Hypocrisy Doesn’t Excuse an Insurrection

Some headlines would seem to state the obvious, with no further argument or distinction really required. You’d think the one at the top of this column would be among them. But even as an angry mob converged on the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, assaulting police officers, beating in doors, and breaking through windows, there was a disturbing (but unfortunately not surprising) counter-narrative being shaped online in response to the horrific images and video being broadcast on news networks and the Internet.

The larger issue quickly picking up steam from many on the right was that there was a political double-standard at play in the appall over what we were witnessing. And that perceived hypocrisy prompted partisan snark.

“Mostly peaceful protest!” people tweeted, mocking mainstream-media sentiment from earlier in the year, when journalists bent over backwards trying to play down the violence the erupted at some Black Lives Matter protests.

“Where was your outrage over the summer riots???” they reflexively responded to those who were sharing the media reports of members of congress being evacuated.

In fact, I personally received a number of such responses as I weighed in online during the mayhem, pointing out that the violence was a result of Trump’s post-election conduct. Of course, it didn’t matter that I actually had condemned the other riots at the time. It was just assumed through a partisan lens that I hadn’t, and thus riot whataboutism was their natural, seemingly liberating response.

And it was hardly just random Twitter trolls spreading this sentiment:

Later that very night, after the violence had finally ended, rioters had been cleared out of the Capitol, congress had reconvened, and we knew that several people were in the hospital and at least one was dead, Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) felt compelled to defend President Trump’s belated and tangled tweets as being “far more explicit about his calls for peace than some of the BLM and left-wing rioters were this summer when we saw violence sweep across this nation.”

A number of Gaetz’s congressional colleagues clapped in concurrence. I’m sure many others watching at home did as well.

But why? Is an act of domestic terrorism, which is exactly what the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol was, somehow less serious or horrid in the context of individuals’ poor reactions to violence in the past?

To be clear, it’s perfectly fair and even appropriate to be making a separate argument that a number of liberal journalists and politicians downplayed the riots we saw over the summer in places like Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and New York City. That absolutely happened. In some cases, it was because they believed in the underlying message of “social justice,” and were twisting themselves into pretzels to keep that message from being tarnished. In the case of elected Democratic leaders, some were initially afraid to unequivocally denounce the violence out of fear that it would offend their progressive constituencies.

Either way, it was shameful and cowardly, and those who partook in the effort absolutely deserved the criticism they received from the political right.

But how is evoking that behavior a defense of — or a valid response of any kind to — a mob whose active violence was incited by months of lies and conspiracy theories from a U.S. president and his enablers? How are any of those past examples an excuse for millions of Americans being conned into believing that their nation’s system of democracy was being overthrown by figures within the government, and that January 6th, 2021 was the last day to save it?

It doesn’t, but in the days that have followed, the narrative just keeps picking up steam.

Friends of mine, who I mostly keep in touch with on Facebook, are using their timelines to hammer this “point” over and over again, while not even addressing what happened at the Capitol. Nothing about the five people who died. Nothing about the elected representatives who were targeted. And certainly nothing about Trump’s role in it.

In fact, some of them seem far more upset that our president was de-platformed by social media companies than they are by the event that prompted those companies to consider such a measure.

Sadly, this seems to be an effort to minimize the seriousness of what happened Wednesday by many of the same people who were outraged (and justifiably so) when similar minimization was done by the left over the summer.

And now that serious consequences are being called on for President Trump’s role in Wednesday’s violence, a brand new round of whataboutism has begun. The view from a growing number of Trump defenders is that if the president is going to be impeached and removed for inciting the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris should also be impeached and removed for inciting violence.

In fact, in response to my column last week, in which I personally called for those measures to be taken against Trump, a regular reader decided that I was a “flaming deranged hypocrite” for not calling for the same actions against Harris.

