Scenes from the Culture War
Plus: Trump’s Freak Prom.
When Donald J. Trump responded to his latest indictment by promising to appoint a special prosecutor if he’s re-elected to “go after” President Biden and his family, he signaled that a second Trump term would fully jettison the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department independence.
“I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family,” Mr. Trump said at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., on Tuesday night after his arraignment earlier that day in Miami. “I will totally obliterate the Deep State.”
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The Freak Prom
On Wednesday’s podcast I was joined by former congressman Adam Kinzinger to reflect on DJT’s second perp walk and the prospects of charges related to the January 6 Insurrection.
Here’s a brief edited transcript of our discussion about the prom for freaks. I had described the weird scene at Trump’s Bedminster Club after his arraignment…
Kinzinger: I don’t even know how to describe it. I can’t put English words to it, which is just this weird cultism. You talked about the scene at Bedminster and I don’t know if they just weren’t cool in high school or what and they show up. And it’s like Hollywood, too. They think they’re celebrities. They’re all getting their picture with Kimberly Guilfoyle. And it’s like this whole weird culture.
Sykes: It’s like prom for the weird.
Kinzinger: It is. It’s definitely prom for the weird. And you see this — like I don’t know, this worship. This hero worship. You’re the writer. You’re the journalist. You’re the one that could probably put better words to that phenomenon than I can? I just feel that and I can’t do it. I feel what that is emotionally. I can’t put words to it.
Sykes: I think a lot of other people have had the same experience. It’s one thing to to have the Bernie Keriks and the My Pillow Guy, and Kimberly Guilfoyle show up. Mike Flynn apparently was there. I mean, we’re talking about everybody from the original freak show… that’s one thing. What’s also mind blowing is the reaction of of elected officials, including some of your former colleagues…
How’s the culture war going?
Badly, if you are a woman, or as Johns Hopkins now refers to them: “non-men.”
On Wednesday, the Southern Baptists voted to uphold the expulsion of one of its most prominent megachurches, Saddleback, for the heretical decision to hire women as pastors.
After upholding the expulsions, messengers in New Orleans voted by a two-thirds majority to amend their constitution to state that the Southern Baptist Convention "Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder."
The concern? Ultraconservatives in the church argue “that female pastors are a precursor to acceptance of homosexuality and sexual immorality.”
Johns Hopkins University removed an online glossary of LGBTQ terms and identities this week after its definition of the word "lesbian" used the term "non-men" to refer to women and some nonbinary people and fueled an online uproar.
Screenshots of the glossary before it was taken down showed that the university defined the word "lesbian" as a "non-man attracted to non-men." It added that while past definitions have referred to lesbians as women who are sexually attracted to other women, the "updated definition" is intended to include nonbinary people who may identify with the label.
As you might expect, the use of the term “non-men” to refer to the gender formerly known as women was widely mocked.
J.K. Rowling tweeted to her 14 million followers: "Man: no definition needed. Non-man (formerly known as woman): a being definable only by reference to the male," she wrote. "An absence, a vacuum where there’s no man-ness."
Exit take: Who thought this was a good idea?
Almost 70% of Americans believe that first-trimester abortions should "generally be legal," according to a new Gallup poll that sheds more light on the nation's deep political divide on the issue almost one year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Sixty-nine percent of Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, the highest share in Gallup’s polling dating back to 1996. Seventy-four percent of independents and 86% of Democrats feel that way, while 47% of Republicans agree.
There is significantly less support for abortion access later in a pregnancy — 37% of adults support second-trimester abortion access "generally" and 22% say the same about third-trimester abortion access. But support for both have ticked up 9 percentage points since 2018 and now also sit at all-time highs for Gallup's polling.
Another book gets cancelled. This time by the author…
It’s hard to quite capture the irony of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert cancelling her novel about Russians living under. . . Stalinism.
Gilbert claims to have done this in order to placate Ukrainians upset that her new book, The Snow Forest, is set in Siberia, but her self-cancellation is reminiscent of all those who kowtowed to The Orthodoxy in Stalinist Russia and, to an extent, Russia today. Her over-the-top apology, her hypersensitivity to invisible critics, her fear of saying anything someone might object to—all of it echoes the craven prostrations of the Communist Party cog, the apparat, the writer-puppet who toes whatever line they’re told to toe. (The great Soviet writers, like Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, grasped that one could not be a writer and a writer in good standing with the vlast—or power—at the same time.)
