Justice and Mercy, Good and Evil, in Mother!


I was not optimistic about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Mother! Some of the reviews led me to believe it would be ugly, pretentious, and even revolting, so I had decided to skip it. A fascinating review by Ross Douthat in the forthcoming print issue of National Review made me reconsider, and I’m glad I did. I saw the movie yesterday, and I think it does some genuinely remarkable, and praiseworthy, things.

One: It conveys the fundamentally shocking character of the basic Christian story, a character that has become obscured by centuries of overfamiliarity. The film is a religious allegory in which Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play different divine principles, or different aspects of God’s nature. Bardem’s character is a God who loves humanity so much that, out of pure amour fou for them, he stands by as they murder his son – and then he forgives them even for that. This is indeed a shocking story, one that’s genuinely hard for many people to understand and accept. A certain prominent religious writer, one of the strongest early believers in the Christian story, even predicted that it would be seen by many as a “stumbling block” and as outright “folly.”

Two: It tells a story of sin through the perspective of God’s justice, not God’s mercy. This is, to the say the least, a counter-cultural perspective these days, and even has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality. Some prominent conservative Catholics are deeply troubled by Pope Francis’s emphasis on God’s mercy over God’s justice. They believe that his approach is a foolish one, because it scants the importance of sin and repentance and appears to offer what they call “cheap grace.” These conservatives are not getting a sympathetic hearing from the pope (who calls them “rigorists,” “Pharisees,” etc.) or from the surrounding secular culture (which — because the conservatives are exercised over sexual sins of which the secular culture approves – dismisses them as rigorists, Pharisees, etc.). But the movie takes the side of Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who comes across as utterly reasonable and commonsensical in her outrage against the horrors perpetrated by humanity. She is shocked and revolted that her husband will allow humanity to kill her son and then forgive them. She does not come across as a moralistic scold or a judgmental priss – the way people who talk about morality, about right and wrong, are usually depicted in popular culture. She is a totally sympathetic figure, and her forgiving husband looks, quite frankly, like a fool.

Three, and this is related: It portrays good and evil in a convincing way. I have read countless op-eds over the years that complain, “Why don’t we ever talk about sin anymore?” That’s balderdash; the fact is, we hardly ever talk about anything else. The problem is, we tend to talk about it from partial and partisan perspectives that end up only creating a stew of relativism. Some people condemn the sins of political correctness and gay sex and kneeling for the national anthem; other people condemn the sins of climate change and homophobia and standing for the national anthem; it all just becomes background noise. Jennifer Lawrence is one of our most appealing performers, and her character in this film is in clear contrast to relativism: She is pure innocence, an utterly persuasive instantiation of the Good against which Evil offends. And the Evil in the film is equally realistic: Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kristen Wiig are all great, leading a supporting cast in which the headstrong madness of human crime and folly takes a firm and terrifying hold.

Director Aronofsky has confused matters a little by situating the linear story in a framing narrative of a history of cyclical recurrence. He is of course entitled to his own religious views, but I think this was an aesthetic mistake. The linear story at the film’s core is powerful enough, and it accounts for almost all of the movie’s running time. As a lifelong Religion Bore, I thought this movie was very thought-provoking, but it’s not for everyone. The violence is intense and, on one occasion, especially disturbing.

Merkel’s ‘Nightmare Victory’

by John O'Sullivan

Sunday night’s instant conventional wisdom on the German election results was that Chancellor Merkel had been “wounded” but had nonetheless won a substantial victory and was safe for the next four years. To be sure, she would have some transitional difficulties in assembling a new coalition without the Social Democratic Party (negotiations on it might even go into the New Year) but its broad shape was clear: the so-called Jamaica Coalition of the Christian Democratic Union–Christian Social Union conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats, and the Greens. This grouping would provide the continuing stability that Germany, Europe, and pro-German politicians such as France’s Emmanuel Macron need. The surge of the populist-nationalist Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) from nowhere to third-largest party, with 13 per cent of the vote, was an embarrassment but no more than that. AfD would be shunned and impotent.

Only a few hours later, almost none of that looked quite so certain. Bild newspaper headlined its report this morning “Nightmare Victory,” because the real significance of the election is that German politics is increasingly so fragmented that a genuine lasting majority for necessary but controversial policies will be hard to construct. Mainstream Right and Left parties both had heavy vote losses, and between them they now account for only 53 percent of the electorate compared with around 90 percent for most of the post-war period. Indeed, the two “extreme” parties (the AfD and the not-very-post-Communist Der Linke) won more votes together — 22 percent, than the social democrat SPD which shrank to its worst post-war performance at 20 per cent. But the upshot is that the Centre has not held and will not hold in future. The Christian Democratic Union—Social Democratic Party “grand coalition” is yesterday’s consensus. Other parties now represent 47 percent of German voters. (Creditably, the SDP is now retreating into opposition to rethink its philosophy.) Can Merkel use the Jamaica Coalition to fill this centrist vacuum?