So, what did Harris say or do, exactly? What the reader and other Trump defenders are increasingly citing is a popular Internet meme that made the rounds a few months ago. It highlighted a quote from Harris when she was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s show. The clip, which has been labeled with such mantras as “Kamala Harris advocates for riots” and “Kamala Harris wants the riots to continue,” features this statement:

“But they’re not going to stop. They’re not going to stop. They’re not. This is a movement. I’m telling you. They’re not going to stop, and everyone, beware. Because they’re not going to stop. They’re not going to stop before election day in November, and they are not going to stop after election day. And everyone should take note of that on both levels. That they’re not going to let up. And they should not, and we should not.”

The problem with the framing, as multiple fact-checkers have pointed out (and is pretty common among political memes), was the omitted context. In the virtual interview, which took place on June 17 (months before she was Biden’s running mate, and weeks before the meme was circulated), Harris and Colbert had been discussing the broader topic of protest marches and how they have historically facilitated legislative change. There was no mention of anything related to riots or violence. Toward the end of the exchange, Colbert said that he hadn’t seen as much media coverage of the BLM marches lately. The now heavily focused-on quote from Harris was her explanation that they were still happening (which they were all over the country), along with her expressed passion for the movement and message.

Now, would the exchange have been an excellent opportunity for Harris to specifically call out and denounce the violence that had stemmed from at least two marches by that point in time? Yes! Instead, she waited until a few weeks later. Colbert should have also acknowledged the violence, and asked her about it, but he unsurprisingly didn’t.

The omission was negligent, cowardly, and worthy of criticism (and I have a long list of other gripes about Harris)… but did it amount to an incitement of violence? Of course not.

When people are inclined to defend indefensible behavior from their tribe, by identifying it in the other tribe, context and proportionality often gets tossed by the wayside in an effort to make the puzzle pieces fit.

There simply isn’t a good-faith equivalence between Harris’s impromptu answer and two months of a President of the United States stoking flames through conspiracy-fueled efforts to sell millions of passionately loyal Americans on the perverse lie that our nation’s democracy had been hijacked, that he had actually won the election, and that January 6th at the U.S. Capitol would be the day of reckoning.

Yet, the narrative is out there front and center because whataboutism is an effective deflection tool in escaping accountability. It also helps convince those who use it that their reflexive partisan sentiments are justified.

A couple of commentators I’ve respected over the years used to talk about the virtues of the political “mirror test,” a self-imposed exercise in which one asks themself if he or she would feel differently about a situation, based on which political party or figure was at the center of it. It’s basically a tool for instilling single-standard, self-reflective analysis.

Unfortunately, at this point in American history, there are millions of broken mirrors, especially when it comes to politics… and I don’t expect clear reflections to return anytime soon.

 


Note from John: I’ve been writing a weekly non-political newsletter since October, covering topics like art, music, humor, travel, society and culture. I’ve been surprised by, and thankful for, how many people have been signing up for it. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d love for you to subscribe (it’s free).

Order John A. Daly’s novel “Safeguard” today!




Yes, Trump Should Be Impeached and Removed

In late 2019 and early 2020, I wrote numerous columns for this website offering my thoughts on the Trump impeachment hearings and subsequent trial. While I’ve never been a fan of this president, I did not support the Democrats’ decision to pursue impeachment. This was primarily because after reading depositions from multiple witnesses, I wasn’t convinced that our president, even in attempting to extort a foreign power into digging up dirt on one of his political opponents, had committed an impeachable offense that deserved removal.

Here’s how I summed up my view in November of 2019: “Was such an attempt improper? Absolutely. An abuse of power? Undeniably. Illegal and/or impeachable? I wasn’t sure.”

Because I wasn’t sure, and because the Democrats were moving forward with impeachment anyway, I was interested in hearing more from the witnesses. I did my best to keep an open mind throughout the hearings, and felt I represented the nuances of the proceedings quite well in my writing.

Impeachment is a tricky issue to tackle because it’s a subjective political process. There isn’t a strict legal criterion that constitutes an impeachable offense. It’s largely left to the discretion of congress. But by the end of the senate trial, I had come to respect two different views.

