Holdovers vs. Loyalists

One of my bigger inner conflicts over the past few months is how to view the National Security Council, its affiliates and constituent pieces.

I’ve been listening to the Intelligence Matters podcast, and I’m impressed by the sobriety and relative political neutrality of our “intelligence community.” Dissatisfaction with Trump is implicit fairly often, but so are defenses of Trump against some of the most strident criticisms of him. I heard one of them just yesterday mildly say that Trump’s penchant for economic sanctions has forced the intelligence community to up their game on economic analysis.

That same speaker, addressing an audience heavy with students who likely were considering intelligence work, described it by analogy:

  • How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles? Okay, keep your hands up.
  • How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is? Okay, keep your hands up.
  • How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is and you know you only have a quarter of the pieces? Okay, keep your hands up.
  • How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is, and you know you only have a quarter of the pieces, and the President of the United States wants to know what the picture is in 5 minutes to inform a major decision?

So when someone refers to “Obama holdovers” at NSC rather than to “career intelligence professionals,” my crap detector awakens. That, basically, is the schtick of Rich Higgins in The White House Fired Me for My Loyalty. Higgins also wrote the forgettable POTUS & Political Warfare.

In the former, he complains:

Staffers were assigned to develop plans for ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Instead they came up with reasons it couldn’t be done. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, delivered them to the president and explained why he couldn’t keep his campaign promises.

There were a few Trump loyalists on the staff, but we were outnumbered and mostly ignored. It was clear that the Trump presidency wouldn’t succeed unless the resistance was defeated. That meant Obama holdovers had to be replaced by people who would carry out the new president’s agenda. We few loyalists drew up a list. When Gen. McMaster found out, he called an all-hands assembly and declared: “There are no ‘holdovers.’ We are all on the same team.”

(Emphasis added) In the latter he argues — oh, I don’t know how to describe it except “Hey! Look at me, Mr. Trump! I’m your man!”

Come to think of it, that’s the subtext of the former, too.

I am uneasy at the plausible threat of the “deep state” to self-governance, but I’m very uneasy at the thought of “loyalists” Larry, Moe and Curly Joe, with little or no national security experience, supplanting “holdovers” to carry out the new president’s agenda” for a possibly dishonorable or ruinous withdrawal from Afghanistan. I think I’d rather risk the experienced “deep state” keeping us involved for reasons they can articulate other than in word salads.

That decision, though, is not a no-brainer. I was grateful to the Wall Street Journal for publishing this odd opinion piece that inadvertently made the alternative to “deep state” look as scary as it did by the self-outing of a sycophantic Trump loyalist who comes across as not terribly bright.

* * * * *

In the fearful day of judgment, O Lord, forgive my prissy efforts at purity.

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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 Foreign Affairs, Political Matters | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Michael Gerson’s malice

Michael Gerson badly misrepresents Andrew Walker’s explanation for why many Evangelicals support Trump:

Walker is making the following claim: If you think abortion is a matter of life or death, then you must support whoever opposes it most vigorously, even if he or she is an immoral lout.

That is a maliciously bad misreading. Walker’s claim — and I read him attentively but critically — is far more like

that Trump opponents need to understand that because most of his fellow-Evangelicals think abortion is a matter of life or death, many of them have ended up uneasily supporting Trump, who opposes it while Democrats increasingly and defiantly support it and ban opponents from their ranks.

Walker said nothing about Trump votes actually being a moral imperative, but his premise is that it can feel like one. His column wasn’t even an argument for voting for Trump. It was a description of why some do. Thatt’s even plain from his title: Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump, not Why Serious Abortion Opponents Must Vote for Trump.

Remarkably, though, the rest of Gerson’s column explains lucidly, in five points (only the first of which is totally vitiated by what Walker actually explained), why supporting Trump is not a moral imperative for those who oppose abortion.

I even join Gerson in this:

I think Walker significantly (and strategically) overestimates the amount of moral angst amongst evangelical Trump supporters.

But then, I may agree with that just because of how both the press and Trump have treated Evangelicals as ipso facto Trumpista.

Anyone who thinks there’s a moral imperative to vote for Trump on anti-abortion grounds should read Gerson.

