Good Friday Morning, and after several weeks of bad news, it’s nice to have college football back. The news is still lousy, and who on earth knows if the Tennessee Volunteers will turn into a serviceable football team. But college football is back with all the weird things that go along with it, like the Duke’s Mayonaiise eating contest at the ECU game. That, by itself, improves the world immensely.
There’s been an obscene amount of news items that have occurred this past week. I needed a break from Afghanistan. We’ll return to that topic in the future because my anger and concern there are still palpable. I have a few words to say about the Supreme Court order decision on the Texas law. But the main topic this week is one of the craziest things I’ve seen out of the pandemic in Australia. So we’re going into that, along with how conservatives on different view this so differently—links to follow.
A quick hit on abortion and Texas:
- I’ll be blunt: almost everything you’re reading about the Texas law and the Supreme Court’s ruling is wrong. It’s wrong for two reasons: 1) People are dumb, and 2) the actual argument at SCOTUS is hyper-technical. To understand what’s happening, I recommend three pieces, all by law professors:
- “Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s Texas Abortion Ruling—and How to Prevent it From Setting a Dangerous Precedent: The decision is wrong, but consistent with previous precedent. Yet it also threatens to create a road map for circumventing constitutional rights. Fortunately, the latter can be prevented.” by Ilya Somin.
- “SCOTUS Splits 5-4 on Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson: Chief Justice Roberts dissented, and would have “preclude[d] enforcement of S. B. 8 by the respondents.” But it isn’t clear how the named respondents could enforce the law.” by Josh Blackman.
- “President Biden Threatens To Sue Over S.B. 8: But who would the United States sue?” by Josh Blackman.
- In essence, Texas purposely designed a law to evade judicial review, at least momentarily. They found a technical loophole in the Supreme Court’s standing doctrine and ran with this idea. Long-term, I find this to be a bad strategy. No Supreme Court precedent was impacted, like Roe or Casey. Ultimately, I think the Texas law won’t matter all that much, and I think the Supreme Court will eventually rein in the loophole Texas pursued here. But first, it’ll get fought at the appellate level.
- The real ballgame isn’t the Texas lawsuit. That’s unimportant. The real enchilada is Dobbs v. Whole Women’s Health, which is getting argued this fall. That question squarely deals with whether or not Roe/Casey should survive long-term. I wrote about that case in the newsletter and my thoughts on it back in July. I do believe we’re at the beginning of the end for Roe/Casey as controlling law, and I think the Supreme Court will throw all this back to the states to let them legislate this issue. What you’re witnessing with the Texas case is the left’s pre-emptive meltdown because they believe the same thing, and they want you to think that’s conservatives being “evil judges, doing whatever they want.” It’s the reverse; Roe/Casey are bad cases with utterly no support. Letting states legislate the issue is how everything should have gone down in the 1970s. Removing abortion from the court system is essential long-term to restore some semblance of normalcy to the judicial system.
Where you can find me this week
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Biden’s excuses rarely survive 24 hours – The Conservative Institute.
Congress must stop Biden and save American lives – The Conservative Institute.
Australia loses its minds, at least to this American conservative.
There’s been a flood of news the last few days, and I was trying to figure out what to choose to write about this week. The options were endless this week: The “end” of the war in Afghanistan, the failed evacuation, a Supreme Court order over the Texas abortion law, and more. I’ve covered some of that in the links section. But I changed my mind on what I’d write about this week when I came across a Conor Friedersdorf column in The Atlantic this week that floored me.
Conor wrote about Australia and the lockdown there, which is beyond draconian now. It’s Orwellian. And I do mean that with the full force of the word. I’ve often said that the person who nailed American dystopia wasn’t Orwell; it was Huxley (via Brave New World). Australia is accelerating into Orwell’s territory. Here is Conor’s column: “Australia Traded Away Too Much Liberty: How long can a democracy maintain emergency restrictions and still call itself a free country?“
If you haven’t followed, Australia has severely lagged the rest of the world on vaccines. The government has reverted to extreme lockdowns, using the military to patrol areas and ensure people are isolating. I think it’s worth noting that Australia’s lockdowns have done nothing to keep new COVID-19 case numbers in check. The Delta variant has given them their worst surge yet and case counts continue going up.
Here, though, is the paragraph that floored me:
Intrastate travel within Australia is also severely restricted. And the government of South Australia, one of the country’s six states, developed and is now testing an app as Orwellian as any in the free world to enforce its quarantine rules. People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The state will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person. “We don’t tell them how often or when, on a random basis they have to reply within 15 minutes,” Premier Steven Marshall explained. “I think every South Australian should feel pretty proud that we are the national pilot for the home-based quarantine app.”
When I work on filing my taxes, I joke that I become more libertarian. The moment I file my taxes, I’m a borderline anarchist. And after all that’s over, I revert to being a standard conservative. That paragraph makes me want to switch off the safety of the nearest firearm and go full Gadsden flag American as a full-time occupation (humming Farcry 5’s banger of a song, “Rifle By Your Side” entirely unironically).
