlin, who was standing next to an apparently surprised Dolly Parton.

“Mr. President, here is your Emmy,” joked Alec Baldwin, who won for his “Saturday Night Live” portrayal of Trump. (Trump has been outspoken about the fact he never won an Emmy in the reality TV category.)

“On a very personal note, I want to thank Hillary Clinton for your grace and grit,” “SNL” star Kate McKinnon said in accepting her Emmy for her portrayal of the 2016 Democratic nominee.

“We did have a whole storyline about an impeachment but we abandoned that because we were worried that someone else might get to it first,” said “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

And Emmy host Stephen Colbert seemed to crack few jokes –in his monologue and throughout the show — that didn’t tie back to the President in some way, shape or form.

Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump Trump.

…It wasn’t one or two people who made a joke about Trump. Or a single speech that centered on a pet issue or tried to take down Trump. It was that the entire event seemed to revolve around Trump. Or, maybe better put: That the entire proceeding was meant less as a celebration of the year in TV than it was as a response to the first eight months of Trump’s presidency.

As Kellyanne Conway so aptly pointed out: “They got plucked and polished and waxed and some of them didn’t eat for two months and all for what?” Yes: for what? What, precisely, was the point of the Emmys last week? Nominally it was to distribute awards for the best television performances and productions of the year. In reality it played out more like a group of catty high school girls who have all been jilted by the same meanie boyfriend. For the life of me I am not quite sure what to make of this. Even at the height of his incompetent and destructive presidency, I did not feel the need to obsess over Barack Obama in this way. Who gets off on this sort of thing?

This is not merely a political question; it is an academic one as well, insofar as the celebrities at the Emmys seemed to combine the worst effects of oppositional defiant disorder and neurotic reality denialism. I mean, I hate to break it to Lily Tomlin, but: you are controlled by Trump, at least to the limited extent that a president is able to “control” the citizenry (would that it were far less even than it is now). As for the notion that Donald Trump might be impeached: what would he be impeached for? And, look, I’m sorry, but: the notion that Hillary Clinton displayed “grace and grit” during the 2016 election, rather than clumsy ineptitude and one of the worst presidential campaigns in modern history, is a bit of a stretch. Call me crazy! Or, you know, just go back and look at Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

This is American celebrity progressivism’s coping mechanisms: nonsensical political tantrums mixed with an insufferable inability to not be political for even five stinking minutes at a time. Even more than being hysterical and silly, it’s just boring, having to listen to rich movie stars go on about the politician they don’t like. I mean, don’t these guys have any funny vignettes from the green rooms at Prospect Studios? Can’t we hear about the time—one of the times, anyway—that Tina Fey peed her pants on the set of 30 Rock or something? Does it all have to be this weird obsessive political fixation?

I understand that there is a desire on the part of American liberalism to ensure that Trump isn’t “normalized,” i.e. that his behavior, politics and beliefs should be rebuked and held outside of the mainstream wherever possible. That’s fine; they do this with every Republican politician. But the way to get there isn’t by devoting the entire Emmys to a lame and repetitive and histrionic obsession with the man; it is embarrassing and ultimately delegitimizing.

The one upside to the whole affair is that apparently the show was a ratings disaster: very few people actually tuned it to watch it. It is a blessing in disguise, really. Maybe next year they can call a do-over and try a different, less humiliating approach.

Progressive Hysteria, Public Consequences

To proffer a mild understatement: there is a certain tendency in liberal politics to opt for political hysteria rather than reasonable discourse. This hysteria is made all the more dangerous by the fact that it goes largely unchallenged: by other liberals, by the media, by progressive politicians. This is not, for the most part, something you see on “both sides.” A few years ago when Todd Aiken made his ill-advised “legitimate rape” comments, he was rebuked, rebuffed and denounced by a dozen politicians within his own party, the chair of the RNC, the Republican presidential candidate at the time, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and many others; the Republican establishment also pulled his funding, and his comments received extensive outraged coverage in major media outlets for days.

Meanwhile, when a Democrat state senator calls for the assassination of Trump, she—oh, you didn’t hear of that one? Well, that’s really not all that surprising. Anyway, three or four Democrats got around to condemning her remarks, and the Missouri Senate gave her a slap on the wrist from which she will doubtlessly and effortlessly recover. Conservatives are, by and large, far better at policing the crazies and the liabilities in our own ranks than liberals are in theirs. Maybe liberals just don’t care one way or the other.

