Willful Blindness

Let’s start with some basic table-setting before we get to the main banquet.

Sexual predation is not a partisan issue. It is not a Republican issue, though the GOP did try to monopolize it in the late ‘90’s. Nor is it a Democrat issue, though the Party of the People has tried to monopolize it since late 2017.

Sexual predation is a criminal issue. If a man has sex with a woman without gaining her consent, that is sexual assault. If a man touches a woman inappropriately, or compels her to render sexual favors to him under the threat of professional or personal penalty, that is sexual harassment. It is black-letter law.

Nor is sexual violence a feminist issue, though some radical elements of the feminist movement might claim otherwise.

The issue concerns everyone. Men will often hear words such as, “Rape,” “Sexual harassment,” or “#MeToo,” and one of three things will usually occur. Either they will dismiss the issue as a, “Women’s issue,” or they will become defensive. They say to themselves, “I wouldn’t rape anyone. I’m not guilty.” Often times, men will decide that it is easier just to shut up, smile and nod. If they speak out, they run the risk of being labeled as insensitive at best, or a rape apologist at worst. Why bother to engage with the topic at all when any struggle you might incur is unwinnable?

There are understandable reasons for these dismissive or defensive reactions from most men, but they are misguided. Sexual predation is a criminal issue that affects everyone. Every man has in his life a mother, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, a friend or a coworker buddy who has likely been a victim of this crime. I can appreciate why many men want to reflexively back away from something they perceive as an emotional minefield, but now is not the time to change the channel. Men can and must be participants in the ongoing battle against this cancerous scourge.

I have been a political conservative since I was old enough to vote. I hold many views consistent with the canons of conservatism, including a traditional tough-on-crime stance. I also believe that victims’ rights are and always have been a core plank in the conservative platform.

I also believe in due process. I don’t believe that they are mutually exclusive. Under the Constitution, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. This truth is constrained to our legal system and is often disregarded in the court of public opinion. In my view, this is folly. Americans of all political stripes would do well to carry the principle into every area where sexual predation has crept. They would do well to adhere to the principle on college campuses, in the workplace, in social settings, in the home, and in the National Federation of the Blind.

I came into the NFB 25 years ago. I was attracted by their message of equality and full autonomy for the blind. During my 25 years of involvement, I have served in various leadership roles, including as the president of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students, as the Secretary of the Nebraska State Board of Directors, as the NFBNewsline Coordinator in both Nebraska and Colorado, and as a counselor at a summer youth program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I currently hold no elected office or paid position at the national, state or local level. I give you my bona fides so that you can lend the proper amount of credibility to my following observations and conclusions.

Almost from the beginning of my involvement in the movement, I heard whisperings about certain leaders who had a bad habit of putting their hands where they didn’t belong. Several years after my entrance, I heard a story from a survivor who was and is a close friend and who continues to be a member in good standing. I believed her. Thus began my slow awakening to the reality of a darker side of the Federation. In subsequent years, other women who are also good friends confided in me with their stories of violations they suffered at training centers, conventions, seminars and other official NFB functions. It became clear that sexual predation was not only a latent problem in the Federation, but an open secret.

I believe the survivors who have now come forward in their social media campaign.

Several weeks ago, survivors began to write openly about their experiences at the three NFB training centers (the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, CO, Blind, Incorporated in Minneapolis, MN, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Rustin, LA), on various social media platforms. The voices multiplied and gathered, forming an angry undercurrent on social media that grew with the passage of time.

The first inkling I got that something was afoot came on December 8 in the form of a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter from the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB), with an attached copy of their code of conduct and grievance process. I thought it odd that they would dispatch the message to the entire NFB network. The picture became clearer three days later on Friday, December 11, when the National Office sent out a communique to all members across all platforms. The message reaffirmed that the NFB stands in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. I think I’m being charitable when I describe the nature of the message as weak tea.

The communique was received by the campaign with skepticism at best, derision at worst. As the weekend progressed, the stories continued to mount in number and detail. The posts ranged from chillingly subtle to shockingly graphic. Many posters chose to keep their abusers anonymous, but some of them named names. The most disturbing aspect of the stories was the fact that some of the accusers had been minors under the care of the NFB at the time of the alleged assaults. It is not a stretch to suspect that the boiler plate response from Baltimore may have actually fueled the spreading fire.

The tactics of the #MarchingTogether movement, as they came to be known, proved effective. Five days after the initial response from Baltimore, on Wednesday, December 16, President Mark Riccobono issued a mass communication to the membership. Its subject line was, “An Open letter of Apology from President Riccobono.” The letter was appropriately conciliatory in its tone. Riccobono handled the subject matter with political deftness, never once criticizing the victims, their tactics or their credibility. He also called for empathy and understanding for those who may be defending the NFB in good faith, while simultaneously employing language that would mollify the social justice elements of the campaign. He seemed genuine in the assumption of ownership of his mistakes and sincere in his regret over the lack of transparency in the leadership’s efforts to combat this pervasive problem. Most significant was the fact that he outlined six concrete steps the Federation intends to take to deal with the problem.

I admit that I was skeptical when I read Riccobono’s words. My view was that the president and the leadership were attempting to cover their hindmost parts in an effort to stem the fiery tide.

Hours after Riccobono issued his apology, the survivors posted their own letter. It was a complex document that seemed as if it had been in the drafting for weeks, so it was likely not a direct response to Riccobono’s apology statement. It came with a list of counter recommendations that took aim, not only at the lax culture and protocols surrounding the perpetration and reporting of sexual assault and harassment, but at the general culture of the NFB training centers.

I seriously considered adding my signature to the letter, but while I stood in awe of the courage of the victims who came forward and signed it, I found certain recommendations to be problematic. In my view, they go beyond the scope of the problem of sexual violence and address areas that would be better served in a separate conversation. Discussions I’ve held with other potential signatories takes us all to the same conclusion. Many people stand in solidarity with the victims, but feel that elements of the letter seem to strike at the very heart of the structured discovery curriculum that distinguishes NFB training centers from other orientation centers for the blind.

This is where matters stood on the week leading up to Christmas, 2020. In a tumultuous year rife with general discontent and mounting anxiety and anger, this is the appropriate capper for our little corner of the world.

After the weekend of December 11, the first-hand accounts of assault by survivors seemed to dwindle to a trickle (at least on my social media feeds.) The subsequent argument mutated to a proxy version of “good Federationists,” versus “Good allies.” The face of the pro-NFB viewpoint, of course, is President Riccobono. The most prominent “good ally,” (and the biggest target) is the apparent founder of the survivors’ campaign, Stacy Cervenka. After his open apology, Riccobono went dark on social media with respect to the issue, though many of his surrogates have continued to defend the president and the organization at large. Meanwhile, Cervenka was readily available in all quarters, vociferously defending herself against mounting criticism.

Sidebar: I have never met either President Riccobono or Stacy Cervenka directly. I have never taken the measure of either on a human level. I have observed both of them from a distance. I had a brief acquaintanceship with Cervenka on Facebook in 2019, but disengaged after I found some of her viewpoints and comments to be problematic.

I have met Marc Maurer, President Emeritus of the NFB, on multiple occasions. I took an instant dislike to him when we first shook hands in 2000. Nothing in the intervening 20 years has altered my view of the man. My opinion (and it is only my opinion) is that the problems we now face are largely a result of his non-responsiveness to them during his 28 years as our president.

I am laying out my biases clearly so that no one will misinterpret or misattribute my words and motives the things I write going forward.

Now that I have given you the background, I will tell you the truth as I see it. In my view, the problems and solutions are very complicated and will not be easily remedied with a quick fix.

The National Federation of the Blind has had this coming. Frankly, we’ve had it coming for decades.

Given the nature and structure of our leadership, it is easy to see how predators and predatory behavior can flourish. The organization functions under the guise of a Democracy, complete with elections on the national, state and local levels. It’s true that local and state competitions are usually fair and open, with multiple candidates being allowed to run if they so choose.

The story is entirely different on the national stage. In my 20 years of attending and streaming national conventions, I have never witnessed an election in which a national officer or board member was opposed by another candidate in an open contest. In theory, the convention body elects the national board. In actual practice, the general body is a rubber stamp for the nominating committee, who is appointed by the state affiliates and who in turn selects the national president. It has always been implicitly but firmly understood that the current president will hand-pick his successor, and that said successor will ascend to the presidency unquestioned and unencumbered with no electoral challenge or protest from the general membership. In other words, Marc Maurer and Mark Riccobono were not elected to the presidency. They were appointed. The election was mere window dressing. If you are unfamiliar with the NFB and if this strikes you as a system that bears a resemblance to that of a monarchy, you aren’t far wrong.

The NFB has been the largest, strongest and most influential movement in the blindness community since its inception in 1940. There are sound reasons for this. We are well organized, we have a respectable treasury and, as a movement, we are driven by our philosophical convictions. The top-down nature of the movement insures that we are quickly motivated and easily mobilized when necessary. When it comes to blindness, the NFB has had a positive and undeniable impact on legislation, rehabilitation policies, the culture and in the legal arena. Aside from our home page, one need only google us to find long lists of our accomplishments on behalf of the blind.

The down side of this autocratic-leaning form of governance is the systematic minimization and, in some cases, outright smothering of reformation efforts. It is indeed true that it Is useful in squelching those who possess genuine mal intent toward the NFB and our goals, but it is equally poisonous when members with legitimate grievances, such as survivors of assault, attempt to petition the leadership for a redress of those grievances.

Some critics of the survivor campaign are faulting them for posting their stories on social media. I catch a whiff of victim-blaming in these criticisms, but more to the point, social media was the obvious avenue for this campaign to take after years of being denied a proper and fair hearing. It is inexcusable that Riccobono and company did not foresee something like this when they first implemented the Code of Conduct in 2018 in the wake of #MeToo. Social media gives survivors what they never had before; a platform on which to speak without fear of being suppressed or controlled and the ability of their supporters to instantly share their stories with the entire world.

I can’t say for certain that Marc Maurer knew about wide-spread sexual predation and covered it up during his 28 years as president, but frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Based on what I’ve experienced of the man, I can easily envision him justifying the squashing of complaints of indecent behavior by powerful members in leadership roles in the name of the greater good. I attended a leadership seminar at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore on Labor Day weekend, 2001. Maurer was overt in his desire to “use” budding leaders such as myself for the cause in any manner he saw fit. This is a man who used Ramona Walhof to speak in glowing terms of his willingness to be in absentia during the birth of his first child in order that he might fight for the cause in court. Some of his audience found him inspiring, but he made my skin crawl. It is not difficult to imagine him turning a willfully blind eye to the complaints of those whom he might find to be inconvenient to the advancement of the righteous and necessary cause of the organized blind.

There is only one real way to bring about a cultural change from the top down. I believe the solution is term limits for all national and state board members. This includes the members of the board of directors for all three of our training centers. I believe that all members interested in substantive internal reform should begin to investigate the process of amending the national and all state constitutions.

My friends will chuckle when they read this. They will remember how I used to argue against term limits. We’ll just say that I have evolved on the question. Our current situation in our state and on the national level demands reform. I believe that elected leadership in perpetuity breeds complacency, willful blindness and a rigidity of thought under the notion that the old ways always work. I’m speaking of the people mired in board culture, not the underpinning philosophy that guides our movement. I believe that term limits for elected leaders at the upper levels will force current leaders to do a better job of recruiting and grooming upcoming members for leadership roles. It will also insure that those who are providing safe harbor for predatory behavior through nepotism and cronyism cannot wield intractable power.

I know that term limits are not a perfect answer, but I believe that at this point in time, they are the best answer for our current difficulties.

As for President Riccobono, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. All matters of justice and willful blindness aside, he inherited this problem. Yes, he has mishandled the crisis thus far, but he appears to have taken ownership of the issue. Whether this is through a genuine concern for the victims, or out of political reaction from social media shaming, he deserves the opportunity to implement real and lasting change. In spite of his tardiness, if he has not adopted clear, demonstrable reform measures through a transparent process by the time of convention in July of 2021, he should step down.

Heads must roll.

I’m not talking about the French Revolution here. There is no benefit to beheading an innocent seamstress. My assertion is informed by political pragmatism, not blood lust. I want to see justice for the survivors and real, substantive change in the Federation, but justice and retribution do not have to be synonymous.

The hard fact of it is that people will not have real confidence that the leadership is serious about fundamental change until someone who seems untouchable is publicly excised from power and permanently expelled from the organization. In my years of service, I’ve heard the same half-dozen names come up over and over again. Some of these names have been prominent in the movement since the ‘70’s. If the NFB is serious about investigating claims, they will unearth these serial offenders and excise them from the movement and turn them over to the criminal justice system. If the membership in general and the survivors in particular see this happen, it will go a long way toward establishing the credibility that is necessary to facilitate the healing process.

I’ve been watching certain members of the NFB elite power class preen and posture on social media. They are saying all the right things, their verbiage dripping with woke sincerity designed to soothe and disarm. Deep down, they are frauds. In fact, they are part of the problem. I’m not speaking in extremist terms here. I believe that this is rank opportunism. I believe that many of them have been active enablers of the current situation. I think these people know who the serial predators are and have either actively or passively covered it up, thereby allowing them to find new victims. I’m not in favor of a witch hunt by any means, but I genuinely believe that these leaders need to be pushed back from positions of prominence if the evidence warrants it. Term limits would go a long way in solving this problem.

The numerous stories on social media do indeed show a clear pattern of predation at all three of our training centers. These stories alone should warrant investigations into the directors of those centers. If the investigators can demonstrate that any or all of the directors knowingly perpetuated a climate in which predators could seek out victims, they should be terminated and expelled from the NFB. If they are cleared, they should go on about their important work with a clean slate.

In recent days, a campaign of direct accusation and whispered innuendo has been mounted against Stacy Cervenka on social media. Some are questioning her motives, her methods and her exact role in the campaign of the survivors. I too am dubious of her motives and her tactics, particularly her personal conduct on social media. As a former member of the NFB for nearly two decades, Cervenka should have anticipated and been prepared for such attacks and criticisms when she first undertook this fight.

