Barrett’s Association With Trumpism Will Never Fade. We Should See to It

I’ve got a question that Democratic senators might have considered posing to Amy Coney Barrett on the occasion of last week’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee: What’s a nice woman like you doing keeping company with a bunch of fascists like this?

That’s perhaps a bit flip, but the substance remains: At what point does someone like Amy Coney Barrett — at what point do all the judges to whom Trump has granted lifetime appointments — take responsibility for who made them? More important, to what extent can citizens trust the jurisprudence of people who, like Barrett, swallowed hard and accepted these appointments from someone so obviously illiberal, so clearly unfit for the job, someone who (lest we forget) was impeached not 9 months prior, someone who subsequently mismanaged and repeatedly lied to our faces re. a public health crisis (out of pure political self-interest, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of Americans dead), someone who (according to Mueller report) would have been charged with 10 counts of obstructing justice were he not a sitting president, someone who refuses to disavow white supremacists, someone who apparently ran up hundreds of thousands in tax bills to foreign countries while paying next to no taxes in his own (during his presidential term!), someone who is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony to secure a second term by stopping the count of mail-in/absentee votes — something he has told us he is going to do! He also awarded Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom. A superb judge of character, our president.

It would be naïve to ask, “What does it say about Trump that he has openly cited the need for Barrett to be on the high court in time to provide him a 5-4 decision, a la Bush v. Gore in 2000, should a disputed election be flung into the courts?” We know why. He’s incorrigible. But this misses the larger, more immediate point. What does it say about Barrett that she’d accept this man’s nomination — then refuse to discuss her recusal during the Senate’s advise and consent process?

Should we succeed in unseating Il Douché, we as a people will be obliged to confront the incredible damage he and his administration (and his followers) have to done to the United States, its culture, its comity, its government, its legal norms and infrastructures. Addressing and mitigating this damage is already underway — witness the discussion of SCOTUS expansion, of 18-year terms on the high court, of statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico (to remedy the undemocratic concentration of power in 20-odd sparsely populated farm states, many of them literally manufactured in the late 19th century to, wait for it, boost the electoral power of the Republican Party). There is little question from either side that Biden will win the popular vote in two weeks time. If we are fortunate enough to see that vote reflected in the Electoral College (our most troubling monument to dead Confederates), there will surely be a roll-back of executive actions this administration has backed — a fairly common occurrence when one administration is replaced by another.

But the undermining of U.S. law and legal precedents by Trump appointees extends to the government bureaucracy and its courts. This man’s enablers, those he installed, must be identified and held to account. Amy Coney Barrett is a good place to start.

I’m 56 years old. Reckoning with this successful attempt to pervert and circumvent our legal system will dominate our politics for the remainder of my lifetime. I recognize the Federalist Society and movement conservatism predate Trump’s inauguration. But the president has bared and magnified the naked, reductive politics at play here, for all to see. As such, for decades to come there will be ongoing reference to and spotlighting of the 300-odd judges that Trump nominated and Mitch McConnell forced through the hyper-politicized Senate from 2016-2020 (after slow-walking Obama nominees for 8 years).

What we do with Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Barrett and their Trump-nominated, lower-court brethren remains to be seen. But their lifetime appointments, from Trump, expose them to a different sort of long-term scrutiny. It’s not going to go well.

Some individual judges will perhaps adjust and move away from Federalist Society-approved originalism and other specious stances undergirded by right-wing, white supremacist, and moneyed interests (methinks Judge Roberts is doing this right now). Others will not. Dealing with this latter group of true believers, and their blinkered attitudes toward precedent, and the legacy of the demonstrably fascist figure who nominated them, will be difficult.

But it will have to be done and the particular case of Amy Coney Barrett is a logical, timely place to begin this effort. If it requires her tarring and feathering, so be it. She has made her bed.

Some senator should have urged her to simply withdraw. “You don’t want to be the face of Trumpism going forward,” Amy Klobuchar should have told her on Monday, Oct. 12, the day hearings began. “You seem like a nice person. Don’t put your family through this. Because, you know, there’s a name for people who do the bidding of fascists and accept their patronage… They’re called fascists.”

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We Can’t Have Law and Order with Apples this Bad

I’ve now read and heard dozens of reports on the Breonna Taylor case. Her killing, the result of a no-knock warrant in March, took place in a Louisville apartment building full of witnesses. Who, if anyone, is responsible and who, if anyone, should be charged in her death boils down to this nugget from the grand jury testimony made public by the District Attorney on Oct. 2: “Eleven of 12 witnesses on the scene that night said they never heard the police identify themselves. One of them said he heard the group say ‘police’ just once.”

The three cops who broke down the door and traded fire with Taylor’s boyfriend claim they did announce and identify themselves as police. They have not been charged and according to the District Attorney, will not be charged. In not bringing any charge connected to her killing, the D.A. has chosen to believe these three officers who, had they failed to identify themselves (as 11 of 12 witnesses have attested), would likely be facing manslaughter charges today, at the very least. So, even if they aren’t lying about having completed this simple and mandatory identification procedure, we can agree the cops continue to have a very strong incentive to lie — unlike those 11 witnesses, who don’t have any such incentive.