* * * * *

How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

(Samuel Johnson)

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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 American Folk Religion, Evangelicalism, Political Matters, Virtue signaling | Leave a comment

In your heart, you know he’s wrong

Andrew Walker has written an excellent and sympathetic account of why many conservative Christians vote for Trump.

My critique has little to do with what he says about the objects he focuses on, more to do with his too-narrow field of vision:

  1. All the negative analysis of Trump is framed in terms of how wicked and intemperate his is. That’s secondary for me, as my top concern is how his extreme narcissism distorts his perception, cognition and volition. I don’t want a delusional man managing crises. I want someone who, when faced with a choice between doing right for the country and grabbing a benefit for himself, will know that there can be a difference, and is capable of putting the country first. In your heart, you know that’s not Trump.
  2. None of the analysis of the complexity of the choice mentions the possibility that our choice is not binary. Perhaps (as I think) both parties are so corrupt that it’s time to give up “let go and let God” on the short game — and by “short,” I mean the next few decades in all likelihood, and play a “longer game” politically by looking elsewhere.

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President.

* * * * *

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, Thrown down gauntlet, Transvaluation of Values | Leave a comment

Questions for the porn-addled

I’m struggling with a porn addiction … and it makes me afraid to be around women. I have all of these scripts in my head of how men and women go from clothed to naked in less than two minutes, but I don’t know how to be with women in everyday life. What if I’m not a safe person for women to be around if I have all of this stuff going on in my head?

Quoted in Bronwyn Lea, Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World.

I’ve got a few questions for you. pal:

  • Isn’t the knowledged that you’re making yourself into a bit of a monster enough to get you to stop?
  • Do you realize that your porn use makes you complicit in sex-trafficking some of the women you’re masturbating to?
  • If you were to die right now, do you think you’d even want to live forever in heaven without porn, and where it’s not “all about you”?
  • Do you really think that once having said “the sinner’s prayer” would even open heaven’s gates to you in the first place?

* * * * *

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful and unstable man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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 deathworks | Tagged | Leave a comment

Democrat face-plant

[I]n the area of historical consciousness [Donald Trump] is, truly, a hopeless cause. But this week Democrats joined him in the pit.

Do they understand what a disaster this was for them? If Mr. Trump wins re-election, if in fact it isn’t close, it will be traceable to this first week in February.

Iowa made them look the one way a great party cannot afford to look: unserious …

And what happened a day later in the House was just as bad.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi shattered tradition, making faces, muttering, shaking her head as the president delivered his State of the Union address. At the end she famously stood, tore the speech up and threw down the pieces.

“But he didn’t shake her hand.” So what? Her great calling card is she’s the sane one.

Some progressive members refused to attend, or walked out during the speech—one said, without irony, that she was “triggered.” …

The speech itself was shrewd and its political targeting astute …

More than ever, more showily, this was an aligning of the GOP, in persons and symbols, with “outsiders”—with those without officially sanctioned cultural cachet, with the minority, the regular, the working class. It was plain people versus fancy people—that is, versus snooty liberals and progressives who talk a good game about the little guy but don’t seem to like him much; who in their anger and sarcasm, in their constant censoriousness and characterological lack of courtesy, have managed to both punch above their political weight and make a poor impression on the national mind.

This was the president putting the Republican Party on the side of the nobodies of all colors as opposed to the somebodies. (Van Jones on CNN had it exactly right: Trump is going for black and Hispanic men, and the Democrats are foolish not to see it.) This is a realignment I have supported and a repositioning I have called for and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t please me to see it represented so effectively, and I very much regret that the president is a bad man and half mad because if he weren’t I’d be cheering.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added) Note that this is her blog, with no paywall (unlike the Wall Street Journal version).

I quote at length because this is the rare occasion when I was uncomfortable with her column. Apart from

  • the snooty liberals and progressives talking a far, far better “common man” game than they’ve played in decades,
  • that there is a realignment of parties still going on, and
  • that Trump is a bad man and half mad.

we were not seeing things alike.

But put those three bullet points together and subtract the Republican loyalty she retains but I’ve abandoned, and we are seeing things substantially alike! I just had to read more carefully and mull it a bit.

