Down the home stretch

People seem to be giving their eloquent last-minute best to explaining why Orange Man Bad.

I particularly liked this one because it mentioned an appalling Republican dereliction that was lost in the passage of insane new cycles:

If President Trump loses his race for re-election and takes Republican incumbents down with him, historians may see June 10 as an important day in the story. That is when the Republican National Committee announced that for the first time since its founding before the Civil War, the party would not draft a new platform but would carry over the 2016 platform, word for word.

This decision symbolized Mr. Trump’s takeover of the party. It deprived the party’s candidates of an authoritative account of the Trump administration’s accomplishments. Perhaps most important, it meant that the party would not offer an agenda for the president’s second term. The plan would be whatever Mr. Trump says.

Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, many voters … experienced the pandemic as a life-changing and often life-threatening disruption, and they looked to the president for leadership. Drafting a party platform would have forced the administration to consider a plan for bringing the novel coronavirus under control beyond relying on a speedy vaccine. Instead, the president minimized his role and devolved responsibility to the states, who struggled to obtain essential medical supplies. The president’s derisive skepticism about wearing masks further complicated the efforts of governors and local leaders.

William Galston, Without a Platform, Trump Falls – WSJ

Now an analysis of how the swamp-draining has gone:

A Washington Post analysis found that the U.S. government has paid at least $2.5 million in taxpayer money to Donald Trump’s company since he took office. “Since 2017, Trump’s company has charged taxpayers for hotel rooms, ballrooms, cottages, rental houses, golf carts, votive candles, floating candles, candelabras, furniture moving, resort fees, decorative palm trees, strip steak, chocolate cake, breakfast buffets, $88 bottles of wine and $1,000 worth of liquor for White House aides. And water.”

The Morning Dispatch

“Lock him up!”, I say.

Amid a coterie of colleagues, many of who profess intent to vote for Trump, Kevin D. Williamson says “Hell No!”:

The case against Trump in 2020 is a lot like the case against Trump in 2016 but bolstered by the accumulation of evidence and experience. Any hope that he might mature in office and come to appreciate the gravity of his responsibility has been dissolved. He is, if anything, a less serious candidate in 2020 than he was in 2016, and even more the game-show host …

There are two distinct versions of the case for Trump, one of them defensible and one of them indefensible.

The qualified case for Trump … goes: “It’s him or the Democrats … That being the case, I choose Trump.” That is not my position, but it is a reasonable position.

The unqualified — and indefensible — case for Trump goes: “Donald Trump’s presidency has been good for America — positively, on its own merits, rather than merely relative to what we might have expected from Mrs. Clinton.” That argument is partly dishonest, partly delusional.

Which brings me to the practical case against Trump: He stinks at his job.

This also brings me to a lie that needs to be addressed — and it is not a misunderstanding but a lie, circulated with malice aforethought: that the conservative objection to Trump is only a matter of style, his boorishness bumptiousness and boobishness on Twitter, his gooftastical manner of speaking, his preening, his vanity, his habitual and often dishonest boasting in matters both small and great, etc These things matter, of course, because manners and morals matter, and they matter more in a free society than they do in an unfree one, because free men govern themselves.

Trump’s low character is not only an abstract ethical concern but a public menace that has introduced elements of chaos and unpredictability in U.S. government activity ranging from national defense to managing the coronavirus epidemic. Trump’s character problems are practical concerns, not metaphysical ones. Trump is frequently wrong on important policy questions (including trade, foreign policy, entitlements, health care, and many others) and frequently incompetent even when trying to advance a good policy. His vanity and paranoia have made it very difficult for him to keep good people in top positions, and this imposes real costs both politically and as a matter of practical governance. Trump’s problem is not etiquette: It is dishonesty, stupidity, and incompetence, magnified by the self-dealing and cowardice of the cabal of enablers and sycophants who have a stake in pretending that this unsalted s*** sandwich is filet mignon.

Kevin D. Williamson, Donald Trump: The Case Against Reelection | National Review (emphasis added)

From a very long piece by another NRO Never-Trumper:

Trump is the kind of guy — the kind of president — who accuses his media critics of murder. We’re supposed to shrug that off, evidently, because “that’s Trump being Trump,” and don’t we know that he’s a “fighter”?

Honestly, some of us doubt that Trump is “a very stable genius,” no matter what he says about himself.

Intelligence briefers are reluctant to bring up Russia, for fear of upsetting the president. How can we have such a person in the Oval Office? It ought to tell people something — especially conservatives — that John Bolton can’t support the president for reelection.

Think of the Ukraine shakedown (over which Trump was impeached). That alone is disqualifying, in my book, as so many other things, alone, are disqualifying.

I think of that lineup whom Trump & Co. trashed: Marie Yovanovitch, Alexander Vindman, Fiona Hill, and the rest. These are the kind of people I admire, and think we ought to have in government. “She’s going to go through some things,” Trump said. He was speaking of Yovanovitch.

In my piece today, I am only taking drops from a deep well of grossness.

Jay Nordlinger, On Trump and Voting Your Conscience | National Review

Even the Judges can’t take Mona Charen’s eye of the ball. What’s the point of Judges if not the rule of law?:

The appointment of conservative judges (leaving aside the norm-shredding manner in which two Supreme Court vacancies were handled) tops every Republican’s list. But this is a hollow victory. It comes at the hands of an administration that has treated the law like bird cage liner. The Trump presidency has undermined the law in a thousand ways.

