Category: Culture

The most obvious title for a year of all time

Kyle Smith writes about “The Year of Stupid”:

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news reporters and politicians to brand managers, high-school kids, and utility-company executives. The fervor out there is often compared to the French Revolution, complete with the installation of a toy guillotine/vegetable chopper in front of Jeff Bezos’s house. But this revolution has a distinctly 21st-century American flavor: Let’s hear it for libertéégalitéstupidité. Has any people’s uprising ever been this moronic? It’s like a sketch-comedy spoof of history, Bastille Day reenacted by the characters from Anchorman.

Item: In Minneapolis, the City Council votes unanimously to disband the police department and replace it with a “department of community safety and violence prevention” driven by “a holistic, public-health-oriented approach.” So, a Committee of Public Safety, then? Should Minneapolis ever follow through on this barmy scheme, which it won’t, I guess the Mini Apple can look forward to friendship bracelets instead of handcuffs, armed robbers getting suites at the nearest Hilton Garden Inn instead of jail cells, and lots of holistic counseling sessions for rapists. If there’s one thing we owe black folks, it’s to let criminals roam unchecked in their neighborhoods while rich, white, and well-connected people surround themselves with private security. People like, er, the members of the Minneapolis City Council.

Item: In Washington, D.C., working with the loud backing of leading public intellectuals who claim Abraham Lincoln and other Republicans did nothing to free the slaves, a mob of the historically challenged gather around a statue commemorating emancipation that was universally understood as a moving symbol of the liberation of black America until ten minutes ago, before the super-spreading of the stupidity virus. Protesters at the Emancipation Memorial have for days threatened to give Lincoln and a freed slave the Saddam Hussein treatment and drag them off the plinth they’ve shared for 144 years. Over the weekend, a young woman yelling at a pitch that would cause a dog’s eardrums to explode screeched, “Why are you protecting it?” The calm and historically literate older black gentleman at whom the question was directed patiently asked, “Who paid for it?” The answer to his question was, of course, “freed slaves.” But she didn’t know, so she hopped around as though suffering a full-body case of Jimmy legs and screamed, “Why are you fighting me?” A black woman with a keen interest in local history, Marcia Cole, pointed out on a local news program that the slave depicted in the statue “is not kneeling on two knees with his head bowed. He is in the act of getting up. And his head is up, not bowed, because he’s looking forward to a future of freedom.” Instead of looking up he’ll soon be looking at the bottom of a river bed or a ditch if the mob gets its wish, as today’s mobs usually do.

Item: Hulu removes an ancient episode of The Golden Girls from its streaming platform, presumably never to be seen by human eyes again. It seems two of the famed Filles d’Or were wearing mud treatments on their faces when they met the black family into which one of their sons was about to marry. Hilarity ensued. Betty White’s character Rose said, “This is mud on our faces, we’re not really black.” Scenes from, or entire episodes of, Community30 RockThe Office, and Scrubs were similarly memory-holed. An exasperated Twitter user wrote that not a single black person in America was offended and called the removal “white guilt knee-jerking into reactionary performative allyship.”

Item: A Latino truck driver, Emmanuel Cafferty, is publicly humiliated and fired from his job at San Diego Gas & Electric Company because he allowed his left thumb to touch his left index finger while driving a truck. Since the OK sign is coded as a white-power gesture among batty people who spend way too much time freaking out online, Cafferty was canned by panicky superiors. “To lose your dream job for playing with your fingers,” he said, “that’s a hard pill to swallow.” The motorist who pulled the pin on this social hand grenade on Twitter later deleted the tweet, allowed he may have gotten “spun up” about the non-meaning of the non-incident, and said he hadn’t intended to cost the man his job. Oops.

Item: Woke flume riders demand that Disneyland and Disney World rethink their popular Splash Mountain attraction because of racism. What racism? Well, the rides themselves, which feature cartoon animals, are not racist in any way, but they’re linked to the 1946 Uncle Remus film Song of the South, which features heavy use of regional accents by black and white actors and which CNN tells us has a “romanticized view of the antebellum South.” The movie is set entirely during Reconstruction, as anyone who has ever seen it could tell you, but why see it when you can just denounce it? The ride, meanwhile, is being reimagined to depict characters from The Princess and the Frog, a movie built around black protagonists in New Orleans. Here’s hoping Disney has enough wit to acknowledge our age of absurdity by rechristening it “New Orleans Mountain.”

Item: One David Shor, a white data analyst for the firm Civitas, is ritually degraded for accurately tweeting the results of a paper by a black Princeton professor, Omar Wasow, which found that violent protests tended to decrease voter support for the Democratic Party while nonviolent protests tended to bolster it. Shor’s white colleagues were incensed that anyone might mention research showing that burning down neighborhoods tends not to endear the voters to your agenda, and their obloquy got him a pink slip.

Among the very dim and very woke, some seem to find the Robespierre model too dull and have installed Stalinism as their O.S. As Martin Amis explained in his Stalin book Koba the Dread, “You might denounce someone for fear of their denouncing you. You could be denounced for not doing enough denouncing; the only disincentive to denunciation was the possibility of being denounced for not denouncing sooner. . . . Children who denounced their parents became national figures, hymned in verse and song.” Recently, on TikTok, a girl racked up 277,000 likes for a video in which she reenacted how she had supposedly shouted at her “Republican father” over dinner that he was a “stupid f***ing dinosaur.” This never happened, as the girl admitted to HuffPost; her parents actually “support the movement and are horrified at what happened to George Floyd.”

Today’s youngest radicals are taking the family denouncing a step farther; children are anonymously using social-media platforms to denounce other children, with the stated goal of destroying their future career prospects or chances of being admitted to college. The denouncers get rewarded with today’s equivalent of verse and song: the fawning news-media profile. A 16-year-old student in Smithtown, N.Y. told the New York Times, “I’m not trying to target freshmen or middle schoolers, but people who are about to go to college need to be held accountable for what they say. . . . I don’t want people like that to keep getting jobs.”

Terrified parents hoping to buy insurance against their pubescent children being socially murdered via Facebook post while they’re trying to get into Wesleyan are clamoring to fend off the race police by getting a copy of one of the signature texts of the Year of Stupid: the cartoonish board book, Antiracist Baby, which is ostensibly for two-year-olds but is plainly aimed at grownups, like a woke successor to Go the F*** to Sleep. Garbled lessons include, “Some people get more while others get less/Because policies don’t always grant equal access.” Never mind that there is no way “equal access” can possibly guarantee that no one gets “more while others get less.” That’s just normal, 2019-level stupid. What makes this book extra-strength, 2020-level stupid is its assumption that you should roll up the social-justice artillery to a tiny human in diapers who thinks Elmo is real. Have no fear, Sesame Street watchers: Even if you don’t get Antiracist Baby for your second birthday, you’ll get plenty of chances to learn socially approved, grownup kinds of stupidity soon enough.

