STARTING TOMORROW! The wages of division!


Memphis Storyline: A new arrival on the front blew Memphis off the map.

The new arrival on the front was a large balloon. As it drifted from the west toward the east, it became the topic of general conversation and predictable behaviors emerged. 

For starters, the new arrival blew talk of Memphis away. Peter Baker describes the general state of play at the start of an analysis piece in this morning's New York Times:

BAKER (2/6/23): President Biden probably will not put it quite this way when he gets up before Congress to address the nation this week, but the state of America’s union is disunion. To see that, he will need only turn around to find a Republican House speaker seated behind him, determined to block his every move.

So Mr. Biden’s message of unity, a hard sell already during his first two years in office, may prove even more out of sync on Tuesday night as he delivers his first State of the Union address of this new era of divided government...

The state of the union is disunion? Plainly, that's an accurate statement—and as an obvious part of the package, the state of the nation's "public discourse" is full-blown Storyline.

Meanwhile, so strange! Even as this new arrival—this large balloon—was blown from the skies and dumped in the sea, a new arrival at the New York Times was still discussing Memphis!

This new arrival was David French. In his debut piece as a regular Opinion Columnist, French was so far behind the times that he was still discussing "fatal police violence" in this, the era of the very large balloon. 

French was days behind the times. He started his column like this:

FRENCH (2/6/23): On Wednesday, the city of Memphis remembered the life of Tyre Nichols, a young man who was beaten by at least five Memphis police officers and died three days later. Stories like this are terrible, they’re relentless, and they renew one of the most contentious debates in the nation: Are there deep and systemic problems with the American police?

How we answer that question isn’t based solely on personal experience or even available data. It often reflects a massive partisan divide...

Quickly, and to his credit, French took his column meta. He cited the "massive partisan divide" to which Baker also refers—and as he continued, he described the way this massive divide has helped shape public discussion concerning what happened in Memphis and concerning American police.

Let it be said that, in his debut, Franch identified his own political leanings. This is the political background from which his helpful column emerges:

FRENCH: Before I go further, let me put my own partisan cards on the table. I’m a conservative independent. I left the Republican Party in 2016, not because I abandoned my conservatism but rather because I applied it. A party helmed by Donald Trump no longer reflected either the character or the ideology of the conservatism I believed in...

French had been a lifelong Republican. At this site, we've never voted for a Republican. That said, we think French has the right idea in the way he has structured his debut column, though we also think he makes one very large basic error.

In his column, French discusses the way our "massive partisan divide" shapes our discussions of events like the recent events in Memphis. He discusses "Storyline" without ever using that word:

FRENCH (continuing directly): Every year Gallup releases a survey that measures public confidence in a variety of American institutions, including the police. In 2022, no institution (aside from the presidency) reflected a greater partisan trust gap than the police. A full 67 percent of Republicans expressed confidence in the police, versus only 28 percent of Democrats.

Why is that gap so large? While I try to avoid simple explanations for complex social phenomena, there is one part of the answer that I believe receives insufficient attention: Our partisanship tends to affect our reasoning, influencing our assessments of institutions regardless of the specifics of any particular case.

Here’s what I mean. The instant that a person or an institution becomes closely identified with one political “tribe,” members of that tribe become reflexively protective and are inclined to write off scandals as “isolated” or the work of “a few bad apples.”

Conversely, the instant an institution is perceived as part of an opposing political tribe, the opposite instinct kicks in: We’re far more likely to see each individual scandal as evidence of systemic malice or corruption, further proof that the other side is just as bad as we already believed.

David French gets it right! When we divide ourselves into "tribes," he says we tend to abandon the practices normally associated with "reasoning." 

Instead, we become extremely selective in the way we pick and choose our facts—in the way we formulate our basic assessments.

We say good things about the groups affiliated with our own "political tribe."  We say bad things about the groups who aren't.

We toss away all other facts, thereby producing a Perfect Story about the event in question. Basically, members of rival political tribes descend into the promulgation of the unhelpful product we've long called Storyline. 

