Suspicious Manners

I conceive that the President ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself. It may happen, at some future day, that he will establish a monarchy, and destroy the republic.

George Mason, at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788

There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty.

James Madison, responding to Mason

This week’s featured post is “Back to School“. I have an unpredictable week ahead of me, so I’m not sure whether there will be a Sift next week or not.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump Crime Family

I decided not to do a featured post on this, because all the points I would make are already being widely discussed. In all of American history, I can’t come up with a presidential action as blatantly corrupt as Trump commuting Roger Stone’s sentence. (Leave a comment if you want to suggest a rival.) It’s like he’s saying: “Sure, I’m obstructing justice. What are you going to do about it?”

Benjamin Wittes lays it out:

Roger Stone isn’t just Trump’s confidante or friend. According to newly unsealed material in the Mueller Report, he’s also a person who had the power to reveal to investigators that Trump likely lied to Mueller—and to whom Trump publicly dangled rewards if Stone refused to provide Mueller with that information. Now, it seems, the president is making good on that promise.

As Judge Amy Berman put it when she sentenced Stone:

He was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the President. He was prosecuted for covering up for the President.

Stone hasn’t exactly been subtle. He talked to Howard Fineman Friday, and Fineman recounted the conversation in Saturday’s New York Times:

“I had 29 or 30 conversations with Trump during the campaign period,” he reminded me. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t. They wanted me to play Judas. I refused.”

And so, in the fullness of time — which is to say, about an hour later — the White House made official what Stone already knew: Trump was commuting Stone’s felony convictions for lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses. At 67, Stone would not have to report to a federal pen to serve his allotted 40 months.

Stone’s statement is not hard to interpret: He can testify to something Trump did that a prosecutor would make a deal to learn about — crimes, in other words. Stone deserves his commutation because he didn’t rat out his criminal boss.

Recall the larger plot Stone was part of: Russia hacked Democratic emails, and then sent them to WikiLeaks to be released in a fashion designed to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump’s. Stone was the connection between WikiLeaks and Trump — not just the Trump campaign, Trump himself. In written testimony to the Mueller investigation, Trump claimed to remember no conversations with Stone about WikiLeaks. If Stone had testified, the President could have been charged with perjury. That’s when Trump began tweeting about how “brave” Stone was and raising speculation about a pardon.

Wittes again:

[T]he commutation means that the story Mueller tells about potential obstruction vis a vis Stone did not end with the activity described by the Mueller Report. It is a continuing pattern of conduct up until the present day.


That’s not all that happened this week on the ending-the-rule-of-law front. On the same day (Friday, of course) that Trump was giving Stone his pay-off for respecting the Trump Family omerta, Consigliere Bill Barr was shutting down another possible source of legal jeopardy: He replaced the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

This is the third time Barr has pulled this trick: He previously installed a lackey at the US Attorney’s office in the District of Columbia (who promptly rewrote the Roger Stone sentencing memo and is trying to walk away from the conviction of Mike Flynn), and tried to do the same thing at SDNY. Each time, he started by making the incumbent US attorneys offers they couldn’t refuse: some cushy job elsewhere in the Trump administration. SDNY’s Berman did refuse, and got fired (but did manage to get his deputy to replace him rather than a Barr-bot).

EDNY is not as famous as its neighboring district SDNY, but it does have its finger in the Trump-corruption pie as well. Newsday reports:

Why Barr has been busily ousting U.S. Attorneys in New York City has been a subject of intense debate and speculation. Several criminal probes and prosecutions in Manhattan have rankled as a thorn in the side of the Trump administration, from the campaign-finance crimes of the president’s former fixer Michael Cohen to the impeachment-related allegations against Rudy Giuliani’s former associate Lev Parnas.

As Trump’s Senate trial played out in February, Politico reported that Donoghue had been in charge of vetting and managing all Ukraine-related efforts. His district reportedly had been heading an investigation into Tom Barrack, a Trump confidant who headed the president’s inauguration committee and whose fundraising for that event allegedly caught the scrutiny of federal prosecutors.


Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman violated omerta by testifying during the impeachment hearings in February. He and his twin brother (who had no connection to the impeachment hearings) were then fired from their jobs at the National Security Council. Wednesday, Vindman announced he is retiring from the military after 21 years, due to what his lawyer called “a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” by President Trump.


Meanwhile, the Supreme Court gave Trump a split decision on his tax cases: They rejected his argument that he was completely beyond the reach of the law, but allowed him to run out the clock. It’s extremely unlikely that anyone will get to see his tax returns or other business records until after the election.


Last week I mentioned the Commerce Department’s attempt to delay its inspector general’s report on SharpieGate. Now it’s out, and it makes infuriating reading. To make a long story short: Trump couldn’t admit even a trivial mistake, so Mulvaney pressured Ross who pressured NOAA to put out a statement rebuking National Weather Service forecasters for being right and doing their jobs. The process of putting out that cowardly statement consumed NOAA management’s attention while a actual hurricane was still raging.

Ross delegated the problem to Commerce Dept. Chief of Staff Mike Walsh, who denies he ever told anybody at NOAA their jobs were on the line. However, some of the phone conversations with him happened at 2:30 in the morning, so you might understand how the NOAA folks got that impression.

Reading the report, I kept wishing somebody would defend the NWS forecasters and tell the sycophants in the White House to go fuck themselves. (You want to fire me? If you think this looks bad in the media now, wait until you start firing people over it.) But it never happened.

It’s a small incident, but it explains so much about how the last three years have gone: Defending the President’s fragile ego absorbs so much of the government’s attention that there’s not much left to devote to governing. And precious few people (like Colonel Vindman) are willing to risk their careers to stop it.

and schools

It’s time to decide what school-age children are going to do in the fall. It would be nice if communities could make those decisions based on local conditions, using the best scientific insight available, but this is the Trump Era. If you’re for him, you want schools 100% back to normal, and if you don’t, it must be because you hate him. More in the featured post.


Colleges and universities are a different subject, which I didn’t get to this week. I noticed some developments in the college-sports world, though.

The Ivy League won’t have a football season this year. No Harvard vs. Yale game. An Indiana University sports blogger thinks this won’t start a trend.

The Big Ten and the others will do everything in their power to play football this season, simply because there is so much money involved. They can do what the Ivy League can’t — play games without fans and still make a ton of money because of their television contracts — so that will happen if it’s at all possible.

The Big Ten subsequently announced that it will play only conference games, and has not yet committed even to them.

By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.

The main problem right now is getting the teams together for practice when players keep testing positive for Covid-19. Makes you wonder what’s going to happen when all the students show up for fall term.

and the virus surge

Since the surge in Covid-19 cases began around June 8 or so, we’ve experienced the mystery of how cases could surge while deaths kept going down. Two obvious explanations were (1) The newly infected people are younger and so less likely to suffer dire consequences. (2) Hospital treatments, particularly of the most serious cases, are getting better.

Those are probably both factors, but there was a third explanation: the time lag between infection and death. As I heard Chris Hayes put it: “We’re between the lightning and the thunder.”

This week the thunder arrived. The low point in deaths appears to have been 217 on July 5. Two weeks ago I predicted:

[N]ationwide, the new-case curve started rising around June 10. That would suggest deaths will begin rising about July 4.

There have been 4980 deaths in the last seven days, compared to 3334 the seven days before that.

The surge in cases is continuing. Depending on when you start the clock on a day, we either did or didn’t break the 70,000-new-case mark on Friday. That number was around 20,000-per-day in early June.


The Trump administration is now treating Dr. Fauci as if he were a political rival. Anonymous sources at the White House distributed a list of supposedly inaccurate statements Fauci has made, “laid out in the style of a campaign’s opposition research document”. CBS’ Face the Nation has been trying to interview Fauci for three months, but the White House has refused permission for that as well as many other interviews. He no longer briefs Trump or appears in White House briefings for the public.

Fauci has committed the unforgivable sin of refusing to let Trump dictate reality. He has directly contradicted Trump’s ridiculous claim that the recent spike in cases is simply a reflection of more testing, and told 538 “As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not.”

Fauci is a civil servant rather than a political appointee, so firing him would be difficult. He could quit, but people close to him say he wants to keep overseeing vaccine development.