However, whatever I, or the leadership, may think of Cervenka and her overt and covert objectives, the stark fact is that the leadership invited such repercussions when they chose to ignore this growing blight. Sexual misconduct has been in our societal consciousness since the 1970’s. Even if you accept that the problem could not be properly handled due to a smothering blanket of cultural autocracy, you cannot avoid the pivot point of the code of conduct. Once that was implemented, the Federation as a whole validated the fact that sexual predation is a real and troublesome phenomenon in all aspects of our culture.

When you’re not at the table, you’re on the table.

One charge leveled against Cervenka runs, “Why doesn’t she stop attacking us and come to the table? Help us implement the positive change we all want.” Experience teaches me that this charge has a sinister tint to it. It is more likely that some leaders would draw Cervenka back into the fold by giving her the illusion of influence in hopes of seeking a way to effectively neutralize her. There are members of leadership who might even view her words and deeds as a declaration of war upon the Federation.

Moreover, according to screen shots of texts and Emails posted to Cervenka’s Facebook page, she tried to raise this issue two years ago when she contacted President Riccobono about these matters in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Riccobono responded with a combination of saccharine platitudes and hurt feelings.

Aside from the odd fact that Riccobono did not immediately try to engage in a constructive dialogue with her, he should’ve foreseen the fact that Cervenka, or someone like her, would eventually mount this sort of campaign. The crisis the leadership now faces was mostly avoidable. Yes, sooner or later, this kind of thing would have become public, but the NFB might have been better able to control the spread of the wildfire if they had gotten out ahead of it earlier. Now, Cervenka and the survivors hold the stronger hand and Riccobono and the leadership appear to be reactive in the seeking of solutions, rather than proactive.

Despite the leadership’s desperate need to control the situation, there is only one group that will decide how much power Cervenka holds. It is not the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind. It is not observers with a vested interest like myself. It is the victims. Thus far, Cervenka has proven to be their ally and an effective advocate. Her efforts to create a network for survivors to begin the healing process is particularly laudable. They, and only they, will have to decide what role she will play going forward.

For everything, there is a consequence.

When I was a youth counselor at the Colorado Center for the Blind in the summer of 2014, I tried to impart one important lesson to my students. Every decision has consequences.

Compare and contrast that to a lesson that Marc Maurer tried to teach me as I sat in front of his desk with 30 other young and hopeful NFB leaders, just 10 days before the tragedy of 9/11. As I chomped away on Peanut M N M’s like Pac-Man going after Power Pellatts, Maurer asked all of us to rank the five most important things that leaders in the NFB should accomplish. After he delivered the assignment, he bounced a coin on his massive desk and said, “Mrs. Walhof, I’ll bet you a quarter that none of them get it.”

We all wrote down our answers and read them later. They ranged from the usual; fundraising, membership recruitment, fundraising, insuring philosophical solidity, fundraising, legislative impact, legal victories in court and fundraising.

After we were finished, he collected his quarter from Mrs. Walhof and said, “The most important mission in the Federation is the selection and grooming of the next president of the movement.”

That tells you all you need to know about NFB culture at the highest levels. We are an organization that places a good deal of emphasis on leadership. I understand why this happens. I do believe in the ‘great man’ view of history. Riccobono leveled up in 2018 when he dedicated his annual banquet speech to the contributions of women to the Federation. If there’s one thing that NFB leaders know how to do, it is deliver a good speech. The response of the survivors campaign has proven that pandering woke lip service is no longer enough.

Leaders in the organization will find no shortage of praise and celebration once they come to power. If they pay proper homage to our core philosophy, engage in the quotidian drudgery of fundraising, membership recruitment and pounding the halls of their state capital, and if they proffer respect to the state and national leadership, they will find a path to greater glory.

I don’t think this is entirely unreasonable. Yet, when serious problems come to light as has happened now, the leadership must also bear the consequences of their actions and inactions. If the Federation rises upon the shoulders of its leaders, then it must also fall upon the actions and inactions of its leaders.

I want to make it clear that I am not in favor of a ‘burn it down’ approach. The NFB has done a great deal of good in its 80 years of existence. We can still continue to stand at the forefront of the advancement of the blind in society. But the time has come for an open and honest dialogue about the plague of sexual violence within our ranks and how to best combat it. That dialogue and subsequent change cannot occur without meaningful alterations to our top-down style of leadership.

I am an unapologetic defender of the structured discovery model of training for the blind. I firmly believe that our three centers are monuments to the words and intangible beliefs of the Federation put into tangible action. The blindness community would be worse off if our training centers do not remain as a viable option for blind people. As is so often the case, the flaws in the centers do not rest with the philosophy, but with the people in charge.

I also want to clarify that, as a conservative, I am opposed to much of the platform of the social justice movement. I believe that many of their viewpoints and strategies veer too close to fascism for my taste. It is far easier to detect injustice than it is to develop and implement viable solutions that result in true equity.

I will grudgingly acknowledge the irony that, while I am skeptical of the social justice movement, this topic would not have been pushed into the open without their dogmatic relentlessness. I also acknowledge the deep irony that, if we were to replace our current form of leadership in the NFB with the principles of social justice, we would ultimately be replacing one form of repressive governance with another.

I do not believe that silence is complicity. That is an absolutist slogan designed to force people into a binary choice while ignoring nuance and gray areas. Yes, sexual violence is an uncomfortable topic. With its emergence into the limelight, we all need to feel a little bit uncomfortable as we grapple with it. But certain elements of the “Social Justice Warrior” crowd will use this discomfort more as a blunt force cudgel rather than as an instrument of education and persuasion. This represents a serious error in strategic judgment and emotional temperament. If you want to implement real and lasting change, you cannot do so while alienating a vast swath of those whom you hope to persuade.

Castigating the leadership is one thing, but the general membership is another matter. I understand why many members have stayed silent over the years with regard to this issue. Many may have felt ill equipped to properly deal with the facts. Others may have been apathetic or unaware of the problem. A great number of members probably knew about the issue but stayed silent out of fear for their own personal or professional wellbeing.

Whatever the case, the truth is now out in the open. As members, we have the choice of either perpetuating the problem by continuing to sweep it under the rug, or grappling with our discomfort together in hopes of bringing about a positive and productive resolution for the survivors.

Honestly, this was the toughest essay I’ve ever had to write. It has forced me to stand in front of a metaphoric mirror and take a hard look at myself and my past actions. I am mindful of the fact that I may have hurt some of you with the words that I have written here. I have many friends who are Federationists and who are true believers in our cause. If you are reading this and are pained by it, I would respectfully ask you to compare your feelings to those of the victims who have gone unheeded for these many years. If your first instinct is to downplay the problem or to adopt a ‘circle the wagons’ mentality, I would implore you to consider the fact that our president has already acknowledged that the problem of systemic sexual predation exists and that our leadership has done too little to rectify it. There is no real question as to the nature and scope of the problem. The only question that remains now is, what can we do about it as we go forward?

This takes me back to where I started; the survivors.

I see the word, “empathy,” used a lot when having discussions of this nature. I am suspicious when this word is employed. I believe that its current day ubiquity has dulled its meaning. As a man who has never experienced full-blown sexual assault, it would be disingenuous for me to claim that I feel empathy for those who have undergone it. When I read the words written on social media from authors whom I don’t know, my heart hurts for them, but I can’t walk in their shoes.

That said, God bless you for your courage. Whatever happens, I hope you keep up the good fight. You won’t have an easy road ahead of you. This is an issue that cuts to the bone. Battle lines will be drawn, friendships will be lost, charges and countercharges will be leveled and lives will be drastically altered. Some will be your allies, others with ulterior motives will claim to be your allies and still others will attack you openly. I can’t know the future, but whatever happens, I pray that you can muster the strength to stay the course until you see the change wrought that you are fighting for.

While I can’t feel empathy for the survivors whom I don’t know, I do feel genuine compassion for my close friends who have been victimized. When the tide broke on social media, I spent a good deal of time on phone calls with friends who are trauma survivors. They are the reasons why I take this issue seriously and why I am choosing to break my silence. Whatever happens in the coming months and years, I want all survivors of sexual assault to know that I hear you and I support your calls to be heard.

To all of you predators out there who think you’ve gotten away with it, sleep with one eye open. When you wake up every morning, ask yourselves, is today the day?

Now that we’ve ingested our banquet entree, here’s your meager sliver of cheesecake. It is intended for everyone invested in the current debate. There is no intoxicant more potent than raw, unbridled power. Just ask the Republican Party.

Happy New Year.

Now, let’s go repair the Federation.

All Hail the Mother Ship

“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

DUHN-DUHN!!!”

That was the monologue that opened every single episode of Law & Order. That was the premise; straight forward and uncomplicated. For 20 years, Law & Order served as the template for how to do a crime procedural on ‘90’s TV. It wasn’t just a police procedural, but a legal drama as well. The first half of the program concerned the police investigation of a crime (usually murders.) In early seasons, viewers would follow the cops as they investigated the occasional rape, kidnapping or political corruption case. The second half of the story concerned the prosecution of the bad guys. Created by veteran TV producer Dick Wolf of Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice fame, Law & Order was the perfect animal for ‘90’s network crime comfort food.

I first encountered Law & Order in 1995 at around 2AM. I was in my dorm room at UNL, wide awake as I suffered the ravages of Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder. I was eating cold Domino’s Pizza and channel surfing when I came across the show on A&E right at the beginning. The opening monologue hooked me.

The plot of the episode concerned an apartment building superintendent who was murdered during an apparent break-in. As the show unfolds, it becomes evident that the guy’s son killed him. The son claims that the father was abusive and he killed him in self-defense, but the cops uncover the fact that the kid is actually guilty of parental abuse.

Parental abuse!? Who the hell ever heard of that? I’m sure my mom felt as if she was being subjected to parental abuse every time my brother fired up Guns N’ Roses on his big basement speakers, but that’s a far cry from being beaten to death with a hammer, which is what the son did to the father in the story.

So the cops finally arrest the kid, but then the D.A. has to convince a jury that he was actually the abuser, not his dear dead dad.

I loved the idea that one group of characters would appear in the first half of the show, then another group would carry the ball home for the finish. So, I got hooked. Every night at 10PM, I had a date with Law & Order. It didn’t matter if I was hanging with the guys on the dorm floor, or having Lil’ Ryno tended to by a frisky cafeteria worker. Whatever the case, Law & Order was on.

L&O was quintessential network fare, which was why it was right for syndication. There was no ongoing story to follow with climactic cliffhangers to keep the viewer coming back week after week. It didn’t matter if you jumped in at season one, or season 14, or mixed the episodes up in a blender. With a few exceptions, the narrative of each episode stood alone. It was also the textbook example of a plot-driven show. The stories almost never followed the personal lives of the characters. Viewers would have to rely on random bits of dialogue or conversations to gain insights into the minds and hearts of the protagonists.

One might wonder how a show can last for 20 years and maintain its freshness. Actually, it can’t. L&O ran a creatively uneven spread. But a lack of source material wasn’t the reason. Part of the gimmick of the show was its self-proclaimed, ‘ripped from the headlines’ angle. Each case the cops and lawyers dealt with involved situations based on real events. “Extended Family,” was based on the Michael Jackson abuse charges. “Nullification,” was based on the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. “Apocrypha,” was a fusion of the first World Trade Center bombing and the Branch Davidian cult. There was a major three-part series in the seventh season based on the most famous news event of the ‘90’s, O. J. Simpson. And those were just the high-profile cases.

Despite what pundits on both sides of the aisle claimed, L&O had no political axe to grind. The cops and prosecutors chose targets of all political stripes and ideologies; from gun manufacturers to environmental terrorists, from pro-life murderers to anti-death penalty activists, from radical fundamentalist Muslims to radical fundamentalist Christians. The only constant political message L&O sent over its 20-year run was that extremists are bad.

More interesting than the show’s formula were the revolving door of cast changes that occurred over the 20-year life span of the series. In the debut season, stars included Michael Moriarty as crusading ADA Ben Stone, George Dzundza as Sgt. Max Greevy, Steven Hill as DA Adam Schiff and, long before he was Mr. Big on Sex and the City, and long, long before he was Julianna Margulies’s wayward politician husband on The Good Wife, a relatively young Chris Noth as Det. Mike Logan.

Dzundza left the show after the first season because he was unhappy working in NYC while his family lived in Hollywood. Actor and opera singer Paul Sorvino (of Goodfellas fame) took over as Sgt. Phil Cerreta. Sorvino wasn’t any happier and left during the show’s third season.

That’s when the legendary Jerry Orbach entered the scene as Det. Lenny Briscoe. Yup… The dad from Dirty Dancing classed up the L&O set. I’m disgusted with myself that I know this tidbit. I’d rather get caught wearing panties with my friend Ross’s face engraved on the bum than admit that I know anything about Dirty Dancing.

World-weary, wise-cracking, recovering alcoholic cop Briscoe was a calming influence on the younger, volatile Logan. According to all reports, Orbach was just as much of a soothing presence to his fellow actors on the turbulent set. Even in interviews, you can tell that he’s one hell of a nice guy.

Beginning with the fourth season, the network powers that were delivered an edict that estrogen be infused into the traditionally all-male cast. S. Epatha Merkerson took over the reins from Dann Florek’s grizzled Captain Cragen as Lt. Anita Van Buren. Long before she starred on Crossing Jordan, Jill Hennessy took up the role of Clair Kincaid, becoming the first of many women to fill the second chair in the courtroom on the ADA team. It wasn’t a coincidence that Hennessy was easy on the eyes, as were her many successors.

Florek was lucky. Six years after he was unceremoniously let go from the Mother Ship in favor of identity politics, he was hired to play the same character of Don Cragen on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Richard Brooks, who played Paul Robinett, the original series’ first and only African-American ADA, was not so fortunate. He was let go at the same time as Florek, but only reappeared later on the Mother Ship in occasional guest spots. Neither of the characters were given a proper on-screen send-off.