I try to avoid watching that man because I don’t enjoy feeling enraged. So I might conceivably have noticed “shrewd” or “astute” had I been watching. She is paid to watch things like that and to call them to others’ attention.

I thought it meet and right to share the impressions of someone shrewder and of cooler head than my own. You may enjoy the entirety, of course, by clicking the link, which I recommend.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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 Bread & Circuses, Demographics, Duly noted_stay tuned, liberalism, Political Matters, populism, progressivism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Caveat Emptor

Michael Pakaluk proposes a prefatory disclosure to David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, implying that the book is a sort of theological fraud:

Warning. St. Basil the Great, a doctor of the Church—who loved Origen but nonetheless did not embrace universalism—as early as the fourth century, warned the faithful against teachings like those which you will find in this book by David Bentley Hart.

Basil taught firmly that such views could only be entertained by those who had, as it were, lost sight of the plain and repeated teachings of the Lord. It would be the height of daring to believe such things, he said—and so, obviously, to teach and promote them would be much worse. To do so, Basil would say, amounts to collaboration with the Devil, who, in his characteristically deceitful ways, would like nothing more than for people to suppose that the everlasting punishment of hell does not exist.

Pakaluk is presumably Roman Catholic. Hart, like me, is Orthodox.

But Hart, as brilliant as he is, is an increasingly arrogant and abusive provocateur, and this book is outside the Orthodox consensus, which I take to be that we may hope for the salvation of all, but we should not expect it.

I do hope for the salvation of all. I do not expect it.

It is also worth noting that Hart is an Orthodox layman and a philosopher, with no known credentials as a theologian (though one not infrequently sees him so identified).

Let the book-buyer beware.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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 deathworks, History, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Sundry flakes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cultural Liturgies

America does not have a liturgy of repentance. The days of fasting once enjoined upon us are a thing of the past. Even then, for all the prayers and fasting of Lincoln’s republic, no particular liturgy ever marked the end of slavery, much less sought to repent for its evils. To this day, many seek to justify its history.

When the Soviet Union fell, within a few short years, Russians began to create memorials and liturgies for the atrocities of the Soviet Union. In Moscow, at the killing fields of Butovo, a Church now stands as a memorial to its victims. Public liturgies are held there on a regular basis. It is one of many such memorials across the country.

Our public narrative is very thin. The Church historian, Martin Marty, once said that American Christianity was “2,000 miles wide and 2 inches deep.” When our Christian theology mimics the triumphant patriotism of our culture, nothing deeper ever begins. Depth comes with suffering. Suffering creates sorrow, and sorrow, of a godly sort, produces repentance.

We are bad at enough stuff and have a history sufficiently marked with sorrow to create fertile ground for repentance. It lacks the humility to greet it.

It is ever so much more than a game.

Fr, Stephen Freeman

I suspect that Fr. Stephen’s blog entry was spurred by Sunday’s SuperBowl LIV, with the only liturgical elements our nation knows: patriotism with a dash of remembrance. It might even have been influenced by Fr. Steven browsing the Eighth Day Books book table at the Eighth Day Symposium a bit over a week ago, on which table I’m pretty sure James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies trio was on display.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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 American Folk Religion, Bread & Circuses, Civil Religion, deathworks, Naked Public Square, Secularism | Leave a comment

Montana’s Blaine Amendment case

I know I’ve written about this general topic before, maybe for my private journal or maybe published, so forgive me if this is plowing old ground.

Mark Movesian at the St. John’s Law School Center for Law and Religion blogs at the Law and Religion Forum that he thinks the petitioner will prevail in Espinoza v. Montana Dep’t of Revenue, a case wherein the Montana Blaine Amendment led the state Supreme Court to invalidate an entire, modest program of state aid to private schools, including religious schools, but (let us presume, as it appears to be true) “wholly as a result” of parents’ “genuine and independent choice” (two criteria of a prior Supreme Court precedent).

That’s a mouthful I know. Here’s a longer, more relaxed account.

Because the Supreme Court took the case, I think Movesian is correct about the outcome: if the court wasn’t inclined to overrrule the Montana Supreme Court, it could have just rejected the case.