The first one was expressed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) who conceded that Trump had done what he was accused of, that he did abuse the power of the presidency, but that the abuse didn’t rise to the level of removal.

The second came from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) who agreed that Trump committed the act, that he abused his power, and that the abuse was significant enough to warrant removal.

Frankly, if I had been in a position to have to vote on whether or not to remove the president that day, I’m not sure where I would have come down.

Following yesterday’s insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, however, I believe that President Trump should be impeached, removed, and never be allowed to run for public office again. And as I described above, I’m not someone who takes such measures lightly.

Make no mistake about it. Trump bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for what happened. He incited widespread political outrage for two months, selling millions of his faithful supporters on an endless stream of outrageous lies and conspiracy theories to subvert the results of a free and fair election that he unequivocally lost.

After weeks of failing to overturn the will of 81 million American voters, January 6th — according to Trump — was to be the day of reckoning. It was the date that Trump had set as America’s last chance for all the alleged electoral wrongdoings to be righted. It was the day on which Vice President Mike Pence supposedly had an ethical and patriotic duty to stop the certification of the nation’s electoral votes (a measure that was never going to happen, nor would it have made any difference). It was the last chance for the republic to be saved.

Trump delivered a rambling speech earlier that day in front of the White House, whipping up the crowd with his long list of election lies and calls to “stop the steal.” Thousands in attendance then made their way to the U.S. Capitol, as Trump had directed.

We saw on television what happened next. Protesters became rioters. They knocked over barriers, assaulted police officers, scaled walls, broke windows, and pounded through doors as they entered the Capitol.

Outside, tear gas was used. Inside, proceedings were halted and elected representatives were evacuated for their safety. Offices were vandalized. Secret Service agents blocked doors with furniture, guns drawn to protect trapped staffers. Public servants, some fitted with gas masks, hid behind desks in their offices. Others were ushered out through an underground tunnel.

Pipe bombs were found. Police officers are in the hospital. Five people are dead.

What we saw yesterday was an act of domestic terrorism. And the chaos would have never come to fruition without President Trump’s two-month-long, conspiracy-fueled efforts to convince millions of Americans that our nation’s democracy had in fact been hijacked.

But that wasn’t the end of it, as editors of The Dispatch (who are also calling for impeachment and removal) pointed out this morning. As the violence was still being carried out, Trump continued to fuel the fire:

“Yet even then—even with bloodshed in the halls of the Capitol and Congress itself under attack—the president still stoked rage and division. He tweeted his anger at Vice President Mike Pence for failing to hand him the election. Even when he called for calm and asked rioters to go home, he repeated his false claims about a stolen election. In one of the lowest moments of a very dark day, he told the rioters who stormed the Capitol, ‘We love you.’ ‘You’re very special,’ he said. ‘Law and order for thee, but not for me,’ seems to be the rule for this fundamentally disordered and lawless president.”

President Trump has proven to be a significant danger to this country. As we saw yesterday, the damage he has caused is no longer confined to the abuses of power, bad decisions, and unbecoming conduct we’ve debated over the last four years. It has produced domestic terrorism. Trump is a danger, and our nation deserves what protection we can responsibly and legally give it against any further damage he may cause.

I don’t care that there are only two weeks left in his term. The House should move to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors. The Senate should vote to convict and remove, and then use its power under Article 1, Section 3 to keep him from ever holding public office again.

The time to act is now.

Editor’s Note (1/8): The death toll above was updated to reflect the passing Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died the next day from injuries sustained during the attack.

 


Note from John: I’ve been writing a weekly non-political newsletter since October, covering topics like art, music, humor, travel, society and culture. I’ve been surprised by, and thankful for, how many people have been signing up for it. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d love for you to subscribe (it’s free).

Order John A. Daly’s novel “Safeguard” today!




New Year’s Predictions — What to Look for in 2021

Hi everyone, and Happy New Year!

