It’s probably not the worst thing in the world that the public thinks of “the First Amendment” as a broad, society-wide protection of the speech of jerks and assholes, even though strictly speaking it is no such thing. But we need to remember this sometimes. There’s no clause of the actual First Amendment giving people the right to say crazy shit with no consequences, and there’s no clause entitling those people to a television program or radio show or speaking venue, and to actually put it that way lays bare just how ridiculous this line of argument is. But it seems like you can’t throw a rock on the internet now without running into a piece by a liberally-inclined person defending Milo Yiannopoulis’s right to give a speech on the UC Berkeley campus, and I think a point needs to be made here. Or two. First off, it’s both wrong and politically stupid for protesters to halt the speech by force. It plays into what low-rent pukes like this guy want: high-profile conflict and the frisson of danger. Be smart, people.

Second, far more stupid than that was for Berkeley staff to okay the event in the first place. Of course, universities should be presenting different points of view in bringing in speakers. On a philosophical level, I don’t really mind if schools allow conservative hacks like Jonah Goldberg to give a speech that nobody will remember in five hours. (I do mind on other levels beside the philosophical, but let’s table that.) Yiannopoulis, though, isn’t Jonah Goldberg, he’s someone who has fanned the flames of online bigotry, particularly against Jews and women, and has sent online mobs to harass people for having the temerity to think and write online. This isn’t furthering the liberal tradition via inclusivity of diverse viewpoints: it’s carrying it out on a stretcher, and it’s particularly problematic that one of our premier universities is doing it. Hell, I don’t think very many people were hurt by the laughable history of Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, probably more people laughed at it or shrugged it off. But someone who uses harassment and intimidation as a tactic in public discourse is not someone who should be invited to speak at any institution that actually holds liberal values (though Berkeley pays John Yoo, so imagining it as run by hippies is not a safe presumption). Inviting a speaker, of course, doesn’t imply an endorsement of their politics, but it does imply that they make a contribution to the discourse that is worth being heard. By implication, this means that Berkeley believes that anti-Semitism, misogyny, and authoritarianism are simply other viewpoints among many that need to be heard, a naive and offensive view that renders invisible the real people who have been intimidated and hurt by this man. This is liberalism at its suicidal worst: obsessed with being seen as honest brokers, fixated on big abstractions rather than the human scale, and reluctant to offer any sort of judgment, moral or otherwise. It’s what wrecked the mainstream media, it’s a major part of the cultural rot within the Democratic Party and IMO it’s a major part of the reason why liberalism is often viewed with mistrust. If liberal institutions are seriously this incapable of exercising basic moral judgments, then liberalism is bound to fail.

Needless to say, the Berkeley brass should have forced Yiannopoulis to rent out a Ramada Inn ballroom. Ultimately, I bet the reason they didn’t was because they wanted to seem reasonable and unbiased. God, these people. If liberals to an individual just gave up on trying to get conservatives to respect them, imagine what we could do.

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I’d like to make a note about anti-Americanism with a broader point. I’ve been to 16 countries in my life. Most Americans never visit a foreign country, and I think many of them are afraid to–they may think that foreigners just can’t wait to start lecturing Americans on all the things they’re doing wrong, and make them feel stupid. I’ve personally never encountered this. Probably the most extreme it got was when a Brazilian woman in a hotel lobby asked where I was from, and made what could be most aggressively described as a mildly sour face when I responded. This was during the interregnum after Trump’s election win but while Obama was still in office. I shrugged and that was it, and we went about our business. And this is compounded many times over by people I’ve encountered who were total Americaphiles, super-happy to see me and eager to ask learn about the US. I’m sure that a lot of foreign people I’ve encountered have issues with American foreign policy and dislike aspects of our country, but frankly I think most of them realize that when it comes to foreign policy in particular, it’s largely lobbyists and an elite bipartisan war clique that makes those decisions, and not the American people in any sort of meaningful way. They do tend to know more about American politics than we do about theirs.

This brings me to Iran. I’ve never been there, but it’s commonly stated that the average Iranian doesn’t hate America, regardless of what their state propaganda says. For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to people from Iran and they’ve confirmed that this is largely true. Repressive regimes that lie to their people all the time tend not to be trusted. This includes when they say that some other group is the enemy. It makes intuitive sense. Which is why Trump’s travel ban is so stupid: it validates the lying, repressive, horrible regime. Now actual people in Iran can go ahead and say, that happened. The regime told the truth on this one. Maybe that turns some minds, maybe it doesn’t. But it’s a shot in the foot for no reason. Perhaps it is pointless antagonism to gear up for war, but I’ll be writing about that later.