There has been a virus outbreak in the Mississippi legislature, leading this embarrassing result:

Gov. Tate Reeves is warning the public to get tested for coronavirus if they have been in contact with a state lawmaker.


Here in Massachusetts, we’re currently doing well, but I worry about complacency. I think the Northeast in general is imagining that we had our outbreak, so the area is immune now. We’ve opened restaurants for indoor dining, which has to be a mistake.

Pittsburgh is a cautionary tale. Allegheny County had zero new cases on June 17, but was back over 200 by July 2.


An economic consequence of the surge is that it has stalled the recovery of the economy. Jobs will come back much more slowly, unemployment is running out, and so far Republicans in Congress are resisting any further stimulus. One expert projects that 20 to 28 million Americans face eviction by September.

and the Supreme Court’s contraception decision

As usual, there was a flurry of end-of-term decisions. In addition to the Trump tax cases mentioned above, the Court issued a 7-2 opinion upholding the Trump administration’s reworking of the religious exemption to ObamaCare contraception mandate. An exemption that the Obama administration originally crafted so that religious organizations that object to birth control wouldn’t have to provide it to their employees has now been stretched to cover any organization — even publicly traded corporations — that claim either a religious or moral objection. What’s more, the Obama administration had a work-around so that the employees would continue to get their birth control covered. The Trump people have thrown that out, with the result that some number of women will now not have contraceptive coverage.

This was just one more step down a wrong path, so I have a hard time criticizing the liberal justices (Kagan and Breyer) who sided with the conservatives. Like Roberts in the Louisiana abortion case last week, Kagan and Breyer had precedents to consider.

The case goes back to a lower court, so it’s still possible that the Trump rule will be thrown out ultimately. But it will be allowed to take effect in the meantime.

Longtime readers know that I am deeply skeptical of all these “conscience” provisions. I think employer-supported health insurance should be like a paycheck: What the employee does with it is none of the employer’s business. Whether somebody works for Little Sisters of the Poor or the Taliban or whoever, their health insurance should cover contraception, and the employer’s moral or religious beliefs should have no bearing on the subject. Again, it’s like a paycheck. If a woman can use her paycheck to buy contraceptives, she should be able to use her health insurance just as freely.

Once you let the employer’s religious or moral values into the picture, though, you’ll never find a place to draw the line. That’s why these cases keep going to the Supreme Court: There’s no clean rule that lower courts can apply unambiguously.

and cancel culture

A large number of well-known people signed “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” that will appear in Harper’s. Some of the names are quite famous, like Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, and Salman Rushdie, while others are people you will frequently see me quoting in this blog, like Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Vox’s Matt Yglesias.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.

While I continue to respect a lot of the signers, I have to say I don’t get it. Maybe I’m just not in plugged into the academic community and don’t appreciate the pressures on campus today. But none of the cases I hear about impress me. For example, NYT opinion-page editor James Bennett resigned (presumably under pressure) after the outcry surrounding his publication of Senator Tom Cotton’s call to use the military to suppress the rioting/protesting after George Floyd’s murder. That seemed like a serious act of bad judgment to me, and was one of a series. (See David Roberts’ article.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, I think, offers some appropriate perspective:

any sober assessment of this history must conclude that the present objections to cancel culture are not so much concerned with the weapon, as the kind of people who now seek to wield it.

Until recently, cancellation flowed exclusively downward, from the powerful to the powerless. But now, in this era of fallen gatekeepers, where anyone with a Twitter handle or Facebook account can be a publisher, banishment has been ostensibly democratized.

He reminds us of the more serious cancellations that are just part of business-as-usual: Colin Kaepernick got drummed out of the NFL for his views; Christine Blasey Ford got death threats for telling her story. It would be nice to live in a more forgiving world, Coates says, but we would need to construct it from scratch. Just going back to the day when the powerful could be forgiven for whatever they say or do, but the powerless could not, is not that world.

and you also might be interested in …

At long last, the Washington Redskins are going to change their name. The new name hasn’t been announced yet. I’m hoping they pick a name unrelated to Native Americans, rather than just dialing back to something like Warriors or Braves and keeping a Redskin-like logo.