Keep reading this post . . .

What Did Porn Have to do with Weiner’s Perversion?

by Wesley J. Smith

I have never liked Anthony Weiner, but who can’t be moved by the prospect of his family destroyed and his son’s life forever impacted adversely by his yielding to perverse sexual obsessions?

Now that he has been sentenced to prison, and must register as a sex offender, the sordid story will probably go away.

But there is one aspect that I hope someone in the media will explore. What role did explicit and toxic pornography play in Weiner’s perversion?

I will bet a lot. So, why isn’t that question being asked? More broadly, why isn’t the role of porn in family destruction a bigger societal issue? 

No, it isn’t just an issue for social conservatives!

Susan Collins Will Vote No on Graham-Cassidy

by Robert VerBruggen

Announcement here.

This is hardly a surprise, but it means that for the bill to pass, Lisa Murkowski will have to vote yes and Rand Paul will have to change his mind. That’s not impossible, but it’s rather unlikely unless the authors dramatically scale back the legislation.

‘Isn’t Thanksgiving a Secular Holiday?’

by Kevin D. Williamson

You know what the worst damned thing on the radio is? Terry Gross. And I write that in a world in which Sean Hannity exists. For a combination of smugness, banality, and towering ignorance, it is difficult to top Terry Gross.

Example: This afternoon, I listened to her interviewing David Litt, who is plugging his new memoir about his time working as a speechwriter for Barack Obama, which was surely the worst job in politics at the time. Litt feels that Obama was sometimes given unnecessarily rough treatment by the media, and he tells a pretty standard Democratic bedtime story: The mainstream media gets bullied into covering non-stories and non-events by the conservative media, which is part of what Litt describes as “a whole industry dedicat[ed] to trying to take your words out of context.” As an example, he talks about the brouhaha surrounding Barack Obama’s omission of any mention of God during one of his Thanksgiving addresses. Fox News did a story, and then ABC News did a piece not on the omission itself but on the controversy. Litt insists that this wasn’t a story at all.


Millions of Americans care deeply about preserving at least some of the religious character of the public square. They might be wrong to do so, but they do not cease to exist simply because some punk speechwriter working for a punk politician doesn’t share their interests. Of course it is a story. Of course Litt was talking through his hat to say otherwise, and of course Terry Gross did not even think to challenge him. That’s what we mean when we talk about media bias: not making things up, just accepting a relatively narrow, coastal progressive view of the world as though it were the self-evident truth, as though nothing else exists. Bill Buckley knew what he was saying when he wrote: “Though liberals do a great deal of talking about hearing other points of view, it sometimes shocks them to learn that there are other points of view.”

Instead of challenging Litt, Gross did the opposite. “Isn’t Thanksgiving a secular holiday?” she asked, knowingly. (The backward assertion in the form of a question is one of my least favorite rhetorical strategies.)

Well, Skippy, let’s think on that for a minute, shall we? Thanksgiving was instituted by the Pilgrims, who were a bunch of fairly fanatical Christians, if you’ll recall. To whom does Terry Gross imagine they were giving thanks? Beyoncé? Jeff Bezos, Peace Be Upon Him?

Sure, they were Christian hardliners, but the Pilgrims were operating back in the dark ages. What did the founding father of our secular republic have to say? George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation begins: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness . . . ’ President Lincoln, during the Civil War, proclaimed a “Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

In the Heavens, Terry Gross. Not in Philadelphia.

I’d like to quote Washington at length, both because of the lovely writing and because he spells out what exactly it is the gentlemen gathered in the city that bears his name are supposed to be doing with themselves.

That we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

How’s that for a presidential agenda? That Washington had the insight to seek forgiveness for our national transgressions — in 1789 — is a mark of what a truly remarkable man he was, and how far his epigones are from living up to his example.

But back to Terry Gross for a second. Never mind the explicitly religious character of our Thanksgiving holiday, harvest feasts of thanksgiving have been part of the Christian tradition — and the pagan tradition before that — for about as long as recorded history can show. The word “feast” literally means “religious observance,” from the Old French “feste.”

“Isn’t Thanksgiving a secular holiday?” The implicit “you feckless rubes,” coming from this illiterate peon, is what truly rankles. Imagine being so plank ignorant as to be able to not only say those words but to say them with contempt.

Worst damned thing on the radio.