I typically write my annual New Year’s Predictions piece just as the old year’s winding to an end, but frankly my creative efforts have been directed elsewhere over the past several weeks. I’ve been working hard on finishing up my next Sean Coleman Thriller, and was aiming for a first-draft completion date of January 1st.

Well, I didn’t quite make it (which I realize doesn’t bode well for my predicative talents), instead choosing to spend more quality time with my family over the Christmas break. Still, I’m pretty darned close, I’m very happy with how it’s shaping up, and I’m confident that fans of the series will enjoy it.

But you’re not here to listen to me carry on about literary stuff. Let’s get to this brand spankin’ new year we’ve just entered, and some predictions of things to watch for.

The Power of the Private Sector

On February 1st, less than two weeks after leaving the White House under protest and continued refusals to concede the election, Donald J. Trump will appear live on Hannity to announce the release of a new TRUMP brand COVID-19 vaccine.

TrumpVac™, according to the former president, will be at least five times more effective than the vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca… combined! And unlike the others, TrumpVac will have received personal approval by Dr. Scott Atlas, Dr. Seb Gorka, and Mike Lindell (founder and CEO of My Pillow).

Trump will change his tone sharply on the other vaccines, which he had boldly taken credit for over the remaining weeks of his presidency, suddenly describing them as “very weak Fauci garbage.” TrumpVac™, according to Trump, will not require multiple injections or even one. It will instead be sold in the form of a carbonated beverage (in multiple tropical flavors), allowing consumers to self-administer and even serve the vaccine at MAGA parties.

A six-pack of TrumpVac, marketed as having a pinch of Vitamin D and a dash of hydroxychloroquine, will retail online for a special, non-refundable price of $45.47 (commemorating Trump’s tenure as the 45th and presumptive 47th President of the United States).

Ads for TrumpVac will begin airing during Fox News prime-time, with product placement incorporated into FNC’s weekend shows, including Watters’ World, The Greg Gutfeld Show, and Life, Liberty & Levin.

Worth a Thousand Words

Shortly after being sworn in as president, Joe Biden will draw even deeper contrasts between himself and his predecessor by staying off of social media entirely. He also won’t do any public appearances, including network interviews, press conferences, and meetings with members of congress.

In fact, the only visual sightings of Biden at all will be through a window at the White House, where he’ll be spending hours at a time gazing sadly and silently at the outside world, effectively reproducing one of 2014’s most popular political meme images:

By late April, media outlets will have grown increasingly frustrated over having no access to the president beyond video and photographs of him at the window.

“What is he even doing there?” will be a frequent question asked by members of the White House press corps.

“Thinking, dammit,” will remain Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s default answer, with the explanation being generally accepted by CNN and MSNBC prime-time hosts.

In early May, however, undercover journalist James O’Keefe will air hidden-camera video of a candid conversation he had, while inexplicably dressed like a Ronald McDonald, with an unnamed janitor working at the Washington D.C. branch of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

In the video, the janitor will reveal that the museum’s Joe Biden waxwork (sculpted during the Obama administration) had gone missing during a COVID-19 lockdown back in December, and was presumed stolen.

Days later, amidst growing controversy, President Biden will unexpectedly appear at a White House daily briefing. Confidentially taking the podium, Biden will announce his intent to “run for president in 2008.”

Staffers will quickly usher him off stage, and Vice President Harris will take over presidential speaking engagements for the remainder of the year.

Stream the Leg

With the continued success of Cobra Kai” on Netflix, Hollywood production companies will recognize a growing viewer demand for self-parodying television adaptations of popular 80’s films. In mid-May, streaming platforms will begin to announce multiple new series from the genre.

CBS All Access will revisit the 1985 crime drama, “Witness” with a ten-episode series titled “Be Careful Among Them English.” Lukas Haas will reprise the role of Samuel Lapp.

