There they go again, assuming that the answer to their woes is to clamp down even harder on their politicians to be more extreme than the rest of the country. It's worked out so well for them:
No House Republican did more to anger anti-abortion groups last year than Rep. Renee Ellmers, the North Carolina lawmaker who last January scuttled legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks. At the time, anti-abortion leaders vowed that they and their members would remember Ellmers’ betrayal during her next primary.
Apparently, they forgot.
Nearly every one of the country’s most prominent anti-abortion groups have stayed out of Ellmers’ primary, not even offering so much as an endorsement to her opponents – much less the financial and grassroots support vital to defeating an incumbent member of Congress. In fact, a review of independent expenditure documents filed with the Federal Election Commission showed that none of these groups has spent money against Ellmers this year, an eye-opening revelation given the anger that still simmers over the congresswoman’s actions and the importance of abortion to many core GOP voters.
Indeed, a consortium of influential groups — such as Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, Concerned Women for America, and the Family Research Council — has actually spent less on the North Carolina race than the American College of Radiology Association PAC. The little-known political action committee has spent about $35,000 backing Ellmers, $35,000 more than the combined efforts of anti-abortion groups.
Anti-abortion groups have more time to organize against Ellmers if they want it – a court’s decision in February to throw out the existing congressional map in North Carolina has pushed back House primaries there from March 15 to June 7. But interviews with leaders of the movement suggest more time won’t change anything because rather than an anomaly, the Ellmers race is a symptom of a broader anti-abortion problem within not just the anti-abortion movement but social conservativism writ large.
Their assessment is blunt: Leading social conservative organizations are either too cozy with congressional leadership or simply don’t understand the importance of, when necessary, playing rough with lawmakers who vote against them. The consequence is a tangible feeling, on Capitol Hill and beyond, that stepping out of line on issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage carries less of an electoral penalty than defiance on issues such as taxes. That’s because the latter will earn the ire of such well-funded groups as the fiscally focused Club for Growth, which has a well-known history of defeating Republican incumbents.
The Club, incidentally, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars earlier this year targeting Ellmers over perceived moderation on economic issues.
“Social-issue groups across the board need to recognize that if there are no consequences to people disagreeing with you, you’re not going to get taken seriously,” said Frank Cannon, a leader within the anti-abortion movement and president of the American Principles Project, a social conservative group. “We spend virtually nothing in directly engaging in elections. And the absence on that is one of the big dramatic flaws … for the social conservative movement.”
Either be as doctrinaire as Ted Cruz or you will lose...oh wait.
"I believe the world is a safer and a better place when America is the strongest power in the world, and I believe only with a strong America will we defeat this radical group, this apocalyptic group called ISIS," said Rubio.... "If we capture any of these ISIS killers alive, they are going to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and we're going to find out everything they know, because when I'm president, unlike Barack Obama, we will keep this country safe."
Granted, he's not openly calling for beheading and killing the families of terrorist suspects to make them talk. But it's pretty clear he means to torture people to "find out everything they know, unlike Barack Obama".
How about this guy?
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) seems to be going further than even Republican frontrunner Donald Trump in advocating the crackdown of U.S. Muslims. He doesn’t just want to consider shutting down mosques, as Trump says, but wants to shut down “any place where radicals are being inspired.”
“It’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down any place — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — any place where radicals are being inspired,” Rubio said on Fox News’ The Kelly File on Thursday night when asked if he agreed with Trump. “The bigger problem we have is our inability to find out where these places are, because we’ve crippled our intelligence programs, both through unauthorized disclosures by a traitor, in Edward Snowden, or by some of the things this president has put in place with the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities.”
“So whatever facility is being used -- it’s not just a mosque -- any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States, should be a place that we look at,” he continued.
I don't think Rubio is as batshit as Trump. But I don't think he's someone we should count on to save the republic either. He's a product of the Tea Party right and has no compunction about going all the way over the cliff if that's what it takes.
If you don't want a lunatic, authoritarian, extremist wingnut for president vote for one of the Democrats. Because all the Republicans running are are either lunatics, authoritarians or extremists in various combinations. The Dems aren't perfect, but they're better than any of the freaks the other side has on offer at the moment.
So I look at deporting all illegal immigrants. I look at a temporary ban of Muslims coming to the United States. They get a lot of attention. Are they opening positions in a negotiation?
