Friday, December 17, 2021

College Football Has Gone Crazy

College football has gone crazy. My friends in Asia and Europe will be confused, so let me try to explain what has happened, and why it is so crazy. (This is a long post, so I've listed the main points at the end, if you want to jump to bullet points).

First, the facts. On Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, the University of Southern California (USC) announced that Lincoln Riley had been named head football coach, with an annual salary of over $10 million. The 38 year old had been head coach at the University of Oklahoma, with a salary of $7.672 million. This news stunned the sports world; there had been rumors for days that Riley would leave to coach at Louisiana State University (LSU), but he had strongly denied them. So the fact that he left, albeit for a different school, was surprising. Oklahoma and USC are both schools with a tradition of great football; it was unprecedented for a coach to leave a school like Oklahoma for another great school, and the salary levels seemed very high, keeping in mind that the average coach in the professional NFL earns $6.7 million. 

Reaction by a star player
Then, a day later, another bombshell: Brian Kelly, the coach at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, announced he was leaving to become the head coach at LSU. Again, a stratospheric salary: $9.5 million per year for 10 years guaranteed, with incentives that make it worth over 100 million in all. And apparently these deals come with additional perks, like cars, insurance, and travel allowances. Notre Dame is a private university, so we do not know his salary, but it was probably around $5-7 million. Kelly himself had once said that the Notre Dame head coach job was not a stepping stone; it is the pinnacle of coaching, a “destination job.” He had also said just a week earlier that he was not leaving, "… unless the fairy godmother comes by with that $250 million check, my wife would want to take a look at that first. I'd have to run it by her," Kelly said. 

But he had also indicated that he understood that to cement his legacy at Notre Dame, he had to win a national championship. This is something he was not able to do in the 12 years he coached there, from 2009 to 2021. Notre Dame has won a national championship 11 times, but not since 1988. In the 2021 season, he surpassed the fabled Knute Rockne in number of games won (105), and he is also the first ND coach to win 10 or more games in four consecutive seasons (though, to be honest, it is easier to do that now that teams play 12 or 13 games per season than it was when I was young, when there were only 10 games plus one bowl game each year. And until 1970, Notre Dame refused to play in bowl games, saying it interfered with student-athlete’s final exams. How quaint.) 

Brian Kelly did take the team to the championship game in 2012 and to the playoffs in 2018 and 2020, and lost badly each time (14-42 Alabama, 3-30 Georgia, and 31-14 Alabama, though actually, in 2020 Alabama beat Ohio State 52-24 in the championship by an even greater margin, but everyone focuses on Notre Dame being “blown out” because Notre Dame has not won a New Year Six bowl game [Rose, Cotton, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta or Peach] since the 1993 season.)

Brian Kelly knew that unless he won a national championship, no bronze statue of him would be erected outside the stadium along with the statues of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz. Early in the 2021 season, when he was about to win his 106th game, he said: 

"I can tell you exactly where I sit in Notre Dame history," Kelly said during a conversation with CBS Sports this week. "The coach that won more games that hasn't won a national championship. That's where I'll sit."  

So the fact that Kelly is leaving Notre Dame suggests he essentially decided he was not going to be able to win a national championship at Notre Dame (see pundits saying this here). 

One can only wonder whether Kelly viewed Notre Dame’s academic standards as an obstacle to winning a championship. It is rumored that Lou Holtz left Notre Dame in part because the administration would not bend academic requirements enough. Many commentators note that recruiting should be easier for Kelly at LSU. Notre Dame recruits nationally, but athletes also need to be good students and there has to be a good match with the Notre Dame culture (which can be very conservative). Notre Dame’s graduation rate of 97% is also much higher than LSU’s 66% (which is in fact the second worst in the country).

Of course, the money is significant, but really, once you are earning even $5 million a year (and he’s been head coach at Notre Dame for 12 years, so has been earning big money for a long time), is the additional money really the main attraction? Athletic director Jack Swarbrick and assistant coach Tommy Rees each said that they think after 12 years, Kelly was ready for new challenges. While Kelly is considered a good coach, there will always be doubts about his talent until he wins a championship.

But I want to emphasize that I think a good coach does not just win games, but has to mold teenagers into men. He is a teacher. He has to help players develop to their ability, whether it is to contribute to the team or to go on to play in the NFL, and for life after football. Overall, Kelly was a good coach.

My friends in Asia are justifiably stunned at the prominence that sport plays in American universities. College sports, especially football and men's basketball, are major social activities and money-makers for many campuses. In fact, I once heard that then CUHK vice-chancellor (equivalent to university president) Lawrence Lau, an economist who came to The Chinese University of Hong Kong from Stanford University, tried to make sports more prominent and a focus for university community solidarity, but it failed miserably. CUHK students don’t wear CUHK t-shirts, either; there is no rah-rah "student spirit" and "school pride" of that sort in Hong Kong. 

There are other aspects of the Brian Kelly story that are significant. First, one needs to understand that Notre Dame considers itself, and is widely viewed, as a special place. This is what makes Kelly’s departure so surprising. Skip Bayless is a TV pundit who said he was shocked by Kelly’s departure. He covered ND closely while a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, attending many games in South Bend and knows Notre Dame well. He said: 

“It [Notre Dame] is a great place, I can’t tell you. We will talk about what Lincoln Riley said at his opening press conference about he’s going to make USC the Mecca of college football. To me, Notre Dame is still the Mecca, to me. It represents everything that’s great about college football, all rolled into one. It’s the movie Rudy, it’s “Play Like a Champion Today,” it’s those golden dome helmets that they wear, it’s the coolest gold that I’ve ever seen, it just comes off the TV screen and gets in your eyes, it’s so gold. The legacy, of obviously Rockne, of “play one for the Gipper,” all of it. There is no greater tradition than this one. I love my Oklahoma tradition, but woof, it’s not this. ... 

“He [Kelly] was made for Notre Dame, because he is Irish Catholic, he grew up in the Boston area, ...he was made for that throne there that is Notre Dame football.”

One thing that was shocking is that when Kelly announced he was leaving Notre Dame, his team still had a good chance to make the playoffs this year. As it turned out, Notre Dame ended ranked #5 on the following Sunday, and everyone knew this year’s team was young, so unlikely to be able to win the championship. But it was shocking that he would abandon his team just one week before they knew whether they would make the playoffs (only the top 4 teams make the championship playoff). He had to take the job right away because LSU needed him to make sure the players they had recruited stayed committed to LSU. Signing day when high school players commit to colleges is Dec. 15th. But Kelly knew he was abandoning his team when he left for LSU.