I hope Movesian is correct that the decision will be a shot across the bow of states that retain Blaine Amendments, rather than a vehicle to invalidate all Blaine Amendments. I hope that because, in my mind, it would be “conservative” judicial activism to rule more broadly (more correctly, it would require a whole lot of ‘splainin’ why it wasn’t judicial activism to persuade me).

I’m a strong advocate of religious freedom in an expansive sense, including some instances where some people would contend that one’s religious freedom causes harm (usually, “dignitary” harm) to another. Consequently, I detest Blaine Amendments’ typical operations today.

But the outcome in Montana is that religious parents and parochial schools are not being treated any differently than “secular” parents and their private schools. If I was a Montana legislator, I might be mad at my Supreme Court for striking down the program, but were I a Montana judge, I might well have found it the best balancing of my state Blaine Amendment’s ban with federal equal protection requirement to strike down the whole law, just as Montana’s Supreme Court did.

The best argument I can see for petitioner Espinoza is that “but for” (a causal connection) the state Blaine Amendment, the whole program would have stood and dollars could be going to the religious school of my preference — an argument that, lacking a complaint of unequal treatment, I find too weak, given my current ignorance of the arguments in the briefs.

Maybe my hesitation means I’m, oh, I dunno, a temperamental conservative or something,

* * * * *

In the fearful day of judgment, O Lord, forgive my prissy efforts at purity.

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 Dignitary harm, Discrimination, Legalia, Religious freedom | Leave a comment

Notable, quotable

Yes, the Wall Street Journal got “Notable & Quotable,” but they’re still regular English descriptive words.

[W]hat still escapes most of us who “opt out” of Facebook and the like: making a loud declaration of our deletion of social media is still letting the very norms we desire to disrupt set the terms of the debate.

Amanda Patchin, recommending Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, which presents as a self-help, digital detox type book but, they say, turns subversively into much more.


Promoting his new podcast, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted, “Last week we had Lev Parnas on Maddow & ‘secret tapes’; this week, the ‘Bolton revelations.’ It’s the same approach Dems & media followed during the Kavanaugh hearing.”

Except it’s not at all. The only thing similar about the two controversies is that new allegations kept inconveniencing politicians who wanted to move on. By that standard, nearly every unfolding Washington scandal is like the Kavanaugh hearings.

Jonah Goldberg

Some things never really change. Ted Cruz’s creepy manipulativeness is just one of those things.


I did not expect to laugh out loud at Kyle Smith’s Inside the Hillary Bubble, but then he opened with a pitch-perfect simile:

Imagine a socially maladept but extremely wealthy friend of yours was told, “People like tap dancing. You should tap-dance more.” You would cringe when the person was telling you about a major career setback and suddenly lurched into a little tap-dancing interlude. “Did I ever tell you about the time the world turned to ashes for me?” Tap-tap, tappity-tap. You’d feel sorry for your friend but mainly you’d feel that this person is deeply weird.

At some point in recent years, one or more of Hillary Clinton’s many handlers, advisers, or consultants told her, “You should laugh more. People like laughter.” Except she is sour, dour, and without a humorous molecule in her body. Her laughter is always feigned, hence always a non sequitur. When she reminds herself it’s laughing time, it comes across as a tic. It’s as bizarre as sudden-onset tap dancing.

In historic footage going back many years in the new documentary Hillary, Clinton presents as an inveterate scold and crusader. In more than a quarter of a century as a public figure she has never, as far as I know, said anything funny that wasn’t written for her. Yet in a fresh new batch of interviews taken for Hillary, the title figure becomes the second major movie anti-hero of recent months to exhibit a problem with bursting into unexplained, mirthless, and (hence) deeply disquieting laughter.


[A]llowing Bolton to testify about what’s apparently in his forthcoming book … would force Republicans to clearly reveal where they stand on the most important issue dividing the party.

That issue is, of course, Donald Trump himself.

Senators may not be willing to convict and remove Trump from office, but that’s where the unanimity stops. There is a spectrum of relative Trumpification in the GOP — and Bolton’s testimony would compel Republican senators to make a definitive choice about where to place themselves on it, and then oblige them to defend it in public ….

