There are so many platitudes and cliches out there these days, it’s hard to remember that at one point, the words behind them actually had meaning. Since the protests/riots/looting broke out, many on social media- particularly journalists- have been fond of telling us that we need to listen to what’s being said on the streets. (Sometimes, they try to soften the sanctimony in their tones by including themselves- as in, “we need to listen”- but we know who they are referring to.) My initial reaction was to just roll my eyes at the suggestion, but truth be told, it’s not a bad one. I have spent my entire adult life criticizing the media’s disingenuous coverage of events. For once, I was being given an opportunity to see what was going on for myself, as these Black Lives Matters protests are everywhere- and I do mean everywhere!
So this past Sunday, I headed over to downtown Somerville, where the event was being held. I was relieved to see the crowd was relatively small- it was only 11 AM on a Sunday, so presumably, most people were still heading over. The media has bent over backwards to refer to these as “peaceful protests”- regardless of the reality- and fortunately, this one actually was. That’s not to say it made the experience a positive one overall, though.
Most of the crowd had signs, be it homemade or provided by the organizers. Even though there was plenty of room to practice “social distancing”, nearly everyone in the crowd had masks on, as instructed by the event poster. When one of the organizers politely asked if I needed a mask, I responded that I didn’t. Rightly or wrongly, I interpreted his question as a loaded one- it wasn’t like I was standing that close to anybody else, let alone breathing on them- so I took a few steps back, to ensure I wasn’t offending anyone with my uncovered face.
The speaker was very energetic and impassioned. She had excellent public speaking skills, and often commanded the crowd in chants and fist pumps, as if leading a pep rally, or a rock concert. The suburban appearance of the crowd- diverse in age and ethnicity, filled with families and groups of young friends- starkly contrasted with the messages on the sign. One young boy, probably no older than ten and definitely no older than twelve, held up a sign that said, “No justice, no peace!” A middle-aged woman had a sign that said, “Silence is compliance!” (With that kind of attitude, one can only imagine what the sign would think of someone who isn’t silent, but has a difference of opinion.)
Back to the speaker– she told the crowd that she was tired of “her people” being killed on the streets, presumably by police officers. (A cursory background check strongly indicates a suburban background. By her own account, she is half-Italian, half-Jamaican.) She then rattled off the same names we have been hearing in the news for several years- most notably, she included Michael Brown’s name in the group. Now, as a suburbanite myself who has lived a somewhat sheltered life in many respects, I fully acknowledge that I do not know how big of a problem police brutality actually is. However, for those trying to convince the rest of us that it is a huge problem, Brown is a terrible example of doing so. Continuously invoking the name of a criminal, who assaulted a clerk that Brown had just robbed, and whose death was cleared of wrongdoing by the Obama Justice Department, seems like a bad-faith effort in trying to get those ill-informed to join their side. (An effective tactic, but a disingenuous one nevertheless.)
The speaker than went on to say what needed to happen- namely, police needed to be held accountable for their wrongdoings (perfectly reasonable), and given additional education, potentially including…*record skip*…a bachelor’s degree. At a time when society is (correctly) questioning the usefulness of college on the whole, adding this incredible criteria- complete with all the debt it would incur- seems ill-advised, to say the least.
As the crowd got larger and the events of the day were just getting started, mine was about to end. The speaker admonished that while the protest would remain peaceful (drink!), the movement as a whole, in time, would resort to other methods, “if necessary”. Did she say what those methods were? I doubt it, but I can’t verify for sure. I was done listening.
As I’m typing this, another Black Lives Matter is scheduled to begin a few hours from now. With New Jersey still officially on lockdown (no, really!), I suppose this is the best entertainment that Somerville has to currently offer. The problems out there range far and wide, and whatever is happening out there will likely be a major turning point in our society that many of us suspected- incorrectly, as it turned out- would occur after 9/11. What kind of solutions are being offered out there? Hopefully, better ones than than what was being suggested at this particular rally.
About thirty years ago, I saw the film “Malcolm X”, starring Denzel Washington in the lead role. Something that always stuck with me was how differently the protagonist was portrayed to have spoken to audiences of different races. When talking to white people, he was calm, measured, even empathetic sounding. With black audiences, he was fiery and combative, successfully riling up the crowd to his cause. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on the man himself, and biopics are infamous with playing fast and loose with facts, it seems highly plausible that this particular aspect of his speeches was portrayed accurately.
I bring this up because I think about the best way to discuss my core beliefs, many of which do not conform to polite society. With like-minded folks, I speak more openly and freely, but somewhat by definition, these people are few and far between. (In other words, if there WERE more people who thought this way, I wouldn’t need to be so careful in the first place!) But as we go deeper and deeper into this new (sur)reality, it is becoming more and more difficult to keep quiet about my thoughts on what is happening to our society.
What Is Happening To Our Society?
Before addressing anything else, dear reader, you first need to recognize two basic truths-
1) The 2020 coronavirus pandemic, now referred to commonly as “COVID”, was (thankfully) not nearly as deadly as initially forecast.
2) Since the initial “flatten the curve” decree in mid-March, the goalpost on getting society “back to normal” has been moved dramatically.
(If you finding yourself shaking your head in disagreement at either of these, you might as well not read the rest of this post, because everything from this point forward is derived from those two statements. Otherwise? Keep going.)
When news of COVID spread throughout the Western world, the Trump administration, and President Trump in particular, did not appear to take the threat especially seriously. While shutting down travel from China- a move that was largely criticized at the time, but turned out to be prudent- little else was done, until early March. In fact, up until that point, President Trump made bold statements (is there any other kind for him?) that the virus would be a non-factor, with all his usual media allies falling in line. Once the first noticeable outbreak occurred in Washington state, the administration reversed course (along with those same media allies), declaring a state of emergency, and effectively putting the country on lockdown. In order to stop spread of the virus and ensure that the healthcare system was not overrun, we would need to do this for fifteen days, and see what would happen. Or so we were told.