Synopsis: Having left the Amish community following traumatic events from his childhood, the now middle-aged Samuel works as a DC lobbyist. After witnessing the cartel murder of a U.S. senator, he fears for his life and seeks the help of the only person he can trust: retired police detective and late-80’s Amish convert, John Book (played by a CGI version of Harrison Ford, since the real Ford’s asking price will be too high).

“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Amazon Prime Video will feature the return pairing of Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall for a four-episode follow-up miniseries to the 1987 film, “Mannequin.” Though the series will receive mostly negative reviews, and not find much of an online audience, the production company will take comfort in minimal special-effects costs keeping the film significantly under budget, thanks to Cattrall already being mostly comprised of plastic.

Not to be outdone, Apple TV+ will run eight episodes of “Screw Science,” a follow-up to the 1985 comedy, “Weird Science.” The series will catch up with Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), now in their 50s and having long since lost their boyish charm.

Synopsis: Having discovered in their teens that it was significantly harder to pursue meaningful relationships with women than simply creating super-model virtual girlfriends using a Barbie doll, 80s-era computer software, and an acoustic coupler modem, the two are both still single. Kelly LeBrock will return as Lisa, their first technological creation, to maternally nag Gary and Wyatt into finally settling down.

O Captain! My Captain!

With John McCain having passed away in 2018, and Donald Trump leaving the White House in January, Senator Lindsey Graham will begin a tireless search for a new Republican alpha-dog in DC for whom to play the weird, obligatory role of sycophantic second-fiddle. After hearing from Mitch McConnell, John Thune, and other prominent GOP leaders that they’re not interested, Graham will ultimately center in on freshman Missouri Senator, Josh Hawley.

Graham will firmly adopt Hawley’s big-government, populous positions including increased economic stimuli, heavier Internet regulation, and a refusal to recognize free and fair election results. He’ll also appear (nodding in agreement) at all of Hawley’s public addresses. On cable news, Graham will never miss an opportunity to sing Hawley’s praises, while emphasizing the importance of reining in Instabook, Snapgram, and Facechat.

Graham will eventually re-style and color his hair to more closely resemble Hawley’s, and also do that weird thing with his lips.

I’m going to go ahead and leave it that, since I’m predicting my wife will soon grow pretty annoyed with me if I spend any more of our holiday break on this silly column. Again, I hope you all have a happy and healthy new year.

Take care!

 


Note from John: I’ve been writing a weekly non-political newsletter since October, covering topics like art, music, humor, travel, society and culture. I’ve been surprised by, and thankful for, how many people have been signing up for it. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d love for you to subscribe (it’s free).

Order John A. Daly’s novel “Safeguard” today!




Where Will Media-Conservatism Go After Trump?

By about six months into the Trump presidency, most media-conservatives had figured out how to win back over the freshly remodeled right-wing audience they previously thought they understood.

Standing up to runaway spending and big-government overreach were no longer winning themes. Neither were promoting free markets, personal responsibility, and moral decency. Constitutional conservatism? That was yesterday’s news. So was the importance of strong and competent American leadership both domestically and abroad.

A few things remained the same, like the culture war and those evil left-wing progressives hell-bent on destroying the America we love. But the broader formula that would all but assure those who followed it a healthier and more lucrative future in the business (at least for the next four years) was Trump fandom.

I’m talking about the folklore portrayal of Donald Trump as America’s great savior, a man who defied enormous odds to win the presidency, and was working tirelessly to deliver the country from years of societal decay brought on by the political left and the government establishment. For that, according to those who’d adopted the narrative as the central thesis of their brand, Trump deserved celebratory, unconditional loyalty and obedience. And those who stood in his way, or even so much as criticized him, or questioned his judgment, rhetoric, and actions, were the enemy.

Often that enemy was the media, usually the liberal media but really anyone who was reporting stories that were inconvenient to the president. Conservative commentators who rejected Trumpism were seen as especially horrid individuals — traitors in fact, even when they hadn’t changed their political and ideological positions on anything.