I'm not saying there can't be some give and take, but at some point we have to look at these things. You look at the radical Islamic terrorism and you look at what's going on, we have to take a serious look. There's tremendous hatred. You look at illegal immigration and all that's taking place with respect to illegal immigration, whether it's the crime or the economy, I mean, it affects many different elements. It doesn't mean I'm hard and fast 100 percent, but we to get a lot of what I'm asking for, or we're not going to have a country any more.
So they are opening positions?
They are very strong positions. It doesn't mean you're not going to negotiate a little bit, but I guess there will always be some negotiation. But they are very strong positions, and I would adhere to those positions very strongly. That doesn't mean that at some point we won't talk a little bit about some negotiation. Who wouldn't do that?
This is how he talks. It's gibberish.
I have no idea what he "really" plans to do about undocumented immigrants. But I do know that he says they're rapists and criminal and that he's going to deport them all and build a wall --- and that his crowds cheer ecstatically whenever he says it. The hatred he is pimping says everything you need to know.
And, by the way, there is no guarantee that he won't do any of this stuff. Cops love this guy. And he'd be in charge of the federal police apparatus of the United States of America.
If Rubio hoped that going negative on Trump in the most recent GOP debate and on the campaign stump would reap benefits with voters, it hasn’t resonated with our national respondents. Forty-four percent of voters polled are backing the New York businessman, an increase of two percentage points from a few days ago. Meanwhile, Rubio dropped from 19 percent to 14 percent, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz moving into second with 15 percent of voters’ support.
All of this could just be normal churn but it does indicate that Rubio's gambit to fight Trump with juvenile insults to his manhood isn't resonating with the voters. If you're going to play the dominance game you have to actually dominate. Rubio's attacks came very late and are, in my opinion, the wrong kind for someone like him. He's too fresh faced and callow to get away with schoolyard taunts. Now, if Christie had been in his position it might have worked. But Rubio had enough trouble being seen as a mature, presidential-level leader. This doesn't help.
He should have attacked him quite seriously on his honesty about his business record. That's the foundation on which the Trump mystique relies and if he'd been able to show it for the house of cards it really is he might gotten headway. Cheap dick jokes only work for bully boys like Christie and Trump.
The Villagers never seem to worry much about the threat of wingnut extremism since they know so many nice Republicans in Washington who wouldn't hurt a fly, but the media does tend to get a little bit concerned when the freakshow goes after them personally. Last week Trump introduced a new line on the stump about changing the libel laws to keep the press from being able to write "lies" about him. He wants to be able to sue more freely.
He's still on it today:
Trump says after changing libel laws as president the public will respect media more.
There are a lot of reasons why people don't respect the media, not the least of which is the fact that they are owned and operated by demagogues and charlatans like Trump. Giving even more power to rich guys isn't the answer.
But if trump wins, you can bet that's going to be first on his agenda.
Last August, Donald Trump held his biggest outdoor rally up until that time down in Mobilem Ala. The press dutifully covered it from beginning to end as they like to do and contrary to what Trump says every day on the stump, they panned out to show that he had filled up a very large space with thousands and thousands of ecstatic supporters. It was a bit surprising to see signs which said “Thank you Lord Jesus for President Trump” and even more startling to hear people in the crowd yelling “White Power.” Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions appeared at the rally and Trump handed him a “Make America Great Again” hat. At the time, most people thought it was just one more wacky moment in the early days of the crazy primary campaign that we’d all laugh about later. Nobody’s laughing today. Donald Trump is the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. He held another gigantic rally in Alabama yesterday and Senator Jeff Sessions appeared onstage again, this time to officially endorse his candidacy. He gave the crowd what they wanted, saying: “For 30 years, politicians have promised to fix illegal immigration. Have they done it?” No,” the crowd roared back. “Donald Trump will do it,” Sessions said. There were no reports of people screaming “white power” in the audience but the rousing reception for Sessions speaks for itself. He’s one of the leading xenophobe voices in America and has a long and illustrious history of hostility toward African Americans as well. He is the most unreconstructed racist in the U.S. Senate today. Throughout the morning leading up to the surprise endorsement, the media had been pressing Trump on whether he would disavow any support from KKK leader David Duke; Trump was dancing around it, pretending he wasn’t sure who Duke was. When word of the Sessions endorsement was announced it suddenly became clear why he did that. Sunday was “white power” day for the Trump campaign and he didn’t want to dampen the celebration by criticizing the participants. If you look at the public figures who are first out of the gate to endorse Trump now that he looks to be so formidable that they cannot hope to stop him, you’ll see Chris Christie, known