Toxic Trump’s Toxic Traces

On the day Trump leaves office, we’ll still have a younger generation with worse life prospects than their parents had faced. We’ll still have a cultural elite that knows little about people in red America and daily sends the message that they are illegitimate. We’ll still have yawning inequalities, residential segregation, crumbling social capital, a crisis in family formation.

Trump’s rise in 2016 was a symptom of all these crises, long before he had a chance to become an additional cause of them.

What’s the core problem? Damon Linker is on to a piece of it: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole — of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.”

I’d add that this individualism, atomism and selfishness is downstream from a deeper crisis of legitimacy. In 1970, in a moment like our own, Irving Kristol wrote, “In the same way as men cannot for long tolerate a sense of spiritual meaninglessness in their individual lives, so they cannot for long accept a society in which power, privilege, and property are not distributed according to some morally meaningful criteria.”

A lot of people look around at the conditions of this country — how Black Americans are treated, how communities are collapsing, how Washington doesn’t work — and none of it makes sense. None of it inspires faith, confidence. In none of it do they feel a part.

If you don’t breathe the spirit of the nation, if you don’t have a fierce sense of belonging to each other, you’re not going to sacrifice for the common good. We’re confronted with a succession of wicked problems and it turns out we’re not even capable of putting on a friggin’ mask.

David Brooks, The Coronavirus and America’s Humiliation

American leadership has politicized the pandemic instead of trying to fight it. I see no preparedness, no coordinated top-down leadership of the sort we’ve enjoyed in Europe. I see only empty posturing, the sad spectacle of the president refusing to wear a mask, just to own the libs. What an astonishing self-inflicted wound.

On June 26, a day when the U.S. notched some 45,000 new cases—how’s that for “American carnage”?—the European Union announced that it would loosen some travel restrictions but extend its ban on visitors from the United States and other hot-spot nations. On Tuesday, it[confirmed][4] that remarkable and deeply humiliating decision, a clear message that in pandemic management, the EU believes that the United States is no better than Russia and Brazil—autocrat-run public-health disasters—and that American tourists would pose a dire threat to the hard-won stability our lockdown has earned us. So much for the myth that the American political system and way of life are a model for the world.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, Americans Don’t Get How Badly They’re Handling COVID-19

President Trump on Thursday morning appeared before reporters in the White House briefing room to rattle off a bunch of numbers — unemployment numbers, stock-market numbers, consumer-confidence numbers. For much of the presentation, he was reading off of prepared materials. But this is a fellow who can’t resist ad-libbing.

And so at one point, he added, “It’s coming back faster, bigger and better than we ever thought possible,” said Trump of a bounce-back in economic indicators. “These are not numbers made up by me. These are numbers.

… Someone who lies as much as Trump needs a way to signal when he’s not lying.

Eric Wemple, Trump drops bombshell: ‘These are numbers’ (emphasis in original)

The American experiment has always been messy. In fact, that’s part of the appeal. But this is not America at its best. America, at its best, is not banned from traveling to Europe because it has so badly failed to contain a disease that a mere tourist is considered a public health risk. At its best, America does not get so swept up in the mob mentality that it indiscriminately tears down monuments of abolitionists and patriots, nor does it shrug its collective shoulders when it learns a foreign adversary placed bounties on the heads of our servicemen and women.

Here’s hoping the country feels more like celebrating next year.

The Morning Dispatch: American Pride Hits Record Low

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Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Chickens coming home to roost

Every single goal the gay-rights movement set out to achieve in my lifetime has now been won. Gays can marry; we can serve our country openly with pride; we are categorically protected from discrimination in employment and public accommodations in every state. Many once thought it would happen in reverse order, with employment discrimination barred before civil marriage was extended to gays and lesbians, but history has its surprises. Nonetheless, it’s done. Finished. Accomplished.

The Equality Act, the key piece of Democratic legislation designed to update the 1964 Act to include gays and transgender people, is therefore moot. The core goals have been accomplished without Congress needing to pass any new laws. What Gorsuch has achieved is exactly what that bill purports to legislate — except for the Act’s attempt to gut religious freedom, by exempting its provisions from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. And that, surely, will be the remaining business: a battle between religious freedom and gay and transgender equality.

Andrew Sullivan, When Is It Time to Claim Victory in the Gay Rights Struggle?

Thus does it become salient that Evangelical fealty to Donald Trump and the GOP, flavored with Christian Nationalism, has given religion and religious freedom a particularly bad odor, and not just to the secularists of the ascendant Left.

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Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Posted in Benedict Option, Evangelicalism, Intricate malice, Liberal Groin Pieties, Religious freedom, Sexualia, transgenderism, Transvaluation of Values | Leave a comment

“Because of … Sex”

I’ve tried to let go of my anxieties about things beyond my control, and I’m not doing too badly in my effort.

Part of my calm comes, ironically, from some political realism (call it fatalism if you must): my side lost the culture wars, at least for now and the near future, so there will be adverse legal and political consequences.

Those consequences likely will be worse because so many of the noisesome avatars of American Christianism have been humping Trump’s leg for 42 months, evoking disgust from normal and Left-abnormal alike.