It’s funny what does and doesn’t fly as an athletic team name. Only certain breeds of dogs work (bulldogs or wolves). Insects are OK if they sting (hornets or yellowjackets, but not ants or crickets). The Washington Spies would have an appropriate local flavor, but violates some sort of taboo I can’t put my finger on. The Washington Generals ordinarily would work, but that’s the name of the hapless team the Harlem Globetrotters have been beating up on for decades. I could go for Agents or G-Men. If it were up to me, though, I’d play off the Capitol area’s neo-classical architecture and name the team the Centurions.


Peter Wehner of The Atlantic talks to an unnamed Christian minister about the price Christians have paid for supporting Trump:

“Yes, Hollywood and the media created a decidedly unattractive stereotype of Christians. And Donald Trump fits it perfectly. Made it all seem true. And sadly, I now realize that stereotype is more true than I ever knew. It breaks my heart. In volleyball terms, Hollywood did the set, but Trump was the spike that drove the ball home. He’s everything I’ve been trying to say isn’t what the church is all about. But sadly, maybe it is.”


The only thing worth mentioning about Tucker Carlson’s claim that Tammy Duckworth “hates America” is Duckworth’s response:

They’re doing it because they’re desperate for America’s attention to be on anything other than Donald Trump’s failure to lead our nation, and because they think that Mr. Trump’s electoral prospects will be better if they can turn us against one another. Their goal isn’t to make — or keep — America great. It’s to keep Mr. Trump in power, whatever the cost.

It’s better for Mr. Trump to have you focused on whether an Asian-American woman is sufficiently American than to have you mourning the 130,000 Americans killed by a virus he claimed would disappear in February. It’s better for his campaign to distract Americans with whether a combat veteran is sufficiently patriotic than for people to recall that this failed commander in chief has still apparently done nothing about reports of Russia putting bounties on the heads of American troops in Afghanistan.


The Lincoln Project doesn’t mess around.


When my nephew gave me the insider’s tour of the Tennessee State Capitol a few years ago, we had to pass a bust of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest to get into one of the two chambers of the legislature. It looks like that bust is finally leaving the capitol. The war criminal behind the Fort Pillow massacre will no longer guard that chamber, warning African American legislators that Tennessee will never really be their state.


If you want to understand why the fact-checking model doesn’t work any more, consider this Reuters fact-check: “Metal Strip in Medical Masks is Not a 5G Antenna“.

Fact-checking is based on the idea that the information environment is basically clean, so when there’s a disinformation spill, we can go clean it up. But now the insanity has gotten too dense. There’s no way to play whack-a-mole with this stuff any more.

and let’s close with something violent

Jan Hakon Erichsen destroys things on YouTube. Mostly he destroys silly inanimate things, like balloons or pasta, and does it in ways that are either creative or stupid, depending on your mood at the time you watch. But on days when the world has pissed you off and something needs to pay, an Erichsen video may be just the thing.

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Comments

  • Neal S  On July 13, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    Honestly, current events seem oddly familiar.

    I remind readers that Nixon:

    1) Approved a domestic spying operation, even after being warned it was “clearly illegal”. This included burglary, phone tapping, and opening private mail. Watergate was a scheme to rig the election, initiated after national polls showed Nixon losing.
    a) Aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman, along with WH counsel John Dean III, were indicted.
    2) Appointed an acting director of the FBI to:
    a) Burn incriminating evidence.
    b) Illegally gather data on political opponents and distribute misinformation about them.
    c) Plant provocateurs into anti-war protests to instigate violence.
    d) Plan to bomb or burn the Brookings Institute.
    e) Train the Watergate burglars and other felons.
    3) Appointed an Attorney General who:
    a) Was implicated in planning felonies like Watergate.
    b) Admitted to obstructing justice and lying under oath. John Mitchel was indicted.
    4) Compile a list of “White House Enemies” to be harassed by the IRS, subjected to character assassination, &etc (illegal use of government machinery).
    5) Extort large political contributions from executives and industrialists doing business with the government.
    6) And Vietnam – 6-months of secret carpet-bombing in Cambodia. Nuff said.