While there is plenty of heated debate on the proper way to analyze the data we’ve collected over the past two months, there’s zero doubt that the curve has been flattened. Most of the resources for coronavirus throughout the country went unused. Even in the hottest of hotspots- namely New York City and its surrounding areas- the healthcare system (luckily) did not break. There were certainly a fair number of hospitals dealing with severe conditions for a period of time, and bless every single person who fought through- both patients and professionals alike. But at this point, the worst of it occurred more than a month before this blog post was written. Outside of the Northeast Megalopolis and a few inner city areas- most notably Detroit and New Orleans- there never even was a pandemic.
This is where the real trouble begins. Rather than thank our lucky stars that COVID wasn’t nearly as devastating as predicted on the whole, solely concentrating on the few localized places that do need restrictions, most politicians and high-ranking government officials doubled down, calling for statewide lockdown extensions, restrictions to public land, and suspension of all kinds of activities that we previously took for granted in a free and prosperous country. Even more jaw-dropping, the governors along the West Coast, widely praised by most for their handling of the crisis, have enacted some of the most restrictive lockdown rules in the United States. At least back in the mid-Atlantic, an argument can be made for supporting restrictions, since that’s where the greatest impact of the virus took place. (The success of the strategy itself is another matter, but we’ll get to that later.) As of May 9th, there were less than 4,000 total deaths on the West Coast from COVID. While every individual death is a tragedy, our entire society is being transformed based on the presumptions of how deadly this virus is. To put this in perspective, 4,000 people is a smaller number than a typical crowd for a Mariners afternoon game in Seattle- you now, back when we actually HAD baseball.
On the flip side, there have been a few governors that have been brave- or foolhardy, depending on your point of view (not mine, though)- going against conventional wisdom and slowly opening up their states, at great political risk. Outrage and predictions of mass death were aimed in their direction. Nothing even close has come to pass as of yet, but rather than reconsider their hostility and predictions of impending doom, the lockdown advocates simply move on to their next target, usually in the form of their fellow citizens, most of whom are just looking to get fresh air or make a living, without having to worry about being taken to jail for it.
And where is public opinion on this? Well, from the point of view of “COVIDIOTS” like myself, the signs are not encouraging. While those skeptical from the start of this have been galvanized, so has the pro-lockdown crowd- and the numbers are not in the skeptics’ favor. Most polls seem to show American support of the lockdown outnumber those against it by nearly 2-to-1. Considering the virus wasn’t nearly as dangerous as advertised, this is very alarming, if not surprising.
Although the media’s reputation has taken a well-deserved and long overdue hit during the Trump years, the sad truth is that they still control the narrative. At times, social media works as a much needed check on the old monopoly, often challenging and occasionally overpowering what gets spoon fed to the masses. But when this pushback works properly, it only works for a segment of the population. Even more challenging is when the media engages in a certain subtlety that can be hard to detect. Such is the case with all the fallout from the lockdown. The damage to employment, small businesses, the food supply, mental health, and various other aspects of society, has gotten far too big to ignore. If we had an honest press, this would presented in a straightforward manner, and some people, perhaps many, would certainly reconsider their support of the lockdown. Unfortunately, the media seem to be aware of this, and adjust their game accordingly.
“He who controls the language controls the masses”. –Saul Alinsky
A recent article in CNN broke open the news of catastrophic hunger that awaits many with the following sentence- “The world is facing multiple famines of “biblical proportions” in just a matter of months, the UN has said, warning that the coronavirus pandemic will push an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation.”
See that? It’s subtle, yet unmistakable. By implicating the virus as a cause of these severe problems instead of the lockdown, the story manages to turn factors against the lockdown, and puts them in its favor. (In other words, “Wow- the coronavirus is causing hunger? It’s even more dangerous than we thought!”) Kent Brockman would be proud of such deception.
And how about all those politicians, who get to continue the lockdown without significant repercussions for their harmful policies? Oh sure, a few protesters will yell and howl, but that has only produced limited results so far. Occasionally, these protests even work in the lockdown’s favor, when the protesters live up to their crude stereotype, imagined by the crowd that has aligned with police state. (I’m talking to YOU, Michigan yokels! What was the point of going into a federal building, ARMED WITH WEAPONS?!) Of course, protesting SHOULD be encouraged in general, as well as more understated actions, such as sitting outside on the grass during a warm day. But these actions won’t be enough, if governors and other local politicians don’t share responsibility for the economic damage they are responsible for. Historically, economic damage falls in the lap of the President, and that’s during a “normal” election cycle, let alone one that involves a lightning rod like Donald Trump. So far blue state authoritarians to truly feel the pressure to do what’s right, they need to have their actions to be tied with the consequences.
There’s so much other ground to cover with everything that’s happened- particularly with the jaw dropping manipulation of the stock market- but this is plenty for now. Hopefully in the days to come, the lockdown extremists will be increasingly exposed for their ignorance, and those with an open mind will start to open their eyes to what’s really going on. As for those blue state governors, determined to keep us cramped up inside with our masks, Netflix, fast food and alcohol? (You know the ones!) They are free to lecture us about the value of saving every life, once they get a better handle on their nursing homes.
For my part, I’ll continue to adhere to any guidelines that keeps the authorities out of my way, while not forcing myself to the point of being miserable. In other words, I’ll wear a mask where they’re required, but don’t expect me to fear the inhalation or exhalation of a dangerous germs. For anyone who has been paralyzed be fear, take comfort in knowing that we’ve coexisted with these microscopic menaces throughout our entire existence, even if not always peacefully, and there’s no reason to make such extreme changes to the way we live our lives now. And even if it’s eventually proven that perhaps we should, I’m no more inclined to accept a fast tracked vaccine from the Microsoft guy, than I am willing to accept an explanation that God’s existence can be mathmatically proven by the MyPillow guy.