That I wasn’t among them will give no impunity, partly because, God willing, if a knock comes in the night I’ll not say “No! Not me! I’m not that kind of Christian!” Like ’em or not, the leg-humpers are my distant spiritual kin, so to deny them in time of great peril is like denying Christ.

Another bit of calm comes from the realization that, consequences or not, for now and the near future cultural conservatives, mostly Christian, will almost certainly have it incomparably better than most Christians in the past. (This also means that “knock in the night” is pretty unlikely.)

By “past,” I do not mean “since the birth of Evangelicalism in the 18th and 19th century Great Awakenings.” I mean 2000 years of Christianity. Commemorating the Martyrs and Confessors in Matins each week has taught me that. Real believers will survive and perhaps thrive — although things could get worse than I imagaine so they’ll thrive by departing to be with Christ;  “winsome” don’t always feed the devil-dawg’s bloodlust.

But “not anxious” doesn’t mean “disinterested,” and I’m pretty keenly interested in yesterday’s Title VII  decision (hereafter “Bostock“).

“Not anxious” also doesn’t mean “oblivious” to ramifications that are going to roil the nation for a while. The ones that most get my attention are not the ramifications under Title VII, which deals with discrimination in employment in details I’m unfamiliar with, but ramifications on what sex discrimination prohibitions will mean, by exactly the same Bostock logic, in Title IX and elsewhere. Title IX, for instance, is where the “biological males in women’s locker rooms” specter arises, as not many employers have people getting naked in locker rooms, but most educational institutions do.

Nevertheless, I’m going to pretty much set aside such sequelae to focus on the decision, it’s logic, illogic, dissents and hints about the current court going forward. Sequelae may get comments when they come.

You can get a skillfully pared-down version (from 120 pages to 30) of the Bostock decision here, by the way. If you don’t at least skim it, don’t you dare make snarky remarks about any of the authors.


First observation: I see no sign of bad faith by any of the three authors. Cases don’t get to SCOTUS unless they’re difficult legally. Specifically, I repudiate demagoguery that Gorsuch was just being true to his elite class (What other class do we want on the court? Anyone who makes it onto any Federal Court is ipso facto subject to the “elitist” charge.) or sucking up to the NYT Editorial Board.

Indeed:

The decision was a remarkably clear illustration of several fault lines that persist within the conservative movement. First, there is the friction between textualism and originalism, two judicial philosophies that are often lumped together but that found themselves squarely opposed in this case.

Speaking for the textualists—those who eschew a law’s authorial intent to focus only on its explicit wording—Gorsuch’s argument was simple: Title VII forbids any and all discrimination on the basis of sex, and “an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.” In short: If you are a business owner, and your female employees are allowed to date men, but you fire a male employee for dating a man, it’s hard to argue his sex was not a determining factor in your decision.

Speaking for the originalists—those who attempt to determine what the intent of a law was at the time it was passed—Justice Samuel Alito fervently disagreed: It was staggeringly plain, he argued, that not a single legislator who voted to codify Title VII would have considered discrimination “on the basis of sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The very concepts would have been foreign to them.

That friction was nothing, however, compared with what became evident between the conservatives who praised Gorsuch’s decision as quality textualism and those who argued that it amounted to a betrayal of the whole point of getting Trump justices on the court: to get the right some policy wins.

… Tweeted Jon Schweppe of the social conservative American Principles Project: “I was told there would be winning.”

The Morning Dispatch: The Supreme Court Expands Discrimination Protections.

Left and Right seem agreed that SCOTUS is a political legislative body in disguise. Left and Right are wrong.


Commentary on the oral argument in Bostock last November:

The argument is this: If an employer would never fire Ginger for taking a romantic interest in men, but does fire George when it learns that he does so, it has treated him differently because of his sex. Similar arguments can reach the case of an employee’s gender identity.

You might call the phenomenon “surprise plain meaning”—a meaning of the text that the drafters did not intend or notice at the time. Every law student learns about this early on, as with the question of whether a “No Vehicles in the Park” rule covers bicycles, skateboards, or a statue of the general in his Jeep.

Of the five conservative Justices, Neil Gorsuch showed himself the most hospitable toward the plaintiffs’ case on Tuesday [i.e., oral arguments], and no wonder: as the most committed textualist, he’s the likeliest to see surprise plain meaning as beating legislative history.

The Supreme Court Is Not Debating Your “Humanity”. The comments on Gorsuch were prophetic, but certainly not unique.

I thought that the dissent by Justice Alito, who faulted Justice Gorsuch’s adoption of the Ginger and George logic, was quite persuasive. Take a deep breath for an argument that’s nothing like television smack-talk:

At oral argument, the attorney representing the employees, [Pam Karlan] a prominent professor of constitutional law, was asked if there would be discrimination because of sex if an employer with a blanket policy against hiring gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals implemented that policy without knowing the biological sex of any job applicants. Her candid answer was that this would “not” be sex discrimination. And she was right.