Steven Rattner’s Chart

by Theodore Kupfer

Today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the show’s economic analyst, Steven Rattner, shared the following chart:

On Rattner’s website, he writes that Graham-Cassidy would “eliminate all funding for the two principal programs in Obamacare” by 2027. His insinuation appears to be that this cliff is built into the bill as a feature, i.e., that Graham-Cassidy, by design, cuts health-care spending by hundreds of billions of dollars after 2026. That’s misleading: Funding does stop after 2026, but that cliff should be understood not as a cut in spending but as a provision “that [Congress] will need to be asked again, nearly a decade from now, to continue funding.” Such a cut would never take place: The political pressure on Congress to fund health care would be too great. This may all be moot, since the bill appears to be on life support, but it’s still worth noting.

Was Alejandro Villanueva the Rick Monday of the #TakeTheKnee NFL Weekend?

by Rich Lowry

Back in 1976, Rick Monday famously saved an American flag in the outfield of Dodger Stadium:

Trump Made Contesting the Flag about Himself

by Theodore Kupfer

When Colin Kaepernick knelt for the national anthem before every game last season, he intended to implicate the national symbols of America in its racism. It was Kaepernick’s belief that this country both was and remains fundamentally racist, hence his protest: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said at the time.

People responded to him in different ways, temperate and otherwise. The best response was always to deny the claim that American national symbols are symbols of racism and affirm that they represent the ideas on which this country is based and the culture which Americans all share. It is true that America harbored a racist tyranny for centuries, but it is also true that, as Jason Lee Steorts wrote before Colin Kaepernick registered in the political consciousness, “The idea of human equality in the Declaration of Independence was enough to overwhelm the element of racist tyranny built into the Founders’ Constitution.” American national symbols are not racist but unifying — which can be true even if you believe that racial bias still persists in America.

That response became orthogonal to national-anthem protests the moment Trump made these protests about him. Yesterday, when scores of NFL players knelt for the anthem, it could be cast not as an indictment of America but, as Michael put it, an expression of “solidarity with their fellow athletes.” Ray Lewis had been a Kaepernick critic, but was kneeling on the sidelines in London. Tom Brady displayed a Make America Great Again hat in his locker during the election, but backed the protests in an interview. Across the league, players knelt and locked arms — not to oppose the American idea, but rather to oppose the president’s statement that they and their teammates “should not be allowed” to protest. The national anthem did not represent our unifying ideas or shared culture yesterday: It represented Donald Trump. And one is eminently more contestable than the other.

It may be true that, as Charlie says, the protestors will be seen as “disparaging the core symbols of the nation.” That’s one reason why this move could pay off for Trump politically. But only a handful of players had knelt for the anthem until Trump tried to bully the whole league into obedience. Of course the players, coaches, and owners would react the way they did. By inflaming this debate, the president did more to render the flag and anthem contested symbols than Kaepernick ever could have.

How Graham-Cassidy Treats ‘Blue’ and ‘Red’ States

by Robert VerBruggen

One of Rand Paul’s leading criticisms of Graham-Cassidy — echoing a line strongly promoted by liberal health-care analysts — is that the bill would take money from blue states and give it to red states. It is more accurate to say the bill equalizes funding between states that expanded Medicaid and those that did not.

Obamacare (as “interpreted” by the Supreme Court) forced states to make an important political decision. If they expanded Medicaid, the federal government would pick up 90 to 100 percent of the cost depending on the year. Essentially, a legislature could spend money in its own state and stick the entire country with the tab. Many conservative states refused to do this, and as a result they got a lot less Medicaid funding.

Liberals might enjoy this result: If these states didn’t want to expand health-insurance coverage in the specific way Obamacare spelled out, why should they get any money? But conservatives think refusing to expand a poorly functioning program was the right thing to do, and that an Obamacare replacement shouldn’t lock in a financial penalty for states that made the correct choice. That’s the assumption that animates Graham-Cassidy, and it’s a sensible one.

Here’s a way of illustrating this graphically. Essentially, this chart shows how much money a state would receive for each “eligible beneficiary” during the 2020–2026 period under Obamacare (X axis) and Graham-Cassidy (Y axis). If a state is above the diagonal line, it gets more under Graham-Cassidy; if it’s below, it gets less.

(The data come from Cassidy’s office, here and here. An “eligible beneficiary” is a resident who lives between 50 and 138 percent of the federal poverty line, as measured in 2016. The data do not include the effects of putting a per capita cap on traditional Medicaid, which the bill would also do.)

The magic number is about $30,000 per beneficiary, or $4,300 per beneficiary per year. If current law would give a state more than $30,000 per beneficiary, Graham-Cassidy will probably cut that state’s funding. States below that mark under current law — in particular the non-expansion states, depicted here in red — would benefit. If a state is set to receive $10,000 per beneficiary under Obamacare, it’ll get about $15,000 instead. If it’s set to get $40,000, it’ll get more like $35,000.

Importantly, though, over this period of time expansion states would still get a lot more money than non-expansion states would.