We humans! Do we really offer selective facts as "proof that the other side is just as bad as we already believed?" 

Plainly, David French gets it right in that (anthropological) observation—and it's very, very, very hard for a nation to function that way.

Experts say that this is the way our imperfect brains are wired. We assume that those experts are right, but it's obvious that our failing republic is now deeply involved in this culture of Storyline.

French goes on to say that he has changed his basic view of "American police." He seems to say that he was once inclined, on a tribal basis, to assume the best about the conduct and culture of that important institution, of those important public officials.

He explicitly says that he has now "changed his mind." Where he once believed that unjustifiable police violence was the work of "some bad apples," he now believes that there is a "systemic problem" revealed by events like those in Memphis. 

Personally, we think French makes an error in seeming to think that he has to choose between those two alternatives. That said, in changing his mind, he's found a way to go against his initial tribal instincts. 

Quite sensibly, he suggests that we all should learn to "fight past our partisanship to become truly curious about the truth." That strikes us as extremely good advice, though we also think that French's error lurks. 

Tomorrow, we'll continue to discuss French's debut piece—and we'll start to discuss what happened in Memphis, a very old piece of news.

Alas! As a balloon blew across the land, what happened in Memphis quickly turned into yesterday's news. 

In the clatter which poses as our national discourse, Memphis had blown Stormy Daniels off the map. Now, a very large, very scary balloon had blown Memphis away.

This is the way our discourse work in these most trivial of times. French offers superb advice in his debut, though we very strongly believe that he does make that one mistake.

Tomorrow: Memphis and Storyline


  1. That French fella (as well as yourself, unfortunately) is a dembot, plain and simple. A dembot masquerading as a normal humyn being.

    ...'cause, you see, only the brain-dead liberals -- who believe in wimmin trapped in men's bodies -- constitute a tribe. A vast majority of the others, dear Bob, no matter how much you want to present them as tribes, are simply normal ordinary people...

  2. "A new arrival on the front blew Memphis off the map."

    Not for those of us who care about civil rights. Somerby's idea that people are so easily distracted by each shiny object that comes along is insulting to people who have issues that are important to them.

    However, Somerby has never understood that newspapers report news -- that is, current events that are new. Somerby might as readily have said that the massive earthquake in Turkey has blown the balloon off the map.

    1. What does Digby think about it? Do you know?

    2. You can go see for yourself:

      Tom Sullivan is talking about the near collision in Austin airport (at Digby's blog). Digby is talking about the earthquake in Turkey. She also talked about a conflict between Trump and Chris Christie. All of that is much more interesting than what Somerby is talking about today as he welcomes the newest conservative to the NY Times.

    3. Digby was writing last week about the history of cottages. It made me think what an asshole Somerby is.


    4. Yeah, we know exactly what you mean, dear 1:07 PM.

      ...yesterday Digby and I were laughing about dembots looooving her word-salads...

    5. Digby claims she eats raw mallards.

    6. Wait, wasn't it something about giving lambs laughing gas or something?

    7. Maddow's wife was arrested for saddling lambs. She put a saddle on one of her lambs, fed it laughing gas and rode it a local convenience store to buy Slim Jim's. They were both drunk out of their minds.

      Notice, Bob glosses over it.

    8. 4:07,
      They only let Maddow get away with it because she freed the slaves.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. The state of the union is disunion? Not in any literal sense. No state has seceded, we are still one nation. Our legislature is still functioning. Our union is contentious, but it has always been that way, even in the first decades of our nation's formation.

      But Somerby is running around with a dishtowel over his head, shouting that the sky is falling, and he doesn't even live in South Carolina!

  4. David French calls himself a conservative leaning independent. So, the NY Times has beefed up its opinion pages with yet another conservative voice. The last one added was Pamela Paul, who is married to Bret Stephens and herself a conservative leaning centrist. These people consider themselves moderates. Most others consider them right wing, perhaps not in the MAGA crazy way, but certainly in the not-left, not liberal, not Democratic way.

    Somerby welcomes him with open arms, saying:

    "French had been a lifelong Republican. At this site, we've never voted for a Republican. That said, we think French has the right idea in the way he has structured his debut column, though we also think he makes one very large basic error."