    These heinous acts were “necessary for national security” – more specifically “to save the country” by ensuring Nixon’s re-election. But commentators at the time likened these crimes to Hitler and being “convinced that the United States is closer to one-man rule than at any time in our history.”

    However, you asked specifically about pardons. How about Ford: “a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes that [Nixon] might have committed against the United States as president.” This generated “howls of outrage”, ranking #6 in this list of the 10 most controversial pardons: https://listverse.com/2018/03/12/top-10-most-controversial-pardons-in-us-history/.

    Nixon (again) pardoned Jimmy Hoffa in a blatant effort to get more votes. The tapes reveal that Nixon’s pardon was a tit for tat: if he got Hoffa out of jail, he “would get all those sweet Teamster votes in the 1972 election”. Bush commuted the prison sentence of “Scooter” Libby over the Valerie Plame fiasco, perhaps implicating others in the Bush administration. And since we’re talking about Trump, is pardoning Stone really much worse than pardoning Joe Arpaio?

    But for clearly saving the president’s own soiled butt, maybe you’re right. On this narrow ground, Trump might be the winner here.

    But I’d argue that the only thing really special about Trump is the ignorant way he goes about such unethical behavior. Nixon, for one, had much more finesse.

    • weeklysift  On July 17, 2020 at 6:46 am

      The self-serving nature of the Stone pardon was what I think makes it special. The Iran-Contra pardons of Bush I might be comparable.

      • Neal S  On July 17, 2020 at 9:08 am

        I’m just saying that Trump is much like Nixon; and I still think Trump hasn’t done much that Nixon didn’t do “better”. Nixon failed, bigly. I’m trying to share some inspiration I’ve found in that.
        Our times are not hopeless, despite social media’s tendency toward hyperbole.

    • Nat Kuhn  On July 17, 2020 at 8:12 am

      As I understand it, Nixon also dangled the prospect of pardons for top aides like Haldeman and Ehrlichman, but never came through, so you could argue that Trump is behaving more honorably. Of course since that doesn’t seem to be a thing for Trump, he clearly sees that it is in his self-interest to pardon Stone.

      • Neal S  On July 17, 2020 at 10:58 am

        There’s often a self-serving aspect to issuing a pardon. If the question is whether that’s the ONLY aspect — well, lord knows Trump IS pretty special there.

  • Dennis Maher  On July 13, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    You provide a valuable service to those of us who cannot hold in our heads all of the stuff that happens during the week. Plus you introduced me to Erichsen, about which I must say:
    1. This is a creative way to spend the isolation of the pandemic.
    2. Only a guy would do this.
    3. Or, this is a commentary on guy violence.
    4. Twelve year old boys should not be shown this or it will give them extremely dangerous ideas of things to do with knives and other sharp objects. They will not understand 3. above.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On July 13, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    You’re correct that the difference between Trump’s pardon of Stone, and previous presidential pardons, is because Stone’s crime is connected to Trump. So the pardon is part of an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct justice, and could lead to Trump’s prosecution. This is markedly different from pardoning someone the president has no connection to.

    • Neal S  On July 13, 2020 at 7:04 pm

      Like Clinton pardoning his half-brother?

      Not trying to troll you. I get the distinction. But Trump, I think, can find good company in some past presidents. (I’m trying to take comfort in that Trump isn’t all THAT special.)

      • George Washington, Jr.  On July 13, 2020 at 8:49 pm

        Had Clinton’s half-brother committed a crime directly connected to Bill?

        Just pardoning some bad dudes is par for the course. Clinton also pardoned a few terrorists, but he wasn’t connected to them, either.

  • Anonymous  On July 14, 2020 at 9:32 am

    Maybe the team should be called the Washington Georges.

  • paranoid  On July 14, 2020 at 10:41 am

    The 2-hour video from Contrapoints on cancelling could give you an idea of how bonkers being cancelled can be for low-level celebrities, if you have the patience for it.
    Personally, I am bothered by Robin DiAngelo being cancelled. She’s a big enough name that, much like JK Rowling, she’ll still probably come out okay after it, so she’s not “really” cancelled. As far as I can tell, however, DiAngelo is being cancelled by people to her left for talking about racism as a white person, not for anything she said about racism.

