A video guide to the Bucks’ NBA championship:
Author: Steve Prestegard
A video guide to the Bucks’ NBA championship:
On Tuesday the Milwaukee Bucks ended a 50-year NBA championship drought.
It shouldn’t be surprising given our fractious times that this was not met with universal praise throughout the home state of the Bucks. Some people fail to grant others the same rights of opinion as they grant themselves when opinions disagree. (This is a bigger thing with liberals than conservatives, but too few conservatives grant others the right to be wrong.)
There is also the dynamic of Milwaukee vs. the rest of Wisconsin. Some of that comes through this rather defensive piece from On Milwaukee:
Hello, big market sports punditry. I see you over there on the coast, scoffing about Milwaukee’s historic victory in the NBA Finals.
You’ve probably never been to Milwaukee, so let me try to explain this to you.
What’s happening in Milwaukee this week is about so much more than an NBA title. It’s about so much more than some sports talk blowhard who called us a “terrible city.”
It’s about humility. It’s about passion. It’s about showing up and being yourself when everyone else says you should be embarrassed of who that is, and grinning like Bobby Portis and not giving a f*ck.
Did you catch that, Stephen A? We know you didn’t want to come to Milwaukee. We don’t care, we were having a great time regardless. We think it’s hilarious that you had to come anyway. We hope you hated how much fun you had.
Because being a champion is easy when everyone else sees a champion. Being a champion when everyone sees a nobody – when the world sees “Flyover Country” – that takes guts.
That’s why Giannis Antetokounmpo is such a perfect avatar for this place. That’s why his statue will stand taller than the “Bronze Fonz” (but probably in its general vicinity).
Because nobody outside of Wisconsin saw a champion when Giannis stepped onto an NBA court as a gangly, quiet 18-year-old who barely spoke any English.
He doesn’t fit the mold of an NBA champion. Even today, there is a sizable segment of the national sports punditry that (not-so-secretly) resents him for that.
He doesn’t brag. He doesn’t make drama. He’s not flashy.
He shows up, and he does the work. He stays humble and grateful. He doesn’t just remember his roots, he never left them.
There’s no pretension there, just an authentic human being who is awkward and doofy and full of passion.
NBA fans no longer get to count the seconds as Giannis prepares for his free throws.
No, from here on out, they have to spell:
After the game, Giannis described himself as “a people pleaser.”
Believe me, the people of Milwaukee are pleased. We identify with this dude.
If he stays in Milwaukee Antetokounmpo will be as loved as Henry Aaron was. And those who are ignoring the Bucks because of (they believe) incorrect political views are missing out on one of the greatest sports figures (not just for athletic reasons) in our lifetimes.
And we needed this W bad.
Because you don’t GET nice things when you’re from Milwaukee. This city’s entire history is about getting knocked on its butt just when it’s on the precipice of having something nice.
Kevin Smith’s movie classic “Dogma” sums it up succinctly. When Linda Fiorentino asks if Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were sent to hell, Alan Rickman infamously deadpans, “Worse. Wisconsin.”
Nobody quotes that line more than we do here in Milwaukee, and we laugh it off with our customary Midwestern good grace. But there is real pain under that laughter.
People forget that Milwaukee was poised to be a global super-city at the turn of the 20th century. Milwaukee City Hall was the tallest secular building in the world, and the city had growth and population density that rivaled New York, London and Paris.
Maybe we forgot because no one reading this was alive at the time. But I digress.
It didn’t pan out – seems like it never does for Milwaukee. People forgot about the city that “Feeds and Supplies the World.” Factories closed. Racial discrimination reared its ugly head. The rust belt decay took hold. Affluent folks fled to the suburbs and took their wealth with them, and Milwaukee became a scapegoat for the rest of the state to look down upon.
Even when we learned Milwaukee would play host to the Democratic National Convention in 2020 and soak up some warm political press, somehow we knew it wouldn’t work out. We’d never heard of COVID at that point, but we knew that Milwaukee can’t have nice things.
So some thing or another was bound to screw it up.
It’s OK. We’re still here. We’re still doing the work. And let me tell you what I saw Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
I saw 100,000 deliriously giddy people packed into a “Deer District” that sits on top of a scar.