On the other side of the aisle, Michael Moriarty reportedly was no picnic to work with. He left the series at the conclusion of the show’s fourth season after a very public dispute with real life Attorney General Janet Reno and First Lady Tipper Gore over censorship of violence on TV. The character of Ben Stone resigned in a fit of guilt after one of his witnesses in a criminal trial was killed by the Russian mob.

Sidebar: Moriarty may be a nut, but he was right about Reno. Law & Order had very little on-screen violence. The subject matter could often be heavy with its hot button socio-political themes, but even by ‘90’s network standards, the show was not bloody or gratuitous by any stretch.

In season five, The Mother Ship delivered another major upgrade in the person of Sam Waterston as ADA Jack McCoy. Ben Stone had been rooted in righteousness and a puritan’s love of the law, but Jack McCoy was a different animal who played the game primarily to win. His methods were often more extralegal and ruthless than those of his predecessor. He also had a very Clintonesque habit of bedding down his female assistants; a fact that came back to bite him later more than once.

Many long-time fans of the series would agree that the show’s fifth season represented the best cast mix of the entire 20-year run; Briscoe, Logan, Van Buren, McCoy, Kincaid and Schiff. But, as the L&O gods would often decree every season or two, chemistry did not insure endurance.

At the end of season five, Chris Noth demanded a salary bump during his contract renewal negotiation. Wolf refused, so Logan was history. In the most colorful exit from the series, Logan punched a homophobic politician in the face during a clash with an angry mob.

Sidebar: Thanks largely to the burgeoning internet, the popularity of Mike Logan’s character endured through reruns and fan fiction. To that end, Logan received a TV movie three years after his departure. Its title was, Exiled: A Law & Order Movie. Six years after that, he began a semi-regular stint on Law & Order: Criminal Intent after Vincent D’Onofrio kept having nervous breakdowns over Bush, the Iraq War, Dick Cheney, etc. Logan lasted for two seasons before he quit the force in disgust; a very Loganesque thing to do.

After his first series partner was ejected from the Mother Ship, Briscoe received a downgrade in the personage of Benjamin Bratt as Renaldo ‘Rey’ Curtis. The character was too straight-laced and vanilla to be interesting. Meanwhile, Hennessy left the role as Jack McCoy’s partner and romantic interest in the sixth season climax when Clair was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident.

Sidebar: Clair’s fate was eventually addressed in the eighth season episode, “Under the Influence,” when McCoy goes overboard in the prosecution of a drunk driver.

And so it continued. They eye candy portion of the entertainment was filled over the next 14 seasons by the likes of Carey Lowell, Angie Harmon )pre-Rizzoli and Isles), Elizabeth Rohm, Annie Parisse and Alana de la Garza. Bratt left the series after the ninth season and enjoyed a fling with Julia Roberts and a moderately successful movie career. Briscoe got an upgrade in the form of Jesse L. Martin as Det. Ed Green. Green wasn’t quite as cool as Logan, but a latent gambling addiction and better street smarts made him more entertaining than Curtis.

Steven Hill, the show’s most veteran actor, lasted 10 seasons before he called it quits. He was replaced by Dianne Wiest as D.A. Nora Lewin. She lasted two seasons. Then, producers made their biggest casting blunder. They took the series title too seriously and pandered to the right. In the wake of the election of George W. Bush, as well as 9/11, they decided that the show needed an injection of good ol’ southern conservatism. It came in the form of Fred Dalton Thompson as D.A. Arthur Branch. You remember the late Fred Thompson? He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008. That’s actually why the actor left the show after the 17th season. Branch premiered in the 13th season and Thompson stuck out like a Viagra trip gone wrong. Branch’s folksy-drenched dialogue seemed as if it had been penned by Colonel Potter or Matlock! He was not at all believable as a New York City district attorney. Angie Harmon’s character of Abbey ‘hang ’em high’ Carmichael was a believable conservative character. Branch was merely a walking cliché.

In another major loss for the show, Briscoe retired at the end of the 14th season. Jerry Orbach announced that he had been battling cancer for years shortly after he exited the show. In December of 2014, Jerry Orbach passed away, and the entire L&O universe took a moment of silence and shed a tear. He was replaced in season 15 by Dennis Farina (of Crime Story fame) as Joe Fontana, but it was another downgrade. No one could fill Briscoe’s shoes.

No series can last 20 years and maintain its peak. When Law & Order: SVU came along in 1999, it seemed that the Mother Ship took a hit in quality. The reasons were obvious. The best writers and producers from the Mother Ship were transferred to what would prove to be the first of five spin-offs in a budding franchise. For those of us who remained loyal to Big Mama, the results were telling. Briscoe’s wisecracks got lamer. The dialogue lost much of its East Coast zing. The plots, which had always stripped true crime for parts, became more transparent in the theft of their source material.

I quit watching regularly in favor of more complex fare such as 24, The Sopranos, The Shield and Deadwood. Yet, I would often have dinner at Audra’s apartment. She would make beef stroganoff or parmesan chicken and we would marathon a few L&O reruns on TNT. Audra always got annoyed with me for eating all of her Oreos. Thank God she didn’t prosecute me for theft.

This tradition lasted until 2007, when I left Nebraska for Denver. But every May, I would wait to hear that the original series had been canceled. Every May, it survived.

In the show’s 18th season, the Mother Ship was rejuvenated. Jack McCoy was promoted to interim D.A. in the wake of Branch’s departure. Linus Roache came on board as ADA Michael Cutter, with de la Garza continuing as Connie Rubirosa. The dynamic between McCoy, Cutter and Rubirosa was a nice reset for the series, with McCoy flip-flopping and assuming the role as the curmudgeonly mentor/authority figure and Cutter as the sometimes rebellious assistant. Bowing to pressure from serialized competitors, writers infused the 19th season with political intrigue as McCoy ran for a full term as D.A. and also ran afoul of the governor.

On the cop side, Jeremy Sisto became Ed Green’s ex-military partner, Cyrus Lupo. Their bond lasted for 14 episodes, until Green became the suspect in a murder and eventually quit the force after clearing himself. Anthony Anderson played an Internal Affairs investigator who dogged Green at first, but ultimately, transferred to the precinct in the wake of Green’s departure and fell in as Lupo’s partner.

Sidebar: Jesse Martin left the show amicably in order to revive his theater career. Did you guys know that theater is a big thing in New York City? I mean… Besides Hamilton.

And that’s how the series stood for its final two seasons. The cast was fresh, had good chemistry and brought back some of the old spark from the glory days of season five.

Reportedly, NBC gave the Mother Ship the axe in favor of Law & Order: L.A. Three spin-offs weren’t enough, and a sacrifice had to be made. After all, the CSI franchise was giving NBC quite the competition. Wolf tried to convince TNT to take the series, but they refused. So, Law & Order tied Gunsmoke as the longest running scripted dramatic series to that date. There was no grand finale. But for a subplot involving Van Buren’s cancer diagnosis, no loose ends were tied up neatly or left dangling. The show went out the way it came in, with McCoy and company battling the NYC teachers’ union to catch a murderer. Some villains never change.

Sidebar: When it was all said and done, the Mother Ship spawned five spin-offs. They were, in order of appearance:

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – 1999-Present
Law & Order: Criminal Intent – 2001-2011
Law & Order: Trial by Jury – 2005
Law & Order: L.A. – 2010-2011
Law & Order: True Crime – 2017

COMING SOON:

Law & Order: Organized Crime
Law & Order: Hate Crimes

I’m not making that up.

Sometime before Thanksgiving, I ran out of books to read and needed something to watch with dinner, so I just randomly played, “Conspiracy,” (season 3) in the name of all the ‘election fraud’ jugheads out there. I’ve been binging ever since. The beauty of it is that I could binge from now until June when the pandemic will be over and I’ll never watch the same episode twice.

Despite its formulaic nature, I really enjoy this series. Some of the plots are standard cookie-cutter procedural fare. The better stories are those with some legal, political or philosophical quandary at the center. Many of them hold up very well today, despite the fact that the final episode is 10 years old.

Out of the 456 episodes, I have compiled my top 10 favorite stories.

You will notice two things:

One is that none of the episodes that make my list come from past the seventh season.

The other is that, despite the minimal amount of character arcs in this series, the episodes that tend to attract hard-core fans like myself always centered around some personal aspect of one of the characters.

So, here we go.

“DUHN-DUHN!!!”

10. “Aftershock”: (Season 6)

This was the only experimental episode of the entire series that broke format. It proved to be as controversial as the Fly episode of Breaking Bad or Tony Soprano’s infamous black screen.

A man is executed by lethal injection for raping a woman and beating her to death with a tire iron. Briscoe, Curtis, McCoy and Kincaid make the mistake of watching it. The execution has a profound impact on all four of our heroes. Briscoe has lunch with his estranged daughter, then falls off the wagon after years in recovery. Curtis picks up Jennifer Garner in the park and has an affair. McCoy goes to a bar, gets drunk and reminisces about his abusive father. Kincaid agonizes over the morality of the death penalty with her father.

The episode’s shocking climax occurs when Clair goes to the bar to pick up a drunken McCoy, who has already left. She gives Briscoe a ride home instead and is killed in a car accident.

9. “Coma”: (Season 5)

Larry Miller is great at playing bad guys. Maybe you remember him from Patch Adams. In this one, he plays a husband who may or may not have shot his wife and made it look like a carjacking. While the wife hovers between life and death in a coma, McCoy must decide whether or not to order a risky operation that will either kill her or save her life.

8. “Indifference”: (Season 1)

Even for jaded viewers of crime shows, nothing makes your skin crawl like child abuse and murder. This one features an upper class family with a monstrous father who sexually and physically abuses his family. When dad gets done with the kids, mom starts in. It hits the fan when the little girl doesn’t wake up from Kindergarten nap time.

Note: Based on the Lisa Steinberg case.

7. “House Council”: (Season 5)

It starts as an investigation into the murder of a juror who may have been bribed while deliberating over the case of a mafia don. Things get personal for McCoy when his old college buddy turns out to be a mob lawyer. This story helps explain McCoy’s win-at-all-cost mindset.

6. “Bad Faith”: (Season 5)

The first of two episodes in this list to center around Mike Logan. When a cop buddy of Logan’s commits suicide, the trail leads to the dark side of Logan’s childhood when he must confront a pedophile priest.

5. “Corruption”: (Season 7)

Curtis gets suspicious after a questionable shooting by a shady cop, who also happens to be a friend of Briscoe’s. When McCoy goes after the crooked cop, he accuses Briscoe of being dirty in order to save himself from a head-hunting anti-corruption task force.

4. “Mad Dog”: (Season 7)

It’s the classic L&O scenario of individual civil rights versus the protection of society. McCoy pushes the envelope when he pursues a post-Rocky Burt Young as a serial rapist and murderer who is released on parole after the body of a young girl is found in her basement.

3. “Helpless”: (Season 3)

This is one of those episodes that was shocking on the Mother Ship, but is just run-of-the-mill on SVU. Carolyn McCormick had a recurring role throughout the series as police psychologist Elizabeth Olivet. In this one, she goes from consultant to victim when she is raped by her gynecologist. It’s particularly disturbing, because Olivet captures the rape on tape.

Note: The actor who plays the sadistic OBGYN is Paul Hect. Many of us blind folks know him as the narrator of audio books. Many old-time radio fans will remember him from the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Carolyn McCormick is best known to us blind folks as the lady who narrated the audio book versions of The Hunger Games trilogy.

2. “Confession”: (Season 2)

The second Logan-centric episode. Mike’s first partner Greevy is due to testify in a racketeering case when he is shot down in the driveway of his home in front of his family. Does Logan eventually catch the shooter? Of course. He even extracts a confession from the killer. Problem is, he does it at gunpoint, which makes the confession inadmissible at trial, much to Stone’s fury.

Note: There’s a reason that Logan is the favorite junior partner of the series. The scene when Logan hears the screams of Greevy’s wife over the phone as she witnesses Max’s murder, punctuated by Logan screaming, “MARIE!!! MARIE!!!” have never been matched for dramatic value.

1. “Sanctuary”: (Season 4)
If you had to pick one episode that encapsulates all the good things about this series, this one is it.

It starts with a young black boy being killed in a hit-and-run. The driver is a wealthy Jewish man who is subsequently given a slap on the wrist and sent home. Race riots then consume the city, resulting in an innocent white man being dragged from his car and beaten to death. The ensuing trial is fraught with racial tensions as the defense lawyer offers a justification based on mob psychology.

Note: This was one of Ben Stone’s final episodes and features another clash with his best nemesis, Public Defender Shambala Green (Lorraine Toussaint.) It was based on the Rodney King riots and the killing of a truck driver by Reginald Denny.

And, that does it. This entry was about as long as the series. HEY! I forgot about Milena Govich! Does that speak more to my bad memory, or her forgettable character?

What? You guys want me to talk about Elizabeth Rohm’s exit line, “Is this because I’m a lesbian?” No way! I’d rather break out the webcam and model the Ross panties.

Thanksgiving

My friends, it is truly a time for thanksgiving in America. I say that with the full knowledge of the fact that this year has rendered us more than our share of dark days. Yet, we endure.

Yes, I am thankful. I am thankful to be living in a country that is bringing us a vaccine for the worst pandemic we have seen in a century. With all due deference to those of Chinese descent living within our borders, and for the millions of innocents living in true oppression under the yoke of the Chinese Communist Party, I declare unto you that China brought us this virus, and the good old U.S.A. is going to kick its microscopic ass straight to hell where it belongs. This in spite of a president, a congress and local officials of all political stripes who do not take mitigation as seriously as they should. I believe that the vaccine, spawned from American ingenuity that emerged from a health care system that incentivizes creativity, will mark the end of this grim chapter in our lives.