    • Guest  On July 15, 2020 at 1:54 pm

      The cancel-obsessed don’t care much for nuance, paranoid, as Contrapoints and others have demonstrated. But there are plenty of substantive critiques of DiAngelo’s frame out there on the left, including from folks like Adolf Reed who are also explicitly wary of cancel culture. Matt Taibbi is another one, check out his piece “On ‘White Fragility” for a fun but devastating look that also takes on cancel culture. If Taibbi is too “lively” for your taste, The Atlantic today put out a John McWhorter column “The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility.” Between the three of them, you’ll get a bunch of good reasons to resist what DiAngelo is selling, but not one call for her to be cancelled because of it. Which is notable, because much of the excepts from the book they present and discuss are downright odious.

      • paranoid  On July 18, 2020 at 10:32 am

        Thanks for the suggested reading, guest. I did not see “White Fragility” the way Taibbi or McWhorter did, but the commentaries are substantive and engage with her ideas. I wouldn’t call those readings cancelling but criticism or critique.

        The cancelling I have seen of DiAngelo has come from Twitter, where the Tweets say things along the lines that her book is harmful and dangerous without further explanation. Occasionally, the explanation has been that DiAngelo is profiting off racism as a white person selling an anti-racism product. I’ve also seen DeAngelo cancelled in real life, where people sigh and eye roll when her name comes up, to the extent that anyone who would have to ask what is wrong with her would be suspect for not being up to speed that she’s not acceptable anymore.

        As Contrapoints touches on, Twitter may be fueling cancelling, where nuance goes out the window, partly because of the super-brief format and partly because of the ability for viral stories to turn into a pile on.

    • weeklysift  On July 17, 2020 at 6:51 am

      One of the things I’m having trouble with is what “canceled” means. Has DiAngelo lost a job, or suffered some other real consequence? (I’m asking; I don’t know.) Or has she just been criticized?

      • paranoid  On July 18, 2020 at 11:52 am

        I noted that DiAngelo isn’t “really” cancelled. Anyone who has become a household name can’t “really” be cancelled — short of committing a crime and being imprisoned (Bill Cosby) or choosing accept the cancellation and step away from the limelight (Al Franken). The biggest effect that cancelling typically has on someone with real fame is maybe to sell fewer books or to get fewer speaking gigs — assuming they don’t benefit from the added fame. “Real” cancellation with substantial career and financial consequences happens to people with low-level fame or even with no fame.

        Cancellation goes beyond criticism to contempt. A cancelled person’s ideas are portrayed not just as incorrect but as dangerously wrong, possibly so wrong that they aren’t even worthy of entertaining to argue against them. The cancelled person is portrayed as awful and irredeemable.

        Lately, I’ve seen the word “scapegoating” being proposed as a substitute for “cancelling.” Scapegoating makes clear that the process isn’t new, isn’t exclusive to the left, and regularly is turned against someone within a group rather than outside the group. “Cancelling,” however, has the advantage of stressing that there is something new in our current (social) media economy.

        I’m putting “real” in scare quotes because of second-order effects. People who witness cancelling are discouraged from expressing opinions that are outside the conventional wisdom of their social group, regardless of whether the cancelled person well-known. Who would want to tempt fate to be the outcast?

  • Constance Engle  On July 14, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    It’s called Indiana University, not the University of Indiana…..

  • Nat Kuhn  On July 17, 2020 at 7:55 am

    Hi Doug, Thanks as always for the meticulous hard work you put in week in, week out.

    I think you are missing the boat on the Harper’s statement. Coates may be correct that what is new about cancel culture is that it is being used by the powerless against the powerful, but to say that Margaret Atwood is only speaking up now because she was fine with the powerful doesn’t pass any kind of test I can think of.

    The solution to bad behavior is not to democratize it, or excuse it by saying “the other guys do it.” As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” I personally believe that a significant percentage of the rage we have seen on the right is a reaction to the arrogance, sanctimoniousness, and condescension of liberals going back decades.