When I moved to Milwaukee nine years ago, that’s what it was – a scar, both metaphorical and physical.
This scar was a reminder of a time when some privileged someones decided to rip out one of the Midwest’s most vibrant African American neighborhoods so they could build a freeway, so that some white folks could get to their homes in the suburbs five minutes more quickly.
And then decades later, when they tore down that ill-conceived Park East Freeway, 24 acres of blighted gravel pit just sat there like a knife through Milwaukee’s heart. When I moved to Milwaukee, I figured that ugly scar would be with us forever.
My hat is off to the Lasry family. When they bought the team in 2014, Milwaukeeans had low expectations. Billionaires from New York don’t normally do much for us here in “Flyover Country.”
Not so with the Lasrys. They threw their talents and their wealth into healing that scar – both metaphorically and physically.
The Lasrys didn’t just build the new Fiserv Forum arena and the surrounding Deer District on top of that ugly Park East Freeway scar.
They committed to hiring unemployed or underemployed Milwaukeeans to make up 40% of their construction workforce. Contractors and detractors said it couldn’t be done, but the Lasrys invested in recruitment and upskilling programs and exceeded that goal.
Those people dancing in the Deer District last night were dancing in a monument to Midwest urban renewal that was built for Milwaukeeans, by Milwaukeeans – folks who showed up and did the work.
Those kids diving off the bridge into the Milwaukee River – they would have come out with chemical burns if they had tried that in 1971.
The scars are healing.
Now, it would be ridiculous and reductionist to say this NBA title marks a turning point for the city of Milwaukee.
This city still grapples with a legacy of racial discrimination that won’t just go away. It’s still the scapegoat of a state legislature that sees Milwaukee as its perennial punching bag. And a humming decade of businesses reinvesting in Milwaukee has suddenly been slammed into neutral amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Maybe if Milwaukee wasn’t the source of most of the state’s social pathologies — high (compared with the rest of the state) crime, horrible schools (that no additional amount of money could fix), playing of the race card against the rest of the non-Madison state, and failure to get rid of the politicians who are fixing nothing, to name four — and had made any attempt at all to rectify that, Milwaukee might have more sympathy outside the 414 area code. We’ll return to that “punching bag” point momentarily.
But last night, Milwaukee finally got to have something nice. And it may not be a panacea, but it reminded us why we keep showing up, and why we keep doing the work.
In Downtown Milwaukee, I saw a vibrant city firing on all cylinders and living up to its full potential. I saw white guys who wear MAGA hats hugging Black guys who wear Black Lives Matter shirts. I saw just a little bit of pride creeping out from under that Midwest veneer of humility.
No, we’re not LA or New York or Miami. We never will be. We don’t want to be.
We’re authentic and awkward and doofy and full of passion. We’re Milwaukee.
Any basketball fan will tell you it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says at halftime.
What matters is momentum. And right now, Milwaukee has the momentum.
Jake Curtis presents an alternative view:
As Wisconsin basks in the glory, it is worth keeping in mind how the Bucks got to this point and the important role the state’s conservatives played in ensuring this moment was possible.
During Games 4 and 6, the packed Fiserv Forum literally shook, and on Tuesday night over 65,000 additional fans packed the Deer District just outside the arena. The story of the Fiserv arena offers proof that the bold reforms ushered in during Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s era included a long-term vision for economic development based on true public-private partnerships, not the phony ones that far too many taxpayers have had hoisted upon them.
Following the 2014 sale of the franchise by longtime Bucks owner (and former U.S. senator) Herb Kohl to hedge-fund managers Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the NBA made it clear if the Bucks did not upgrade the aging Bradley Center, the team would be purchased by the NBA and sent off to Las Vegas or Seattle. Unlike other boondoggles, Kohl and the new ownership group put up $250 million while the remaining cost (the total came to around $524 million) came from state income tax revenue, a ticket surcharge, $4 million annually from Milwaukee County, $47 million from the City of Milwaukee, and $203 million in Wisconsin Center District bonding.