It’s especially galling given that Gilbert has a sizable Russian audience. Eat, Pray, Love—like The Devil Wears Prada and Sex in the City—made a big splash in Russia when it came out in the aughts. (A 2016 poll found that a large proportion of Russian women would like Miranda Priestly to be their boss.) The Russian translation of the audio version of Gilbert’s City of Girls, a 2019 novel about 1940s New York, soared to the Top Three on Storytel, an audiobook service comparable to Audible that is especially popular in Russia.
Of course, the cyber-censors would have curbed access to The Snow Forest, but it would have eventually tunneled its way to the iPhones and tablets of young Russian women. It would have reminded them of another Russia mirrored in the lives of those who refuse to conform—think Yuri Zhivago or Ivan Denisovich. It would have moved things in the right direction.
If only Gilbert… had managed to summon her inner Solzhenitsyn. —Peter Savodnik
Opinion is shifting on the trans issue.
Via Gallup: “More Say Birth Gender Should Dictate Sports Participation.”
A larger majority of Americans now (69%) than in 2021 (62%) say transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete on sports teams that conform with their birth gender. Likewise, fewer endorse transgender athletes being able to play on teams that match their current gender identity, 26%, down from 34%.
Gallup’s finding is consistent with a new national poll from PRRI.
Overall, 65% of all Americans believe there are only two gender identities, while 34% disagree and say there are many gender identities.
But inside those numbers are sharp differences. Fully 90% of Republicans say there are just two genders, versus 66% of independents and 44% of Democrats who believe the same.
The poll also found that views were shifting. Here is the percentage who say that there are only two genders:
2021 — 59%
2022 — 62%
2023 — 65%
GOP: 90% (+3 from 2021)
Indy: 66% (+6)
Dem: 44% (+6)
Gen Z: 57% (+14)
The shift seems to be across demographic lines as well.
In 2021, 56% of both Hispanic Americans and multiracial Americans said they believed there are only two genders. In 2023, however, 66% of Hispanic Americans agree that there is a gender binary, and the number has dipped slightly among multiracial Americans, to 54%. Among white Americans, belief in a gender binary went from 60% in 2021 to 66% in 2023. Similarly, the share of Black Americans who agree with this view went from 65% to 70%.
Turning to the 2023 survey, half of Americans (50%) say they feel strongly that there are only two genders, man and woman. Partisanship, religious tradition, education, and media trust are correlated with significant differences in the salience of belief in a gender binary.
Eight in ten Republicans (80%) say they feel strongly that there are only two genders, which is significantly higher than the share of independents (48%) and Democrats (28%) who hold the same view.
Here’s one way to check if you are in a media bubble.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Transgender advocate Rose Montoya is no longer welcome at White House events after posting on social media a video of herself and two others going topless for a time at Saturday’s Pride Month celebration on the South Lawn.
“The behavior was simply unacceptable,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. “It was unfair to the hundreds of attendees who were there to celebrate their families.”
Speaking at the White House press briefing, Jean-Pierre said, “Individuals in the video certainly will not be invited to future events.” The White House spokeswoman said the bare-chested display “was not a normal thing that has happened under this administration.”
1. “Threading the Needle” on Trump Is a Dangerous Game
Trump is unfit for office, and more prominent Republicans should be saying that flat out without burying it in baseless assaults on the pillars of U.S. democracy. Journalists sometimes use a “truth sandwich” technique to elevate facts above lies. The first and last statements are the truth and the false claim is buried in the middle, knocked down coming and going. What we’ve seen to date from these Republicans tepidly, timidly criticizing Trump is more like a lie sandwich: The acknowledgement of his misdeeds is surrounded by dishonest attacks on everybody and everything else. That’s got to change, and it won’t if Christie is the only Republican presidential candidate acting like it’s an all-or-nothing moment for America.
2. Searching for My Family’s Lost Past in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary
In Mitteleuropa, writes Margaret McMullan, Trump’s authoritarian “twin” is falsifying his country’s history to bring about an antidemocratic future. Sound familiar?
Reflecting on Orbán’s rise and the transformation he has brought about in modern Hungary is not exactly a heartening exercise, but it has improved my understanding of the Republican party’s hard-right lean toward extremism. Teaching in Hungary also helped me better understand my home state of Mississippi and the American South, where the Civil War sometimes doesn’t feel over.
Thanks for the clarification, Sarah.