You cannot proclaim the administration’s commitment to law when the chief executive repeatedly instructed officials to break the law in exchange for pardons, engaged in witness tampering, encouraged vigilantism, stoked domestic terrorism by winking at the attempted kidnappings of governors, paid hush money to a porn actress, unlawfully diverted funds to his illusory border wall, illegally withheld aid to an ally in an attempt to extort a damaging story about his opponent, treated Congressional subpoenas with contempt, and abused his commander-in-chief authority to use military force against peaceful demonstrators across from the White House, among innumerable other violations.

Conservatives also used to say that character mattered, and some still struggle with this. Shapiro’s solution is to suggest that, while Trump’s moral example is terrible, all of the damage that can be done on that front is already done, and will not be augmented by another four years.

Not so. Millions of children are maturing in a nation whose chief executive models the sort of behavior it has required centuries to anathematize. They watch and learn. Every decent parent, teacher, coach, priest, rabbi, and minister, must attempt to countermand the message that deceit, enmity, cruelty, and recklessness pay off.

Mona Charen, Getting Past Partisan Blinders – The Bulwark

I was never an acolyte, but Ben Shapiro is on my quisling list now.

Finally, Why 14 Critics of “Social Justice” Think You Shouldn’t Vote Trump – Areo.


At least we’re not exhibiting apathy about all this.

… at least 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots for next week’s election, a historic figure that has upended expectations about Election Day ….

Robert Costa. Must. Resist. Urge. To supply narrative of how this is bad for Orange Man.

Election, Justices and Sanity

The Election

From “Our choice is Joe Biden*,” an editorial in the New Hampshire Union Leader, Oct. 25:

> Our endorsement for President of these United States goes to Joe Biden.
>
> While Joe Biden is the clear choice for president, it would be a disservice to the country to send him to the White House without a backstop. We suggest splitting the ballot and electing a healthy dose of GOP senators and representatives. The best governance often comes through compromise. The civility of the Biden administration will help foster such compromise, but a blue wave would be nearly as disastrous for this country as four more years of Trump. It would result in a quagmire of big government programs that will take decades to overcome.

Notable & Quotable: A Footnote to a Biden Endorsement – WSJ

Yes, I agree, but I don’t think for a moment that’s what will happen next Tuesday.


For the people closest to me in terms of education (graduate degree), socioeconomic status (upper-middle-class suburban), region (the northeastern megalopolis stretching from Washington to Boston), and race (white), Donald Trump is an appalling human being in just about every respect. He’s corrupt. He’s cruel. He’s a bigot. He’s ignorant. He’s mendacious. He’s a narcissist. And he’s a jerk. Unlike many previous presidents, there is nothing admirable about him at all. He’s a kind anti-role-model, showing how a person shouldn’t behave in the world — the kind of person about whom you might say to your children, “Whatever you do, don’t be like him.”

But for people who write angry responses to my most critical columns about the president — most of them men, many of them from other parts of the country, quite often with military backgrounds — he looks very different. For them, Trump is a man of strength, of courage. He’s a fighter and a patriot. Even if he’s not particularly admirable as a person overall, he has qualities that we should want to have in a leader, and that are under threat in our country. They are qualities that Americans, and especially boys, should be raised to look up to and emulate, including a refusal to back down, a toughness and tenacity, and a willingness to insist that masculine strength be revered and inculcated.

I suspect this difference is a source of many of our political disputes, and the sense that we now reside in very different countries. That’s because the dispute has to do with an important and deeply significant disagreement about what type of human being, oriented to certain kinds of ideals and rooted in a certain kind of emotional life, we want our country to produce.

As a pundit, I usually shy away from issuing armchair psychological diagnoses of public figures, including our president. Unlike some columnists, I’ve never written that Trump is mentally “unwell.” Yet I have nonetheless become convinced by those who speculate that a good part of his worst behavior — the cruelty, the neediness, the craving for approval, the distinctive combination of comic bravado and paralyzing insecurity — could well be a function of him trying to make up or compensate for a childhood almost totally lacking in parental, and especially paternal, love.

Damon Linker, The very different emotional lives of Trump and Biden voters


[The] fears that religious conservatives feel are real and ought not be brushed off lightly. Losing our shaping and beloved institutions is a grievous loss. But I do not think our fears can ultimately be answered politically … Laws and policies that protect religious liberty are important, but we, as a Christian community, cannot seek those laws at any cost. If we do, we will lose our own souls in the process of preserving our freedoms.

If shoring up religious freedom requires us to champion someone whose administration is responsible for making more than 545 children orphans, someone who in Sen. Ben Sasse’s words “flirts with White supremacy,” who bullies and denigrates others and constantly engages in misogyny, arrogance and divisiveness, then we cannot preserve religious liberty while remaining faithful to the ethical call of Jesus. Self-protectiveness on the part of religious people is understandable, but … [t]he church exists to glorify God by loving and serving our neighbor. If our own institutional preservation trumps all other ethical commitments, then we have already lost what is most dear.

Given the Trump administration’s shutdown of the asylum system and so-called “Muslim ban,” it is debatable if his presidency has actually benefitted the cause of religious liberty … The root of religious freedom amid pluralism is love for our neighbors, especially our ideological or political enemies. We cannot spend eight years supporting a president whose basic modus operandi is meanness and cruelty– who vocally disagrees with the call to love one’s enemy–and then expect anyone to take us seriously when we ask them to respect our religious freedom.