I must confess, I am a bit worried about what the reactions will look like for my Europe trip in May, which includes stops in the Baltic States. I will report on that in due time.

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The capital of the resistance:

As President Trump threatens to strip federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities,” defiant Democrats in Sacramento are doubling down on policies to protect immigrants at risk of deportation — bills that many say would turn California into a sanctuary state.

One would prohibit police officers from collecting information on a person’s immigration status or from responding to certain requests from federal agents. Others would use taxpayer-funded legal aid to help people in deportation proceedings and train defense attorneys on immigration law.

The fast-tracked proposals — set for hearings Tuesday — have become a key tactic in California’s resistance against the Trump administration’s policies on immigration. They have drawn plaudits from immigration advocates and criticism from opponents who say they tie the hands of local police and risk further alienating Washington.

There’s no way that President Bannon doesn’t respond harshly to this. In fact, California was almost certainly going to be the first target of these clowns no matter what. But I think the state is ready, from the public to its political leaders. And we’re not going to back down.

What is it that makes California different from the rest of the country? And why do conservatives hate it so much? I wouldn’t say it’s the most liberal state–Oregon in many ways has us beat (not the least of which is taxation). It’s not the most Democratic state. It is literally a big target, sure, but I think the hatred for California is based mainly on fear: the fear of a public that ignores appeals to white backlash. Which we do have. I should be clear: California is not free of racism, not at all. But the politics of the state are not racialized the way they are even in some blue areas. This is a major distinction. Think of how Giuliani/Bloomberg ran New York City for so long with the white grievance club firmly in their bags. And let’s not even get into the rust belt stuff of 2016. But California actually had a backlash to the backlash: Clinton actually improved on Obama’s numbers among whites in California, may even have won a majority of us for the first time in decades. It’s not just because of minorities that white backlash doesn’t sell here. It’s because of whites too. (Also too, minorities made up significantly more of the electorate than they did last time, going by the exit polls.)

What would the Republican Party be without white resentment? The answer in California is: pretty much nothing, an occasionally irritating pest that can usually be safely ignored. The state GOP is largely unelectable outside of pockets of inland, rural areas. Statewide it hasn’t won an election since 2006. Think about that. That was before Iron Man came out in theaters. Their only strategic goal is to keep Democrats from gaining a supermajority, which becomes harder for them every year. And every time they find a leader with any talent or potential, they invariably wind up branding that person a RINO and proceed to rip them to pieces. This time the lucky devil is going to be Kevin Falconer, the mayor of San Diego, who is being heavily recruited to run for governor in 2018. He’s actually not a bad guy and he’s by far the best candidate they could find: most people don’t know that San Diego is actually California’s second largest city, with San Francisco coming in fourth due to its self-imposed limitations to growth, and Falconer is pretty popular there. He has a base, seems reasonable, and could vow to be a check on Democrats’ extremism, often a winning message. If it weren’t going to be an out-party midterm for his party, he’d probably have a very strong chance to win. But if Falconer were to win, the party would turn on him even faster than they did on Schwarzenegger. Basically, being a Republican who could win in a major urban center is tantamount to being a Democrat to these folks. For one thing, Falconer actually supports doing something about climate change, which prevents him from being completely unelectable in the state, but opens up the possibility that the rank and file will vote for a white supremacist instead (such as). Because, of course, white backlash works great in the conservative exurbs and rural areas. But there aren’t anywhere near enough of those folks to win. That’s the reason why Republicans hate California so much. But it’s also why they’re not going to get anywhere with us, because that’s the only weapon they have. If Bannon thinks he’s going to win playing that card–and what else can he do?–we’ll be happy to prove him wrong.

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Allowing religious institutions to engage in partisan political activity would obviously be a boon to evangelical megachurches, though I wonder how big of one: most of these institutions aggressively push the line anyway in my personal experience, and most of the people who go to them already vote GOP. I suspect that, in the short and medium term, the greater advantage would be to the large and growing backlash to the religious right and, by extension, to Christianity itself. The rapidly diminishing footprint of religion in American society is likely to be one of the major drivers of conservative destruction in the future IMO, and this is only likely to hasten it. (The end of mass home ownership, not quite as often discussed, is likely to be another. Also, if nobody can afford a down payment for a big suburban house, they’re also not going to go to a big suburban megachurch.)

