The past isn’t what it used to be

Jonah Goldberg:

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:

Biden declares ‘America is back’ in welcome words to allies.”

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.

Presty the DJ for July 20

Today in 1968, Iron Butterfly’s “In-a-Gadda-da-Vita” reached the charts. It is said to be the first heavy metal song to chart. It charted at number 117.

That was the short version. The long version takes an entire album side:

At the other end of the charts was South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela:

Quite a selection of birthdays today, starting with T.G. Sheppard:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for July 20”

Words hurt you if you let them

Charlie Sykes used to produce solid conservative/libertarian content, and does here:

Apparently, we have to remind people about this again:

If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.
― Benjamin Franklin

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
― Ray Bradbury

We’ve devoted a great deal of time lately to discussing illiberalism and authoritarianism, and justifiably so. But we have to recognize that liberalism and free expression face a two-front assault — from the intolerant Left as well as the troglodyte Right.

ICYMI: The other day, the American Booksellers Association donned the sackcloth of wokeness and issued this statement of performative groveling:

Twitter avatar for @ABAbookAmerican Booksellers Association @ABAbook


The “serious, violent incident” here was sending out copies of this book:

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by [Abigail Shrier]

Some background.

The author of the offending book, Abigail Shrier, writes for the Wall Street Journal, and is a graduate of Columbia College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School. Her book is obviously controversial, but it was named one of the best books of the year by The Economistand one of the best of 2021 by The Times of London.

Reviewing the book in Commentary Magazine, Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote:

“If you want to understand why suddenly it seems that (mostly) young girls from (mostly) white middle- or upper-class backgrounds (many of whom are in the same friend groups) have decided to start dressing like boys, cutting their hair short, changing their name to a masculine one, and even taking hormones, using chest compressors, and getting themselves surgically altered, you must read Abigail K. Shrier’s urgent new book, Irreversible Damage.”

But not surprisingly, this sort of thing triggered opponents, who demanded that it be suppressed.

After receiving two Twitter complaints, Target stopped selling the book (a decision they later reversed… and then reversed again). Hundreds of Amazon employees signed a petition demanding the company stop selling the book.

Even the ACLU seemed to break bad on the idea that the book should be available in the marketplace of ideas. Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted: “Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans…. We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.”

He declared: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

Shrier commented: “You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: ‘I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.’

“This,” Shrier wrote, ”is where leftist extremism, encouraged by cowardly corporations, leads.”


Under normal circumstances, the American Booksellers Association is very much into free expression and opposed to censorship. They are the sort of people who wear buttons declaring “WE READ BANNED BOOKS.”

Its website still includes this declaration:

But it turns out there are limits to free expression, not just for the ABA, but for many of the nation’s booksellers. This month ABA sent a mailing to 750 bookstores, which included a copy of the heretical book. Blowback was fierce.

Publisher’s Weekly reported that the American Booksellers Association was “facing withering criticism from booksellers after walking back its promotion of an anti-trans title to member bookstores.”

Among booksellers… there was little disagreement about the content of the book. “As longtime @ABAbook members with beloved staff across the gender spectrum, we’re extremely disappointed and angered to see the ABA promoting dangerous, widely discredited anti-trans propaganda, and we’re calling for accountability,” the Harvard Book Store wrote on Twitter.

Within hours, it issued the fulsome apology. Shrier’s reaction:

If there were a Hall of Fame for capitulations to Woke bullies, the American Booksellers Association is hereby inducted. The “serious, violent incident” they perpetrated? Including my book in a large box of new book samples sent out to independent booksellers.

Despite the tone of the apology, the wokest of the booksellers were not satisfied. The outraged booksellers, “said the statement fell short, calling out the organization’s use of the passive voice in the opening sentence.” ReportedPublishers Weekly:

“They also demanded greater transparency about how the decision to include the book was initially made, and called for demonstrable steps to restore trust with trans book workers and authors. Some called on the ABA to offer promotions for trans authors’ books at no cost.”

But elsewhere, the reaction to the ABA’s statement was blistering, with much of it focusing on the irony of an organization devoted to selling books apologizing for selling a book.