“But wait!” I can hear traditional religious people cry, “Even if we are kind, respectful and honoring of our neighbor’s dignity, they will not be respectful of ours. We can be as ‘winsome’ as can be, and we will still be marginalized as bigots.” I think this may be true, but this objection assumes that kindness, respectfulness and the self-giving love of Jesus is useful [only – implied, I think] insofar as it is a successful cultural strategy. Christian discipleship calls us to radical love for our neighbor and to honor the dignity of those around us. We are called to work for the common good. We are called to witness to a different kind of King and a different kind of Kingdom. These ethical mandates are not contingent upon—nor a guarantee of—any particular outcome. They are a means to no other end other than to know and glorify God.

Tish Harrison Warren, Don’t vote Trump for religious liberty (emphasis added)


“The chief value proposition of Donald Trump’s presidency is appointees,” Noah Rothman, an editor at Commentary, told me. Barrett’s confirmation may be “the last act of this presidency,” and if Trump loses next week, “Republicans will look back on [it] fondly.”

Emma Green, Republicans Confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court – The Atlantic

“Chief value proposition”: Nice phrase, which being interpreted is “otherwise, he was and is pretty worthless.”


Reading The American Conservative 2020 Presidential Symposium, I’m disappointed how many are voting for Trump, but heartened that three are voting for the American Solidarity Party candidate Brian Carroll.


Amy Coney Barrett

“In a less political time than we find ourselves today, I suspect [Amy Coney Barrett] would have the unanimous support of this body,” said Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)

Knowhere News


[T]here is no precedent for judges or justices recusing because a case implicates the interests of the President who nominated them. Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh did not recuse in Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars, and Justices Ginsburg and Breyer did not recuse in Clinton v. Jones. Likewise, the only one of President Nixon’s appointees to recuse in United v. Nixon was William Rehnquist, who recused because of his work in the Office of Legal Counsel, not because he was a Nixon appointee.

Jonathan A. Adler, * Should Justice Barrett Recuse from 2020 Election Litigation?*


A fine irony: after spending ~150 years proving that Roman Catholics are good liberal democratic Americans, we get yet another Catholic Justice just as Catholic scholars Deneen, Vermeule, Pappin argue against liberalism.


General Sanity

According to Michael Casey’s description, lectio divina has four stages—lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio—that roughly correspond to the different senses of Scripture—literal, Christological, behavioral, and mystical. Though you need not move through these four stages chronologically, one could move through them in the following way. First, in the lectio stage, read and re-read the text, marking key passages where the author’s argument is clearest. Write in your own words the key ideas, concepts, and arguments. In the meditatio stage, think about the context in which the text was written. What was happening in the world or the author’s life when the book was written? What was the author’s motivation, and to whom does the author write? Third, in the oratio stage, pay attention to how these ideas speak to your conscience and make you reflect on your behavior, habits, and dispositions. Fourth, in the contemplatio stage, think about what these texts say about your relationship with God, either directly or indirectly.

Lectio divina helps us slow down.

Margarita A. Mooney, Lectio Divina and Online Learning | First Things


Yet another pet peeve: consequentialist arguments for Christianity (or “religion” if you must). See Tish Harrison Warren above for repudiation of one such bad argument: “that kindness, respectfulness and the self-giving love of Jesus is useful [only] insofar as it is a successful cultural strategy.”


I was leaning toward Supreme Court Term Limits (18-year term, one justice out every two years) until I read this from the son of my late Constitutional Law prof (and himself a ConLaw heavy-hitter). Too many big problems even if you assume a Constitutional Amendment would pass.


Words I hope never to hear in an Orthodox Church: Director of Paintball Ministry. (David French, bless his heart, filled this role at his heterodox church).


I believe we are far advanced down and past the destruction of the republic … [but] maybe Frodo and Sam are, even now, on their way to Mordor to throw the ring of power into Mount Doom.

Andrew Kern, Why We Couldn’t Keep it (I) | Circe Institute

A good religious reason for opposing Trump

I actually don’t think Trump’s almost unfathomably toxic personality and decades of indecency on every level should tip the scales in the other direction if you [support his policies]. Policy is bigger than any one person’s dysfunctions. On some hard-nosed realist level, it doesn’t make sense to mortgage all your policy preferences for the sake of choosing someone who is nicer and more decent. You can hold your nose to vote for the guy because of what he can deliver you in terms of right and far-right policies, if that’s your thing. A 6-3 Supreme Court majority is a 6-3 Supreme Court majority, and the ramifications will long outlive Trump.

Jesse Singal, Even If You Are, For Some Reason, A Liberal, Single-Issue Anti-Wokeness Voter, You Still Shouldn’t Vote For Trump – Singal-Minded (likely pay wall).

Singal is a progressive, and isn’t giving away much here because of how tendentiously he characterizes Trump’s policies. Nobody who supports the policies as Singal describes them is even going to think about voting against Trump on character grounds.

But I actually do think Trump’s almost unfathomably toxic personality … should tip the scales in the other direction even if you prefer his policies.

[W]e’re no longer in a position (especially in parts of the American Christian community) where one can point out a political leader’s serious moral defects and expect believers to think there is any serious problem with those defects—unless and until one can tie those defects to specific poor policy choices. The leader, in this conception, is essentially a producer of specific laws and policies, and it’s the laws and policies that then shape the nation, not the character of the man or woman in power.

Interestingly, I’ve never really seen this principle applied outside of politics—and I never heard it strongly argued before the age of Trump. In the world of business, for example, we see even CEOs or managers who run profitable enterprises fired and even disgraced for personal scandals that are completely unrelated, say, to their plans for a new product line.