Would the billionaire owners have had the ability to pay for the entire construction package? Probably. In a perfect world, should Wisconsin taxpayers have been forced to shoulder the load? No. But the reality at the time was that the Wisconsin legislature, under the leadership of state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (now a member of Congress) and longtime Speaker Robin Vos, and Gov. Walker and his team ushered through the financing plan. Without their work, which was aided by the state’s largest business lobby (the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce), NBA fans could very well have been left watching a Finals played between the Phoenix Suns and Las Vegas Bucks.
Despite opposition from some Milwaukee Democrats, legislators like my former boss, Sen. Duey Stroebel, who represented districts that straddled metro Milwaukee and more rural communities, were forced to take a tough vote to keep the team in Milwaukee. As a result of this bold leadership, the financing package ultimately garnered bipartisan support in both chambers.
The jury is still out on whether public financing arrangements like the one that made the Fiserv Forum possible directly benefits taxpayers. Critics of such deals raise legitimate free-market concerns. However, had Wisconsin conservatives not stepped forward to assist, Wisconsin would have lost an asset and the city’s Deer District would be nothing more than an aging basketball skeleton. Instead, as the Bucks took the court Tuesday night, a full house was present in the Fiserv Forum, 65,000 plus were cheering (and spending money in nearby bars and restaurants) outside, and viewers across the state witnessed a historic performance by Giannis and his teammates.
Everyone should be thankful that in 2015 Wisconsin conservatives did not let the team leave on their watch. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and ensured the Bucks would remain part of the state’s amazing economic comeback. And because of their efforts, Wisconsin will be able to proudly feature a humble and hungry role model like Giannis for years to come.
About that opposition from Milwaukee Democrats: One of them, Rep. David Bowen, sent a congratulatory social media message that might make you think he had supported the Fiserv Forum package. He didn’t.
As was pointed out in the aforementioned post (when reposted on Facebook), the state funding package was more an allocation of tax revenue than a tax increase, by earmarking the so-called “jock tax” toward the package instead of just dumping it into state General Purpose Revenue. As Walker put it at the time, “I think it’s arguably the most fiscally conservative idea in the country for a professional sports team,” Walker said. “We’re having them pay their own way. It’s not coming out of revenues from anywhere else. It’s not coming from new taxes. It’s keeping the foundation we have today.”
And yet, it helped Walker in no political sense. In fact, nothing the Republican Party has done to help Milwaukee has helped the GOP politically. Did Republicans benefit by getting Miller Park built? Ask former state Sen. George Petak, who got recalled for his support of the 0.1-cent stadium tax, which then lost control of the Legislature. How about Milwaukee school choice? Democrats outside Milwaukee routinely bludgeon Republicans on the spurious claim that private school choice money takes away from public schools.
Fiserv Forum? Notice that instead of Walker as governor …
… Wisconsin has a governor who, as politicians will do, takes credit for something he had absolutely nothing to do with.
Today in 1965, the Rolling Stones were to release “Beggar’s Banquet,” except that the record label decided that the original cover …
… was inappropriate, and substituted …
… angering one member of the band on his birthday.
The number one single …
… and album today in 1975:
Today in 1964, the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” hit number one and stayed there for 14 weeks:
Today in 1973, George Harrison got a visit from the taxman, who told him he owed £1 million in taxes on his 1973 Bangladesh album and concert:
Today in 1964, a member of the audience at a Rolling Stones concert in the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England, spat upon guitarist Brian Jones, sparking a riot that injured 30 fans and two police officers.
The Stones were banned from performing in Blackpool until 2008.
Today in 1965, Bob Dylan released “Like a Rolling Stone,” which is not like said Rolling Stones:
Today in 1967, the Beatles and other celebrities took out a full-page ad in the London Times calling for the legalization of …
Today in 1963, high school student Neil Young and his band, the Squires, recorded in a Winnipeg studio a surf instrumental:
Today in 1965, the Beatles asked for …
The number one single — really — today in 1966:
Today in 1979, Iran’s new ruler, Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, banned rock and roll, an event that inspired a British band:
Birthdays start with the indescribable George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic:
Rick Davies played keyboards for Supertramp:
Estelle Bennett was the older sister of Ronnie Spector, and both were part of the Ronettes:
Don Henley of the Eagles:
Matt Taibbi, who is not a conservative:
[Monday’s] NPR article, “Outrage As A Business Model: How Ben Shapiro Is Using Facebook To Build An Empire,” is among the more unintentionally funny efforts at media criticism in recent times.