    What is the error that Somerby identifies in French? French says:

    "He explicitly says that he has now "changed his mind." Where he once believed that unjustifiable police violence was the work of "some bad apples," he now believes that there is a "systemic problem" revealed by events like those iin Memphis.

    To which Somerby replies:

    "Personally, we think French makes an error in seeming to think that he has to choose between those two alternatives. That said, in changing his mind, he's found a way to go against his initial tribal instincts."

    Not choosing between the alternatives itemized means (1) believing that the police do not need to be reformed due to systemic inequities and also not believing police atrocities are due to bad apples at all; or (2) believintg that the police do need to be reformed for systemic reasons and also believing that there are bad apples. Choice (2) is what lots of liberals believe. Choice (1) is what conservatives believe. Somerby seems to support choice (1). Is Somerby today arguing that French should too? Or is Somerby arguing that French should base his beliefs on how partisan they are -- opposing partisanship, not judging based on the merits of the situation? It seems so. Somerby goes on to say:

    "Quite sensibly, he suggests that we all should learn to "fight past our partisanship to become truly curious about the truth." That strikes us as extremely good advice, though we also think that French's error lurks."

    This is, of course, extremely silly. Of course Somerby doesn't believe the truth is that there are systemic problems with police. He has never said that. So is the truth whatever Somerby believes? And why wouldn't anyone believe that, regardless of which option they have chosen in this simplistic analysis?

  5. What is partisanship? Somerby thinks liberal finds out what other liberals believe and then believe it themselves, because they want to do the liberal thing. In reality, people form beliefs and then search out the candidates that best exemplify their own beliefs, then vote for those guys, because they think those candidates have the best take on reality (as Somerby suggests that people should do). Those chosen candidates tend to be liberal because liberal people hold liberal beliefs and wish to support the political parties who hold those same beliefs.

    Somerby has cause and effect turned around. He thinks that people are weak-minded and use a liberal identity (where did it comes from?) to engage in liberalism, not making up their own minds and then choosing to be called liberal because that best fits their chosen ideology. In other words, Somerby rudely considers liberals to be zombies (like Mao does) and will not allow agency in choice of politics on the left. He is surely wrong in that. Unlike Somerby who says he has never voted for a Republican, I have done so, when I found the right candidate. Which of us then is being less partisan? Somerby with his preaching, who does not follow his own dogma, or those of us liberals who vote our beliefs and conscience and not strictly party labels? I'll bet most liberals did not vote for Joe Lieberman, even when he was still a Democrat. And we wouldn't have voted for racist Dixicrats. And how many reviled Sinema and Manchin, despite their having the magic D after their names?

    I read French's column yesterday, to see what he was like. I doubt I will be doing that in the future. We do not need another apologist for non-Trump conservatism, especially not one endorsed by Somerby. And no, I do not believe that a man who has worked so hard for Republican causes in his blog, has never voted Republican. As Santos shows us, anyone can lie, including when he tells us he votes Democratic. That particular statement is inconsistent with what he writes here day-in and day-out, and if Somerby were truly behaving that way, he would be the most caught in the throes of partisanship of any of us.

  6. "In the clatter which poses as our national discourse, Memphis had blown Stormy Daniels off the map."

    This is such wishful thinking. Does Somerby imagine that the wheels of justice stop turning just because the front page of the newspaper carries a different story. ALL of those lawsuits and investigations of Trump's wrongdoing are continuing, whether the news is currently reporting them or not.

    And why does Somerby seem to think that people can have only one concern at a time, think about only one thing? Is that the way his brain works? Ours don't work that way.

  7. "This is the way our discourse work in these most trivial of times. "

    No, it is not the way our discourse works. Any given newspaper will have a variety of stories available to readers on any given day. That itself is the strongest evidence that no one's mind works that way. Somerby complains about this -- as if it should be the case that only hard news consumes his online Washington Post, but it plainly doesn't do that. Otherwise, Somerby wouldn't complain so much.