The attorney’s concession was necessary, but it is fatal to the Court’s interpretation, for if an employer discriminates against individual applicants or employees without even knowing whether they are male or female, it is impossible to argue that the employer intentionally discriminated because of sex. An employer cannot intentionally discriminate on the basis of a characteristic of which the employer has no knowledge. And if an employer does not violate Title VII by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity without knowing the sex of the affected individuals, there is no reason why the same employer could not lawfully implement the same policy even if it knows the sex of these individuals. If an employer takes an adverse employment action for a perfectly legitimate reason—for example, because an employee stole company property—that action is not converted into sex discrimination simply because the employer knows the employee’s sex. As explained, a disparate treatment case requires proof of intent—i.e., that the employee’s sex motivated the firing. In short, what this example shows is that discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity does not inherently or necessarily entail discrimination because of sex, and for that reason, the Court’s chief argument collapses….

I would paraphrase: “If an employer takes an adverse employment action for any reason that he considers legitimate in his sole discretion so long as it is not otherwise forbidden by law—that action is not converted into forbidden sex discrimination simply because the employer knows the employee’s sex.”


Legal experts who watched the arguments unfold weren’t entirely shocked that Gorsuch ruled as he did. The justice is well known as a textualist, someone who holds that the meaning of a law turns on the text alone, not the intentions of its drafters.

“What I saw in the argument [i.e., last November) was Gorsuch really struggling with the fact that the textual argument seemed really powerful to him,” Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor, told me. “There’s no way to think about sexual orientation discrimination without sex being part of it.”

Michelle Goldberg, Surprise! Justice on L.G.B.T. Rights From a Trump Judge


This is not a narrow ruling that just means you can’t fire a person for being gay. Extending civil rights law to protect a whole new category carries with it a host of ancillary protections.

… [T]he Bostock ruling won’t stay confined to employment law. The majority opinion protests, disingenuously, that “sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and dress codes” are “questions for future cases.” But federal law is full of prohibitions on sex discrimination (Justice Alito’s dissent lists over 100 such statutes), and every one of those will have to be reconsidered in light of today’s ruling.

Justice Gorsuch Just Opened Pandora’s Box


[L]et’s be honest: there was no leadership among the national Republicans. At least President Trump was willing to take the heat for a transgender military ban. But even he, and Republican politicians who supported him, did not articulate why they believe what they do.

If they can’t or won’t talk about these things substantively, it’s no wonder that people think it must be what Justice Anthony Kennedy once called “irrational animus.”

Again, I ask you: what, from a social conservative viewpoint, is the function of the Republican Party? Maybe:

  • to separate conservative Christians from their money and their votes
  • to dose Deplorables anxious about cultural decline with the Pill of Murti-Bing, a drug that induces a sense of happiness and blind obedience

What else?

Rod Dreher, Religious Conservatism’s Potemkin Power (emphasis added).

The problem is not just that your run-of-the-mill Congressional hack can’t talk about these things substantively, but that even the good arguments of people like Ryan T. Anderson are greeted with slack-jawed refusals of comprehension and then dismissed as lipstick on an irrational animus pig. (That this treatment is the real irrational animus is, of course, a posssibility that must not be uttered.)


Some conservative Evangelicals who work at Evangelical institutions (they told me their names and affiliations) have reached out to me tonight after reading this. Their collective view: [Bostock] is a real moment in which we can see the slow-motion collapse of conservative Evangelicalism.

Dreher, supra. Tacit admission that “Evangelical” is now a political label, not religious?


This decision hands LGBT activists the coercive machinery of civil rights law.

R. R. Reno


Interesting point about Bostock: It assumes that the original public meaning of “sex” in Title VII was “status as either male or female [as] determined by reproductive biology.”

In other words, it assumes the “gender binary” that some idiots pretend to find problematic. That assumption is not incidental, but central, though I’ve only heard one comment on it so far. From such subtle acorns mighty legal oaks may grow.

So the gender identitarians may have won a legal battle while losing a philosophical war (with future legal consequences to be determined).


Bostock‘s “textualist” (whether is is sound textualism is contested by the dissenters) decision on the meaning of “because of … sex” vindicates Phyllis Shlafly’s opposition to ERA on the basis of what the cognate “on account of sex” would come to mean.


Finally, I remember the rent garments, weeping, and gnashing of teeth among religious liberty advocates (including me) when Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith overruled Wisconsin v. Yoder (he pretended to be drawing out its real meaning, but nobody was fooled).

But it turned out that — well, let’s just say that for a couple of decades Employment Division v. Smith changed legal strategies and theories, but not many outcomes. Then Scalia’s imagination met its match in categorical bans on discrimination that cleared his “neutral law, general applicability” threshold.

Similarly, some people claim to see signs that Catholic Gorsuch has enhanced protections of religious liberty concealed in his coat pocket, ready for an appropriate case to apply them. Basically, they’re saying that he’s ready to create a judicial version of the rarely-successful “Fairness for All” legislative approach to the long struggle between sexual liberation and religious freedom.

Since the religious liberty cause has fared poorly in courts and commissions, obsessed as they seem to be with vindicating a right of sexual minoritiess to live life unaware that anyone disapproves for any reason,  I would like that more than a little.

UPDATE: Here’s David French talking, among other things, about the potential “Fairness for All” jurisprudential coup.

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Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Posted in Christianity generally, conservatism, deathworks, democracy, Discrimination, Duly noted_stay tuned, Evangelicalism, Justice, Liberal Groin Pieties, Religious freedom | Leave a comment

President Molotov

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted about the “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” that shield him and make him safe. Young Secret Service agents were girding for a fight, he wrote.