Unfortunately, Cassidy’s latest data don’t include year-by-year numbers. The old version of the law gradually flattened funding to the point that it was basically a horizontal line in 2026, meaning every state would get exactly the same amount relative to its need. This sets a fair baseline for 2027 and beyond, whose funding levels are left to future Congresses.

The new bill has a tweaked formula designed to help certain, er, politically sensitive states, so that may not quite be true anymore.  (You’ll see above that Alaska doesn’t get the funding cut another state probably would. In addition to a waffling senator, though, Alaska truly does have unique health-care needs owing to its low population density; the Department of Health and Human Services uses a completely different poverty line for the state.) But the idea of giving states grants based on the size of the population they have to help, not on whether they decided to fleece the rest of the country through Obamacare a few years back, is a sound one. 

Restoring Fairness in Campus Disciplinary Proceedings

by George Leef

The Obama Administration was a full-employment opportunity for leftist zealots of all kinds, and especially so the Department of Education. People such as Russlyn Ali and Catherine Lhamon were eager to use federal power to advance the goals of radical feminism and to help Democrats win by mobilizing lots of female voters. That’s how the nation was stuck with “guidance” letters telling college and university officials to follow procedures in campus disciplinary cases that were heavily stacked against accused men.

But now the tide has turned. Secretary DeVos has rescinded the “guidance,” and states are considering legislation to ensure that all students get the benefit of fair hearings. In this Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins examines the new landscape. One crucial feature is that a great many colleges and universities still do not guarantee students a fair hearing. That was the big finding in a recent FIRE report. Watkins writes of that report,

Sadly, none of the universities’ adjudication policies received an “A” grade. Among its findings, FIRE reported that only 42 percent of universities require investigators or “fact-finders” to be impartial. Additionally, in the investigation of sexual misconduct cases, 79 percent of the universities met very few due process standards and received either a “D” or an “F” grade.

Merely rescinding the Department’s “guidance” won’t help accused students at schools where the officials, in obedience to “progressive” thinking, are intent on continuing the unfair procedures of the Obama years. For example, Davidson College’s president, Carol Quillen, insists that a women must be believed when she levies an accusation of sexual assault, and yet doesn’t see how that is inconsistent with fairness to the accused. Watkins responds,

Quillen overlooks the fact that there is an important difference between showing compassion to an alleged victim and unconditionally accepting an accuser’s claims. And she is hardly alone in academia. It is unfortunate that those who hold such influential positions in academia suggest that respecting one student’s rights may be in tension with showing empathy to another.

Quillen also overlooks, I would add, the fact that in quite a few cases, it has been demonstrated that the woman fabricated her story for revenge, for social standing, or for other reasons. The cliché that women don’t lie about rape is simply false. Some do, and it’s hard to get at the truth if the adjudicators are told that they should believe the accuser.

In sum, there is still a long way to go in undoing the damage that has been done. Watkins commends the FIRE report to trustees and alumni, who should grill school officials as to the fairness of their procedures. She also recommends that students join the FIRE network, which has done great things in fighting back against all sorts of violations of student rights.

Time to Rip Up Your Terrible Towels

by Rich Lowry

I don’t know anything about Mike Tomlin (although as an old Houston Oilers fan, I still have an anti-Steelers grudge), and perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt in trying to forge a unified team response to the #TakeTheKnee agitation this weekend. But he managed to work himself into the worst of all possible positions by implicitly criticizing a Bronze Star winner for leaving the locker room to pay respect to the flag that he and his comrades fought for. Alejandro Villanueva was part of a much more important, courageous, and honorable team than the Pittsburgh Steelers, and if Tomlin doesn’t understand why Villanueva, of all people, wants to honor our flag, the coach has lost all perspective, to say the least.

The NFL House of Cards

by Victor Davis Hanson

The problem with the NFL is not just Donald Trump, but the greater dilemma that the league’s reason to be has become predicated on a labyrinth of lies.

The majority of the viewing audience is not young, hip, and loyal as hyped, but, even if fading, still largely reflects the majorities in red-state America that have no patience with gratuitous insults to the National Anthem and flag. The NFL apparently never grasped the political truism that you never insult your base and core supporters; sympathetic CNN talking heads and the solidarity of progressive political activists will not turn around sagging revenues, but will only contribute to them.

Outside the NFL bubble today, most of America, to the extent it still watches, now sees Sunday afternoon pop demonstrations as increasingly a farce, played out among players who appear neither exploited nor as exemplary model sportsmen, but rather as overpaid and pampered. Given the NFL’s enormous overhead, even a 10–20 percent reduction in attendance and viewing could send financial tsunamis throughout the league.