I write these words mindful of the nearly 300,000 souls we have lost to the virus, as well as the disruption of countless other lives left in its brutal wake. I am also well aware that we have dark days ahead of us, but I strongly believe that we will prevail together as a nation despite our divisions.

I love America. I love it in spite of its flaws. I love it more now than I did 20 years ago when I basked in a cocoon of naïve assumptions that afforded the illusion of perfection that does not exist. There is nowhere else on God’s green earth that I would care to live as a human being, nor as a blind man.

I am also thankful for an electoral system that is fair and just. Recently, our president has called the integrity of the process into question, not for any valid reason, but only due to a broadside delivered to his massive ego by the voting public. Much can and will be said about Donald Trump’s presidency over the past four years, but whatever you may think of the things he has done or not done, America has engaged in a course correction through legal and legitimate means and we will continue to move forward. Despite what the president may say or tweet, I believe America will have a peaceful transition of power come January. We will do so because of a series of constitutionally guaranteed checks and balances that many of us take for granted or poo-poo with nary a thought. And yes, I include a free press in that equation.

I am thankful for my job. Many people cannot work right now, but this year, I have been blessed by a steady income uninterrupted by the virus. Moreover, I am blessed to work in a job that I love and to work alongside three coworkers for whom I feel a genuine affection that is not professionally compulsory. I am also deeply thankful for our volunteers who have stepped up and given us their best during this crisis. They did not have to stick with us, but they did. God love them for it!

I am thankful for my friends. I am not a man with a large cadre of close, trustworthy confidants. I do not bemoan this fact. I am grateful for the small core group of friends with whom I can trust my life. Thanksgiving hugs to all of you close to me who have enriched my life. If a hug makes you uncomfortable, imagine an elbow bump instead.

I am grateful for Kylie the cat. I still miss Mags every day and will always hold her close in my heart. But Kylie has been a welcome addition to my family for three months now. I say this as she is jumping on the keyboard yet again, trying to get my attention because she doesn’t think that I’ve played with her enough today. BAD KITTY!!!

Speaking of family, I am thankful for my immediate family. I am not with them this Thanksgiving Day, but I am heartened that, with one exception, none of them have been touched by the virus or the resulting financial storm that has swept the country. This is not an early celebration. I know any one of them could contract COVID if we don’t maintain vigilance, but God willing, we will all be together at Christmas time. If not, we will try for next year.

Many of you who read this have likely been offended by something I’ve written. You may think I’m too critical of Trump, or not critical enough of America, or whatever. All due respect…go tuck into your turkey and deal! I am grateful to express this on a platform and in a country that still tolerates divergent viewpoints. Here’s hoping that we continue to live in a society that guarantees the free expression of ideas. If you didn’t like this post, I’ll see if I can get Ben Sasse to write it for me next year

Here’s to brighter days ahead. Happy Thanksgiving, America!

PS: Hey, Rona… They don’t have masks in hell. They don’t socially distance in hell. There is no vaccine in hell.

Ode to Cocaine Mitch

For those of you who did not accept my offer of a free trial subscription to The Dispatch, here is a sample of what you are missing.

Another snapshot in time from the incomparable Jonah Goldberg:

The Only Adult in the Room
How Mitch McConnell has navigated the Trump era.

Jonah Goldberg

Oct 28

Amy Coney Barrett makes three. Three Supreme Court justices and 220 judicial appointments in all. Regardless of your ideological commitments, it’s a monumental achievement. And if “judges” was your overriding reason to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, it’s hard to argue with the claim that your decision was vindicated.

But ask anyone in Washington who knows anything about how Washington actually works, they will tell you that while Trump’s election was necessary, it was not sufficient. The indispensable man in this regard, and perhaps of the Trump presidency, was Mitch McConnell.

Starting with his decision to refuse consideration of Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, McConnell has been the decisive factor. That one decision arguably—I would say, probably—got Trump elected.
Of course, as I often note, Trump’s victory was so narrow that any factor that attracted even a statistically tiny number of Trump-reluctant voters can be credited with his victory.

Mathematically, if only the people who were excited about voting for Trump had cast ballots for him in 2016, he would have lost. Remember: 7 percent of Trump voters told Pew that they would be disappointed if their candidate won. So you can point to Jim Comey’s press conference, or to Hillary’s refusal to campaign in places—most famously, Wisconsin—as the decisive factor. Heck, weather alone could explain it.

But holding all those other things constant, I think Trump’s decision to outsource his list of nominees to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation was essential to putting together a coalition that could pick the lock on the Electoral College. Of voters who said the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in their decision, 56 percent voted for Trump. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Trump voters surveyed by the Washington Post said that the Supreme Court was the basis of their decision. I don’t think the real number is that high, but even if it was a tenth of that, it would mean the Supreme Court won the presidency for Trump.
And if Mitch McConnell hadn’t made the decision he did on Garland—whether you think it was outrageous or courageous—Trump would have lost.

And yet for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, McConnell was Public Enemy No. 1 in MAGA World.

Night after night, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and the rest hammered McConnell as a Deep State stooge, an establishment fossil, an indefensible obstructionist of the glorious MAGA agenda. “So, Sen. McConnell, my message to you, if all you’re going to do is whine like a 10-year-old and complain and make excuses and blame the president for your failure after eight months of him now being in office and you having the House and Senate, guess what, it really is time to drain the sewer and swamp,” proclaimed Hannity in one typical jeremiad.

“The fact of the matter is, McConnell and [Paul] Ryan—they look like troglodytes that somehow have survived eons, and they have, if you will, been Darwined [sic] out, but just they and the conference don’t realize it,” explained Lou Dobbs. Hating McConnell became the organizing principle of Breitbart.

But no one was more committed to destroying McConnell than Steve Bannon. He told the New York Times in 2017, “Mitch McConnell has to go.” When asked whether McConnell would be majority leader in 2018, Bannon replied, “I absolutely do not think he will be majority leader. … It’s not my personal mission, but it’s an objective. … And I believe it’ll be done before this time next year.”
At this point the narrator should have intruded to say, “Actually, it was his personal mission.” Bannon soon organized primary challenges to every single Republican senator (except for Ted Cruz—who, by the way, famously refused to endorse Trump in 2016) in an explicit attempt to strip McConnell of the majority leader job. He cobbled together a ragtag cadre of MAGA gargoyles to take out incumbent Republican senators (as well as some House candidates, including the anti-Semite goon Paul Nehlen, who lost to Paul Ryan by 70 points). The most infamous of these candidates was Alabama crank and mall-cruiser Roy Moore. To McConnell’s credit, he made it clear that even if Moore won, he would be shunned by the party.

Bannon’s failure was as complete as McConnell’s success.

Governance is for grownups.

McConnell has his critics, and some make perfectly defensible points. But here’s what I admire about McConnell: He’s a grownup and an institutionalist. The two things go together. It will win me no points with populists to say this, but populism often manifests itself as childishness. “Childish” has a slightly different connotation than “childlike.” Childlike conveys sweetness and innocence. Childishness is defined by a refusal to accept the rules. Childish people are quick to take offense. They are the Veruca Salts of the world, who want it now. They don’t care about the rules, and they think manners are for other people. They are reluctant to listen and eager to shout. Childish pranks are their own reward, and consequences for their actions are always unfair. Grownups think about consequences. They remember mistakes and adjust for them.
Children think serious arguments are unfair obstacles to wish fulfilment. As the great populist William Jennings Bryan said, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, so I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”

McConnell is a rare creature in Washington, particularly in the Senate: a man who isn’t president and doesn’t want to be. He is where he wants to be. Sure, he is an ideological conservative, but he’s also an institutional one. He opposed campaign finance reform because he believed it would damage the political system—and he was right. He opposed Harry Reid’s lifting of the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees because he believed it would damage the Senate—and he was right. You can argue that his decision to escalate the practice was wrong, but only if you subscribe to the childish notion that Democrats are allowed to change the rules without consequence. McConnell warned Reid that there would be consequences for Reid’s decision and, like a grownup, he was true to his word.

It’s a talking point of the left that McConnell is just another Trump supplicant who does the president’s bidding. This nonsense overlooks the fact that the primary reason the MAGA right hated him—other than his reluctance to spout flattery in Trump’s direction—was his refusal to abolish the legislative filibuster. As both a grownup and an institutionalist, he understood that the “I want it now” caucus has all the foresight we associate with children. He knew that Democrats would be back in power again, and the cost of abolishing the filibuster for some short-term “win” for Trump would guarantee far greater losses in the future. Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and that’s McConnell’s métier. Yes, he looks like a tortoise, but the tortoise won the race because the childish rabbit lacked foresight.

The inestimable Kevin Williamson writes:
One of the many perversities of Trump’s presidency is that Donald J. Trump’s core deficiencies as a chief administrator—his ignorance and his laziness—are the chief practical virtues of his presidency. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, and this has created the opportunity for some of the people in his administration to get some useful things done. For this reason, the conservative advances that have accompanied the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) mostly have been in the fields in which the president has the least engagement and interest, whereas the catastrophes of the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) are strongly associated with those few areas of policy in which he takes an active interest or is personally and strongly engaged with ex officio.

Kevin goes on to note that perhaps the best illustration of this has been Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution. “Trump’s principal success has been as a rubber stamp to the very ‘establishment’ at which Trump and his admirers like to sneer.”

This is a point I’ve hammered for years now. Trump believes his best friends are the ones who lavish him with praise and celebrate his biggest mistakes as brilliant victories. But, from the vantage point of history, his best friends are the conservatives who constrained him—or simply ignored him—to get important things done. In the summer of 2016, Trump was talking about his steadfast support for “Article 12” of the Constitution and boasting that he might put his sister on the Supreme Court. Some grownup somehow convinced him that this could cost him the election. So he had to persuade voters that he would substitute a serious group’s judgement for his own. But it was only because he never cared about the conservative legal movement that he was perfectly happy to outsource judicial appointments to people who do.
I shudder to think what kind of judges we’d have if Trump felt as invested in who sits on the bench as he is about who sits in the attorney general’s chair.

If Trump had outsourced the pandemic to the experts in his own administration as if it were a medical Federalist Society, he might well be poised for re-election (every governor, Democrat or Republican, and virtually every foreign leader, liberal or conservative, who took the pandemic seriously benefitted in the polls). But the appeal of “free media” to childishly perform during COVID press conferences was too seductive, and the allure of fighting his own medical “establishment” was too great.

What amazes me is how so many of the people who rail against “the establishment” for all of Trump’s failures always place blame at the feet of the “establishment” but assign credit for all of the “establishment’s” successes in Trump’s column. The Federalist Society, Heritage, and McConnell handled the judges, but Trump gets the laurels. Trump took the ball from Fauci and Birx, but it’s their fault Trump scored in the wrong end zone.

There are conservatives—and people who merely claim to be conservative—who so detest Donald Trump that they think the entire GOP should be “burned to the ground.” I certainly understand the detestation, and I definitely think a price should be paid (and it looks like it will be). But letting your passion run roughshod over reason is itself a form of populist childishness. McConnell didn’t want Trump to become president. But grownups adjust to reality when they don’t get what they want. That’s what McConnell did. He said “No” to Trump when he could, and when he thought he should. You can defensibly complain that he should have and could have done it more. But at a moment when Gaetzian childishness is the reigning definition of ideological purity, I am grateful for what few grownups are left in the room.
Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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The Only Adult in the Room
How Mitch McConnell has navigated the Trump era.