This isn’t just a matter of politics, however. The progressive tendency to promote hysteria, and the progressive and media tendency to ignore the negative effects of such hysteria, have genuine real-world consequences that affect real people in real ways. To take the example of the moment:

Three men with cameras who documented an anti-Confederate march through Richmond on Saturday all described being harassed by marchers for filming.

Daniel Ledon of Henrico County, Logan Hinson of Roanoke and Vincent Cannizzaro of Richmond described themselves as freelance videographers and independent journalists who didn’t know one another before the march…

“One person spit at me,” said Cannizzaro, a store manager who does wedding videography. “They were trying to run me over with bicycles. They were just yelling at me, calling me a fascist, they were saying that I’m on the wrong side of history. … I’m an independent journalist, aspiring journalist. I work for no one, I’m just trying to document what’s going on…”

Hinson said the anti-Confederate protesters accused him of being with the media while he filmed, “saying that the media is fascist.”

“When we’re out here with cameras, we’re not trying to harm anybody’s reputation or trying to ruin anybody’s life, we’re just trying to document what’s going on,” he said.

Ledon said he was harassed by numerous marchers.

“They started walking up with their bikes, putting tires up in our faces, making threats at certain points, just using very vulgar language,” he said. “At the moment, I was a little worried. Thankfully, they never did anything, but I mean, it was a bit of a scary situation.”

“It was a bit of a scary situation,” is a bit euphemistic: Mr. Ledon had every reason to be genuinely concerned for his physical safety, given how violent a number of these interactions have become in recent weeks. It is maybe the richest and most satisfying of ironies that the people who are screeching about “fascism” are the same ones openly threatening innocent self-styled journalists for filming a public march.

It is legitimately difficult to imagine the uproar that would happen if the political alignments in this situation were reversed: if it were Hillary Clinton in the White House and conservative vigilantes menacing reporters on the street. The New York Times would probably start putting out evening editions in order to offer more coverage, and CNN would probably lobby the United Nations to add an additional two hours to every day in order to wring as much out of the Nielsen ratings as they possibly could. As it stands, this astonishing phenomenon—thugs threatening to assault people on the street as part of some hysterical political zeitgeist—is greeted with about as much coverage as one might give to the Gribbler’s Wabe county fair pig race.

But then you cannot blame the media for staying silent, nor liberal politicians for averting their eyes from this mess to which they have so richly contributed. A great many prominent journalists and other media types have openly celebrated “antifa” violence, Democrats have whitewashed it, and rank-and-file progressives have explicitly encouraged it. Yet the violent phenomenon that these deeply ignorant men and women helped birth has plainly breached its barriers: where once the name of the game was “Punch Nazis!” the tactic these days is “Punch anyone with a camera!” Because fascism, you know.

The relevant question at this point isn’t, “Will they stop punching people?” It is, rather: “Who will they punch next?” And they will find someone new to punch, after the thrill of assaulting journalists has worn off. If I were a liberal who had gleefully cheered this kind of behavior on, I’d keep my mouth shut about it, too. Wouldn’t you?

The Big Hormonal Horizon

I kind of thought we’d sort of hit the peak of the transgender debate when activists started telling little girls that they needed to learn how to be comfortable with grown men inside their restrooms. But there is always more; of course there is always more:

New clinical guidelines, released Wednesday, are expected to reshape medical care for transgender children. The recommendations, written by an international medical team, ease previous restrictions so that children under 16 years old can begin hormone therapy in order to physically transform their bodies. The guidelines, which are being updated for the first time since 2009, are expected to carry wide influence among pediatricians across the globe.

The Endocrine Society, which boasts the “largest global membership” in the field of endocrinology, released the guidelines. Co-sponsors include the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Society of Andrology, European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology, European Society of Endocrinology, Pediatric Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Among the key changes: the doctors are reversing their position on “social transitions.” For the first time, the Endocrine Society acknowledges that young children may benefit psychologically from changing their hair and clothing to match the gender they believe to be as opposed to the sex they were assigned at birth. Another major shift: the authors of the clinical guidelines say that hormone treatment to change sex may be beneficial for kids younger than age 16. Previously, those drugs had generally been reserved for transgender people 16 and over. The shift is a controversial one that has some doctors and psychologists concerned that the new guidelines will encourage unnecessary transitions.

The idea of “unnecessary transitions” is something of a darkly grim irony—as if there could ever be a “necessary” reason to indulge a mental illness and/or mutilate one’s body with surgery and chemicals—but overall these new guidelines raise an important and altogether troubling set of questions regarding the medical community’s treatment of LGBT issues. The institutional acceptance of transgenderism, after all—the idea that someone can “be” a different “gender” other than the “sex they were assigned at birth”—has been one of the great frauds of the young century.