It seems surreal to think that not even two months ago, we were treating the tragic death of Kobe Bryant as the defining moment of a generation. Indeed, the events around it were extraordinary, and in terms of public figures, his death alone was AT LEAST on par with that of Princess Diana and John Lennon. Factor in that his daughter and seven others were in the private helicopter with him, and it made the whole event even more painful to think about. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant was still just one man, and outside of the few individuals close to him, his daughter, and the others lost in the accident, life would go on the same for all the rest of us.
But here we are, barely on the other side of an event that apparently changed American life more than anything since December 7th, 1941. (Yes, including 9-11.) The Coronavirus, something that entered our lexicon at the end of 2019, has fully taken over our society, days before the Spring of 2020 commences. Indeed, its spread has taken on a life of its own, like the deadly virus that is, but at least so far, in a very unexpected, ironic way. Rather than infecting our immune systems at the exponential rate that has been predicted, it has infected our society and way of life, in a way that we will likely not recover from any time soon. By trying to preemptively stop the virus from harming us in mass numbers, we have ended up harming ourselves. The whole thing kind of feels like the episode of South Park, where the parents banished the children from the town, in the hopes that they wouldn’t be kidnapped.
None of this is to make light of the Coronavirus itself. It has created chaos in the health industry across the rather motley crew of Iran, Italy, and especially China, where the virus started. It is far deadlier than the “common” flu, and more contagious than other diseases that have made their way to the headlines in the early 21st century, such as Ebola, SARS, and H1N1. But in a highly interconnected world of 7+ billion people, these types of disease are, unfortunately, inevitable. While the worse case scenario projections are terrifying, the reality so far is nowhere near a fraction of that. Nothing in our lifetimes- at least for those of us under 80 years old- has ever altered the course of our collective lives so dramatically as this. We still do not know if these draconian actions are justified, as only time will tell. But what we DO know is that there is no turning back.
But what exactly caused this event to “succeed”, in a way that The Cold War, Radical Islamic Jihad, the aforementioned diseases (H1N1 killed over 10,000 Americans), climate change, and various other scares did not? Part of it is the spread of social media, which in some ways, behaves in a virus-like way itself. As news permeates through the internet, stories that have “sizzle” manage to grow exponentially. We watched through the news what was happening in China, and knew that it was only a matter of time before SOME variation hit home. Then in early March, Rudy Gobert, a star player in the NBA who had mocked the Coronavirus with a crude “prank” just days earlier, was diagnosed with the disease. Within two days, professional sports leagues were shut down, creating shock not experienced in generations throughout society. Sure, this happened for a very brief time during 9-11, but that was because the country was in mourning. This time around, sports leagues, along with all the industries that followed, were shut down as a preventative measure for a microscopic menace, fearing that those in crowded spaces could catch the virus very easily. It also didn’t help matters when Tom Hanks, a larger-than-life figure in a similar vein to Kobe Bryant, turned out to be mortal as well. People don’t like to say it out loud, but when bad things happen to these “invincible” celebrities, we wonder what kind of chance the rest of us have.
So now, we have toilet paper shortages- another irony, seeing how Coronavirus is not THAT kind of disease- as well as soap, hand sanitizer, and other products that are running low on the shelves. But all that is merely a warmup act for the TRUE damage we are just beginning to experience- the shutting down of the global economy, “led” by the American consumer. For a small, vocal minority that included yours truly, this has been in the pipeline for decades, as financial institutions and their willing-if-unknowing accomplices have been kicking the can down the curb, hoping to put off the inevitable juuuuuuuust a little longer. It was always heading for disaster- glimpses of that could be seen after the DotCom bust, followed by the one in real estate a half decade later. What’s so surprising is that it is not an external event that likely took the whole thing down, but that it was dismantled willingly by a society fearful of what MIGHT be. And make no mistake- even if the shutting down of commerce “only” lasts for two weeks, as unlikely as that seems, it will cause catastrophic waves that will be felt for years to come. The global economy was set up with an appetite similar to the hummingbird- it needs to be fed constantly, or it will die. Whatever unprecedented measures await us to keep it afloat, on top of the unprecedented measures that DID keep it afloat up until this point, they will have unintended consequences that will likely change the way business is done forever.
And what of this soon-to-be defunct economy, that is all most of us have ever known? If we’re looking for silver linings- and if we ever needed silver linings it would be now- one might be that the power will be shifted away from industries that have done more long term harm than good. Around the same time that the current President made his infamous comment about Mexican immigrants in 2016, Michael Bloomberg, the wealthy tycoon and former New York City mayor who ran a disastrous Presidential campaign, said something arguably as offensive and ignorant. Trying to make a point about the superiority of the Information Age businessman over the seemingly-archaic blue collar farmer, Bloomberg implied that those who succeeded in the Information Age (eg. people like him) did so because of superior intellect, whereas “anybody” could learn how to farm. Bloomberg, who apparently thinks his food is grown in a Sparrow’s pizza chain restaurant, completely disregarded the critical importance of the farmers that allow us Americans to take for granted just how easy it is to fill our bellies whenever we feel like it. As the financial system that helped Bloomberg become one of the world’s wealthiest men crumbles in real time, while our digestive systems still demand three meals a day, it will be interesting to see whose skills are really necessary to keep the world going.