The piece is about Ben Shapiro, but one doesn’t have to have ever followed Shapiro, or even once read the Daily Wire, to get the joke. The essence of NPR’s complaint is that a conservative media figure not only “has more followers than The Washington Post” but outperforms mainstream outlets in the digital arena, a fact that, “experts worry,” may be “furthering polarization” in America. NPR refers to polarizing media as if they’re making an anthropological discovery of a new and alien phenomenon.
The piece goes on to note that “other conservative outlets such as The Blaze, BreitbartNews and The Western Journal” that “publish aggregated and opinion content” have also “generally been more successful… than legacy news outlets over the past year, according to NPR’s analysis.” In other words, they’re doing better than us.
Is the complaint that Shapiro peddles misinformation? No: “The articles The Daily Wire publishes don’t normally include falsehoods.” Are they worried about the stoking of Trumpism, or belief that the 2020 election was stolen? No, because Shapiro “publicly denounced the alt-right and other people in Trump’s orbit,” as well as “the conspiracy theory that Trump is the rightful winner of the 2020 election.” Are they mad that the site is opinion disguised as news? No, because, “publicly the site does not purport to be a traditional news source.”
The main complaint, instead, is that:
By only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as… polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues)… readers still come away from The Daily Wire’s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.
NPR has not run a piece critical of Democrats since Christ was a boy. Moreover, much like the New York Times editorial page (but somehow worse), the public news leader’s monomaniacal focus on “race and sexuality issues” has become an industry in-joke. For at least a year especially, listening to NPR has been like being pinned in wrestling beyond the three-count. Everything is about race or gender, and you can’t make it stop.
Conservatives have always hated NPR, but in the last year I hear more and more politically progressive people, in the media, talking about the station as a kind of mass torture experiment, one that makes the most patient and sensible people want to drive off the road in anguish. A brief list of just a few recent NPR reports:
“Billie Eilish Says She Is Sorry After TikTok Video Shows Her Mouthing A Racist Slur.” Pop star caught on tape using the word “chink” when she was “13 or 14 years old” triggers international outrage and expenditure of U.S. national media funding.
“Black TikTok Creators Are On Strike To Protest A Lack Of Credit For Their Work.” White TikTok users dance to Nicky Minaj lyrics like, “I’m a f****** Black Barbie. Pretty face, perfect body,” kicking off “a debate about cultural appropriation on the app.”
“Geocaching While Black: Outdoor Pastime Reveals Racism And Bias.” Area man who plays GPS-based treasure hunt game requiring forays into remote places and private property describes “horrifying” experience of people asking what he’s doing.
“Broadway Is Reopening This Fall, And Every New Play Is By A Black Writer.” All seven new plays being written by black writers is “a step toward progress,” but critics “will be watching Broadway’s next moves” to make sure “momentum” continues.
“She Struggled To Reclaim Her Indigenous Name. She Hopes Others Have It Easier.” It took Cold Lake First Nations member Danita Bilozaze nine whole months to change her name to reflect her Indigenous identity.
“Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist.” Tom Hanks pushing for more widespread teaching of the Tulsa massacre doesn’t change the fact that he’s built a career playing “white men ‘doing the right thing,’” NPR complains.
Mixed in with Ibram Kendi recommendations for children’s books, instructions on how to “decolonize your bookshelf” and “talk to your parents about racism” (even if your parents are an interracial couple), and important dispatches from the war on complacency like “Monuments And Teams Have Changed Names As America Reckons With Racism, Birds Are Next,” “National” Public Radio in the last year has committed itself to a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of the most moralizing, tendentious, humor-deprived, jargon-obsessed segment of American society. Yet without any irony, yesterday’s piece still made deadpan complaint about Shapiro’s habit of “telling [people] what their opinions should be” and speaking in “buzzwords.”