Particularly unsettling was watching a number of 2016 election-era “Never Trump” conservatives, upon realizing what Trump’s White House tenure could mean for their careers, do a rhetorical about-face on much of what they’d stood and spoken out for over many years. They even started publicly attacking their conservative colleagues (including friends), for still saying what they themselves had been saying just months earlier.

Principles were out. Trump-partisanship was in. And little has changed since then.

Those who chose to maintain their intellectual consistency, personal integrity, and conservative sensibilities paid a significant professional price in the era of Trump — a price that included lost radio shows, less air-time, contributor contracts not being renewed, speaking engagements drying up, and far fewer web-hits.

Those who sold out, by and large, reached new professional heights.

Looking back at that time, it’s still pretty striking how easily the political makeover came for some. People like Mollie Hemingway, Mark Levin, and Greg Gutfeld, who were once outspoken Trump critics, turned into some of the president’s most shameless sycophants and defenders. When one looks back at National Review’s famous “Against Trump” issue from 2016, they’ll find contributor names like Glenn Beck, Ben Domenech, Brent Bozell, Katie Pavlich, and Dana Loesch… all of whom now bend over backwards not to say anything the slightest bit disparaging about Trump. Some are even busy at the moment promoting Trump’s 2020 election conspiracy theories.

But as stark as such changes were, Trumpist commentary proved to be pretty simple, at least from an argumentative standpoint. It was definitely easier than laying out intellectual, good-faith thoughts on nuanced political topics. All one had to do is follow a cookie-cutter approach:

You begin with the premise that anything you said prior to the Trump era no longer applies, because the stakes are so much higher now. It’s even acceptable to pretend you never said those things in the first place. Sure, others will occasionally draw attention to your past statements, to point out your breathtaking hypocrisy, but you can just ignore those people because Trump and the Trump base — your key audience — don’t care about such things. All that matters is what you’re saying now, in service to Trump.

Next, you insist that the good things that have happened during Trump’s tenure (and there certainly have been some good things) are historically unprecedented in their greatness, and wouldn’t have come to fruition under any other president’s leadership. It doesn’t matter that in some cases Trump had little or nothing to do with them. It doesn’t matter that in some cases, good decisions he has made were so elementary that they would have been made by any president, or that they weren’t even “unprecedented” to begin with. It doesn’t even matter when the perceived victories are purely symbolic. Under Trump, they are glorious, single-handed achievements for which he should be recognized as one of the greatest presidents of all time.

Lastly, you rely on the whataboutism game whenever you can. It is effectively your Trump card to be played whenever you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to comment on the latest, outlandish and indefensible thing our president has done. Sure, true believers in Trumpism (like Lou Dobbs) will directly defend literally anything and everything the president does, but those who see value in not coming across as psychologically deranged on national television prefer the less clinical whataboutism route. The tactic lets you run interference for Trump by evoking similarly bad past behavior from someone on the political left (often in the mainstream media). Doing so serves as a magical defense against whatever Trump just did.

Sometimes the whataboutism comparisons line up, including in weight and scope, but far more often they don’t. A lot of times they’re not even in the same ballpark, and require rather absurd straw-man support from “the deep state” and “the establishment” to pull the pieces together. And when even that doesn’t work, it’s the unhinged reaction from some on the left, to whatever Trump just did, that becomes the real topic of concern.

But it all comes back to the narrative that Trump’s behavior is always defensible because liberals (and his other opponents) have created — in some way, shape, or form — a precedent or need for it. And those who preach this narrative can pull it off without drawing much attention to their past or current condemnations of the other side’s conduct, because — again — hypocrisy doesn’t matter when it’s delivered in service to Trump.

But now, the Trump era (at least in its current form) is almost over. In just a few weeks, Donald Trump will be gone from the White House, and Joe Biden will be sworn into office. While I don’t expect for a second that Trump will fade from the media spotlight (at least not anytime soon), it will be interesting to see how media-conservatives who went all-in on Trumpism will adapt to the new environment.

The culture war and “liberals gone wild” stuff will certainly remain big themes. So will liberal media bias. Those items transcend the landscape, regardless of who’s in power, and often deserve to.