Finally, a cold, perhaps even cruel question that needs to be asked- how many deaths will justify the dismantling our way of life? Until the last few weeks, we were told that the largest threat to our society was climate change, although very few practical changes were made, even by those who claimed to be most concerned. If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, even in its early stages, it’s that our fragile society can be hit by any threat at any time, without any time to prepare. Now that we have been caught flat-footed, our leaders are trying to make up for it by overcompensating. When we look back at the actions that are being taken as this blog post is being written, will we be able to say it was worth it? More than half a generation ago, George W Bush got lukewarm support for the invasion of Iraq, on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. A few empty canisters later, the whole thing appeared to be a catastrophic miscalculation at best, a deadly set of lies at worse. This is obviously a different threat, in that we KNOW it’s real. But justifying our countermeasures will be a Catch-22. If the number is too low- let’s say, below the number of people killed by H1N1- the whole thing will be seen as a supersized, overly sensationalized media news cycle. If the number is too large- let’s say, approaching or, heaven forbid, EXCEEDING the Spanish flu of 1918, the last TRUE American plague- we’ll say that the social distancing movement was a giant failure. So, the number probably be somewhere well above H1N1, but well below the Spanish flu, to even TRY to justify the current actions being taken.
If I may emphasize the point, I know how heartless this sounds, and it’s not to minimize the tragedy that we have already seen, nor the tragedy that still lies ahead of us. But sometimes, overreaction can be as bad or WORSE than doing nothing at all. (Keep in mind Saddam Hussein was, after all, a mass murdering tyrant.) For those who think that these actions are justified, even if they only end up saving a relatively small number of lives, consider this- is bringing the national speed limit down to 25 miles per hour worth the tens of thousands of lives that would be saved on the road? Remember- throughout most of civilization, the only time anyone traveled more than 25 miles per hour was when they lost control of their chariot.
Anyway, best of health to anyone reading this. Let’s hope that when it’s time to look back to see how well this blog post held up, we’re all around to do so.
No, sports guys and gals, you don’t have to stick to what you’re paid for- but the NBA’s kowtowing to China shows why you should.
For at least a quarter century now- and arguably going as far back as the Nixon administration- the country that currently deems itself “the world’s only superpower” has bent over backwards for a vicious regime that has brutalized many of its people since the middle of the 20th century. (This blog post isn’t really about that, but for just a few examples, click here, here, and here.) As challenging as life may be for some Americans, none of us can comprehend what it’s like to live under a dictatorship like China, other than the ones who have had to escape from one. This is especially true for those who believe Donald J. Trump’s presidency is the worse thing imaginable. But again, this post isn’t about that- not primarily anyway.
People go to Twitter to take all kinds of stands on various issues- politics, sports, ice cream toppings. But those in the public sphere who do so often create more of a stir than intended. Such was the case with Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. With Hong Kong rising up against the Chinese regime for months now, Morey expressed support for the protesters with a seemingly simple tweet. But in today’s hyper-polarized social climate, very few things are simple, particularly with one of the NBA’s biggest international customers.
The NBA, usually lauded by the virtue signalers for speaking out “courageously” on social issues, was not silent on the issue, although they probably should have been. They took the extraordinary step of criticizing Morey for supporting the protesters. But it didn’t stop there. In fact, they were just getting started. Paying fans who held a banner that said “Free Hong Kong!” were removed from a game…in Philadelphia, no less. Is there a more pathetic symbol of what’s happening with this country, when the city that once hosted the Declaration of Independence signing doesn’t allow fans to support freedom for others? What does that say about our freedom?
Getting back to the NBA, though, the story reached a crescendo when LeBron James, who has bounced between the spectrum of sports hero and villain more times than we can count, had the nerve to criticize Morey for commenting about a subject that he (Morey) “wasn’t educated” on. That’s right- the same man who was once infamously told to “shut up and dribble” by a conservative gadfly was now doing the same thing to a highly esteemed general manager, for speaking out on a worthy cause.
Ultimately, this issue is not solely about LeBron James- or Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr, who disgracefully invoked sporadic mass shootings in America as a shield to widespread Chinese oppression. It’s about the culture of expecting athletes to be more than athletes. Starting with Babe Ruth and leading up to Michael Jordan, superstar athletes were thought to be more like real life superheroes, long before “MCU” became part of our lexicon. Partially overlapping that period has been the socially conscious athlete- or what is sometimes derisively referred to as “woke athlete”, derived from the idea that someone is awake to the problems our society is facing. This can be traced back at least to Muhammad Ali, a very controversial figure in his own time, who took on the establishment in protesting the Vietnam War, at considerable personal cost. Whatever shortcomings Ali had as a human being, this act of bravery has been lauded, at least in hindsight, as a positive example of an athlete being more than just an athlete.
Unfortunately, many poor imitations have been attempted since then. When addressing issues in today’s society, athletes and their backers (click here for the original “stick to sports” blog post) will predictably invoke Ali, in a nauseating self-congratulatory circle-jerk. We have freedom of speech in this country- Philadelphia 76ers pregame debacle notwithstanding- so it’s fine when a future Hall of Famer wants to speak his or her mind about topics beyond what their famous for. But they should not automatically expect to be congratulated for “bravery”, particularly when the endgame of what passes as “sacrifice” turns out to be signing a lucrative dollar contract with Nike, a multi-billion dollar company that has cynically and successfully turned “woke culture” into an even bigger cash cow than the one that they’ve been milking for decades.
So the next time LeBron James, Steve Kerr or anyone else want to speak out on an issue, it’s worth remembering that it’s their right to do so. It’s also worth remembering that when real sacrifice was on the line, they refused to remain silent. They took sides with the oppressors.
(Meanwhile on the court, opening night for the Lakers is on Tuesday, as they face off against the new look Clippers. And if I may exercise my free speech, by the time the circus at Staples Center gets going, aging LeBron’s off-court debacle will be the least of his worries…)
A couple of years ago, an unhinged leftist shot up a baseball park, where Republicans politicians were practicing for a game. One congressman in particular, Steve Scalise, was critically wounded. I usually leave my political rants on Twitter, saving my Facebook page for typically lighter content, to not offend those that I know personally. But this story seemed so abhorrent, I figured I’d make an exception, as no one could POSSIBLY take issue with a call for unity.
