Between These Lines

This year’s most interesting Super Bowl ad may not have been run by a traditional business but by the NFL.  I refer to the “Inside These Lines” spot, which interweaves images of diversity, unity despite differences, and hard work, ending on a football field painted within the outlines of the United States of America.

Careful viewers will note that the phrase “…when you’re fighting to move forward” is accompanied by a very brief shot of the Seattle Seahawks staging one of their “unity protests” during the national anthem.  Casual viewers may miss it, as it was undoubtedly carefully chosen over of a shot of players taking a knee or raising a fist during the anthem to protest police brutality.

Before the big game, FDRLST publisher Ben Domenech wrote a column for the NYT arguing that when sports events (and sports media) get political, they get in the way of healthy apolitical bonding and ironically “limit[] the space free from the culture wars Mr. Trump exploited to great effect.”  Despite the fact that his lead target was the pregame interview of Pres. Trump, most of the response that he received from the left, afaik, tended to be ad hominem.

The marginally smarter lefty response to Ben’s line of argument, occasionally heard on sports radio, is that the NFL went political well before the anthem protests by wrapping itself in the American flag and embracing our military.  The argument isn’t entirely wrong, but given that the military and the police are two of the top three trusted institutions in America, it speaks volumes about the political judgment of those making it.

The same lefty sports media dismisses the idea that injecting New New Left politics into pro football is harming the NFL’s all-important television ratings.  Indeed, they will argue it is due to just about anything and everything else.

They will argue the league’s decline this season was about cord-cutting, the ratings-stealing election, poor matchups, the dilution of the product after a few seasons of Thursday Night Football, concerns about concussions and domestic violence, the decline of fantasy sports sites, the popularity of the RedZone, vague rules, and the breathtakingly awful color commentary of Phil Simms.

Again, this argument has a kernel of truth.  Simms is terrible.

But the NFL is worth at least $74.8 billion.  You can bet the league has put some effort into researching their situation.  The fact that the NFL decided to use extremely expensive airtime during its most-watched, marquee event to air “Inside These Lines” — as opposed to an image ad with a different message — may tell you what they found…between the lines.

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Grand Old Pomos At #WAR

David Ernst recently argued that “Donald Trump Is The First President To Turn Postmodernism Against Itself,” which makes one point commonly understood by political thinkers and another that isn’t really discussed.  That’s unfortunate, as the second point is at least as important as the first.

Ernst’s first point is that Pres. Trump is a political postmodern antihero in the mold of Tony Soprano or Frank Underwood: he is seemingly distasteful, but people root for him when he exposes the hypocrisies of his enemies.

Ernst’s related, more salient point is that political postmodernism isn’t really nihilistic.  Rather, it hypocritically pretends that truth and morality are relative, while seeking to impose a particular set of values by increasingly fanatical methods.

While Ernst calls Trump a “right-wing postmodern antihero,” the “right-wing” part is debatable.  And if Trump is fighting postmodernism with postmodernism, perhaps he and his supporters are just as hypocritical as any left-wing activist.

Obviously, hypocrisy is common in partisan politics.  But as Ernst suggests, the objective of political hypocrisy usually matters.

You can see the tension in Warden’s much-circulated AOSHQ piece, “How Losing My Political Values Helped Me Gain My Freedom.”  Warden responds to criticisms of Trump in part as a consequentialist: “Yes, he’s basically a mirror version of Obama.  Except now, he’ll be working for what I want.  The end justifies the means.  You taught me that.” (Emphasis in original.)

Losing your political values sounds nihilist; Trump “working for what you want” does not.  Thus, it’s more useful to ask, “Which political values are hypocritically masked by Trump’s postmodernism?”

For example, Warden suggests one of his values is religious liberty, citing the mob shutdown of Memories Pizza as his final straw.  Do cases like that matter to Trump?

On one hand, Trump’s nomination of Judge Gorsuch for the Supreme Court vacancy could be a big victory for religious liberty.  Yet the nomination of someone like Gorsuch was more the product of pressure from conservative activists and institutions than Trump’s values.

Trump even framed the nomination in consequentialist terms, as the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

OTOH, Trump decided against issuing an executive order to overturn Pres. Obama’s protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors and strengthen legal exemptions for companies based on religious beliefs.  Disappointed social conservatives seem to be relying on VP Mike Pence regarding religious liberty, but Pence was hardly a stalwart on the issue as Governor of Indiana (the home of Memories Pizza).

Of course, that’s just one (important) issue, and the ultimate balance Trump will strike is unknown.  I suspect Trump’s heterodoxy will keep the disparate factions of his coalition guessing on many issues.

If the values Trump ultimately defends overlap enough with those of these various factions, he’ll maintain an effective coalition.  If he does not, the postmodern tactics, the Alinskyite rule-following and the Breitbartian #WARmongering may begin to look purely reactionary to voting blocs the GOP will need in 2018 and 2020.

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Starting a Blog in 2017: Am I Crazy?

Yes, obviously. But I thought I would start with an explanation of the method behind the madness (and it is madness).

Most of my published work appears at The Federalist and they are good to me there.  So much so that I have been writing more than I was even when FDRLST launched.

The flip side to this is that when I write more often, a part of my brain subconsciously starts evaluating most everything I see and hear for the possibility that it could be a column.

Some of the ideas that result are too short, or need some extra element to become fodder for an entire column.

Other ideas are what I call “cold takes.”  Sites focused on the culture, politics or the media — like most news sites — depend on subjects having a certain amount of drama, conflict or emotional heft to draw readers.  Clickbait is the extreme version of this, but it’s tough to fault sites for more responsible attempts to draw an audience in a highly competitive environment.  “Cold takes” can be interesting, insofar as they tend to be contrarian.  Yet I realize wet blankets aren’t very marketable.

Still other ideas may relate to news (or an article or op-ed) that is time-sensitive, unlikely to make it through an editorial process before it becomes stale.  Relatedly, there may be pieces I would write but for the near-certainty (or even unforeseen eventuality) that someone else at FDRLST already has it covered.

Lastly, there are ideas that are too “bloggy.”  I may read something at FDRLST (or elsewhere) that inspires further thoughts or a critique.  But FDRLST is generally not set up to run pieces of that genre.  Most sites aren’t.  NRO has The Corner; I occasionally see it when Slate has a roundtable discussing a TV show or something.  IIRC, HotAir tried it years ago and it never really took.

But why a blog? Because when I have ideas in the above categories, they tend to linger and interfere with ideas that can be turned into columns.  The blog should help clear my mind.

Why not join Medium or TinyLetter?  In part because I’m the sort of nerd who likes having control over my platform if I’m primarily responsible for it.  I like selecting fonts and line-heights (Sad!).  The minimalist design here is intended to not only play well across devices, but also to remind me this site should not become my main jam.

Rather,  WHRPT will be where I store my demos, rehearsal tapes, B-sides and rarities.  There will probably be a flurry of items at first while I clear my backlog.  After that, my posts will probably be — as Cher Horowitz might say — sporadic.

Accordingly, if you’re intrigued and would like to receive this newsletter, you should subscribe in the sidebar.  At the very least, follow WHRPT on Twitter.  Given how quickly Twitter moves, subscribing is probably better; I don’t plan on clogging your inbox (after the first batch of posts, anyway).