But I suspect we’ll see far less whataboutism once Trump and his antics are no longer occupying every news cycle. His conduct as a private citizen won’t demand nearly the attention nor clean-up work that it currently does, and no one’s going to spend a lot of time running interference for Trump’s goofy acolytes in congress, like Matt Gaetz. I do, however, expect whataboutism to grow far more prevalent on the left, after four years of the “anything goes” mentality from Trump and the right. It’s hard to imagine that arsenal of protective shields going unused.

And of course, whenever they do use it, the right will cry foul without a hint of expressed irony.

Will media-conservatives suddenly care about conservative things again? Like moral character, personal responsibility, and small-government principles? Will they go back to lambasting careless, demagogic political rhetoric? Hey, remember how the national debt was a really big deal… about $7 trillion ago?

While it remains unclear if these people will wondrously revert back to their old selves from four or five years ago, they’ve already proven that past positions and rhetoric don’t particularly matter… which means it’s entirely feasible. Or perhaps they’ll just keep saying whatever they think the base wants them to say on any given day. Confirmation bias, after all, is a very powerful thing.

I’m guessing a lot of these individuals don’t even know the answer themselves, and are still trying to figure it out.

It will also be interesting to see what’s in store for those in the conservative media who didn’t sell out to Trumpism. I’m talking about that much maligned crowd who took a huge professional risk by continuing to play things straight. Jay Caruso of the Washington Examiner recently recognized some of these folks in his weekly newsletter. It was a good starter list. To it, I’d also add Jay himself, Guy Benson, Stephen Hayes, and this website’s owner, Bernie Goldberg.

“They all decided the proper path meant telling the truth instead of choosing sides,” wrote Caruso.

I think that’s an important point, and I hope it carries some weight as things begin to settle in the post-Trump media landscape. What I do know is that the Trump-era made clear which conservative commentators were saying what they responsibly felt their viewers, listeners, and readers, needed to hear… and which ones chose to cash in by feeding enthusiastic Trump fans a steady diet of red, hyper-partisan meat.

Let’s hope that sincerity and credibility matter a bit more in the future.

Note from John: I’ve been writing a weekly non-political newsletter since October, covering topics like art, music, humor, travel, society and culture. I’ve been surprised by, and thankful for, how many people have been signing up for it. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d love for you to subscribe (it’s free).

Order John A. Daly’s novel “Safeguard” today!




Language Evolution vs. Language Manipulation

As a fiction author, I spend a good amount of time thinking about how to carefully and effectively use the English language to describe characters and scenes. As an opinion writer, the same is true of conveying views and putting forth arguments. Some days, the words flow naturally. Others, they’re more of a challenge. But I do my best to structure my thoughts accurately and compellingly, and present them to the reader in a way designed to avoid misinterpretation.

That’s one of the reasons I become irritated in the comment section whenever someone deliberately distorts what I write (for the purpose of setting up what they believe to be a more effective rebuttal). I consider that type of straw-man nonsense to be a personal swipe, and it’s not my only pet-peeve on the topic of language.

Something else that drives me nuts is when people alter the very meanings of words or phrases to advance a preferred narrative. Unfortunately, this happens quite a bit in the world of politics.

I wrote about one such example back in July, when people on both sides of the political aisle were twisting the word “defund” (specifically in the context of police departments) into something it isn’t. Democrats were doing it to clean up some politically toxic rhetoric, from their side, following George Floyd’s murder. Republicans did it to misrepresent Joe Biden’s stated position on the issue of police funding.

We saw something similar a couple months ago, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. With the 2020 presidential election just around the corner, and President Trump vowing to nominate a new Supreme Court justice (who would assuredly be confirmed by a Republican-majority U.S. Senate), we started hearing a lot of the phrase, “court-packing.”