We Americans talk a lot about bad apples, how many there really are, and what percentage of the bunch they might reasonably despoil. But we can agree that lying — in police reports, in sworn testimony to grand juries — is something police officers do quite routinely. I know this from working with police departments as a reporter and city editor. We all know this from simply following the news today, in an age when smart phones and body cams make plain these lies after the fact. [If the body cam footage has been misplaced, you can be sure it will likely contradict a falsified police report.] Cops lie individually, to cover their own wrongdoing. They do it in strategic concert with prosecutors to “solve” criminal cases and get them off the books, or to make prosecutions stick where available evidence cannot. And they lie on behalf of each other, largely refusing to call each other out for this lying, which is a clear and conscious subversion of law and order. This awkward relationship U.S. cops can have with the truth is something the African-American community has been talking loudly about — but white America has largely dismissed — for centuries.

It’s not clear to me whether Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Williams, is counted among the 12 witnesses cited above. But he too claims not to have heard the police announce themselves. Is he lying? He certainly reacted like someone who had genuinely NOT heard anyone at his door identified as police — because when they broke down his door and entered the apartment, Williams immediately shot one of them. Shooting anyone is a risky enterprise. If you know they’re cops (because they’ve effectively announced themselves as such) it’s almost ludicrously risky.

And here the grand jury report reveals still more curious behavior from the District Attorney Daniel Cameron: Williams clearly shot a cop, who clearly claims to have announced himself before entering the apartment, despite so much witness testimony to the contrary. And yet Williams has not been charged with a crime either. In this respect, it seems the D.A. is inclined to believe Williams and his right to defend himself, in his home, against an intruder, with lethal force. Indeed, if the D.A. were convinced that Louisville police had effectively announced themselves, it seems fair to ask why Williams wasn’t charged with shooting one of those cops.

Finally, what is anyone who has studied this case and the grand jury report to make of the overall conduct, capability and character of these particular cops? The grand jury report is damning in multiple respects. The three officers at the door are sticking to their story: They announced themselves. They broke down the door. They were immediately fired upon. In returning fire, they killed Taylor. Once inside the apartment, two officers fired a total of 32 rounds, at least six of which struck Taylor.

Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, told the grand jury that immediately after the shooting, an officer told Walker he was going to jail for the rest of his life. The the officer asked him, “Were you hit by any bullets?” Walker said no. The officer responded by saying, “That’s unfortunate.” Grand jurors, increasingly aware of just how shoddy this police work had been, asked whether the officers executing the warrant were aware that police had already found Jamarcus Glover, an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s who was the target of the drug investigation. The report includes no answer from police. Glover was in fact in custody by the time the police raided Taylor’s apartment.

According to the NYT report from Oct. 2: “They asked if the police had recovered drugs or money from the apartment; the detective said no, and that the police had not searched the apartment for drugs or paraphernalia after shooting Ms. Taylor. [Italics mine] They asked whether he had diagrams of the scene (no) and why the officers’ body cameras were not activated (the detective said he did not know).” To call this a botched operation from underperforming police personnel is to spruce it up quite a bit.

There was a fourth cop who, once the shooting started, went outside and proceeded to “discharge his service weapon” randomly into Taylor’s apartment (and other units) from outside the apartment building, on the street. This additional example of substandard policing could not be explained away apparently. That officer has been charged with wonton endangerment and dismissed from the force, though none of the bullets from his weapon appear to have harmed Taylor or anyone else.

This is the brand of policing and grand jury investigation we are told to support, without question.

NBA Bubble Splendidly Unmoored from Post-Season Predictability

Bam. BAM-BAM!

When I sat down in late August to write this essay — about neutral courts and how they’ve made the 2020 NBA Playoffs the most wide-open, unpredictable tournament the league has ever conducted — turns out I did not know the half of it. Less than 48 hours later, police in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot Jacob Blake 7 times in the back. NBA players still in the Disney Bubble would soon go out on a 72-hour wildcat strike.

[Don’t believe the naysaying, by the way: Without NBA players and their new post-Blake resolve, arenas in NBA cities would not have been made available for voting on Nov. 3 — in exactly those urban areas where creeping fascism had closed so many polling places. Neither would the league, its owners and players association have pledged to “immediately establish a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches and governors, that will be focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.”]

I don’t want to diminish those efforts. Indeed, I would like to see that coalition formally funded. But events that last week in August only confirmed my original premise: We are in fact witnessing the most mercurial, fascinating NBA post season in history — and perhaps the most competitively compelling.

There are two surprisingly concrete explanations for what makes these playoff games so damned watchable: First, the Bubble’s quarantine construct necessarily does away with home court, as all the games are played on either of two fan-less facilities located on Disney’s Orlando, Fla. campus. No NBA playoff tournament had previously been held on neutral courts. Ever. The effect has been monumental and fascinating — and here’s why:

Sporting events are interesting because their results cannot be predicted ahead of time. The less predictable the result, the more interest. Traditional NBA playoff games are claimed by the home team 65 percent of the time. Winners are not predestined, of course, but this makes NBA playoff games less interesting from a competitive standpoint than, say, NHL and MLB playoff games, where the home team only wins only 54 percent of the time, according to 538.com. This is why we love the NCAA basketball tournament: 63 one-off games played entirely on neutral courts. Any team can win pretty much any one of those games. That’s compelling.

The impact of neutral courts inside the NBA Playoff Bubble has been striking. Only four times in 73 NBA seasons had a team fallen behind 3 games to 1 and come back to win that playoff series. The Denver Nuggets did it twice this summer, in consecutive series. We saw the top overall seed, the Milwaukee Bucks, eliminated in Round 2. That’s happened only twice in 20 years. The Clippers, a 2 seed in the West (and odds-on co-favorite to win the NBA title, according to Vegas oddsmakers) also lost in Round 2. Make no mistake: Home court protects favorites, the higher-seeded teams. And neutral courts weaken that paradigm almost to the point of shredding. They replace it not with random results but less predictable results. And that’s more fun, full-stop.

