Arguable: With Taylor Swift in the no-politics zone

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2017 file photo, Taylor Swift performs at the DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night Concert in Houston, Texas. Swift announced the first of dates for her “reputation Stadium Tour” on Monday. It kicks off May 8, 2018, at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP, File)
John Salangsang/Invision/AP
Taylor Swift performs in Houston on Feb. 4, 2017.

In the Arguable e-mail newsletter, columnist Jeff Jacoby offers his take on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day. Sign up here.

Three cheers for apolitical entertainers

With America more inflamed by political division and partisan hostility than ever before in my lifetime, one of the blessings I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving is the reticence of celebrities who keep their politics to themselves.

Last week the editors of Marie Claire, the international monthly women’s publication, directed a slap at music superstar Taylor Swift for not injecting enough politics into her new album, Reputation.

“Fall of 2016 saw a slew of celebrities get vocally and visibly involved in the political process, supporting candidates and encouraging their fans to get out and vote,” wrote Kayleigh Roberts in an article itemizing topics Swift “should have addressed” in her latest collection of songs. Swift isn’t required to be open about her politics, conceded Roberts. “But it’s also fair to question her decision to remain silent in what was a particularly contentious and consequential presidential battle.”


On Twitter, Marie Claire went even further. “We’re still waiting for an explanation of Taylor Swift’s decision to remain apolitical during the 2016 election,” the editors tweeted.

Waiting for an explanation? Really?

I’m not a regular Marie Claire reader, so I don’t know if this petulant demand for more politics is typical of the magazine’s output. I do know that if there is one thing America doesn’t need, it’s more entertainers emitting more partisan exhaust into an atmosphere already chokingly thick with the stuff. Doubtless there are plenty of failings for which Swift ought to be called to account. Keeping politics out of her music is definitely not one of them.

As Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason magazine, remarks:

For the entirety of the 21st century, it seems, more and more parts of our lives are being infected by partisanship of the dumbest and rankest form. Marie Claire is hardly the only or even the worst outlet when it comes to insisting that Taylor Swift join the barricades or STFU, but it’s always worth pointing out that very few people want to live in a world where every goddamned thing is drafted for political purposes.

Gillespie adds that one of the main reasons he “fell in with libertarians”. . .

is precisely because their vision of the world is predicated upon squeezing areas in which politics operates to its minimum so we can get on with living our lives. Even if we live to be 200 years old . . . life will always be too short to fight over which celebrity should vote for which candidate. If a public figure wants to use her fame to advance this or that cause, issue, or candidate, more power to them. But as basketball legend and recidivist public nuisance Charles Barkley put it way, way back in 1993, “I am not a role model.”


The Barkley quote is new to me, but I remember being impressed by an even earlier disclaimer from the actress Elisabeth Shue. In 1991, Shue told the Boston Globe’s Jay Carr:

Over the years, I’ve been sensitive about seeing actors and actresses stand up and talk about their political beliefs. I think, “Why are we listening to you? Because we saw you in a movie? It doesn’t seem right to give your point of view that much credit.”

Mark Wahlberg agrees. The Boston-born actor/songwriter/rapper not only steers clear of political pronouncements, he wishes other entertainers would too. This is from a profile of Wahlberg that ran last December in a magazine for military veterans:

[D]o not expect him to opine on politics.

“A lot of celebrities did, do, and shouldn’t,” he told Task & Purpose last week, at a swanky luncheon in New York, held on behalf of his upcoming film “Patriots Day.” We were talking about the parade of actors and musicians who lined up to denounce Donald Trump in the months and weeks leading up to Election Day.

“You know, it just goes to show you that people aren’t listening to that anyway,” he continued. “They might buy your CD or watch your movie, but you don’t put food on their table. You don’t pay their bills. A lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble. They’re pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family.

Wahlberg, Shue, and Swift aren’t the only stars in the no-politics zone. Reba McEntire, Billy Joel, Gillian Anderson, and a few others are there too. But they don’t have a whole lot of company. Yeah, it’s a free country, there’s a First Amendment, and performers are at liberty to spout politics from dawn to dusk. But I’ll reserve my applause for those who don’t. Too many people in show biz think public acclaim is an invitation to pontificate about public policy. Most of their fans wish they would just shut up and sing. Taylor Swift understands that, even if Marie Claire doesn’t.