This was functionally the same piece as the recent New York Times article, “Is the Rise of the Substack Economy Bad for Democracy?” which similarly blamed Substack for hurting “traditional news” — and, as the headline suggests, democracy itself — by being a) popular and b) financially successful, which in media terms means not losing money hand over fist. There, too, the reasons for the rise of an alternative media outlet were presented by critics as a frightening, unsolvable Scooby-Doo mystery.
It’s not. NPR sucks and is unlistenable, so people are going elsewhere. People like Shapiro are running their strategy in reverse and making fortunes doing it. One of these professional analysts has to figure this one out eventually, right?
Cockburn of The Spectator:
‘Hey, that’s some nice Facebook traffic you’re getting. Would be a shame if something happened to it.’
The average New York Times article on Facebook collects just under 2,000 likes, shares, and comments. The average Daily Wire link receives nearly 40,000. At the peak of the 2020 election, Daily Wire articles averaged almost 100,000 engagements. No other publication comes close.
And all of this really bothers NPR. For 2,000 petulant words, NPR does everything it can to imply that the Daily Wire should be kicked off Facebook. Why? Because…because…it’s just not fair! Why do people read their articles more than ours?
That’s the guts of the entire temper tantrum posing as an article. NPR gets very angry at the public for not liking the ‘right’ news outlets and basically calls for Big Tech to decide what people are supposed to read. And they do it with the same cudgel they’ve become so fond of in the past year: kvetching about ‘misinformation’.
The articles the Daily Wire publishes don’t normally include falsehoods (with some exceptions), and the site said it is committed to ‘truthful, accurate and ethical reporting.’
As NPR’s quoted experts explain, only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as negative reports about socialist countries and polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues) and only including certain facts, readers still come away from the Daily Wire‘s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.
Grrr! The conservative outlet promotes conservatism! Why can’t they be 100 percent fair and unbiased, like all the publications that deep-sixed Hunter Biden’s laptop for partisan political purposes? Why can’t they do responsible and accurate reporting like the Washington Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for writing approximately infinity articles about Russian collusion? Why can’t they be more like the bravely non-partisan New York Times, which forced out an editor for publishing an op-ed by a sitting US senator stating a view that more than half the country agreed with? Why can’t they come up with rhetorical innovations like ‘mostly peaceful protests’ in order to lie to the public about what’s happening right in front of their faces?
And speaking of Pravda-esque sleight of hand, NPR’s article delivers this gem from William and Mary academic Jaime Settle, who explains how even telling the truth is actually ‘misinformation’ if it makes NPR’s Facebook shares look bad.
‘They tend to not provide very much context for the information that they are providing,’ Settle said. ‘If you’ve stripped enough context away, any piece of truth can become a piece of misinformation.’
Soon, NPR is reduced to basically suggesting that Facebook’s news consumers are touched in the head:
‘On its “About” page, the site declares, “The Daily Wire does not claim to be without bias,” [but] It’s not clear that the millions of people engaging with the site’s news stories every month recognize that.
‘The Daily Wire‘s content looks no different in Facebook’s newsfeed than an article from a local newspaper, making it potentially difficult to distinguish between more and less reliable or biased information sources. “This is about what we end up consuming inadvertently,” Settle said.’
To borrow a word from Taylor Lorenz, does NPR think that Facebook users are r-slurred? They use the Daily Wire because they can’t tell the difference between it and the ‘right’ news sources?
Please. The truth is the exact opposite. The Daily Wire, and every other conservative outlet thriving on Facebook, is doing well because it is very obviously not part of the sanctimonious, equivocating, censorious, hypocritical, hysterical, deceptive, propagandistic orgy of self-righteous school-marmery that passes for ‘mainstream’ media. Unlike the typical NPR reporter, actual news consumers know the press is biased, so they at least want to pick an outlet that isn’t biased against them.
If the standard press wants their articles to be shared more, they could start by not being a never-ending cascade of moralizing lectures and psy-ops promoting foreign wars or polyamory. But that would be difficult. It takes decades of responsible practice to build up trust from the general public. It only takes a few days to simply call your rivals ‘misinformation’ and get them banned.