    Why does a smart man like Somerby write so many obviously false things? Perhaps because it gives him partisan pleasure to imagine that Stormy Daniels was submerged by Memphis (timing is a bit off on that one) which was in turn submerged by a Chinese balloon, which has now lost out to a conservative opinion columnist (?) and not a 7.8 earthquake in the Middle East killing thousands of people, which Somerby today entirely ignores?

  8. "Tomorrow, we'll continue to discuss French's debut piece—and we'll start to discuss what happened in Memphis, a very old piece of news."


  9. To some extent we are born into the political beliefs of our parents. But that may be different for those of us who were in our teens in 1967 (the Summer of Love) and thereafter, who were part of the youth counterculture. To some extent there is a similar phenomenon happening now -- youth are skewing heavily left compared to their parents in either party.

    In my case, my parents were card-carrying Socialists. My father was a delegate to the California Democratic Council and a union organizer. We were taught never to cross a picket line. Instead of wholeheartedly embracing my parents views, I was oppositional and tended to be more conservative than they and their friends were. Even so, I was present for the organizing convention of the Peace and Freedom Party and worked for Eugene McCarthy's campaign. But my parents voted for Thomas Kuchel, an independent-minded Republican who supported civil rights:

    "Thomas Henry Kuchel was an American politician. A moderate Republican, he served as a US Senator from California from 1953 to 1969 and was the minority whip in the Senate, where he was the co-manager on the floor for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965."

    I was in 9th grade when Kennedy was shot. We were all herded into the quad area and a loudspeaker announced that he had been killed. I was stunned and no one said anything at first, except a conservative friends, who was standing beside me. She said "Good". Her reaction was as shocking to me as Kennedy's death. The idea that anyone would express pleasure at anyone's death was deeply shocking, as upsetting as the assassination. I could never feel the same way toward her after that. But this was my first encounter with the famous empathy displayed by right-wingers and I still find it appalling, when Somerby or Cecelia of any of the right wing politicians show a callous disregard for the lives of other people. And that is why I do not look forward to hearing Somerby talk about Memphis tomorrow. I know it will be awful.

    I think this reaction to other people has nothing whatsoever to do with partisanship or party politics. It has to do with what kind of human being someone is. Whenever Somerby calls someone "good, decent" I can hear the disdain dripping from his words and the way he doesn't mean anything of the kind, and clearly doesn't consider those to be positive qualities. It is as offensive as the sliming that follows that putative disclaimer. That is why I am a Democrat, because I share Democratic Party values -- not because I am knee-jerk following a partisan label acquired in children, but because I believe in what the party stands for, the issues it works for, and most of the people it advances as candidates. I suspect it is the same on the right, and that is a distressing thought. Those right-wingers are not dupes of Trump. They chose him, and they, like Trump, are unlikely to be good decent people because of that. Yes, I have met some exceptions, but a party that tolerates the wrong-doing on the right, is not a party of good decent people.

    Somerby needs to convince me that is not true, not waste his breath name-calling the left, as I expect he will do more of tomorrow.

    1. Anonymouse 12:06pm, well, you’re here keeping up the work of the angels via recollections of convenient anecdotes and insulting the character of people who don’t think as they should think..

      Be absolutely certain to read every word from Somerby and from me.

      Your animus may be the reason that you keep on ticking.

    2. Cecelia, I was here posting real-life comments made by conservatives over on their blogs about the attack on Pelosi. They were just as awful as what I experienced myself in high school when Kennedy died. Conservatives are awful people when it comes to empathy for those in trouble. It is their defining characteristic. It is why they vote to cut medicaid and SNAP and to support brutality in the justice system (except when applied to 1/6 convicted criminals), and to harm the environment by extinguishing endangered species and to let our planet become uninhabitable. No empathy for others, coupled with greed and self-interest. There are no good decent people who don't feel animus for these horrible qualities, which seem to be a source of pride for conservatives.

      I am here to point out that Somerby is a member of your team, not ours. Look what he does today. He is busily arguing that young children should be used as pawns in political posturing by Republicans, even when it harms their developmental needs. Whatta guy!

