A Few Sobering Thoughts From the Road
The killings in Atlanta should shock and horrify us, regardless of whether they are hate crimes.
Author’s Note: So I finished the below “news”letter and sent it off from Sparks, Nevada. I didn’t like it, but I needed to get it in the hopper before I took the wheel again. Pacific time and all that. Also, despite all the writing I do in cars, I’ve never really mastered the art of writing while actually driving them. I told my majordomo, Nick, and my Anglo amanuensis, Guy, to let me know if they thought it was too horrible to run. Then, because all of the weather gods, in all the heavens, think it’s fun to screw with me like I’m the towel boy for a prison league football team, I drove smack into a combination rain, snow, sleet and fog maelstrom in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I mean, what are the odds that someone with terrible meteorological luck would run into hassles in the Sierra Nevada mountains? By the time we got out of the mountains and—briefly—got cell service again, it was late. I was very tired, not just from the drive, but from the arduous tax of crowbarring my fingers off the steering wheel. Nick and Guy said the G-File was fine—not great, but like potted meat meeting the minimum standards set by the FDA for human consumption, acceptable—except for a few items that pinged their more woke sensibilities. I’m not saying they’re woke, but they have to live amidst the young’ns and so they’re more fluent in wokespeak.
Anyway, I told HQ it’d have to wait, at least until morning so I could look at it with fresh eyes. I’ve now done so and think it’s good enough. Final judgment on that is, of course, yours. So here it is, lightly edited.
Dear Reader (Including those of you who don’t know what exactly Snyder cut, why he cut it or, or even if you’re confused about why everyone is talking about the janitor from One Day at a Time),
It’s not yet 9:00 a.m. out here in the West—8:58 a.m. to be exact—and I’ve already been to two casinos. The first was the Wendover Nugget Hotel and Casino, just over the border from Utah in Nevada. The second was the Red Lion Resort and Casino in Elko. Now, it’s true that any time I’m not at the tables, I’m losing money (opportunity costs and all that). But I wasn’t there to squeeze in some Caribbean Stud Poker in the wee hours. We stopped at the casinos because they were the only places with Starbucks in them.
See, when you’re driving west on I-80, not long after you put Salt Lake in the rearview mirror you’ll start seeing billboards for casinos that prominently boast that they have Starbucks. I don’t know if this is because of the changing nature of the gambling demographic, or if it has to do with the fact that the people barreling out of Utah to gamble are more apt than the typical casino-goer to think that readily-available caffeinated products at the slot machines are the pinnacle of living on the wild side. Either way, I thought it was funny.
We’ll reach Yosemite tonight, and I just finished the 5:30-9:00 a.m. shift behind the wheel. So I’m going to try to write this “news”letter while barreling past various mountain ranges on the long highway toward Reno. As a result, I think it’s gonna be a bit episodic, as the writing will be punctuated by everything from rest stops, to scenic overlooks, to Dad intermittently shouting “Look, cows!” (Fun fact: I actually do an excellent cow moo. It’s almost as good as my elephant.).
I recommend Scott Lincicome’s piece, “While You Were Seussing” (out from behind the membership barrier—we don’t like the word “paywall” around here). It tracks a lot of my thinking these days. Scott doesn’t just document how much of the American Rescue Plan is a huge expansion of the American welfare state and therefore a massive progressive victory, he also rightly calls out the GOP and the self-styled “New Right” for essentially being AWOL on the matter.
It’s really kind of amazing: Many of the same people who insisted a Biden election victory would consign America to “SOCIALISM!” decided to sit out the debate over Biden’s down payment on “SOCIALISM!” so they could whine about Dr. Seuss and Pepe Le Pew.
Or at least it seemed that way.
On The Dispatch Podcast, they had a rousing conversation about Scott’s piece and the GOP’s alleged Seussian captivity.
(Scott and Declan subbed for me and David French. I know why I wasn’t there. I assume David was missing because he needed to set aside a few days to prepare for, watch, and then absorb the Snyder Cut of Justice League. I’m only half-way through, by the way, which means I have another 35 hours to go).
