Friday 12/2/16

  1. Dag Hammarskjöld and Post-Truth
  2. Rooting for the other side in Culture War 2.0
  3. The Big Rebuke
  4. Submerged Schism
  5. Trump is indecent, not Politically Incorrect
  6. Meaningless Statistics

Secondary Things


Some year ago, an eccentric client gave me a hardback of Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings.  I probably read it too quickly, but the only specific memory that lingers is his immense respect for the power of language.

I’m not referring to the artistry and care of his writing. Of that, I really remember nothing particular. I am referring to the need for language to carry truth, not just to win over the audience with whatever cheap trick will work in the moment.

I’m like that, too. I have trouble answering “fine” when someone asks “how are you doing?” (unless I really am doing fine). I have trouble even coming up with white lies, let alone uttering them. Backslappers, hail fellows well met, and (especially) sycophants leave me unsettled. Maybe I’m on the cusp of autism spectrum disorder or something.

I’m sure this is one of the reasons I detest Donald Trump. In terms of the trope that you should have heard by now, I simply don’t know how to take him seriously without taking him literally (or at least taking his utterance as an apt figure of speech), which is impossible because he speaks in word salads. His seeming inability to make a sincere pledge, not just some wild hyperbole, dog-whistle or red meat, left me unable to even begin to decipher what he “stood for” or “stands for.”

That’s no big deal in itself, but it seems that the world is moving in Trump’s direction. The current term seems to be “post truth.” I don’t know how to deal with that other than railing at it, which seems unlikely to win friends and influence people. I may need to steer around Facebook, for instance, as I’ve just about reached my lifetime limit on Snopes.

When you can’t even speak the common language of your culture (see also item 2), it may be time to pack it in and go travel in other countries whose languages you don’t know how to speak. Just smile and regurgitate a little “wienerschitzel und ein bier, bitte,” “paella, por favor” or “paté de foi gras, s’il vous plait” or something, and you’ll get by just fine (I tell myself).

And when you come home, watch baseball again — though you may want to turn off the commentary if it sounds too much like gibberish.


Rod Dreher on Thursday posted a long “War as Culture War” blog on US/Russia relations. It’s worth reading and reflection, including following some of the links to external sources. And just because I experience confirmation bias doesn’t mean it’s not substantially accurate.

I’m going to undertake to give you some of it via quotes (including, without differentiating, Dreher’s quotes of others), which have rearranged:

[W]hen President Obama says he detects no ideological rivalry with Putin’s Russia, he undoubtedly speaks the truth as he sees it…

The bottom line is that Putin’s Russia is driven by a state-approved ideology which hates the post-modern West and considers us a permanent existential threat. President Obama’s insistence that we can’t be in a new Cold War with Russia because there’s no ideological component to the struggle is completely and utterly wrong. The Kremlin sees that spiritual-cum-ideological struggle clearly, and says so openly …

Under President Obama, the State Department really has pushed feminism and LGBT rights hard—including in Russia. Washington’s official effort to coerce small, impoverished countries like Macedonia into accepting our post-modern views of sexuality has raised Russian ire, not least because Macedonia is a majority-Orthodox country …

Meanwhile, the United States government is preparing American scholars to go abroad and undermine local traditions in the name of LGBT liberation. The United States government has contracted with George Soros to recruit culture-war janissaries to tear down traditional Orthodox culture in the Federal Republic of Macedonia. Let’s take a look at John Schindler’s 2014 post about Putin as head of the global “anti-WEIRD coalition.” …

Putin may be a sneaky, conniving man, and a dangerous enemy to have. But he’s not entirely wrong about the postmodern West …

You can’t resist Putin’s weaponized Russian Orthodoxy or the weaponized Islam of the Muslim world’s violent radicals with Justice Kennedy’s Sweet Mystery Of Life™ philosophy …

So under President Obama, we have been aggressively if obliviously waging Culture War 2.0 by trying to export in particular our libertine sexuality, which we ourselves so recently adopted that a mere eight years ago Candidate Obama had to pretend not to believe in it. We’re waging it obliviously, unaware that we’re injecting a foreign ideology, because to the Democrats of 2016 there are no two sides to this story and everyone really agrees with them deep down inside — so how can it be controversial when we help them come out and acknowledge their real feelings? (The Republicans are the same way about “Democracy” but without the sexual subversion.)

