Friday 10/7/16

  1. So?
  2. Suddenly, virtue matters
  3. They didn’t used to talk this way
  4. Honest admission of wrongdoing? What’s that?
  5. Ten thousand bureaucratic paper cuts

1

Let us presume that if Hillary Clinton is elected, the American Experiment would be effectively over. Let us simply adopt the strongest position of those supporting Trump, and say that they are right not only in the broad strokes but the particulars: The Supreme Court will be lost forever, abortion will be permanently ratified, the war on religious liberty will end with the total obliteration of any meaningful public space for conservative religious believers to utter their views.

So?

That is the first question we should think on. So? So suppose the End of the Republic comes upon us, and Christians lose all their liberty and Everything Is Terrible. So?

I’m not playing here. Proponents of the cataclysmic possibilities of the 2016 election assume that we should attempt to avoid allowing America to go up in a flaming ball of judgment. But why? I mean, if the story the Religious Right has told us all along is right — if America really has turned its back on God for the past fifty years, if we are finally arriving at the Gomorrah we’ve been slouching toward — shouldn’t they welcome such a judgment? What sweeter vindication could such a maligned and disrespected people have than the final devastation of American political life that they have long predicted?

(Matthew Lee Anderson, Should Evangelicals Vote for Clinton or Trump?)

This provocative quote is not at all a central part of Mr. Anderson’s argument, but I think it might help focus the mind:

  • Did the figures of the Religious Right really mean one word of what they’ve been saying for the last 40 years?
  • Did they really think it could never really come to this because, b’gosh, this is America?
  • ???

I take some issue with the thought that there could be any “sweet vindication” from some final devastation of American political life.

I doubt that it will be recognized at all, because the devastation will not arrive with a gift card saying “Here is your well-deserved devastation. Enjoy it. Love, God.” — no more than have other signs that at least I have interpreted as warnings.

If it is recognized, it is as likely that a scapegoat will be found — I’ll probably be included in the group of traitors — as that America will recognize a divine hand.

Insofar as the religious right has been a predominantly Evangelical and Fundamentalist phenomenon, the quoted portion of this longish essay really is addressed those folks.

But overall, despite the title, it is a worthwhile analysis for any Christian voter or, for all I know, any morally upright person who believes that bad behavior eventually suffers consequences, be it by Divine Judgement, Karma or “just the way the cosmos rolls.”

2

One of the weirder aspects of anti-Trump mania is its sniffy tone. And it’s especially weird coming from card-carrying liberal Democrats. For two generations our culture and its institutions have been living under a liberal ascendency. The country’s elites—the Bigs of the news media and Hollywood and the non-profit world and the arts and the academy—have signed on to a catechism of personal liberation, particularly sexual liberation, and a kind of radical individual autonomy that even lets you choose whether you’re a boy or a girl. We are taught to be “nonjudgmental” in matters of lifestyle and to accept a pristine relativism in metaphysics and morality.

In pursuit of perfect liberation we’ve had no-fault divorce, open access to abortion, the celebration of inverted sex, elimination of the blue laws, and wars against censorship that continue long after the censors have cried uncle. Say what you want about this regime, you’d never call it a triumph of puritanism.

Yet puritanical is precisely the tone of the Trump haters on the left. (We Trump haters on the right are another story.) But why? Consider Trump himself. Here’s a man who’s famous for his wide-ranging sex life, his disdain for conventional marriage, his eager embrace of divorce, his public use of profanity, his non-judgmental attitude toward unconventional sexual minorities—a man whose way of life seems unrestrained by religious impulses of any kind—a man who, in short, is a walking summation of our present-day cultural principles. Yet on each of these scores, from his many marriages to his cursing in public, he is vilified by journalists, politicos, TV starlets, right thinkers of every kind. After years of egging on potty-mouthed rappers and scolding religious believers, our cultural guardians suddenly sound like the General Conference of Methodist Bishops circa 1922.

… How odd is their sniffy contempt for Donald Trump, the purest flowering of the culture they’ve created.

(Andrew Ferguson, Sniffing at Trump)

3

[I]t’s enough to say, as I did above, that our society is being shaken by earthquakes. No doubt the causes are many. But in a recent column, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen,” Peggy Noonan expressed thoughts I’ve been having for quite a while. She writes about a “kind of historic decoupling between the top and the bottom that did not, in more moderate times, exist.” She’s right. This involves more than income inequality, something we’ve heard a lot about. It’s not just a problem of insufficient upward mobility. Globalization is transforming more than our economic system. The decoupling of the top from everyone else is cultural and political. Noonan again:

I don’t have it fully right in my mind but something big is happening here with this division between the leaders and the led. It is very much a feature of our age. But it is odd that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.

I’ve written about this phenomenon in the American context. On the right we hear about how nearly half of Americans are “takers.” The left consistently describes Trump voters as racists, anyone who favors limitations on immigration as xenophobes, and defenders of traditional marriage as “haters.” Ronald Reagan was a politician with strong ideological convictions, but he didn’t talk that way. Nor did Bill Clinton. The hard-core right and left have always ranted, but these tacit (and sometimes explicit) denunciations of whole swaths of the American population are newcomers to mainstream political conversations.

Like Noonan, I don’t have things sorted out in my mind at this point. But my intuition is that many of the changes in culture and politics over the last generation—changes that are behind the hostility Christians are feeling—are generating significant problems for others as well, which is why we’re experiencing a rise in anti-establishment sentiment. The post-Protestant WASPs and their secular progressive ideals are deeply implicated in these problems. Should our society’s challenges become crises, it’s their rule and their ideals that will be discredited.