Damon Linker


There are … great problems with shame as a means of governing. For one thing, opposition does not disappear but only becomes unspeakable, making the public even less knowable to its rulers. For another, shame as a government weapon works only on people capable of feeling shame. It thus purges high-minded people from the opposition and ensures that, when the now-mysterious public does throw up an opposition, it will be led by shameless people and take a shameless form.

Christopher Caldwell via Rod Dreher, with Rod rejoicing at this CNN clip (which the GOP is already exploiting).


The Pentagon announced Friday that 34 American service members suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of Iranian airstrikes earlier this month. Prior to the Defense Department’s announcement, President Trump had described the injuries as “not very serious.”

Via The Morning Dispatch.

Am I the only one to notice that Donald Trump sometimes — how shall I put this? — lies? Will this lie prove his Benghazi? Nah! He’s a member of the right tribe.


Brian Burch’s CatholicVote.org has identified 199,241 Wisconsin Catholics “who’ve been to church at least 3 times in the last 90 days” but of whom “91,373 … are not even registered to vote!”

He’s not kidding. He’s not making up numbers like Joseph McCarthy did.

If you attend an evangelical or a Catholic Church, a women’s rights march or a political rally of any kind, especially in a seriously contested state, the odds are that your cellphone ID number, home address, partisan affiliation and the identifying information of the people around you will be provided by geofencing marketers to campaigns, lobbyists and other interest groups.

And Democrats are scared. Worth reading, though there’s a New York Times paywall, to get the skinny on how microtargeting does politics.


One really should read, if possible, Robert P. George’s fond remembrance of Roger Scruton, by way of summarizing key themes in his conservative philosophy.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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 Miscellany, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Impeachment

Memo to Republican Senators:

  • Understandable cowardice is still cowardice.
  • It is not only Trump’s character that is being judged. Tolerance for corruption is a form of corruption.
  • Your political risks pale in comparison to the physical risks taken each day by soldiers, police officers or firefighters in service to the common good.
  • Every Republican senator who does not support Trump’s removal should publicly embrace some form of censure and be seeking a way to demonstrate this commitment en masse.
  • The “disturbing but not impeachable” argument is not convincing. Trump has provided a case study that future constitutional-law textbooks will use to illustrate the meaning of an impeachable offense.
  • Senators who are not offended by the president’s threats against them if they display independent judgment have lost all pride in the Senate’s purpose.
  • Intimidation of Republican senators would demonstrate the triumph of verbal violence — Trump’s Twitter insults, his political threats, the White House’s reported promise to put disloyal heads on pikes — in Republican politics, and in the business of the Senate itself. American democracy would be confirmed as a place where menace is rewarded and bullies prosper.

Very truly yours,

Michael Gerson

* * *

Of course, Senators can try to ignore Gerson’s points because they have a cogent and compelling defense at the ready:

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

* * *

My Junior Senator reportedly has abdicated his sworn role in favor of voting as his constituents wish.

Well, Mike Braun, this constituent thinks that, things having come this far, the sonofabitch should be removed from office.

UPDATE:

This may sound odd, even ironic. You are here in the flush of victory. And yet it is precisely now that I ask you to contemplate the possibility of defeat — perhaps even the necessity of defeat.

Edmund Burke, in 1774, set forth a model we should all emulate when he told his Bristol constituents: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement, and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Let me put the matter plainly: If you are here simply as a tote board registering the current state of opinion in your district, you are not going to serve either your constituents or the Congress of the United States weIl.

Your constituents expect you to represent their interests, and that you should certainly do. But you are also a member of the Congress, and your responsibilities are far greater than those of an ombudsman for your district. You must take, at times, a national view, even if, in taking that view, you risk the displeasure of your neighbors and friends back home.

Indeed, I feel obliged to put the matter more sharply still: If you don’t know the principle, or the policy, for which you are willing to lose your office, then you are going to do damage here.

This institution needs more members willing to look beyond the biennial contest for power, more committed to public service as a vocation rather than merely a career.

Henry J. Hyde, welcoming newly elected Republicans, November 29, 1990.

* * * * *

 

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 deathworks, Political Matters, Senate | Tagged | Leave a comment