Nor do the protesting players come across as informed, brave social-justice warriors on the barricades of dissent, but as mostly unable to explain to their fans precisely why and how they are mistreated or why America is a flawed society that does not deserve momentary iconic respect each week. If players were concerned about violence and injustice, why not collect a voluntary 10 percent contribution from the league’s multimillionaire players and use it to fund programs that address systematic and lethal violence in inner-city communities such as Baltimore or Chicago? And if ethics and values are the players’ issues, why over the last decade has there been an increase in player off-field violence and arrests, often marked by well-publicized violence against women?

The owners, again fairly or not, are not viewed any longer so much as maverick tycoons and eccentric entrepreneurs or philanthropic regional family dynasties of the past, but rather as billionaire corporate magnates who invest their riches in glitzy cultural trophies and expect the state to subsidize their excesses. They are going down the Google/Apple/Facebook grandee path of losing their cultural appeal and, with it, their brand.

Sports analysts are no longer predictably informative and pleasant or at least humble, but often half-educated former jocks or nerds who imagine themselves pop Socratic philosophers as they so often talk edgy and snarky, and often down to their supposedly politically unaware audiences.

As the size and strength of players radically increased, the nature, rules, and culture of the game ossified — as if linemen were still six feet tall and 200 pounds and contact was the stuff of bruises and bumps. And the result is a growing level of brutal violence and brain injury that is analogous to a Roman gladiatorial arena.

The NFL is said to reflect a progressive 21st-century culture. But if so, it is hardly ethnically and racially diverse. Instead, the league is based on old-fashioned meritocratic criteria, and thus participation is based solely on athletic talent and skill-sets. That admirable trait nonetheless ensures that the NFL is antithetical to the entire progressive dogma of proportional representation and disparate impact that demand even quasi-public entities “look like us.”

And thus, despite the absence of racism or deliberate exclusion, elsewhere non-diverse businesses or government subsidized operations still must make the necessary inclusive efforts to diversify. Surely there are skilled Asian-American and Latino athletes who could be mentored and integrated into a lucrative and prestigious league whose players are about 75 percent African-American — a participation rate over six times disproportionate in terms of demographical realities. Again, these are left-wing mantras that a left-wing NFL apparently feels do not apply to itself.

The fan and viewer may not express such blanket disdain, but they sense all these contradictions and are well past exasperated.

And Donald Trump?

He no more created these crises in the NFL than he did the North Korean thermonuclear capability. If it is certainly long-term and strategically unwise for a busy chief executive and commander in chief, facing a host of inherited existential crises, to wade into a lose-lose NFL quagmire, he nonetheless may see it for a day or two as short-term and tactically advantageous. And he may be right.

Hillsdale Seeking Full Time Tenure Track Position in History

by NR Staff

a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Hillsdale College invites application for a full-time tenure-track faculty position in History (beginning August, 2018), rank to be determined by the level of experience and the record of the successful candidate. 

We seek an Americanist with expertise in twentieth century history, especially Cold War and recent America. The successful candidate must also demonstrate ability to teach Economic History of the United States.

Learn more here.

Trump and the NFL Protesters Picked the Wrong Fight

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Once again, one is left asking, “What is Trump doing?” Having navigated hurricane season with a certain aplomb — and having avoided attracting any lightning for a while — the president’s approval rating was slowly ticking up. In the meantime, he looked to be recovering his agenda. He was making progress on tax reform, had put his eccentric stamp on his administration’s foreign policy, and had even cut some deals with the Democrats. And then, as was inevitable, he reverted to his favorite role: the cranky TV critic at the mid-scale Queens bar.

Ideally, Trump would have said nothing at all — in a republic such as ours, the best presidents are quiet, and they stick to their realms with assiduous care. But if he had to weigh in — and he’s Trump, not Coolidge, so he did — he would have done so more wisely than this. He would have had more sense than to issue belligerent instructions; he would have declined to use terms such as “allowed” and “fired”; and he would have limited, not exacerbated, the firestorm. He would, in addition, have come across as less impotent. The defenses of his choices have been predictable — “he fights!”; “he stands up!”; “he’s crushing political correctness!” — but they have also been wrong. Trump’s is not the way to reduce “politicization,” or even to dissect it for a supportive silent majority. Trump’s is the way of the brawler, and brawlers makes bar fights much worse and much messier. For all of their sanctimony, it remains the case that the media, Hollywood, and the music industry have little political purchase. Mess with a film star or with Jim Acosta and nobody really cares. But sports — sports are a different matter. Sports drive conversation in a way that Netflix and CNN never will. Sports are invited into the living room, into restaurants, into everywhere. The president just took himself hostage to a deep and swirling current. I can’t imagine it’ll end well.