for his derision and bullying; former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, best known for her anti-immigration proposals demanding that people who “look illegal” offer up their papers; former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke; and Maine Governor Paul LePage, who was last heard complaining that drug dealers come up to Maine from New York to sell their drugs and “half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave.” Now there’s Sessions too. Trump is, in other words lining up the country’s most famous bullies, xenophobes, and bigots to endorse him. (And that’s not even counting the avowed white supremacists who are doing robocalls on his behalf.) The right is acting shocked — shocked! — that anyone would ever say there’s racism going on in their party, and they are all practically calling for the smelling salts at the mere suggestion that Donald Trump might be appealing to white people who hold racist views. This is to be expected. After all, even their protestations are a form of dogwhistle at this point: The pretense of horror at being called racist is a signal to fellow racists. But the right wing isn’t alone in protesting the very obvious fact that Trump’s appeal is based in racism. There are more than a few members of the left who get similarly upset at any suggestion that the Trump phenomenon might be driven by race. This is odd considering his blatant xenophobia with respect to Hispanic immigrants and Muslims, his blaming of every economic problem on cunning leaders of foreign governments and his long history of outright racism when it comes to African Americans. If these racist and xenophobic polices weren’t the central message of his campaign — if he weren’t promising to deport and ban millions of people — perhaps it might be believable that the white people who are voting for him [he doesn’t have any other kind] do so in spite of this agenda rather than because of it. The data does not support that. The New York Times reports:
"According to P.P.P., 70 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters in South Carolina wish the Confederate battle flag were still flying on their statehouse grounds. (It was removed last summer less than a month after a mass shooting at a black church in Charleston.) The polling firm says that 38 percent of them wish the South had won the Civil War. Only a quarter of Mr. Rubio’s supporters share that wish, and even fewer of Mr. Kasich’s and Mr. Carson’s do. Nationally, further analyses of the YouGov data show a similar trend: Nearly 20 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters disagreed with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Southern states during the Civil War. Only 5 percent of Mr. Rubio’s voters share this view. Mr. Trump’s popularity with white, working-class voters who are more likely than other Republicans to believe that whites are a supreme race and who long for the Confederacy may make him unpopular among leaders in his party. But it’s worth noting that he isn’t persuading voters to hold these beliefs. The beliefs were there — and have been for some time." Progressives naturally balk at the idea that hardworking people, suffering in a stagnating economy, might be driven by something something so dark as racism when the fact is that they have much more in common economically with people of color than this blowhard billionaire who’s selling some snake oil about “making deals” with foreign countries so America will be “great again.” But it’s a sad reality that this racial animosity lies at the heart of many of America’s pathologies, particularly its unwillingness to adopt social democratic policies going all the way back to the beginning. And it’s still with us:
However, just because Trump is appealing to many white people who are motivated by bigotry, it does not also mean that white people, or even the white working class, are all bigots who will vote for Donald Trump. After 2012, when the conventional wisdom held that Democrats were as dead in the water with working class whites as Republicans were with Latinos and African Americans, The New Republic’s Nate Cohn pointed out that the whites Romney won were very much centered in specific regions. In a piece called “The GOP Has Problems With White Voters, Too,” he wrote: "Romney’s strong national showing among white voters was almost exclusively driven by historic support from Southern and Appalachian white voters. In many counties, Obama’s performance was the worst by any Democrat since McGovern or, in some places, ever. Even a quick glance at overwhelmingly white, Southern, or Appalachian counties with a history of offering even limited support to Democratic candidates shows Obama performing anywhere from 15 to 30 points worse than Kerry did eight years ago. Obama even lost more than 50 points compared to Kerry’s performance in several “coal country” counties in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Outside the South, Romney’s performance among white voters was anything but historic. He ran behind Bush’s tallies in most of the northern half of the United States. While some believed that Obama’s weakness among white voters would translate into opportunities for Romney in overwhelmingly white states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, Obama ultimately won these three states by 5.6 to 6.9 points, even though Bush never lost any by more than 1.3 points."
That is not to say that Democrats should not offer an agenda that benefits these people regardless of their voting habits. It’s the job of the left to push hard for policies on behalf of all working families. But it’s foolish to expect that this cohort is going to respond with gratitude or even acknowledge that they are better off. (Witness the loathing for Obamacare even as many benefit from it.)