Dozens of assumptions and conventions normally attached to the playoff crucible also fell away this summer. For example, the recently completed Miami-Boston Eastern Conference Final: When the Heat won the first two games, it conveyed a different brand of superiority — because they had won neither game with the benefit of home court. And yet, when the Celtics fell behind 3-1, it never felt insurmountable — because, if they were to come back, never would the Celts have to win on Miami’s home court. Denver showed that, on neutral courts, a team can find something, make an adjustment and win three in a row. Sadly, for me, the Celtics could not make that happen. But lo and behold, we do have an NBA finalist, fifth-seeded Miami, that no one would have predicted when these playoffs started.

The NBA has rarely seen this sort of playoff fluidity, not since the NBA/ABA merger (1976-80), which effectively shook the snow globe and produced five different NBA champions in five seasons — the only time that has ever happened. Forget individual playoff games. On either side of this outlying interregnum, higher seeded NBA teams (buttressed by this potent home-court advantage) claimed individual playoff series 74 percent of the time. The NBA has been around for 73 years. In that time, 1 seeds, 2 seeds and 3 seeds have accounted for 71 championships.

Removing home court — expunging the predictability of moving that enormous advantage from city to city in the 2-2-1-1-1 format — has proved exhilarating. The entire psychology of playoff basketball this summer has become splendidly unmoored.

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Nines on a Scale of 10: GOLF goes splendidly small bore

Norfolk GC in Westwood, Mass.

Sometime this dark pandemic spring, probably late March, I got a call from Ran Morrissett, the North Carolinian who administers the GOLF Magazine course-rating operation. Starved for human contact as we both were, he and I chatted at length on various obscure but often fascinating golf course subjects. Somewhere during that extended natter he informed me that GOLF and its web incarnation, Golf.com, would soon be compiling, publishing and posting a Top 50 ranking of top 9-hole courses in the world — and that a fellow named Mike Dutton would be calling me. The resulting 100 Best Short Courses package — Top 50 Nines, 25 notable par-3s, 25 primo courses under 6,000 yards — was posted at golf.com this week; it will be published (on paper!) in the August/September print edition.

As it happened, Mike Dutton did call me, in April. He was helping Ran compile info on all these 9-holers and wanted to pick my brain. Mike has it in his head that he needs to play every nine in New England, perhaps the world (before he dies presumably). Had I played Castine? What about Megunticook? And what did I really think of Wayne Stiles’ Wilson Lake Country Club in Wilton? To answer all these questions, Mike and I did the only sensible thing: We made plans to play the 9-hole Clinton Golf Club together followed by nine more, 15 miles down the road, at an even more obscure nine, Cedar Ridge GC in Albion.

Once COVID-19 golf restrictions were lifted May 1, Mike and I would play several Maine nines this spring and summer, but not all of them — and we didn’t agree on everything. And that is perhaps the most exhilarating thing about rating/ranking golf courses. Mike is super keen on the nine at Castine GC, on the north shore of Penobscot Bay, for example, where I am less so. You can see from the new ranking that his opinion on Castine carried more weight ultimately. But here’s the take-away: It’s great fun to rate a course and defend that rating, to rank the level of “test” here vs. there, to verbalize competing definitions of “shot value”, to compete as to who can more sagely nod one’s head when discussing “great pieces of terrain.” (I’ve found it useful to stroke one’s chin whiskers, to break up the nodding.)

I’ve been a member of the GOLF panel since 1997. It is not hard science, this business of ranking one course ahead of another. And yet it is also the highest, most intellectually developed form of grille-room banter there is, or so it says here. No one cares about your golf game. Honestly, they don’t. No one. They don’t care about the irons Dustin Johnson is playing, either, or how Phil Mickelson will do on the senior tour, or Fedex Cup points. Compared to all that frippery, the course you and your buddies just played, or soon will play, stands as perhaps the only truly meaningful and lasting touchstone the game of golf has to offer.

In that spirit, here’s my own list of Top 6 Maine Nines. My state of residence was represented in GOLF’s World Top 50, but not to the extent warranted, in my view. Wilson Lake, which didn’t make the grade at all, is almost certainly better than North Haven (#14), and way better than Castine (#46). But geography, conventional wisdom and confirmation bias often conspire to blur such realities.  

Wilson Lake CC, Wilton — Superb nine from underrated Golden Age designer Wayne Stiles and the only real quibble I have with the otherwise stellar ranking published this week. Definitely top 50 material. I visited here years ago but only for a drive-by. I played it this past June and wow, what a great collection of holes. Huge, diverse greens. Not a single middling hole out of nine. The routing is a bit back and forth (1, 3, 4, 5) but this can and should be forgiven over a great piece of terrain.

North Haven GC, North Haven Island — Another cracking, full length nine that is extremely scenic and even a bit raw in spots. Not mis-ranked in the Top 50 but because it’s another Stiles design, its reputation seems to me a bit overcooked, for reasons likely attributable to the Penobscot Bay ferry one must board to get there.

Clinton GC, Clinton — Homemade nine between Bangor and Waterville, and a really good one. One funky hole but 8 strong ones, solid green complexes and immaculately maintained. Suffers in some quarters because it’s new (opened early 2000s) and unabashedly modern in its design aesthetic.