It is a fraud: I know it, you know it, the doctors themselves surely know it—everyone knows it except the mentally ill individuals whom our society has more or less abandoned as part of a fashionable crusade. The transgender phenomenon itself is largely impervious to a coherent definition, and most people seem more or less content to leave it that way; we are also presumed to accept things which cannot, in any way at all, be factual—such as the concept that a human being can “change sex,” as the dispatch above claims. An NBC affiliate repeating a scientifically preposterous claim as if it were true would be, in any other context, news. That it is not shows just how profoundly bizarre and divorced from reality the transgender charade really is.

A medical industry that has acceded to such a crazy and demonstrably untrue, to the point that they are prepared to allow teeny-boppers to undergo “hormone treatment” in order to try to change their bodies into things their bodies can never become, has lost its way. I understand that it can be professionally ruinous to stand up to this type of zeitgeist. But abdicating one’s professional duty in order to appease an illogical mob culture does nobody any favors—least of all the vulnerable and sick young men and women who are increasingly being abandoned by the very people who are supposed to be helping them.

Release the Looters!

A few years ago, for about ten minutes, everyone was obsessed with the word “body,” specifically as it was applied to various socio-ethnic demographics: “Black bodies,” “brown bodies,” “queer bodies,” “trans-franz-abled WoC bodies,” and so forth. So far as I can tell the linguistic zeitgeist stemmed from one of those interminable Ta-Nehisi Coates essays in which the writer used the term a little over three dozen times (my friend Mark Hemingway argues that Coates has “vaulted into the rarefied realm of writers whom people are afraid to edit”). I guess it sounded cooler and more fashionable to say “body” rather than “person,” though in the end everyone must have realized how quietly stupid it was, so you don’t really see it much anymore.

You see these kind of trends here and there. These days “white supremacy” seems to be filling that role; everyone’s saying it! “White supremacy” seems to have eclipsed “white privilege,” which itself eclipsed “racist,” as the liberal racial buzzword of the moment. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the real, actual white supremacists that appeared in Charlottesville, Virginia a number of weeks ago—but it seems more like it’s just a thing that people are saying, to the point of hilarious absurdity. For example:

The Miami Police Department took to Twitter on Sunday, as Hurricane Irma battered the state. “Thinking about looting? Ask these guys how that turned out. #stayindoors,” the post read, sharing a photo of people inside a jail cell.

To which writer Sarah Jaffe responded, in a tweet that received a great many shares:

the carceral state exists to protect private property and is inseparable from white supremacy

There’s that phrase again! Now, it’s easy enough to point out the obvious: that Sarah Jaffe would probably not feel quite so hostile towards “the carceral state” if it were her widescreen television and heirloom jewelry getting pilfered. But in itself this kind of strikes at the heart of the moral and intellectual dishonesty on display here—Jaffe was presumably not, after all, the victim of post-Irma looting, and so it feels mildly sanctimonious for her to lecture the cops, and by implication dismiss the people who were victims of robbery. If Jaffe had been one of the victims, you’d imagine she would want desire some sort of justice to be meted out to the people who robbed her. Then again, maybe she honestly wouldn’t care—but if so, this sets up a remarkably stupid and destructive duality in which our choices are either (a) white supremacy or (b) consequence-free larceny. Perhaps these are the two choices the Left believes we have before us: either Alabama in 1921 or Los Angeles in May of 1992. Or, gee, I don’t know, maybe there’s a third option.

Speaking of Ta-Nehisi Coates and white supremacy, the writer has a new essay out this month, another very long treatise on race and America, one in which he claims that Donald Trump is “the first white president.” Reflecting on the racist legacy of the American presidency, Coates draws a distinction between past white presidents, who utilized “the passive power of whiteness,” and Donald Trump, who was apparently a bit more up-front about it:

Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party [of the presidency] seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.

Oh, for goodness’s sake: out of the first eighteen presidents of the United States, thirteen of them owned slaves at one time or another—over half of them while they were in office! The notion that these men had an “elegant detachment” from the “awful inheritance” of American racism is a staggering assumption, unless you are prepared to argue that Donald Trump’s sometimes-nasty rhetoric and his fumbled P.R. response to a neo-Nazi rally somehow constitutes a more noteworthy racial comportment than owning human beings. Trump Derangement Syndrome, like Bush Derangement Syndrome before it, is a great corruptor of reasoned debate and intellectual clarity. In the end it will also probably be a great boon to Donald Trump’s re-election prospects.