Presidents don’t normally feel compelled to boast about their protection …

Past presidents have sought to play a healing role when the nation is on edge, but Trump’s instinct is to plunge into combustible circumstances in ways that rouse his base ….

Donald Trump Is Afraid of the White House Protests (The Atlantic)

Can you imagine Donald Trump saying anything like this extemporaneously (or even playing it straight if it was on a teleprompter)?:

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Robert F. Kennedy on the Death of Martin Luther King Jr. (The Atlantic)

UPDATE:

Or better yet, saying these words:

I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.

Lyndon Banes Johnson.

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Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, plus a bit more here. I am also beginning to save stuff at Pinboard (an under-appreciated gem), and this links to my public Pinboard should you be interested in what kind of reading makes me weird. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Posted in deathworks, Declinism, grievance mongering

Glimmers of light at the end

Of course, nobody other than the Illuminati who created this fake pandemic knows what our future holds, but a couple of people have some lovely ideas that “resonate” with me:

It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thoughtabout our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is “essential” but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.

Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.

Peggy Noonan, A Plainer People In a Plainer Time (not paywalled).

[In a sense, coronavirus] is the first invasion of America. This is the first time that a menace has crossed our borders, upended the daily lives of every American and rocked our ancient sense of safety. Welcome to life in the rest of the world.

Aside from a few protesters and a depraved president, most of us have understood we need to suspend the old individualistic American creed. In the midst of a complex epidemiological disaster, to be anti-authority is to be ignorant. In the midst of a contagion, to act as if you are self-sufficient is just selfish.

But something more profound is going on. We are undergoing a more permanent shift in national consciousness, a reconstruction of meanings, symbols, values and narratives. If the old American creed grew up in an atmosphere of assumed security and liberty, the new one is growing up in an atmosphere of vulnerability and precariousness.

David Brooks, The First Invasion of America (The New York Times)

I’m not sure whether this is Brrooks’ analysis or his prayer. It’s my prayer.

We’ve got more troubles ahead, I’m confident, and not all that far ahead as far as I can tell. Getting a little plainer and being aware of vulnerability may help us deal with that — but I’m very aware that tens of millions would like to get their piece of the American Dream first. But that will always be true until the American Dream is pretty clearly dead.

(And yes, the Illuminati crack was a joke, inspired by Atlantic’s reporting on conspiracy theories.)

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Posted in "Spiritual" (maybe Religious), Asceticism, Economia, stay tuned, subsidiarity

Disillusioned

This has been rattling around my soul, inchoate. Today, it came together. It’s nothing much, but maybe others will find it helpful.

I was a single-issue voter for a while in the 80’s, but then I notice some fools and rogues checking the “Pro-Life” box, and that most Republican “Pro-Lifers” were insincere and/or utterly tone-deaf to all overtones or undertones. So I now vote pro-life, but with more discernment.

I will not vote for Donald Trump just because he checks the “Pro-Life” box (and “Religious Freedom” box), especially since all he really means is “anti-abortion” (and “suck up to Evangelicals”). Same goes for Republicans more generally.

The Trump Party has destroyed even my presumption in favor of The Thing That Used To Be The GOP.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Posted in Abortion distortion factor, deathworks, Political Matters, populism, Religious freedom, Thrown down gauntlet

Present obsessions

Coronavirus seems to dominate the news and now is beginning to dominate our tribal animosities, but don’t forget Michael Flynn.

1

Some fascinating insights by one of Rod Dreher’s readers:

[B]ecause conservatives aren’t interested in environmental policy, public health, etc., they cede those fields to progressives, which means those institutions develop progressive biases, which both repels potential conservative workers and makes it harder for them to advance, which increases progressive bias, and so on. And when conservatives DO get the chance to helm these organizations–and this is where Trump infuriates me more than almost anything else–instead of putting serious thinkers with a body of work and experience into those positions, they put in grifters or people who intentionally dislike the institution and want to weaken it. In some areas, this is an understandable if sad dynamic. But public health has been viewed as part of the magistrate’s job for as long as war and courts. Governments have been quarantining infectious disease since well before the United States existed. It is a CRUCIAL field, and it has to function, and conservatives cannot just bitch about how “well it’s full of liberals and has a liberal bias.” Yeah, public health will institutionally be biased a bit towards statist, central action. It will be skeptical of religious institutions as partners. But your county health department is as vital to your community as your local school district or police, and by ceding fields like public health to the progressives, conservatives have basically lost all institutional knowledge about things like public health. There is no viable conservative alternative to public health in this crisis–the entirety of it is “bunch of libs doing lib stuff! No to that!”

Masks As Condensed Symbols | The American Conservative (emphasis added).

I’ve been repeatedly encountering lately reminders of how we abstract fairly concrete things so we can analyze them, and a portion of what Rod’s reader said was one of those reminders.

This was one of the best things I read today inasmuch as it acknowledges institutional liberalism but indicts conservatives as co-conspirators — and reminds us to “get real.”