Megunticook GC, Rockport — There is a demonstrable bias toward vintage golf courses within pretty much the entire course-rating community. One tries to resist — because it can hurt some courses and help others unnecessarily. So, I’m surprised Megunticook didn’t make the top 50, for it is very old, really well preserved, splendidly old-world kooky in the extreme, and super fun. The 9th green is so devilishly small, a foursome likely could not play it and maintain a responsible social distance.

Castine GC, Castine — There are some wonderful holes here and Willie Park Jr. (designer of the North Course at Olympia Fields, host to the recent BMW Championship and ’03 U.S. Open) provides a distinct pedigree. In light of Mr. Dutton’s enthusiasm for the place, I have resolved to revisit, perhaps alongside…

Bucksport GC, Bucksport — Stopped to play here with Maine State Golf Association poobah and noted links hound Michael Moore on the way back from MDI a few years ago. We were both stunned by how good it was, as we’d never heard anything about it, good or bad. The polar opposite of Megunticook: modern, full-length (a brawny par 37), compact routing on high but gently rolling ground, huge greens and not overgrown with trees.

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Kittansett Stands Alone, Unclassifiable and Sublime

[Ed. This integrated piece appeared as a course feature and Walker Cup sidebar in LINKS Magazine during the summer of 2006.]

Rolling down Point Road toward The Kittansett Club, past Sippican Harbor and passing before an ever more stately line of summer “cottages” (all in gray shingle), the ancient course comes into view through the driver’s side window — initially a hole or two bounded by Cape-style miniature pine, but then a striking, open expanse punctuated by golden fescues, lines of bracken hedgerows and chocolate-drop mounding. From this vantage, at this introductory stage, it’s perhaps too easy to lump Kittansett in with the dozens of quirky, antique but ultimately docile, wind-dependent tracks that dot the Northeastern coastline.

But Kittansett is seldom what it appears to be, especially at first glance.

Members here bleed the right color and the course itself, perched on Butler Point and surrounded on three sides by Buzzards Bay, is surely transformed by a stiff wind. But the layout is so much more: a steely, uncommon test on the calmest of days. When I visited in late June, a wind-killing fog (thick enough to cancel the first day of the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open down the coast at Newport) had settled over the place. Yet Kittansett’s length (6,814 yards, par 70), its smallish steeply pitched greens, its overall strategic mettle were undiminished. They are, in fact, enough to humble and beguile just about anyone in any sort of weather.

“I’m not sure people realize just how difficult this golf course really is,” says Steve Demmer, the head pro here since 1994 [departed in 2014]. “Not even the members, who are used to the carries, the obstacles and the speed of the greens. When the rough and wind are up [and they usually are], this is a lot of golf course.”

Opened for play in 1923, Kittansett and its various attributes should surprise visitors. It’s a seaside course — peninsular for heaven’s sake; the Aboriginal American name means near (sett) the sea (kittan) — but there isn’t a proper dune in sight. By all geographical rights the course should be links-like, but trees line two thirds of the routing and the soil isn’t sandy at all, meaning it seldom plays hard and fast.

The course feels quite natural but was in fact designed to within an inch of its life by one Frederic Hood, who had consulted with Donald Ross and worked from some drawings provided by William Flynn. But he built the course himself with local crews of similarly inexperienced folk. Kittansett is the only golf course on Hood’s resume; he never designed nor built another.

Indeed, on a largely tree-lined golf course, it’s hard to imagine a seasoned architect would have placed such a proliferation of fairway-impeding obstacles. Thirteen holes at Kittansett feature some sort of deep cross bunker or bank of mounding perpendicular to play. The corridors are naturally ample. But hardy stands of white pine, oak, cedar and tupelo frame the inland holes, creating a extremely stout test when it comes to driving the ball — between the trees, over and around these myriad crossing features, and amid a random collection of chocolate drops.

Here and there these oversized Kisses sit (more like chocolate-covered cherries really), often without apparent purpose, on the periphery, but other times quite strategically. The two that stand sentinel on either side of the somewhat lunar 16th fairway appear to frame the target but are actually 50 yards short of the green, seriously messing with a visiting’s depth perception. “They had to put the rocks somewhere,” Demmer says with a smile and a shrug.

Because of the ever-present winds perhaps, Hood’s design rarely calls for forced carries into the greens themselves. The oft-photographed 3rd, a pitch across an ocean inlet to a green surrounded by beach sand, is the notable exception. More often the cross hazards come earlier in the golf hole. At 16, for example. On the 424-yard 6th, three staggered lines of cross-mounding jut in from the left (the last sits 220 yards from the back tee). A similar trio is reprised at the wonderful, short par-4 10th, where the hazards are reasonably cleared with a long-iron or fairway wood — mind games notwithstanding.

The 11th with its massive cross bunker gaping in from the left is perhaps the most brutish poser on a course replete with them. The eye-catching hazard sits well short of a flamboyant green cleaved by a deep swale — but all this is obscured by the bunker’s 7 foot lip. From the back tee, 241 yards away, the tiny exposed portion of the putting surface appears to sit precariously (and inaccessibly) at the edge of the world, 15 feet above a bunker bounded by ball-sucking bogs. The prudent play is left of center, directly over the bunker’s highest point; this allows the contour to shape the ball onto the green. But it’s a leap of faith even for members familiar with the gambit, and a thrilling leap at that.

•••

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Trump’s subconscious is desperately trying to tell us something

I’m starting to wonder whether Donald Trump, in the early years of this century, might have killed some young woman. Not sexually assaulted her; that’s something he’s apparently been doing, repeatedly, since the early 1980s. I mean killed a woman outright.

