Friday, 3/4/16

  1. A different Super Tuesday wrap-up
  2. Marco did a good thing
  3. Acquiring existence
  4. The three-party system
  5. Will this be on the test?
  6. The technocratic system
  7. Out of ideas


It feels like it’s been a while since I blogged since “Pure Politics” felt more like purging than blogging. I’m trying not to binge so I don’t need to purge.

I’ve pretty much given up on understanding the Trump phenomenon. Everyone has a theory. Many are plausible.

The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, “Reign over us.” But the olive tree said to them, “Shall I leave my fatness, by which gods and men are honored, and go to sway over the trees?” And the trees said to the fig tree, “Come you, and reign over us.” But the fig tree said to them, “Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over the trees?” And the trees said to the vine, “Come you, and reign over us.” But the vine said to them, “Shall I leave my wine which cheers gods and men, and go to sway over the trees?” Then all the trees said to the bramble, “Come you, and reign over us.” And the bramble said to the trees, “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”

(Judges 9:8-15) Donald Trump himself is too vulgar and shallow even to attempt understanding. I’ve felt that way ab initio, though my first distinct recollection is bafflement that a generally sane young woman of my acquaintance was so worshipful toward The Art of the Deal (she also loved Basia; that was the time period). Maybe the explanation for the phenomenon is that he personifies what “diverse” America is fundamentally about (as we’ve foresworn established religion, have tried to drive religious expression if not excessively religious people from the public square, and otherwise have foresworn any unifying factor that would marginalize anyone to however slight a degree): relentless acquisitiveness, shameless self-promotion, obsession with sex and sexual conquests, and shows of wealth 25%+ beyond one’s real means.

Well, I feel marginalized. The Thing that Used to Be America is being destroyed with astonishing rapidity. The house of cards that America has become somewhere along the line — perhaps longer ago than I realize — is finally collapsing. I didn’t anticipate, though, that it would collapse in a bloodless electoral revolution. I figured the financialization of the economy would be its undoing. Who knows what will replace it?

I’m not going to “relax and enjoy it,” though it may be inevitable, as if I were a comedy writer (They’re in the cat bird seat with Trump or Hillary shaping up as the butt of routines 2017-2020). But neither do I intend to spend the rest of my life wringing my hands about it. I need the equanimity of Job (“The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”), and I get some of that in the weekly reading of the Synaxarion in Matins. Again and again we hear “was perfected by the sword” or “was perfected by fire.” The Church and people like me have lived through tough times repeatedly. While I’m hoping for “reposed in peace,” all is not lost. It’s never lost.


Marco [not Rubio] is a founder of the Scuola libera G.K. Chesterton, a classical Catholic school in the seaside Adriatic city of San Benedetto del Tronto. … [T]he Chesterton School is only one of the things they’ve done — but I can say that these folks are the living embodiment of the Benedict Option. They have built strong bonds with the Norcia monks. Indeed, you may recall that Father Cassian, the prior of the Norcia monastery, once told me that Christian families and communities that don’t come together as these people have are not going to make it through the times to come. I thought I would come to San Benedetto del Tronto to see what Father Cassian was talking about.

It’s funny how you know your tribe as soon as you meet them. Early in our car ride across the Apennines, Marco said that the motto of the Chesterton school is this great line of Chesterton’s: “A dead thing goes with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

And I thought: oh yeah, my people. Here they are. Marco Sermarini is not sitting around waiting for the world to end. He and his crew are doing what Flannery O’Connor advised: “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.”And, being Italian, they are so much fun!

(Rod Dreher) Lord, teach me to have fun pushing back.


On a much lighter note, it’s fun to catch solecisms in the newspaper of record:

The existence of [Bob Dylan]’s private trove, which had been little more than a rumor, has been acquired for an estimated $15 million to $20 million.

(“Top News” teaser to this article)


“Out of the Crooked Timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” Thus reads the masthead of the blog Crooked Timber, which I’ve encountered in the past. That’s a pretty good epigram for a broad range of topics. I wish I’d thought of it first.

On Leap Day, this appeared:

There are three major political forces in contemporary politics in developed countries: tribalism, neoliberalism and leftism (defined in more detail below). Until recently, the party system involved competition between different versions of neoliberalism. Since the Global Financial Crisis, neoliberals have remained in power almost everywhere, but can no longer command the electoral support needed to marginalise both tribalists and leftists at the same time. So, we are seeing the emergence of a three-party system, which is inherently unstable because of the Condorcet problem and for other reasons.

(The three party system) That is the short version of the author’s thesis; the longer version, which seems fundamentally correct to me, follows the short version. Good diagnosis but no prescription.


“Will this be on the test” is a low-engagement, drive-by question, suggests Seth Godin as he rethinks online education and shoots for a high-engagement version. As always, it’s interesting, a hallmark of Godin.


The trends of which I speak treat life as a technological problem to be dealt with through a system of organization based on world markets, certified expertise, and transnational bureaucracies. That system relies on what it calls human rights, an idealized image of its own implicit goals, as a quasi-religious justification for its authority and its insistence on turning alternate modes of organization, such as family, religion, and cultural community, into insubstantial private fancies. If something that claims authority is not part of the technocratic system, it’s irrational, and if it’s irrational it’s abusive and therefore evil and oppressive, so it has to go.

(James Kalb, The True Benedict Option for Our Time). There’s probably something wrong with me for looking at Crisis. (Insider joke, which you’ll discover along with what Kalb considers “what is the true Benedict Option for our time?” I won’t ruin it with spoilers, but the block quote foreshadows it.)

“The technocratic system,” by the way, is pretty much what Crooked Timber called neoliberalism.


There is no such thing as a simple explanation for the Donald Trump phenomenon, but I think a big part of it — perhaps the thing GOP and conservative elites have the hardest time understanding — is that the narrative they have used to explain themselves to themselves over the past 30 years is dead. In the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, we suffered through the ritual invocation of Ronald Reagan’s name, which, it is now clear, was a kind of spell meant to occlude the fact that the Republican Party was as out of ideas today as the Democratic Party was in the 1980s.

The saying is that it’s hard to get a man to understand something if his paycheck depends on his not understanding it. That insight may explain why the conservative leadership class didn’t see Trump coming, and keeps getting poleaxed by him. Is it not possibly the case that their own voters have come to believe that their party pretends to listen to them, but in fact cares about nothing but the interests of wealthy donors — whose interests are not the same as the little guy’s?

(Rod Dreher) I agree. The main area where I think slavish imitation of Reagan is foolish is the idea that cutting taxes is an economic panacea.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.