I hope that our aggression will cease under President Trump, but he is not a plausible leader of a restoration of sexual sanity, and he has never claimed to be. We will presumably stay the course internally, but unless things change, we can expect to renew our missionary work to the world’s sexually oppressed whenever a Democrat resumes control of the Executive Branch.

In Culture War 2.0, I’m more with Putin than Obama. This does not even require that I believe Putin is sincere. I only have to believe that he’s right about our aggressive sexual proselytizing, and I believe that on the testimony of “my own eyes,” so to speak, not on Russian propaganda.

I won’t be burning American flags, but I have no taste for waving them, either.

Tertiary Things


The election was certainly a rebuke—it’s far from clear if it was a decisive repudiation—of a corrupted elite, especially by non-favored demographic groups that are tired of being stepped on … The non-favored groups, to be sure, were tired of consistent attempts to put them down as every manner of bigot for even raising legitimate issues about marriage, the problems arising from permitting widespread violation of immigration laws, public restrooms being opened to people regardless of sex, and the like.

They were tired of supercilious, out-of-touch elites who never thought it necessary to even talk to them before making decisions in their name … The fallout from elite arrogance and the Clinton sleaze factor did in the Democratic nominee.

Catholics should not be concerned about possible Trump policy initiatives on trade, immigration, health care, or even on something like overturning the new federal mandate about expanded requirements for overtime pay (which has just been put on hold in the federal courts). As the great Catholic economist Heinrich Pesch, S.J., held, reasonable protectionism is acceptable. Contrary to what some Church spokesmen seem to claim, open immigration is not a moral imperative. As the social encyclical Pacem in Terris states, nations have a duty to accept immigrants but only “as far as the common good rightly understood permits” (#106). The Catechism says, “Political authorities … may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions” (#2241). While Pacem in Terris mentions the right to medical care (#11), the Church does not mandate particular public policy approaches or governmental responsibility for it. She upholds the cause of workers, but again does not anoint particular policy approaches and certainly doesn’t insist that prudence be tossed aside as with a nationalized overtime standard that does not take into account legitimate local and regional situations and may have the effect of causing workforce cutbacks.

There’s no indication at all that perhaps the greatest constitutional crisis, the decline of balance of powers in the national government, will be restored during a Trump presidency. That would involve a frontal challenge to the Supreme Court—requiring something like presidential refusal to enforce blatantly unconstitutional decisions—which is nowhere on Trump’s radar screen. Nor can we expect the branch our Founding Fathers viewed the “first among equals,” the legislative, to rise again.

In short, the elites were dealt a setback in the election. It is not so clear that this means a decisive turn for the American political order.

(Stephen M. Krason at Crisis)


More on Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, and the Dubia (which I addressed Wednesday):

My Sunday column talked a bit about the way in which varying interpretations of “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the family, have produced variations in official Catholic teaching on marriage from diocese to diocese, region to region – a “submerged schism,” to borrow a phrase from the Vatican-watcher Andrea Gagliarducci, which thanks to the astringent words of certain bishops is no longer even that submerged.

One reading of Pope Francis’s intentions is that this is roughly what he wanted – a decentralized, quasi-Anglican approach to questions where the church and the post-sexual revolution culture are in conflict, in which different parts of the Catholic world could experiment with different doctrinal pastoral approaches to confession and communion for the remarried-without-annulment.But at the same time, he and his allies have consistently – if not yet magisterially – expressed their strong preference for the more liberal side of the debate, suggesting that if they imagine a decentralization of doctrinal pastoral practice, they also imagine it being temporary, with any differences ultimately resolved in favor of a reformed approach to divorce, remarriage and the Eucharist.