Keep in mind the Year of Stupid is only half over.

 

A body blow to free expression

Jonah Goldberg:

Nothing evokes a nice gloomy feel like the German language. The Germans, a people forged under the gray skies and dark shadows of the Black Forest, are a gloomy people, which is why they have such wonderful words to describe gloomy things.

(For instance, there’s schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. And fremdschamen, the feeling of being embarrassed for someone else who doesn’t have the good sense of being embarrassed for themselves (think of that feeling you get watching Michael Scott humiliate himself in The Office, or President Trump answering a question from Sean Hannity. See below). And there’s my favorite: futterneid—that feeling of jealousy you get when someone is eating something you want to eat. When I go out to dinner with my wife and she orders better than me, my futterneid fuels the Fair Jessica’s schadenfreude.)

So let’s consider the word Einfühlungsvermögen.

Einfühlungsvermögen means “empathy.” And that English word is just over a century old. It entered the English language in 1909 as a translation of Einfühlungsvermögen. It’s an adaptation of the shorter term Einfühlung, a concept pioneered by the German historicist Johann Herder, one of the founders of German nationalism. Einfühlung literally means “feeling one’s way in.” And it was one of the core concepts of the German historicist school, which is responsible for many bad ideas we won’t discuss here.

But Einfühlung, in isolation, is not a bad idea. What Herder meant by “feeling one’s way in” was that for a historian to understand a particular society, one must grasp on both an intellectual and emotional level the cultural currents of the time. One cannot just look from outside the fishbowl using the scorecards of the moment and judge a society from some modern, abstract, standard. You must dive in and understand people and cultures on their own terms first. This is something the best historians do. They make the reader feel like they understand why people did the things they did without the benefit of knowing how events turned out.

For example, when people condemn the Founders for keeping slavery intact in slave states, they tend to ignore the context the Founders were living in. The choice they faced wasn’t a Constitution with slavery or a Constitution without it. The choice was a Constitution with slavery—or no Constitution at all.

I’m open to arguments that this isn’t true, but not from someone who doesn’t understand that this is the way the Founders—many of whom opposed slavery—understood their choice.

Societies are complex things: Most of the rules that govern them cannot be found in legal texts. These rules are embedded in customs, norms, traditions, and manners that are as often as not unwritten—and even when they are written, most people don’t refer to those texts for guidance. Most of us know not to talk with our mouths full because our parents taught us basic manners, not because we read some Dear Abby column.

A certain kind of modern feminist looks at a stereotypical housewife of, say, the 1920s and feels a kind of contempt or pity for her plight, but not empathy. I understand the feeling. But to understand the housewife you need to understand that she didn’t necessarily share your attitudes about what constitutes a meaningful and rewarding life. Condemning her for falling short of standards she did not hold can be a kind of bigotry.

One thing I find remarkable is that many progressives understand all of this quite intuitively when it comes to other countries. Many of the same people who have contempt for the 1920 housewife will comment about a 2020 housewife in, say, Gaza, “Who are you to judge them? It’s their culture!”

Well, the past is another country, too. And given that the American past is part of your own country, maybe you can have just a bit more Einfühlungsvermögen for it.

Anyway, what got me thinking about all this was something I tweeted about last night.

What particularly annoyed me is the use of the word “scandal.” A scandal is “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” The actions by Tina Fey and Jimmy Kimmel were not scandals when they happened. They were comedy bits on television that went, to my knowledge, unremarked upon at the time. If unremarkable events of the past—not secret events, not unknown events, but simply run-of-the-mill events of daily life—can retroactively be turned into scandals by a mob of moral scolds, we’re in store for some rough times.

Think of it this way, men dressing as women for comedic effect is a very old staple. Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Flip Wilson, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx: The list goes on and on. It is not unimaginable, given the role of transgenderism in our culture today, that in the years—or days—ahead, we’ll have a similar moral panic over dressing in drag (at least by cis-men) and be told that this is—and was—some kind of hate crime. Will Dustin Hoffman ask AFI to take Tootsie off its 100 best films list? Will Tom Hanks get embroiled in a “scandal” because someone dug up an old VHS of Bosom Buddies? Will Mrs. Doubtfire go the way of Gone with the Wind or Birth of a Nation? And don’t get me started on the intersectional chimera that is White Chicks.

It’s one thing to say, “We should stop doing X.” It’s quite another to say the people who did X when X was entirely normal are now pariahs.

There is something vaguely Maoist about the mood out there. During the Cultural Revolution the young firebrands attacked and humiliated older Communist leaders for the sin of not being sufficiently imbued with the spirit of revolution, or something. The “Black Line” theory of artistic interpretation—which led to the deaths and imprisonment of countless artists and intellectuals —basically held that if you once wrote or painted something “wrong” by the current revolutionary standard, you should be forcibly reeducated, even though what you wrote or painted wasn’t wrong when you painted it. 

Our cultural craziness

Taki:

Oh, to be in America, where cultural decay and self-destruction compete equally with hyper-feminist and anti-racist agendas. Gone with the Wind is now off limits and Robert E. Lee’s statue in Richmond is unlikely to remain standing (I give it a week at most). And over here poor old Winnie is also in the you-know-what. Why didn’t anyone tell me Churchill was a Nazi? The Cenotaph also has to go; those guys it honors were racists.

Two weeks ago in these here pages Douglas Murray said it all about a US import we can do without. Alas, when Uncle Sam sneezes, the British bulldog gets the flu. The scenes may be less dramatic in the UK, but the hypocrisy is the same, if not greater. (Get killed fighting for your country at Waterloo à la Thomas Picton, and have some thug tear your statue down.) Should we Greeks destroy our monuments to, say, Pericles because he had slaves? (Try it in Athens, assholes, and see how far you get.)

I don’t know why, perhaps because I’m a naive little Greek boy, but the outrage expressed by all these activists and celebrities rings hollow. I regularly speak to the film director James Toback who is in the Bagel writing his memoirs — his description of the first time he dropped LSD at Harvard, with cars flying through the windows at him, is brilliant — and even Jimmy, a man never at a loss for words, had trouble describing the disaster that is Mayor de Blasio: ‘Fossils dating from the sea bed 2.1 billion years ago would be more effective than this clown.’

