It was the week when a protest in Charlottesville made us forget about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
- Foot permanently in mouth. Has there ever been a politician more adept at stepping on his message than Donald Trump? During the campaign, he was deemed a media genius for his ability to draw attention to himself. Now in office, he still effectively draws attention to himself, but at the cost — as we saw this week — of undermining anything of substance he might have ever wanted to accomplish.
- An administration adrift. The president’s agenda — health care, tax reform and infrastructure — is going nowhere. Republicans across the board -- notably Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham — are harshly denouncing his comments on Charlottesville. Trump’s relationship with the GOP members of Congress is clearly fraught. Even the business community is giving him the cold shoulder, with CEOs forcing the disbanding this week of two advisory groups. So where does that leave us? Nowhere. Impeachment still appears unlikely — none of the above amount to “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The man himself seems far too egotistical to resign. And chief of staff John Kelly, trying to wrangle a chaotic White House, can’t bring discipline to the one who’s most undisciplined: his boss.
- Something to talk about. Neo-Nazis, the KKK and white supremacy seem so far outside the mainstream experience that it’s easy to dismiss the Tiki-wielding marchers in Charlottesville as a fringe group of little consequence. Yet those groups find succor in a belief that America discriminates against white people — a grievance held by fully 30 percent, according to a March poll from the Public Religion Research Institute. That works out to about 97 million people, by the way. Some, deeming white nationalist thinking too toxic, would just as soon ban any speech about it. Others, such as the Antifa, would meet it with violence. Yet, trying to ban or shut down discussion of those grievances (even if imaginary) simply allows them to fester and grow. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis got it right: In the face of bad or evil speech, “the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
- The infection spreads. Boston fears for its own Charlottesville moment this weekend, as the “Free Speech Coalition” plans to rally on Saturday. The coalition’s a misnomer; ACLU types are not behind the group. Rather, it appears to be a loose collection of the alt-right with a sprinkling of white supremacy. At first, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker gave off signals they’d try to stop the event. More constitutionally grounded heads prevailed, however, and the city issued a permit. It was the right decision. With the number limited to 100, bans on weapons or weapon-like items, and a heavy police presence, this event — unlike Charlottesville — will likely fizzle.
- One bad weekend. A moment of sympathy for beleaguered Charlottesville. I once went to school there: It’s a bucolic and artsy college town, home to Thomas Jefferson and lots of horse farms. But from now on — similar to names and places such as Watergate, Hiroshima, Selma and September 11 — it will be known to most by a single, awful event rather than a long and good history. Kind of like the last name “Trump.”
- Tall tales. In the aftermath of the attacks in Barcelona, Trump surprised everyone, tweeting out a sympathetic message of condemnation and support: “Be tough & strong, we love you!” A few minutes later, a follow-on tweet urged the Spanish essentially to murder Muslims: “Study what General Pershing…did to terrorists.” The Pershing incident – where he allegedly lined up suspects and shot them with bullets dipped in pig blood – has been thoroughly debunked. Ah, good. The president’s back to his old form.
- Take me out of the ballpark. In the wake of Charlottesville, Red Sox owner John Henry said he’s considering a name change for Yawkey Way. The reason: Tom Yawkey, the team’s long-time owner, was also an inveterate racist. But what would the new name be? Um, let’s see. John Henry Way?
- War games. North Korea appeared to stand down a bit this week, withdrawing (for the moment) its threat to nuke Guam. Does that mean that, crazy as it seemed, Trump’s aggressive saber rattling (“locked and loaded”) worked? I get the argument and have seen it in action: A business person adopts an extreme position, one that seems to fly in the face of rationality, in order to intimidate the other side and gain concessions. Of course, if a business deal falls apart, it’s just money lost. In matters of nuclear war, the risks are quite different.
- The heavy hand of the state. The taxi industry took another hit, with a reported 10 percent decline in rides from Logan Airport ever since Uber and Lyft were permitted in February to pick up passengers. But there is good news buried here: The total number of rides out of Logan increased by 26 percent over last year. Ride-hailing, it turns out, isn’t a zero-sum game; it appears to be encouraging more people than ever to let someone else drive them. Cabbies have one huge advantage over ride-hailing — they can be hailed — but are being killed by local requirements that mandate high prices and limit the number of medallions. Deregulation — not more regulation — is their potential salvation.
- Bad old days. And finally, four Teamsters were acquitted this week of extortion in the “Top Chef” trial. Folks such as the Boston mayor were quick to say that this wasn’t giving a green light to union harassment. Hogwash. The case failed because what the union members did really wasn’t illegal under federal law. But the feds got involved only because they knew local prosecutors wouldn’t. Why? Because the locals are beholden to union largesse for their campaigns. So yes, the light is green — or, perhaps, amber. And as for the Bay State’s once-booming television and film business? Hello, Atlanta!
This column was first published by Cognoscenti on August 18, 2017.