Moreover, outside of politics, we don’t even think twice about these character tests. Why? Because their necessity is self-evident. In a company, in a church, in a military unit—everywhere, really—leaders are culture-makers. They’re culture-shapers. And they have an immense impact on the institutions they lead, the people they lead, and the communities they influence.

David French, A Christian Leader Reminds Believers of the Power of Character – The French Press.

I find it bewildering that Christians can be so sure that greater damage will be done by bad judges, bad laws, and bad policies than is being done by the culture-infecting spread of the gangrene of sinful self-exaltation, and boasting, and strife-stirring (eristikos).

John Piper, Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin | Desiring God

Political Potpourri

VP debate:

Ms. Harris scored points when she focused on the Administration’s support for the case before the Supreme Court that would repeal ObamaCare. She claimed this would strip millions of their health insurance, which is false. But Mr. Pence lacked an effective reply, and this is the GOP’s biggest single vulnerability on policy. And all for a legal case that they have little chance of winning at the Court.

Mike Pence’s Re-Election Case – WSJ

 

* * *


[T]he chaos that has followed Donald Trump around for his entire presidency like the cloud of dirt accompanying Pig-Pen moved to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center …

Trump has always demanded a bespoke reality. He famously said in a deposition that his net worth was pegged not to his assets but his mood. As president, everyone from Cabinet officials and foreign leaders, to lowly staff, to the bulk of the conservative media, has either had to bend to the reality he wants or be pilloried as traitors, weaklings or liars.

Jonah Goldberg, Donald Trump’s Bespoke Reality – The Dispatch 

* * *


I can understand the argument that we don’t have to be afraid of COVID-19, that it shouldn’t run our lives, and that in the past six months, the nation’s scientists have invented an armamentarium of medications that can cure anyone who gets infected. I’m not sure any of that is right—but I can understand it as an argument. What I can’t understand is the idea that returning from the hospital after dispatching this non-alarming and very mild flu is worthy of a movie suggesting that the patient must have had the courage of Achilles to face it down. Have you seen the video of President Donald Trump’s triumphant trip back from Walter Reed? You would think the man was returning from liberating Europe, not getting a steroid shot in Bethesda. I should make a movie about the time I went to urgent care for a UTI.

One after another, people who were present at the ceremony [announcing Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court] have announced that they’ve got it. It’s like a roll call of the damned. Kellyanne Conway: present. Kayleigh McEnany: present. Mike Lee: present. In the court of the mad king, a positive test, and a presumed recovery, is perhaps essential for every courtesan who wants to be in the inner circle. When you hear of someone at the top who doesn’t have it, you have to wonder about their commitment to the operation. I thought Stephen Miller was going to commit Seppuku but Tuesday he was able to confirm he has it, too. And it’s fine to have a little laugh at their expense—COVID-19 is political, and to many conservatives, including presumably those infected at the White House, getting the bug is nothing to worry about.

But the Rose Garden wasn’t the only place where people were infected. During four days of debate prep (the worst debate prep in history, but that’s another matter), Chris Christie got it. Will the man ever learn? When has his relationship with Trump ever brought him anything but misery? Some people are drawn to bullies. They have a need to endlessly repeat the suffering of their childhood, always hoping for a different outcome. To see a healthy and chipper George Stephanopoulos, sitting in his neon bright Good Morning America studio interviewing a pale and clearly anxious Christie, quarantined in Jersey, was heartbreaking. “No one was wearing masks,” he said of the four days he had spent with the president, and you weren’t sure whether he was angry about it or maybe a little bit proud of it; at last he’d been given a seat at the cool kids’ table.

Caitlin Flanagan, The Rose Garden Coronavirus Experiment – The Atlantic

 

Just desserts

Vice President Mike Pence had better be awfully circumspect about filling the role that the Constitution and its Twenty-Fifth Amendment assign him. Trump will be watching. So long as Trump is conscious, he will not allow it; should he lose consciousness, he will retaliate when and if he recovers.

… He refused and forbade the most basic safety precautions in the close quarters of the West Wing and on Air Force One, except for testing, which was intended to protect him personally. On Tuesday, Trump was on the debate stage mocking former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing face masks; as the positive tests came in, he did not bother to inform Biden or his team that Trump had exposed him to the coronavirus. Until we know the date of Trump’s last negative COVID-19 test, we can only guess at the number of people he exposed. By sticking to an aggressive travel schedule with in-person gatherings while eschewing even minimal safeguards, Trump has carried the risk of disease across the country.

What you can expect is a lot of victimhood and self-pity. Trump and those around him have always demanded for themselves the decencies that they refuse others. They will get them, too. Trump’s opponents will express concern and good wishes—and if they do not, Trump’s allies will complain that those opponents are allowing politics to overwhelm human feeling. It was only three days ago that Trump on a debate stage dismissed Biden’s dead son, Beau, and falsely claimed that Biden’s surviving son, Hunter, had been dishonorably discharged from the military. The next day, Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., appeared on Glenn Beck’s show to describe Hunter as a “crackhead.” Now, though, we will hear a lot about how people are not being respectful enough to a president in his time of illness.

Trump has all his life posed a moral puzzle: What is due in the way of kindness and sympathy to people who have no kindness and sympathy for anyone else? Should we repay horrifying cruelty in equal measure? Then we reduce ourselves to their level. But if we return indecency with the decency due any other person in need, don’t we encourage appalling behavior? Don’t we prove to them that they belong to some unique bracket of humanity, entitled to kick others when they are writhing on the floor, and then to claim mercy when their own crimes and cruelties cast them upon the floor themselves?