Freedom of speech in the good old US of A (as well as the UK) makes the USSR in 1950 resemble Speakers’ Corner by comparison. Any questioning of PC orthodoxies might mean instant dismissal from work, even if you’re the boss — especially if you’re the boss. Today’s climate is one that makes Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four seem like a children’s book. Say ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘Buildings Matter’ and you risk losing your job or position quicker than the presumption of innocence went out the window in the Woody Allen case. Anything that might be interpreted as racist is a death sentence, one handed down by self-appointed judges in the media, academia and the arts. Mind you, real murder is also giving it the old college try. Both New York and Chicago are having a Back to the Future moment. Seven people were shot, in three separate incidents, in the space of 10 minutes in Brooklyn last week. Chicago, always trying to catch up with the Bagel, did much better: 18 people were killed in 24 hours at the end of last month, young men and women, all African Americans, as are most of the suspects. (I don’t think the New York Times even bothered to report it.)

Back in 1970, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a memo to President Nixon advising him to exercise ‘benign neglect’ where African American communities were concerned. Before you go digging up his grave, the senator was no racist. On the contrary, he was an intellectual and a professor concerned about the potential negative consequences of affirmative action. He also pointed out that children growing up in fatherless households — which stands at 53 percent among the African American community — makes these young people likely to a life of poverty. The senator may have had a point, but in the current climate I am risking being canceled even by bringing up his name.

Mind you, if the proverbial Martian were to arrive in the land of opportunity nowadays, his antenna would be ringing off the hook about the 65 million white supremacists, which is how some on the left in America now describe anyone who has voted for — or might vote for — the Donald. The thought police are everywhere, and Mao’s Red Guards of the 1960s have nothing on them. These so-called activists don’t address those rap ‘artists’ whose lyrics glorify drug dealing and murder. Any deviation from woke-speak is equivalent to hate speech. Just look at our own J.K. Rowling and the help she got from those she made rich.

The irony is that most people who ended up in America went there in the first place because they were tired of kneeling. Now they’re kneeling all over again — to the mob. My favorite New York story is that of two lawyers, one a Princeton graduate making $250,000 per annum. They were arrested after having made and thrown Molotov cocktails at police cars and are now facing a prison sentence. (I predict they’ll get off.) Why did they risk it? I think it is because they suffer from an overwhelming desire to become woke stars overnight.

It’s a perfect time for opportunistic lefties, with America regressing into a form of social engineering and the definition of racism expanding ever upwards and outwards.

The idiocy of today’s culture

Robby Soave:

A few years ago, something mildly embarrassing occurred at a Halloween party hosted by a Washington Post cartoonist: A white woman painted her face black and wore a name tag that read “Hello, My Name is Megyn Kelly,” in reference to the TV host’s controversial defense of white people wearing blackface. The intended butt of the joke would appear to be Kelly, not black people. Regardless, several guests approached the woman and explained to her that it was still not OK to wear blackface. The woman reportedly left the party in tears.

Suffice it to say, this is not a story that needed to be told. The woman is not famous, she does not appear to hold any power, and is not seeking public office. But because two of the aggrieved guests—a pair of young, progressive women—are still raw about it, and because we are living through a moment where no single person’s humiliation is too trivial to earn them a reprieve from the forces of cancel culture, a pair ofreporters have exhaustively chronicled the incident in a 3,000-word article for…The Washington Post.

Brace yourself before diving in, because this is one of the worst newspaper articles of all time. Between the elite media navel-gazing, the smug sanctimony of the cancelers, the absurd one-sidedness of the narrative structure, the spirit of revenge taken to an odious extreme, it’s hard not to come away feeling nauseated. Unfortunately, it’s so emblematic of the rising dual trends of activist journalism and unforgiving progressivism that I’m going to go into some detail here.

The article is titled “Blackface incident at Post cartoonist’s 2018 Halloween party resurfaces amid protests.” Resurfaced? How? Did it surface once, and is now surfacing again? Already we’re shifting responsibility because the only reason this incident is “surfacing” at all is that the Post lacked the courage to tell the two women pictured in the article’s photo that this particular story was not newsworthy.

These two are Lexie Gruber and Lyric Prince. Gruber is a 27-year-old management consultant, and Prince is a 36-year-old artist. The Post photographed them for the story in Washington D.C.’s Malcom X park, where they appear as bold truth-tellers. Their truth is that they are still mad at an older white woman who didn’t understand that her costume wasn’t funny, and they want revenge. So it begins:

Every year, Tom Toles’s Halloween party draws an eclectic mix — journalists and political types from Washington’s power elite, but also artists and musicians, everyone from retirees to college kids, jammed into small rooms and sprawled across the backyard, dancing and gossiping, checking out the crowd to see who has the most inventive and outrageous costumes.

At the 2018 party at the home of The Washington Post‘s editorial cartoonist, in addition to several Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, someone dressed as the “Mueller Witch Hunt” and Post columnist Dana Milbank came as just-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, complete with a beer-dispensing device on his head. A guest named Lexie Gruber wore a scary “Beetlejuice” get-up and called herself “dead.”

A middle-aged white woman named Sue Schafer wore a conservative business suit and a name tag that said, “Hello, My Name is Megyn Kelly.” Her face was almost entirely blackened with makeup. Kelly, then an NBC morning show host, had just that week caused a stir by defending the use of blackface by white people: “When I was a kid, that was okay, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

Already, we’re in strange territory. Why is The Washington Post writing about a Washington Post Halloween party from two years ago? If it wasn’t newsworthy then, why is it newsworthy now? Many of the people quoted throughout the article are affiliated with the Post. Were they obligated to participate in this struggle session? Did they go on the record because they were still bothered by the incident, or because it was a chance to show the concern they didn’t feel compelled to show two years ago? The story isn’t the important thing—the story behind the story is what matters. And then the one behind that.The story here is that Gruber and Prince were offended at the Halloween costume chosen by Sue Schafer, a 54-year-old government contractor, and told her so. The story behind the story is that they recently decided this wasn’t enough of a rebuke and so enlisted the Post to help them identify and publicly humiliate Schafer:

Nearly two years later, the incident, which has bothered some people ever since but which many guests remember only barely or not at all, has resurfaced in the nationwide reckoning over race after George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, was killed when a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Many protesters have called on white Americans to reassess their own actions or inactions when confronting violent and everyday racism alike.