Jonah Goldberg

Oct 28

Amy Coney Barrett makes three. Three Supreme Court justices and 220 judicial appointments in all. Regardless of your ideological commitments, it’s a monumental achievement. And if “judges” was your overriding reason to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, it’s hard to argue with the claim that your decision was vindicated.
But ask anyone in Washington who knows anything about how Washington actually works, they will tell you that while Trump’s election was necessary, it was not sufficient. The indispensable man in this regard, and perhaps of the Trump presidency, was Mitch McConnell.
Starting with his decision to refuse consideration of Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, McConnell has been the decisive factor. That one decision arguably—I would say, probably—got Trump elected.
Of course, as I often note, Trump’s victory was so narrow that any factor that attracted even a statistically tiny number of Trump-reluctant voters can be credited with his victory.
Mathematically, if only the people who were excited about voting for Trump had cast ballots for him in 2016, he would have lost. Remember: 7 percent of Trump voters told Pew that they would be disappointed if their candidate won. So you can point to Jim Comey’s press conference, or to Hillary’s refusal to campaign in places—most famously, Wisconsin—as the decisive factor. Heck, weather alone could explain it.
But holding all those other things constant, I think Trump’s decision to outsource his list of nominees to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation was essential to putting together a coalition that could pick the lock on the Electoral College. Of voters who said the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in their decision, 56 percent voted for Trump. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Trump voters surveyed by the Washington Post said that the Supreme Court was the basis of their decision. I don’t think the real number is that high, but even if it was a tenth of that, it would mean the Supreme Court won the presidency for Trump.
And if Mitch McConnell hadn’t made the decision he did on Garland—whether you think it was outrageous or courageous—Trump would have lost.
And yet for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, McConnell was Public Enemy No. 1 in MAGA World.
Night after night, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and the rest hammered McConnell as a Deep State stooge, an establishment fossil, an indefensible obstructionist of the glorious MAGA agenda. “So, Sen. McConnell, my message to you, if all you’re going to do is whine like a 10-year-old and complain and make excuses and blame the president for your failure after eight months of him now being in office and you having the House and Senate, guess what, it really is time to drain the sewer and swamp,” proclaimed Hannity in one typical jeremiad.
“The fact of the matter is, McConnell and [Paul] Ryan—they look like troglodytes that somehow have survived eons, and they have, if you will, been Darwined [sic] out, but just they and the conference don’t realize it,” explained Lou Dobbs. Hating McConnell became the organizing principle of Breitbart.
But no one was more committed to destroying McConnell than Steve Bannon. He told the New York Times in 2017, “Mitch McConnell has to go.” When asked whether McConnell would be majority leader in 2018, Bannon replied, “I absolutely do not think he will be majority leader. … It’s not my personal mission, but it’s an objective. … And I believe it’ll be done before this time next year.”
At this point the narrator should have intruded to say, “Actually, it was his personal mission.” Bannon soon organized primary challenges to every single Republican senator (except for Ted Cruz—who, by the way, famously refused to endorse Trump in 2016) in an explicit attempt to strip McConnell of the majority leader job. He cobbled together a ragtag cadre of MAGA gargoyles to take out incumbent Republican senators (as well as some House candidates, including the anti-Semite goon Paul Nehlen, who lost to Paul Ryan by 70 points). The most (in)famous of these candidates was Alabama crank and mall-cruiser Roy Moore. To McConnell’s credit, he made it clear that even if Moore won, he would be shunned by the party.
Bannon’s failure was as complete as McConnell’s success.
Governance is for grownups.
McConnell has his critics, and some make perfectly defensible points. But here’s what I admire about McConnell: He’s a grownup and an institutionalist. The two things go together. It will win me no points with populists to say this, but populism often manifests itself as childishness. “Childish” has a slightly different connotation than “childlike.” Childlike conveys sweetness and innocence. Childishness is defined by a refusal to accept the rules. Childish people are quick to take offense. They are the Veruca Salts of the world, who want it now. They don’t care about the rules, and they think manners are for other people. They are reluctant to listen and eager to shout. Childish pranks are their own reward, and consequences for their actions are always unfair. Grownups think about consequences. They remember mistakes and adjust for them.
Children think serious arguments are unfair obstacles to wish fulfilment. As the great populist William Jennings Bryan said, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, so I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”
McConnell is a rare creature in Washington, particularly in the Senate: a man who isn’t president and doesn’t want to be. He is where he wants to be. Sure, he is an ideological conservative, but he’s also an institutional one. He opposed campaign finance reform because he believed it would damage the political system—and he was right. He opposed Harry Reid’s lifting of the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees because he believed it would damage the Senate—and he was right. You can argue that his decision to escalate the practice was wrong, but only if you subscribe to the childish notion that Democrats are allowed to change the rules without consequence. McConnell warned Reid that there would be consequences for Reid’s decision and, like a grownup, he was true to his word.
It’s a talking point of the left that McConnell is just another Trump supplicant who does the president’s bidding. This nonsense overlooks the fact that the primary reason the MAGA right hated him—other than his reluctance to spout flattery in Trump’s direction—was his refusal to abolish the legislative filibuster. As both a grownup and an institutionalist, he understood that the “I want it now” caucus has all the foresight we associate with children. He knew that Democrats would be back in power again, and the cost of abolishing the filibuster for some short-term “win” for Trump would guarantee far greater losses in the future. Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and that’s McConnell’s métier. Yes, he looks like a tortoise, but the tortoise won the race because the childish rabbit lacked foresight.
The inestimable Kevin Williamson writes:
One of the many perversities of Trump’s presidency is that Donald J. Trump’s core deficiencies as a chief administrator—his ignorance and his laziness—are the chief practical virtues of his presidency. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, and this has created the opportunity for some of the people in his administration to get some useful things done. For this reason, the conservative advances that have accompanied the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) mostly have been in the fields in which the president has the least engagement and interest, whereas the catastrophes of the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) are strongly associated with those few areas of policy in which he takes an active interest or is personally and strongly engaged with ex officio.
Kevin goes on to note that perhaps the best illustration of this has been Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution. “Trump’s principal success has been as a rubber stamp to the very ‘establishment’ at which Trump and his admirers like to sneer.”
This is a point I’ve hammered for years now. Trump believes his best friends are the ones who lavish him with praise and celebrate his biggest mistakes as brilliant victories. But, from the vantage point of history, his best friends are the conservatives who constrained him—or simply ignored him—to get important things done. In the summer of 2016, Trump was talking about his steadfast support for “Article 12” of the Constitution and boasting that he might put his sister on the Supreme Court. Some grownup somehow convinced him that this could cost him the election. So he had to persuade voters that he would substitute a serious group’s judgement for his own. But it was only because he never cared about the conservative legal movement that he was perfectly happy to outsource judicial appointments to people who do.
I shudder to think what kind of judges we’d have if Trump felt as invested in who sits on the bench as he is about who sits in the attorney general’s chair.
If Trump had outsourced the pandemic to the experts in his own administration as if it were a medical Federalist Society, he might well be poised for re-election (every governor, Democrat or Republican, and virtually every foreign leader, liberal or conservative, who took the pandemic seriously benefitted in the polls). But the appeal of “free media” to childishly perform during COVID press conferences was too seductive, and the allure of fighting his own medical “establishment” was too great.
What amazes me is how so many of the people who rail against “the establishment” for all of Trump’s failures always place blame at the feet of the “establishment” but assign credit for all of the “establishment’s” successes in Trump’s column. The Federalist Society, Heritage, and McConnell handled the judges, but Trump gets the laurels. Trump took the ball from Fauci and Birx, but it’s their fault Trump scored in the wrong end zone.
There are conservatives—and people who merely claim to be conservative—who so detest Donald Trump that they think the entire GOP should be “burned to the ground.” I certainly understand the detestation, and I definitely think a price should be paid (and it looks like it will be). But letting your passion run roughshod over reason is itself a form of populist childishness. McConnell didn’t want Trump to become president. But grownups adjust to reality when they don’t get what they want. That’s what McConnell did. He said “No” to Trump when he could, and when he thought he should. You can defensibly complain that he should have and could have done it more. But at a moment when Gaetzian childishness is the reigning definition of ideological purity, I am grateful for what few grownups are left in the room.

Bad Choice Road

In 2014, I spent three months as a counselor at a summer program for blind and visually impaired youth. My time there was largely an exercise in futility. It was, among other things, a stark reminder of why I have no desire to be a parent. I did, however, try to impart certain universal truths to my teenaged students.

One of those truths was, for every action, there is a consequence. Every time you sneak out after curfew to smoke a joint, there will be consequences. Every time you get freaky with another student because you think your blind counselor is clueless as to his surroundings, there will be consequences. Every time you cheat with your sleepshades, there will be consequences.

Six years later, I have no idea whether my message took or not, but I get an A for effort.

Rush Limbaugh always said, “Elections have consequences.” The election of 2016 was no exception. The country chose to elect a man whose professional credentials included bankruptcy, beauty contests, gambling casinos and a successful reality TV show. His personal credentials included open sexual predation, a string of high-profile divorces and unashamed boorish behavior. Four years ago, the GOP (the party of family values) made a collective choice that personal character in a president no longer matters. Four years later, we have seen the consequences of these choices.

Yes, President Trump has enacted some public policies and made some judicial appointments that are favorable to conservatism, but they are overshadowed by chaos wrought by his erratic behavior. His contraction of COVID-19 and the infection of many prominent Republicans in his orbit is merely the latest (and most ironic) example of consequences befalling a leader and a base of supporters too incompetent and thickheaded to affect a course correction.

I think Ben Sasse is exactly right. We are in for a political blood bath. I think Trump is going to lose next month. I think Republicans are going to lose the Senate. I think local races in red states will feel an impact as well. Trump supporters love to tout the so-called, “shy Trump vote.” This is the phenomenon in which those who are secretly supportive of Trump don’t admit it openly to close associates or anonymous pollsters. I think the opposite will and is occurring. I think we’re in for a Trump fatigue vote. I think many voters who did take a chance on Trump four years ago are now exhausted with his antics, particularly in light of COVID-19, and are ready for a return to normalcy at the top of the electoral chain. Given the nature of many of Trump’s supporters who tread a very thin line between persuasion and bullying, it’s easier for these quietly exhausted voters just to smile, nod and go with the flow when pressed. This includes everyone outside of the base from operatives inside the D.C. Beltway to fellows and gals at the local pub who just want to have a beer in peace without being inundated by the MAGA crowd.

Sidebar: I’m not talking about the opportunistic huxters who are raking in the eager suckers through sham operations such as The Lincoln Project. I’m talking about average voters.

I don’t know, of course. Two weeks is an eternity with Trump at the helm and the chaos factor is always high. If the GOP loses, it will be a loss much deserved by a party that was all too quick to abandon its long-held principles for short-term victories. Yes, they’ll successfully appoint Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, but it will come with a very large price tag.

I take no pleasure in this forecast.

The Democrats have also squandered much of their credibility. They refused to loudly and roundly condemn the mob violence that has erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death. They insulted the intelligence of the electorate by equating racism as a comparable disease to the Coronavirus. They constantly move the definitional goal posts of long-held terms such as, “court packing,” “sexual preference,” and “white supremacy,” all in the name of a strategy of domination and cultural subjugation in the public arena of ideas. Their ‘blame and shame’ tactics with respect to all things white is reactionary, short-sighted and it will prove to have a very short shelf life before the public at large cries, enough!

Moreover, the Democrats have chosen as their candidate a man whose chief claim to the White House was won upon the coat tails of Barack Obama. Joe Biden was never a politician known for his deftness, and he now seems decrepit in comparison to his glory days in the ‘90’s. His running mate is a woman who is clearly an authority junkie, given to her own fits of political hyperbole. When they win and enact their leftist policies, whether it be packing the Supreme Court or implementing the quixotic Green New Deal, there will be consequences.

The left is lampooning Trump for holding rallies while numbers of new COVID cases are spiking around the world. This is a valid criticism. Yet, as I type this, the Women’s March is holding a national protest in Washington D.C. This protest is populated mostly by the blue state, pro-lockdown crowd. The CDC is advising people to reconsider Thanksgiving holiday dinner with family, but they are happy to go out and flaunt CDC guidelines when it suits their purposes.

Whatever happens in November, neither candidate has won my vote. Both men are singularly unfit for office. I miss the GOP, but I plan to remain an Independent voter for the foreseeable future.

To any of my former students, have you guys figured it out yet? Have you learned the lessons that the GOP forgot on election night, 2016, and the Democrats forgot after Memorial Day Weekend, 2020? Have you realized that the Bad Choice Road really exists and it only gets harder and harder to steer away from the further along you travel upon it?

If you’re reading this, I will try to impart one final lesson as a nod to the ghost of Ryan O, teacher. At some point in your life, you will face a test. Someone (likely someone you know, love and respect), will ask something of you that you know is wrong. They will have seemingly good and sound reasons for asking you to do, think or speak something that you know in your heart and mind not to be true. At that moment, the courage of your convictions will be tested. You will be standing at a fork in the road of life. One path leads to a road shrouded by the mists of uncertainty, unpopularity and disenfranchisement. The other leads to the bad choice road.

Both political parties have stood at this fork in the past four years and both have taken the wrong path. But then, who am I to judge? I have faced this test more than once and I too have failed.

Take heart, former students. When your time comes, rejoice in the knowledge that you were warned beforehand.

Ben Sasse for Senate!!!

Don Bacon for Congress!!!

Jean Stothert for Mayor!!!

Optimus Prime for President!!!

Ballad of a Modern Day Gunfighter

“Ya make me pull, I’ll put ya down.”

That is the rattlesnake whir of U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), protagonist of the underappreciated FX series, Justified. Givens is a laconic lawman with a slow tongue and a lightning-fast draw. He is the stereotypical western cowboy living in the modern world. Yet, his black-and-white moral code is thrown off kilter when he comes up against a world of criminals who dwell in the gray areas of life; criminals including his childhood friend, his ex-lover and even his own father.

Such is the premise for Justified, a show based on two novels written by iconic crime author Elmore Leonard. The series pilot, “Fire in the Hole,” is based upon a subsequent short story written by Leonard. The pilot is very faithful to the source material, but for one important detail. In the story, Raylan kills the bad guy at the climax of the story. In the TV series, said bad guy lives and ultimately becomes Raylan’s most prominent adversary.

In the opening scene of the premier, Raylan’s desire for justice (or is it vengeance) propels him into a rooftop confrontation in Miami with a very bad man. Raylan prevails, of course, but his renegade actions force his superiors to transfer him to his home state of Kentucky. This is a true punishment for Raylan, as he makes it clear that he has no desire to go home. Yet, home he goes, and soon runs up against a white supremacist who, in Raylan’s own words, “Loves to rob banks and blow shit up.” The wrinkle comes when we learn that said bank robber is Raylan’s childhood friend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins.) They weren’t close when they dug coal together in the mines of Harlan, but as both men note at various times throughout the six-year run of the series, mining coal together forges a bond that can never be entirely broken.

The hook that brings the viewer along for the ride of Justified is that, once he is sent home, things become personal for Raylan. His repeated confrontations with Boyd Crowder are personal. His meeting with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Boyd’s sister-in-law, becomes personal. From the time of the pilot, everything in Raylan’s world becomes personal, particularly when he attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife, and is forced into an unhappy reunion with his wayward father.

Every colorful criminal Raylan meets throughout the course of the show gets under Raylan’s skin. He hates the bad guys because he grew up around criminals and knows how poisonous they are, particularly in an impoverished community such as his home town of Harlan. This is why he refuses to change his occupation or his behavior, even after he faces the consequences of his actions in Miami. In Raylan’s world, every criminal has a simple choice. “Ya make me pull, I’ll put ya down.” Raylan can easily put head to pillow each night, knowing that the world is better off with one less bad guy to further blight the already bleak landscape of Harlan.

Raylan’s outer trappings harken back to the age of John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Unlike the square-jawed cowboys from the golden age of cinema, Raylan is far from perfect. He is not an anti-hero, though some of his choices throughout the series stray into anti-heroism. He has a temper. He has difficulty maintaining personal relationships. Sometimes, he has a blind spot to the character flaws of those closest to him. Yet, in other circumstances, he is too cynical to allow for the possibility of change for the better in people. He is quick to warn criminals of dire consequences for their actions, yet he is too slow to realize that his own actions also garner consequences. In many ways, he is the typical protagonist of the 21st century. As the series progresses, Raylan is forced to develop a stronger sense of self-awareness when he faces the prospect of fatherhood. Raylan ultimately must choose between the voice of his wicked father, or his gentler mother when he too becomes a parent.