You Will Be Made to Decry

It was only a few short weeks ago that we were in the full grip of Condemnation Hysteria: seemingly every progressive was running around demanding that every Republican, from the president on down to the chief shorthand notetaker of the Sheep’s Milk Pass city council, “condemn” the neo-Nazi groups that had sprung in up Charlottesville and a few other places. This is a tired, stale, altogether boring exercise in contemporary American politics: every time a nominally right-wing hate group waves a whiteboy separatist flag somewhere, the entire American conservative establishment (and the Republicans too, ha-ha) have to strip down to their bare chests, strike their breasts three times, and yell: “I denounce!”

This phenomenon might be a little more convincing if it were a two-way street, but, alas, it is not:

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has refused to condemn the radical left-wing street organization Antifa, claiming he doesn’t know enough about the group to pass judgment.

“I don’t like broad brushes and I don’t know enough about them to say that they’re terrorists but people who do violent things,” Kaine told the Daily Caller in a statement. “The law should take care of them.”

He “doesn’t like broad brushes” and he “doesn’t know enough about them,” huh? In the state which Tim Kaine represents in the United States Senate, antifa is responsible for well-documented political violence; they also assaulted a CBS reporter (blaming him for “perpetuating rape culture” because he was filming a funeral march, natch). Antifa also assaulted a woman who was peacefully protesting at a Boston rally, an incident that was broadcast on national television. And they launched an assault on “peaceful right-wing protesters” in Berkeley late last month, an episode that was covered by a great many major media outlets. Even the FBI felt concerned enough about this behavior to classify it “domestic terrorist violence.” But Tim Kaine “doesn’t know enough about them” in order to make a full-throated denunciation. Okay. Some senator!

In truth, I don’t think it’s necessary for liberal politicians in general to “denounce” antifa, anymore than I think it’s necessary for conservative ones to “denounce” the American Vanguard: it is a stupid and pointless political exercise that serves no other purpose than to tie one’s political opponents to hateful and violent fringe groups. The Left understands this, which is why most conservatives are inundated with demands for “denouncement” in the wake of such incidents: if you have to denounce something, after all, there is a subtle yet critical implication that you may have been associated with the thing in the first place, which is of course part of the point.

The only reason one should “denounce” a violent factionalist movement is if one had any sort of hand in encouraging it in the first place—and to be frank, the only encouragement of violent behavior that we’ve seen in the past month or so has come exclusively from the Left. A great many garden-variety liberals encouraged each other to violently assault people engaged in constitutionally-protected speech; prominent journalists, pundits and politicians, meanwhile, either whitewashed leftist violence or else outright promoted and championed it. Tim Kaine was among the latter, so it might behoove him to offer up a bit less of an equivocal statement regarding the violent movement he has heretofore swept under the rug.

In any case, it is no surprise that, in such a toxic environment, antifa might feel justified in slugging people for no good reason. And it is a testament to our broken political discourse and media industry that most of the blame for this violent unrest has been laid largely at the feet of Republicans and conservatives rather than the people who have been encouraging such behavior.

The Face of the Obvious

Steve Bannon, the uncomfortably unkempt spiritual leader of the idiot cuck-boy troll brigade at Breitbart, has a bit of a paranoid theory regarding the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The Roman Catholic Church criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA because it relies on “illegal aliens to fill the churches,” Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist, said in an interview airing Thursday.

Bannon, who returned as chairman of Breitbart News after being ousted as one of Trump’s top aides last month, added that the Catholic Church had “an economic interest in unlimited immigration.”

“The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? You know why? Because unable to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens,” Bannon told CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

“They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s — it’s obvious on the face of it,” Bannon, who is Catholic, continued. “They have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.”

For the sake of a silly argument, let us imagine that this is, at its base, true: that Catholic bishops sinfully only see the members of their flock in terms of shallow “economic interests.” If this were actually the case, what difference should it make to the bishops whether their parishioners were illegal immigrants here or full-fledged citizens in their home country? The money all flows toward Rome, after all, one way or the other. I suppose it is possible that, if a diocese does not sustain a critical mass of paying faithful, it might end up seriously in debt—but in that case it would probably end up being absorbed into a nearby archdiocese or else just directly subsidized from the Holy See. What does Bannon think the Vatican would do if a diocese stopped being able to afford itself for lack of illegal immigrants—shut down the cathedrals and laicize the clergy? Does he think this two-thousand-year-old institution established by Christ is somehow that inept and desperate?