And what is that approach? From the beginning of this controversy there has been a stress, from Cardinal Walter Kasper and then from others, on the idea that the reform being proposed is modest, limited, confined to a small group of remarried Catholics, and thus in no way a public sign that the church no longer believes marriages indissoluble in general …

(Ross Douthat)

Douthat then quotes Rocco Buttiglione, an ally of John Paul II and now a prominent defender of Pope Francis, who presents two fairly dense paragraphs (especially for those of us unaccustomed to Roman Catholic scholastic thinking) that truly do make it sound as if Amoris is “modest, limited, confined to a small group of remarried Catholics.”

Then he turns to “San Diego’s bishop, the Francis-appointed, beloved-of-progressives Robert McElroy, following a diocesan synod convened to discuss the implementation of “Amoris.” McElroy’s application of Amoris “is not at all a vision under which a small group of remarried Catholics in psychologically difficult situations might receive communion discreetly while they seek to sort those situations out.” It’s a position that could readily be adopted by Protestants who don’t even feign belief in the indissolubility of marriage. “This is not communion for the weak; it is communion for the stable and solid and respectable.” (Douthat)

That Bishops of the Roman Church could so deeply disagree about the scope of Amoris corroborates the need for the Pope to respond to the Dubia, which he has declined to do. “Submerged schism” seems apt.


The Guardian put out an article yesterday suggesting that political correctness is a right-wing invention. Let’s first define political correctness:

Political correctness: the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

Some people avoid expressing pro-life views for fear of being viewed as a misogynist; some people avoid labeling an incident an act of terrorism for fear of being viewed as an Islamophobe; some people avoid expressing traditional views on sexual morality for fear of being labeled a homophobe. These are but three examples reminding us that political correctness is all around us.

That said, Trump is attempting to use our aversion to “political correctness” to excuse his incivility. Not calling people “‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals’” is not being “politically correct”; it is being a decent person.

(Amir Azarvan) Azarvan was, briefly, the American Solidarity Party nominee for President, until circumstances forced him to withdraw.


Two days ago, amid the futile recall effort of Green Jill Stein, Trump tweeted: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

We would fault him for the phrase “won the popular vote,” because the aggregate national popular vote is a meaningless statistic. To say he (or Hillary Clinton) “won” it is as meaningful as saying the Denver Broncos “won the total yardage” on Sunday night, when they were losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 30-27 in overtime.

Anyhow, who cares? Trump won the election, after all, so why quibble over the “popular vote”? His tweet prompted the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a witty headline on the young-adult website Vox: “Donald Trump Is Now Questioning the Legitimacy of the Election He Won.” …

Last night we noted this Twitter exchange between Harry Siegel and Josh Greenman, respectively a columnist and the opinion editor of New York’s Daily News:

Siegel: “Not feeling good about coverage over the next four years, seeing y’all bite on every Trump tweet.”

Greenman: “You think people wrong to react when he claims millions of fraudulent votes? I don’t.”

Siegel: “I think it’s a big tactical mistake. Just words, & ones he doesn’t feel bound by. Response lets him control the conversation.”

(James Taranto, Trump Tweets the Darndest Things)

* * * * *

“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.

2 thoughts on “Friday 12/2/16

    1. Thanks for the lead to Lakoff. I’d heard the strict father/nurturing father idea before, but didn’t identify it with anyone in particular. I credit Jonathan Haidt’s approach to conservatives versus liberals more, and I see a lot of what Lakoff says as a sort of “just so story.”
      But giving Lakoff full credit, I don’t think “word salad” is necessarily inconsistent with Lakoff’s view of “careful choosing.” I flirted with idea that Trump was dementing, which could explain word salad, but it never became a conviction. Rather, when I refer to “word salad,” I’m referring to the loops and sworls and solecisms and the unintelligibility to anyone like me, whatever “like me” means.
      Obviously, Trump’s manner of speaking was somehow effective with a requisite number of voters. Instead of “carefully chosen,” though, I think of whatever the heck Trump’s doing with language more as “instinctive persuasion, born of decades of mastering the art of the sleazy deal.”

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