Sunday 11/27/16

  1. Divine ascent
  2. Appalachian Trump Voters
  3. Better than Federalism
  4. Self-Identified Christians

First Things


As a snake cannot strip itself of its old skin unless it crawls into a tight hole, neither can we shed our old predispositions, our oldness of soul and the garment of the old man unless we go by the strait and narrow way of fasting and dishonor.

As galloping horses race one another, so a good community excites mutual fervor.

Many have soon obtained forgiveness, but no one has obtained dispassion quickly; this needs considerable time, and love, and longing, and God.

(St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Chapter 26 Summary excerpts)

Tertiary Things


John Michael Greer, who blogs from “a down-at-the-heels mill town in the north central Appalachians,” channels for our education “the things I heard Trump voters talking about in the months and weeks leading up to the election.”

Although I fear that Donald Trump could arrogantly stumble us into the ultimate in war, a nuclear exchange, I was pretty confident that Hillary Clinton would keep is in innumerable little wars of choice. So, apparently, did the good Scots-Irish folk around Greer:

The Risk of War. This was the most common point at issue, especially among women—nearly all the women I know who voted for Trump, in fact, cited it as either the decisive reason for their vote or one of the top two or three. They listened to Hillary Clinton talk about imposing a no-fly zone over Syria in the face of a heavily armed and determined Russian military presence, and looked at the reckless enthusiasm for overthrowing governments she’d displayed during her time as Secretary of State. They compared this to Donald Trump’s advocacy of a less confrontational relationship with Russia, and they decided that Trump was less likely to get the United States into a shooting war.

War isn’t an abstraction here in flyover country. Joining the military is very nearly the only option young people here have if they want a decent income, job training, and the prospect of a college education, and so most families have at least one relative or close friend on active duty.  People here respect the military, but the last two decades of wars of choice in the Middle East have done a remarkably good job of curing middle America of any fondness for military adventurism it might have had.  While affluent feminists swooned over the prospect of a woman taking on another traditionally masculine role, and didn’t seem to care in the least that the role in question was “warmonger,” a great many people in flyover country weighed the other issues against the prospect of having a family member come home in a body bag. Since the Clinton campaign did precisely nothing to reassure them on this point, they voted for Trump.

That I find this both persuasive and heartening is, of course, a sign of confirmation bias, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Other topics on the minds of Greer’s neighbors:

  1. The Obamacare Disaster. This was nearly as influential as Clinton’s reckless militarism. Most of the people I know who voted for Trump make too much money to qualify for a significant federal subsidy, and too little to be able to cover the endlessly rising cost of insurance under the absurdly misnamed “Affordable Care Act.” …
  1. Bringing Back Jobs. This is the most difficult one for a lot of people on the Left to grasp, but that’s a measure of the gap between the bicoastal enclaves where the Left’s policies are formed and the hard realities of flyover country. Globalization and open borders sound great when you don’t have to grapple with the economic consequences of shipping tens of millions of manufacturing jobs overseas, on the one hand, and federal policies that flood the labor market with illegal immigrants to drive down wages, on the other. Those two policies, backed by both parties and surrounded by a smokescreen of empty rhetoric about new jobs that somehow never managed to show up, brought about the economic collapse of rural and small town America, driving a vast number of Americans into destitution and misery …
  1. Punishing the Democratic Party. This one is a bit of an outlier, because the people I know who cast votes for Trump for this reason mostly represented a different demographic from the norm out here: young, politically liberal, and incensed by the way that the Democratic National Committee rigged the nomination process to favor Clinton and shut out Bernie Sanders. They believed that if the campaign for the Democratic nomination had been conducted fairly, Sanders would have been the nominee, and they also believe that Sanders would have stomped Trump in the general election. For what it’s worth, I think they’re right on both counts ….

Greer is an excellent blogger of the “let’s look at this kind of deeply” style (as opposed to my usual ADD aggregator style). There’s a lot of good stuff in When the Shouting Stops I haven’t touched. The first few comments are pretty sharp, too.


My more historically literate readers will be aware that the United States used to have a federal system—that is, after all, why we still speak of “the federal government.” Under the Constitution as originally written and interpreted, the people of each state had the right to run their own affairs pretty much as they saw fit, within certain very broad limits.  The federal government was assigned certain narrowly defined powers, and all other powers were, in the language of the Tenth Amendment, reserved to the states and the people.

Over the first century and a half of our national history, certain other powers were assigned to the federal government by constitutional amendment, sometimes with good results—the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws to all citizens, for example, and the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments’ extension of voting rights to black people and women respectively—and sometimes not—the Eighteenth Amendment’s prohibition of alcohol comes to mind here. The basic federal structure remained intact. Not until the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Second World War did the metastatic growth of the federal government begin in earnest, and so in due time did the various attempts to impose this or that set of moral values on the entire country by force of law.

Those attempts have not worked, and they’re not going to work …

It’s time to consider, I suggest, a renewal of the traditions of American federalism: a systematic devolution of power from the overinflated federal government to the states, and from the states to the people. It’s time for people in Massachusetts to accept that they’re never going to be able to force people in Oklahoma to conform to their notions of moral goodness, and for the people of Oklahoma to accept the same thing about the people of Massachusetts; furthermore, it’s time for government at all levels to give up trying to impose cultural uniformity on the lively diversity of our republic’s many nations, and settle for their proper role of ensuring equal protection under the laws, and those other benefits that governments, by their nature, are best suited to provide for their citizens.

(John Michael Greer, Reflections on a Democracy in Crisis) This is okay, and very American, so far as it goes, but better even the federalism is subsidiarity, where even the states give churches, private schools, bowling leagues, charities, and sundry little platoons the room to breathe.


In Stetzer’s scheme, those who identify as “Christian” are 75 percent of Americans and fall into three categories of roughly equal size:

* One-third are “cultural Christians” who identify that way “simply because the culture tells them they are” on the basis of heritage or family or membership in a social grouping.

* Another third are “congregational Christians” who have some sort of connection to a local church where they were raised or perhaps married and might or might not visit occasionally but do not really practice the faith.

* The final third are “convictional Christians” who are “actually living according to their faith” and center their existence upon Jesus. (A story idea that’s probably related: LifeWay’s pre-election poll showed “evangelicals” defined on the basis of belief favored a Trump presidency by only 45 percent vs. 31 percent for Clinton and 23 percent others or undecided, versus the 81 percent of “evangelicals” in the standard exit poll.)

(Richard Ostling, Concerning the state of the American church, once again: Is the glass half-full or what?)

Take a look at that “final third” discussion. I spend roughly the first 3 decades of my life as a “convictional Christian” Evangelical.

I didn’t know any other kind of Evangelical (other than some rebellious Evangelical kids.) I need to remember that these days — maybe back, then, too — there are a lot of “Evangelicals” out there who in my youth I would have called “nominal Christians.” They skew the “81 percent” figure, but though they were less likely to support Trump, I can guarantee you that I know “convictional Christian” Evangelical who declared their enthusiastic support of Trump, more or less convincingly.

* * * * *

“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.