Wisconsin Public Radio (for whom, you may recall, I was a participant on its Friday morning political pundit panel, previously) recently ran a piece quoting UW–Milwaukee Prof. Mordecai Lee, a former state legislator, that Gov. Tony Evers won the budget battle with the state Legislature, despite the fact that the budget the Legislature created and passed is what Evers signed (with 50 Evers vetoes).
The WPR commenters all agreed with Lee, which means they are ignorant because no one, impartial or not, could look at that budget and say that Evers had anything to do with it other than signing it.
Today in 1970, after Joe Cocker dropped out due to illness, and unable to get Jimi Hendrix, promoter Bill Graham (possibly at Hendrix’s suggestion) presented Chicago in concert at Tanglewood, a classical music venue in Lenox, Mass.:
I would have loved to go to this concert, but I was 5 years old at the time, and I doubt my parents would have allowed me to go to Massachusetts.
The number one song today in 1973:
The number one R&B song today in 1979:
Today in 1980, AC/DC released “Back in Black,” their first album with new singer Brian Johnson, who replaced the deceased Bon Scott:
Joe Biden loves to say, “America is back.” He used it to announce his incoming national security team last November. “It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.”
Last February, there were a slew of headlines about his first big foreign policy speech along the lines of this from the Associated Press:
In that speech, Biden told diplomats at the State Department, “when you speak, you speak for me. And so—so [this] is the message I want the world to hear today: America is back. America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.”
That phrase—as well as those Biden-tells-allies-America-is-back headlines—keeps coming to mind every time I read about the inexorable advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan. For the Afghans, America was “here,” and now it’s leaving. I wonder how “America is back” must sound to the people feeling abandoned by America in general, and the guy saying it in particular.
I’m not trying to pull on heart strings, so I won’t trot out the girls who will be thrown back into a kind of domestic bondage or the translators and aides who rightly fear mass executions may be heading their way. All I’ll say is that their plight does pull on my heart strings.
But let’s get back to this “America is back” stuff. For Biden, it seems to have two meanings. One is his narrow argument that we are rejoining all of the multilateral partnerships and alliances that Trump pulled out of or denigrated. Fair enough. I can’t say this fills me with joy, even though I disliked most of that stuff from Trump (the two obvious exceptions being getting out of the Paris Accord and the Iran deal). I think diplomacy often gets a bad rap. But I also think diplomacy is often seen as an end rather than a means. We want diplomats to accomplish things, not to get along with each other just for the sake of getting along. For too long, Democrats have cottoned to a foreign policy that says it’s better to be wrong in a big group than to be right alone.
But there’s another meaning to “America is back.” It’s an unsubtle dig at Trump and a subtle bit of liberal nostalgia all at once. It’s kind of a progressive version of “Make America Great Again.” It rests on the assumption that one group of liberal politicians speaks for the real America, and now that those politicians are back in power, the real America is back, too. But the problem is, there is no one real America. There are some 330 million Americans and they, collectively and individually, cannot be shoe-horned into a single vision regardless of what labels you yoke to the effort.
Liberals were right to point out that there was a lot of coding in “Make America Great Again.” I think they sometimes overthought what Trump meant by it, because I don’t think he put a lot of thought into it. He heard a slogan, liked the sound of it, and turned it into a rallying cry—just as he did with “America first,” “silent majority,” and “fake news.” Still, when, exactly, was America great in Trump’s vision? The consensus seems to be the 1950s, a time when a lot of good things were certainly happening, but a lot of bad things were going on that we wouldn’t want to restore.
Liberal nostalgia is a funny thing. Conservative nostalgia I understand, because I’m a conservative and I’m prone to nostalgia (even though nostalgia can be a corrupting thing, which is why Robert Nisbet called it “the rust of memory”). Conservatives tend to be nostalgic for how they think people lived. Liberals tend to be nostalgic about times when they had power.
Consider the New Deal. Being nostalgic for the New Deal certainly isn’t about how people lived, not primarily. America was in a deep depression throughout the New Deal. Breadlines and men holding signs saying “will work for food” are probably the most iconic images of that time. Who wants to return to that? And yet, liberals will not banish it from their collective memory as something like the high water mark of American history. That’s why they keep pushing for new New Deals and slapping the label on new programs that consist of spending money we don’t have.