I was wrong. One of my Facebook friends, an acquaintance in real life, took great exception to my exception, telling me that I had decided to focus on a story for a privileged white man, ignoring many other atrocities that occur in our country on a regular basis. That’s not how I meant it at all, but I did understand her point, however distant it would be from my own. That was the last time I posted any “soapbox” material on Facebook again, deciding to keep away from controversy. There are plenty of other places for me to discuss opinions that some might consider incendiary…such as this one, for example.
I bring this up now because on the day I’m typing this, July 19th, 2019, sportscaster Dan LeBatard decided to use his sports platform for something that had absolutely nothing to do with sports. Assuming that the issue he was addressing was so abhorrent that it transcended any “cowardly” (as he saw it) boundaries that had been put upon him by his bosses at ESPN, LeBatard went on a screed about Donald Trump, his supporters, Colin Kaepernick being blackballed, the civil rights movement of the sixties- a movement that he claims hasn’t seen change (?!)- and “old rich white men” that falsely (again, as LeBatard sees it) believe they have grievances against anyone who isn’t like them. Most jarring of all, LeBatard gave this impassioned monologue under the premise that this was all rooted in fact, not his personal opinion, and that- quote- “this isn’t about politics”.
If there’s nothing else I say here that you agree with, dear reader, at least believe me on this- whenever someone feels the need to declare, “This isn’t about politics,” it is, in fact, about politics. In this case, BY DEFINITION, it’s about politics, because LeBatard was defending Ilhan Omar, a congresswoman from Minnesota, against President Donald Trump and his supporters. Both Trump and Omar, in the most literal sense of the word, are politicians.
By now, people all over the world have seen the, “Send her back!” chants at Trump’s rally, along with Trump’s indifference (if not tacit approval) as he allowed the chants to continue. For what it’s worth, I thought the chants were despicable, and I am not a fan of the President. I didn’t vote for him the first time, and won’t vote for him the next time. (I only bring this up because I have no doubt that many will read this, and picture me writing this with a MAGA hat on, and a Confederate flag draped from my wall. Not that this disclaimer will change that false image. But I digress.)
None of these facts are designed to change anyone’s mind about Omar- she is a very popular figure among some, and as troubling (if not more so) than Trump among others. They’re merely included to help demonstrate just how much more complex this debate is than LeBatard’s one-sided argument is, and how the roots of the division go beyond Donald Trump and his supporters. And yes- millions of people are applauding LeBatard’s words as I’m typing this, but I’m betting at least 99% of them already believed everything that he said, prior to him actually speaking.
Whatever its problems are, ESPN is there to provide sports entertainment– that’s what’s in the name itself! Dan LeBatard is not secretly broadcasting from some clandestine spot in a dictatorship- no matter how much Donald Trump may act like a dictator, this is still very much a free country, one which has more platforms than ever for discussing every issue under the sun. Sports fans tune in to ESPN, FS1, and the other sports networks, in part, because they want to escape the ultra-polarized environment we find ourselves in. Those who buy what LeBatard is selling already made the purchase. Those who don’t will just tune into something else. In fact, there’s probably a third category that isn’t being considered here- those that do agree with LeBatard, but are just looking for something else at the current time. (Sorry, but no matter how impassioned someone is about ANY issue, it’s unhealthy to be Lisa Simpson allthe time.)
So personally, I agree with some of LeBatard’s points. I disagree with some of his others, particularly that this “isn’t about politics”. But my personal opinion isn’t what matters to me here. There are plenty of other outlets for LeBatard to discuss his personal beliefs. Heck, he can start a blog! But he was hired, and paid good money, to talk about sports. There are plenty of other career choices he can make for himself if he wants to expand upon that. Until then, when a company is paying him well to discuss sports and that’s it, he should…well, you’ve seen the title of this blog post. You get the idea.
It’s hard to imagine now, but at the beginning of the current decade, Colin Kaepernick was primarily known for being a promising young quarterback. Even then, he seemed to relish an image as something of an antihero, emerging from the ignorant noise of his loudmouth, no-nothing detractors. This goes back at least as far as his first commercial, when a younger, much shorter-haired Kaepernick starred in a three-minute (!) spot for headphones, of all things. (Just imagine him trying to put those things on now.) We see Kaepernick getting off a bus, as thousands of feral-like fans try to viciously shout him down. Kaepernick, with a sense of cool not seen since The Fonz, ignores them all, stoically listening to a song titled, “I’m The Man.” Of COURSE you are, Colin.
At the time, this was a curious ad. Who in the ACTUAL world hated Colin Kaepernick? He was an emerging star, helping to lead his 49ers to the Superbowl in a rookie season- very marketable, and hardly the polarizing figure that this ad portrayed. Perhaps disappointed by his LACK of notoriety as his star began to fade in 2013, Kaepernick was spotted in public wearing a Miami Dolphins hat- something kind of weird for a quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers to do. Though somewhat obnoxious, it was far from the stuff of full-blown outrage. Still, there were a few 49ers diehards that took the bait, complaining about Kaepernick’s disloyalty- and, in an act of foreshadowing of much bigger things to come, disrespect. Finally, Kaepernick had his real life targets to ridicule, and ridicule them he did, posting a very sarcastic looking picture of himself holding up a Dolphins hat. Making less headlines on the field, Kaepernick seemed to relish the notoriety off the field.