2

First Things is much in the news as Editor in Chief R.R. Reno becomes increasingly strident, populist and Trumpist in general, and had a downright nasty Tweetstorm this week about coronavirus “cowards.” His outburst accelerated comments on the magazine’s decline — a fairly long slide, arguably dating to the arrival of Reno.

My own contribution:

Performative: I threw my June/July First Things in the trash, unopened.

Substantive #1: I already skimmed, “clipped” and annotated it digitally.

Substantive #2: skimming, clipping and annotating is a relatively trivial job these (waning?) days of the Rusty Reno reign.


Jonathan V. Last of the Bulwark has come onto my radar recently.  He’s had several good insights.

Not one of the (conflicting) coronavirus conspiracy theories finds any basis for faulting the guy where the buck is supposed to stop. That’s the big tell that, taken literally, every one of the conspiracy-mongers is bullshitting. That’s my distillation of part of one essay.

But:

We have a “don’t wear masks” movement that overlaps almost entirely with the “reopen immediately” movement.

There are only two possible explanations for why this might be. The first is that people are dumber than a bag of hammers.

The second is that when people tell you what they think about “reopening” and “masks,” they aren’t actually talking about the coronavirus. They’re telling a story about how they see themselves and their place in the world.

… [T]here is a non-trivial number of Americans—maybe it’s 1-in–10, maybe it’s 1-in–4—who … view the pandemic as … opportunity to posture and perform.

In part, this is an artifact of how successful the mitigation measures have been: Because the death toll has been held to the scores of thousands, many people have the luxury of talking and acting however they like without facing real-world consequences …

As America’s decadence has increased over the last 30 or so years and we have become—just objectively speaking—a less serious country, one of the stories we have told ourselves was that we could become a serious people again if we faced a big enough shock or a stern enough test. That the steely, strong, serious America of the last century—the America that survived the Depression and crushed the Nazis and put men on the moon—was still somewhere within us, just waiting to be awakened. That our true, best selves just needed a call to action, a grave, existential summons.

The reaction of this vocal and sizable minority to the pandemic suggests that this story might not be true, either.

Jonathan V. Last, The Curious Case of the People Who Want to “Reopen” America—But Not Wear Masks. Well, that kinda got dark at the end, didn’t it?


Rod Dreher, too, laments First Things, but pivots:

It should also be said that from my point of view, the Christian Left is completely bankrupt. What is its point at all? It is so besotted with LGBT activism and identity politics that it is impossible to discern anything distinctly Christian about it. I mean, if it is true that far too much of the Religious Right has subordinated itself to offering theological justifications for right-wing politics, this is, if anything, more true of the Religious Left, with progressive causes. Name one thing that any significant Religious Left figure stands for that opposes secular left-wing politics …

But that’s their problem. We on the Christian Right have our own to work out. What I regret is that First Things still has a unique position of being able to offer that leadership, but is squandering it. It was a mistake for Reno to endorse Donald Trump publicly, and to thereby tie the magazine to the Trump project. I don’t object to the magazine running piece sympathetic to Trump, but it would have been far, far more prudent to have kept the magazine uncommitted. And now, in the Covid–19 crisis, the magazine has not been a place for thoughtful, challenging theological and cultural analyses of the pandemic phenomenon, but has become known for Reno’s descent into bizarro crankishness.

Rod Dreher, First Things & The Future Of Religious Conservatism | The American Conservative.


Alan Jacobs had a long history with them, but now asks what to say about First Things? at his Snakes and Ladders blog. After editor Jim Neuchterlein left, universal acceptance of Jacobs’ manuscripts became universal rejection:

It was, and still is, hard for me to know how much I had changed and how much they had.

Not, for a long time, being willing to give up altogether, I managed to get a handful of things in the magazine, but it was obvious that my relationship with it was never going to be the same. And then things started getting more generally strange. A kind of … I’m not quite sure what the word is, but I think I want to say a pugilistic culture began to dominate the magazine. When I submitted a piece to an editor, another editor wrote me an angry email demanding to know why I hadn’t submitted it to him; whenever I disagreed with Rusty Reno about something, he would, with such regularity that I felt it had to be intentional, accuse me of having said things I never said; once, when I made a comment on Twitter about the importance of Christians who share Nicene orthodoxy working together, another editor quickly informed me that I’m not a Nicene Christian. (Presumably because, since I’m not a Roman Catholic, I don’t really believe in “the holy Catholic church.”)

I suspect all these folks would tell a different story than the one I’m telling, so take all this as one person’s point of view, but more and more when I looked at First Things I found myself thinking: What the hell is going on here? Sometimes the whole magazine seemed to be about picking fights, and often enough what struck me as wholly unnecessary and counterproductive fights. (Exhibit A: the Mortara kerfuffle.) So I stopped submitting, and then I stopped subscribing, and then for the most part I stopped reading.

I fear Jacobs isn’t alone, but he concludes with a reminder that all is not lost:

Rod Dreher is correct to say, in a follow-up to the post I linked to at the top of this piece, that no other magazine of religion and public life, or religion and intellectual life, has the reach of First Things. But I think the decision by the editors of FT to occupy the rather … distinctive position in the intellectual landscape that they’ve dug into for the past few years has left room for a thousand flowers to bloom in the places that FT is no longer interested in cultivating. I have gotten more and more involved with Comment; they’re publishing some outstanding work at Plough Quarterly; even an endeavor like The Point, not specifically religious at all, makes room for religious voices ….