I worry about this, as an American, because he’s the president — and because he keeps accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of this exact crime, from this very period in time. Naturally, as has become custom, Trump makes this allegation publicly, without a shred of evidence. But this particular accusation worries me in another way because, as we’re learning, it’s part of a pattern — the outrageous lie that falsely accuses or smears someone else, but actually projects the president’s own anxiety about his having already committed the same crime, or embodying the identical character flaw.

This habit of the president’s, what I have dubbed projection lying, is not to be confused with his reflexive, everyday, run-of-the-mill lying (what he himself calls, in his book Art of the Deal, “truthful hyperbole” — the sort of thing you do when selling condos). This form of fabrication he unleashes almost continually.

Ethically, even psychiatrists aren’t supposed to diagnose the most obvious sociopaths from a distance. But I’m not a psychiatrist (!). And let’s face it: As American citizens in the here and now, we are more or less obliged to scrutinize the president’s lies, to sort them into various categories, subgroups and classifications, then collectively wonder what sort of psychiatric phenomenon leads to all this lying, all these different types of lies. He is our head of state, after all. And other than lies, we don’t get many other types of communication from the man.

In the main, Trump lies largely for the same reasons anyone else does — to deflect blame, to immunize himself from harm (when possible), to shirk responsibility, etc. We’re talking the mother lode of deflection and shirking here.

However, even while taking into account the president’s magisterial portfolio of lies and dissembling styles, I am fascinated and troubled in particular by the president’s projection lying — the assertion of something clearly false that nevertheless and quite astutely reveals something manifestly true about Trump himself. Here’s a banal example: When he prefaces a statement with, Believe me when I tell you, he’s really saying, “I’m preparing to lie to you. In fact, I’m doing it right now.”

We are sadly conditioned to this phenomenon by now, like a proverbial frog being slowly boiled to death. As noted above, the man sold condos when he wasn’t doing the impossible: bankrupting casinos (all this prior to starring in a “reality” series that celebrated his business acumen!). At this advanced stage, it’s as if we expect him to lie to us… And yet Trump has taken this projection lying to a new, dangerous and strangely fascinating place in 2020 — because so many of his lies do reveal what the man’s id, his inner voice, what passes for his soul, is trying desperately to tell us. That’s why the Scarborough lie/smear is so arresting, almost macabre.

The president clearly reckons that if a nemesis like Scarborough were first framed up for murder, Trump could better argue that he was being framed up — or that maybe killing someone isn’t so terrible after all (so long as it was done, perhaps on 5th Avenue, by someone famous enough).

See here a brief catalogue of the variations on this dissembling projection theme. In most every case, it’s pretty obvious what Trump and his subconscious mind are trying to tell us — things we kind of knew to be true already:

  • A lot of people are saying = I’m making this up.
  • She can’t be trusted = You’d be a fool to trust me.
  • How has he not been indicted by now? = I’m quite sure I’ve committed several high crimes or misdemeanors — just in the last 3 days.
  • The president cannot be indicted = I’ve committed several indictable acts in the last 48 hours (but I’m going to keep repeating this because Bob Barr says it’s so).
  • She can’t be trusted with state secrets = I cannot be trusted with state secrets.
  • He’s a security risk = I am a security risk (and so are my children)
  • Nobody knows [insert subject matter here] better than me = I know next to nothing about [insert identical subject matter here]
  • Who knew health care was so complicated? = I just thought about health care policy for the first time this morning.
  • I’ve been treated very badly = I’ve committed a crime and/or shattered a longstanding norm and now I’m dealing with the inevitable consequences.
  • Witch hunt = Constitutionally mandated Congressional oversight
  • Perfect call = Shakedown
  • She’s not my type = Yeah, I raped her.
  • He’s lying = I’m lying.
  • I guarantee you that conversation never took place = That conversation is digitally recorded.
  • I don’t know the guy = We have, in fact, vacationed together.

I could go on. For days! (the Washington Post recently tallied the president’s lies and purposely misleading statements, since January 2017, at more than 20,000). But you get the point.

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Replication, homage and the sincerest form of flattery

The original Church Pew bunkers are located at storied Oakmont CC. This homage can be found at Tour 18 in Flower Mound, Texas.

[Ed. — The replica design phase has faded somewhat. This piece ran in the September 2002 print edition of GOLF Magazine — back when the U.S. was still opening hundreds of new courses every year, replica and otherwise. Since 2008, the U.S. course stock has shrunk by some 150 courses each year…]

Television commentators, magazine pundits and denizens of the 19th hole seldom refer to the ’77 British Open. It’s always the ’77 British Open at Turnberry — rarely the ’88 U.S. Open, but rather the ’88 Open at Brookline. This strong sense of place separates golf from sports like tennis; the late Bud Collins might have waxed pedantic about the ’72 Open at Forest Hills, but he never talked about Ken Rosewall’s quarterfinal win on Court 7. Who cares which court it was? Like football fields and hockey rinks, the parameters of play are all pretty much the same.

Golf is different; it’s all about venue. Its tournament layouts — each unique in character, many situated in exotic locales — actively shape the competitive drama and our memories of it. The advent of television has only enhanced this sense of geography, further ingraining these layouts, these holes, in our collective consciousness.

This fascination with “place” begins to explain one of golf’s emerging trends, the replica course, whereby famous holes from various distinguished layouts are re-created and linked together to form distinct, 18-hole loops. A dozen such compilations are now operating across the U.S., with many more on the drawing board. It seems course developers have recognized what Hollywood and Madison Avenue have known for some time — that our culture has long valued familiarity on a par with originality; how else can we explain Back to the Future III?

