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The Morning Dispatch: Grappling With Our Nation’s History
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The Morning Dispatch: Grappling With Our Nation’s History

Plus, a new movie tells the story of one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan.

Happy Monday! We hope you had a wonderful (as possible) Fourth of July weekend. It would’ve been better, of course, with real, live Major League Baseball games, but because—as Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle said—sports are “the reward of a functioning society,” we guess we’ll accept batting practice dingers, too.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Sunday night, 2,888,586 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 49,044 from yesterday) and 129,947 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 271 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4.5 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 35,512,916 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (654,489 conducted since yesterday), 8.1 percent have come back positive.

  • The U.S. Navy deployed two aircraft carriers—the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and the U.S.S. Nimitz—to the South China Sea over the weekend near military exercises being conducted by the Chinese military. 

  • Kanye West announced via Twitter on Saturday his plans to run for president in 2020, but the rapper and fashion designer has yet to file with the Federal Election Commission—and the deadline to get on the ballot has already passed in several states.

  • Two professional sports franchises—the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians—announced they are undergoing a review of their nicknames, with an eye toward changing them in the near future.

  • After six years of legal and environmental challenges, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced the cancellation of their proposed $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline spanning West Virginia to North Carolina. Two recent court rulings on permitting rendered the project “too uncertain to justify investing more shareholder capital,” the companies said in a news release.

Grappling With Our History

We have not, to date, devoted much virtual ink to the Great Statue Toppling, where isolated hordes of rioters across the country have in recent weeks torn down monuments mostly—but not always—of Confederate generals. This vandalism is often both random (more in service of destruction itself, rather than any particular ideology) and a local issue (the response lies with individual mayors and police departments in individual cities and towns). 

But the debate over which statues stay up and which get thrown into the harbor has taken on outsized importance in our national discourse. Why? Because it’s not actually a debate over statues at all; it’s a debate over how to grapple with our nation’s history.

To the extent there’s a consensus position in this debate, it’s this: Monuments celebrating Confederate leaders—for the sake of being Confederate leaders—should probably come down in an orderly manner or be moved to a museum. Statues of our Founding Fathers—even the ones that owned slaves—should remain standing. 

A mid-June Quinnipiac Poll found removing Confederate statues from public spaces has a net approval of +8, but additional surveys show it’s likely closer to a 50-50 issue. The subject of Founding Fathers, however, is much more clear cut: A late-June Economist/YouGov poll found three in five Americans oppose taking down statues of former presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, compared to just under one in five who don’t. Between 5 and 8 percent of respondents reported wanting to see at least one of the four presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore removed from the monument, but an overwhelming 71 percent said the landmark should be left alone entirely.

But this more nuanced position—which a majority, or near majority, of America holds—doesn’t rile up people, sell newspapers, or goose voter turnout. So cynical pundits and elected officials of all political stripes pretend it doesn’t exist, amplifying instead the more radical fringes on one “side” or the other.

“Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities,” President Trump declared in a speech delivered beneath Mount Rushmore on Friday evening. “This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they”—he did not define who “they” were—“would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage. … Their goal is not a better America, their goal is the end of America.”

Trump’s speech was aggressive, painting his political opponents in the least charitable light possible, seeking to exacerbate—not bridge—the country’s divisions one day before its 244th birthday. But the address was not the outwardly racist screed the Washington Post and New York Times’ news write-ups made it out to be, either.

“We believe in equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed,” Trump said. He cheered Abraham Lincoln for “extinguish[ing] the evil of slavery” (while opposing legislation that would remove from military bases the names of those who fought for its continued existence), and he quoted the United States’ preeminent civil rights leader. “We must demand that our children are taught once again to see America as did Rev. Martin Luther King, when he said that the Founders had signed ‘a promissory note’ to every future generation. Dr. King saw that the mission of justice required us to fully embrace our founding ideals.”

But the president’s dramatic retelling of the American story was an abridged version, with all of the bumps and contours of history sanded away. It was less a speech about American exceptionalism than it was about American flawlessness. King’s embrace of the Founders’ “promissory note” was included, but his assertion that the United States had “defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned”—the next line in his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech—didn’t make the cut. Thomas Jefferson was referred to as the “author of American freedom,” not the owner of more than 600 slaves.

Of course, both of these things can be true at once—and they are. Jonah noted in last Thursday’s Dispatch Live (password: dingo) that the morality of historical figures and events should be judged “not by what came afterwards, but by what came before.” The American Founding was extraordinary, magnificent, and light years ahead of just about any system of governance that preceded it. The same can be said of the Founders themselves. Just as President Trump omitted the flaws in these men and the shortcomings in the Declaration they signed, fringe critics on the left—like former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick referring to Independence Day as merely a “celebration of white supremacy”—seek to erase the enormity of the contributions made by the Founders, not only to the United States but to the world writ large.

The Outpost Tells a Story Worth Knowing

The 12-hour battle that took place in northern Afghanistan on October 3, 2009, was a mismatch. In an early morning attack, about 400 Taliban fighters laid siege to a remote encampment in the Hindu Kush mountains that was the home to approximately 50 soldiers of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. It wasn’t just that the Americans were outnumbered. The terrain surrounding the outpost meant that our soldiers were fighting from the bottom of a funnel, leaving them easy targets for the jihadists who sought to kill them. Despite repeated warnings of the coming “big attack”—including regular, sometimes near-daily, probing attacks meant to test their defenses—there was little the Americans could do to prevail. 