Fast forward another three years to 2016. Barely on the public radar by this point, Kaepernick grew his hair out, generating his off-field persona as a social justice warrior for a community that, quite honestly, he was never part of. That’s not to say he doesn’t actually care about this community, as only he knows his true intentions- and to be fair, he has donated lots of money to causes he advocates. (This is something ALL successful pro-athletes, entertainers, and multi-millionaires in general should do, but that’s for another discussion.) But regardless of his intentions, the methods Kaepernick used were not exactly constructive towards advancing his newly adopted cause(s). Rather than bring people together to try working on practical solutions, Kaepernick deliberately stirred the pot, preaching to the choir of people who already believed what he was saying, while deeply alienating those who didn’t, with an incendiary press statement about the United States. While there are certainly plenty of issues to discuss regarding this country, including that of the troubling relationships between the police and the inner-city communities which they serve, Kaepernick’s initial statement- and this is for those who say Kaepernick’s protest is “only” about police brutality- was a far more sweeping condemnation about the country that made him a rich man, stating that he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” (I suppose it’s also too oppressive for him to vote, as he skipped the 2016 election altogether.) And while we’ve all spent WAY too much time already “debating” (actually, screaming at each other) about the merits and liabilities of kneeling, how about the fact that Kaepernick actually started his protest by sitting on the bench throughout the anthem?! (It wasn’t enough for him that he’d spend the next three hours doing that?) It was only after realizing it would be better PR for him to kneel, and the rest is history.
And what about the socks controversy? Before becoming the world’s most famous shoe salesman, Kaepernick sported some rather nifty socks, showing pigs wearing police hats. Kaepernick responded with his usual eloquence- seriously, he’s a smart man- along with his typical faux indignation, lamenting this distraction from “the real issues”. But come on- does someone as intelligent as Colin Kaepernick really not know that these socks would generate a “distraction”? It seems like a reasonable assumption that he went out of his way to purchase these statement-making socks- it’s not like they sell them at Walmart!
And hey, speaking of big, heartless corporations, enter Nike into the picture. Not afraid of exploiting controversies any more than they’re afraid to exploit third world workers- this is a company that once cynically used Tiger Woods’ infidelity to sell their products– they recruited Kaepernick to be the new face of their marketing campaign, under one of the most ironic marketing slogans in American history, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” For the sake of argument, let’s assume that everything Kaepernick stands for is pure and just, as are his motives. What exactly is he sacrificing? Already worth more than he’ll ever be able to spend in his life, Kaepernick’s unremarkable talent was simply not enough to justify the PR headache that any NFL owner surely would have had to deal with, had they signed him. Instead, he was signed by Nike, making far more than he ever would have as an (AT BEST) run-of-the-mill quarterback. And for this, he’s being compared to Muhammed Ali refusing to serve in Vietnam- or even ROSA PARKS?! Only in today’s America can this be done with a straight face, just as only in today’s America can this be consider “sacrificing everything”.
But give credit where it’s due- Colin Kaepernick has achieved the outlaw, antihero status he longed for, probably beyond his wildest dreams, while Nike’s sales have spiked upwards. By hitching itself to his wagon, Nike made a bold but savvy move- alienating Trump’s MAGA crowd, but becoming the hero of the left- a group normally associated with being AGAINST big corporations. Any boycott Nike will see from this PR stunt will likely be far outweighed by the sales they will generate, as early indicators seem to suggest. At the end of it all, the only “sacrifice” made will be of the Nike products that are being burned to a crisp by the misguided counter-protesters, thinking they’re making some sort of statement besides, “We’re not very intelligent.” They’d have been far better served donating those clothes to charity, and simply stating that they’re never buying Nike again. But that’s just not how things are done these days, in a highly politicized environment filled with venom, rancor, and silliness.
As for “The Man” Colin Kaepernick, we’ll likely never see him take another snap in the NFL again. That’s too bad, because had he done so, he’d likely remind us of the REAL primary reason why he’s not in the NFL anymore- quite simply, he’s just not all that good. Instead, he gets to be the martyr for a cause that he didn’t even expand beyond the base of people who already agreed with him in the first place. No matter. This whole thing is making Colin Kaepernick a rich(er) man, to the point where even HE will have to say, “God Bless America.”
“The President Looks Forward To A Twitter Forum” – H.R. McMaster, May 16th 2017. I think we can ALL agree that much is true!
It is interesting- if unsurprising- that people who yelled loudest that “those who wish for President Obama to fail are wishing for America to fail,” are now the ones looking for every reason imaginable to cut President Trump down to size on the topic of Russia, among other things. Before saying else, let me just add quickly that I am not normally a defender of Donald Trump. (Click here for supporting evidence.) It’s also reasonable to assume that if Barack Obama was still Commander in Chief, many Republicans and their allies would be as loud, if not louder- albeit smaller in numbers- about a President being so chummy with a foreign adversary. But for the purpose of this topic, I’m not any more interested in talking about alternative realities, than I am in talking about alternative facts. In THIS reality, by jumping to the most sinister conclusions without all the non-alternative facts to support their claim, most of Trump’s biggest enemies are doing themselves no favors.
“For Every Reaction, There Is An Opposite And Equal Reaction”
For much of the press, it has become a daily hobby to see just how far Donald Trump can push his “Performance Art Presidency”. From ranting like an angry teenager on Twitter, to contradicting his own staff, to contradicting his own SELF, he has not disappointed. Nevertheless, whatever his qualifications as a President (or lack thereof), the fact remains he IS the President, which means that he has some serious responsibility, whether he- or the rest of us- like it or not.
Part of being the President involves making difficult decisions, with ramifications spanning the entire globe, often out of the public eye. Since World War II, when we partnered up with the murderous Joseph Stalin to defeat the Nazis- ACTUAL Nazis, not those who annoy us online- the United States has had a very delicate balancing act with Russia. We are doing something similar today, as we look for allies, even unnatural ones, to defeat ISIS. Prior to Trump’s arrival into the political world, Democrats strongly believed in this geopolitical balance, far more than Republicans did. This is why they protested Reagan’s use of “Evil Empire” (even though he was right), as well as George W. Bush pulling out of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. (If you’re a fan of irony, see how upset Democrats were, for Bush supposedly disrespecting Putin.)
But all that was before Wikileaks, the defeat of Hillary Clinton, and the unexpected rise to power of a man they despised. Truth be told, convincing oneself that Donald Trump is a traitor isn’t so hard for members of “The Resistance”. The logic goes something like this-
One of the worst things to accuse a President of is the act of treason.