And what of the protesters who have raised the president’s ire? Irrespective of the merits of their cause — and, for what it’s worth, I think they’re confusing some genuinely terrible incidents for a “structure” or a “trend” — it strikes me that they, too, are going about this in precisely the wrong way. The most successful movements in American history have elected to laud America and its ideals, and then to complain about exclusion or hypocrisy or a failure to consummate vows. This, eventually, was the course Frederick Douglass took. It was the course that MLK took, with his soaring talk of a defaulted-upon “promissory note.” It was the course taken by the suffragettes. To appeal to America at the outset of an indictment is to ensure that the skeptical listener hears the subsequent criticism as “we want in” rather than “we want out.” In taking the opposite path, Kaepernick and co. have made a serious tactical mistake — a mistake that will stunt any growth they hope to enjoy. Before the details of their charge were ever known, they were seen disparaging the core symbols of the nation — symbols for which many have died and bled, and which are often taken as proxies for the Constitution, the family, and even for God — and, in some cases, they were seen praising the dictator of a perennial American foe.

It is no more my role to instruct the aggrieved how to protest than it is President Trump’s; the First Amendment is not, and must not, be mine to police. But if I wanted to prevail here, I wouldn’t have taken this course. In concert with the White House, the protestors have by their rhetoric all-but guaranteed a stalemate. And the losers of the fallout will be everyone stuck in between.

Our Sports-Talk-Radio-Caller President

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week…

Our Sports-Talk-Radio-Caller President

According to the Washington Post’s database, there have been 721 fatal police shootings in the United States so far in 2017. Out of these shootings, nine were unarmed black males. Only 32 total were unarmed.

The phenomenon of police fatally shooting an unarmed black man can simultaneously be fairly rare and a deeply troubling problem deserving of further effort to eliminate.

We know from video of the fatal shootings of Walter Scott in South Carolina and Philando Castile in Minnesota that there are cases of police officers fatally shooting unarmed black men for no justifiable reason. We also know this is not strictly a phenomenon of white cops shooting black citizens; think of the fatal police shooting of the unarmed Australian woman in Minneapolis. The rise of ubiquitous cellular phone cameras means the public now sees a lot of police work that once had no reliable witnesses; think of the Utah cop who arrested a nurse for no good legal reason.

Americans would be better off tackling this problem with empathy. For the average law-abiding young black man, getting pulled over on a traffic stop can be terrifying, gripped by the fear that one can do everything right and still get killed over a misunderstanding. Similarly, citizens should pause and recognize that every time a police officer puts on his badge and goes out to perform his duties, he wonders if this day will be his last, and whether he will be ambushed by some nut with a grudge against cops.

Of course, instead of understanding, the country got former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wearing cops-are-pigs socks and denouncing police brutality while wearing a t-shirt of Fidel Castro.

Still, Kaepernick being incendiary and uninformed about his heroes doesn’t actually change the facts on the ground about police shootings in the United States. The appalling brutality of the Cuban regime doesn’t there are no legitimate criticisms of law enforcement in the United States. 

NFL players protesting police misconduct and those supporting them would do well to better define what outcome they want to see. A country where every cop wears a body camera? Federal civil rights prosecutions, as seen in South Carolina? More police training? Because police officers are human beings and human beings make mistakes, we will probably never have a country or a world where there are no fatal police shootings of unarmed individuals. We can try to minimize them. The intermittent coverage of this issue, and focus on particularly dramatic cases, can easily create the impression that this is a constant and worsening problem. But the number of fatal shootings of unarmed individuals nationwide in the first six months of 2017 was actually almost half the total in 2015.

How do we know when we’re making progress in this problem? When is it fixed?

Ironically, Kaepernick himself suggested he saw improvement. Back in August of 2016, he declared, “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.” He sat or kneeled for the anthem throughout the 2016 season, became a free agent, and then in March he suddenly announced he would stand again: “Kaepernick no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.”

But we don’t know if Kaepernick is standing when he hears the national anthem these days, because no team signed him. Some argued this amounted to a “blacklist” by the team owners; others point out that Kaepernick’s play has gradually plateaued or declined and he’s probably on the down slope of his career. After Kaepernick went unclaimed in free agency for a few weeks, Trump took credit: “Your San Francisco quarterback, I’m sure nobody ever heard of him… It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump! Do you believe that? I just saw that.”

Saturday, at a rally supporting Luther Strange in Alabama, President Trump decided to reignite the issue, and essentially argued that players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a b—h off the field right now? He is fired!”

Once again, we see most people’s perspective on whether one’s personal views should cost them their job depend almost entirely upon whether one agrees with their views. If you’re on the Left, you think that a baker ought to be fired if he refuses to bake a wedding cake for gays, that Kentucky clerk Kim Davis should have been removed from office, that the Google guy deserved to be fired, and that no NFL player should be fired for taking a knee. Many conservatives feel the precise opposite in each case. Many Americans believe in First Amendment protections in the workplace for viewpoints they agree with and no protections for viewpoints they oppose.

