Our Best Stuff From a Week of Tricks and Treats (But Mostly Tricks)
Afghanistan evacuations, daylight saving time, and the Virginia governor’s race.
Happy Saturday! There is a slew of great football games to watch this weekend, plus the World Series, and of course it’s Halloween weekend. I don’t have any great ideas for a last-minute costume for you, but may I suggest you not dress up in khakis while carrying a tiki torch while posing in front of Glenn Youngkin’s campaign bus?
It’s safe to say that something stupid happens on Twitter every day, and we don’t cover it 99 percent of the time. For good reasons. But the stupid thing that happened on Friday touches on a few issues plaguing our politics and our discourse.
Youngkin, you probably know, is the GOP nominee for governor in Virginia. He was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in May but has largely avoided Trump during his campaign. He’s had no rallies with him and specifically stayed away from an event hosted by Steve Bannon in which Trump appeared by video and where the audience said the pledge of allegiance to a flag that someone waved at the Capitol on January 6. But his opponent, Terry McAuliffe, has made an effort to tie Youngkin to Trump (as Audrey noted in a piece covering a McAuliffe rally with Joe Biden).
Late Friday morning, I noticed a tweet by a reporter from a local NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On first glance, it looks pretty bad for Youngkin. A group of supporters trying to evoke the 2017 Unite the Right event where demonstrators marched with tiki torches in defense of monuments to Confederate soldiers in Charlottesville. The next day, protesters and counterprotesters clashed, violence broke out, and a woman died. The scene all but screamed “White Supremacists for Youngkin.”
But first glances aren’t everything. I was lucky enough to start my journalism career before the internet was a big deal, and way before social media influenced everything. The newspaper came out once a day. News magazines came out once a week. The only 24 hour news network was CNN, and it wasn’t yet dominated by talking heads analyzing everything. So I didn’t face some of the same pressures that young reporters do today. But we were taught to be skeptical. To question everything. Not to rush out details that we couldn’t confirm. One thing that bugged me about that tweet was that the reporter said, “saying what sounded like …”
As it turned out, appearances—and sounds—were deceiving. Long story short, the whole thing was a stunt by the Lincoln Project, a PAC formed in 2019 to defeat President Trump. I don’t normally turn to Wikipedia as an authority, but its description of its founders as “people who claim to be former and present Republicans” is spot-on. It moved quickly beyond its mission of defeating Trump and also campaigned against GOP Sen. Susan Collins in an effort to throw control of the Senate to the Democrats. (Who knew Trump himself would be more effective in making that happen? But I digress.) The Lincoln Project has spent money on anti-Youngkin ads and otherwise supported McAuliffe this time around.
Conservatives on Twitter quickly recognized that the whole thing was likely a stunt, and Friday afternoon the Lincoln Project issued a statement defending its actions. “The Youngkin campaign is enraged by our reminder of Charlottesville for one simple reason: Glenn Youngkin wants Virginians to forget that he is Donald Trump’s candidate.”
So we have a media environment in which reporters are “breaking news” not in their publication or on their broadcasts but on social media, which is designed to make things go viral, true or not. We have a political environment in which we are immensely polarized and where people don’t have to work very hard to find information that confirms their priors. It seems like skepticism, and even curiosity, is at an all-time low. It’s a toxic stew.
There is one potential positive takeaway from all this. The Lincoln Project wants Terry McAuliffe to win. But there was nothing about this stunt that helps his campaign. It’s true that most Americans don’t live on Twitter, and if you’re lucky (or smart), these shenanigans probably escaped your notice. So maybe it won’t hurt him—we’ll find out in a few days. But it backfired spectacularly enough that we can only hope that it serves as a warning to others. If you want to make a case that the other side is harmful and a threat to democracy, the best way to do that is to show that your side is honest and trustworthy. The worst way to engage in deception.
On that note, have a great weekend. May your Halloween bucket be filled with lots of Reese’s Cups and no circus peanuts. Thanks for reading.