Rich Horton @PurePopPub

Joanne Mason @JoanneMason11

If mailing a book to members of your professional booksellers group is a “serious, violent incident” then words have no meaning, and we can no longer call ourselves a serious people. I’m not saying this is how you get a president Trump, but this is how you get a president Trump.

Brian Schubert @SchubertBrian

@ABAbook The thing about totalitarianism isn’t the gulag but society’s acquiescence in living the lie. Like, including a book title in a mailing to book sellers is “violent.”

This is not a debate over Transgenderism, but rather a question of whether we can even have a debate at all. It is an objectively ominous moment when the folks who sell books think there are some ideas too dangerous to print… or read.

Take note: if you are offended by a book, (1) don’t buy it, (2) don’t read it, or (3) make an effort to correct or refute it.

Don’t burn it.

Sykes and other anti-Trump conservatives tend to dismiss other conservatives’ claiming a culture war is taking place in this country. It’s hard to argue that we’re not in a cultural cold war when you cannot even discuss a controversial issue.


Postgame schadenfreude, Valley of the Setting Sun edition

The Arizona Republic:

The Phoenix Suns built an early lead, and then unraveled. The Milwaukee Bucks snatched a Game 5 road win, 123-119, to take a 3-2 lead on Saturday. Trailing 16 points after the first quarter, the Bucks overcame the deficit and continued to build on their own lead. It started in the second quarter.

“Well, both second and third,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You give up 79 points. And the reasoning behind it, I gotta look at the film to see, but we just didn’t have the same energy that we had in the first and fourth, when you look at the numbers.”

In those two quarters, the Bucks scored 79 points. And they did it shooting 32-of-45, including 10-of-17 from 3.

“It just put us in a hole,” Williams said. “I felt like we were playing from behind for a long, long time.”

Still, guard Chris Paul didn’t want to fully boil it down to that stretch. At least, not until he could delve into it more.

“It’s a 48-minute game,” Paul said. “I’ll go back and look at it and see, but we gotta play the way we started off the game. We gotta put a full game together like that.”

In the third quarter, the Bucks eventually built a double-digit lead, but not until after a more evenly-matched stretch.

“We were trading basket for basket for I think five minutes straight,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “We’re at our best when we get stops and get out in transition. So that’s what we hang [our hats on] on defense, and we just have to be better.”

In the second quarter, the Bucks shot 70.8%, while the Suns shot 35.7%. Booker played just 6:14 in the second quarter. Williams wouldn’t dabble in re-thinking that decision in hindsight.

What a real violation of the First Amendment looks like

Robby Soave:

The federal government is stepping up its effort to purge the internet of COVID-19 “misinformation.” On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki singled out a dozen specific anti-vaccine Facebook accounts and called on the platform to ban them.

“There’s about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” said Psaki. “All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms, including ones that Facebook owns.”

She was discussing a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report on “confronting health misinformation.” It instructs social media platforms to redesign their algorithms so that false information about COVID-19 is deprioritized, to shield journalists and medical professionals from harassment, and even to address misinformation during livestreams, a task that the report admits is “difficult” given the streams’ “temporary nature and use of audio and video.”

“We all have the power and responsibility to confront health misinformation,” tweetedSurgeon General Vivek Murthy. “That’s why we included recommendations for individuals, educators, researchers, health professionals, tech companies, and more.”

The federal government is not explicitly ordering tech platforms to take down content. These dictates are essentially strongly-worded suggestions. But you’re forgiven if you think Psaki’s summary of the report sounded like command.

“Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove harmful, violative posts,” she said. “Posts that would be within their policy for removal often remain up for days, and that’s too long. The information spreads too quickly.”

Psaki was alluding to anti-vaccine content, though the report itself impugns “medical misinformation” more broadly. Of course, the government itself has spread plenty of “medical misinformation,” from the early bad guidance on masks to White House coronavirus czar Anthony Fauci’s deliberate misstatements about the herd immunity threshold. For months, government health officials treated the lab leak theory of COVID-19’s origins as a wild conspiracy theory, and Facebook followed suit: It vigorously censored content that promoted the lab leak theory. That policy was not revised until June.