It’s one thing for you or me to say, “they ought to fire that guy.”  It’s another thing for the President of the United States, with enormous power and influence over laws, regulations, federal policy, and government personnel decisions to do so. The National Football League will interact with the federal government plenty of times in the Trump era: antitrust exemptions, military plane fly-overs, security for the Super Bowl and other big events, tax laws. Every time the federal government balks at a league request, some will wonder, is this based of the merits of the arguments, or is this because of Trump’s fight with the players over the national anthem? This is one of the reasons presidents don’t usually weigh in on topics like this. The head of state is not supposed to issue verdicts on every controversy that comes down the pike.

But a lot of Americans want their president to be a culture warrior. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee more or less declared they wanted to be president to change the culture, and it wasn’t Trump’s detailed policy knowledge that won him the nomination or the presidency. In Trump, America has a president who watches television, gets irked at what he sees and Tweets about it – and a lot of Americans don’t just agree; they conclude “he fights!” because of it.

It’s unsurprising that Trump jumped with two feet into the anthem controversy as the Senate Republicans find themselves unable to find 50 votes to repeal and replace Obamacare (again), there’s no easy solution to the threats from North Korea, Luther Strange could very well lose his Senate primary Tuesday, the wall isn’t built, and the outlook for major tax reform is cloudy at best.

The Trump White House may not get a lot of laws passed, but by golly, he sure can irk ESPN commentators, and for some voters, that’s good enough.

Former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who endorsed Trump for president in 2016, is now appalled with the president.

“I’m p***ed off, I’ll be honest with you,” Ryan said Sunday on ESPN. “I supported Donald Trump, I sat back when he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments, and it’s appalling to me. And I’m sure it’s appalling to almost any citizen in our country. And it should be. Calling our players SOBs, and that kind of stuff, that’s not the men that I know. The men that I know in the locker room I’m proud of, I’m proud to be associated with those people.

Let’s face it, this is not the first time Rex Ryan selected a particular person for a high-stakes job and found himself deeply disappointed with the results.

Monday links

by debbywitt

Composer Dimitri Shostakovich was born September 25, 1906: some quotes, history, and music.

Mind-Altering Cat Parasite Just Got Linked to a Whole Lot of Neurological Disorders.

How the Star Trek Punch Became the Worst Fight Move on TV.

Hypnotic breast enlargement.

Man Who Saved the World From Nuclear Armageddon in 1983 Dies at 77.

The Long, Strange Journey of Buffalo Bill’s Corpse.

ICYMI, Friday’s links are here, and include the physics of wiffle ball, some equinox science for the first day of Fall, the use of the ducking stool on common scolds, and a kid showing his dad how to make Leonardo da Vinci’s self-supporting bridge.

Gifs, Bunts, and Other Things

by Jay Nordlinger

Martin Bernheimer, the prize-winning music critic, is retiring after a 60-year career. I wrote an appreciation of him last week. I pondered the question, What makes him great? (Rob Kapilow has a long-running series about music called “What Makes It Great?”) I catalogued Bernheimer’s outstanding qualities — and said that what really makes him great is his boldness. His without-fear-or-favor honesty.

And that led to my Impromptus today. I talk about journalism more broadly. (Music criticism is a branch of journalism.) Recently, someone told our Kevin Williamson that there is a “chasm” between him and “voters.” He replied, in effect, “So?”

I have other items too, including one on President Trump and a tweeter named “Fuctupmind.” The president retweeted a “gif” from Fuctupumind showing him (Trump) hitting a golf ball and knocking over Hillary Clinton.

My question: If a Democratic president retweeted something similar from a person called “Fuctupmind,” would anyone on the right say the president was fit for the office? Anyone?

I do not neglect sports. It’s been a bad year — an annus horribilis — for my Detroit Tigers. This was illustrated on Saturday night, when the leadoff hitter of the opposing team bunted — and scored on that bunt. Seriously.

I wrote my column before the Lions game — which ended on our getting shafted by a seriously misguided NFL rule.

So, if sports continues this way, I will have to retreat to politics for consolation.

The Flying Wedge Issue

by Rich Lowry

A few more points about the NFL fracas:

I agree with Michael that the NFL is going to find itself in an uncomfortable spot now that it’s in the middle of a wedge issue. The league has to side with its players, many of whom now hate Trump, but the renewed protests aren’t going to do its image any favors.

Whenever there’s a controversy like this, some commentators on the left make slavery analogies. Jesse Jackson, for instance, thinks Trump is exhibiting a “slave-master-servant mentality.” This trope is absurd, of course. Standing for the national anthem is hardly an outrageous demand, and NFL players obviously aren’t like slaves — for starters, they get paid for their labor.

People who say that Trump is losing because there are more protests are getting the politics backward — Trump gains when there are more protests because it makes his opponents look more unreasonable.