And yet after hours and hours of relentless fighting, the Americans held their ground. Eight U.S. soldiers died. More than two dozen were wounded, some severely. The battle to hold Command Outpost Keating would go down as one of the bloodiest of the war in Afghanistan. The unit that fought bravely there was one of the most decorated in recent military history, including two Medal of Honor winners.

The story of that battle, and of those soldiers, is captured brilliantly in a film released this past week, called The Outpost. At turns discouraging, infuriating, and inspiring, the movie takes viewers to that remote camp and inside that brutal fight, giving its audience an all-too-real sense of the helplessness felt by the soldiers of COP Keating and their determination not to give up their doomed outpost. It’s the kind of movie you see on a Friday and think about throughout the weekend. 

The film is based on CNN anchor Jake Tapper’s best selling book by the same name about the battle and its fallout. “It’s been a mission of mine to tell these soldiers’ stories since I first heard about the attack in October 2009,” Tapper tells The Dispatch. “Rod Lurie did a great job bringing the book to life and bringing viewers into Combat Outpost Keating to meet the guys and into the battle to witness their heroism. I’m just so heartened that people are watching the film and regardless of politics and all the divisions out there right now uniting to express gratitude to the real men and women who sacrifice so much for us.”

Parler Vous Fairness?

With everything else going on in the news these days, you’d be forgiven if you paid little attention to last week’s latest iteration of the online turf wars of the political right: the sudden emergence of a microblogging app called Parler, a new social network in the vein of Twitter marketed to conservatives as a platform with a much higher tolerance for free speech. “If you can say it on the streets of New York,” says the app’s founder, “you can say it on Parler.”

The site has been around for a few years, but got a boost in recent days after a number of prominent conservative pundits and politicians announced on Twitter that they would pick up the site en masse out of unhappiness over the Big Tech usual suspects’ increasing willingness to police and delete content deemed problematic. It’s the latest skirmish in a war over tech censorship that includes both instances of private entrepreneurship like Parler and a growing contingent of conservatives who are determined to wield federal law to break Silicon Valley’s grip on online discourse. Andrew breaks down the issue at the site today:

A growing number of GOP lawmakers and pundits are pushing to revise the law to force companies to take a more hands-off approach to policing content.

Their primary target has been Section 230, a provision passed as part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that gives companies like social networks broad leeway to impose their own standards for what constitutes acceptable content in posts to their site.

Most recent GOP efforts to hamstring companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have focused on attaching new strings to Section 230’s liability protection. A bill introduced last week by Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, for instance, would permit users to sue social media companies for unfair censorship if those companies’ content moderation policies excluded constitutionally protected speech.

It’s important to note, too, that these anti-230 policy pushes are generally linked to another issue of online content: the availability of online pornography. In many GOP policy circles, the two issues go hand-in-hand: Bills that would cut into platforms’ ability to make their own content regulation decisions also place stricter commands on them to ensure illegal acts like the exposure of children to sexually explicit material does not prosper on their sites.

In other words, a site like Parler, with its laissez-faire attitude toward most speech combined with strict rules against obscenity, isn’t just a curio of the current state of movement conservatism. It’s also a glimpse of a potential future in which the likes of Loeffler have their way.

Worth Your Time

  • Democrats have, in recent years, bemoaned the legislative filibuster as the main hurdle standing in the way of sweeping congressional progress. But as the Federalist Papers remind us, legislative gridlock isn’t always a bad thing. “The Senate, especially, is supposed to slow things down, to suffocate democratic passions, and to make strait the gate and narrow the way for destructive popular legislation,” National Review’s Kevin Williamson argues in defense of the filibuster. “I cannot think of a single thing about Washington today that makes me believe it needs one fewer check.”

  • Coronavirus cases are continuing to surge across the country, but COVID-19 related deaths are not following suit—yet. We talked to several experts about this phenomenon a few weeks back, but this New York Times piece from Katherine Wu incorporates the latest data. “In general,” she writes, “experts see three broad reasons for the downward trend in the rate of coronavirus deaths: testing, treatment and a shift in whom the virus is infecting.” From an epidemiologist in Arizona: “I think the next two to three weeks will be very telling.”

  • As we wrote to you on Friday, Beijing authorized a draconian national security law over Hong Kong last Wednesday in Xi Jinping’s latest aggression toward the city. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Sternberg explains why China will come to regret its decision to backpedal on its longstanding commitment to an autonomous Hong Kong. “The city used to represent Beijing’s commitment to its word,” he writes, but “now it represents Mr. Xi’s willingness to break that word.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Yascha Mounk joins Sarah and David on the latest special episode of The Dispatch Podcast to discuss Persuasion, his new online community platform dedicated to encouraging civil, thoughtful discourse between those of differing political views. The three have a wide-ranging discussion about the principles of a free society, how they are under attack from illiberal forces on both the right and the left, and why they need defending now more than ever.

  • Jonah’s Friday G-File begins with an in-depth analysis of how the movie Jaws is a surprisingly good allegory for our current moment, proceeds to a discussion of the connections between Donald Trump and Romanticism, and concludes with a long-overdue update on the Goldberg canines. 

  • American history has been punctuated by a series of “Great Awakenings”: Religious revivals characterized by a fundamentalist fervor that sweeps through the nation. Today, the next Great Awakening is upon us; but it’s not Christian. On both the Trumpian right and the woke left, political tribalism has taken on a dogmatically fundamentalist tone. Check out the latest French Press to read David’s take on the distinctly religious nature of our political moment.

Let Us Know

Your answer to this might very well be Kanye West—but we’d venture a guess that it isn’t. If you could choose one celebrity to parachute into the presidential race between now and November and provide Americans with a third option, who would it be and why?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.