The rapid increase in college coaches’ salaries is crazy. “Craziness. In a period of seven days, we now have four coaches – Tucker, Riley, Kelly and Penn State's James Franklin -- making significantly more than the average NFL coach (average salary: $6.7 million).” College football has become extremely commercialized, with magazines focusing on high school prospects, coaches flying on private planes to visit potential recruits, the evolution of what is called “the transfer portal” that allows more and more so-called scholar-athletes to switch schools (like free agency in professional sports), and these astronomical salaries. In 40 states in the US, athletic coaches are the highest paid public employee in the state! 

Highest-Paid Public Employees according to Fast Company magazine.

Some aspects of this commercialism may actually be for the better; the transfer portal prevents players from being “owned” like slaves by the team they happened to choose when they were 17 years old. (And the fact that over half the football players are Black makes this comparison very uncomfortably relevant.) Notre Dame tries in some ways to fight this tide and insist that athletes are students first, by, for example, not having athletic dorms. But in many ways, it is a losing battle; Notre Dame held out against a separate dining hall, but now has one. They used to prohibit freshmen from playing varsity, but that changed decades ago. At the same time, Notre Dame added to this commercialization when in 1990 they signed a television deal with NBC to broadcast all home football games, from which the university earns $15 million per year.

Increasingly, people realize the system is crazy. Pundits on Yahoo said Kelly’s move was “shocking”  and the “latest example of sport gone mad.”  The article in the NY Times said:

“If you equate it to college education, it’s insane,” Jackie Sherrill, the retired Texas A&M University football coach and athletic director, said of the industry and its soaring coaching deals. “If you equate it to business, it makes sense.”  

A player's tweet accepting the business logic of the move
In my conversations with some friends, I’m shocked that they simply accept Brian Kelly's move as normal, because he followed the money. I have a lot of problems with that, and it is not just because I’m nostalgic for a simpler time when salaries were lower. The idea that the value of a coach is whatever the market is willing to pay is wrong, because “the market” is not a pure market. This belief in “the market” as an impartial arbiter of value is an example of “market fundamentalism,” a belief that fails to recognize how the market is shaped by laws, policies and ideologies. Coaches would not be paid so much if the universities had to pay the players, for example. And rules prohibiting players from switching teams also prevent a real market from emerging. Universities could also make a lot of money offering sexual services on campus (at least in states where sex work has been decriminalized). There are some things that are just morally repugnant and that we do not tolerate. Ten million dollar salaries for an athletic coach should be one of them. Just as CEO salaries in the US have gone through the roof since the 1980s (in a way that has not happened in Europe and Japan), so too have coaching salaries exploded (see list here). There are many factors causing this explosion; one of them is the Great Man Theory, which assumes one leader can make all the difference. Leadership is important, but even coaching takes teamwork, and the leader's role is often exaggerated.

I also object to these huge salaries for college football coaches because they do not fit with the mission of a university. Knute Rockne was a chemistry professor at Notre Dame. Coaching football was an extension of his teaching. He was paid like a teacher. Ara Parseghian retired in 1974 at a salary of $36,000, equivalent to $203,000 in 2021 dollars, also like a star teacher. Nowadays, football is a side hustle for university, one that brings in millions of dollars. And winning championships bring in alumni donations. Little by little, universities are turning into sports clubs that have universities on the side. I even know of young people (some are relatives) who choose to go to large state schools because they have big sports programs. (An aside: A Washington University in St Louis student compared the atmosphere surrounding the 2016 Presidential Debate between Clinton and Trump, which was held on campus, to a Division I athletic event, which the school does not have!) Forbes even ranks football programs like they rank companies and billionaires; Notre Dame’s football program is rated 8th in revenues and 5th in profits. What does “profits” even mean here, in the case of "non-profit" universities?!

“This “amateur” model of college sports yields $18.9 billion in annual revenue to universities and the NCAA, millions to coaches and athletic department officials, and essentially nothing to the athletes upon which the industry depends.” (LA Times opinion)

Notre Dame has benefitted tremendously from this commercialization, going from a small Midwest Catholic college to the #19 National University according to US News & World Distort Report. The football victories under Rockne and Leahy put Notre Dame on the map and made it the favorite of most Catholics and many others. Money from the NBC TV deal has allowed Notre Dame to give over 6,000 undergrads a total of $80 million in financial aid, plus scholarships for grad students. Because Notre Dame is a valuable brand, income from t-shirts and other gear has also been extremely valuable. 

But the whole system rests on the free labor of players, who are only given scholarships. Some players are from families so poor that their parents cannot afford to travel to see their son play. Yet these young men generate over $1 million each for their universities. As a NY Times article notes (see original press release here):

“Professional-level payouts for college coaches are only possible because colleges and the N.C.A.A. illegally collude to directly restrict compensation for the mostly Black athletes so that the mostly white coaches and industry executives get to keep all the profits for themselves,” said Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “That’s shameful.”

The players are non-union, and at many schools (though not at Notre Dame), the school can cancel the scholarship if the players are injured or turn out not to be very good.  

Many pundits heaped contempt on Kelly for abandoning his players before they even knew whether they would be playing for the national championship.(See one example here.) Dan Wolken of USA Today wrote:

For those who say you can’t blame Kelly for accepting a contract from LSU that is expected to be well north of $10 million per year, that’s bollocks. There is nobody to blame but Kelly for a classless, gutless exit before the kids he recruited to Notre Dame even know whether they’ll have the privilege of playing for a national championship.   

Some of this is nostalgic idealism, like children finding out their teachers are paid a salary and don’t teach only out of love. But there is no doubt Brian Kelly’s reputation has suffered, perhaps unfairly. He was roundly mocked for putting on a fake Louisiana accent when he first addressed LSU fans at a basketball game (see viral video here and an ESPN commentator here who calls him “unlikeable”) and also for some supposedly cringeworthy dancing with a recruit.

The real problem is that after praising Notre Dame for so many years, his conversion to an LSU Tiger is a bit jarring and unconvincing, mercenary even. So maybe there is hope, since by criticizing and roasting Kelly, fans are insisting that football is NOT just a business. (Having said that, Tommy Rees has a very generous interpretation of Kelly's motives in this Red Line Radio podcast.)