Trump is a culture warrior, but he has reoriented the battlefield away from questions of sexual morality to the conflict between populism and elitism, and nationalism and cosmopolitanism. The Left vastly overestimates its strength on this new cultural battlefield.

I tend to think that Trump is right, as he said on Twitter today, that standing and linking arms is much better than kneeling. It’s kind of ridiculous, though, that the president of the United States is expressing opinions at this level of granularity about what NFL players are doing on the sidelines.

Finally, while I think Trump probably has the better of the politics here, it’s another step in his isolation. He’s not just alienated from the liberal media and Hollywood elites, like most Republican presidents, but also from corporate leaders and, now, a swath of the sports world.


A Graham-Cassidy News Roundup

by Robert VerBruggen

A lot of stories have broken this weekend; here’s a quick overview of what’s going on. As you consider these tidbits, the key facts to remember are (a) the bill won’t pass if more than two Republican senators oppose it and (b) John McCain has already said he’ll vote no.

Susan Collins, who’s consistently opposed the party’s health-care bills this year, said it’s “difficult to envision” how she could end up voting for this one.

Rand Paul finally spelled out what it would take to win his vote. Unfortunately, it’s narrowing or dropping the part of the bill that converts Obamacare spending into block grants to the states. The other provisions are worth passing on their own if that’s the only way forward — they include spending caps for Medicaid, looser restrictions for health savings accounts, and state waivers from Obamacare regulations — but the block grants are the bill’s core.

Ted Cruz said he opposes the bill in its current form and believes Mike Lee does as well. He said he’d suggested revisions that could reduce premiums, but that the latest draft of the bill doesn’t include them. (He didn’t elaborate as to the changes he wants. Earlier this year, Cruz and Lee collaborated on an amendment to an earlier bill that would allow insurers to sell plans that didn’t meet Obamacare regulations so long as they also sold at least one plan that did.)

The bill’s authors said they’ll have the new version ready Monday. That’s about the time the Congressional Budget Office plans to release its preliminary evaluation of the last one. (There won’t be time for a full score of either before the Senate’s September 30 deadline for passing the bill.)

I’ve been skeptical from the beginning that this thing would pass. The “actually it has a real chance!” phase last week was exciting, but it’s over now. This is a looooong shot.

Monday-morning update: The bill actually ended up becoming public late last night. Politico reports it makes two major changes. First, it steers more money toward states whose senators are holding out; second, it makes it easier for states to opt out of Obamacare regulations, which Cruz and Lee should like.

Tradition and the Individual Talent (American Catholic Edition)

by Nicholas Frankovich

“We just weren’t good enough,” said Ralph McInerny, the late novelist and legendary Thomist at Notre Dame. He meant that the American Catholic literary bloom that began in the mid-20th century withered after the ’60s not because the world turned against it but because the talent dried up.

Joseph Bottum says he expected McInerny to mention Vatican II. After all, it coincided with what Bottum sees as the beginning of the end of America’s Catholic literary moment. Modernizing reforms that began in earnest in the ’60s rapidly made Catholicism over into something that no one in an earlier generation would have recognized as Catholic.

By many measures, the Church is shrinking in the West but burgeoning elsewhere, as I outlined last week. The percentage of the global population that is Catholic has remained remarkably constant over the past century: about 17 percent. What is changing is that population’s distribution. It’s shifting away from the West. Americans and Europeans find it less compelling than their great-grandparents did.

In America, the star Catholic novelists of mid-century were formed in the Catholicism of the Latin Mass and Old World practices and attitudes that were later extinguished overnight in most parishes. The liturgical revolution began just after Flannery O’Connor died in 1964. Walker Percy wrote into the 1980s but laced his fiction with searing commentary on what he regarded as the increasing banalization of Catholic life in America.

Catholic writers born into this impoverished religious milieu have not been as good as their counterparts who grew up when Catholicism on the ground was thicker and stronger: That’s the thesis, although Bottum is more cautious than I am about reading meaning into the simultaneity of literary decline and Vatican II.

He praises Alice McDermott’s new novel The Ninth Hour, as does Nick Ripatrazone in the next issue of NR magazine. But it’s “a tale of a world gone by,” Bottum writes. “A looking backward at what we no longer have, good and bad, rather than an account of the present or a promise of the future.”

The traditional Catholicism that is the setting of that backward-looking novel included a lot of looking backward itself, of course. That’s what made Catholicism traditional. For believers immersed in the faith, the past was alive no less than the present. They could see ghosts.

A heavyweight from the Norman Mailer generation of American letters once commented on the Catholic writers of her generation. They were sure of themselves, she recalled, though not preachy. Spend time with them and it was hard to escape the impression that they knew something you didn’t.

That’s gone. So the flowers in the garden aren’t what they used to be? Blame the flowers if you like, but it remains the case that the soil has been depleted.