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Scribble, scribble

A hefty majority of Americans — 70 percent according to one recent national poll— disapprove of President Trump’s incessant tweeting. If you’re among those who find the president’s tweets maddeningly childish and immature, The Daily Show has something for your web browser: an extension that converts tweets from @realDonaldTrump into a font thatlooks like crayon scribbles. It’s a decided improvement, no question. But why limit it only to tweets from the president? There are a lot of unpleasantly juvenile tweeters, both left (Keith Olbermann, Michael Ian Black) and right (Joe Walsh, Curt Schilling) whose posts would benefit from a similarly infantile display. Any coders out there who can take The Daily Show’s good idea and make it better?

Evict the terrorists

The US State Department sent word to the Palestinian Authority on Friday that it was poised to shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington, DC, on the grounds that the Palestinians, by calling for the International Criminal Court to target Israel, have violated US law.


I’ll believe it when I see it.

Evicting the PLO, which under Yasser Arafat became one of the bloodiest terror organizations of the last half-century, would be an act of moral hygiene and geopolitical disinfection. It should never have been allowed to open for business in the US capital, and its presence there since 1994 has been an ongoing disgrace. Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram would never be permitted to set up shop in Washington. A PLO office ought to be equally unthinkable.

So at first glance, the weekend’s headlines — “US threatens to close Palestinian office in Washington” was CNN’s — might have seemed good news. It wasn’t. The State Department made it clear almost at once that its threat was merely for show, a way of prodding Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to resume talks with Israel.

The New York Times quoted the State Department’s soothing reassurance that any restrictions on the PLO can be lifted if the Palestinians come to the negotiating table:

“We are hopeful that this closure will be short-lived,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. . . .

The State Department official said the US move did not amount to cutting off relations with the PLO or signal an intention to stop working with the Palestinian Authority.

“We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties,” the official said.

After all these years, only the willfully blind can imagine that Palestinian leaders have the faintest interest in a “comprehensive peace agreement” with Israel. The charters of both Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, both call explicitly for the extermination of Israel. Both refuse implacably to acknowledge Israel as the Jewish state. Renewed negotiations will change nothing and fix nothing.

Closing the PLO office, however, would be a step in the right direction. It was allowed to open in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the famous handshake on the White House lawn, when euphoria ran high that Israeli-Palestinian peace was in the offing. But Palestinian terrorism soared in the months and years following the handshake, especially after Arafat and the PLO were permitted by Israel to establish a Palestinian dictatorship on territory administered by Israel. In the quarter-century that has elapsed since the Oslo process began, thousands of lives have been lost, Gaza has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hamas, and Palestinian rejectionism, nourished with billions of dollars in foreign aid, has grown ever more entrenched.

The argument for allowing the PLO to open a diplomatic office in Washington was that it would enable Palestinian rulers to more effectively implement the Oslo Accords. US law made that a condition of keeping the office open: The PLO (now an arm of the Palestinian Authority) had to show that it renounced terrorism and was adhering to its obligations under the accords: to end terror attacks, extradite murderers, confiscate illegal weapons, and end anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement. Since it did none of those things, the Washington mission should have been shuttered years ago.

Alas, Congress also created a loophole; it allowed US presidents to waive the behavior expected of the PLO if they determine that it would be in the interests of peace to do so. Every president since 1994, Democrats and Republicans alike, exercised that waiver as a matter of routine. Will President Trump break the pattern and insist, at long last, that the Palestinians pay a price for their continuing violence and incitement? To repeat: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Even Americans who don’t particularly care about the Middle East ought to be disgusted by the willingness of successive administrations to tolerate a PLO presence in Washington. For the Palestinian leadership isn’t just committed to terror against Israelis. Palestinians regard America as their enemy, too.

When 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz of Sharon, Mass., who was spending his gap year in Israel, was murdered in 2015 by terrorist Muhammad Haruv, I noted that he was far from the first US citizen to die at the hands of Palestinian killers.

His murder came just a month after that of another Massachusetts native — retired elementary school principal Richard Lakin, who was fatally stabbed on a bus in Jerusalem. He in turn was killed days after Eitam Henkin, a noted Torah scholar, was slain together with his wife when a Palestinian terror squad shot them at point-blank range in front of their children.