What’s surprising is that golf has taken so long to recognize the mystical and commercial appeal of replication design which, when done well, is nothing more than trotting out proven quantities.

Replica course design isn’t, in the strict sense, a particularly new idea. Most course architects will admit there are approximately 30 to 40 golf hole templates; everything built after 1900 is basically a variation on one of these themes. Indeed, C.B. Macdonald and partner/protégé Seth Raynor made their considerable marks on American course architecture by routinely mimicking specific British golf holes — The Redan at North Berwick, the Alps at Prestwick and The Road Hole at St. Andrews, among others. “Some of Macdonald’s copies are better than originals, most notably the Redan at National Golf Links on Long Island,” says Gary Galyean, who administers GOLF’s Top 100 rankings, lists replete with replication fodder.

That said, the post-modern knocking-off process began in earnest with Golden Ocala (Fla.) Golf & Country Club, a replica layout which debuted in 1986. Three years later, The Ross Memorial — an unabashed reproduction of great holes designed by The Original Donald — opened for play in Boyne, Mich. The genre’s most recent example: The Royal Links, an aggregation of 18 holes pilfered/copied with loving care (take your pick) from British Open courses and replicated a few miles from the Strip in Las Vegas. A similar project called The Tribute opens this August in Dallas where another replica course, Tour 18, has been doing 70,000 rounds a year since it opened in 1993.

One might imagine golf’s uber traditionalists, who are legion, taking umbrage at these attempts to knock off hallowed ground. But a funny thing happens on the way to conventional wisdom; when one starts fishing around for naysayers on the subject, few take the bait.

“I don’t have a problem with the practice,” says Barry Palm, president of the Donald Ross Society, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Ross layouts. “Design ideas have always been borrowed and most people will never have the opportunity to play some of these great courses.” Adds Galyean, “The replication of notable golf holes is a time-tested and exonerated practice. A product of admitted plagiarism, The National Golf Links is rightly considered a masterpiece.”

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Why Politics So Often Trumps Piety: It’s Baked Right In

“The Good Shepherd” by James Tissot

Confused by stalwart evangelical Christian support for Donald Trump? Don’t be. Organized religious movements, especially those of the Christian variety, are only nominally “religious” or faith-directed. They are, in fact, political movements (always have been; they started that way). We aren’t confused by U.S. Chamber of Commerce support for Trump, for example. These captains of industry don’t like the guy either; it’s not clear they ever respected him as “a businessman” (I mean, who bankrupts casinos? That’s really hard to do). But the Chamber anticipated that Trump, as president, would deliver policy outcomes that would keep American corporate interests rich and powerful. The Chamber’s support for Trump doesn’t confuse us at all.

The president’s evangelical Christian support is identically political and transactional.

To be fair, the president’s evangelical support is even more politically on the nose because, as it happens, the world’s two most prominent monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, were both founded as uniquely, overtly political movements — and so they remain. The disconnect and confusion come when something like ‘evangelical Christianity’ is viewed as a movement or phenomenon of faith. As such, its support for someone sporting such a “rich” history of bigotry, sexual predation, white supremacy and transgressive plutocracy would be totally mystifying.

However, when evangelical Christianity is rightly viewed as a political movement, the hypocrisy and our confusion about it fall away. Or they should.

Look at what Trump has promised and, in part, delivered to this political constituency of his: not enlightenment or even a righteous example but rather the appointment of judges who are likely to rule against abortion and gay rights (though the latter backfired on the evangelical right last week); the channeling of taxpayer money to private, largely religious, certainly segregated schools; recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thereby laying the groundwork for the fulfillment of biblical prophecy; and restoration of an America that is ruled by white Christian men, despite a population that is ever more diverse. Quite apart from Trump and Republican Party policies, evangelical Christians also tend to be strongly supportive of American militarism abroad, race-based immigration policy, and authoritarian policing, three more things that make it darned near impossible to, among other things, love they neighbor as thyself.

We can agree nearly all of these priorities as maintained by Trump’s evangelical base don’t touch on faith much at all; even the fulfillment of prophecy serves only Christians themselves, not the breadth of God’s human family. Many of these political goals demonstrably transgress New Testament teachings. Instead they are far more concerned with the wielding of power, social influence and control, and money — the stock in trade of most political movements.

Many Americans are thrown by this — the inability of nominal Christians to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (Romans 13:1). Even religiously observant onlookers get stuck on the hypocrisy of the situation — to a point. Trump’s personal behavior would surely offend lots of evangelicals were he raising their grandchildren or coaching their son’s Little League team, for example. But he’s not doing that. He’s delivering political power and influence, and that trumps all. Apparently. Evangelical Christians are no different from any other political constituency in their search for return on investment — a return they frankly didn’t realize from many Republican presidents up to now.

What has changed with Trump is the extent to which individual members of the religious right wing attempt to cloak these plainly political aims in religious vestments. That is to say, under Trump that practice has fallen away almost entirely — and this should help the rest of us better understand what has always been true: that organized religious movements don’t give a fig about salvation (yours, theirs, anyone’s), not when earthly power, influence, social control and money are at stake.  

Listen to the way Steven E. Strang, founder of the Christian publishing house Charisma Media, reckons this political calculus today:

“I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” he told The New York Times last winter. “Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance.” Strang added that those who talk about Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

One thing is clear: This fellow Strang is not concerned with souls.

Neither is Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, an evangelical organization formed to frame the 2018 midterm elections (to potential donors) as a civilizational struggle. Referring to Trump, she said, “His family can talk to him about issues of character.”