3

I think I’ve reached a conclusion that Judge Emmet Sullivan is acting properly seeking amici in the Department of Justice’s bizarre motion to dismiss charges against Michael Flynn. Randall D. Eliason convinced me:

[W]hat makes the Flynn case different, and so unusual, is that Flynn has already pleaded guilty. Once the court has gone through the solemn process of accepting a guilty plea, the balance of interests changes. Executive branch decisions about whether and how to prosecute are no longer implicated, because those decisions have already been made. The prosecution is largely over, the defendant stands convicted, and all that remains is sentencing — which is the prerogative of the judge. At that point, the court has a greater role to play in determining how the case proceeds.

The cases largely relied upon by Flynn and his supporters — including the most frequently cited, United States v. Fokker Services, B.V. — are cases involving prosecutorial decisions where there has been no guilty plea. That’s a crucial distinction. No one is pointing to cases in which the government has moved to completely drop a prosecution after a guilty plea because, frankly, no one can think of another example.

At the very least, because the government’s request is so unusual, it raises complex issues concerning how the court should proceed and what legal standards apply. With the Justice Department now in bed with Flynn, neither is going to present the other side of those issues to help Sullivan determine what to do next, and that makes it appropriate for a judge to invite outside experts to provide advice.

The judge in the Michael Flynn case has taken some unusual steps. Here’s why they’re appropriate.

4

“I found out with both Bush and Clinton, their childhood heroes were Willie Mays,” Shea said. “Bush told me that he didn’t want to be a president, he wanted to be Willie Mays.”

Willie Mays at 89: ‘My Thing Is Keep Talking and Keep Moving’ – The New York Times

That makes three of us.

5

Three new unnamed articles on race from the Immanent Frame. I’ve named them:

  1. How the social construct of race got constructed
  2. Race explored in poetry
  3. “Doing” religion and race together

I found the third easier to take if I imagined it as a spoof.

6

I’ve never quite understood what American Exceptionalism is. It seems to shape-shift so that you contest it at your own risk.

Is this it?

7

Having established the principle that each department must “pull its weight” financially, Liberty University abolishes all departments to focus on Division I major sports.

(#Satire #PleaseDoNotSueMeJerry)

8

Peggy Noonan seems a fitting bookend, as she comments the class warfare aspects of our coronavirus contentiousness: Scenes From the Class Struggle in Lockdown.

I think we’re going to open up the economy again, but in a vulnerable age group and without a compelling need to go out, I’ll merge back into life slowly. Meanwhile, others had darned well better behave themselves lest we do finally push hospitals beyond their limits.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in conservatism, Declinism, Justice, liberalism, lifeworks, Naked Public Square, Rights Talk | Tagged , , , , , , ,

The times, they are a changin’

1

The history of greed, venality, stupidity, cruelty and violence is long because that part of human nature is ineradicable. As the 20th century demonstrated, it is better to bet on a liberal society’s capacity to temper these flaws and iniquities than on a utopia’s false promise to eradicate them. Those promises end being written in blood.

… [C]ycles of history run their course. By 2008 it was clear that the world economic system was seriously skewed. Bailed out, it staggered on until now, accompanied by growing anger in Western societies.

… All the grotesque needed, to be revealed as such, was for time to stop.

Roger Cohen, No Return to the ‘Old Dispensation’. The grotesque did stop, but has it been recognized sufficiently for us to actually change entrenched behavior when some kind of normalcy is again permitted?

I loved this whole column, by the way. So sorry if you can’t get to it — I don’t know how much, if anything, a non-subscriber can see.

2

Are we inherently gullible? Research says no: Most adults have well-functioning machinery for detecting baloney, but there’s a common bug in the machine. Faced with a novel idea or new circumstances, we gravitate to information that fits our already existing beliefs. As Sherlock Holmes put the problem: “Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” This bug has always been exploited by people seeking money, power — or both. But with the rise of social media, the world’s propagandists, con artists and grifters find their search for suckers easier than ever.

Witness the grubby exercise known as “#Plandemic.” [A conspiracy theory video now banned from social media — after infecting 8 million brains.] …

People believe in a “#Plandemic” because it fits into existing convictions. A lot of people already believe — not without reason — that pharmaceutical companies cash in on suffering. Many people have heard that government labs do research on biological weapons. All true. Government has hemorrhaged credibility in recent years — even with regard to veteran public servants such as Fauci. All of these mind-sets are potential vectors for the viral #plandemic.

Americans need to understand that they are being actively targeted for disinformation campaigns by people and forces pursuing their own agendas. Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones wants to sell them overpriced nutritional supplements. Anti-vaxxers are hawking books and miracle cures. Vladimir Putin and the mandarins of Beijing are pushing the decline of the United States and the death of the Western alliance.

Some want your money. Some want your mind. Citizenship in the Internet era demands a heightened commitment to mental hygiene and skepticism. We have to learn that the information that fits neatly into our preconceptions is precisely the information we must be wary of. And even in these wild times, we must heed the late Carl Sagan, who preached that“extraordinary claims” — like grand conspiracies and healing microbes — “require extraordinary proof.”