    3. Cecelia, if you truly show callous disregard for others, then I would think less of you as a person. You’re free to be as callous as you please, and I and others are free to hold you in contempt. It isn’t thought control .. it’s just a response to you.

    4. anonymouse 6:39pm and mh, I sympathize with you. I also feel empathy for you, I really do.

      It should be enough that your world has to contend with Bob. That alone, reveals a less than compassionate universe in all its stark awfulness. But no, there’s the existence of heinous political contrarians, some of whom enjoy Bob’s company and then, worse yet, there’s even people claiming to be liberal who enjoy Bob too!

      It’s a shame. An outrage. It’s an injustice. It’s just one more dismaying disappointment of a gazillion dismaying disappointments you deeply compassionate and good hearted anonymices have experienced all your lives.

      I plan to keep that coming.

    5. You must feel it an outrage that your Bobworld has to contend with Bobcritics. The horror! But hey, that’s life, Cecelia.

      And we plan to keep coming at you.

    6. There was a saying in the 60s that "If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem."

      I object to people like you, Cecelia, and Somerby, to the extent that you obstruct the efforts of others to improve life on this planet for ALL of its inhabitants. Somerby is activelty doing that, with his attempts to confuse readers and mislead them into watching Tucker Carlson and voting Republican. Your obvious intent is to help him in that effort. You both spread disinformation. And that makes this world worse and hurts other people. You should both stop doing this, go find a useful project (such as helping out at a food bank or volunteering at your local school) and stop enabling the forces of ignorance and greed. You and Somerby are one of my projects. I have quite a few others, because my values dictate that I leave the world a better place and help those who I can during my journey. I doubt that is your philosophy. I know it isn't Somerby's.

      Somerby and perhaps you will call this virtue signaling, but whether I am having any impact or not on anyone's life is between me and my conscience. I could tell you what I've done -- you could tell me I am making it all up and there is no way to verify -- you would remain unchanged and I would have wasted some time. Virtue signaling that helps no one is a waste of time. Virtue signaling that actually helps people is virtue, not just signaling. Virtue that is visible to others may inspire those others to do some good work themselves. That's why I've never understood why "virtue signaling" is a bad thing. But since the Republicans invented that term, I assume it is just something for them to snigger at, and doesn't have to make sense, any more than the term "woke" does or politically correct (which started with a different meaning) or any of the other derogatory terms that right wingers invent specifically to hurt people.

    7. Cecelia, here is one of my projects. I donate money every month to Berea College. It is a well-regarded university in Kentucky that accepts hard-working, motivated students from poor, disadvantaged, largely Appalachian families. It provides a four-year education for free, provided the student can show the willingness to work hard toward specific goals.

      Why this school? I figure that one major reason why Southerners and rural people vote Republican and are susceptible to Trump and politicians like him is that they are ignorant, smart but poorly educated. Providing an education to those who otherwise might be in Trump's demographic strikes me as both a compassionate and effective way of siphoning off votes from Republican grifters. Anyone who is interested in helping me with this project, is welcome to google Berea college, go to their webpage and click on donate.

      Note that this is a Southern school with no program of indoctrination and no political affiliation. I am confident that education, in and of itself, will help young people see the light about what is good in our country and what is destructive. I have faith in youth, hard work and knowledge.

    8. I suspect that this is the step that George Santos skipped.

    9. I don't need to "invent" anecdotes. Here is one fresh from today's news, that illustrates the same lack of empathy I described from my youth:

      "Speaking to a church audience, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) told the crowd to pray for Joe Biden: "May his days be few and another take his office.”

      It isn't the first time she's made such a "prayer." She's been using the line "may his days be few" since 2022, when she spoke to the Charis Christian Center Family Camp Meeting in Colorado."

      Who prays for the president to die and still calls herself a Christian? You tell me, Cecelia, she's one of yours.

    10. Anonymouse 9:55pm, 10:05pm, the war anonymices wage here is a political operation. It’s organized and it’s focused. It has the militancy of a crusade and the dark obsession and quest for control of a coven.