“Certainly we are all embarrassed,” Linda Leonhart, who is active in the women’s ministry at her suburban Dallas church, told  The Times in March 2019, citing the president’s serial lying, pettiness, impulsiveness, profanity and name calling. “But for the most part he represents what we stand for.” Not the Gospels, in other words, but the political gathering and wielding of earthly power, influence, social control and money.

These folks are not concerned with the teachings of scripture, much though former Attorney General Jeff Sessions might have tried to cite it in defense of this xenophobic policy or that one. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted these same diversions. In 2020, it should be clear that Americans Republicans are more concerned with using scripture in the derivation and deployment of political identity and power, reflecting a Christian tradition that is nearly 2,000 years old.

The mere acknowledgement that Trump may be less than ideal morally — but that he delivers things like Brett Kavanaugh and protections for Christian health workers — is itself a tacit acknowledgement, on the part of Christian voters, that political concerns are equally important, if not more important, than matters of personal faith. For them, it’s a simple exercise in compartmentalism, a word that does not appear in the Bible, for the record. I doubt very much these folks would want Trump for a son-in-law (faith). But they love what he’s doing as president (politics).

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Unprecedented? Nope. Modern GOP Still Harking Back to the ’80s — the 1880s

With word that President Donald Trump plans to resume his in-person political rallies on June 19 — that’s Juneteenth, a commemoration of slavery’s end and black America’s biggest secular holiday — in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it seems clear the era of Republican dog whistles is finally over.

Tulsa was, of course, site of the so-called ‘race riots’ that slaughtered of hundreds of African-Americans over a two-day period in 1921. That was the height of Jim Crow America, when pogroms like these were sadly unremarkable. This is the symbolism our Republican administration is clearly reaching for and by now it should not surprise us.

From the moment Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign — in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights activists had been murdered and buried in an earthen dam back in 1963 — the GOP has positioned itself as the party of white folk. The symbolism was clear enough from Day 1, and effective enough to lure white southern Democrats (the “Dixiecrats” who fled the Democratic Party during the Civil Rights era) into the once-anathema Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln. The Trump presidency and the scheduling of this July rally neatly complete the circle.

In light of the protests that have gripped American cities in wake of George Floyd’s May 29 killing, we are now free to drop all pretenses. Indeed, it’s time to retire all sorts of presumptions, including the idea that Trump and his white-nationalist “Christian” support is somehow unprecedented. On the contrary: We have been here before.

But first, by all means, let’s also dispense with any and all pearl-clutching from progressives and centrists. Donald Trump understands the nature of his political support and, by now, so should we. To be fair, he’s been remarkably consistent re. the nature of his vision for this country. “Why is it always about race with you people,” his supporters serially countered in pre-Floyd America. Because, as has been confirmed the last 2 weeks (which only confirms what the war on drugs and mass incarceration showed us decades before), it’s always been about race.

Let’s further dispense with our vaguely snarky musing on the Trump movement’s signature rallying cry. When he and his followers pledge to “Make America Great Again”, they really do mean to make it white again — or rather, to restore white citizens to their longstanding, “rightful” place of privilege and power in the face of an ever more diverse citizenry and electorate. It’s time to retire this rhetorical question and simply accept it as demonstrable fact.

We can also stop with the lengthy magazine think pieces and earnest video documentaries that explore the economic nature of Trump’s support. Yes, plutocrats love Trumpism. They may indeed be pulling some of these strings. But there is no economic explanation for the white working-class embrace of Donald Trump. And here’s a good rule to follow at all times but particularly in this one: When we perceive our fellow citizens to be repeatedly voting against their own self-interest, we have almost certainly failed to effectively divine that self-interest.

To wit, Trumpism is not an economic movement. It is a white, nationalist, extra-scriptural Christian movement. In four years’ time, it has produced a great many things we can fairly call “unprecedented”. But MAGA isn’t one of them. With a bit more than 5 months remaining before the 2020 election, it’s critical that “the rest of us” recognize this.

What’s more, as we’ll establish here, it’s important to recognize this is not the first time white Americans have found themselves on the wrong side of a demographic equation, i.e. trying to maintain political power and privilege in a society where voters of color roughly equal if not outnumber them.

We have indeed been here before. It’s called the Post-Reconstruction South, where the identical demographic situation resulted in the identical political response. To a remarkable degree, the policies articulated by Trump during his campaign and those instituted by his administration these past 40 months are the spiritual godchildren of those initiated by post-Reconstruction southern whites in the late 19th century — for the same desperate and obvious demographic reasons.

No one bothered to ask late 19th century southern white men why they effectively demonized, disenfranchised and, where possible, criminalized black citizens, black voters. No contemporaneous journalists from the agitating north went looking for the economic foundations of Jim Crow. It was obvious to all, north and south, what they were doing and why. Institutional racism was essential and obvious to the white fight for political power in the former Confederacy. The political motivations of white southerners post-1877 had nothing to do with economics, government intrusion, faith, the opioid epidemic, flyover country resentment of coastal elites, etc. It also lasted the better part of 100 years.

And so, in this sense, it should not surprises us that it remains front and center in U.S. politics. It’s all about race. It’s always been about race. Not exactly the race of some urban African-American or that of some border Latinx, but rather the so-called white race, “our” race, and its prospects for enduring power in this country. The demography of an immigrant nation has finally caught up to white America, and a lot of them (40 percent by most counts) don’t like it much. It’s time we all accepted this and set about wrestling with it properly.

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Pandemic Scenarios Earn CT Rare Win on the Golf Front

The super-fun green complex at the 6th, one of many at Windsor’s Keney Park GC .

