- Reality check
- Angry at the politics of anger
- A slap and a girlfriend
- Both parties blown up
- America’s “conservatism”
- Becoming what you condemn
Reflection one week into the Church’s Nativity Fast:
I have seen farmers who were casting the same seed on the earth, yet each had his own special purpose. One was thinking of paying his debts; another wanted to get rich; another wished to honor the Lord with his gifts; another’s aim was to get praise or his good work from the passers-by on the way of life; another desired to annoy his neighbor who was envious of him; and another did not want to be reproached by people for idleness. Here are the names of those seeds cast to the earth by the farmers: fasting, vigil, alms, services and the like. Let our brethren in the Lord carefully test their intentions.
(St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26, ¶57.)
I’m no longer a fan of Michael Gerson (I thought he was a pretty good speechwriter and enjoyed some early columns), though I suspect that I’ve changed more than he has. But this column is an exception. The opening:
Among the disappointments of the 2016 election, the close identification of many Christian evangelicals with a right-wing populism has been the most personally difficult. On Election Day, it was disturbing to see so many of my tribe in Donald Trump’s war paint.
The most enthusiastic Trump evangelicals have taken the excesses of the Religious Right in the 1980s not as a warning but as a playbook … They employed apocalyptic rhetoric as a get-out-the-vote technique. And they hitched the reputation of their religious tradition to a skittish horse near a precipice.
It is part of my job to have strong opinions on public matters. But lately I have been conscious of a certain, unwelcome symmetry. When it comes to Trump evangelicals, I have found myself angry at how they have endorsed the politics of anger; bitter about the bitter political spirit they have encouraged; feeling a bit hypocritical in my zeal to point out their hypocrisy. A dark mood has led to anxiousness and harshness.
This is the mortal risk of politics: to become what you condemn ….
(Hyperlink added) Then he reminds himself, and us, of some ecumenical truths about the importance — and the relative insignificance — of politics.
Though some of the alt-right’s figureheads are demonstrable bigots, the bulk of this Twitter-based non-movement appears to be basement-bound idiots who think sending black actresses racist memes is funny. Though the alt-right is a hideous development – whose ugly pranks should be condemned, not apologised for – it is predominantly made up of teenagers in need of little more than a slap and a girlfriend.
The post-election pearl-clutching about the rise of a populist American racism, the idea that Bannon will steer the Trump administration towards segregation and pogroms, is not only deranged – it’s dangerous. In an attempt to smear an administration they simply don’t like, liberal critics are fomenting anxiety, and emboldening genuine bigots, by suggesting America is on the precipice of all-out race war. What’s more, gleefully throwing around terms like ‘white nationalism’ and ‘white supremacy’ strips them of their meaning. The response to Bannon’s appointment shows how aloof the cultural elite is. These people are so perplexed as to why anyone would chose the brash, anti-establishment Trump over the patrician, technocratic Hillary that they resort to name-calling and peddling panic. But this comes at cost: it needlessly ratchets up fear and blinds them to what the rise of Trump really means.
(Tom Slater, No, Steve Bannon is Not a White Supremacist, Spiked) The Left stripping terms of their meaning?! Imagine that! Unprecedented (since every Republican Presidential candidate in memory)!
For all practical purposes, both traditional parties have blown themselves up. The Democratic Party morphed from the party of thinking people to the party of the thought police, and for that alone they deserve to be flushed down the soil pipe of history where the feckless Whigs went before them. The Republicans have floundered in their own Special Olympics of the Mind for decades, too, so it’s understandable that they have fallen hostage to such a rank outsider as Trump, so cavalier with the party’s dumb-ass shibboleths. It remains to be seen whether the party becomes a vengeful, hybrid monster with an orange head, or a bridge back to reality. I give the latter outcome a low percentage chance.
Trump is a politician of the nationalist Right, but he is not a conservative in any philosophical or cultural sense. Had the vote gone only a bit differently in some states, today we would be talking about the political demise of American conservatism. Instead, the Republican Party is going to be stronger in government than it has been in a very long time — but the party has been shaken to its core by Trump’s destruction of its establishment. Is it credible to say that Trump destroyed conservatism — or is it more accurate to say that the Republican Party, through its own follies, destroyed conservatism as we have known it, and opened the door for the nationalist Trump?
Conservatism has always been problematic in America, where the word itself has acquired more meanings, some of them quite bizarre, than in Europe. A quite common habit, to give an example, of mentioning libertarianism and conservatism in one breath, thereby suggesting that they are somehow essentially related, is proof enough that a conservative agenda is difficult for the Americans to swallow. If I am not mistaken, the Republican Party has long relinquished, with very few exceptions, any closer link with conservatism. If conservatism, whatever the precise definition, has something to do with a continuity of culture, Christian and Classical roots of this culture, classical metaphysics and anthropology, beauty and virtue, a sense of decorum, liberal education, family, republican paideia, and other related notions, these are not the elements that constitute an integral part of an ideal type of an Republican identity in today’s America. Whether it has been different before, I am not competent to judge, but certainly there was a time when the intellectual institutions somehow linked to the Republican Party debated these issues. The new generations of the neocons gave up on big ideas while the theocons, old or new, never managed to have a noticeable impact on the Republican mainstream.
Speaking of “becoming what you condemn“:
If you want to get a good picture of what a herd of independent minds looks like, just plug “Trump lashes out” or “Trump lashing out” into Google News.
Not to mention the other great switcheroo of 2016: on political violence and acceptance of the election results.
Throughout the campaign, America was routinely warned that Mr. Trump was the second coming of Hitler. So how is it that since the election the actual brownshirts—folks who go around beating up others for their views—so often turn out to be targeting Trump supporters? Or that thousands of protesters are today marching around with signs proclaiming their refusal to acknowledge Mr. Trump as the legitimately elected president?
I was #NeverTrump (and #NeverHillary, though that wasn’t put to the ultimate test by living in an “up for grabs” state). I was astounded at his election. I accept the legitimacy of his election. I deplore violence against Trump supporters and am cynical about lesser discriminations against them. I deplore the white-supremacist few who applaud his election.
And I’m as uninterested in the new Glenn Beck as in the old.
Finally, I am unpersuaded both by those who say “calm down, America; everything’s going to be just fine” and by those who think mobocracy reversing a lamentable election is better than “President Donald Trump.”
He’s out there, lurking, his fingers poised on the buttons. At any moment, he may strike. News, inevitably, will follow.
As he illustrated with tweets about the musical “Hamilton” over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump knows how to change the subject — and the entire news cycle. Just as questions were mounting about Trump’s appointments, his business conflicts, his $25 million fraud-case settlement — bam! — Trump had everyone talking about something else.
In this case, a Broadway show.
Whether inadvertent or part of a calculated media strategy (there’s evidence going both ways), Trump has proved he’s very, very good at hijacking the national conversation. All politicians want to talk about their issues, but Trump is a cruise missile when it comes to butting in. He’s the Distractor in Chief.
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“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)