Donald Trump is the worst.
Ergo, Donald Trump committed the act of treason.
To be fair, Trump and his people have given his domestic enemies plenty of ammo to suspect that something is going on, between the constant praise of Putin, the non-disclosed meetings with Russian officials, and the abrupt firing of James Comey. But all that is a long, LONG way from treason. (For anyone who thinks such activity is so unprecedented, click here , here, and/or here.) It should also be noted that President Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian airbase, a move that even many of his critics- briefly and begrudgingly- praised at the time, and more importantly for the purposes of THIS topic, infuriated Vladimir Putin. Whatever else Donald Trump may be up to, that hardly sounds like the actions of a man willing to sell out his country to the Russians.
Finally, while it’s understandable that any sane person would question Trump’s motives on a variety of topics, there is no reason to ALWAYS assume the worst, particularly in this case. Those that remain unconvinced should try watching National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s outstanding press briefing on the subject, making a strong case that it is the leaker, not Trump, who is at fault for putting national security at risk here. (Relevant portion begins at 24 minutes.) As for those who still can’t let go of the fact that Donald Trump should be criticized at every turn, fear not- all indications point to having plenty of other opportunities to do so. From what we can tell so far, though, meeting with a Russian official to discuss defeating ISIS should not be one of them.
…which, unfortunately, are all too few and far between.
Let’s get something straight- Donald Trump is autocratic, bombastic, reckless, and impulsive, among other things. This is something we’ve known about the man, long before he got into politics. Those that have a passing knowledge of his past dealings also know that he will almost-literally bulldoze anyone in his way. (For those who don’t, click here.) Knowing all this about a guy who has been in public life for four decades, the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey actually makes sense, relative to Trump’s “normal” modus operandi. But right now, we’re in a hostile, ultra-polarized political environment that’s anything but normal. On one side, there’s a treasonous conspiracy theory that spans the globe. On the other side, there’s applause for a move that we’re told was “inevitable”, even though we hardly heard anything about it before it happened. What should the rest of us believe?
To The Left, To The Left…
For the vast majority of Trump-hating liberals, this is more “proof” that he’s in cahoots with the Russians, something that they talked themselves into before he even got sworn in. (Of course, this was only after voter machine miscues and the original fake news accusations didn’t stick.) The same people who told us how “frightening” it was that Trump wouldn’t swear to unconditionally respect the election results, are the same ones who now want us to unconditionally question the election results, something they’ve done ever since the day their candidate didn’t win. This isn’t to say there’s NO evidence of Russian interference on behalf of Trump- far from it. (We’ll get to that part in the next section.) But with all the things that we know to be true about Donald Trump, let alone the things that are likely to be true, the idea that he’s specifically operating on behalf of Russia is only slightly less unhinged than the idea that he’s the next Hitler.
And since when have liberals cared so much about Russian dominance, anyway? In the one accidental moment of greatness (in hindsight) during Mitt Romney’s otherwise feckless campaign, his attempt at a serious discussion of Russian dominance was treated with ridicule and scorn, from none other than President Obama, among so many others. (Unsurprisingly, The New York Times wasn’t kind, either.) The investigation into Russian interference might seem more credible to skeptics, if its biggest advocates would admit it is COMPLETELY about stopping Trump, not Vladimir Putin. There have been plenty of opportunities to show real concern about Putin for two decades, but the western media has mostly been quiet, save for a few stories, lasting one or two news cycles, about some invasion or execution of a political opponent. (Truth be told, the most covered anti-Putin story was probably about the band Pussy Riot getting arrested for its lyrics, but that was largely because the lead singer was incredibly good looking, and the media had an excuse to legitimately say the word “pussy”.)
One final point, before examining the other side’s motives and “logic”, such as it is- it’s worth pointing that to the extent that Russia did successfully interfere, it was in exposing the Democratic National Committee’s activities in the primaries. Broken down into their most basic elements, critics screaming about Russian interference are essentially angry that voters found out how the DNC, under the leadership of Debbie Wasserman Schulz, was going to bat exclusively for Hillary Clinton, in an attempt to slow down Bernie Sanders momentum, and put Hillary over-the-top, once and for all. Oh, the irony.
Right Here, Right Now…
None of the explanations given above justify a single thing about the firing itself. In fact, the reckless way in which it was conducted by Trump, followed by the inconsistent stories given in its aftermath (they even tried to claim it was Comey’s harsh handling of HILLARY that led to the firing), have made it not only inevitable that the story would be covered, but it should be covered. Just consider the facts- The President of the United States fires the FBI Director, openly admits that the investigation into Russia is part of the reason for it, and then implies blackmail on Twitter if the poor guy doesn’t keep his mouth shut?! How can ANYONE defend that kind of behavior?! And yet…
Tucker Carlson applauded the move of Comey’s firing, implying he was an out-of-control threat from the highest reaches of government, that people were more fearful of criticizing than Trump himself. (I dunno, Tucker- YOU seem kind of fearful of criticizing Trump. But I digress.) Our old buddy Charles Hurt did the same thing, praising Trump for cleaning out “the swamp“. Conservative after conservative commentator could not stop bloviating about liberal hypocrisy in criticizing the firing, when liberals themselves had previously been so critical of Comey. In doing so, they completely disregarded the strongest point from the investigation advocates, and not-coincidentally the one gaining the most traction- the suspicious timing of the firing. Why now? You don’t have to be a Trump critic to want an answer to it, but you do have to be a Trump sycophant to NOT want an answer to it.
And At The Center Of It All…
This madness begins and ends, much like this blog post itself, with Donald J. Trump. This is someone who wants to be the center of a universe in which he is celebrated, feared and loved at the same time. James Comey threatened all of those things, and while no one can be sure of the main motivation of his dismissal- perhaps not even Trump himself- this seems far more likely as explanation, than the revelation of a “smoking gun” (sorry, left), or the fact that Comey was the one who was out of control (sorry, right).