Notre Dame football will be fine. Their new, 35-year-old coach Marcus Freeman was mobbed ecstatically by the team when he was introduced to the players as their new coach on Dec. 3rd (see video here), and most of the assistant coaches have decided to stay at Notre Dame rather than follow Brian Kelly to LSU. Tommy Rees told the team: "I love you guys. I love this place. I believe that we can win a national championship here, and I'm committed to doing everything we can to get to that point. This is where my heart is, and my heart is with you guys." (Video here.) With a young, popular and energetic coach, Notre Dame football is cool now. But the contradiction between money and college life is growing sharper.

Final point: These salaries should convince everyone that the anthropology of sport is not just some trivial topic barely worthy of study. Clearly sport, and American football in particular, is symbolically and economically very important in American culture. Both private and public universities are willing to pay obscene salaries to coaches, for athletes to play a game that, like gladiator contests, often leaves them with severe brain and other physical injuries. Why do we do that? From one point of view, this is as “exotic” and “irrational” and at the same time culturally important as other topics ethnographers have studied. The anthropology of sport deserves a more central place in the academy.

Key points:

Salaries of college football coaches have gone through the roof and are obscene.

Notre Dame’s football coach Brian Kelly left for LSU for a new challenge, and to win a national championship, perhaps realizing it would be difficult to do so given the academic standards of Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly abandoned his team when they still had a chance to play for the national championship, though this year’s team was not the strongest, and in the end, the team ended up ranked #5 so did not make the playoff.

College football has become extremely commercialized, though it is supposedly an amateur sport. The fact that these high coaches’ salaries are possible because of the free labor of mostly Black athletes should make everyone squirm.

The common view that we should accept what the market will pay as just a measure of a coach’s real value is an example of market fundamentalism, the belief that the market is impartial and always right. It also relies on the “Great Man Theory,” the ideology that one leader can make all the difference in an organization.

These high salaries also conflict with the mission of a university, turning it into a professional sports club that has a university on the side.

Notre Dame has benefitted tremendously from this commercialization, and has contributed to it, even as it presents itself as fighting for amateurism.

Brian Kelly’s reputation has been hurt by the move, which suggests there is still some resistance to commercialization.

Notre Dame football will be fine; the new coach is popular with players and most assistant coaches stayed at Notre Dame.

The anthropology of sport is not just studying a trivial game, but worthy of a more central place in the academy given the economic and symbolic important of sports in American society.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

On Thanksgiving

 I love Thanksgiving. But it also makes me squirm.

Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday. In Canada, it is more of a harvest festival, and since it is celebrated on the second Monday in October, the holiday is not as long a holiday as in the US. In the US, not only is it the holiday with some of the year’s highest travel volume, but it also is a holiday that is practically religious in tone. It celebrates national unity with a just-so story of "the first Thanksgiving," and that is a problem.

On the one hand, I love the story of the Native Americans helping the English colonists, teaching them to farm better, introducing new foods like maize and squash, and helping them survive in the new country. It is the kind of help to refugees, to visitors, to guests, that nearly every religion and tradition calls for. It is a story that should embarrass all Americans who seek to militarize the Mexican border and who are so hostile to even allowing refugees apply for asylum. (Oddly, many of these so-called “patriots” even call themselves Christian, and yet they take a very un-Christian stance on refugees.) This is a story of cultural communication and mutual understanding. 

On the other hand, the story is also the first step in Americans’ displacing, killing, cheating the Indigenous People of their land and way of life. Far from a story of “brotherly love,” it is a story of the beginning of colonization and genocide. It is little wonder that the Wampanoag regret helping the colonists. That makes the Thanksgiving tale a strange thing to celebrate.

First, some debunking:

--Thanksgiving has not been celebrated continuously since the “first” one in 1621; harvest festivals giving thanks were common, but it only became a national holiday in the US under Lincoln, who wanted to create a national holiday as a symbol of national unity;

--The native Wampanoag people were not invited to the first event; they came because the English colonists shot their weapons in celebration, and the Wampanoag thought they were under attack, so came armed ready to defend them;

--Just 54 years later, in 1675, the settlers turned on the Wampanoag, then led by the son of the chief who had welcomed the English; thousands of people were killed and many were sold into slavery or indentured servitude, ending all organized resistance to English settlement in New England.

--There was most likely no turkey at the first Thanksgiving, but lots of seafood;

--The Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock were not the first colonists in America. Americans have emphasized the story of the Pilgrims to create an image of the founding Americans as religious people seeking freedom in a new land. The first settlers (who survived) were the colonists at Jamestown, VA, who came looking for lucre.

--The story of the first Thanksgiving creates an image of friendly Indians sitting down for a meal with the Pilgrims and then leaving, effectively giving America to white people. It is really the first chapter of the ideology of Manifest Destiny. Note that this story only became popular in the late 1800s, when wars with Indians were effectively over. And by removing the violence and death involved, it hides the colonization of the country by the settlers.

There are an increasing number of stories explaining the real origins of Thanksgiving, such as this Smithsonian Magazine article

So Thanksgiving should really be a time for Americans to think about how our current wealth is based on the wealth stolen—literally stolen and cheated—from the native Indigenous population.

People are coming to recognize this, so it is increasingly common for seminars, concerts and plays to begin with a "Land Acknowledgement," a recognition that we are standing on occupied land. I have mixed feelings about these statements, and I think many of the speakers who make these statements also feel uncomfortable, because they often stumble as they make their statement. (If you have not heard such statements, here is an video example of the statement that was made at a Stanford Law School convocation ceremony.)  

I feel a bit uncomfortable about these Land Acknowledgements, and of course, they are meant to make us feel uncomfortable, I know. But the problem I have with them is that they seem merely performative. What is the point of making these acknowledgements? Are we supposed to feel better afterwards? Are they proposing giving the land back? It seems like empty talk.

It turns out, I’m not alone in feeling this way. Akhil Gupta, who just finished his term as president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), mentioned in his Presidential Address Saturday that the Stanford Land Acknowledgement should be rewritten (he taught at Stanford for many years).

Present Land Acknowledgment

“Stanford sits on the ancestral land of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone people. Consistent with our values of community and inclusion, we have a responsibility to acknowledge, honor, and make visible the University’s relationship to Native peoples.”