The only thing that competes with the New Deal in the liberal imagination is the 1960s in general and the civil rights movement and Great Society in particular. I’m reminded of a Washington Post interview with Howard Dean in 2003 in which he explained his nostalgia for that era:
“Medicare had passed. Head Start had passed. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the first African American justice [was appointed to] the United States Supreme Court. We felt like we were all in it together, that we all had responsibility for this country. … [We felt] that if one person was left behind, then America wasn’t as strong or as good as it could be or as it should be. That’s the kind of country that I want back.”
“We felt the possibilities were unlimited then,” he continued. “We were making such enormous progress. It resonates with a lot of people my age. People my age really felt that way.”
That’s not how people his age felt back then. It’s how a certain group of liberals felt because they were winning. The 1960s and the 1930s were times of massive civic strife marked by race riots, domestic bombings, assassinations, and anti-war protests. But liberals were in charge, felt like history was on their side, and they had a lot of “wins” as Donald Trump might say.
The current obsession with the “new Jim Crow” seems like a perfect example of how liberal nostalgia distorts and corrupts. As I write today, I’m not a fan of the arguments coming out of the GOP or the Democrats. But the simple fact is that we don’t live in the 1960s—or 1890s—anymore. Whatever the future holds, it will not be a replay of that past. And that’s overwhelmingly for the good.
I always find it funny that the same people who ridicule “excessive” fidelity to the timeless principles of the Founding as archaic are often also the same ones who worship at the altar of the New Deal and the Great Society. The Founders didn’t know about mobile phones and the internet! Well, neither did the New Dealers or the Johnson administration. But that doesn’t matter because the part they really liked and yearn to restore is timeless: people in Washington deciding how Americans everywhere else should live and work.
I don’t know how the White House’s new collaboration with Facebook to combat “misinformation” will actually play out and I’m not fully up to speed on what the administration really intends to do. Though—given press secretary Jen Psaki’s comment that “you shouldn’t be banned from one platform and not others,” etc.—it doesn’t sound good. But I think David French’s gut check is exactly right: “Moderation is a platform decision, not a White House decision. Trying to force more moderation is as constitutionally problematic as trying to force less moderation.”
The principle at the heart of that speaks not just to social media regulation, but to all of the competing efforts from right and left to throw aside the rules in a thirsty search to rule.
Listeners of The Remnant know that I often find myself suffering from a peculiar form of nostalgia, for want of a better word. The title of my podcast comes from an essay by Albert Jay Nock, who was one of the “superfluous men” of the long Progressive Era that stretched—with a brief, and partial, parentheses under the sainted Calvin Coolidge—from the end of the Teddy Roosevelt administration to the end of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. I don’t agree with Nock, or the other superfluous men, on everything—they were a diverse lot. But the thing that connected them all—hence their superfluousness—was how they felt that they were standing on the sidelines as the major combatants at home and abroad competed over how best to be wrong, how to stir up populist anger for their agendas, and, most of all, how to use the state to impose their vision on the “masses.” The remnant was the sliver that wanted no part of any of it.
“Taking his inspiration from those Russians who seemed superfluous to their autocratic nineteenth-century society and sought inspiration in the private sphere, even to the point of writing largely for their desk drawers,” writes Robert Crunden, Nock’s biographer. “Nock made the essential point: ransack the past for your values, establish a coherent worldview, depend neither on society nor on government insofar as circumstances permitted, keep your tastes simple and inexpensive, and do what you have to do to remain true to yourself.”
Or as the great superfluous man of the Soviet Empire, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, put it, “You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”
I share this—yet again—as a kind of omnibus response to all of my critics these days and the ones yet to come. I’m lucky that I don’t have to write for my desk drawer, though I am reliably informed — daily — that many people would prefer I did. But I am going to continue to write for the remnant as I see it and those I hope to convince to swell its ranks, and not for those who think that to be against what “they” are doing I must endorse what “we” are doing. Our politics may be a binary system of competing asininities these days, but just because one side of a coin is wrong, that doesn’t mean the other side is right.