Gruber felt compelled to revive the 2018 incident. Last week, she emailed Toles, whom she has never met.

“In 2018, I attended a Halloween party at your home,” she wrote. “I understand that you are not responsible for the behavior of your guests, but at the party, a woman was in Blackface. She harassed me and my friend — the only two women of color — and it was clear she made her ‘costume’ with racist intent.”

Gruber, a 27-year-old management consultant, told Toles that the incident had “weighed heavily on my heart — it was abhorrent and egregious.” She asked him to help her identify the woman.

“After the killing of George Floyd and the protests, I began reflecting more on this incident,” Gruber said in an emailseeking Post coverage of the incident.

“I wanted to know who this woman is. . . . What impact does she have on society? I think this is an important story — that a party full of prominent people in Washington welcomed a person in blackface, danced and drank with her, and watched in silence as she harassed two young women of color.”

An important aspect of the incident is Gruber’s claim that Schafer “harassed” her. I think most readers would expect that “harassment” is active rather than passive: i.e., that Shafer must have done something to Gruber and Prince, beyond merely wearing a costume. Did she yell at them, or insult them? Since the Post journalists responsible for this story—Marc Fisher and Sydney Trent—were intent on reconstructing the party by interviewing as many guests as they could, you might think they would have shown a passing interest in verifying the provocative claim. But the article never backs it up, and in fact, numerous sources—including Gruber and Prince themselves—undermine it repeatedly.

Looking back, some guests at the party say they wish they had confronted Schafer more aggressively. Others say that she has already paid a price and that her embarrassment and regret were evident when she left the party in tears.

“I wish I’d have been the one to call her out,” said Philippa Hughes, a Washington arts entrepreneur who attended the party. Hughes, who is Asian American, is friendly with both Gruber and Schafer. “I did go up to Sue and say, ‘What the hell?’ But it took Lexie yelling at her to make her leave.”

Gruber yelled at Schafer, causing her to leave the party in tears, according to this attendee’s account.

Here are Gruber and Prince’s own accounts:

Gruber and her friends moved inside, got drinks and found themselves in the crowded living room. Prince, who is 6-foot-1, easily spotted the woman in blackface and pointed her out to Gruber. “What should we do?” Prince said.

She approached Schafer. Prince said she criticized Schafer’s makeup and told her, “You look horrible”—a way of “clapping back” at the blackface without addressing race head-on. Prince said in an interview that she was worried about being stereotyped as an “angry black woman,” worried that someone might call the police.

“I felt very unsafe talking to that person in the first place,” she said. “I was in an environment that, if it got heated, it would decidedly not be in my best interest.”

Another guest, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect friendships, said Schafer laughed after Prince said her makeup was “very ugly.”

Gruber also said that “the woman basically just started laughing.”

Schafer agreed that she laughed but said that it was a nervous laugh, a sign of extreme discomfort, and that it came “only when she told me that I was ugly and had wrinkles.

Let’s get this straight: Gruber and Prince walked up to Schafer, called her ugly and pointed out her wrinkles. Schafer laughed awkwardly, probably in order to defuse the tension. Who is supposedly engaged in harassment here?

Benjamin Ross, a friend of Gruber who also attended the party, said her “methodical explanation of the immorality of blackface ‘was beautiful, very respectful. And the woman just laughed at Lexie, very denigrating and flippant. She was not at all apologetic.”

But three other witnesses said she yelled at Schafer, and even Gruber admits that “there wasn’t a single person in that party who didn’t hear me when I spoke.”

Gruber’s entourage left after that, as did Schafer. The next day, Schafer called Toles and apologized for upsetting so many people with her costume. The reasonable conclusion here is that she neither expected nor intended to offend anyone, was sorry for the pain she had caused, and had learned a lesson.

When Schafer was informed recently that the Post was writing about the incident, she thought she should inform her employer. Schafer was promptly fired, which is entirely the Post‘s fault. Gruber and Prince didn’t know Schafer’s name and had no way to publicly shame her without the newspaper’s assistance.

In his recent email correspondence with Gruber, Toles made some attempt to protect Schafer and declined to give Gruber her name. This prompted Gruber to accuse him of complicity in her racism. It’s not clear whether Toles ultimately gave up the name, or how this story was assigned. Reading between the lines, I imagine that someone may have decided that writing the story was a means of getting out in front of it, ensuring that the villain would be Schafer rather than a Post staffer who allowed a white guest in blackface to enter his Halloween party. By valorizing Prince and Gruber—who, let us recall, told an older woman she was ugly and think that they were harassed—and castigating Schafer, the Post ensured that it would not be deemed complicit in her crimes. If this doesn’t call for a Reign of Terror metaphor, I’m not sure what does.

It’s astonishing that this article—a story about a long-ago Halloween party attended by the Post‘s own staff and principally involving three private persons—made it to print, and everyone involved in its publication should be deeply ashamed. That includes Prince and Gruber, but also Fisher and Trent, and their editors. As far as cancel culture goes, this is a new and depressing low point.

Eugene Volokh adds:

The Hispanic guest wrote in an e-mail that, “After the killing of George Floyd and the protests, I began reflecting more on this incident.” And of course, after the woman who wore the blackface “informed her employer, a government contractor, about the blackface incident and The Post’s forthcoming article, she was fired, she said.” Not even for what she did on the job, not even for what she did on television, but for a costume she wore at a party at a friend’s house; that, at least, is this incident, but next it will be for something someone said over dinner, or a joke in a conversation among acquaintances.

You might recall the circumstances of the famous “have you left no sense of decency?” response by Joseph Welch to Sen. McCarthy: McCarthy was trying to publicly damage the career of Welch’s associate (at the prominent Hale & Dorr law firm) for having been—about five years before—a member of the National Lawyers Guild, which had defended Communists, and which had Communists as some of its founding members. And that became, understandably, one of the great lines still remembered from the McCarthy era.

Also worth remembering from Welch’s response:

Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale & Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale & Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I would do so. I like to think I’m a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.

There’s no particular individual figure in this story like Sen. McCarthy. But there is a broad segment of a broad social movement happy to use personal destruction as a weapon—a segment that is so focused on the evil of its core enemies (Communism and racism both serve well here) that recklessness, cruelty, and loss of a sense of decency naturally emerge, and directed at far more than the true Communists and racists. And there aren’t a lot of Joseph Welches who will stand by the people who work for them, and thus risk themselves and their enterprises likewise being targeted.