Raylan’s nemesis, Boyd Crowder, serves as the opposite side of the same coin. He too grew up exposed to a criminal element, but his personality forces him down a different, more circuitous path. During the show’s six seasons, Boyd undergoes several transformations, changing from a white supremacist to a religious zealot to a lost soul, before he finally embraces his father’s legacy; that of his rightful place as the criminal kingpin of Harlan. Raylan proves to be an inflexible man who is mostly incapable of change, while Boyd seems to be in a constant state of flux as he struggles to come to terms with his true nature. The scenes that Olyphant and Goggins share together are the show’s best and it quickly becomes evident that each man is the dark alter ego of the other.

Justified is not a flawless series. Very few shows can achieve what Breaking Bad did in its near-perfect execution. One of the problems of the show is how it treats its female characters. In a crime saga like Justified in which the two main characters are male, the primary purpose of the female characters seem only to be to drive the storylines of the men.

Ava Crowder is the best example. When we first meet Ava, Raylan visits her shortly after she kills her abusive husband at the dinner table. Boyd wants revenge on Ava for her husband’s murder, since he was Boyd’s brother. This conflict serves as the climax of the pilot. Once the story is resolved, Ava remains as a presence in Raylan’s life. At first, they become lovers, which proves detrimental to Raylan’s career. Later, after Raylan becomes re-involved with his ex-wife, Ava switches sides and becomes involved with Boyd. Her allegiance to Boyd serves as a centerpiece for the remainder of the series, particularly in the show’s final season, but it never feels entirely authentic. It’s as if the writers loved Joelle Carter’s work and didn’t want to lose her, so they contrived a plot twist in which Ava becomes romantically involved with Boyd as a means of continuing her presence. Ava is a strong woman (all women on Justified are strong), but that doesn’t mean that all of their choices are intelligent, or that the writers do a good job of illustrating Ava’s reasoning in an organic fashion. This defect becomes particularly stark in the show’s fifth season, in which Ava is given a jailhouse storyline that separates her from Boyd for the duration.

Raylan’s afore-mentioned ex-wife Winona is another example. From the moment we first see Winona (Natalie Zea), it is clear that Raylan is still in love with her. Winona is more of an intermittent presence throughout the series than is Ava. She and Raylan seem to be locked in a dance wherein neither can decide if they want to truly commit to the other. Their rapport is interesting early on, but becomes tiresome as the series progresses.

Another female character that is criminally underused is U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel.) She is an African-American law enforcement officer in the Deep South. One would think that, over the course of 78 episodes, the writers could give Rachel at least one substantial plot. The most we get is a stand-alone episode in the show’s second season in which we learn a little about Rachel’s family. Aside from that, Rachel usually just serves as back-up for Raylan. The same is true for Raylan’s other Marshal sidekick, Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts), who served as an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan.

The character of Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), Raylan’s boss in the Lexington office, is far better served. Raylan’s father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) is a hardened criminal and the two men have no love for one another. As Raylan and Art continue to work together, Art takes on the role of Raylan’s surrogate father. This often serves as a burden to Art, who is usually exasperated by Raylan’s off-book methods, even though they yield results.

In the first two seasons, Justified suffers from a mild identity crisis. It can’t quite decide if it wants to be a series of stand-alone procedural stories ala Law & Order, or more serialized ala Breaking Bad. It finally settles on the latter by the third season and is better for it. The best of the stand-alones is the fourth episode, “Long in the Tooth,” in which Raylan chases a former mafia bookkeeper masquerading as a dentist into the desert.

The plotting of Justified is uneven and overly convoluted at times. In true Elmore Leonard fashion, there are periods in which viewers will find themselves watching three or four separate groups of characters, all working across purposes. I mean… I was able to keep up with the dense plotting of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, for God sake, and there are still times when I will finish an episode of Justified and ask, what the hell was that all about? This flaw is particularly evident in the show’s third and fourth seasons. In times like this, it is best for the viewer with a mid-range I.Q. simply to sit back and enjoy the eccentric characters and colorful dialogue for which the late Mr. Leonard was so notable.

This leads me to the biggest strength of Justified; the colorful cast of villains and supporting players that litter the barren landscape of Harlan, Kentucky. Elmore Leonard was always known as a master of dialogue and nuanced characters. The fact that showrunner Graham Yost worked closely with Leonard until Leonard’s death before the show’s fifth season is reflected in every scene of Justified. The accents range from perfect to passable, the dialogue is laced with wit and humor and the characters feel real.

Yeah… The characters. It may be true that Justified adheres to the ‘baddy of the season’ formula, but what baddies they are! Wynn Duffy (Gere Burns), mercurial mid-level hit man for an organization known as the Dixie Mafia. Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), one of Boyd’s henchmen with a Nazi tattoo on his neck and nothing in his head. Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), psychotic Detroit mobster in a business suit with more up his sleeve than a scheme to conquer Kentucky. Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), an African-American crime boss with murky motives. Avery Markham (Sam Elliott), a pothead kingpin who seems to growl more than he talks.

No review of Justified would be adequate without a prolonged and respectful nod to Mags Bennett and her boys. They emerge as the chief villains of the show’s second season and, in hindsight, they are the best. Mags (Margo Martindale) is the ruthless matriarch of a crime family who deals in pot and homemade moonshine. She shows no mercy to those who seek to undercut or betray her. When Raylan is forcibly returned to Kentucky, he finds himself smack in the middle of a decades-old feud between the Givens’ and Bennett clans. Raylan holds particular animus for Mags’ son Dickie (Jeremy Davies.) Dickie is crippled as a result of a childhood fight with Raylan. In typical Justified fashion, Dickie is the dumbest of Mags’ three sons, though he believes himself to be the smartest. Of course, this only serves to make him the most dangerous.

The current conflict, which centers on a teenage orphaned girl named Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), serves as the show’s best season finale. It also illustrates why Martindale was one of only two actors to win an Emmy; Davies being the other.

Sidebar: I was so impressed with the character of Mags that I named my beloved cat after her.

… And I haven’t even addressed the rich cast of supporting characters who aren’t criminals. If you want to meet Judge Mike ‘The Hammer’ Reardon, Constable Bob, Ellen May, Pastor Billy and Raylan’s Aunt Helen, watch the show!

Justified does have an occasional misfire with respect to casting and characters. In the show’s fifth season, generally agreed upon by fans and critics alike as its worst, the producers made the unfortunate choice to cast New York native Michael Rapaport as Darryl Crowe, Jr. The only thing worse than the meandering, tangled plot of the fifth season is Rapaport’s glaringly hideous southern accent. Some fans lament that Yost and company chose to pull the plug after the show’s sixth season, despite pleas from FX president John Landgraf for more. Yet, when I try to rewatch the fifth season, it becomes sadly evident that Justified probably ran one season too long.

It is also worth noting that Timothy Olyphant came to Justified several years after his starring role on another celebrated postmodern western series, HBO’s Deadwood. Olyphant was tailor made for western roles, and fans of both series always wondered who might be next to transfer from the Old West of Deadwood to the Modern West of Harlan. As it turned out, Deadwood regulars W. Earl Brown, Jim Beaver, Garret Dillahunt, Sean Bridgers, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Brent Sexton, Gerald McRaney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ray McKinnon and Peter Jason all had either single-shot or multi-shot guest stints on Justified. Fans were hoping that Ian McShane might make an appearance, given his electric on-screen chemistry with Olyphant, but it never materialized.

Sidebar: If you want to learn more about Deadwood, I wrote an extensive review of it elsewhere in these hallowed pages. Also, Walton Goggins costarred on another FX masterpiece, The Shield, which I hope to review in the future. Sadly, none of his costars appeared on Justified, mainly because they were all being used over on the inferior Sons of Anarchy.

Compared to its contemporaries such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones, Justified was underrated. As is usually the case with shows of this kind, it had a loyal but small fan base and was adored by critics. Yet, it never really caught on as cubical conversation. Luckily, it is available for streaming and on home media. If you’re stuck with no place to go in the midst of the pandemic and need something new to binge, and if you like noir crime dramas with a western flavor, try Justified.

As for the source material furnished by the late Elmore Leonard, I always found him to be an acquired taste; a taste that I never really warmed to. Still, his body of work is undeniable and he did have a flair for quirky characters and off beat dialogue. Leonard did claim that Justified was one of his favorite screen adaptations. This is high praise indeed from an author. God bless him and those who made Justified a reality for six years.

“It was already in the glass… Not in the jar.”
Mags Bennett

“Next one’s comin’ faster.”
Raylan Givens

“Raylan, the whole world’s a tree. I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut.”
Boyd Crowder

“I been married for 28 years. I don’t get the pole out as much as I used to.”
Art Mullen

Statement of Principles

After a long, hot week in which things only seem to be getting worse on the dual fronts of the Coronavirus and public discourse, I felt it was time to post the following article from the editors at Commentary Magazine.

I post this after the owner of a local café here in Omaha was forced to shut down due to harassment after racist Facebook posts from the son of the business owner came to light. This after the business stood in good stead with the community for 44 years and had already taken a financial loss from the ravages of COVID-19. While there can be no justification for racist posts from anyone of any age, the mob tactics used to bludgeon this business owner into submission are unacceptable.

This, along with the national trend of the toppling of public statues at the hands of the mob without any preceding public discussion is deeply troubling to me.

With that statement, here is the editorial. Their principles are my principles.

We Must Stop the Great Unraveling
Editors’ Commentary
by
The Editors

Across the United States, a great unraveling is in progress. A rolling crime wave, under the guise of social activism, has left city after American city
shattered and smoldering. Armed anarchists seized territory inside Seattle with the blessing of local government. In Minneapolis and other cities, a campaign
to enfeeble or eliminate the police has gained full legitimacy. In Kentucky, the governor has vowed to provide free health care only to one racial group.
In the private sector, companies such as Uber Eats have pledged their commitment to a policy of race-conscious discrimination as well. And major media
organs sanction all of the above as proper and good.

The unraveling goes further still. Social-justice mobs have taken aim at freedom of expression, inventing new heresies daily and ruining the lives of those
who unwittingly give voice to them. Forced confessions and language proscriptions are the order of the day. Poetry, fiction, movies, and television shows—including
children’s cartoons—are canceled and excised from history. Indeed, all art and opinion are now subject to the chopping block lest they prove insufficiently
propagandistic.

To rewrite the present, the mob has rewritten the past. They have forced upon us a distorted and grotesque version of American history. With the support
of corporations and education boards, school textbooks and curricula tell of an unredeemable America founded not on the promise of human liberty but human
bondage. What’s more, this history discounts the transformative progress on racial equality for which Americans—black and white—have given their lives.

Listen and Subscribe to the Commentary Podcast
—–

Through the violent politicization of all aspects of American life, the mob aims to destroy the country as we know it and replace it with a new one—an
anti-America that trades speech for violence, police for thought police, a free press for an indoctrination network, and the respect due the citizen for
the obeisance owed the mob.

There is one way to stop the unraveling: Refuse the mob. We have seen again and again that the mob comes only for those who hope to please it. And when
it does, no amount of apology will save you. We stand against the mob and all its aims. We stand against the chaos and violence, the silencing of debate,
the purging of heretics, the rewriting of history, and the destruction of the greatest country in the world. We will defend the most majestic achievement
of humankind, the United States of America, against the most ignoble impulse in human history, to tear down that which is good.

What we stand for:

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• A plurality of opinion in the public square. We affirm that the right to voice a minority opinion is equal in every respect to the right to voice a majority
opinion. We therefore reject the public policing of opinion in all its forms.
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• A full airing of available facts and data on all topics. We welcome any impartial findings that may serve to advance discussion. No objective facts are
beyond the bounds of deliberation and debate.
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• A rejection of cancel culture and all it entails. We renounce enemies lists, online/media mobs, and professional scalp hunts.
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• Clear bright lines between speech and violence. We affirm that speech, spoken or written, and no matter how egregious, is not equivalent in any way to
violence. Similarly, physical violence is not a mode of speech.
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• An absolute rejection of political violence. We affirm that lawless violence, even in the service of a just cause, is wrong—no exceptions or excuses.
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We hope you will join us.
The Editors

Demented Games in the Hall of Mirrors

“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”
Raymond Chandler

We live in a very reactionary time. We now live in an age when the simple click of a mouse or a few keystrokes can render us any sort of truth we want to hear, regardless of its factual basis.

Donald Trump is a very reactionary individual. He is probably the most reactionary president I’ve seen in my lifetime. In the spirit of his unscrupulous, performative nature, I’m tempted to say that he is the most reactionary president ever in the whole history of the United States. But I wasn’t alive during the reign of Andrew Jackson or Woodrow Wilson, so I wouldn’t really know.

Yet, the presidency of Donald Trump was itself a reaction. This truth crystallized for me a few days ago when I read Jonah Goldberg’s weekly column in the L.A. Times, in which he makes a compelling case that Mitt Romney is owed an apology; an apology that he’ll never get. Romney played nice during both of his bids for the White House in 2008 and 2012. He ran an honest campaign, selected Paul Ryan (another decent man) as his running mate and never really hit Obama below the belt as many felt he should.

Sidebar: When I say, “Below the belt,” I’m talking about Obama’s birth certificate.

Still, despite his above board, straight-laced strategy, Romney was savaged by the press and his opponents as if he were the anti-Christ. He lost both contests. Now, he stands in unapologetic opposition to Trump when he feels it is necessary and the left speaks well of him, as if their below-the-belt jabs never happened.

Come to think of it, the left sure did love John McCain, as long as he was sticking it to a Republican. They championed him during his 2000 presidential run. They beat the hell out of him as he was daring to run against the first African-American candidate eighty years later. The pendulum swung back once again when he torpedoed GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare. And they certainly loved him after he died. Those on the right felt that McCain was a traitor who never fought as hard as he should have. And the same is true for George W. Bush, really. He endured eight years of savagery and remained a class act through the entirety of his two terms, much to the consternation of many on his right flank.