I don’t have the slightest clue how anyone could withstand that kind of action by the government. Protests against the lockdowns started about two weeks ago. Still, I can only imagine the anger that would boil over (justifiably so) in America if this was even attempted. The half-hearted attempts at contact tracing here don’t compare to what Australia is proposing.
To explain why Australians are more accepting of this, I thought I’d bring back a conservative voice from Australia, Gray Connolly. Many of you said you enjoyed it when I wrote about the differences of American conservatism versus other kinds in Europe. Gray Connolly is a conservative Australian barrister. He tweeted an informative thread about why Australians take this differently from Americans.
His piece is a bit long, but I want you to see how an Australian conservative views the pandemic radically differently from how an American conservative, like me. Notice in particular the deference he shows to authority. In contrast, in all my writing on the pandemic, I’ve often been far more aggressive in wanting to solve it and kick the experts out. So here is Gray Connolly, explaining Australian lockdowns to American conservatives on July 31:
Almost every day for the last few months, I have received DMs from people in various parts of the world (esp the US) asking how Australia fell under some Orwellian tyranny with our major cities under public health orders/lockdowns. I think I need to explain ‘Australia 101’.
Firstly, there is Australia’s size. We are 26m people on a massive island at the world’s end. Many of your countries would be mere suburbs or farms here. And your countries are where our population has largely fled from to come here. People still flee here. Not bad, really.
Secondly, Australia was a rugby & cricket team before it was a country. The Australian nation-state was born on 01 January 1901 when our Constitution came into effect. We are a Federation, so our States with their ‘police power’ run much domestics vs the national Govt which has $
Thirdly, Australia is a monarchy – this is important as we are not a republic, indeed, we never rebelled. Our civic culture is of a very law-abiding & form-filling out people. If there is a queue, Australians will form it. Ironic given some of Australia starts as a penal colony.
Fourthly, whereas the Americans saw the Crown & the State as some tyranny to be thrown off (the ingrates….), Australians saw the Crown & the State as an essential builder. The Crown has always played a large role in our life, building infrastructure & remediating problems.
Fifthly, as the Crown/State had played a positive role in building & remediating, there is a large degree of civic trust. Our institutions mostly work well, our most important public officials are not politicians & so people generally have faith that the process should/can work.
Noting the above, this means that, in a pandemic (or any sort of crisis) Australians, generally, trust that the functional parts of the government will work well (Police, armed forces, science nerds etc) & that they will get the benefit of the doubt & significant cooperation.
Additionally, we Australians inherited and have maintained a sort of quasi-British culture of muddling through, esp in War, with the expectation that everyone will do their part, complain but still play on our team, and otherwise desist from being dramatic or attention seeking
The reciprocal aspect of these traits is that Australians expect Govts to protect “home”. Australia has for decades (regardless of who is in Govt) had both a significant legal immigration & refugee resettlement program as well as a very consistent denial of illegal immigration.
The Australian expectation that the Crown & Govt will protect “home” is longstanding. One of the key drivers for Federation of the British colonies that become Australia in 1901 was defence and security….our ever present awareness of our geography & relatively small population
Put all these traits together and Australians expect their Federal and State Govts to protect “home” from a pandemic – esp as, after WW1, in which Australians already suffered an enormous casualty toll, we then suffered terribly as a remote people from the ravages of Spanish Flu.
Where foreign observers may see the Australian lockdowns in Sydney etal as severe, we are not yet sufficiently vaccinated to relax measures & we also have populations who are vulnerable to Covid esp Indigenous populations. I emphasise “we”. Australians are just more “we” than “I”
As far as the apparent tyranny that Australians labour under goes, it is quite mild. Unfortunately this week in Sydney, the Police did seek some military assistance but this is unarmed & will be freeing Police to do policing. The Police hate Covid enforcement as do the military.
Many Australians have considerable anxiety about getting out of lockdowns & resuming normal life. Many of the mores that make Australia the greatest place to live are on hold for now. We will be OK though & our general cultural tendency as Australians is to ‘grit’ through trouble
In respect of the current crisis, we as Australians will have to learn how to live with Covid, even as we vaccinate and learn to open up. But, at the same time, the general Australian expectation is that Govt will do all in its power to minimise deaths and infections.
I do not want to paint a too broad picture but it is important to emphasise that Australia is different. We expect Govts to do positive things for the ‘common weal’ hence we are a Commonwealth of Australia. We have a mixed healthcare system that takes care of everyone mostly well
Similarly, when the pandemic started last year, a somewhat conservative Australian government opened the national chequebook to ‘conserve’ the nation laid low by the pandemic’s economic collapse. There is just no constituency here for meth-addicted, ‘let it rip’, libertarianism.
Thus, where some people see Australia 2021 as “freedom lost, they need guns”…. Australians (inc those with guns in a huge country) think that is a very strange take. Instead, this is a country in which we all grow up aware of how tough life here can be-flood, fires, drought etc
To make a country of Australia’s size, with our relatively small population, work, in a Federation, with all our natural advantages and disadvantages, there is just a large element of communitarianism in our civic culture. We all suffer things together for the greater good.