Let’s first relate the cold hard facts, to contextualize things: Connecticut is a wasteland. I spent four college years there. Pretty much every part of the state exists as a satellite to some larger, more consequential place; it’s the world’s biggest suburb, in other words — and yet there isn’t one cool urban redoubt in all of its 5,567 square miles. For years, you couldn’t buy beer there after 8 p.m. In their relative wisdom, modern Nutmeg lawmakers have since upped that to 10 p.m. (Sunday liquor sale bans were lifted in 2012). But it remains the most culturally vanilla corner of New England.

More to the point, the golf on hand in Connecticut is surprisingly poor. Of the six New England states, I’d rank it 5th in terms of overall quality per capita (sorry, New Hamster). There are some perfectly fine private clubs, but honestly, not as many as one might think considering the long coastline and all the money that has consistently sloshed around that part of the state. The public golf is fairly abject by any standard.

However, for much of this Pandemic Spring, Connecticut and Rhode Island have been the only places that have even allowed golf in New England — and Rhody has effectively banned it for out-of-state folks (insisting on a 14-day quarantine beforehand). It seems the most onerous golf restrictions will be lifted across the region come the month of May (or that’s the word here in Maine), so let me praise Connecticut and the golf there while I have the chance.

My daughter passed her thesis in last Friday at midnight. Her college experience is essentially over. As she has spent the last 6 weeks cooped up in her Philadelphia apartment, we reckoned she’d earned some semi-rural time at home. Because Clara required extraction and, because Connecticut is literally unavoidable when driving from Maine to Philly, I resolved to play golf somewhere on the way down.

[Can I just say that I’m not on board with all this hand wringing about how high school and college seniors are missing out on the pomp and circumstance of graduation? It seems misplaced in light of such large-scale public health and economic concerns. I’m particularly put off by online expressions of this treacly sentiment. We can agree that Facebook was created for and has always been sustained by a bottomless human capacity for meaningless, self-referential bullshit. Which has its place. Witness my own wall. But the idea that middle-aged people posting high school portraits of themselves somehow speaking empathically to the graduation void being experienced by their children (who don’t use or give a fuck about FB) is a level of self-reference that is frankly beyond the pale. Fine. Go ahead and share flattering, young-and-fit pictures of yourselves. Go ahead and detail your 10 most meaningful albums. Just don’t think you need the license of Covid-19 confinement to do so — because social media in general and FB in particular have long existed for exactly this sort of piteous self-indulgence. And don’t think our own confinement makes us any more interested. For the record: I’ve checked with my lawyer; these nominations are not legally binding.]

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The par-3 2nd at Fenwick GC in Old Saybrook, CT

Right. Where were we. My daughter. Golf in Connecticut.

Actually, because I passed through the Nutmeg state twice, I played on the way back, as well. Each round was delightful.

Monday morning I rolled up to Keney Park Golf Course just north of Hartford in Windsor, right off Interstate-91. The original Devereaux Emmet design there was renovated some 7 years ago, to pretty outstanding effect. I picked up a game with 3 other middle-aged guys. Aside from the lack of handshakes before and afterward, our round was not affected much at all by the physical distance we maintained.

Playing on the golf team at Wesleyan did get me around the state to dozens of different courses, back in the day, but I’d never played Keney before. The terrain was superb and the place drained really well (it had snowed the day before apparently, but the ball still bounced/rolled in most places). Some have taken issue with the historical accuracy/integrity of architect Michael Dusenberry’s work at Keney Park — and the project cost. But this seems to me a pretty churlish response. If there’s a better muni track in Connecticut, I’d like to know where it is.  The greens are super fun, their complexes bold and varied, and they rolled beautifully for mid-April.

There are dozens of ways to “rate” a golf course, but here’s one I like (especially for public courses): What’s the worst hole out here? At Keney, it took some real head-scratching. It’s probably the 1st — a perfectly good if short, downhill par-4 that otherwise serves as a welcoming opener. I certainly appreciated it, having been sent straight from the starter shack to the first tee after 4 hours in the car. Every succeeding hole I found strategically engaging.

The very next day, after kipping in Philadelphia, we loaded up the car and headed north. (It’s quite a feeling to drive over the George Washington Bridge and sail through NYC at lunchtime with such ease.) Soon enough we had arrived in Old Saybrook, just down Route 9 from Middletown. Fenwick Golf Course is a cool place — a summer-community track surrounded by tony shingle-style homes arrayed about a small peninsula of low-lying land buffeted by Long Island Sound. Just 9 holes, it was the perfect place to play with my daughter in tow.

Tuesday was cold and windy on the Connecticut coast but we welcomed the walk and there are some truly scenic vistas on offer at Fenwick. When it came into view, the Sound was roiling. As for the golf itself: meh. There was a pretty epic cape-style par-4 (the 430-yard 4th), where one is obliged to drive it over a salt-water inlet (and Sequassen Avenue). The 2nd is a cute par-3 (the card indicated there was a back tee stretching the hole to 200 yards, but we couldn’t find it). In all, a lovely spot but nothing too-too special. The greens were uniformly small, round and tilted back toward play with very little internal contour. It reminded me of Abenackie, another antique summer-colony 9 south of Portland, Maine (though the terrain there in Biddeford Pool is superior).

But this is to quibble. It was the perfect way to break up our 8-hour drive, during a pandemic. Invigorated, we jumped back in the car, stopped at Popeye’s in New London (spicy chicken sandwich: believe the hype), and headed north.