David Von Drehle, Why people believe in a ‘plandemic’.

Take a look at the next-to-last paragraph. Someone’s missing: Steve Bannon, who pledged to “flood the zone with shit” to neutralize truth-telling about Trump.

3

Fourteen years ago, Rod Dreher introduced us to Crunchy Cons. Now his friend Tara Isablla Burton, with a degree in theology but a fairly short history of personally “faithing,” thinks Christianity Gets Weird, and wants New York Times readers to know about it.

Because of her audience, or perhaps via her editors, I find a lot of her wording and characterizations weirdly “off” and off-putting. I’m familiar with the sort of phenomenon she’s talking about, and I’d have to say that although she’s in the right ballpark, she’s not just “way out in left field” but somewhere in the bleacher seats much of the time. For instance.

  1. I would not affirm either half of “old-school forms of worship as a way of escaping” anything. “Escaping” is an unduly negative spin on something fundamentally sane.
  2. Her characterization of “mainline Protestant denominations like Episcopalianism and Lutheranism” was painted with a mighty broad brush.
  3. What is “weekly membership” (emphasis added) in reference to Roman Catholic churches with Latin Mass?

But the teaser is great:

Modern life is ugly, brutal and barren. Maybe you should try a Latin Mass.

And near the conclusion, she gives a characterization I can endorse:

Like the hipster obsession with ‘authenticity’ that marked the mid-2010s, the rise of Weird Christianity reflects America’s unfulfilled desire for, well, something real.

That “something real” is, in the best cases (and I suspect they are many), God.

Flaws aside, I welcome anyone using a prominent platform like the New York Times Magazine to shout out that “the fusion of ethnonationalism, unfettered capitalism and Republican Party politics that has come to define the modern white evangelical movement” is not the whole of American Christianity. Not even close.

UPDATE:

Rod Dreher on Sunday published the full text of Tara Isabella Burton’s interview of him. She got in a couple of well-formed, open-ended questions, and he really ran with thim. For my money, that interview is better than TIB’s NYT story, but TIB was casting the net wider than Catholic and Orthodox converts.

This, for me, was Rod’s best point in the interview:

The phrase “Christian values” has been worn as smooth as an old penny by overuse, especially in the mouths of political preachers. Look, I’m a theological, cultural, and political conservative, but I admit that it has become hard, almost impossible, to find the language to talk meaningfully about what it means to believe and act as a Christian. This is not a Trump-era thing; Walker Percy was lamenting the same thing forty years ago, at least. I think the term “Christian values” has become meaningless. It is taken as shorthand for opposing the Sexual Revolution, and all it entails — abortion, sexual permissiveness, gay marriage, and so forth. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that to be a faithful Christian does require one to oppose the Sexual Revolution, primarily because the Sexual Revolution offers a radically anti-Christian anthropology. But then, so does modernity — and this is an anti-Christian anthropology that clashes with the historic faith in all kinds of ways. I’m thinking of the way we relate to technology and to the economy.

You want to clear a room of Christians, both liberal and conservative? Tell them that giving smartphones with Internet access to their kids is one of the worst things you can do from the standpoint of living by Christian values. Oh, nobody wants to hear that! But it’s true — and it’s not true because this or that verse in the Bible says so. It’s true because of the narrative that comes embedded in that particular technology. It’s not an easy thing to explain, which is why so many Christians, both of the left and the right, think that “Christian values” means whatever their preferred political party’s preferred program is.

[Philip Rieff wrote that] “Barbarism is not some primitive technology and naive cosmologies, but a sophisticated cutting off of the inhibiting authority of the past.” This is perfectly true. This is why the dominant form of religion today is, to use sociologist Christian Smith’s phrase, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” It’s crap. It’s what people believe when they want the psychological comfort of believing in God, but without having to sacrifice anything. It’s the final step before total apostasy. In another generation, America is going to be like Europe in this way.

But something might change. The problem with the phrase “Christian values” is that it reinforces the belief that Christianity is nothing more than a moral code. If that’s all Christianity is, then to hell with it. The great thing about ancient, weird, traditional Christianity is that it is a lifeline to the premodern world. It reminds us of what really exists behind this veil of modern selfishness and banality and evil.

Weird Christianity: The Rod Dreher Interview.

That’s about as deep as I’ve ever read Rod going. Good stuff.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Posted in Benedict Option, Christianity generally, Evangelicalism, Faith & Ideology, Journalism, lifeworks, Liturgy, Pre-American Christianity, stay tuned, Worship

Potpourri

[L]ast summer’s much-discussed debate between Sohrab Ahmari and David French is not really new. And, of all the participants in said debate, both Ahmari and French are amongst the least interesting and least illuminating. What began as a debate about the relationship between freedom and virtue in the 1960s had, by last summer, devolved into a debate about LARPing Catholic Integralism vs a libertarian public square that saw Cold-War-style mutually assured destruction as the glue that held our pluralist order together. A version of the conversation matters. But it is not the version we encountered last summer.

… A government can serve the choice-maximizing individualism of our present order or it can serve something else. What it cannot do is refuse to take sides.

Liberalism, the American Right, and the Place of Love in Politics. Highly recommended, dangerously engrossing.