      You are no different from Rep. Boebert. You are one of a feather. Only she uses Psalm 109 to curse our country”s leader (in direct opposition to the commandment of Christ) and you direct your fanatical hatred into a psy op against a misbehaving blogger whose words on unhelpful rhetoric trigger you into bile spattered character assaults.

      The spirit is the same.

    11. Like many on the Right, Boebert finds Biden's lowest unemployment rate in over 5 decades to be unforgivable.

    12. @3:47 tells a bunch of lies and then claims "the spirit is the same". This is where believing Somerby gets you.

    13. Cecelia couldn’t look more foolish if she tried.

      An organized conspiracy to take down the Almighty Blogger Bob Somerby, with his 10 readers?

      And then compare that to Boebert, a US Representative with powerful allies and media behind her, trying to destroy the President of the United States.


      I’m beginning to think Cecelia may not be all there.

    14. Oh, don’t kid yourself, it’s the exact same spirit.

      It’s “a pox on your house”.

  10. “He [French] explicitly says that he has now "changed his mind." Where he once believed that unjustifiable police violence was the work of "some bad apples," he now believes that there is a "systemic problem" revealed by events like those in Memphis. “

    So why wouldn’t this lead French to say “liberals have a point”, instead of decrying the partisan divide based upon poll numbers?

    According to a pew research poll from 2020, “about three-in-ten Republicans (31%) consider climate change a major threat”, while “About nine-in-ten Democrats (88%, including independents who lean to the party) now consider climate change a major threat to the nation”.

    It is empty-headed to say that the views of Democrats on climate change are merely a reaction to the views of Republicans who think it’s no big deal. Liberals look at the science.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Republicans don’t base their views on simply taking the opposite view from liberals. Case in point: as soon as we learned that gas stoves can harm children (in addition to being environmentally unfriendly ) and that there was some talk of banning them, the conservatives immediately adopted the position that the possession of gas stoves was an inalienable right second only to guns.

  11. I'm suspect of anyone who could still be a Republican after the year 2000.

  12. Had George W Bush completed the work on the National Debt Bill Clinton had started I would be forced to see the US differently . Had he used the Military with discretion and intelligence, I would be forced to see the US differently. Had he taken a vigorous approach to hard work the office requires and thus averted any domestic disasters, I would be forced to view the US differently. Had his party supported his ideas on immigration, and they were effective, I would be forced to view the US differently.
    None of this happened, and the Republican sunk even further into foolishness, bent on a partisanship that now can fairly be termed deranged.
    To Bob, who knows all this damned well but really only wants to jeer at damned Yankees, it’s all a matter of “tribes” and you are not permitted to decide anything based of facts. Bob is stupid and lost.

  13. About that balloon: I don't understand why the Chinese were angry when we shot it down. By then, they had lost control over it and had no hope of recovering it. So what difference did it make to them when we shot it down?

    1. The same reason anyone is upset about the balloon. To own the libs.

  14. "the state of America’s union is disunion. To see that, he will need only turn around to find a Republican House speaker seated behind him, determined to block his every move."

    The state of the union is not the same a the state of the GOVERNMENT. It's the state of the COUNTRY. A government that can't do too much may be good for the country. There is already too much government IMO.

    1. David, the term "state of the union" traditionally refers to the United States of America, the union of colonies that became states after our revolution and the adoption of our Constitution as a new nation. It does not refer to the country. The term "Union" referred to the states that remained united after the secession of the confederate states.

      Ensuring that the government cannot function properly by interfering with the free exercise of our democracy as described in our constitution is an action of sedition in my opinion. It is sabotage. If you, or anyone else, wishes that the government perform fewer functions or do so in a less active manner, there are procedures for passing laws and formulating procedures to change how our government currently works. Undermining our legal system, courts, and executive branch through other means is illegal and immoral and shows hostility toward both our union and the citizens of our various states.

      There may be disagreement within our nation, but we have ways of resolving conflict arising from disagreement that do not involve violence, sedition, or sabotage. Stay on the right side of the law, David.