Americans have been losing their lives to Palestinian terrorism for years. Koby Mandell, who was born and attended grade school in Maryland, was only 13 when he and a friend were stoned to death while hiking in the Judean hills. Former US Navy Seal John Branchizio was one of three American security contractors blown up in Gaza when Palestinian bombers attacked the diplomatic convoy they were guarding. Gail Rubin, a 39-year-old photographer, was taking pictures of birds on an Israeli beach when she was slaughtered by the notorious Arab terrorist Dalal Mughrabi.

At least 138 US citizens have been killed by terrorists loyal to the PLO, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad or incited to murder by Palestinian Authority propaganda. That incitement is not only rabidly anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. It is also anti-American.

“We are waging a fierce and cruel battle . . . against the leader of world imperialism,” raged Jamal Muhaisen, a member of the Fatah Central committee in a televised ceremony in January. “The enemy of the nations [is] the United States of America.”

The same savage message comes from Ahmad Bahr, deputy speaker of the Hamas parliament in Gaza. “O Allah, destroy the Americans and their supporters. O Allah, count them one by one and kill them all, without leaving a single one.”

Palestinian factions may feud, but they are as one in celebrating the death of US citizens. After a horrific 2006 suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv restaurant, terrorist plotter Abu Nasser rejoiced that a Florida boy, 16-year-old Daniel Wultz, was among the victims. “This is a gift from Allah,” he exulted. “American and Zionist — this is the best target combination we can dream of.”

Closing the PLO office in Washington wouldn’t end Palestinian terror. But it would at least signal that the United States was no longer willing to pretend that the Palestinian Authority is interested in peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state. It would send a grievously-overdue message that there is a price to be paid for continually inciting violence against innocents. And it would be at least a small reminder that American blood cannot be shed with impunity.

For a president looking to make America great again, evicting the PLO from the national capital ought to be a no-brainer.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by AARON UFUMELI/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9230355a) Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe resignation deadline past, Harare - 01 Nov 2017 (FILE) - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (R) delivers a speech during the burial of liberation war hero Don Muvuti at the national heroes acre in Harare, Zimbabwe, 01 November 2017, (reissued 20 November 2017). Media reports that deadline set by the the ruling Zanu-PF party for Robert Mugabe to resign has past on on 20 Nove later in the day to discuss the possible impeachment of President Mugabe.
Robert Mugabe delivers a speech in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Nov. 1.

Bleeding Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator for the last 37 years, was expelled yesterday by the country’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, and ordered to resign from office or face immediate impeachment. The elderly Mugabe’s powerful young wife, whom he had sought to install as his successor, was ousted from her formal role as head of Zanu-PF’s Women’s League and barred for life from the party. The downfall of the corrupt and ruthless couple was engineered by Zimbabwe’s military, which placed them under house arrest last week and arrested many of their allies.

For Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people, the end of the Mugabe era is a cause for rejoicing, and over the weekend the streets of Harare filled with celebrants:

Vast throngs of demonstrators turned Zimbabwe’s capital into a carnival ground on Saturday in a peaceful outpouring of disdain for their longtime leader and calls for him to quit immediately. People in Harare clambered onto tanks and other military vehicles moving slowly through the crowds, danced around soldiers walking in city streets and surged in the thousands toward the building where Mugabe held official functions.

But Zimbabwe’s military didn’t act out of a commitment to freedom and democracy. It turned against Mugabe out of concern that its own power would be threatened if Mugabe’s wife became president. If Mugabe is replaced, as expected, by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe will still be ruled by a brutal strongman, one who was closely involved in some of Mugabe’s worst excesses, including ethnic massacre and widespread land theft. Mnangagwa’s nickname is “Crocodile,” and those who know him describe him as “power-hungry, corrupt and a master of repression.”

Though it’s hard to believe now, Zimbabwe was once celebrated as Africa’s breadbasket. Mugabe’s deranged policies turned the country into a hellhole where millions starved. Hopeful well-wishers once believed that Zimbabwe could be a model of postcolonial self-government; instead it became a Third World horror-show, in which opposition politicians were beaten and imprisoned and elections were blatantly and violently rigged.