Jonah wrote recently about how the provisions of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act are very popular—until you ask people how much they’d be willing to pay for them. It’s a theme he returns to and expands on in the midweek G-File (🔐). He touches on how withdrawing from Afghanistan was very popular with Americans—until we did so in embarrassing fashion. It turns out Americans think the disgrace of losing a war is a pretty high price to pay. And while people on both sides are upset with our election processes and our dysfunctional parties, no one really wants to do anything about it that would bring about meaningful change. “Trumpists in California would harangue me about how not voting for Trump was tantamount to destroying the country. ... And yet, were any of them willing to move to a swing state so their vote would matter? Or were any voters from reliably red states willing to move to California to bring it into the fold? That’s a very small price to pay if you actually believe we’re one election away from the apocalypse,” he writes.
We haven’t seen Scott Lincicome this worked up since someone asked him to try Guy Fieri’s trash can nachos. In Capitolism (🔐) this week, he unleashes a stemwinder against daylight saving time. He explains why it’s anti-health, anti-science, anti-family, and more. It doesn’t save any energy, its nominal reason for existing. In fact, it probably causes us to waste energy. We should all be able to agree that it’s a bad idea that needs to go, but did he need to make it so personal? I’m pretty sure he’s talking about yours truly when he writes, “Sure, some late-night revelers who overindulged might struggle with a few light mornings in the summer, but personal suffering is often the only way to learn needed life-lessons, and that’s what blackout curtains are for, anyway.”
We're no longer subjected to daily images of Americans and Afghans trying desperately to flee Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean everyone who wanted to get out did so. Charlotte reports on the ongoing effort by lawmakers and private citizens to evacuate stranded people. One such group is Task Force Argo. The group has aided more than 2,000 people and has a backlog of 3.500. “In all, Task Force Argo has rescued Afghans and Americans of a range of ages and backgrounds,” she writes. “The volunteers evacuated an 80-year-old grandmother and American citizen, a baby who was born on September 11 of this year in one of their safe houses, twins and college students in danger of becoming forced brides, senior members of the Afghan National Security Forces, and a man interrogated and shot by the Taliban.”
It’s a funny thing, our debate over critical race theory. Many of the people who are upset about the prospect of it being part of a K-12 curriculum seem to be angry about schools teaching the legacy of slavery and racism in this country accurately, or complain about reading assignments that just happen to be by black authors. Meanwhile, administrators and politicians try to say that CRT is not being taught in public schools while also obfuscating about faculty trainings that advise teachers to “embrace critical race theory” and “engage in race-conscious teaching and learning.” It’s tempting to call for a “pox on both houses” but Frederick Hess has a better idea. He describes CRT as full of “toxic, illiberal, Marxist doctrines” and highlights data that shows that minority voters want schools to teach traditional Western values. He argues that, “These issues hit parents where they live. They’re about what values their kids are bringing home from school. Conservatives have the chance to defend shared values that resonate deeply with many who have not historically found themselves on the right.”
And now the best of the rest:
Patrick T. Brown breaks down the social spending measures in the Build Back Better framework. His takeaway? If you like the college student debt crisis, you’ll love the childcare subsidies.
As part of the debate over critical race theory in schools, parents have been demanding more input over their district’s curricula. David digs into the court precedent in his Tuesday French Press (🔐), and informs readers that while the courts have ruled that parents can choose whether to send their kids to public schools, districts control the subject matter.
As I mentioned above, Audrey covered a rally this week in which President Biden campaigned for Terry McAuliffe. She also writes about McAuliffe’s struggles in the polls and what he might have to do to outlast Youngkin.
Dr. Anthony Fauci insisted in his fights with Rand Paul that a grant to a company called EcoHealth that worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology did not go to fund “gain of function” research that could strengthen a pathogen. The truth is both complex and murky. We get to the bottom of it as best we can in The Morning Dispatch (🔐).
Last but not least, the pods: On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah get into the generational battles between Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z, and also discuss some legal stuff. On the Dispatch Podcast, the gang talks about the idea of taxing unrealized capital gains of billionaires, Taiwan, Facebook, and more. And Jonah welcomed David, Haley, and his old friend Jack Butler onto The Remnant to discuss Dune and other sci-fi nerdery.