The price of being Christian in post-Christian modernity is eternal vigilance.

Rod Dreher, ‘Apocalypse Any Day Now!’


[O]ne can affirm that Christians have lost the “culture wars” (a term coined by Hunter himself—though not an endorsement of their prosecution), while affirming simultaneously that those wars are still being played out before our very eyes. The situation is analogous, in other words, to World War II, when fighting continued in parts of Europe following Germany’s surrender. Culturally speaking, news doesn’t travel fast.

The election of Trump and Pence, therefore, far from a muscular reassertion of conservative white Christianity’s social capital in America today, is instead the spasmodic last gasp of a once virulent but now spent and dying body.

Brad East, Theologians Were Arguing About the Benedict Option 35 Years Ago.

Okay, I can see that. But let’s look at 11/3/20: Trump (and even Pence) have made Evangelicalism extremely odious in the nostrils of elite society. By extension, Christianity generally is now odious, completing the work of Roman Catholicism’s handling of the clergy sexual abuse problem.

Paybacks can be hell, and this could be the last gasp battle.


I’m trying to decide if Jonathan Rauch is mostly trying to be clever by suggesting a Veep nobody else is touting, but Janet Napolitano sells fairly easily.


The strange thing is that, a full year after the release of the Mueller report, Trump and the media ecosystem around him are still following that bread-crumb trail toward an ever-elusive climactic moment—even in the midst of a pandemic that is killing more than 1,000 Americans every day. Trump’s supporters like to complain that Democrats are “obsessed” with the Russia probe, but in fact it’s the Trumpist right that just can’t seem to give the investigation up.

… A release of documents involving emails between Strzok and Page is kind of like a golden-oldies night for Fox News. Commentators find the menacing-sounding tidbits and read them breathlessly over and over, and the whole conspiracy comes rushing back to the faithful. For viewers, the coverage is enough to induce a more general sense that something must have been rotten in the deep state if people are talking about it all so much.

… Whereas people on the left and center-left used to eagerly await Mueller Time, a large constituency on the right is now awaiting some kind of moment of truth in which Barr and Durham hold to account the cabal that tried to take down a president. In its most extreme forms—evidence of which is daily in our Twitter feeds and emails—the reckoning will include arrests and jailing (typically at Guantánamo) of all of the conspirators, while the Roger Stones and Michael Flynns of the world walk free, having been vindicated.

The Trumpist Right Just Cannot Let Go of the Russia Investigation

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Posted in conservatism, Naked Public Square, Political Matters, Religious freedom

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas has bothered me a lot in the age of Trump.

He was supposed to be a really bright guy, who wrote biographies of Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, both of which were acclaimed at least in the parts of the virtual world I visit. But then he got an eponymous radio talk show, and started supporting Trump, for support of whom I had not heard and could not imagine any “really bright” defenses.

Was really bright Metaxas seeing something I was missing? Or had he just decided it was time to cash in on his “bright guy” reputation, seeing how even acclaimed books don’t pay that much in royalties? That doesn’t seem to fit: I’ve looked at the podcast version of his radio show, and two other podcasts Metaxas does, and they look a bit too high-toned, and even non-political, frankly, to be cash cows. (I’m not subscribing, but they’re apparently not the cesspools I feared, either.)

Then came a recent “debate” over Trump between him and David French. In my opinion, Metaxas did not produce even semi-bright arguments for Trump. It’s hard to identify Metaxas’ argument beyond that because it’s a “thought salad” (he’s too smooth for word salads), a fusillade of arguments lame and lamer.

I will not say that Metaxas makes evangelical-friendly arguments that he does not believe, whatever I may suspect about that. But he clearly is making fear-based arguments about the horrors that will come if Democrats are elected. (If Democrats gain the Presidency and the Senate, it could indeed get ugly because (a) they’ve been terrible on religious freedom since, oh, roughly, when Bill Clinton signed RFRA and RLUIPA and (b) now some of them are out for explicit revenge against at least Evangelicals, and it’s hard to punish Evangelical Trumpists without mucho collateral damage.)

So: Gotcha! You’re voting/inciting votes based on fear, Metaxas!

But so what? I’m voting against Trump because I fear that his malignant narcissism will tragically misapprehend the world in a future crisis — a fear his January-February misapprehension of the novel coronavirus threat justifies in spades.

I think, though, that “fear” is an equivocal word in this context. My fear for the country isn’t exactly the same genus and species as the fear Metaxas is engendering toward the prospect of Democrats controlling the political agenda again — fear of “socialism” and, of course, increased abortion (which has actually been decreasing, including under Democrats, for a long time now).

So no, I wasn’t missing anything, but it seems that stupid pro-Trump arguments are kind of an inexplicable quirk of Metaxas, who may indeed be a really bright guy in other contexts — though the way he wielded Luther and Bonhoeffer in the debate with French disinclines me to buy either of their bios.

(H/T John Fea, The French-Metaxas Debate: Some Commentary, who first got the debate transcribed and then in later commentary confirmed my impression that Metaxas was fear-mongering and, for good measure, dog-whistling.)

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Posted in Abortion distortion factor, Evangelicalism, Life political issues, Political Matters, Religious freedom, Senate