Maybe Trump will be the last gasp of this dynamic, and class solidarity will rise above racial resentment at long last. But for now, it does no good to ignore the fact that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president has just been endorsed by some of the the nation’s most notorious racists and xenophobes and is routinely cheered by ecstatic crowds for his bigotry. America’s made a lot of progress but it’s not there yet.
As this is a busy weekend for passing out movie awards, Digby has graciously invited me back for Oscar night. Yesterday, IFC continued their time-honored tradition of cutting in line a day before the Oscar telecast with the Independent Spirit Awards. While several of the nominated films crossed over with the Academy’s, they stayed true to form by largely championing substance, creativity, innovation, and (*ahem*) diversity over box office.
FWIW, here are links to my reviews of some of this year’s Independent Spirit nominees:
On the heels of his endorsements from a trio of American governors, Donald Trump now has the backing of a leader overseas.
The endorsement is not much of a surprise, given the beliefs shared by Trump and Le Pen. Trump has made immigration a centerpiece of his campaign, pledging to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
Those proposals would be right at home in Le Pen's far-right National Front party.
The endorsement from abroad comes at a time when Republican leaders here in the U.S. are beginning to line up behind Trump as the party's likely presidential nominee.
Trump collected endorsements this week from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Maine Gov. Paul LePage and former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder and former leader of France's National Front party, said Saturday on Twitter that he would support Trump if he were an American. The tweet, written in French, closed with Le Pen offering God's blessing to Trump.
Trump has endorsed Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un but no word on whether they are prepared to return the favor. Putin did say he thought Trump was terrific so perhaps a formal endorsement is on the way.
Tonight at the Oscars we may see a movie win Best Picture that dramatizes one of the most important stories about religion and powerful institutions that we've seen in many a moon. I'm talking about "Spotlight" the film about the Boston Globe's investigative team which revealed the systemic child abuse that had been covered up for decades by the Catholic hierarchy in very Catholic Boston. It's a truly amazing film, one of those "procedurals" but it's about journalism, not police work, and it's a story we already knew ---a nd it's fascinating nonetheless.
I hope it wins some prizes and that everyone sees it. But I have to say I think it's pretty amazing that the biggest Christian church in the world has been revealed to have covered up thousands of cases of child rape over the course of many decades, perhaps centuries, and they somehow came out with their moral authority intact. This I will never understand. This wasn't just a slip-up. These are among the worst crimes human beings commit, a total taboo, particularly in a church which has no compunction about policing the sexuality of its flock.
I'm not a Catholic so I guess it's not my business. But whenever I see the pope exalted as this wonderful compassionate world leader these thoughts pop into my head. When I see the US media turn into shrieking fanboys and treat his visit as if he were a living saint come to bless us with his presence I think about this. Again, not my business. But it's hard for me to see why anyone should take the Church's moral teachings seriously after that.
This article in the New Yorker about the Spotlight team, in which Sarah Larson revisits the reporters and editors who wrote the stories revealing the rot in the Boston archdiocese is a fascinating look at what they went through in investigating these horrific stories of abuse. They had to listen to hundreds and hundreds of people describe what had happened to them and the ongoing destruction of their psyches throughout their lives afterwards. The interviewed very, very old people who confessed to what had happened as long ago as the 1920s for the first time in their lives. It was a harrowing experience.
But this really stuck out at me, something I had sort of been feeling but hadn't put into words:
On my way out, Rezendes gave me a tour of the Globe library—the vast collection of clip files that the journalists consult, the photograph archives, the spiral staircase seen in the movie. Before I left, we talked about Pope Francis and his often disappointing response to the crisis, as well as the Church’s inflexible positions on the celibacy requirement, women in the clergy, contraception, homosexuality, and so on. I told Rezendes a theory I’d heard from the comedian and childhood-rape survivor Barry Crimmins: that Pope Francis is the Church’s way of changing the conversation without changing the Church. Rezendes looked thoughtful. “That makes some sense,” he said.
I'm glad the Pope cares about the poor and is talking about climate change. These things matter and apparently a lot of people still care what the Pope says. So that's good. But this other thing, this big horrible, child rape thing, is still out there, rotting the institution from within.
Who is Hillary Clinton? is a fascinating time-lapse depiction of the leading Democratic presidential candidate as seen from the left. But it is also much more than that. A carefully-edited anthology of The Nation’s coverage of Clinton’s career, it’s a rigorous and painstaking study of one our most enigmatic public figures. It is a history of our time, and a must-read for the 2016 election season.