Efforts by the government and tech platforms to suppress misinformation have undeniably resulted sometimes in the suppression of information that is either factual, or could plausibly turn out to be factual. (This has been the case outside the realm of pandemic-related content as well.) New initiatives undertaken by the federal government that would encourage Facebook to be even more heavy-handed with potential misinformation should be met with skepticism: The track record is just not very encouraging.

The White House’s targeting of Facebook should make critics a little sympathetic to Mark Zuckerberg’s position. Prominent legislators from both political parties—as well as the current and former presidents—want to aggressively regulate his company if not break it apart entirely. Facebook’s CEO must feel tremendous pressure to give federal health bureacrats exactly what they’re asking for, or else.

Instead of defending the rights of private companies to set their own moderation policies independent of whatever the government would like them to do, Republicans are taking this opportunity to further erode Facebook’s autonomy. Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) even suggested that the site’s submission to the feds renders it an agent of the state.

“The social media platforms are increasingly just arms of the federal government and the Biden White House,” Hawley tweeted. “Why should the #BigTech companies continue to be treated as private companies when they function as agencies of the federal government.”

Hawley is essentially saying that a private company complying with the government becomes a state actor, and thus should be bound to the same restrictions as any other public agency. (Former President Donald Trump’s doomed social media lawsuits rest on a version of this argument.) But Hawley and others are also attempting to punish these same private companies for not doing what the White House wants. (In Hawley’s case, he wants Facebook to suppress fewer posts.) That’s quite a Catch-22: Facebook is in trouble either way.

Presty the DJ for July 17

Two Beatles anniversaries of note today: The movie “Yellow Submarine” premiered in London …

… six years before John Lennon was ordered to leave the U.S. within 60 days. (He didn’t.)

The 1970 Summerfest started today with a pretty good lineup:

Birthdays today start with pianist Vince Guaraldi. Who? The creator of the Charlie Brown theme (correct name: “Linus and Lucy”):

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for July 17”

Postgame schadenfreude, Valley of the Sun edition

I have been too busy (including vacation) to comment on the Bucks’ trip to the NBA Finals before now.

But Wednesday night’s 109–103 win that tied the Finals at two wins each requires me to post this from the Arizona Republic:

The Phoenix Suns had turned each of their previous three playoffs series in their favor with Game 4 victories on the road.

Not this time in the NBA Finals.

The Milwaukee Bucks withstood a mega 42-point effort from Devin Booker by forcing 17 turnovers that led to 24 points in topping the second-seeded Suns, 109-103, in Wednesday’s Game 4 to even the series before a charged sellout crowd of 16,911 at Fiserv Forum.

“The turnovers just crushed us tonight,” said Suns coach Monty Williams as the third-seeded Bucks also got 17 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points.

“We shot 50% from the field, but they got 19 more possessions. Over the course of the game when you just give it up that many times, the turnovers and offensive rebounding was a bit of a hill for us to climb.”

The fans chanted “Bucks in 6!” as Game 5 is set for Saturday at Phoenix Suns Arena.

“How bad do you want it? How bad do you really want it,” Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “And just leave-the-game-swinging kind of mentality. Try to be aggressive. Try to get stops. Try to set screens. Do everything physically possible to put yourself in a position to win this game. I think everybody was feeling that. That’s what we did.”

Phoenix had won its previous Game 4s in its journey to the finals.

  • at Los Angeles Lakers: Won 100-92. Tied series at 2-2 (Won in six).
  • at Denver Nuggets: Won 116-102. Took 3-0 series lead (Won in four).
  • at Los Angele Clippers: Won 84-80. Took 3-1 series lead (Won in six).

Again, not this time.

Khris Middleton scored a team-high 40 points with 14 coming in the fourth quarter while Antetokounmpo added 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists to just one turnover as the Bucks won Game 3 and 4 at home in this best-of-7 series.

“You need somebody who can make those shots,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He and Giannis in a pick-and-roll, Giannis setting great screens. Khris, I thought he had some good looks kind of early. But then he just stayed with it. Credit to him. A lot of big, tough shots, and then the tough finish in transition. He was special. A lot of good stuff from Khris. And defensively, too, I think he’s given us a lot on that end.”