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Well, this is hilariously mortifying, but at least he didn’t try to turn it into “all history month” or anything.

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It’s sad in this day and age that there’s any drama over how a California Democrat votes on the nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, but there sort of was. At least it’s over now. Dianne Feinstein has decided, after solemn deliberation, not to support a proven bigot to enforce the law. Perhaps all those calls and stories about her voting for every Trump nominee got to her.

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Before last week, there was a reasonable defense against the accusation that Steve Bannon was personally an anti-Semite (as opposed to someone who merely trafficked in such things as a publisher) that basically ran like this: the main evidence for the proposition is that his ex-wife said “he doesn’t like Jews” in a divorce proceeding. Obviously, that’s pretty bad. But as a rule, horrible accusations said during divorce proceedings–particularly bitter ones where children or significant amounts of money are involved–have to be taken with a grain of salt, because there are strong incentives to exaggerate and even lie outright. Minor incidents can become major ones due to motivated reasoning and due to divorce lawyers trying to build the strongest possible case for their clients. I’d never say to discount such things but divorce proceedings are heightened, bitter, high-stakes affairs, and the awesome rationalizing powers of humanity cannot be denied. And that was the only piece of real evidence against Bannon. Plus, the dude loved Seinfeld!

At any rate, that reasonable defense is history now, and we can safely vindicate the ex-wife. The Holocaust Memorial message neglecting to mention Jews is circumstantial evidence as well, but given Bannon’s centrality to the current regime, he either wrote it or read and approved it, and there’s no confusion about incentives here. Downplaying the centrality of the Jews to Hitler’s murderous schemes is obvious Jew-hating. Ignorance would be unlikely even if the prior accusations (and his prior publishing record) weren’t taken into account. If anything, the incentives would be for Bannon to make it seem like he’s not an anti-Semite, so as to protect the image of our figurehead constitutional president and to avoid becoming “the story.” He clearly doesn’t care about those things. It was an act of let’s just call it courage (though then again, sliding it under the wire and hoping nobody would notice except the dogwhistle degenerates doesn’t exactly signal a lot of confidence in his views).

That does raise a tangential matter: for a top presidential aide, Bannon doesn’t seem to shirk much at making himself the focus of the media. David Axelrod and even Karl Rove never figured into the narrative quite so much: in fact, I think either one would take strong exception to stories and memes about “President Rove” or “President Axelrod” going into circulation. One has to wonder just how long Trump will tolerate that.

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I’m not a particularly huge fan of Theresa May, the current UK Prime Minister, for a number of reasons. That being said, she has the thankless job of negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU, which is to say that her job is to shred the extremely favorable current arrangement her country has with the EU and figure out a new one in an environment where the remaining EU states have the ability and will to make the new deal as unfavorable to Britain as possible. Stupid as it is, it is the job she signed on for and it’s not going to be easy, so finding any possible source of leverage is going to be essential. Unfortunately, the one significant source of leverage seems to be throwing in with Team Trump and securing a UK-US trade deal right off the bat. And the corollary of that is that May is destined to become a Trump dignity wraith for as long as they’re both in office. Case in point: May was informed of the Trump de facto Muslim travel ban in advance. You can certainly argue that May’s hands are tied thanks to Brexit, that she desperately needs a deal from these folks, that she holds none of the cards, that speaking out publicly would hurt her country even more than it already will be, that as someone with Trump’s ear a private word might carry more weight. This may all be true. But the humiliation for May has merely begun: given that pertinent US cabinet departments reportedly figured out what was happening with the ban when it was happening, you have to wonder why May got this info in advance. We know how Trump treats people that he has leverage over. Was it done to implicate her or to force her silence on the issue? As a favor for being one of the few world leaders able to stomach being in the same room as Trump, or to embarrass her right after her literal embrace of him? Who knows. It’s not playing well for her is all I’m saying. As much as the Trump/Bannon geopolitical vision necessitates a US-UK trade deal as part of their vision to break up the EU, the UK needs it much more, and until it’s ratified she’s going to have to squirm to avoid being pinned down on every horrible thing Trump says and does, no doubt earning unflattering comparisons to Tony Blair in his courting of George W. Bush all the way. Admittedly, May has the excuse that she’s trying to secure a real benefit for her country, while Blair had no reason to do what he did. Regardless, it’s going to be excruciatingly hilarious, beginning with that upcoming state visit.

Incidentally, this would make excellent grist for another season of The Thick Of It is all I’m saying. Make it happen, please!

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