Sidebar: I voted for Mitt Romney both times he ran and never regretted that choice. John McCain wasn’t my first or second choice. But I never doubted his character.

One president and two failed presidential candidates, and our answer to, “We need a fighter,” is Donald freakin’ Trump!? Four years ago, I argued that this was like using a nuclear bomb to stop a Sherman tank. No, I don’t believe that Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie or even Carly Fiorina would have been capable of stopping Hillary Clinton. My guy was Marco Rubio. Still… Donald Trump!?

He was and is a reactionary and a reaction. He was a sad, self-fulfilling prophecy that came true for the GOP. Republicans were often spuriously accused of racism, sexism, classism and a host of other isms, but we chose a man who largely made the charges come true. The meek, tepid responses and the passive non-responses of the congressional figures who might have stood up to him served as a sad counterpoint to the enthusiastic leg-humping of his fan base, who contorted themselves into all sorts of ridiculous postures and positions in order to justify the putrid things he would say and tweet at a whim. Those that dared to publicly stand up to Trump, men like James Mattis and Mark Milley, men who have served their country honorably, have been minimized, marginalized and ridiculed. It has been heartbreaking to me to watch people whom I know to be intelligent and of decent character engage in this demented game of Twister that our president would have them play.

In playing this demented game, the right has painted itself into a neat and tidy corner. Now, when we are accused of racism, misogyny, nativism, etc,, we can offer the standard retort, “No we’re not!” All our opponents have to do is answer, “Trump was your standard bearer.”

If all two of you who read this blog are leftists, you have to be nodding your heads with glee. This is understandable. It feels like you’re winning right now. Joe Biden is an unlikely hero, but he’s polling ahead across the board. Maybe the bulk of America has Trump fatigue. Yet, most of you are so blindly partisan that you don’t realize that you are painting yourselves into the same sort of corner in which Republicans are imprisoned.

I’m not talking about the encroachment of the lumbering juggernaut of socialism. The current racial unrest is a much better example.

Three months ago, America was stricken by the same pandemic that had spread across the rest of the world. We were forced to largely shut down, stay home and dawn masks and gloves if we went out. People home schooled their kids, swarmed grocery stores in a panic and watched, mouths agape as the economy tanked. The months passed, the weather warmed up and new battlegrounds began to emerge over masks, governmental health restrictions and miracle cures.

Then, on Memorial Day, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis cop, and all bets were off.

My favorite contortion of logic came from public epidemiologists who claimed that racism was a worse disease than the Coronavirus. Protests and civil disobedience were the best antidote for this metaphoric illness that has plagued our nation for centuries; a so-called cure that directly contradicts all of the guidelines and recommendations that have poured forth from medical experts since the genesis of the COVID-19 crisis.

It will take a couple more weeks before we begin to understand the consequences of two weeks of perpetual mass public gatherings, but no matter how it turns out, the pro-lockdown crowd, which is largely comprised of those who stand in deference to governmental authority, will lose the argument. If we see a spike in infections, it may very well result in the strain on our medical infrastructure that the forecasters of doom such as Scott Gottlieb have been warning about for months. That will only serve to further damage our economy, which is now officially in a recession. If we don’t see a noticeable uptick in numbers, the anti-lockdown crowd, which is largely comprised of those who stand in skepticism of governmental authority (except for the authority of Trump, of course), will claim victory in the face of a bunch of alarmist pansies who can’t wait to bend over for their tyrannical overlords. And they may very well adopt this view, even if the second wave of mass infections doesn’t come until autumn or winter. And they will most certainly be spearheaded by the president of the U.S.

Sure, the left can argue that many of your Ted Nugent types would flaunt health restrictions regardless of the consequences, but it doesn’t matter. Like the GOP of four years ago, progressives have all collectively peed their credibility into a hot, steaming trough of reflexive political opportunism.

The same thing goes for looting. Once considered to be a universal act of lawlessness that should be condemned by all, it is now romanticized by a bunch of white progressives who want to justify and apologize for acts of theft and destruction, as long as it doesn’t intrude upon their own personal domain. During the first week of turbulence, social media was rife with images of business owners who stood aghast as their buildings were looted and vandalized by thugs against whom they incorrectly assumed their sympathetic political viewpoints inoculated them. When peaceful protests mushroom into riots, the apologists doubled down, refusing to draw a reasonable distinction between lawful protests born of the First Amendment and criminal mob violence. Pseudo intellectuals, advocacy journalists and keyboard warriors made spurious comparisons of criminal rioting to the Boston Tea Party, wrote up sad, guilt-drenched think pieces about suburban white women who have to persuade themselves not to feel bad for a Walgreen’s that got trashed, and downplayed the existence of anarchists and other criminals who use events just like these for personal gain.

Then came the slogans; pop a top on a cold can of sophomoric simplicity and chug it down. President Trump’s favorite was and is, “Make America great again.” The left loves its slogans, too. Nothing as innocuous as, “Yes we can!” Their current favorite is, “Abolish the police.” But wait… It’s not really, “Abolish!” It’s, “Defund.” Or is it, “Disband?” When challenged on the finer points of a future without police, the left engages in a constant campaign of redefinition and redirection. Black Lives Matter, the ACLU and many other radical left organizations quickly adopted the posture of stripping down local police departments for parts without really taking the time to understand the long term consequences of what they are proposing. Corporations, non-profits and community organizations hopped on the band wagon in quixotic fashion, never bothering to dig into what these activists are actually conveying in their messaging.

13 days after George Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis City Council adopted a statement proposing a police-free city. When questioned about the finer points by CNN, the president of the council retreated to the banal progressive talking point of so-called, “White privilege.”

Joe Biden and even Bernie Sanders have publicly opposed the idea of defunding the cops, but the notion rolls on like a bowling ball down an escalator, pushed and kicked by reactionary leftists who rejoice in this sudden shift in momentum. It is the exact same procession that hopped aboard the Trump train; different faces and voices, but the same impulsive lockstep.

Meanwhile, 1203 miles East of Minneapolis, the editorial board of the New York Times dared to publish an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton (Republican) defending the notion of using the military to back up the local police in riot-ravaged areas. He wrote it in the wake of a tweet from Trump, who threatened to sick the military on states if governors couldn’t or wouldn’t get a handle on the violence. Half the staff of the NYT engaged in open revolt, claiming that such a piece makes African-Americans feel, “Unsafe.” Several days later, the junior editor was sent to the professional guillotine and the new editor immediately implemented a, “If you feel something, say something,” edict. Journalists such as Bari Weiss who objected to the suppression of varied viewpoints and express concern over the state of journalism, were roundly minimized, marginalized and ridiculed.

Naturally, the hurtling bowling ball of reactionism doesn’t stop at the political gates. HBO pulled Gone With the Wind from its Max platform in the name of racial sensitivity. Discussions now rage about the scrubbing of cops from television and literary crime fiction as sources of positive characterization. Supposed reality-based cop shows have been quickly pulled from TV line-ups. On social media, classic terms such as, “Racism,” and, “Prejudice,” are now being replaced with harsher terms like, “Anti-black.” More statues symbolizing the Confederacy have come toppling down at the hands of the mob. NASCAR just banned the Confederate flag from all events.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Confederate symbols disappearing from the public, but the kneejerk nature of all of this at the hands of rioters, weak-spirited politicians and timid corporate executives has an unpalatable Orwellian feel to me. It reminds me of Trump’s promise, “We’re gonna win so much, you’ll be sick of winning.”

I don’t even wanna talk about Drew Brees. I guess he’s been scolded by his wife, now.

If the Republicans are playing a sad game of demented Twister, the Democrats and progressives are playing a dangerous game of demented Jenga. They have no idea what they are building. They have no idea what it is supposed to look like. But they seem to be completely unaware or apathetic to the fact that, if they pull the wrong piece out of place, the whole cockeyed structure of half-truths and slogans comes crashing down. When it does, don’t call 911 and expect a cop to show up to help you pick up the pieces.

Where does this all end? Hell, I have no idea. My crystal ball broke after the 2016 election. I was sure Joe Biden wouldn’t make it this far. Now, I’m not certain he won’t win the Oval Office, no matter who he chooses in his grand game of Veepstakes. I would like to think that the white middle class will eventually grow fatigued with the ‘blame and shame’ strategy that is currently proving to be so effective.

History indicates that political victors often overreach. If the right overreached with the selection and election of Donald Trump, the left may overreach when and if this socio-political fad lasts beyond the next few news cycles. But what damage will be done in the meantime? Sooner or later, political theories either remain in an ethereal, idyllic void of ideology that result in little more than dinner conversation, or graduate down to the sausage factory of fermented public policy. If the latter occurs, we may yet get to watch a great and terrible experiment of a city with a diminished or non-existent police force.

It already appears to be happening in Seattle. I’d like to sit back, grab a bag of Peanut Butter M N M’s and laugh, but Katy is over there. What if she gets hurt?

Or maybe it will be worse and history will repeat itself. Maybe a few cops will have to be killed in the name of social justice before the brakes are applied. The BLM movement was gaining traction after Ferguson and Baltimore until several cops were hunted down and executed in the name of occupational retribution. Or it might be something altogether less injurious. The Women’s March was all the rage three years ago until a series of articles exposed strains of antisemitism within its leadership and many public and private entities who expressed their support at the beginning quickly distanced themselves. After BLM and the ACLU spend some time in the public limelight, the honeymoon phase with the mainstream left may end and they will be scrutinized. Like Donald Trump, they will feel powerful and will be disinclined to hide who they really are. At that point, the public at large can take a breath in the cool of post-emotional rationality and judge for themselves.

Honestly, I think most leftists know full well that no modern society can exist without a peacekeeping force to protect it. They know that every bit as much as most Trump supporters always knew that we would never be able to force Mexico to pay for our great big border wall. But in the heat of battle and with the glow of victory just over the horizon, who really cares about the long term? This is the here and now!

Or maybe we’ll all be victims of COVID-19. A month from now, social and mainstream media outlets may be off the racial justice trend and back to the battle of masks and social distancing. Whatever happens, I hope all of you are comfortable in your respective corners. You may be contented in your echo chambers, but eventually, you will discover that you’re really living in a funhouse hall of mirrors.

There are days when I truly envy you. I wish to hell I could be a full-throated Trump supporter. I wish I could stand up in a heady crowd and scream, “Black Lives Matter,” without thinking about the deeper implications. It’s just too hard when you live in the immense, foggy expanse of gray between those two bipolar and binary safe zones. So this is me, waving to the very few of you (left, right or center), who have the self-awareness to be in this terribly lonely place with me.

Hi there. I am Ryan O, the blind guy. I am a conservative who believes that we should open up our economy again while practicing medical safety measures out of concern for others. I am a conservative who believes that peaceful protests are the hallmark of a democracy, while mob violence is antithetical to it. I am a conservative who believes that the police and the African-American community need each other. I am a conservative who believes that you can respect the American flag while simultaneously condemning racism and police brutality. I am a conservative who believes that a president leads by example through good character. I am a conservative who believes that words carry meaning and consequence; words like, “Believe all women,” “Defund the police,” and “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” I am a conservative who believes that I have miles to go before I sleep.

“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be built.”
Immanuel Kant

Addendum: Apparently, the removal of Gone With the Wind from the HBO Max platform is not permanent. Several African-American actors are going to record an introduction giving it historical context. This is cool.

The Corona Diaries: Week 10

In the Spring of 2014, I sent a mass Email to some close friends and several family members. I can’t locate it now, but the gist was:

“Hi, folks. Money is a little tight right now, so if you try to call or text me over the next few weeks and I don’t respond, don’t be concerned. I am starting a new job after Memorial Day and will be able to catch up on my bills at that time. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.”

Later that day, several close friends informed me that they were helping me with my phone, electric and internet bills. Furthermore, they informed me that it was a gift, not a loan. One of those friends was my oldest buddy, Wes.

Two years later in August of 2016, Wes was visiting me for a much-needed vacation. Four months earlier, he had been struck by a car while crossing a street in Lincoln. The encounter messed up his knee and didn’t do his emotions much good either. He had received a surgery and physical therapy, but his knee was still giving him trouble. He just wanted to get away from work for a long weekend and Denver was always his favorite vacation spot.

One night, we came home from a baseball game between the Rockies and the Cubs. We walked in and Wes casually said, “Hey man, better take a look at your desk.”

On it was a brand new computer. A brailled card was taped to the top of it which said:

“Merry Christmas from Katy, Marty, Marshal Dillon, Alicia and Wesman. May this serve you well.”

I had been without a working computer for over a year. It was the perfect gift at the perfect time.

Week 10: Who Was That Masked Man?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

At 12:57 PM, Jane texts me with her usual one-word summons, “Here.” I grab the backpack by the door and head down. Jane is talking to her nephew on her phone as I slide deftly into her front seat. It’s a little easier to wiggle and wriggle now that I’ve dropped some quarantine weight.

Jane pulls out of my parking lot and we head off as I press “start” on Google Maps. I fight the urge to grab a pre-wedding beer for the road, deciding to wait for Kelly before I imbibe.

45 minutes later, we’re wandering around in Lincoln in Kelly’s neighborhood trying to locate her home. I guess we may as well have started drinking early. I call her and Jane finally finds it. Kelly slides in and I hand her my back-up folding cane from my bag. Kelly is dogless since Jane is not a fan of animals. Somehow, Kelly’s cane got snapped in half, but I don’t ask her to share the story of how it happened. I secretly wonder if she whacked her neighbor a time or two with it, but I’m too tactful to ask.