    An example that sticks in my mind (probably because I am a nerdy white guy) is two software engineers who were overheard making an off-color joke about a “dongle” as they packed up after a conference. Someone was offended. OK. That someone reported them to their employer. OK. They were fired. That seems like a massive over-reaction. Probably before, this situation would have been ignored with the idea that it “makes the problem go away.” Firing also “makes the problem go away.” Neither is a good “solution” IMO.

    The problem is not simply these individual acts of injustice. (The example I cited is extreme, but not, I think, isolated.) They are also very bad PR for progressives, giving endless sources of outrage for Fox commentators and viewers. They also turn off a lot of people who are not Fox viewers. And they can then be used to rationalize anti-progressive reactions. They are a part of our national race to the bottom.

    We are (or so I devoutly hope) witnessing the foundering of the conservative movement, based in no small part on its unwillingness to speak up against (working to find an alternative to the word “police”) its own excesses. I think it is very important that we pay attention to and stand up against the excesses on our own side as well. What is cancerous in our current politics is not IMO primarily a clash of policies (though there is plenty of that and it is extremely important), it is a growing moral or perhaps more accurately spiritual hole. We desperately need to find a way to inject decency into the system, and shore up the places where decency leaks out. And, of course, bring some decency to those who have experienced little to none of it in the public space.

    Here is an outstanding piece by Loretta Ross, who says it all much better than I can: “I’m a Black Feminist. I Think Call-Out Culture Is Toxic.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/17/opinion/sunday/cancel-culture-call-out.html

    • Neal S  On July 17, 2020 at 9:45 am

      Yes, “decency”, “a more forgiving world” — very much missed. Instead, we have “race to the bottom” and “toxic”. (A good title for this discussion might be “Suspicious Manners”.)

      Precipitating toxic culture generally is by design, whether engineered disinformation warfare or its product, political extremism. (Am I the only one with whiplash after being called “antifa” one moment and a “fascist” the next — neither of which have the first thing to do with me?)

      I also think that social media is like dark-tinted windows in the car: the hiding enables our worst.

      I choose not to indulge that, at least — not too clear what else to do with it. I certainly don’t wish to argue with an inanimate object: AI that spits out crap that’s just one notch above word salad.

      So beyond “decency”, I color my interpretation with some simple “civics”. Note that today’s outcome was broadly predicted by those who opposed removing civics from the public education curriculum, so many years ago. (I think we could’ve dealt with its anti-commy silliness without killing the whole thing.)

    • Nat Kuhn  On July 17, 2020 at 1:11 pm

      I won’t keep posting on this endlessly, but Michelle Goldberg has this recent piece in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/opinion/harpers-letter-free-speech.html

      She cites a recent example:

      “One of the more egregious recent examples of left-wing illiberalism is the firing of David Shor, a data analyst at the progressive consulting firm Civis Analytics. Amid the protests over Floyd’s killing, Shor was called out online for tweeting about work by Omar Wasow, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton, that shows a link between violent protest in the 1960s and Richard Nixon’s vote share.

      Shor was accused of “anti-Blackness” for seeming to suggest, via Wasow’s research, that violent protest is counterproductive. (Wasow is Black.) “At least some employees and clients of Civis Analytics complained that Shor’s tweet threatened their safety,” reported New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait. After an internal review, Shor was let go; he was also kicked off a progressive industry listserv.”

      And her concluding paragraph echoes what I said above: “Even sympathetic people will come to resent a left that refuses to make distinctions between deliberate slurs, awkward mistakes and legitimate disagreements. Cowing people is not the same as converting them.”

    • weeklysift  On July 17, 2020 at 4:57 pm

      Thanks for the discussion and links. I am honestly trying to figure this out.

      I think there’s a huge difference between somebody who has to pay a real price for what they say — like losing a job or getting death threats — as opposed to somebody who has to suffer the indignity of people vigorously disagreeing. If you say something somebody else thinks is racist and they call you a racist, you haven’t been “cancelled”, you’ve just been called out. An awful lot of the objections to “cancel culture” conflate the two.