David Frum, What Did You Expect of Donald Trump? – The Atlantic


Like all tyrants, Trump lives in an alternate universe where his will, tempered only by his whim, determines everything. And like all tyrants, Trump will eventually be defeated by the distance between his universe and the real one. The question has always been how long that would take, and how much damage would be done in the process. But the toll has been piling up of late. 205,000 dead, a stalled economy, a broken constitution, a bankrupt treasury, a ravaged environment, and the most toxic political culture in memory have not, exactly, made America great “again”. And, with his tax returns now public, the reality that Trump is a failed businessman and tax dodger is as inescapable as the truth that he is a serial sexual abuser.

The one simple thing I learned from being diagnosed as positive with a lethal virus decades ago is that I am not in control, and that maturity subsists in acceptance of this. A life well lived is not in denial of reality, but in difficult, unsatisfying, daily, hourly engagement with it, alongside a spiritual attempt at occasional transcendence. Similarly, it seems to me, politics is best conducted as a tackling of the world as it is, free from delusion and ideology, wary of our own bias and wants, humble in our goals, prudent in our methods. It is not a show, let alone a psychotic melodrama about a deranged narcissist.

Andrew Sullivan, Reality Ends The Reality Show – The Weekly Dish


Persuasion:
What is schadenfreude?

Watt Smith:
Thinkers like William James in the 19th century thought a lot about why we might enjoy seeing someone else suffer in a visceral, bloody way. He thought it was an evolutionary throwback to our more violent past, a glitch. But that is not quite what is at stake with the Trump situation. It’s not that you’re enjoying seeing someone suffer in a random way. And it’s not that you’re enjoying a moment of slapstick. It comes down to this question of justice and just desserts.
From research in psychology and neuroscience, there is a lot of evidence that we get a pleasurable kick from seeing justice done.

Is It Wicked to Feel Glee Because the President Is Sick? – Persuasion

Explaining myself

I posted last night some clippings from commentary on the U.S. Presidential debate of September 29, after almost four weeks’ absence and talk of ending the blog.

Problem 1 is that Wordpess, my platform, has been making “improvements” again. I’ve generally used its native editor, and they’ve replaced it with a monstrosity called a “block editor,” which is perfectly indecipherable. It wasn’t worth the effort to learn it since it’s a patently absurd way of writing essay-like things for people to read. [UPDDATE: As I subsequently tried to find a lighter graphic theme than War Correspondence had affected, it appeared that WordPress, or bloggery in general, is focused on commerce, photomontage, and other non-essay activities.] 

Problem 2 is not really a problem at all: even at my advanced age (500 dog years), I’m learning new tricks far more rewarding that mastering a stupid editor, such as not wallowing so much in news and commentary. This was made possible by spiritual adjustments which are best summarized by the advice of Fr. Stephen Freeman (for years, and especially here) and the late Fr. Thomas Hopcko. I’ve said for years that my epitaph should be “Darn! Just when I almost had it figured all out!” — a pathetic joke for a Christian, but an accurate reflection of how I was living. This annus horribilus has been a good one for taking stock of things and changing them as needed, and I can finally consider a better epitaph because that old one doesn’t fit any more.

If you think that’s too much information or a digression, it’s not: It means I’ve had less to say because I’m less “well-informed” and less in need of “venting” about things.

There may be more, but the third factor, the one facilitating my return to blogging, is the realization that I need not use WordPress’s stupid editor. I’ve acquired MarsEdit, on which I composed last night’s blog and am composing this one. It’s worth learning for me.

So I have the blogging tools I need but less to vent about. For that reason, I’ll almost certainly not return to daily blogging, and the conceit of warring against the deathworks already is feeling stale. I may return to the Tipsy Teetotaler name and a brighter graphic theme.

Finally, I commend to you Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not by Lies, which I got on the Tuesday release date and finished yesterday — a relatively ferocious pace for me (facilitated by not wasting time on ephemeral news — see, it all connects). I think Dreher is fundamentally right about the future for cultural conservatives, but I’m partial to a Christian (Lutheran) reviewer who suggested that we may be heading for more open and literal warfare between Social Justice Warriors on the Left and “Traditionalst” atavists on the Alt-Right, with sane Christians mostly suffering collateral damage rather than being the targets of the SJWs.

* * * * *

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

and

You shall love your crooked neighbour

“With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

* * * * *

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.

Georgia May 2019

In May 2019, I spent a bit over a week in Georgia, in the Caucasus, east of the Black Sea and bordering Russia, Turkey and Armenia. I went under the auspices of First Things Foundation, an Orthodox economic development charity, which raises a little money taking people to places where they have (or in this case, were placing) field workers.

I had to wait until after the Spring Concert of a group I sing in, but then off to Chicago, on to Lufthansa, and Tbilisi about 16 hours later after a Frankfurt transfer. Most of my mates had already been knocking around a few days.

First Things Foundation isn’t a travel agency or tour guide and it was not a fancy tour. We stayed in no proper hotels, and one of our places was up four flights, no elevator.

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May 11, overlooking ‎⁨Tbilisi⁩, ⁨Georgia⁩, from Turtle Lake Ascent, where we …

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… feasted at our first “Supra,” where tradition calls for 16 (I think) toasts. I was fewer than 4 hours on the ground at this point, after a long flight, and am not a big drinker anyway. But I survived pretty well.

2019 05 11 22 06 05+0400 1

These Kool-Aid pitchers are wine. There were many of them …

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… and they lasted into the night — but not too late to keep me from Church on Metekhi ascent, where (alas!) I have only a video which won’t embed, apparently.