People have all sorts of daffy and stupid conspiracy theories about the Catholic Church. The nuts from the Right tend to fixate rather comically on the Church’s liberal position on immigration—with results like the one above—while the hard Left, particularly the feminist Left, tends to make the Church out to be a darkly nefarious misogynistic cabal of patriarchs who are out to force women to become breeding sows, or something. Both are wrong, though it is worth pointing out that, on the merits of DACA, the bishops are mostly wrong, as well: the United States is far and away the most immigrant-friendly country on the planet, and the idea that we have to retain a temporary executive order promulgated by a president who isn’t even in office anymore in order to maintain our fundamental position on immigration is, well, a bit of a stretch. Even if this DACA saga ends as the hardest hawks want it to end—deportation of every one of the 800,000 illegal immigrants the program used to cover—we will still operate at a immigrational net positive for this year alone. Let’s not go crazy here: we wouldn’t want our public debate to suffer for the sake of political hysterics.

In any event, using scripture to justify explicit political policies, as the bishops do, is often a fraught business, given the potential for differing interpretations. Outside of the USCCB it’s a favorite pastime of areligious or atheistic liberals, who like to browbeat conservatives with passages from the New Testament in order to force them to accede to liberal politics: “Jesus said to love your neighbor,” they say, “so how come you don’t support gay marriage?!?!” It’s as irritating an exercise as it is an empty and superfluous one: being lectured about religious belief by people whose experience with religion probably begins and ends with Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweets and Bill Maher’s Religulous. But it’s frustrating in one particular way: if the non-religious are going to hold up the Gospel as a sort of guidebook to live by, the least they might be obliged to do is fall upon their knees and worship Jesus Christ as Son of God and the Savior of Mankind—which was, let’s not forget, the point of the Gospel in the first place: it was not designed to pass laws in the senate but usher souls into eternal glory with God. We might gently and kindly remind our unchurched friends of that, if and when the situation arises.

The Pen is Not so Mighty After All

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Barack Obama was fond of saying, and he was fond of using both of them in order to get what he wanted—as he did with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, to what is now undoubtedly his great embarrassment: Donald Trump has a pen, too, and yesterday he used it, “unwinding” the program in the same way it was wound up.

This is a richly-merited end to DACA—not because of the so-called “Dreamers” it covers, people who certainly merit our sympathy and our prayers if not necessarily our full-fledged noblesse oblige, but because of the progressives who believed that an executive order was a suitable substitution for genuine immigration policy. It is not, it never was, and Donald Trump, whatever his convoluted and probably half-thought-out reasons for doing so, is right to end it as an executive policy.

The Left prefers, and is infatuated by, executive action (at least when it is done by other liberals), in no small part because the Left is, generally and increasingly, hostile towards constitutional republicanism, preferring, as George Will once wrote, to “dispense with tiresome persuasion and untidy dissension in a free, tumultuous society.” The executive gimmickry surrounding Obamacare has been a perfect example of this: the birth control mandate issued on high from an unaccountable DHS, Obama himself unilaterally grandfathering in your health insurance plan after he lied about your being allowed to keep it (“I wonder if he has the legal authority to do this,” said Howard Dean at the time), the repeated employer mandate delays.

DACA followed the same playbook—an end-run around representative government in favor of favorable political optics—though to listen to the responses to Trump’s decision, you would imagine that the flimsy executive order were more akin to a constitutional amendment that Trump somehow repealed all by his lonesome. “Trump just turned DACA into a ticking time bomb for 800,000 immigrants,” blared Vox, which is a funny way of putting it—it wasn’t Trump, after all, that issued a temporary piece of non-legislation that provided limited deportation deferral for nearly a million people. If your response to yesterday’s change in immigration policy was to say, “How could Trump be so cruel?” you might consider asking yourself as well, “How could Obama be so comically shortsighted?”

The genius of the American system was supposed to be a political framework that avoided such political pitfalls—that the executive branch, while retaining certain energetic prerogatives mostly related to national defense, was supposed to be largely hamstrung on the political issues that require substantive deliberation and representative accountability. A compassionate approach to immigration might have looked less like a royal edict and more like the kind of boring, mildly tedious parliamentary horse-trading that is, or at least should be, a staple of American political life. We might have then avoided the specter of a “ticking time bomb” for more than three-quarters of a million people who, whatever the merits of their having remained in the U.S. all this time, may now be forced to leave behind five years of a life they built due to reckless unilateral political grandstanding.

You Have to Punch a Few Eggs

After a weeklong vacation, Trial of the Century resumes its normal publication schedule today. We thank you for your patience as we recreated. 