Proposed Land Acknowledgment

Stanford sits on the ancestral land of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. This land of 8200 acres is currently worth US$19 billion. We are sorry that the founder of the University, Leland Stanford, while governor of California, supported legislation and raised a volunteer army to kill Native peoples. We also regret that although we offer preferential admissions for alumni and donors, we have chosen not to offer preferential admission and a free education to all Native students. 

Obviously, the last part is a bit tongue in cheek, but it highlights the hypocrisy of claiming “consistent with our values of community and inclusion” but then offering NOTHING to the Native population. And the part of raising a volunteer army is not hyperbole; Leland Stanford was truly evil, worse than a war criminal (you can get a bit of the story here.)

Serranus Hastings, whose donation led to the founding of California’s oldest law school, was also involved in Indian massacres. “Hastings and Stanford built their colossal fortunes, in part, on California real estate.Both men thus profited from the theft of California Indian land. Having helped to facilitate genocide, they then used some of their wealth to create institutions that have benefited many people.” But the institutions do not really address or redress the crimes their founders committed.

How to address these crimes is not a simple issue. Roy Rapaport, another former AAA president, wrote back in 1969 that in many cases, money cannot compensate for some things. You can understand this idea, he says, when you think of a question such as

"How much money is your integrity (or honesty or vote) worth?" 

Any value in dollars that you suggest will destroy the value you are seeking to buy. He continues: “It follows that attempts to mitigate the violation of strongly held values through cash awards may be taken by those to whom they are offered as insults heaped on previous injuries. The Shoshone, for instance, have refused to accept a cash award of tens of millions of dollars as compensation for what they construe to be seizure of their lands by the federal government in violation of the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863.” You cannot right a moral wrong just by paying some money. 

Interestingly, a group of Indigenous anthropologists has asked the AAA to suspend land acknowledgements until more thoughtful and effective statements can be written. They argue that statements that say that Indigenous peoples acted as “stewards” or “custodians” of the land, and statements that refer to “ancestral homelands,” “relegate Indigenous peoples to a mythic past and fail to acknowledge that they owned the land,” and so “tacitly affirm the putative right of non-Indigenous people to now claim title.”

They also note that nothing is said about what is to happen next. The implication is that non-Indigenous people are now saying, “What was once yours is now ours.”

They also note that these statements fail to acknowledge the violent trauma that came with the theft of land from Indigenous people—“the death, dispossession, and displacement of countless individuals and much collective suffering.” In fact, most Americans prefer to think of the Native population being “pushed off the land” or “forced onto reservations,” which, when you think about it, are euphemisms for the murder and theft by the colonists.

The Indigenous anthropologists also worry that “pretendians”—people who are not official members of a tribe but claim to be Native Americans—undermine Indigenous rights by masquerading as indigenous people. This raises the important point that being Native American is not a racial category, but a political issue; one needs to be registered and recognized by a tribe to be of indigenous descent. It is not about genes. 

So this Thanksgiving, you don’t need to give a formal Land Acknowledgement, but all Americans should think about who should rightfully own the land we live on. People like me, whose family arrived after the worst of the genocide had already occurred, cannot hide behind the excuse that they and their family did not do it. In my case, for example, my father’s family came in 1920, but his family would not have moved to the US from Italy had the continent not been seized from the Native peoples. My uncles did not go into farming or mining, so only claimed the small plot on which the family lived, but clearly they benefitted from the great wealth of the country, as wealth based in part on the stolen patrimony of the indigenous population. Americans got much more than squash and maize from the Native Americans. And that is something we should ponder, on this the 400th anniversary of that first Thanksgiving.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

"The Bears of Blue River" and the supernatural

I had a great 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, and there are many things I remember vividly about that year, like the fact that we moved our desks into different formations over the course of the year, and the beautiful student-teacher, Miss Anderson. Maybe these memories are so vivid because my family moved to France after that year, where the school and education philosophy was so different (disciplined and rigid). I especially remember the books we read. I was a member of an advanced reading group of about eight classmates, and we met in a small circle in the hallway to discuss books like Oliver Twist and Captains Courageous, in abridged “young reader” form.

I also remember that the whole class read a book about a boy that hunted bears. I remember that some classmates liked the book so much that they read it multiple times (reading a book multiple times is something I’ve never been tempted to do; there are so many new books to read!). Though I remember being really taken by the book, and remember that the stories were based on life in Indiana back in the frontier days when there were wild bears running about, I did not remember the title or author, or the plot. A decade or so ago I asked my old 4th grade friend if he remembered the book and knew the title, but he did not remember it.

Balser & Tom shot wolves and caught cubs
A couple of years ago, when back in Indiana, I mentioned this to a family friend, Pat, who is a retired teacher, and she immediately knew the book I was talking about. In fact, a few days later, she gave me the book: it is The Bears of Blue River by Charles Major, originally published in 1901 by an Indianapolis lawyer who became a writer of fiction. Most of his more popular work focuses on English historical fiction, but The Bears is young adult fiction, and based on Indiana, so it is currently published by Indiana University Press as part of a “Library of Indiana Classics” series. (The book is no longer under copyright, so I'm taking the liberty to reproduce some of the charming original drawings from the book.)

Balser shooting a bear
The hero of the book is Balser, a boy described as being about 13 or 14. There are many aspects of the story that make it enchanting for an American reader. The story is set in the 1820s, when Indiana was a new state and was still frontier. The discussion of Indians as bloodthirsty kidnappers of children is certainly dated and makes a modern reader feel a bit awkward, but other details of daily life—like what they ate and how they cooked their foods—are fascinating. The book describes hunting and fishing as easy because wildlife was so plentiful. Balser and his brother get up early on the day that a frost and heavy wind overnight will have knocked nuts out of the trees, and go into the forest with a cart they themselves made to collect the nuts. Their eagerness to get up early to go “do work” sounds impressive, but it is clear that since they are collecting food for the family, their work is more meaningful and thus exciting (or so it seems).

Liney saves Balser
And there is a love interest; the neighbors (who live several miles away) have a daughter, Liney Fox, and she and Balser both like each other. Balser saves her from being kidnapped by an Indian, and in a later chapter, she saves his life by putting a flaming torch in the face of a bear that was mauling Balser. Early in the story, Balser is given a gun as a gift by a stranger he helps, and he goes out hunting with it. He hunts to kill scary bears, and to provide food and pelts for the family. His hunting is described as “sport and recreation,” and like the trips to gather nuts in the fall sound like a lot of fun. These are the kind of adventures American boys grow up dreaming about—at least in mid-20th century Indiana.