The right to disagree with you

Yale University Prof. Stephen Carter, formerly a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall:

We’re living at a dangerous intellectual moment. In the wake of the coldblooded police slaying of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street corner, people are marching for racial justice, a development that’s all to the good in our broken country. But when those demands turn to restricting the universe of permissible conversation, they cross a democratic line that’s worth defending.

Item: HBO Max has temporarily removed “Gone With the Wind” from its catalog, citing its racist stereotypes and glorification of Southern slavery, until the film can be reinserted with what the company considers appropriate “context.”

Item: Critics are demanding the resignation of a distinguished economist who co-edits the Journal of Political Economy because of his strongly expressed criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Item: A political science lecturer at UCLA has been condemned by his own department and is under further investigation after reading aloud to his students Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” one of the great documents of U.S. history, which includes what we’re nowadays supposed to call “the n-word.”

I question neither the pain nor the sincerity of those who are angry, fearful or frustrated. I feel the emotional impact of the moment myself. So I’m not prepared to agree with critics who say that what we’re seeing is an outbreak of an ideology they call “safetyism.”

But for the sake of our democratic future, we have to find a way past the difficult place where we currently find ourselves, a place where the expression of views that are hurtful and infuriating is viewed as out of bounds. Democracy rests crucially on the battle of ideas, and on the old-fashioned notion that the cure for bad speech is better speech.

It’s part of my job as an academic to resist the urge to judge an argument by whether I agree with it, or even whether I’m wounded by it. But professional training aside, it’s also part of my job as a citizen to allow others to make arguments that pain or frighten me — even when on the searing issue of race.

Back in law school, I worked my way through James J. Kilpatrick’s controversial volume The Southern Case for School Segregation. The book wasn’t assigned for a course. I sought it out. Kilpatrick didn’t persuade me, but he did make me think. I was taught that the vitality of intellectual life rests upon reading not only those who are right but also those who are wrong in an interesting way.

In 1959, the Harvard Law Review published a piece by the great constitutional theorist Herbert Wechsler titled “Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law.” In it he criticized, among other things, the Supreme Court’s legal analysis in Brown v. Board of Education. No petitions called for Wechsler’s removal. No students staged a walkout. Instead, legal scholars penned a series of powerful and tightly reasoned responses. Wechsler’s article forced those who disagreed with him to strengthen their own arguments. That, more than half a century later, “Neutral Principles” remains one of the most-cited law review articles of all time tells us that scholars are arguing with it still.

That’s how the battle of ideas is supposed to work. I’ve long been of the view that the measure of the health of a democracy is its tolerance for dissent, particularly on matters it holds dear. The same question should be asked of social and political and religious movements: Are they able to tolerate disagreement or not? When they’re not, we should worry.

Consider the particular examples mentioned above. I’ve explained elsewhere why it’s possible to consider “Gone With the Wind” a cinematic masterpiece even while condemning its vicious and brutal message. I’d think it obvious that editing Dr. King to avoid offense is a terrible idea. And the notion that a journal editor should be removed for expressing views others (including myself) find offensive is quite simply terrifying.

As I’ve written before, my wariness on the subject is influenced by the fate of my great-uncle. During the McCarthy era, he went to prison for refusing to name names. He was a brilliant scholar, an expert on the work of Tennyson, but because he was a Communist, he found himself essentially unemployable.

Among the targets of the McCarthyites were films that presented the wrong message, academics who took the wrong positions and teachers who taught the wrong lessons. 1 With rare exception, nobody was legally prohibited from expressing views the Red hunters hated; they were simply publicly humiliated if they did — and that public humiliation often led to loss of status, and of employment. Books were removed from stores; teachers were removed from the classroom.

You might respond that in retrospect the Red Menace was overblown. Perhaps it was, but that’s not the point of the story. The point is that in that horrific era, those with power to control the words and fates of others saw the threat as real and deadly, always on the verge of rearing its destructive head. The only way to halt the spread of what they considered a dangerous idea was to punish anyone who propounded it. For a decade they largely succeeded. And for a brief and agonized moment of history, the Communist hunters kindled a bonfire that came close to consuming our democracy.

The 2020s aren’t the 1950s, but unless we do a lot better than we have been lately at coping with ideas and arguments that wound us, our democracy might still be at hazard. It’s vital to resist the temptation to allow our present moment, so rich with the potential for genuine and overdue social change, to deteriorate into a McCarthy-like hunt for wrong-thinkers. Because the more often we play with the same matches, the greater the chance that we’ll light the same blaze.

Uncomfortable truths

Jason L. Riley:

Chicago has long been one of the nation’s most dangerous big cities, and it seems determined to keep that distinction.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that 18 people were killed on one Sunday, May 31, “making it the single most violent day in Chicago in six decades.” Over the full weekend, “25 people were killed in the city, with another 85 wounded by gunfire.” None of these deaths or shootings involved police, so there will be no massive protests over them, no tearful commentary on cable news and social media, no white politicians wrapped in Kente cloth taking a knee for photographers.

Sadly, the only thing remarkable about the episode is that it occurred in the middle of a national discussion about policing. The political left, with a great deal of assistance from the mainstream media, has convinced many Americans that George Floyd’s death in police custody is an everyday occurrence for black people in this country, and that racism permeates law enforcement. The reality is that the carnage we witness in Chicago is what’s typical, law enforcement has next to nothing to do with black homicides, and the number of interactions between police and low-income blacks is driven by crime rates, not bias. According to the Sun-Times, there were 492 homicides in Chicago last year, and only three of them involved police.

So long as blacks are committing more than half of all murders and robberies while making up only 13% of the population, and so long as almost all of their victims are their neighbors, these communities will draw the lion’s share of police attention. Defunding the police, or making it easier to prosecute officers, will only result in more lives lost in those neighborhoods that most need protecting.

There’s nothing wrong with having a debate about better policing strategies, how to root out bad cops, the role of police unions and so forth. But that conversation needs perspective and context, and the press rarely provides it. People are protesting because the public has been led to believe that racist cops are gunning for blacks, yet the available evidence shows that police use of deadly force has plunged in recent decades, including in big cities with large populations of low-income minorities. In the early 1970s, New York City police officers shot more than 300 people a year. By 2019 that number had fallen to 34.

Part of the confusion stems from attempts to equate any racial disparities with racism, which is as mistaken as equating age and gender disparities with systemic discrimination. Young people are incarcerated at higher rates than older people, and men draw more police attention than women. Is something fishy going on here, or do such outcomes simply reflect the fact that young men are behind most violent crimes? When journalists break down police behavior by race but don’t do the same for criminal behavior, you’re not getting the whole story.