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There is a great scene in the movie Jurassic Park, a genuinely fine work of science fiction, in which Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond, mildly embarrassed at the rising body count his dino-park-gone-wrong has engendered, explains to Laura Dern’s paleobotanist Ellie Sattler why he created it in the first place: “I wanted to show [people] something that wasn’t an illusion.” He is heartened, however, looking forward, knowing that all can be put right “when we have control again,” to which Ellie responds: “You never had control, that was the illusion!”

I think about this great natural-philosophical commentary in light of recent political developments surrounding “antifa,” the so-called antifascist movement that has arisen and found its violent voice alongside the rise of Donald Trump. You may be aware that, over the past several weeks, liberal Americans, liberal politicians and a great many members of the media have spent a lot of time at least tacitly justifying antifa’s violent behavior: many people made public statements advocating violence against neo-Nazis, for instance, while the media had a collective hysterical meltdown at Donald Trump’s utterly factual and uncontroversial statement that both neo-Nazis and antifa protesters were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, many Democrats (and a few Republicans!) condemned white supremacist hate while steadfastly ignoring the growing problem of progressive violence. Some, like this Dartmouth professorexplicitly argued in favor of political violence, with his fellow faculty members defending him.

This widespread intellectual cowardice and moral degeneracy carries with it an unstated assumption, namely that, because antifa protesters were beating up white nationalists, the violence was thus acceptable: who among us, after all (other than a few lousy Supreme Court justices and four or five decades of unambiguous American case law and anyone with a shred of political decency) objects to Nazis getting punched in the face? I am not a mind reader, but I would imagine many liberals’ inner monologues went something like this: so long as antifa keeps its violent tactics fixated on white racists, it will be acceptable! 

But they never had control—that was the illusion. At the Weekly Standard, Matt LaBash has an indispensable account of “a beating in Berkeley,” an astonishing review of how, once liberated from the shackles of societal opprobrium, political violence invariably, even quickly, spreads from its original target to encompass a more generalized game. In Berkeley recently, a “Liberty Weekend” event was targeted by antifa on the grounds that it was, well, fascist. But it wasn’t; indeed, the organizers of the event—which include a half-Japanese activist and a fat Samoan—explicitly barred any white racists or Nazis from attending. No matter: antifa showed up to counter-protest and crack skulls. They probably weren’t helped by Nancy Pelosi, who termed the affair a “white supremacist rally,” or by Dianne Feinstein, who denounced the event’s “incitement, hate and intimidation,” even though none of these classifications were, you know, true.

Labash describes the stunning scene at a “No to Marxism” rally when the organizers arrive (with their hands held up in the air, no less):

First [Joey] catches a slap in the head, then someone gashes him with something in his ribs. He keeps his hands up, as though that will save him, while he keeps getting dragged backwards by his shirt, Tiny trying to pull him away from the bloodthirsty ninjas. Someone crashes a flagpole smack on Joey’s head, which will leave a welt so big that Tiny later calls him “the Unicorn.” Not wishing to turn his back on the crowd, a half-speed backwards chase ensues, as Joey and Tiny are blasted with shots of bear spray and pepper spray. They hurdle a jersey barrier, crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Way while antifa continue throwing bottles at them. The mob stalks Joey and Tiny all the way to an Alameda County police line, which the two bull their way through, though the cops initially look like they’re going to play Red Rover and keep them out. No arrests are made. Except for Joey and Tiny, who are cuffed…

I wheel around on some protesters, asking them if they think it’s right to beat people down in the street. “Hell yeah,” says one. I ask them to cite anything Joey has said that offends them, as though being offended justifies this. A coward in a black mask says: “They’re f—ing Nazis. There’s nothing they have to say to offend us.”

Joey Gibson himself said at a recent event, “Fuck neo-Nazis!” and “Fuck white supremacists,” and he has explicitly affirmed that he is not a white supremacist. So I’m not quite sure how such an astonishing charge can stand up to scrutiny—unless he’s taking on that time-honored Nazi tradition of denouncing the murderous ideology to which he’s ascribed. Hitler did it all the time! Nazis, you know, are super-sensitive about their public image.

So antifa mercilessly beat a bunch of people who have denounced Nazism and white supremacism, guys who showed up with their hands literally raised in the air. Is this surprising? Maybe to some people it is. Yet it should have been obvious from the start—if you give vigilantes carte blanche to hit certain people with which they disagree, then it is entirely probable that at least some of them will start hitting everyone with which they disagree. Indeed, this isn’t the first act of violence antifa has leveled against non-fascists—they put a CBS reporter in the hospital a few weeks ago, and one of them assaulted an older woman in Boston late last month.