Reading the book as an adult (I don’t think this counts as re-reading the book, like some of my classmates did in 4th grade!), I notice that while the tales of hunting bears are fun and dramatic, they are totally unrealistic. Even in the 1820s, I doubt parents would allow their 14 year old son to organize a hunting party with a friend (the friend only armed with a hatchet) to kill a large bear that is so large, fierce and frightening that some people claim it is demonic. In addition, Balser is mauled by bears twice, and bitten on his foot one more time, and yet only suffers 2 broken ribs and wounds that heal in a couple of weeks. Frankly, I’m skeptical. But it makes for some good stories. 

Another aspect of the book that I notice is the aspect of the supernatural. The “one-eared bear” (AKA “demon bear”) appears suddenly, as though he sprang from the earth, and similarly, disappears suddenly, so Balsar and his dogs do not see where it went. This “magic” is not explained in the book, but the bear is later spotted again, and dispatched, ending speculation among most residents that it was a demon. In another case, a “fire bear” glows like fire in the night. The chapter ends:

Many of the Blue River people did not believe that the Fire Bear derived its fiery appearance from supernatural causes. They suggested that the bear probably had made its bed of decayed wood containing foxfire, and that its fur was covered with phosphorous which glowed like the light of the firefly after night. 

The firebear

The book also begins a story that involves an explosion with a note, like an epigraph, that states:

Note: The author, fearing that the account of fire springing from the earth, given in the following story, may be considered by the reader too improbably for any book but one of Arabian fables, wishes to say that the fire and the explosion occurred in the place and manner described. 

At the end of the chapter, the author explains that this explosion was caused by a “pocket” of natural gas that was ignited by a torch. Thus, the author is hinting at the supernatural, but insisting that in the end there are natural explanations for all these unusual phenomena, even though, as in the case of the one-eared bear, he may not always know how to explain them.

The fire bear, the author tells us, was blamed “by many persons, especially of the ignorant class,” for fires that broke out in haystacks and barns. Balser dismissed such ideas and believed Indians started the fires, but “seeing is believing,” so was convinced it was a “fire bear” once he saw it. The author later tells readers that the bear glowed because it had laid in some phosphorescent bacteria, so was not "on fire" at all.

Tom shoots the firebear
 Another superstition about the Fire Bear was that anyone who saw it would die within three months. This the author describes as a “superstition,” but our hero Balser believes it, and especially since his girlfriend Liney also saw it, he feels he has no choice but to kill the bear to save their lives. They get the idea that to fight this Fire Bear, they should have a charm. Liney creates a charm by praying over a piece of jewelry. Interestingly, she starts to worry that it is evil to rely on a charm. Her worry parallels the Christian argument that potions and traditional remedies were witchcraft and thus the work of the devil. But Balser says that it is not evil, because in praying, Liney is asking God, and it is God that is making the charm. The author’s naturalism ends the discussion with a paragraph that reads like this, in its entirety: 

The charm worked at least one spell. It made the boy braver and gave him self-confidence.

This is a common argument in research on magic: that it serves primarily (and perhaps only) to give confidence in the person using the spell or amulet. In the book, the author describes the beliefs, creates tension and lets the reader wonder, but in the end shows that natural explanations are best.

One cannot help but wonder whether stories we read in our youth influence and shape us. In this case, I’m amused to see a children’s book from 1901 that reflects my current “academic” views on the supernatural. The fact that my views match this author’s also suggests that my views are not new at all, but over a century old, and merely reflect Western modernism.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Covid and Anti-vaxxers

A friend of mine who is a doctor lamented the fact that the Covid vaccine, which was developed in under one year and that works with astonishing 95% efficacy and thus should be viewed as one of the crowning achievements of scientific medicine, has become mired in political controversy. He wondered if it had to be this way. Could different leadership have led more people to accept the vaccine? 

Ezra Klein, in one of his recent podcasts, also asks what would have happened in the counterfactual world where Mitt Romney was approaching the end of his second term as president (having defeated Obama in 2012) when Covid-19 broke out: if he had promoted masks and vaccines, would opposition to the vaccine and to masks have still appeared?

 Tara Haelle, a science journalist who covers the anti-vaccine movement, has an opinion piece in the NY Times that I think clearly shows that Romney would not have been able to prevent the anti-vaxxers.

She shows that anti-vaxxers have been organizing since the early 2010s, and that they had adopted the strategy of arguing for their misinformed opinion with the argument of “freedom” since at least 2015. In that year, California pass a bill to eliminate nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine requirements, in response to the growing number of children not vaccinated and the resulting outbreaks of measles. Republican Texas state representative Jason Villalba proposed a similar bill, but his proposal led to an uproar and the bill was never taken up for a vote. Just for proposing such a bill, Villalba was primaried from the right and lost the primary. Even though his primary challenger went on to lose the general election, it became clear to Republicans that supporting vaccines was politically dangerous. After reading Haelle’s article, I suspect that Romney lost in part because he was not able to motivate the anti-science anti-vaxxers. (As an aside, people seem to forget that the election was actually fairly close; Romney is now widely viewed as a “loser” and people have all sorts of reasons for why he lost. Someone just told me yesterday that he lost because he did not campaign hard enough. Oof!)

 Still, looking at other countries’ reactions to Covid, one can’t help but feel that with different leadership, the current disaster in the US did not have to be like this. Further evidence that leadership is important comes from how Republicans have flipped on vaccine mandates in Missouri in just a few years. In mid-August, our local newspaper reported that Missouri’s legislature in 2014 unanimously passed a bill requiring all college students who live on campus to be vaccinated for meningitis. Meningitis is not that common; its incidence peaked at 1.5 per 100,000 in 1981, and in part thanks to vaccines, has declined to 0.11 per 100,000 in 2017. But it is a serious illness; the CDC says “About 10 to 15 in 100 people infected with meningococcal disease will die. Up to 1 in 5 survivors will have long-term disabilities,” including brain damage.

 It's astonishing that in just 6 or 7 years, Republicans in Missouri have gone from pro-vaccine to anti-vaccine, from agreeing to a vaccine requirement to arguing that vaccines mandates are an attack on civil liberties. 