A recent New York Times report, for example, tells us that the racial makeup of Minneapolis is 20% black and 60% white, and that police there “used force against black people at a rate at least seven times that of white people during the past five years.” Left out of the story are the rates at which blacks and whites in Minneapolis commit crime in general and violent crime in particular. Nor are we told whether there is any evidence that white and black suspects of similar offenses are treated differently. Minneapolis may in fact have issues with police bias, but drawing conclusions about the extent of the problem or even whether one exists would be premature based on the information provided.

Reports about race and policing that omit relevant facts to push a predetermined narrative are not only misleading but harmful, especially to blacks. We know from decades of experience that when police pull back, criminals gain the advantage and black communities suffer, both physically and economically. A common assumption among liberals is that the movement of inner-city jobs to the suburbs in the late 1960s is what led to the higher rates of crime, violence and other social pathologies associated with ghetto life. But this gets the order wrong. The business flight took place after the rioting, not before. Will history repeat itself?

The Walmart and Target stores in Chicago that were looted last week are two of the city’s largest retailers. They employ a disproportionate number of low-skilled workers, and they haven’t decided whether to reopen. If they don’t, it could mean fewer jobs and higher prices for underserved minorities. Before we divert resources away from policing, maybe we should consider the effect it would have on the willingness and ability of businesses to operate in places where they’re most needed.

“Of course you know THIS means WAR!”

The New York Post reports the latest ridiculous shot in the culture war:

It just got a lot harder to hunt wascally wabbits.

Warner Bros is stripping Elmer Fudd of his rifle in a new Looney Tunes cartoon series on HBO Max, handicapping the grumpy hunter as he continues his decades-long pursuit of the wise-cracking Bugs Bunny, according to reports.

The change in the latest incarnation of the iconic animated series is a response to the gun violence in the US, the Telegraph reported.

Historically the toons have largely revolved around Fudd’s persistent chase of the carrot-chomping Bugs, with his classic catchphrase, “What’s up, Doc?”

Fudd, known for his own catchphrase, “Shhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits,” gets outsmarted by Bugs at every turn, even though he’s always had his trusty shotgun at his side — until now.

“We’re not doing guns,” Peter Browngardt, executive producer of the new series, told the New York Times. “But we can do cartoony violence — TNT, the Acme stuff. All of that was kind of grandfathered in.”

Fudd won’t be empty-handed, however — he’ll now use a scythe to try to bag Bugs

The 200 new cartoons, which will feature other Looney Tunes “stars,” will still have an edge — Porky Pig sucks the poison out of Daffy Duck’s leg in one skit, Sylvester the Cat is haunted by the ghost of his traditional target, Tweety Bird, and Satan even makes a cameo in one toon.

“Some of them have maybe gone a little too far, so they might come out in a different format,” Browngardt told the outlet.

“We’re going through this wave of anti-bullying, everybody needs to be friends, everybody needs to get along,” he said. “Looney Toons is pretty much the antithesis of that. It’s two characters in conflict, sometimes getting pretty violent.”

HBO Max is the same channel that stopped streaming “Gone with the Wind,” whose costar Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to be nominated for and win an Academy Award. But sacrifices have to be made, mister.

 

The coming blowback

Jim Geraghty:

The Nineties were a different time, kids. It was the kind of era where, in the aftermath of horrifying riots in Los Angeles, David Alan Grier and Jim Carrey could appear in a sketch on the comedy program In Living Color as beating victims Rodney King and Reginald Denny, and declare, “Staying in school and staying off drugs is fine, but it ain’t gonna do you any good at all if you don’t have sense enough to stay in your car. See, we were stupid! We got out of our car. We didn’t use our heads and look what happened. We may have won the battle, but the early bird got the worm.”

You Millennials and Generation Z kids wonder why we in Generation X can be so tasteless and shocking in our humor and tastes? Try having your formulative years shaped by sketch comedy shows, National Lampoon’s, Gary Larson’s Far Side, and comedians like Sam Kinison, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, and Richard Pryor, and see how many sacred cows emerge unscathed. I am sure that to the politically correct, my generation looks like it was raised by wolves.

I can’t find it online, but I recall another In Living Color sketch that depicted whites rioting after a jury acquitted the attackers of Reginald Denny. The sketch was funny because of the inherent absurdity: Wealthy, comfortable white people don’t burn down their own neighborhoods, no matter how angry they are about any particular event.

But every group feels anger at some point, even if they don’t express it in an easily visible way.

After the L.A. riots and the O. J. Simpson case, a few cultural observers argued that wealthy, comfortable white people “rioted” in a different way. The late history professor Roger Boesche wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

On a radio talk show shortly after the verdict in the O.J. Simpson case, a caller half-jokingly urged whites to riot. The talk show host and subsequent callers concluded that, of course, white people don’t riot. But in reality, if “to riot” means something like “to wreak havoc on others,” then white Americans have been rioting for some time. But when white people riot, they do it silently, almost invisibly, albeit painfully.

So how do white people riot? They riot by eliminating affirmative action so that jobs and education will be more readily available to whites; by voting to deny services like education and health care to illegal immigrants; by declaring English as the official language and attacking bilingual education; by leaving 38 million people in poverty — 30.6 percent of all African Americans and 30.7 percent of all Latinos.

White people riot by eliminating 50,000 children from Head Start; by cutting money allotted for summer jobs for inner-city youth; by slashing subsidies for the heating bills for the poor; by cutting homeless assistance by one-third; by cutting funds for low-income housing; by ignoring the 2 million children in California alone who go hungry at some time during any given year; by leaving the minimum wage at $4.25, which translates to supporting a family on $170 a week; by eliminating the earned-income tax credit and thereby raising taxes on the working poor; by decreasing taxes for the wealthy, especially by lowering taxes on capital gains; by allowing corporations to pay only 10 percent of all taxes compared to 33 percent of all taxes in the 1940s; by dumping 230 times more toxic waste near low-income and minority neighborhoods than near wealthy suburbs.

(I’m sure in 1995, some people thought, “Well, they’ll probably have all of these issues worked out in 25 years.”)