The Bucks overcame a seven-point deficit with 8:39 left in the fourth quarter to even the series. Game 6 will be back in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Game 7, if necessary, will be July 22 in Phoenix.

“When you have that kind of a lead in the fourth, if we can just hold on to the ball and get good possessions, you feel like you can at least hold it there,” Williams said. “So I got to look at the film and see, was it schematics or was it just their defense, I’m not quite sure yet, but we certainly had a lot of self-inflicted stuff tonight.”

The Bucks closed the game on a 27-14 run as Middleton gave the Bucks the lead for good, 101-99, on a jumper with 1:28 left.

Fourteen seconds later,  Antetokounmpo, the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, followed that up with a massive block of Deandre Ayton’s lob dunk.

“I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you,” the two-time MVP said. “But you know, going down the stretch, just do whatever it takes to win the game. Just put yourself in a position that can win the game. I saw the play coming. I saw that Chris was going to throw the lob and I was just going to jump vertical toward the rim. Hopefully I can be there in time, and I was there in time and was able to get a good block.

The loss puts a damper of the performance of Booker, who bounced back from a career playoff-low 10-point effort in Game 3 to post his third 40-point game this postseason.

“You knew it was going to happen,” Suns wing Cam Johnson said. “You knew he wasn’t going to have another tough night. You know he’s going to get to it and he’s going to get buckets. That’s just what he does. He’s a great player. He’s one of the best players in our league.”

Booker set a record for most points scored in his first postseason run as he has 542 in the playoffs, but didn’t find much comfort in his special Game 4 performance.

“It doesn’t matter at all,” Booker said. “I said that after last game too, when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. So anything that goes on throughout the game, it doesn’t matter, for real.”

Phoenix led 82-76 going into the fourth quarter as Booker had 18 points in the third quarter on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting.

The Suns shot 70.6% from the field in the quarter (12-of-17).

However, Booker picked up his fifth foul with 10:50 left in the fourth.

The Suns were up six, 85-79, when Cameron Payne replaced Booker and led, 93-90, when Booker returned with 5:55 remaining.

“He could have gone for 50-plus tonight,” Williams said. “I wanted to get him in maybe a minute earlier than I did, you’re just holding on trying to get as many stops and solid possessions as you can, but it’s not an ideal situation, but I thought we managed it well.”

Booker didn’t get called for another foul, but had two instances when the whistle could’ve easily blown against him. He grabbed Jrue Holiday in transition with 3:38 left in the game, but wasn’t called for the foul.

After the game, lead official James Capers said Booker should’ve been called for the foul on that play.

“During live play, I saw a clean sweep of the ball and thought it was a no call,” Capers said. “However, after seeing the replay, I now realize that I missed Booker’s right arm around the waist of Holiday, and it should have been a defensive foul on the play.”

The Suns went into halftime tied at 52-52 as Booker led all scorers with 20 on 8-of-15 shooting after scoring just 10 in Game 3 on 3-of-14 shooting.

Mikal Bridges added seven points in the first half as the Suns led by as many as nine in the first half. Chris Paul managed just two points in the first half on 1-4 shooting.

Paul finished the game with 10 points and a game-high five turnovers.

The Bucks, as a team, had five total turnovers.

“It was me, I had five of them,” said Paul about the turnovers. “It was bad decision making. That time we were down two and I tried to cross over right there, slipped, turned it over. I had some bad passes in the first half. They got a significant amount more shots than us, so for me I got to take care of the ball.”

His last turnover led to a Middleton layup on the other end to put Milwaukee ahead, 103-99, with 27.2 seconds left.

Usually so careful with the ball, Paul has totaled 15 turnovers in the last three games. When asked if Paul was physically OK, Williams said the 16-year veteran was fine.

“Great players have games like that,” Williams said. “We expect him to bounce back. He had five (turnovers), but we had 17 and they scored 24 points, you know what I mean? That was pretty much the game right there. Then you double that up with the offensive rebounding, so it wasn’t just Chris. As a team tonight, we got to take better care of the ball.”

Bridges didn’t score again after halftime as he took just four shots for the game, marking the second straight game he didn’t score double figures after posting a career playoff-high 27 in a Game 2 win in Phoenix.