Missouri’s current Republican governor, Mike Parson, in 2014 was a state senator, and he voted for the meningitis vaccine requirement. Now is against requiring a Covid vaccine, saying “The Government doesn't have a place to play in mandates of the vaccine.” (The ACLU has argued, correctly in my opinion, that vaccine mandates or requirements are not a violation of civil rights but actually protect everyone's civil rights. You can see a clear Opinion piece on this here.)

 Eric Schmitt, Missouri’s current Republican Attorney General, was then a state senator and voted for the vaccine mandate. Now he’s against masks and vaccine mandates, calling them part of the “dystopian biomedical securitystate.”  (See video here.) It is not irrelevant that Schmitt is campaigning for the Republican nomination to run for the open senate seat next year.

 Most surprising, some Missouri Republicans even want to passa law making it illegal for businesses to require their employees to getvaccinated for Covid-19.  Usually Republicans are against regulating businesses; now, over the issue of Covid, they are reversing their usual stance. This is especially surprising in Missouri, which is an “at will” employee state, meaning that unless an employee has a contract, they can be fired for any reason (the only exceptions are termination based on “race, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, or disability.”) 

It is astonishing that we are in such a polarized country that even viral infections and deaths do not change the minds of people who insist on individual “freedom.” Alabama and Mississippi have run out of ICU beds, repeating the tragedy we saw early in the pandemic in Italy and New York City. But this time it was entirely preventable. Yet people persist in their arguments that vaccine mandates are oppression.

As one doctor on the radio commented, the truly sad aspect of this current phase of the pandemic is not only how unnecessary all this suffering is, but also how we in the general public have become used to these high numbers of deaths. 

AHARON SARELI: ... one of the challenges of this last delta wave compared to the last summer, when we were hit by a massive surge as well, is that last summer everyone seemed to be in the battle against COVID together. It's almost like the world was holding its breath.

And I think one of the challenges with this surge is that if you're in the hospital, if you're a physician, if you're a health care giver or if you're a patient that is seriously ill or dying from COVID, you're in it and you're faced by what we've been talking about. But for the rest of the community, if you step outside of even Florida hospitals, life goes on. People are driving around. People are in the streets. People are going on about their lives. And I think that we've almost become numb as a community to what COVID is doing to those patients that chose not to become vaccinated and are now paying the price. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

St Louis' 4th of July Parade and Civil Religion

Corvettes on parade

On Saturday July 3rd, we went to the St Louis "America's Birthday Parade." Parades are common across cultures, and often they are a way for a community to emphasize and build up its identity. Americans have been celebrating Independence Day with parades since shortly after the Revolutionary War. But nowadays, parades do not attract the same crowds as in the past. This year's parade certainly was affected by Covid-19, though no one there was wearing a mask, even though there were plenty of children too young to be vaccinated. I suppose the people who are cautious enough to wear a mask did not attend. The St Patrick's Day parade in March had been cancelled because of Covid, so the Irish community brought their giant inflatable leprechaun out for Independence Day. 

Sparse crowd on Market Street
I was struck by how similar parades are cross-culturally. Each "troupe," be it a band or a float or a balloon, was preceded by a banner that named the group in the procession. A decade ago, I saw a neo-Medieval procession to a palio-like horse race in Ferrara, where they also had banners and bands leading each team. Like religious processions in Hong Kong and Taiwan, St Louis had a variety of bands and music, as well as floats, and displays of dancing and athleticism. No shamans in trance in St Louis, but there were athletic young girls doing flips going down the street, and very energetic dancers. 
St Patrick's Day Parade Committee banner


Banner in front of band, Ferrara 2010

Banners and fa pau in Shau Ki Wan, Hong Kong



These flag handlers reminded me of the flag acrobats in Italy, though in Italy they throw the flags in the air and catch them (usually) on the way down.
Flag handlers, Ferrara 2010

Music and bands are nearly universal in parades. Here the marching bands were mostly high school bands.

Some of the bands are on floats.
Paddlewheel boat float

Amusing "ambulance"
Float from local Chevy dealership
And this being America, there are many cars.

Patriotic Chargers
One of the more interesting parades in the anthropological literature is a parade that used to be held by the Tang lineage in the New Territories of Hong Kong. The Tangs were the big landowners of the Yuen Long area. They paraded along the boundaries of their territory. Their purpose, from a political point of view, was to show other lineages, and their tenants in outlying villages, how powerful and numerous they were.  I did some brief research in a village that was located next to a small Gun Yam (觀音) temple that belonged to the Tang, a place they would visit annually on their parade. (This is described in a book chapter by James L. Watson entitled "Fighting with operas: processionals, politics, and the spectre of violence in rural Hong Kong.") These parades are a bit like the way dogs mark their territory. And they are also reminiscent of the Unionists' parades celebrating victories over Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Interestingly, the Independence Day Parade in St Louis has a somewhat similar political origin. The current parade began as part of a "Veiled Prophet" parade. The Veiled Prophet Organization was a club for the elite men of St Louis. It was founded in 1878, a year after white and Black workers held a major strike that shook the city. Once the strike was broken, the elite sought to heal the wounds, but on their terms. The Veiled Prophet Organization held a debutante ball and a parade, which essentially expressed who was in charge of the city. People have protested against the Veiled Prophet for years, claiming it was elitist, racist, and sexist (see 1969 article on protests in the St Louis Post Dispatch and a 2014 article in The Atlantic). Just last month, Ellie Kemper (an actress from Missouri) was criticized for having participated in the debutante ball when she was 19 (she was crowned "Queen of Love and Beauty") and she apologized. (Vanity Fair had a good analysis here.) The Veiled Prophet Organization has adapted and changed over the years, and the Veiled Prophet Parade that used to be held at the time of the Ball in October has become a "Fair St Louis" parade over July 4th. 

In general, I find that most people who did not grow up in St Louis are shocked at the Veiled Prophet as a cultural institution, but those who grew up here or have lived here a long time take it as normal, simply part of the culture. There is so much that could be said about the Veiled Prophet. Maybe some other day. Right now I want to focus on the "America's Birthday Parade" and on the custom of parades in general (realizing that by doing so, I'm whitewashing the role of the Veiled Prophet in St Louis).

I had never noticed that people hand out candies to children along the parade route, but I saw this in St Louis and then found a picture of the same practice in my files of Hong Kong's Shau Kei Wan parade for Tam Kung.