Hey, why not? What, after all, is the limiting principle? “Um, I didn’t want you to hit those people?” You can’t say such things—not to dinosaurs that have busted out of their cages, or to idiot children who have been encouraged by reckless public figures that violence is an acceptable response to speech they do not like.

Maybe pro-violence liberals do not care—perhaps they see incidents like that in Berkeley as acceptable collateral damage within a moral and political framework that allows for their political opponents to be beaten in the streets. I suppose if I felt it was acceptable to punch people simply for saying things I didn’t like, I wouldn’t mind if a few innocent folks got caught up in the melee. But I don’t think it’s acceptable, no matter who is getting punched. And it is strange to me that such a case has to be made in modern American political life—that one must now argue why political violence is a bad thing that people shouldn’t do. But that is where we are—a landscape in which a violent factional movement has been loosed upon the American political scene with countless people cheering it on.

Likely the violence will grow in the days and weeks and months ahead, expanding to encompass an ever-more-diverse amount of the population. Probably some Nazis will get punched. Probably more than a few non-Nazis will get punched, too. In either case we will be dealing with a truly volatile and unstable political and social landscape, one to which much of our political and media classes have already given their assent. We are not in a good place, and we will be here for some time.

First, They Came for the Statues

I confess to being more or less ambivalent about the issue of Confederate statues; I think there is a Payne relative somewhere back in the forgotten ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia, but overall our southern sentiments do not extend so far as to really caring all that much about what happens to a monument of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, both of whom, one should remember, fought a war in order to preserve the institution of slavery in what is literally my backyard.

Except…I sort of do care. Not for the sake of some mawkish and misplaced sense of southern “pride,” as if the obvious regional majesty of the southern United States rises and sets on the Ordinance of Secession. Nor is it for the sake of preserving some honorable monuments erected by a chastened and wounded body politic: many of these statues were erected decades after the war, some of them as late as the 1940s or 50s, in large part to send a message to those pesky black people who were getting overly pushy about the whole 14th Amendment thing.

No, I care about the monument zeitgeist solely as a matter of long-form political concern, namely that this whole charade is quite obviously not about the monuments but about political power.

Recently someone trenchantly pointed out that Confederate monuments are like national debts: the Left only really cares about them when a Republican is in office. That is doubly true now, when our current political moment consists largely of grown adults pretending that Donald J. Trump, washed-up real estate tycoon and New York Democrat up until about five minutes ago, is ushering in a New Third Reich. In such an environment, where you have respectable college deans referring to the president as a “Nazi-in-chief,” the impulse to seize the opportunity is going to be strong: if people are already riled up to that extent, then it’s going to be fairly easy to convince them to tear down a bunch of bronze statuary, even if they hadn’t thought twice about it over the past eight years.

So that’s what’s happening. And the darkly mobbish and paranoid behavior surrounding this whole affair has been a thing to witness. In Durham, they pulled down a statue and then took turns kicking it—an exhibition of political theatrics that it’s almost impossible to believe actually happening, until you see the video and the allegedly grown-up men and women doing it. Somebody at UNC got the word ahead of time and put up barriers around their “Silent Sam” statue, but that didn’t stop an angry mob from forming around it. The statue “promotes violence,” according to one protester, and so it should be put in “a museum” (wouldn’t that just make the museum a violent place?). Baltimore decided to just go ahead and do the mob’s work for them, tearing down statues while the city slept (“Deeds so manifestly righteous, popular, and proud,” one fellow remarked, “they must be done unannounced in the dead of night”). In Ohio, somebody decapitated a Confederate statue in a Confederate cemetery. And in perhaps the most outlandish display of political theater so far, the city of Charlottesville covered its Confederate statues with black tarp. They did this ostensibly as an act of “mourning” for Heather Heyer, the woman killed by a white nationalist terrorist attack during the neo-Nazi chaos, but…I mean, for goodness’s sake, seriously, Charlottesville—just man up and be honest about what it is you’re really doing.

No, this isn’t about statues, or even the Confederacy; if it were, they would have come down years ago. This is about a violent zeitgeist, or the threat of it, controlling our political discourse. Indeed, virtually all of the monument removals have come in the days directly after the Durham mob pulled down the Durham statue; more than a few municipal authorities must have taken note. This is not a majoritarian fad sweeping the nation; more than half of all Americans believe in leaving the statues up—including a plurality of black Americans! I guess they do not know what is best for them.