Contributors include David Corn, Erica Jong, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Tomasky, William Greider, Ari Berman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Chris Hayes, Jessica Valenti, Richard Kim, Joan Walsh, Jamelle Bouie, Doug Henwood, Heather Digby Parton, Michelle Goldberg, and many more.
“Hillary Clinton is a Rorschach test of our attitudes—including our unconscious ones—about women, feminism, sex and marriage, to say nothing of the Democratic Party, progressive politics, the United States and capitalism,” writes Nation columnist Katha Pollitt in the book’s introduction. “This collection of Nation articles won’t answer all the readers’ questions, but at the very least in brings the Rorschach blot into clearer focus.”
The Nation has endorsed Sanders. Whether you like Clinton or hate her, it's an interesting collection of views.
Here's the thing. Rubio did have to attack Trump. It was long overdue if he expected win. And there are many things he can attack him with. But resorting to schoolyard taunts about his looks is not good for Rubio who ends up being diminished in stature. He already looks like a kid. Now he's acting like one.
You can't out-Trump Trump. He's sui generis. The attacks on his business career would seem to be much more fruitful territory to me. If he'd stuck with that and reinforced it with a barrage of ads echoing the same message --- that Trump is nothing more than a brand name on an empty suit maybe he could have an impact. But I'll be surprised if this works.
Mr. Trump attended the New York Military Academy after years of rowdy and rebellious behavior at Kew-Forest, a more traditional prep school in Queens. Mr. Trump once recalled giving a teacher at Kew-Forest a black eye “because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.”
Born on July 29, 1883, Mussolini gained a reputation for bullying and fighting during his childhood. At age 10 he was expelled from a religious boarding school for stabbing a classmate in the hand, and another stabbing incident took place at his next school.
It doesn't prove anything, of course. But still ...
This is sort of interesting too:
With Italy’s leading non-fascist politicians hopelessly divided and with the threat of violence in the air, on October 29 the king offered Mussolini the chance to form a coalition government. But although the premiership was now his, Il Duce—a master of propaganda who claimed the backing of 300,000 fascist militiamen when the real number was probably far lower—wanted to make a show of force. As a result, he joined armed supporters who flooded the streets of Rome the following day. Mussolini would later mythologize the March on Rome’s importance.
After becoming prime minister, Mussolini reduced the influence of the judiciary, muzzled a free press, arrested political opponents, continued condoning fascist squad violence and otherwise consolidated his hold on power. However, he continued working within the parliamentary system at least somewhat until January 1925, when he declared himself dictator of Italy. Following a series of assassination attempts in 1925 and 1926, Mussolini tightened his grip even further, banning opposition parties, kicking out over 100 members of parliament, reinstating the death penalty for political crimes, ramping up secret police activities and abolishing local elections.
I believe he also said that he was going to make the country great again ...
"That's just not done," people used to say of behaviors that violated genteel rules of polite society. It is not an expression you hear much anymore. "Polite society" is now as quaint as the notion that the United States abides by the international rule barring torture. Like the rule against Ghostbusters getting involved with possessed people, it's more of a guideline than a rule.
"It's okay if you're a Republican" (IOKIYAR) is musty Internet shorthand for how one major party believes rules and norms apply only to certain people and not others. We are beyond that now. Far beyond it. It is a wonder anyone still uses the expression from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Nobody believes it anymore, even at the highest levels.
Writing for Salon, Harvard professor Bruce Hay gives his understanding of how the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia approached science. As a former Scalia clerk, Hay speaks from experience:
Antonin Scalia generally detested science. It threatened everything he believed in. He refused to join a recent Supreme Court opinion about DNA testing because it presented the details of textbook molecular biology as fact. He could not join because he did not know such things to be true, he said. (On the other hand, he knew all about the eighteenth century. History books were trustworthy; science books were not.) Scientists should be listened to only if they supported conservative causes, for example dubious studies purporting to demonstrate that same-sex parenting is harmful to children. Scientists were also good if they helped create technologies he liked, such as oil drills and deadly weapons.
Rules and norms can be confining, but they can also be empowering the way science defines physical reality, and Internet protocols and international standards make communication possible and business transactions predictable. But in politics, where once there was truth, now there is truthiness. Where once there were facts, now there are "true facts." People who decry government "entitlements" behave as though they are entitled to their own facts, to their own president, their own government, and their own country. All others are illegitimate.