The savagery of Mugabe’s rule, and his pitiless determination to hold on to power at any cost, has been known for many years. In 2008, during the run-up to one of Zimbabw’s elections, UNICEF reported that 10,000 children had been driven from their homes by the regime’s violence, and that schools were being used as torture centers. In a dispatch at the time, reporter Peter Osborne itemized some of the methods of abuse favored by Mugabe’s men: pouring boiling plastic on victims’ backs, burning their extremities, nearly drowning them in vats of water, and administering whippings violent enough to transform an adult’s buttocks into a horrifying “mess of raw flesh.”

Human Rights Watch documented the reign of terror in a report documenting numerous cases of horrific repression by Mugabe supporters.

“Zanu-PF and its allies have . . . established torture camps and organized abusive ‘re-education’ meetings around the country to compel MDC supporters into voting for Mugabe,” the report said. Hundreds of voters were flogged with sticks, whips, bicycle chains, and metal bars. In one public session, officials of the ruling party “beat six men to death and tortured another 70 men and women, including a 76-year-old woman publicly thrashed in front of assembled villagers.” Military officers would visit small villages, give each resident a bullet to hold, and then issue a warning: Vote for the opposition party, and a bullet like this one will kill you.

Year in, year out, these crimes and enormities played out and the civilized world did nothing to stop them. None of these horrors were secret. In his terrifying, heartrending 2010 book on Zimbabwe, The Fear, foreign correspondent Peter Godwin quoted Mugabe’s boast that he was “the Hitler of the time,” an iron-fisted tyrant who listed his supposed achievements, and crowed: “If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold.”

Godwin recounted example after chilling example of Mugabe’s willingness to do anything to anyone — intimidation, threats, beatings, rape, torture, murder — to preserve his hold on power. Zanu-PF gangsters scoured the country for supporters of the opposition party, and hurt them in ways that even the Nazis didn’t think of. Here’s a tiny excerpt from the book, based on Godwin’s conversation with a foreign humanitarian aid worker, one of thousands Mugabe eventually expelled:

The story tattooed on her mind is from a 20-year-old woman who was raped while listening to her father screaming just outside the room as he was beaten to death. Before he died, they rubbed dirt in his eyes. . .

Brenda Meister is haunted by the story of a woman who went out with one of her year-old twin boys to run errands, leaving the other baby at home with his father. When she returned, she found her husband dead on the floor next to her son, who had been decapitated. The Mugabe thugs who had done this then grabbed her and gang-raped her next to her headless baby and her husband’s corpse, while her other baby say crying nearby.

Countless lives could have been saved, incalculable suffering could have been prevented, if Mugabe had been forced from power long before now. A detachment of US Marines, I once suggested, could have done the job on its lunch break. Great Britain could have done it. South Africa could have done it. And perhaps they would have — if Mugabe had been a white dictator. Had Zanu-PF been a party of white supremacists hell-bent on crushing Zimbabwe’s black majority, would the world’s great democratic powers have looked the other way for so long?

And if Mugabe is now replaced by another cruel and terrible dictator, will the free world once again ignore the cries of Zimbabwe’s people?


I was traveling abroad and didn’t write last week. But one year ago this week I wrote a column about the lively debate that surrounded Thanksgiving in the earliest years under the Constitution. After the first Congress had been working for six months, one member proposed that President George Washington declare “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” and urge Americans to express gratitude to God for the “opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.” Other members of Congress wondered if such a resolution was appropriate under the new Constitution, which separated church and state.

Thanksgiving today may seem as American as pecan pie and the Macy’s parade. That wasn’t always the case.

Wild Wild Web

Is Advent only for Christians? Because I could really get into this Advent Calendar. Or better yet, this one.

About 150 million years ago, a dinosaur went for a walk. Here are the footprints it left behind.

The secret — well, little-known — history of rum-and-cokes.

An Egyptian pop star made a mild joke about the Nile River. Now she’s facing three years in prison.

In 1863, the Patriot & Union newspaper dismissed the Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks.” It published a retraction 150 years later.

This baby totally loves “Jeopardy!”

The last line

“Their voices rise, soft among the balancing boulders, as they sit in their circle of hard-back chairs with their newly issued koki pens and their pads of paper, trying to draw away their suffering, struggling to heal themselves, because no one else will.” — Peter Godwin, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe (2010)

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.