Later, we made our way toward Stepantsminda, but stopped, too close to Tbilisi for the geotagging to specify, for this old church:

IMG 0801 IMG 0805

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It’s a long, long way to Stepandsminda, on the Russian border, but for one thing we didn’t need our guides, as it sported the World’s Best Ideogram (zoom in if necessary):

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Spring in this region comes late.

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Our destination was Qazbegi, which I think is probably a regional name, which includes Stepantsminda (named for St. Stephen). Georgia is northern neighbor of Armenia, the oldest Christian nation, and became Christian soon after Armenia – in the early 4th Century. It is reportedly (but you know how those Chambers of Commerce are) the birthplace of wine. We have it on greater authority that it is the birthplace of Stalin, but never mind.

We were in Stepantsminda two nights, to attend a wedding and reception for one of the First Things Foundation fieldworkers. He was marrying a Russian doctor, who he met in Central America, and they chose Georgia to minimize visas and other hassles for Russian and American friends and family.

The wedding was in a monastic church, up the mountain, a mere stone’s throw from Russia.

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The bride was late, coming from Tbilisi in bad weather, with the vocal ensemble that sang sacred Georgia Chant for the wedding, popular songs (even Hotel California) at the reception, so we had ample chance to look around, and the breaking weather made for a spectacular photo of the couple.

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Area scenery. The monastery church is visible near the top of the near mountain in the first photo:

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That was my boarding house to the right in the last photo.

Breakfast place (Shorena’s Bar in Stepantsminda) and company, I’m on the right.

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The day after the wedding, we made our way to Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta, the old capital of Georgia. Our Boarding house was a durn siight nicer than the one in Stepantsminda …

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… but the highlight for me —not just of Mtskheta but of the whole trip — was the old cathedral (where I believe Patriarch Ilya still resides on the grounds) and making the acquaintance of St. Gabriel, a Fool for Christ, who reposed in Christ in 1995.

Saint first (I couldn’t resist buying this icon), Cathedral photos follow. There are many more I didn’t publish here and many more on the web, some better than any of mine.

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Two very Georgian-style icons:

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We hung around Mtskheta and environs for much of a day, including a nice alfresco lunch.

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Georgia seems to have churches everywhere you turn, many of them a thousand or fifteen hundred years old. I could not keep track and geotagging isn’t very specific in rural Georgia. So here’s a little scenery and a lot of church from later in the trip.

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St. Nino, a woman, is virtually the founder of Georgia’s Church, and is venerated quite highly. Her distinctive cross is a Georgian marker:

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Back in Tbilisi, more sightseeing, including a Georgian Family Day celebration on the plaza of the new Cathedral.

A haberdashery for monks and clergy.

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Family Day festivities:

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Careful color-coordination:

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A luscious dish we should cook here: “Madame Bovary.”

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I was plenty ready for home after almost 8 days in Georgia, mostly passively going where I was driven, but getting some solo Tbilisi walking in at the end. (By the way: I recommend Lufthansa very highly.)

I was raised Evangelical by parents who got their adult-convert Christian formation in a fundamentalist baptist church. In the 50s and 60s, our kind of Evangelicals followed the fundamentalist taboos: smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards, and secret societies.

I say that to put in perspective my discomfort with Georgian-level drinking — not just the wines but a sort of moonshine brandy they call Cha-cha. A lot of my pleasure in this trip was attenuated by that discomfort, which involves some collateral stories best left untold.

My overall impression of Georgia and the Georgians is an ancient people and culture, deeply and historically Christian, but in a manner that confounds Church and nation to an extent unknown in the U.S. Similar confounding is found in Greece and Russia. Oh: they don’t do Fundamentalist/Evangelical taboos — for better or worse.

It’s above my pay grade to judge whether the Christianity suffers in the amalgam, but it certainly is different from being in a minority Christian tradition in the U.S.

Debate commentary aggrregation

From secondhand reports (see below), the surprises in the debate last night were that Biden fought back and Chris Wallace totally lost control.

P.S.: They need to give the moderator a kill switch.  

 

I know there were people last night watching the debate and then live-tweeting their responses — like people in the Ninth Circle of Hell who don’t think their circumstances are bad enough and try to dig a Tenth Circle with their bleeding raw fingers.

 

Alan Jacobs. If you’re only interested in highly literarate analysis, you can stop now. None of the other comments topped Ayjay’s in the category.

 

Considering what he was up against, Biden did fine. No one could have come away from Trump’s machine-gun barrage of bile anything other than diminished. How can one respond to a man who barks one lie after another while refusing to keep his pestilential maw shut for a mere two minutes so his opponent can speak? Try to respond to one lie and he lets loose another four and drowns you out with them before you’re done.

But the Trump campaign came into the debate pushing the line that Biden is a senile old man. He more than demonstrated that isn’t true, though much of the time Biden did give off the air of someone understandably overwhelmed by an onslaught of verbal violence. Most of all, Biden came off like an ordinary politician, citing policies and data and hitting the president over his record while occasionally trying to raise his own rhetoric to the lofty heights traditionally favored by men and women in public life, seeking the honor of winning its highest office.

Trump was something else entirely — some kind of post-truth, street-fighting, full-spectrum bulls**t artist. Say anything. Dominate constantly. Display no warmth. No compassion. No empathy. Just fight, fight, fight. Kick everyone’s ass, including that of the moderator, Chris Wallace, who repeatedly tried and usually failed to impose order on the chaos.