Of course, these similarities between religious and secular processions are not mere coincidences, but are evidence for the theory that nationalism is the "civil religion" of the United States. This is the theory that rituals like Thanksgiving Day, 4th of July parades and fireworks, and the singing of the national anthem and reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance are ways Americans create a common understanding of who they are. These secular rituals are necessary because no one religion unifies the country. 

And, furthermore, the similarities also suggest that what we label "religion" is really not a separate domain at all, but is simply one form of symbolic thinking and ritual behavior that all humans engage in. This is a growing argument in the anthropology of religion and in religious studies, which sees the Western definition of religion as culture-bound. Indeed, Chinese did not have a word for "religion" until about 1900, when the neologism zongjiao 宗教 was introduced. Of course, Chinese had all sorts of rituals and ideas (e.g. ancestor worship and the emperor's offerings at the Temple of Heaven) that Westerners called "religious" (actually, they called them "superstitions," but that is another problem), but only in the West, where Papal authority was separate from the "secular" authority of emperors and kings, did a notion of religion develop.

This is a big topic I hope to write about in the future. In the meantime, it helps me understand my local parade as a ritual of integration, and historically as a display of power.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Biden-Harris Inauguration: "And the Flag Was Still There"

I have never paid much attention to presidential inaugurations before. In fact, I remember more than one person in rural Taiwan in January 1985 asking me if I was going back to the US for Reagan's 2nd inauguration, and I thought it was the most ridiculous question I'd ever been asked. First of all, I never even watched the news coverage of past inaugurations; it seemed like meaningless pomp. Secondly, I was not some sort of VIP who could actually attend the inauguration. 

But after four years of norm-breaking and two months of lies about the election being "stolen," and then most importantly, after the mob insurrection at the capitol building, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything but the transition, and ended up watching at least five hours of TV coverage of the inauguration.

Mostly I just felt relief that what to me has been a nightmare of stoked divisions, pettiness and hate is over. I was surprised that I also found several moments moving. I don't believe in rah-rah jingoism, but had to smile when Lady Gaga pointed to the flag over the capitol building when she sang the part of the national anthem that goes, "And the flag was still there" (CNN missed the moment, but you can see her turn around and point to the flag in the video here; start at about the 2:00 point). 

And I was moved by the young poet Amanda Gorman (video here), which is surprising because I don't normally care much for poetry. But the way she spoke, and the way she moved her hands, as well as the words she chose, spoke for many. 


In part, she said:

We've seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth,
in this faith we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.

Biden's inauguration speech also focused on how democracy has survived but takes constant effort. Here is what he said, along with the annotation from the Washington Post:

We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed1.

1 Throughout the speech, Biden intersperses the idea that democracy and our system of government have triumphed over threats, while acknowledging that victory isn't final. — Aaron Blake 

By 9:24 pm when I took this screenshot of my phone, the New York Times expressed many Americans' sense of relief that we had survived Trump with democracy intact. The Russian commentators who gleefully said the US was falling apart and that American democracy was a sham were shown to be wrong (at least for now).

The January 6th insurrection has changed a lot. A number of commentators on TV said that Americans took their institutions for granted, but seeing them at risk, and seeing how vulnerable institutions are to violence and "the big lie," has made people realize that democratic institutions need to be fostered and constantly rebuilt, and cannot be taken for granted. 

I have to admit that I always took for granted the peaceful transfer of power, and did not fully understand until this year how important and significant it is (though I remember my father saying so). Even when Al Gore conceded in 2000, I saw it as necessary once his legal remedies had been exhausted. I tended to see it more as Gore accepting the inevitable, rather than sacrificing for the good of the country, even though the sacrifice narrative was widely used in the press. 

We studied "The big lie" of the Nazis in school, but I thought that applied to other times and other places; I never would have imagined that it would apply to the United States today. Gore could have continued to contest the election; he had justifiable complaints that the Brooks Brothers Riot by Bush supporters, the bias of Republican Secretary of State Kathleen Harris, and the partisan 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that stopped the recount had essentially stolen the election, an election in which he had a majority of votes and only lost the Electoral College vote because of Florida's messy and disputed 537 margin of votes. But Trump created (with the help of Fox News) "the big lie" that he had actually won the election in a landslide and that it was stolen from him, simply by saying it over and over, and attacking anyone in his party who disagreed and dared to admit the truth. And as of mid-January, a CNN poll found three quarters of Republicans still did not believe Biden won the election legitimately.

The "bully pulpit" describes the power that a president's words have. Yet, sometimes presidents are able to use it, while other times they are not. Reading Obama's recent book, I'm struck at how often he was not able to convince people that what he viewed as thoughtful and balanced policies were reasonable, and yet Trump, by repeating "the big lie" that there was fraud in the election (indeed, he started saying this even before the 2016 election), managed to have most Republicans believe it. That this was possible in an open society with a free press, and over 200 years of institutionalized democracy, still surprises and worries me. 

Basically, this shows the plasticity of culture; people often think of culture as fixed, as rails along which the train of society moves, but it is actually more changeable that that. A democratic culture needs to be constantly reproduced. This means that everyone has a responsibility to support and renew democratic institutions if they are to last. Yes, for now, the flag is still there. But everyone needs to re-focus their attention on core democratic values. A recent study showed that only 3.5% of respondents would change their vote if their preferred ideal candidate did something blatantly undemocratic. That has to change; voters have to care more about the democratic process itself. And if they do, the polarization of society will also decrease. Hopefully the members of the evenly divided Senate will be forced to re-learn the art of compromise, and the dysfunctional polarization can be reduced. 

This is in everyone's favor, since Democrats may control all three branches of government for now, but they won't forever. In fact, if tradition holds, they will lose seats, and control of congress, in the mid-term 2022 elections. And hopefully the flag will still be there.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

The Cynical Opportunism of Josh Hawley

Sometimes politicians take positions just to advance their career and gain more power, even if it goes against their moral conviction or their constituents’ desires. Dramatic examples are Boris Yeltsin, who championed “Russia” when he was president of the Russian Soviet Republic and thereby undermined Gorbachev's power and led to the dissolution of the USSR, and Boris Johnson, who was widely accused of taking the “leave” position on Brexit because it was the only apparent way he could become prime minister. They seem to view this as their shot at power, and decide to seize it.