Sarah pushed back a bit, noting that the Dr. Seuss stuff only seemed like an obsession on the right, because most of the GOP was simply MIA. The Seuss stuff filled the void, in part because Fox and rightwing pundits obsessed about it and liberal media types obsessed over Fox’s obsessions. Serious Republicans -- i.e. ones who don’t think the best response to the largest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society is to read “Green Eggs and Ham”—simply have a messaging problem, according to Sarah.
Steve said something, but we saw cows and I got distracted. Then Declan made the point that we live in a populist moment and the GOP is struggling to figure out what it believes and how to articulate its disagreements with the Democrats. For instance, after Trump championed $2,000 checks for Americans, it’s hard for Republicans to denounce $1,400 checks as “too lavish” or “creeping socialism.” I mean, some do so regardless, but they open themselves to the charge of hypocrisy.
And that, I think, is part of the problem.
I agree with my colleagues about all the above (unless Steve said something bonkers while I was mooing like Tarzan of the Cows).
There’s a rich vein of commentary and criticism about GOP hypocrisy these days (and Democratic hypocrisy, too). But what if part of the explanation for why the GOP can’t message effectively against a massive statist renaissance isn’t that they’re hypocrites, but that they don’t want to be hypocrites?
It’s a subtle distinction, and a contrarian point, I know. So let me explain what I mean. For five years I’ve asked my pro-Trump friends (and non-friends) some version of this question: “What could the Democrats do when they’re in power that you won’t be a hypocrite for criticizing?”
Well, after four years of Trump, that list is pretty short. It’s not empty. There are areas—such as foreign policy, energy, and immigration—where Biden’s presidency has been so divergent from Trump’s that it’s easy for Republicans to find their voices. But on spending and debt, the GOP has, with few exceptions, utterly discredited itself. Not only that, but, in order to reconcile themselves with Trump and his voters, many Republicans have moved left on a host of domestic policy issues.
So, if you’re a Trump-sycophantic Republican like, say, Ron Johnson or Kevin McCarthy, and you know there’s no way you can criticize Democratic overspending without inviting countless questions that would expose your inconsistency or hypocrisy, what do you do? Maybe you keep your mouth shut. Or maybe you talk about how violent white mobs that stormed the capitol aren’t scary, but black mobs would be? Or maybe you just read Green Eggs and Ham while the Democrats make huge strides toward nationalized healthcare, the dole, and federally subsidized daycare?
Maybe this is an obvious point. Maybe it’s just that, even after years of asking that rhetorical question—“What could the Democrats do when they’re in power that you won’t be a hypocrite for criticizing?”—I always assumed the Trumpers would simply be hypocrites regardless and pay the price for it.
On some issues, that’s happened. Lots of Trumpy right-wingers have been happy to denounce Andrew Cuomo’s sexual predations as though often equally credible allegations against Trump don’t exist. But the key difference there is that they get to filter their own hypocrisy by using liberal standards against liberals. The logic of course being, “You created MeToo and zero tolerance, so you have to own this.”
That doesn’t work here. And so rather than expose themselves to the charge of hypocrisy on spending and debt, they simply opt not to talk about spending and debt.
My standard point about the Trumpian corruption of the GOP has been that he forces conservatives to bend, fold, mutilate or simply discard their standards and principles to fit the man. But here we have something close to the reverse. The people who think this spending is bonkers haven’t changed their positions, they’ve just decided it’s too difficult to fight for their position. So they’re not.
The Atlanta murders.
It now appears—contrary to initial reporting—that the murderer who killed eight people this week in Atlanta, Georgia, six of them Asian American women, was not primarily motivated by anti-Asian bias. In a new piece, the New York Times chronicles the killer’s alleged struggles with sex addiction.