The term had a very specific meaning, as described in countless dictionaries and encyclopedias. If you had looked it up on Dictionary.com, for example, this is the precise definition you would have seen:

“an unsuccessful attempt by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 to appoint up to six additional justices to the Supreme Court, which had invalidated a number of New Deal laws.”

That’s exactly right. Roosevelt initiated ultimately failed legislation to increase the number of Supreme Court justices (beyond nine, where it’s been since 1869), in order to fill those seats and obtain court rulings that he deemed more favorable.

With Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moving quickly to fill Ginsburg’s old seat with a conservative nominee (the desired result being a more constitutionally conservative court), Democrats began pressuring then presidential candidate Joe Biden to embrace court-packing. The idea was that if Biden won, he and the Democrats would add brand new Supreme Court seats, and fill them with liberal justices to supposedly “balance” the court.

The political problem for liberals was that court-packing has long been considered a pretty radical measure, and with good reason. It’s not unconstitutional (the U.S. Constitution doesn’t define the size of the Supreme Court), but it would be an enormous change to an institutional norm that has existed for over 150 years. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the best available rationale for that institutional change was that Ginsburg had died at an inconvenient time for their political party.

It wasn’t a very compelling argument, especially when Joe Biden was running for president on a platform of returning our government and country to a state of normalcy.

So, those endorsing court-packing (or at least evoking it as a way of firing up the liberal base to vote for Biden) attempted to make the measure seem less radical to the average joe. Their strategy for doing that was to pretend the Republicans were already engaged in it.

Hence, we began seeing headlines like “Democrats Should Pack the Court — Republicans Did it First”, “Trump Packs the Court His Way”, and “Republicans have already packed the Supreme Court. Unpack it by making it bigger.”

The argument was that by aggressively filling vacancies in lower courts with conservative judges (metaphorically packing those empty seats with judges who share a similar judicial philosophy), Mitch McConnell himself was guilty of court-packing. Thus, why can’t Democrats court-pack too? Right?

Only, that’s not at all what court-packing means, not by any definition that existed prior to Ginsburg’s death. Filling existing seats is largely procedural. Adding new seats is the creation, passage, and implementation of new policy. The two are very different practices with different consequences. Still, a number of high-ranking Democratic leaders ran with the narrative.

“Over the past four years we’ve seen unprecedented court packing,” said Senator Chris Coons on Fox News.

Senator Dick Durbin agreed, telling Chuck Todd that the “American people have watched the Republicans packing the court over the last three and a half years. And they brag about it. They’ve taken every vacancy and filled it.”

Even Joe Biden joined in at one point (while playing coy as to whether or not he would pursue actual court-packing, if elected): “The only court-packing going on right now is going on with Republicans packing the court right now…”

Democratic enablers in the news media also felt inclined to help:

Ridiculous.

At least we can still rely on dictionaries and encyclopedias to insulate words and terms from political demagoguery and blatant misrepresentation. Right?

Not so fast.

As someone discovered the other day, Dictionary.com (whose correct definition I cited earlier, and who lists Random House Unabridged Dictionary as its proprietary source) actually added a second definition for “court-packing” just last month. Here it is (emphasis added by me):

“the practice of changing the number or composition of judges on a court, making it more favorable to particular goals or ideologies, and typically involving an increase in the number of seats on the court: Court packing can tip the balance of the Supreme Court toward the right or left.

In other words (no pun intended), the dictionary definition of “court-packing” now reflects (and permanently substantiates) the political hijacking of the term, for use as a disingenuous political narrative designed to normalize a radical practice.

How did Dictionary.com qualify their decision to change the term’s definition, when called out for doing so on social media? Here you go:

Language evolves. So do they. It may be poetic, but it’s also totally absurd.

One of my Twitter followers responded, providing a much better explanation:

While I think the term “Orwellian” is perhaps overused, what we have here is a very clear attempt, by one of the most popular reference websites in the world, to change the decades-old definition of a term purely for the purpose of accommodating a specific political initiative that was put forth by a relative handful of people.

If that doesn’t set a terrible and concerning precedent, I don’t know what does.

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