So this is about power. And of course, the thirst for political power is never satiated by the quench; it must always find something new to dominate. So the conquest must be expanded to encompass new horizons and new objects to destroy: an Abraham Lincoln statue in Chicago, for instance, or the vandalization of a monument dedicated to “genocidal terrorist” Christopher Columbus. Some people are even demanding that Mount Rushmore be blown up, because–well, hell, because why not? Why limit ourselves to a few paltry statues and obelisks? Set your sights on high, baby! And then destroy whatever it is you’re looking at.

At Slate last week, Jamelle Bouie took issue with Donald Trump’s comment that tearing down the CSA statues was a “slippery slope” that could end with statues to Washington or Jefferson coming down as well: ” The reason we memorialize [Washington and Jefferson] is not because of their slaveholding,” he claims, but because of the other, great things they did. Robert E. Lee, meanwhile, “is only famous because he led Confederate armies.” This is not a bad point, though very quickly it become a moot one: a few hours after Bouie said that the Washington-and-Jefferson-are-next argument was “dumb,” Angela Rye appeared on CNN and announced that, well, Washington and Jefferson are next. Why does she feel this way? Because of their slaveholding, of course!

So do not be fooled. The Confederate statues may all end up coming down, and everyone will be fine and we’ll all move on. Except some of us won’t move on—and those folks will come after Washington next, and Jefferson, and then maybe they’ll start working their way up, eventually coming after Coolidge, FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, both Bushes; by that point they may even be frothed-up enough to knock down the image of Barack Obama that they’ll have carved into Mt. Rushmore after blowing the others up. And then maybe they’ll really get started.

You might think, “There’s no way it will get that bad.” And you might be right. But you’re probably wrong.

You Will Be Made to Learn

If there were ever any reason to be genuinely alarmed of the transgender phenomenon, its targeting of children is it. Children have always been easy targets—for exploitation, for indoctrination, for any number of practical or ideological purposes—and transgender activists understand this and are acting accordingly. To wit, from California, an account worth quoting at length:

The Rocklin Academy school board is facing tough questions from parents concerned over a controversial incident involving transgender discussions inside a kindergarten class, CBS Sacramento reports.

“These parents feel betrayed by the school district that they were not notified,” said Karen England with the Capitol Resource Institute.

The incident happened earlier this summer during the last few days of the academic school year.

At Monday night’s board meeting, the teacher at the center of the controversy spoke out. With emotions high, she addressed a packed house.

“I’m so proud of my students, it was never my intent to harm any students but to help them through a difficult situation,” she said.

The teacher defended her decision to read two children’s books about transgenderism including one titled “I am Jazz.” She says the books were given to her by a transgender child going through a transition.

“The kindergartners came home very confused, about whether or not you can pick your gender, whether or not they really were a boy or a girl,” said England.

Parents say besides the books, the transgender student at some point during class also changed clothes and was revealed as her true gender.

And many parents say they feel betrayed and blindsided.

“I want her to hear from me as a parent what her gender identity means to her and our family, not from a book that may be controversial,” a parent said.

“My daughter came home crying and shaking so afraid she could turn into a boy,” another parent said.

“The kindergartners came home very confused.” “My daughter came home crying and shaking.” This is, on its face, unsurprising: transgenderism is an ideology that thrives on confusion, and the whole thing must seem very frightening to young children, who are of course only just learning about their own senses of identity. Try to explain to them the eccentricities of a madhouse philosophy and you will invariably send them home “crying and shaking.”

But then again maybe that’s the point. Transgender ideology seems to exist largely as a tool to destabilize what was once the uncontroversial and self-evident natures of human biology and physiology; where once we used to refer to human females as “women” and human males as “men,” we are now expected to assume that these words (indeed, any words associated with sex and human anatomy) are meaningless except as utterly malleable associations that can mean just about anything anybody wants them to at any time—which is to say, meaningless. “Not everyone who has a penis is a man” is a thing that many educated, healthy, nominally sane individuals like to say these days; apparently we have expanded such instructive logic to children as well. So the tears aren’t really that surprising.

In the end I think that schools are perfectly within their rights to teach transgenderism to little children. But—being that it is, you know, a mildly sensitive and important topic—I think parents should be thoroughly informed as to just what their children are being taught. I feel certain that, if so apprised, many parents will elect to have their children stay home on trans reading days. But then maybe that’s why the teachers keep their mouths shut about it: because they know that, given the choice, parents aren’t particularly keen on filling their children’s heads with dangerous and destructive nonsense.