We head South on 33rd, then hang a right on A. Street. I pull up the YouTube feed of Wes’s wedding as Jane drives. Unfortunately, I am not able to chorale my inner audio snob. My first thought is, damn, that audio hum is annoying. My second thought is, ‘tsk, tsk.’ The holy man is a little hot on the mic. We listen up just in time to hear the pastor say, “I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Wes and Allison …” Then, Clint Black comes on with his folksy instruction that, “Love isn’t something that we have. It’s something that we do.” Weird, I think. Shane and Amy used that same song 20 years ago next month.

We pull into the parking lot. Jane informs me that there are few cars around, so we locate a parking space. Then, I grab a cold can of Coors and pass a Mike’s Hard Lemonade to Jane and Kelly. We roll down the windows, feel the cool breeze and sip alcohol. It finally feels like a Memorial Day weekend. All I need is a cigar.

We sit and soak up the sun. Jane and Kelly sip their froufrou drinks in a very ladylike fashion. I chug my beer like a middle-aged bachelor. Time passes. The sun shines and the breeze wafts through the car. More people arrive. I say hi to Wes’s mother. I can’t believe I recognize her voice. I call Shane and ask, “Where are ya?” He says, “We’re right down the street gathering at an elementary school.” I tell him that we’ll probably be gone by the time he gets there. Later, I learn that a group of them drove by the newlyweds in a pick-up and said hi from the back. A COVID wedding greeting, redneck style.

Then Jane says, “There they are. Wow! Her dress is beautiful.” She starts her engine and pulls up to the happy couple.

I honestly remember very little about the conversation. I only had half a beer in my blood, so I can’t blame the buzz. It was all very brief and perfunctory. Both the bride and groom wore masks. We did not. I remember asking Wes how he felt and he said something like, “Pretty good.” I think it lasted all of two minutes. Then we pull forward, we each get a cupcake as our reward and we’re off. I eat the cupcake hanging out the window so as not to drop crumbs on Jane’s car seat. It is chocolate with white frosting. I play a secret game in my mind in which I name the cupcake Kelly, then lasciviously lick the frosting.

We pull around to another parking lot for a while, wondering if anyone might come over to socialize. No one ever does. Finally, Kelly says, “I’m hungry. Let’s go get Runza.” I love a woman that takes charge.

At this point, I have to blame the beer buzz for interfering with the structured discovery function of my brain. If I were sober, we probably would have located the Runza at 39th and Randolph in a matter of mere minutes. As it is, we spend the better part of 40 minutes searching for it. It boils down to the fact that we don’t know whether we’re going North or South on 40th Street. The heady combination of beer and cupcake buzz causes me not to ask the very obvious question, where is the sun located right now.

Eventually, we locate a convenience store, we all eject some processed beer and Kelly says, “Let’s ask the guy behind the counter where Randolph is.”

The clerk starts to explain where we need to go and I blurt out, “That’s not a guy.” Kelly is mortified. Welcome to the 21st century.

Honestly, it seems funnier to experience it than it does to write about it.

At long last, we locate Runza and sit outside alone at a big concrete table. Kelly shares her fries with me, so I guess she didn’t stay miffed. I get an order to go. I can’t help but feel that this drive-through wedding reception and the search for the drive-up Runza serve as some great metaphor for our current pandemic plight, but I don’t have the wherewithal to process a philosophical corollary.

Later, we drop Kelly back at home and make the long trek back to Omaha. I drink the last Mike’s Hard I brought for Kelly because she doesn’t want it. The comedown makes me realize that I no longer like sugary alcoholic beverages. They give me a headache. Jane talks about her marriage, which gives her a headache, so we’re both in the same condition when she drops me at my apartment.

I come home to a heat wave rolling out of my front door. Alexa informs me that the inside temperature is 85 degrees. I turn on the AC, slump into my recliner and ponder the enormity of the fact that Wes, the oldest friend I have, is now married. This was the inquisitive kid I met in 1987 at blind camp. He was the little guy who had no end of questions about everything from the inner workings of an APH tape cassette player to the name of the actor who played Charlie Moore on Head of the Class. Now, it’s his wedding day and the real questions are only beginning for him.

Some might wonder why I disrupted Jane’s Saturday afternoon to take a trip to Lincoln so that we could talk to a bride and groom for two minutes through a car window. My answer is simple. Wes is my friend. If our positions were reversed, I would feel honored and humbled if my friends made the effort to come support me during such a momentous occasion. Of course, our original plans were quite different. The wedding was supposed to be an in-person affair and I was going to make a three-day weekend out of it. Kelly was going to be my actual date and the gender of a convenience store clerk never would have entered into the equation. But then, a bunch of unfettered germs spoiled everything. What if Trump is right? If not for China, I would’ve thrown Wes one hell of a bachelor party. As a protest, I’ll never eat Crab Rangoon again. I think The Donald would approve.

As I drift off for a nap, the thought occurs that, when my wedding night finally arrives, I hope I won’t be too drunk to discern North from South.

Sunday, May 24

SHOCKER!!! Joe recorded the audio feed of Wes’s wedding. I give it a listen as I wait for my Chipotle order to be delivered. The pastor opens the ceremony by saying, “She looks beautiful, Wes.” I’m sure every sighted person who heard that gushed like a Saudi Arabian oil well. Every blind person who heard it probably silently said, “Ahh, for Christ sake.” I catch myself thinking that, if it were my wedding and my official said something like that, despite the solemnity of the occasion, I’d be thinking, she’s gonna look even more beautiful out of that dress, preacher man!

Later on, the pastor says, “I’m smilin’ beneath my mask.” I try to figure out at what point in history in western civilization one might hear a line like that at a wedding. I can’t help it. I giggle like a Cheeto-snarfing pothead. Maybe it’s a good thing I wasn’t there after all.

Lunch arrives and it is indeed okie dokie.

Monday, May 25

Happy Memorial Day.

1,636,222 confirmed cases in the United States. 97,276 deaths.

PS: In case you’re wondering, Marshal Dillon was really my other best friend, Joe. That used to be one of his nicknames before Miss Kitty made him hang up his guns. God bless married life.

Schadenfreude

This article comes from David French at the newly-formed Dispatch. Everyone who cares about fact-driven conservative journalism should subscribe. It is so important that I am placing it here as a snapshot in time.

As Tara Reade’s Evidence Against Joe Biden Builds, All the Chickens Come Home to Roost
When everyone abandons norms, who is left to trust?

David French
Apr 28

I’m not generally a person given to schadenfreude. I try to be empathetic and sympathetic. I really do. But there are times when the consequences of terrible ideas become so plain, and the partisan boxes we build become so confining, that it’s hard not to take at least a degree of pleasure in the sudden public realization that old standards of fairness, due process, and personal character just might have some merit.
Exactly two weeks ago, I wrote a rather lengthy assessment of the Tara Reade’s case against Joe Biden and the conservative case for media hypocrisy in the coverage of Reade’s claims. My verdict was simple. Reade’s claims were shaky. The claims against key media outlets were strong. They did, in fact, apply different reporting standards to claims against Brett Kavanaugh and Biden.
Regarding the claims against Biden, here was my summary:
At the end of the day, however, we’re left with a 27-year-old claim with a single anonymous corroboration that’s inconsistent with the claimant’s own previous accounts and is (so far) unsupported by any other claim of similar behavior. I’m troubled but unconvinced. Based on the current state of the evidence, I don’t think it’s likely that Biden assaulted Reade.
Since I published the newsletter, however, the evidence against Biden has grown stronger. Last week we learned that Reade’s mother apparently called in to the Larry King show in 1993 and made the following, rather vague claim:
“Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington?” she asks. “My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
It’s not proof of sexual assault by any means, but it’s at least evidence that Reade told her mother that something untoward had happened. Then, Business Insiderupped the ante, locating two additional sources who substantiated Reade’s claims:
Now two more sources have come forward to corroborate certain details about Reade’s claims. One of them — a former neighbor of Reade’s — has told Insider for the first time, on the record, that Reade disclosed details about the alleged assault to her in the mid-1990s.
“This happened, and I know it did because I remember talking about it,” Lynda LaCasse, who lived next door to Reade in the mid-’90s, told Insider.
The other source, Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state senator in the mid-’90s, told Insider that she recalls Reade complaining at the time that her former boss in Washington, DC, had sexually harassed her, and that she had been fired after raising concerns.
The New York Times’s Michelle Goldberg summed up the effect of these new disclosures nicely:
Michelle Goldberg @michelleinbklyn
This is the most persuasive corroborating evidence that has come out so far. What a nightmare.
Rich McHugh @RichMcHugh
NEW: A former neighbor of Joe Biden’s accuser Tara Reade has come forward, on the record, to corroborate her sexual assault account, saying Reade discussed the allegations in detail in the mid-1990s. https://t.co/EyhJDd0qNJ
April 27th 2020
1,317 Retweets6,741 Likes

What a nightmare indeed, for everyone. Every single side of this story is now living with the consequences of dreadful mistakes. Joe Biden is now confronting the “believe women” movement he helped build. Key media outlets and multiple media figures are now face-to-face with their own, post-Kavanaugh double standards. And, finally, the GOP is left without an arrow in its quiver against the Democratic nominee because of its own profound moral compromise.
Let’s start with Biden’s dilemma. There’s of course the easy contrast with the statements he made during the Kavanaugh controversy, when he said a woman’s claims should begin with a presumption of truth:
“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time. But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.”
But lest you think this is a one-quote gotcha, we can’t forget that Biden was an advocate for Obama administration policies that systematically dismantled due process protections for college students accused of sexual misconduct. It’s a brutal story—one that I’ve covered time and time again.
To make a long story short, in 2011 the Obama Department of Education published a “Dear Colleague letter” that dramatically reduced due process protections for accused students at campuses from coast-to-coast. The administration mandated a low burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence), expanded the definition of sexual misconduct, and failed to preserve for the accused even the most basic right to confront their accuser with cross-examination.
The result was a legal disaster. Hundreds of accused students have sued their schools, courts all over the country have overturned sexual misconduct findings and struck down deficient campus procedures. The system was so broken in California that its progressive judiciary halted proceedings in more than 70 sexual misconduct cases to fix the broken process.
Yet as Emily Yoffe wrote last year in Politico, Biden repeatedly spoke about the campus sexual assault controversy in crude caricatures, supported the administration’s Title IX reforms, and then directly attacked proposed Trump administration reforms that restored traditional due process protections in campus adjudications, including the right of cross examination.
To put it another way, the Obama administration broke campus due process to favor sexual assault accusers, Biden championed that effort, and he opposed the restoration of the most basic due process rights. And now he’s in the crosshairs of a serious complaint.
But Biden of course isn’t the only party sleeping in the beds they made. I don’t need to belabor the stunning differences in the way the New York Times, The New Yorker, and many other outlets covered the claims against Biden compared with their coverage of claims against Brett Kavanaugh. I wrote about the double standard two weeks ago:
Writing in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow published the completely unsubstantiated claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to a woman named Deborah Ramirez. Not only did she confess to drinking heavily and to memory gaps, she said that she only came forward “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.”
Even worse, The New Yorker stated that the magazine “has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” (Emphasis added.) That’s extraordinary. The claim never should have made it to print. Not only did it reach The New Yorker’s prestigious pages, but virtually every other prestige media outlet carried the claims immediately.
But the negligence surrounding Ramirez’s claims is nothing compared to the widespread press negligence and outright recklessness in reporting Michael Avenatti client Julie Swetnick’s fantastical and grotesque claims that she saw Kavanaugh “waiting his turn” for gang rapes after facilitating them by spiking or drugging the punch at high school parties. The mainstream media reporting on the claim was immediate and prominent. On Twitter, journalist after journalist immediately credited her claims.
To be perfectly clear, the care that media outlets have taken with the Biden allegations should be the standard. When a claim is made, investigate it carefully and comprehensively before rushing it to print. And in the absence of solid evidence, claims should not generate an avalanche of “I believe women” think pieces based on unrelated experiences, teen movies (Vox actually published a piece that used the John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles to bolster the rape claim against Kavanuagh)or shaky social science (like unverifiable statistics claiming very low rates of false rape allegations).
The rush to convict Kavanaugh represented one of the most disturbing media moments of my career, and I’m hardly conservative America’s harshest media critic.
Finally, let’s talk about the GOP. What is it going to do, pray tell, with the Biden allegation besides harp on about media hypocrisy? Can it claim in any way that Reade’s allegations are material to Biden’s bid for the presidency? After all, more than a dozen women have accused Donald Trump of various forms of misconduct, there’s a tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, and his lawyer is currently sitting in prison for his participation in a criminal scheme to conceal hush money payments to a porn star.
Moreover, while the allegations against Trump vary in credibility, some are supported by considerable corroborating evidence. For example, former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos accused Trump of kissing her without consent in 2007, grabbing her breast, and thrusting his genitals up against her. She filed a defamation case against Trump after he said that he never “met her in a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago.”
She not only claims that she told “family and friends” about the incident and that she reached out to legal counsel to consider legal action as early as 2011, but discovery in the case has produced phone logs and itineraries that Zervos claims corroborate her timeline and her account of communication with Trump. And that’s but one claim.
It is so painfully obvious that each and every error outlined above would have painful consequences. No one should think that norms of due process and presumptions of innocence that have been built up over centuries of painful human experience can be cast aside by any person or political party without soon facing their own challenge in responding to presumptions of guilt and lowered burdens of proof.
Media organizations that set irresponsible precedents when confronting a conservative judicial nominee should not be surprised when critics rightly highlight the care they take in reporting on a Democratic presidential candidate.
Finally, a political party that thoroughly discards any meaningful character test for president—including by discarding any real concern as to whether its nominee has abused women—cannot then be surprised when the press and the public ultimately treat accusations against a political opponent with a yawn and a shrug. “Character for thee, but not for me” persuades no one.
And so, here we are, reminded once again that presumptions of innocence are important, careful reporting is a professional necessity, and personal integrity is of paramount importance in national leaders. Yet few of our leading national institutions are well-equipped to make that case. Is it any wonder that Americans deeply distrust virtually every significant player in the American political system?