To return to what I said before: Australians are very law abiding, form filling, people. We all pretty much (except for some cranks) wear our masks and check in with the Covid app when shopping. People expect everyone to do the right thing & will call Police on those who do not!
One reason I am reasonably optimistic about Australia’s Vaccination program eventually delivering is that it is slowly resembling our War mentality: Australians expect everyone to do their part & get vaccinated & those who refuse are being treated as traitors not dissenters.
In short, Australians are a herd and we expect everyone in our herd to do their part to protect the weakest in the herd. That means gritting through lockdowns, that means getting vaccinated, that means shutting the proverbial up about your issues, as someone may lose a loved one
One reason every young Australian grows up learning the story about Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli is because Simpson epitomized that part of the Australian spirit that says we look after each other & we always help our weak & our wounded. It is a very Australian story.
I would only add that under Australia’s Constitution of Crown & Parliament at Federal & State levels: we have frequent elections, we even have compulsory voting on a Saturday, so if Govt oversteps its remit or fails our people, the people can remove them, as per our Constitution.
One of Winston Churchill’s dreams was an Anglosphere, a unity of nations linked together because of a similar background/heritage. That meant an alliance of countries like the UK, Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. The idea comes out of Churchill’s multi-volume book set on the history of English-speaking peoples.
I believe Churchill has a point on all those countries working well together, and there’s a reason we share a special relationship with all of them. But of that group, America stands apart in my mind. And I say that because there’s a divergence in those countries: America and the rest, especially on the topic of liberty. Some historians have noted that America and Canada are natural experiments on this point. Royalists, monarchists, and those who remained loyal to the UK in the Revolutionary War often fled to Canada. The newly-minted US kept all the rebels. Those people immediately started forging west, taming the wilderness and escaping civilization. The US rejected the crown; the other countries did not.
Again, I say all of that to point out that what Gray often dismisses as the wayward libertarian-ness of America is an ingrained personality trait. We struggle with authority, particularly a singular authority of any kind, making decisions for us. When we didn’t like something in the past, we could leave and go somewhere else to our liking. And that’s happening now, even in a pandemic.
John Ekdahl, another favorite Twitter follow of mine, said, “Meant to mention this yesterday, but my 1st grader’s open house was last night. New student in the class now, from Maine. Joins New Jersey, New York, and Illinois kids in his class of *17*.”
He’s not alone. I have liberal friends who have moved outside places like Nashville and the urban core and into suburban areas where more conservatives live to get to a school system they claim works. They now spend their time complaining about those same school systems because they want more restrictions. Still, they moved there because they hated the original restrictions. It’s maddening to watch it play out on social media.
I have other liberal friends who are mad at government agencies like the FDA and CDC because those bureaucrats are not releasing vaccinations for children fast enough. They want the choice, as parents, to decide for kids (ironically, they don’t see the argument when conservatives don’t want to mask their kids, but I digress).
American conservativism seeks to preserve that innate sense and desire for liberty. In other countries, that would be a more libertarian ideal. That’s not true here. It’s also why I reflexively find myself consistently on the other side of right-wingers like Sohrab Ahmari, who see things like “the common good,” or idealize European conservatism that doesn’t contain that innate sense towards liberty, and I oppose them. They reject a fundamental aspect of America, and they don’t get that.
Australians may have an innate sense to bow towards a crown or authority (with some protests breaking out). But Americans do not, or at least they shouldn’t. It’s my core belief, as well, that we should seek ways to expand that American characteristic instead of seeking to contain it. And I’ve only grown closer to that belief in a pandemic, even now as that pandemic rages.
Links of the week
Afghanistan and the Return of Cruise-Missile Diplomacy: Biden should realize that attacks from the air didn’t work to prevent attacks in the era that ended with 9/11, and they’re unlikely to work now. – Eli Lake, Bloomberg
Biden’s Bizarre ‘Yemen’ Counterfactual – Judson Berger, National Review
Biden Administration Erased Afghan Weapons Reports From Federal Websites – Adam Andrzejewski, Forbes
Majority of Interpreters, Other U.S. Visa Applicants Were Left Behind in Afghanistan: U.S. still doesn’t have reliable data on who was evacuated from Afghanistan, a senior State Department official says – WSJ
U.S. official: ‘Majority’ of Afghan allies who applied for special visas left behind in Afghanistan: The Pentagon said Wednesday about 20,000 Afghans have arrived at eight U.S. military bases and another 40,000 were at bases in the Middle East and Europe. – NBC News
An angry Biden blames Trump for Afghan pullout — then takes credit for it – John Podhoretz, NYPost
‘Ended’ But Not Over – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
Biden’s Shameful Betrayal of America’s Closest Allies in Afghanistan – John McCormack, National Review
Roe Is the Problem – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
Biden’s Job Approval Has Entered Dangerous Territory – Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!