The alleged culprit—whom I shall not name—reportedly told police his next intended victims were going to be at a Florida business tied to pornography. He also reportedly told police that he killed the women at these massage parlors because he wanted to “get rid of the temptation.” It’s not clear that his victims were in fact sex workers, but that’s the strong implication. At the very least, he seems to have believed they were sex workers.
So, to be blunt, he allegedly killed his victims not because he hated Asian women, but because he liked them too much (albeit it in a sad and pathetic way).
I’m not trying to be disrespectful. This was a horrific murder spree. But it just doesn’t seem to be the kind of murder spree some politicians and journalists wanted it to be. There has been a surge in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. It’s mostly been in California, which accounts for nearly half of all the reported cases. There’s been some coverage of this surge, but it hasn’t been a neat and tidy story of white supremacists versus oppressed minorities. Some of the worst hate crimes against Asian Americans in Northern California aren’t committed by people who look like neo-Confederates, but by young black assailants acting in despicable ways.
So, when a white, bearded incel type who looks like he could have stormed the Capitol on January 6 committed these attacks, he was just the sort of perpetrator to spark a rush to judgment. This was a better face to line up with the people looking to keep Trump-bigotry stories alive.
Regardless, by the time the facts caught up with the reporting and the politics, it was too late. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris reworked their American Rescue Plan victory tour trip into a series of meetings with Asian American politicians and leaders to talk about anti-Asian hate crimes. A previously-scheduled House hearing on the same subject served as yet another news hook.
But again, these killings don’t appear to neatly fit that narrative. That doesn’t mean the issue of anti-Asian bigotry isn’t real or that the Atlanta killings aren’t a big story, they just don’t appear to be the same story. And it’s been interesting to see people try to stitch them together.
On NPR this morning, Democratic Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen said she simply doesn’t believe this wasn’t an anti-Asian hate crime. “When we think about taking the word of the perpetrator themselves, how many of them are going to admit that it’s a racially-motivated killing?”
I take her point. But I don’t find it very persuasive.
If the alleged killer said he was acting in self-defense, was temporarily insane, or trying to rescue some hostages, I’d be inclined to be skeptical. But this guy—who I am not naming if you hadn’t noticed — basically admitted he couldn’t get laid, went to massage parlors regularly, and was so addicted to porn he could only use a flip phone. As far as admissions go for young men, never mind young Christian men, that’s pretty close to an admission against interest. Add in the fact that he’s almost surely going to prison, I think copping to a hate crime would help him more than copping to a sex-addiction problem.
Nguyen’s phrasing makes it sound like the alleged killer is trying to avoid dire consequences by not acknowledging it was a hate crime. But I’m pretty sure the penalties for premeditated murder are going to be rougher.
Steve Inskeep asked the reporter covering the shooting whether the alleged killer would be charged with a hate crime. The reporter replied that, so far, the culprit has (emphasis mine) “only been charged with murder and aggravated assault.” It may have been a poor choice of words. He may have simply meant “solely charged.” But I’ve noticed this kind of thing a lot over the years. When criminals—including police—commit heinous acts, being charged with murder is seen as lenient or insufficient if prosecutors don’t also throw in a charge of committing a hate crime or civil rights violation.
I think there’s room for nuance here. If you throw a rock through someone’s window because you’re bored, you should be liable for vandalism, destruction of property, etc. But if you throw a rock through someone’s window because they’re black, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or any other category of the sort, I think the law can take that into account and heighten the penalties.
Rep. Chip Roy’s comments about this tragic event were ill-advised, but he had a point. When it comes to grave criminal acts, the question of motive should be primarily about whether the alleged crime was intended or accidental. Proving intent can call into question racial biases or other evidence that speaks to the state of mind of the accused. But focusing on people’s opinions rather than their acts can be a profound and dangerous distraction. Moreover, it’s a sign of how our culture cares more about feelings than actions. But that’s a topic for another drive.
Various & Sundry
Canine update: I’m sorry for another light report from home. All the girls—including Gracie—are doing just fine. We miss them terribly, though. And we spend big swaths of our days talking about how much they’d like it here.
And now, the weird stuff