For the first few months of this year, the overwhelming majority of our political, social, cultural, and medical leaders — and seemingly every commercial featuring images of empty streets and a soft-piano soundtrack — reminded us, “we’re all in this together.” That wasn’t quite true; some people were much more vulnerable to the coronavirus than others. (As I joked on the pop-culture podcast, if celebrities are going to declare that this is a time of unity and shared experiences, they should at least try to make their spacious southern California estates behind them look a little less luxurious.) But just about everyone was at risk of catching the virus and perhaps facing a serious health issue because of it, and even if you weren’t in a high-risk category, you probably cared about someone who was.

“We’re all in this together” isn’t completely true, but it isn’t a complete lie, either. Our ability to live our lives depends upon the judgment and actions of others, and the pandemic illustrated that in surprising ways. Most Americans probably didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about meatpackers or the supply chain of potatoes until recently.

It’s hard to differentiate between cases when groups of Americans can’t hear each other and when we simply choose not to listen to each other. Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Mike Sielski wrote a fascinating column about NFL veteran Benjamin Watson, who has been outspoken about the issue of police brutality for years and is the author of Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us.

[Cue many conservatives preparing to feel wariness, and many progressives preparing to nod in agreement.] Sielski writes:

Watson is an activist, all right, and his activism includes extensive work in the anti-abortion movement. He delivered a speech at the 2017 March for Life. He is producing and financing a documentary about abortion. He has taken a strong stand on a subject as fraught and explosive as any in this country, including the matters that have animated these recent protests.

[Cue many conservatives feeling a sudden burst of warm appreciation and kinship with Watson, and many progressives recoiling and worrying about Watson as some sort of dangerous misogynist religious extremist.]

Some Americans are so primed to pigeonhole each other, that learning one fact about someone is enough to define them entirely — even though every human being contains multitudes and contradictions.

We can’t resolve much of anything when we’re kept in a constant state of suspicion, fear, agitation, and anger. Maybe we shouldn’t have military bases named after Confederate generals. How many Americans even knew that Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, or Fort Hood were named after military leaders of the Confederacy? I’m sure if a new base was being built, few Americans would propose or support the honor of a base’s name going to someone who took up arms against the United States of America. (It’s not like American history lacks under-recognized heroes from the military and elsewhere.) But people are used to calling those bases Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, or Fort Hood, and many people are inherently resistant to changing anything they’ve always done. And many people are particularly resistant to someone else telling them they have to change something they’ve done their entire lives.

The discussion about renaming the bases is occurring at the same time as a lot of other arguments that are . . . well, pretty nonsensical: The children’s cartoon Paw Patrol is somehow an enabling force for police violence. Self-described anti-fascists defacing a statute of Winston Churchill.(“Wait until they learn about the guys he fought!”) The establishment of an “autonomous zone” in Seattle, complete with a demand for the abolition of police, retrials for all of those currently serving sentences, and “the abolition of imprisonment, generally speaking.”

It is difficult for an idea worth considering to stand out amongst the noise of nonsense; it’s like trying to find Waldo, or the one person wearing a face mask in President Trump’s entourage. (Hint: It’s Ivanka.)

There are probably quite a few Americans outraged by the sights of statues of Christopher Columbus or other figures from history being beheaded or pulled down, or the defacing of statutes of abolitionists in the name of racial equality. Whatever you think of Christopher Columbus or any other historical figure, we have a legal and democratic process to remove statues from public squares when a sufficient portion of the public deems them no longer acceptable. These communities have zoning boards and local elected officials who can make those choices and be held accountable to the public through elections. Nobody elected those angry mobs to a damn thing. This is rule by force, the strongest forcing their will upon those who are weaker than them. This will not end well for anyone.

There will be a backlash to these actions, but not in the form of the “white people’s riot” that In Living Color imagined. That backlash may come at the ballot box, or it may come in some other indirect form. Some people aren’t interested in direct confrontation in the streets. They may simply prefer to express their opposition in a way that these protesters expect it least — businesses moving out, reluctance to hire, reluctance to visit a neighborhood, effectively abandoning a community. Not every wall that is built is physical and visible. But one way or another, the reaction is coming.

After, or instead of, police

Social media has passed on what the phrase “Defund the Police” supposedly means:

Whoever wrote this (and its legitimacy is immediately in question due to its lack of authorship) is in fact being “intentionally misleading and manipulative,” first because the assumption here is that government money solves all problems. We know that is false.

Others do in fact want to get rid of the police. What happens then? Sam Ashworth-Hayes:

One of the best rules of thumb to emerge from systems theory is Stafford Beer’s famous statement: the purpose of a system is what it does. It doesn’t matter what the designer intended, or what the individual participants think they’re doing; the end result is all that matters. It’s a useful thing to bear in mind when we consider the objectives of the Black Lives Matter protesters, because right now the movement is beginning to look an awful lot like a machine for the abolition of police departments.

It is frankly dizzying how rapidly the aims of the movement seem to have shifted from reform to destruction. Democratic politicians including Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are calling for the defunding and abolition of police departments, while Minneapolis — following the ritual shaming of a mayor who had the temerity to support the idea that enforcing laws is useful — has gone a step further in announcing the impending destruction of the force that killed George Floyd. In the online activist ecosystem, left-wing websites make the case for ‘a world without cops’, while tweets demanding the same rack up tens of thousands of shares.

Quite what happens after the police are abolished, however, is less clear. Some activists employ a curious motte-and-bailey argument, telling us that ‘abolish the police doesn’t mean abolish the police’, and maybe to them it doesn’t; that doesn’t change the fact that it certainly does to some of their comrades-in-arms and the people making decisions, and generally when people tell us what they are it’s best to take them at face value.

Arguments for abolition seem to rest on two arguments. The first is that the police are not particularly effective; nice neighborhoods enjoy low crime rates with low police presences, and anyway crime still exists so the police aren’t preventing it. Q.E.D. The second is that crime is the result of unmet needs; remove funding from police forces and put them into community facilities — treatment for drug users, provision of social workers, cash payments, and jobs to keep people fed, housed, and off the street — and there would be no crime left for police to prevent. If we could just get rid of cops, crime will naturally follow.

But what if we actually did it? What if we achieved the impossible and abolished the police for good? What would happen? Well, it’s simple: the end result would be the further immiseration of the minority communities these protesters claim to value.

The idea that policing offers nothing in the way of crime prevention is based on a set of statistical misunderstandings; areas with high crime tend to have more police precisely because they are areas with high crime. The intuition is laid out nicely in the joke about Russian czar and the plague doctors. The ruler is looking at a map of his country, marked for plague outbreaks, and at the number of doctors in each province when suddenly the great man thumps his fist on the table. ‘God damn them!’ he says, ‘these doctors are worse than useless — wherever they show up, the people are sicker!’