      I also think that a lot of times people claim they are being persecuted for what they say or believe, when actually people are striking back against their aggressive actions. For example, I know gay people who won’t eat at Chik-fil-a, not because the family that owns it are conservative Christians, but because the money they make from their restaurants goes to organizations trying to take rights away from gay people. Speech and action also get conflated a lot in these discussions.

      I haven’t seen a good this-and-not-that analysis of this subject, and I don’t have a clear enough vision to do my own yet.

      • Nat Kuhn  On July 18, 2020 at 10:38 am

        Fair enough, but your take (without me going back and re-reading it) seemed to be, “Gee, is there really a problem there?” I’m wondering if it might be time to shift to “It looks like there could well be a problem there, but I don’t have a good handle on it.”

      • weeklysift  On July 19, 2020 at 7:24 am

        One of the factors that plays into what I publish is the way that liberal self-criticism feeds into the Right’s “liberal fascism” narrative, and the mainstream media’s “both sides do it” narrative.

        I don’t know of any example on the left that compares to what happened to Colin Kaepernick. It would be one thing if he just lost fans because of his views (as has happened to J. K. Rowling), but he lost his whole career. Or look at the [formerly Dixie] Chicks: They criticized W and suddenly their music was off the radio. Neither of them did anything wrong beyond expressing a view some people didn’t like.

        Liberal self-criticism shouldn’t be in the vague, easily abused form of the Harper’s letter. That letter made a nod in the direction of “While we have come to expect this on the radical right …”, but it very predictably became fodder for the right-wing noise machine. They should have anticipated that and been much more specific about what they were and weren’t criticizing.

      • Nat Kuhn  On July 19, 2020 at 12:42 pm

        I just don’t think “the other guys do it more, and do it worse” is a reason to not identify a problem. We need to keep our own house cleaned up, even if our neighbors’ house is a shambles. And “they should have expressed their criticism in a way that the other side couldn’t distort,” which is impossible, is IMO not a good reason to discount a criticism. I think that at times, there is some (and I emphasize: just some) validity in some (ditto) of the right’s criticism of the left. There are a lot of reasons why we’ll be better off if we attend to it.

      • weeklysift  On July 20, 2020 at 8:14 am

        You’ve mischaracterized my response. I’m not advocating ignoring incidents of overreach, but I think they need to be presented carefully and in context. The letter’s vagueness played into the hands of the right wing.

      • Nat Kuhn  On July 20, 2020 at 8:42 am

        Sorry, Doug! I also do take your point that as a journalist you face different choices from a guy like me who is just sitting around complaining. Conversations like this are perhaps better had in person, where my respect and appreciation of you would show through more clearly!

  • Neal S  On July 19, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Thank you for drawing this distinction between degrees of payback. I attribute this to a perceived need to never back down, so common in religion and politics, when reason simply isn’t possible. I’m saying that these hardliners aren’t reasonable – I’m sure they’d scoff at my even needing to say it.

    Just as they scoff at the liberal self-criticism you speak of. (I agree that examples are easier to find on the Right.)

    But I think the excerpted “swift and severe retribution” criticism still holds water. I’m very tired of all the predictable tribalisms, usually in the form of bad puns, that dominate what passes for discourse these days. (This seems easier to find on the Left, but maybe I have a sampling bias.)

    That is, I think you and the Harper’s letter are talking about slightly different things. In that letter, I read that this ranting doesn’t help AT ALL.

  • Bari Ramsey  On September 15, 2020 at 9:39 am

    “And yet, I have to wonder if hearing Trump say this stuff [presidential misdeeds] himself will make a difference.” – I would wonder who exactly it can make a difference to. It’s fairly obvious for anyone who truly wants to know anything about what’s going on. For the rest, consisting of the ideological right and the apathetic or otherwise uninformed, political truths don’t seem to be an issue. I see no mechanism by which people who are “not into politics” will suddenly realize where their self-interest lies. And not only will the ideological faithful not hear about it via their exclusive, conservative media, not only will they still have no habit of trying to discern what they’re hearing, rather it still doesn’t matter – not when their main concerns are loyalty to the home team, anger at the libtards and minorities, and a longing for mythologically taking their country back. No admissions I can think of can have any rational impact upon these basic underlying attitudes.

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