… Down the path Trump has opened up in our politics lies moral darkness and national decline. We will either begin to right ourselves and reverse course five weeks from now by repudiating him and everything he stands for — or the darkness and decline will deepen.

Damon Linker, Trump pummels Biden — and America

On Tuesday night the American people, or at least those unlucky millions who were not watching the Yankees-Indians game on ESPN instead, were subjected to an hour and a half of mindless shouting from two hapless sad-looking old men who looked as if they would rather be anywhere else but that auditorium in Ohio. President Trump also spoke.

… no actual transcription could possibly do justice to these 96 minutes of shouts, insults, interruptions, stray thoughts, and loose babble. It was like witnessing an argument about an arcane procedural rule during a senior bingo night at a nursing home in purgatory. It was vicious, tasteless, witless, and (surprisingly, alas) painfully unfunny.

Matthew Walther, The worst presidential debate of all time

Many people will criticize how the moderator, Chris Wallace, managed the debate, and surely he could have done better. But really, nothing short of a shock collar around Trump’s neck would have disciplined the man who is, after all, the president of the United States. A president who does not respect the tax laws, does not respect the FBI, is surely not going to be constrained by a debate moderator. It was pandemonium. But it was revealing pandemonium. Who and what Trump is could not have been more vividly displayed in all the psychological reality. Debate one was not Donald Trump versus Joe Biden, or red versus blue. It was zookeepers versus poop-throwing primates.

Biden may be faded from what he was: perhaps less crisp, less sharp, less fast. But when Biden spoke, he spoke to and about America. Trump spoke only about his wounded ego. Biden communicated: I care about you. Trump communicated: I hate everybody. Biden succeeded in putting his most important messages on record: your health care, your job, your right to equal respect, regardless of race or creed—all against Trump’s disregard and disrespect. Trump might have imagined that he projected himself as strong. The whole world witnessed instead the destructive rage of a bully confronting impending defeat. Trump disgraced the presidency on that stage. He might just have delivered the self-incapacitating wound that pushes the country toward self-salvation.

David From, Trump’s Theory of the Debate Was All Wrong – The Atlantic

“Watching that debate,” one Democratic strategist told us after, “was like watching the Angel of Death unfurl its glorious infinitely black wings before me, my eyes being taken ever deeper into the absolute void where no color can exist, and seeing in that moment nothing but death and the end of all things shouted at me through the guttural Queens accent of a madman.”

The Morning Dispatch: One Bad Debate – The Morning Dispatch

I think Hunter Biden’s capitalizing on his father’s power for personal gain is fair game, but for pity’s sake, don’t trash a man’s son for his brokenness with substance abuse. If they weren’t politicians, but two ordinary guys in a bar, I would have loved to have seen Joe Biden walk over and cold-cock Trump for trashing his boy.

I can’t believe I wrote that line about a presidential debate. This is what Trump, the chaos agent, brings to our politics.

Rod Dreher, The Debate Disaster | The American Conservative

How old am I? I’m old enough to remember Al Gore’s boorish debate stunt, and Dubya’s effortless response.

Those were the good old days of mannerliness.

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

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You shall love your crooked neighbour

With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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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.

Potpourri 9/3/20

Kyrie
Because we cannot be clever and honest
and are inventors of things more intricate
than the snowflake—Lord have mercy. 

Because we are full of pride
in our humility, and because we believe
in our disbelief—Lord have mercy. 

Because we will protect ourselves
from ourselves to the point
of destroying ourselves—Lord have mercy. 

And because on the slope to perfection,
when we should be half-way up,
we are half-way down—Lord have mercy. 

R.S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times

Thomas has not been on my radar as a poet. This one blew me away (there’s a great deal more to it), as did Tell Us.

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The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

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“The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility,” Jackson writes. “Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a ‘homecoming’ major.

Wes Jackson via Wendell Berry via Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

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In Pittsburgh on Monday, the Democratic presidential nominee responded forcefully to President Trump’s charge that “no one will be safe in Biden’s America.” … “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?” Mr. Biden asked. “He can’t stop the violence—because for years he has fomented it.”

Trump’s 1980 Strategy for 2020 – WSJ

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… Christopher Lasch is someone you cite a lot in this book, and in his work there’s a real sensitivity to the importance of these cultural issues. For educated people, the conflicts over busing or religion or sexuality or whatever reinforce the sense that working people are not really worthy of our concern because they’re authoritarian, behind the times. And then for the working class, it really drives home this perception that they are held in contempt. And Lasch seemed to believe that this tension was baked in because the values of the managerial elite were precisely the values of liberal-capitalist meritocracy: individual autonomy, self-development, personal liberation, etc., the flip side of which is a suspicion of working-class values like solidarity and thick ties like family and religion and neighborhood. The working-class view is more conservative, in a sense, but it’s also a product of a real class difference in how people see their place in the world.

Well, yes, I totally agree with that. I thought you said you were pushing back.

What I’m trying to get at is: There’s a sense in which this is a very real dividing line between more affluent, college-educated Democrats and members of the white working class and even sections of the non-white working class, where the former are often socially liberal and economically conservative/centrist and the latter are often economically liberal but more conservative on issues like abortion, immigration, crime, etc. How do you think Democrats or the left more broadly should try to navigate this divide? Do you think that open conflict over these issues can be avoided if you just focus on economics? Or does something eventually have to give — working-class whites moving left on culture or educated liberals deciding that they need to accept people with more conservative social views — say, a pro-life, gun-owning Catholic — as a part of the coalition?