Nancy LeTourneau writes at Political Animal that Senate Republicans' efforts to stonewall President Obama nominating Scalia's replacement are consistent with their broader effort to, in Josh Marshall's words, "delegitimize, degrade and denigrate his presidency and the man himself.” LeTourneau provides a short list of examples and writes:
Our democracy is not based on all of us agreeing with each other. The founders gave us a process for voicing those disagreements and doing the hard work of taking care of the country’s business in the midst of them. These unprecedented actions by the Republicans to undermine and delegitimize one of the three branches of our government place their side of the argument above those processes and thereby pose a threat to its very survival.
At Ten Miles Square, Peter Shane addresses the breakdown in norms directly:
What is happening is a dispute over norms - some call them “conventions” - which are the unwritten, but mutually accepted ways of doing business that allow parties and institutions in conflict to work together in spite of conflict. Thirteen years ago, I wrote a law review article decrying what I saw then as a dangerous corrosion in those institutional norms that had enabled frequently divided government to nonetheless achieve great things in the United States between the end of World War II and the late 1970s. Matters since then have grown much worse.
A president with 11 months to go in his term could reasonably expect, based on well-established norms, that the act of nominating a Supreme Court Justice will be viewed as a routine and wholly appropriate fulfillment of his duties. A president could reasonably expect the nominee to receive a hearing. Senate opposition on grounds of judicial philosophy rather than credentials might well be predictable also, but the legitimacy of a nomination and the expectation of a full hearing would seem to be unquestionable. The assertion by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) within hours of Scalia’s death that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President,” immediately threatens to explode these norms.
The funny thing about norms – especially someone else's – is you rarely notice them until someone violates them. Like the rule that racial and ethnic minorities ought to know their place. Like the rule that only white men get to be president. Or the rule that Christians get to dominate religious minorities. Or that America was founded for white Europeans.
What is crazy about the current presidential campaign and its coverage in the news, is how pundits and pollsters keep treating it as though accepted norms still apply. As if the usual tools for making predictions still work. As if Congress is still run by rational actors. As if Trump voters will vote their rational best interests instead of just burning the place to the ground like Dresden rather than let THEM have it.
This is a very Vonnegut moment. America has come unstuck in time. At one moment, it is 2016. At another, Orwell's 1984. The next, it is FDR's 1934. Or 1862, before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Everybody thinks they get to have America their way. And, by God, they feel entitled to it.
-from “Harvest for the World”, by the Isley Brothers
Remember the Afghanistan War? What do you mean, “which one”? Y’know…the latest one; the one that “ended” in 2014 (or are we just taking a breather? I’ve long lost track). At any rate, while it’s no secret it was/is largely a “we” (as in “American”) problem, it is easy to forget that “we” weren’t the only ones who invested precious blood and treasure in that war; there were coalition forces involved as well. Take Denmark, for example. 43 dead, 211 wounded, and 15 billion kroner spent by the time the Danes pulled out in 2013.
And now, those young men and women who have “paid the price” of the Danish-Afghan conflict may have their generation’s Coming Home (or The Deer Hunter ) in the guise of A War, a powerful and sobering Oscar-nominated drama from writer-director Tobias Lindholm. Pilou Aesbaek stars as a compassionate company commander stationed in the Helmand Province. After one of his units is demoralized by the loss of a man to a Taliban sniper while on recon, the commander bolsters morale by personally leading a patrol, which becomes hopelessly pinned down during an intense firefight. Faced with a split-second decision, the commander requests air support, resulting in a “fog of war” misstep.
For the first two-thirds of the film Lindholm intersperses the commander’s front line travails with those of his family back home, as his wife (Yuva Novotny) struggles to keep life and soul together while maintaining as much of a sense of “normalcy” as she can muster for the sake their three kids (especially the youngest, who frequently wonders aloud when his dad’s coming home). The home front and the war front are both played “for real” (aside from the obvious fact that it’s a Danish production, this is a refreshingly un-Hollywoodized war movie; the mundanities of everyday life hold equal import with the odd rush of adrenaline). The only nod to convention comes in a slight tonal shift in the third act; a touch of military courtroom drama recalling Breaker Morant (my review).
Some may be dismayed by the moral and ethical ambivalence of the denouement. Then again, there are few tidy endings in life…particularly in war, which (to quote Bertrand Russell) never determines who is “right”, but who is left. Is that a tired trope? Perhaps; but it’s one that bears repeating…until that very last bullet on Earth gets fired in anger.