But nothing about the firing reveals the nature of Trump more than the way James Comey was fired. From the New York Times–
“Mr. Comey was addressing a group of F.B.I. employees in Los Angeles when a television in the background flashed the news that he had been fired. In response, Mr. Comey laughed, saying he thought it was a fairly funny prank. Then his staff started scurrying around in the background and told Mr. Comey that he should step into a nearby office.”
Unreal, yet totally believable. Teenage Metallica showed more tact when they fired Dave Mustaine in 1983. Maybe Comey should’ve been fired. Maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe it’s part of a cover-up. Maybe it’s not. But the fact that the guy had to find out what happened to him from a TELEVISION SET WHILE HE WAS GIVING A SPEECH, shows yet again something we’ve known about Donald Trump, long before the Access Hollywood tapes, the wall, the comments about people from Mexico, the Birther movement, and all the other things that have come to define this guy in recent years- the man needs to be the center of his own (dysfunctional) universe. As others have pointed out, Trump publicly speculating Comey might have become more famous than Trump himself seems less a compliment of Comey, and more about Trump fearing the loss of his own spotlight. If his mission was to get it back, at least he accomplished THAT much.
Conservatives- “It was inevitable that this was going to happen, and it was a long time coming, even though I haven’t said anything about it until just now. But I applaud this move by our wonderful President, with his huge hands and amazing political insight. Clearly it had to happen, and liberals are hypocrites for criticizing it, after being so critical of Comey themselves. Sure, they’re criticizing the TIMING and not the move itself, but they’re still hypocrites. Why? Because! They…well, they just are, of course! They’re liberals! Liberals are hypocrites! Everyone knows that! Case closed! *places hands over ears* Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala!!! I can’t hear you! Lalalalalalalalalala!!!”
In pushing his political agenda, which one of these guys showed poor taste and poor timing?
One of the most underrated storylines of NBC’s “The Office” was the hostile dynamic between Michael Scott and Toby Flenderson, a kind-natured but tepid human-resource employee, just trying to do his job. Scott, a delusional middle manager whose mere presence was a demoralizing influence on those around him (at least in the early episodes), always assumed his verbal- and occasionally physical– abuse was exposing poor Toby to the world (or in this case, the viewers) as a reprehensible and intrusive buzzkill, while in actuality showing everyone what kind of guy Michael Scott himself was- and it wasn’t pretty.
This week in real life, we’ve seen a similar level of accidental self-reflection. It started after Jimmy Kimmel revealed the personal and painful trauma of living through his newborn son’s heart surgery. Kimmel is not normally one to bare his soul to the public, so it’s pretty clear that he felt and meant every word that he was saying. Not even the most cynical viewer could take issue with his tears. His words, however, were another story. Without getting into a detailed discussion of the speech itself (watch here to decide for yourself) there’s no denying that Kimmel has a very specific point of view on this subject- and, just like any specific point of view, it’s not going to be shared unanimously. After all, there are roughly seven billion of us nowadays, which leads to roughly seven billion different points of view. Not everyone is going to see things the way that Jimmy Kimmel does.
Enter Charles Hurt, a conservative Washington Times columnist who definitelyhas a different point of view from Jimmy Kimmel- and what a point of view it is. Like many of us, Mr. Hurt generally comes across in the flesh as a pleasant individual, but online often seems like a madman, writing up an angry screed on a bathroom wall (albeit with a better vocabulary). He took it to a whole new level against Kimmel, calling him- quote- an “elitist creep”, as well as a “dirty, self-absorbed, narcissistic exhibitionist”…and for what, exactly? Hoping that no parent would have to go through what he did, particularly poor ones that couldn’t afford the kind of care that a rich late-night talk show host could? While Jimmy Kimmel’s endorsement of expanded healthcare has merits that are certainly debatable, his motivation for it, much like his tears, should not have been. After all, this is a man with a newborn baby whose LIFE was in jeopardy. To paraphrase Tina Fey when discussing Dubya going after the guy that tried to kill his dad, people become superheroes over less!
A far better (if less newsworthy) approach than name-calling would have been to criticize the idea that any single anecdote should be the final word on a serious and complex issue. This is a common tactic to use in the Internet age- find a high-profile story that fits your worldview, share it on Facebook, and imply that you’ve just settled the debate, once and for all. Jimmy Kimmel has every right and every reason to share his beliefs on this subject, and the public has every right to take it under consideration. But that doesn’t mean that his experience should be the guidebook to shape public policy, any more than Kate Steinle’s tragic death should be the final say for dealing with illegal immigration.
Unfortunately, Charles Hurt didn’t take this tactic, instead deciding to malign a well-meaning individual- and by extension, the group which he belongs to. This brings us back to Michael Scott and Toby Flenderson. Assuming he’s being honest and not just trolling for publicity, Mr. Hurt seems to believe that he’s giving an example of why “America hates Hollywood” (his words), when in reality, he just gave Exhibit A for why so many Americans- and not just the ones in Hollywood, which is, in fact, a part of America- believe conservatives are heartless. Also, the like:dislike ratio is actually about 30:1 on Kimmel’s video- who knew that Hollywood was so much bigger than the rest of America?! If Charles Hurt’s intention was to expose liberals as the out-of-touch elitists, his tactic clearly backfired. By personally and viciously insulting a new father who’s just gone through a traumatic ordeal, Charles Hurt lives up to the worst caricatures of conservatives as greedy rich people, who don’t care about others- and make no mistake, a LOT of people believe that one, not just those that live in Hollywood. It might feel good to just take personal shots at people with a different point of view, but it’s a bad strategy long term- just ask Hillary Clinton.
Since Donald Trump’s victory, many people on the right have been laughing disdainfully at liberals living in their bubble. For the ones nodding approvingly at Charles Hurt’s needlessly angry column, it might be about time for them to step out of theirs.