(R.R. Reno – paywall)

4

Barton Swaim (Boomer Pharisaism – paywall) describes

the style of Hillary Clinton. It’s not just that her writing is boring and tends toward empty word-level justifications of her own conduct, though it does. In both her logorrheic memoirs, Living History (2003) and Hard Choices (2014), she writes in the anodyne crisis mode of a government spokesman during an agency meltdown—carefully and dryly, never conceding wrongdoing and always interpreting past decisions in the best possible light. Most political spokesmen and many politicians express themselves in this way under pressure, but Clinton has adopted it as a style of communication—and, it seems, as a way of thinking.

When she discusses the scandals and debacles of her own career, she typically relays her side of the story (as is her right) and then concludes by lapsing into some truism that doesn’t make sense in context but affords an easy transition to another topic …

All the unsavory controversies with which Mrs. Clinton is popularly remembered—cattle futures, “Filegate,” Whitewater—receive the same kind of dreary and studiously positive reinterpretation.

There is a kind of baby-boomer Pharisaism in Clinton’s outlook. It’s an outlook that recognizes the existence of evil, yes, but the evil is always located in other people, never in oneself; it’s always out there somewhere—in society, in discriminatory practices, in “backward-looking policies,” in partisan climates, in “an interlocking network of groups and individuals who want to turn the clock back on many of the advances our country has made” (this last an explanation, in Living History, of her notorious reference to a “vast right-wing conspiracy” in 1998).

Clinton is the product, first, of the midcentury Protestant liberalism of her upbringing—she was raised in a solidly mainline Methodist church outside Chicago—and, second, the countercultural protests of the 1960s. These are very different cultural phenomena in many respects, but both tended to locate human wickedness in institutions, social trends, historical processes. War, consumerism, social injustice, poverty, the “military–industrial complex”: the problem was always some kind of social or political circumstance, never man himself and certainly not one’s own heart. For Clinton, an honest admission of wrongdoing isn’t something to avoid doing; it isn’t a thing at all.

5

It is part of the absurdity of American life that we decide questions of truth under the guise of settling contests of rights. Which means that we decide questions of truth without thinking deeply or even very honestly about them. Thus, while it is obvious to many that we are living through a profound cultural revolution, it is less than clear just what sort of revolution it is …

We will need new archetypes of these basic human realities. Language will have to be purged, education reformed. A concerted effort at stupefaction must be undertaken to ensure that reality does not impinge on thought. Thankfully we have modern education and global media, each rigorously committed to not thinking seriously about the nature of things. We will need new rights and a new morality, rigorous policing of the bounds of acceptable thought and speech, and new mechanisms of surveillance and enforcement for punishing transgressors of the emerging orthodoxy by legal and extra-legal means.

The most stunning thing about the rapid put-down of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation and the spotlighting of the proprietors of Memories Pizza is not the sudden shift in public opinion or the new alliance between big business and progressive politics, arguably the historical norm rather than the exception. Rather, it is the bare fact that it is now possible to amass and project such force almost instantaneously prior to and independent of any decision of the law. Who needs a Stasi when you have a neighbor armed with an iPhone and a Twitter account ready to ruin your life in real time? It is not clear that any actions of the courts or any amount of live-and-let-live tolerance would have sufficed to tame the furies once they were unleashed. The forces of this revolution, once they are set in motion, cannot easily be recalled or contained within the scope of law.

… Politics is first philosophy for us. All real questions are political, and the liberal pretense of excluding questions of ultimate meaning from public deliberation only reinforces this habit of mind. We do not look or think beyond liberal order because for us there is no beyond. There be dragons. Yet the “priority of the political” places a voluntary limit on our thinking that becomes an involuntary limit on our vision, and so we remain mostly blind to the forces deeper than politics that threaten us. Indeed, to suggest that there might be “forces of history” besides those inspired by Adam Smith that govern us more deeply than the rule of law is to incur an anathema sit and branding as a Hegelian traitor to the American tradition of thought.

In a perfectly absolute society, whose rule was indeed total, no one would ever know he was being coerced. There would simply be truths that could no longer be perceived, ideas that could no longer be thought, experiences that could no longer be had, and no one would ever know what he was missing.

No judge can protect us from a culture of intimidation that shames anyone who stands up for the reality of human nature. Moreover, the legal protection of religious freedom means little to the many Christians apparently unable to imagine why they might need their religious freedom in the first place. Our present moment calls for a deeper reflection than we are accustomed to undertaking, a reflection that is not in the first instance political.

… A society that is indifferent to truth or that reduces truth to technological possibility and pragmatic function cannot ultimately be a free society. Unable to see beyond the immanent horizons of liberal and technological order, its members will be unable to act in defiance of its necessities.

The perfection of totalitarianism consists not in the abolition of rights, but in the abolition of truth.

At a time when so many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world are dying for the faith, it seems obscene to invoke the specter of martyrdom from within the safety and prosperity of the liberal West. Yet we face an absolutism that poses an unprecedented challenge to Christian faith and witness precisely because technocratic order diffuses its power quietly, almost imperceptibly, without spectacle or responsibility, slowly bleeding its victims by ten thousand bureaucratic paper cuts rather than by the sword or lions in the Colosseum. Not the least of these challenges is the very real possibility that in a world mediated by media, this witness may be visible only to God. If a tree falls in the forest and the New York Times doesn’t hear it, does it make a sound?

(Michael Hanby, A More Perfect Absolutism – paywall) This article is complemented by Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies

* * * * *

“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.