To show the actual relationship between policing — and in particular cops on the beat — and crime we need to be a bit subtler. Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) used variation in the number of police officers caused by electoral cycles — if you’re up for re-election, you want to be able to brag about your new hires — to show that each new officer hired would eliminate ~8-10 serious crimes per year. In the UK, academics showed that higher numbers of officers don’t just reduce crime, they also increase the share of crimes reported to the police — a confounding effect that would make a simple comparison across regions inaccurate. On a neighborhood level, papers using the reallocation of police across areas in response to perceived terror threats to look at what happens when more cops are on the beat — and unsurprisingly, they find that crime falls.

But this, of course, is under the present theory of policing, where people have unmet needs. If we simply met them, the argument goes, the relationship between police numbers and crime would fall apart. Well, maybe. But I suspect anyone with some basic understanding of human nature can spot the difference between unmet needs and unmet wants, and knows that for some members of the population the point of theft, violence, or rape is not so much what is obtained as the sense of power over a victim; the idea that some people are simply bad may be out of fashion, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

And none of this, of course, has considered the likely responses of the victims of crime. We already know that private individuals and groups are willing to spend substantial sums of money on private security. In a world without police — and with higher crime rates — these sums are likely to increase. It is not inconceivable that the end result of abolishing police forces would be a network of private security firms, accountable only to their employers, and protecting only those areas they are hired to protect.

This might work out quite nicely for the well-heeled; a private force with no obligation towards outsiders; just like policing, private security reduces crime. But when poorer communities are unable to match this provision, criminal activity is likely to be diverted towards these softer targets, with a consequential effect on local behavior: if the state won’t uphold your rights as a victim, and you can’t afford for a private contractor to do it, then you must take it into your own hands. Vigilante ‘justice’ has historically tended to pop up where central law enforcement is weak. And in America, of course, the cheapest form of self-protection is the firearm. When crime-rates go up, so do gun sales; what do we think will happen when the police are removed from the picture entirely?

The short answer is that we don’t know. We don’t know how any of this would work in practice, because all of our evidence has been gathered in a world where the police do exist, flawed as they are, and where they do work to solve and fight crime. The economist Robert Lucas won the Nobel Prize for his observation that empirical evidence gathered under one set of policies can’t necessarily be used to predict what happens when we change the rules of the game: just because no one has tried to rob a bank doesn’t mean we can get rid of the guards.

But what we can say is that in a society where black people consistently earn less than others, are subjected to higher crime rates, and where prejudice is rampant, putting law enforcement into the hands of private individuals without public oversight is a recipe for further entrenching inequality rather than solving it. 

Without the police …

The Wall Street Journal:

One feature of our current politics is how quickly bad events trigger a rush to bad policies. So it is that the response to the killing of George Floyd has sprinted past police reform to “defund the police.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to redirect $150 million from public safety to social programs, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was hooted from a protest on the weekend because he admitted he didn’t want to defund the police. City Council members now pledge to dismantle the force whether he wants to or not.

There’s a case for police reforms, in particular more public transparency about offenses by individual officers. Union rules negotiated under collective bargaining make it hard to punish offending officers, much as unions do for bad public school teachers. By all means let’s debate other policies and accountability in using force.

But a political drive to defund police risks a return to the high-crime era of the 1960s and 1970s that damaged so many American cities. Millennials and minorities in big cities have benefited tremendously from the hard work of Democratic mayors and police chiefs 20-30 years ago to reduce crime. Yet the progressives who now run most big cities have pushed relaxed enforcement of “victimless” crimes, and now they want to go further.

Even before the recent riots, crime had been surging this year in many of America’s big cities. In Minneapolis, car-jackings were up 45%, homicides 60%, arson 58% and burglaries 28% from January through May 30 compared to the same period last year. Violent crime overall was 16% higher and property crime 20% higher than recent low points in 2018.

In New York City, shootings had increased 18%, burglaries 31% and car-jackings 64%. There were about 1,279 more burglaries, 1,078 more cars stolen and 57 more shooting victims during the first five months of this year than during the same period last year. Almost all of these were outside of Manhattan’s business district.

In San Francisco, homicides before the riots this year had increased by 19%, burglaries by 23% and arson by 39% over last. Philadelphia reported a 28% increase in commercial burglaries, 51% in shootings, 22% in auto theft and 28% in retail theft from last year. Residential burglaries and larceny have fallen in many places, but that’s no doubt because people were at home.

Some of the increase in lawlessness may be due to states and counties releasing criminals from jails to stem coronavirus infections, but the surge in most places preceded the pandemic releases. In Minneapolis, property and violent crime had increased by 33% and 29%, respectively, through mid-March when Hennepin County reduced its jail population by 40%.

It’s impossible to prove cause and effect, but the line between liberal law enforcement policies and the crime spike is hard to ignore. Take New York City’s new bail law that gives nonviolent offenders a get-out-of-jail-free card. In January a man who stuck up six banks in two weeks was repeatedly released after each arrest. “I can’t believe they let me out,” he told a detective.

An arsonist who set a fire in front of the Columbia University Computer Music Center in March had 39 prior arrests dating to 1987. Democratic lawmakers gave judges more discretion to set cash bail for some offenders who present a public-safety risk. Yet Chief Terence Monahan said last week that, while police made 650 arrests, almost all will be released without bail.

“We had some arrests in Brooklyn where they had guns, [and] hopefully [Brooklyn district attorney] Eric Gonzalez will keep them in, [but] I can’t guarantee that’ll happen,” Mr. Monahan told the New York Post. “But when it comes to a burglary [at] a commercial store, which is looting, they’re back out. . . . Because of bail reform, you’re back out on the street the next day.”

San Francisco’s new District Attorney Chesa Boudin this year eliminated cash bail, stopped prosecuting “victimless” crimes and suspended the city’s practice of upgrading charges against repeat offenders. Crime in Minneapolis has been climbing since Mayor Frey entered office in 2018 and started pushing more relaxed law enforcement.

As police have eased up, violent crime has increased nearly twice as much in the minority third precinct in Minneapolis as city-wide since 2018. In New York’s Harlem neighborhood, which benefitted enormously from anti-crime mayors, murders have soared 160% this year over last while burglaries are up 56% and car-jackings have more than doubled.

Joe Biden said Monday he opposes defunding the police, and good for him. But law enforcement is mainly a state and local obligation, and in many cities now the defunders have power. Poor communities will be the victims if they succeed.