This is a problem, of course, but I also think it is possible for people to come together on a common cause without agreeing on everything. The problem is getting the Democrats to acknowledge that common cause. Up until now, the Democrats have spent all their resources reaching out to those affluent white-collar people in rich suburbs. Those are the only “swing voters” they’re interested in. This bunch gets everything. It’s all crafted to please this group — economic policies, culture-war stances, everything. I happen to think a really robust program for reclaiming middle-class America from the forces that have wrecked so many people’s cities and lives and health would be immensely popular. It would be so popular that lots of people would be willing to overlook, say, one’s views on gun control in order to get behind it.

What’s the Matter With Populism? Nothing. (metered paywall – New York Magazine)

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Baron Trump looks like the world’s most miserable child.

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[A]nother narrow Trump victory, especially one in which the popular vote goes for Biden, is going to kick off civil unrest that will make this summer look tame. Trump’s opponents will ping-pong even harder between the two fever dreams of the first term. The first, that Trump is a foreign pawn and opposed to everything that makes American great. This charge comes with a complimentary retweet of James Comey standing near the Liberty Bell. The second, that Trump is the final, rotten fruit of a rotten American tree that must be uprooted altogether. This one comes with a retweet of 1619 Project impresario Nikole Hannah Jones explaining that arson isn’t violence.

My assumption, however, is that Trump’s second term may prove to be more difficult than the first for him. While some progressives are trying to moralize themselves for the November election by predicting a second term flowing with dictatorial power aimed at undermining democracy forever, I predict more slapstick incompetence.

Instead of hiring the best people, Trump has relied on whoever is nearby. This cast of characters has included people with their own firm agendas (such as John Bolton) or people who just seemed to have the Trump vibe (such as Anthony Scaramucci). Many of these people have had short careers in Trumpville — and leave it quickly to write scathing memoirs of their time within. About a dozen former White House officials or other flunkies have left Team Trump to write hair-raising tell-alls.

Trump already had problems with hiring enough people to fully staff the Executive Branch. His inability to do so is part of what allows the “deep state” to undermine, dodge, or contravene his authority as president. His reputation for administrative neglect, sudden reversals, and micromanaging has dissuaded qualified people from joining the administration. It leaves the presidency weakened.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, Donald Trump Second Term: What to Expect | National Review

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Reporters standing in front of scenes of arson, flames billowing behind them, not very far from scenes of shooting and murder, insist that the protests are “mostly peaceful.” National Public Radio and a multi-billion-dollar global media conglomerate team up to bring you an illiterate “defense of looting.” The president comes to the defense of a dangerously stupid teenager who went looking for trouble illegally armed with a rifle in his hands and, to no one’s great surprise, found the trouble he was looking for.

But if there is a case to be made for looting, how about we start with NPR and its affiliates? The NPR Foundation reported holding $342 million in assets in 2018, and NPR’s management and on-air talent are splendidly compensated, many of them in excess of a half-million dollars a year. You can commission a shipload of lectures on income inequality and the salubrious effects of looting for that kind of “just property.” NPR’s headquarters on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., is “just property,” too — property NPR isn’t even much using at the moment, because of the epidemic. Would NPR object to someone burning it down to make a political point? Would looting NPR’s property be defensible? Yes? No? Why or why not?

… The same people burning down grocery stores today will be complaining about “food deserts” in 18 months.

… the petulant children in Portland want only to play-act at being Jacobins, and the petulant child in the White House requires a full-time culture war lest he be forced to run for reelection on his record of spotless administrative excellence and confidence-inspiring leadership. If ever two clutches of fools deserved one another, these are they.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, A Clutch of Fools | National Review

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Peter Viereck: American Conservatism’s Road Not Traveled | Front Porch Republic was very good.

* * * * *

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

You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

* * * * *

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.

You can’t fill a God-shaped hole with information

When I was a student at Liberty University, from 2012 to 2016, I had to take two semesters of a “Christian worldview” class. It consisted essentially of bullet-point lists of ethical issues, with quizzes to make sure we knew the right answers: How did we feel about abortion? What about gay marriage? We were required to take two Bible classes and two theology classes, which included plenty of information about sexual ethics and basic Christian beliefs about caring for the poor and marginalized.

Yet the more powerful education we received was through thrice-weekly “convocations” — gatherings that frequently featured Republican pundits and politicians. In place of what many Christian schools call “chapel,” all on-campus students were required to attend an hourlong meeting that included worship and a guest speaker. We sang songs about the power of the gospel, often followed by moving speeches about saving our country from socialists or protecting our borders from invading masses.

There is a long history in Christian education that focuses on the formation of the affections, alongside the training of the intellect …

… Yet evangelicals — and Liberty, in particular — have often neglected this focus, falsely believing that if we know the right information, we will act rightly …

At Liberty, our minds may have been receiving correct content, but our hearts were being trained to love wrongly: to love political power, physical security and economic prosperity as higher goods than they are. The leaders of the university may have believed that we could be immersed in the stories and values of the Republican Party while maintaining any theological truths incompatible with them, but the power of our affective education was stronger. The ethics we learned in a classroom were not nearly as powerful as the emotion and desire created in a stadium full of people singing, praying and hearing stirring messages about making America great again.

Kaitlyn Schiess, Opinion | What Jerry Falwell Jr. Taught Me at Liberty University – The New York Times

This strikes me as true, so far as it goes. But Ms. Schiess is not likely to fill her longings anywhere in the Evangelical world.

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