Hawley signals to protesters on the way to the Capitol Wednesday
Josh Hawley, who is the junior senator of my current state of Missouri, took a similar shot, but it has failed spectacularly. It has long been clear that he was not going to settle for being a senator. He was going to be running for president. While there is nothing wrong with ambition, Hawley stands out for his cynical dishonesty. Even before the Capitol insurrection, commentators were noting that his gambit of challenging the certification of electors was rash and dangerous, and that he certainly knows better, having gone to Stanford and Yale Law School and clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

When he ran for senator against the Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in 2018, he was accused of opportunism (see this NY Times article, which includes the ad he had run two years earlier accusing politicians of climbing ladders, which people were saying now applied to him). As a candidate, he claimed that he was in favor of forcing insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions (a policy that had been part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), AKA “Obamacare”), but at the same time, as attorney general of Missouri, he joined a Texas lawsuit that would have eliminated the ACA. He had joined the suit to prove his Republican credentials, and yet claimed that because his eldest son had a rare degenerative bone disease (a pre-existing condition), he would not risk coverage on pre-existing conditions (see ad in the article). Yet that is exactly what his lawsuit was doing. He was widely criticized for that at the time (see article that refers to his ad as "a national joke"), but in the polarized environment of 2018 Missouri, he still handily defeated McCaskill, and became the youngest member of the senate (then at 39 years of age) after only 2 years as attorney general.

In the argument over certification of votes, Hawley saw a chance to stand out from the pack. He was the first senator to announce that he would challenge the results. He did this even though McConnel had strongly urged his fellow-senators not to join in the objections of representatives. If no senator had joined, the objections would not be debated.

It is worth remembering that back on Nov. 10, a GOP official was quoted as saying of Trump’s claims that the election had been stolen, “What’s the downside for humoring him?” At the time, many assumed that the truth would ultimately come out and Biden would take office. But as Trump persisted with his lies about election fraud, and his followers overwhelmingly believed him despite no evidence being presented and over 60 court challenges being turned away, the cost to the nation became clear. Hawley’s challenge was therefore much more serious than merely a procedural or legal issue, even though it was clear it would fail, because it fed into the Trump argument that the election was unfair and stolen. And as many commentators noted, he surely knew better, which made his position even more cynical. Furthermore, he was putting other Republicans in the awkward position of having to choose between certifying the election (a mainly ceremonial task that is legally required) or joining in Trump’s fantasy.

Many representatives voted for the challenges because they fear being primaried from the right. Josh Hawley does not have that excuse. He did this to stand out, to try to inherit the Trump vote.

Hawley did not actually say that there had been fraud or cheating in the polls. He said he was objecting to the Pennsylvania legislature allowing mail-in ballots, saying that would require a constitutional amendment. Setting aside the fact that the legislature was Republican-controlled and that the US Supreme Court had already ruled and disagreed with his argument, he was being very clever: he did not join Trump in saying the election was stolen, but he left the impression that he agreed with Trump. He could claim that he was making a point of law, while most Trump supporters (voters he was courting for his run for president) would interpret it as saying the election was stolen and see him as loyal to the president.

He also was clever in saying that he was doing this on behalf of constituents who had concerns about election fairness. He argued that further investigation would reassure the public. In fact, as the Trump mob marched from the Trump rally to the Capital, Hawley’s office sent out a fundraising appeal that said, “But this is not about me! It is about the people I serve, and it is about ensuring confidence in our elections....That’s why I am standing up on behalf of the people I serve to relay their concerns to Washington. For conviction. For principle. For our country. For YOUR VOTE.”

This argument is specious, however, because he himself did nothing to correct his constituents’ false impression that the election had been unfair. As Romney said, the solution was to tell the truth. Instead, Hawley tried to take advantage of the situation to get more visibility and publicity, and to get the Trump vote when he ran for president.

Instead, he’s being pilloried. The AP has now run a story headlined “‘Great damage’: Republicans recoil from Missouri Sen. Hawley.” Former three term MO Senator John Danforth, his mentor and someone who had promoted his career, has been quoted in multiple sources as saying that supporting Josh Hawley’s career was the biggest mistake of his life.

As an aside, John Danforth is a senator from a different era. Already in 2000, he was not willing to join Bush’s legal team in fighting to win Florida, arguing that it was unseemly and unlikely to succeed. And on Nov. 18, he wrote in an op-ed in the St Louis Post-Dispatch that Trump’s attempts to delegitimize Biden’s victory was not conservative but radical. And just on Jan. 4th, he wrote an op-ed in the NY Times along with three other former senators calling for a return to civility and bipartisanship in the senate. Hawley's behavior was the exact opposite.

Even after the occupation of the Capitol building, Hawley persisted in making his case; his only concession was to decline to make a speech in favor of the motion to decertify the Pennsylvania electors, since he had already spoken in support of the Arizona motion. 

The repercussions keep coming. Simon & Schuster has cancelled the contract for the publication of his book criticizing big tech. Predictably, he makes himself the victim and claims it is a violation of his First Amendment rights. Though I’m not a lawyer and he is, he should know that the First Amendment prevents government censorship; it does not require publishers to publish anything. One of his biggest Missouri donors, David Humphreys, disowned him and called him a “political opportunist,” and has been quoted as saying “Hawley’s irresponsible, inflammatory, and dangerous tactics have incited violence and further discord across America.”  He is being shunned.

In addition to the occupation, one more thing changed that undermined Hawley’s calculation. With the loss of both run-off senate races in Georgia, it became clear that Trump was not helping Republicans get elected. People started to blame Trump for the Georgia defeats and distancing themselves from him, and the insurrection in the Capitol added to the sense that Trump is a spent force. Hawley missed his cue and continued holding on to Trump.

David Von Drehle, in what now looks like a prescient commentary published Jan. 5th, notes that Hawley’s elite background makes him an unlikely successor to Trump, and that Trump voters are not likely to follow him anyway, though they may enjoy the show he creates as a highly educated elite trying to sidle up to Trump. Trump himself used and spit out all those who tried to use him to advance their careers, from Jeff Sessions to all the other presidential primary candidates who hoped to inherit Trump’s followers and thus held their tongue only to be mocked as “Lyi’n Ted Cruz” and “Li’l Marco Rubio.”

It is not clear what the future is for Josh Hawley. His career certainly seems in tatters now. It is not likely he will have to resign, and I doubt a Republican could win a primary against him in four years when he is up for re-election, but certainly his plans to run for president in 2024 are over. But it is still a bit sad to see someone take their shot and fail so spectacularly. Except that his shot was so cynical and undemocratic that the result is probably what he deserved.