Tuesday 1/17/17

      1. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin redux
      2. Chronicling a mid-life religious crisis
      3. Real Civil Liberties don’t get no respect
      4. Trump the Twitter-Tweetin’ Fool
      5. Is Trump the Heir of Reagan — or of LBJ?
      6. Deracinated Donald
      7. The Trump Dossier
      8. Eh? Was that a “Yes” or a “No”?


The Symposium I attended January 13 & 14 seems worth more reflection, as opposed to the regurgitation of “highlights” I provided the 14th & 15th. So here goes:

Evangelicalism became the de facto religious wing of the Republican party, which meant that Evangelicals were a tool to the Right, and an enemy to the Left — and prophetic to neither …

The overwhelming Evangelical support of Donald Trump, which was even more robust than for George Bush, or Senator McCain — any of the other recent nominees — in the name of Christian faith, is the Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin moment for American Evangelicalism, or Americanized Christianity.

I … know that we’ve arrived at a Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin moment when the movement that I was very much a part of, the Religious Right, who for generations said “character counts and we’ve got to have virtue” en masse goes to someone — in the name of Christ, in the name of religious values — they go in mass for a person who is basically the walking embodiment of the seven deadly sins.

And so you have to say “Okay, I understand: The is the eruption of the real. It never really was about character and virtue; it was about access to power. And if he’s Caligula, well that’s okay as long as he’s our Caligula.”

In the book of Daniel you have the story of Belshazzar, defiling the holy items from the temple, treating as common that which is sacred. And the text tells us “and worshiping the gods of gold and silver” — or as we say today “it’s the economy, stupid!” … and then the handwriting on the wall ….

(Brian Zahnd)

There certainly is a case that America has become all about the economy, stupid, and covetousness is idolatry.

But I think Zahnd misses (or glosses over) another vital Belshazzar analogy: Evangelicals have been “defiling the holy items … treating as common that which is sacred” by invoking the name of Jesus, and the sanctity of marriage and the family and so on, when all along — as the massive support for trump shows — “it never really was about character and virtue; it was about access to power.” This was a profounder “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” a greater profaning of holy things, than uttering a profanity when one hits one’s thumb with a hammer.

As the Religious Right leadership is ostensibly Christian, their condemnation may be even greater.

But what of the Right more generally?

The expression “conservative ideology” makes me cringe. Because ideology is politics made into a religion. And this is what has basically happened in our culture, and even some conservatives do it. I mention Sean Hannity as a typical example of this …

We don’t need to be doing that. We need to understand what our theological commitments in the public square are, but if we just make this into a political religion like the other side, we’re doing the same thing.

… The ideologues on the other side … have the same problem as Islam. Islam doesn’t have a distinction between politics and religion and government. It’s the same thing.

That’s what the liberals in this country are doing. They’re conflating the two. And that’s why they get so upset when they don’t win. Because this, to them, is ultimate. The only heaven that’s gonna happen is here …

We can’t do the same thing on the other side and be true to who we should be.

(Martin Cothran)

The corresponding “upset when they don’t win” on the Right — the eight years of Obama Derangement Syndrome I’ve watched, with crazy birther theories at the front, the willingness to “share” shameless and implausible lies, or to spread implausible rumors — suggest that much of the “conservative” movement, including Evangelicals, is as secular, as convinced that “the only heaven that’s gonna happen is here,” as any “liberal.”


I was impressed enough with Brian Zahnd’s Plenary Talk at the Symposium to buy two of his books. I’ve almost finished one, but I fear that the money on the second one may have been wasted.

Zahnd has come a long way since his mid-life religious crisis (a crisis of increasingly becoming dissatisfied with the thinness of his charismatic, prosperity gospel faith, not doubt about Christ), but in his book, he still exhibits many of the mannerisms of Evangelicalism that annoy me, and I see big flaws — notably in his ecclesiology — along with big gains.

I can recommend Water into Wine as a possible starting place if you’re a mainstream or charismatic Evangelical who’s sensing that something’s missing (as it is).

Otherwise, not so much, as his seems a kind of heroic quest for Jurassic Church, and that could still end badly.


Sen. Bob Casey has a loaded question for Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos. “Ms. DeVos must fully explain whether she supports the radical view that it should be more difficult for campus sexual-assault victims to receive justice,” said the Pennsylvania Democrat, who sits on the committee that begins confirmation hearings for Mrs. DeVos Tuesday.

Mr. Casey was apparently acting under pressure from groups, including the American Association of University Women, that support the Obama administration’s illegal reading of Title IX. The administration has construed Title IX—the federal law barring sex discrimination by federally funded schools—as a mandate to punish students and faculty accused of sexual misconduct using procedures that make it extraordinarily difficult for even an innocent person to defend himself. Campus tribunals routinely abandon many rights for the accused, such as the right to see and present evidence, be represented by a lawyer, confront one’s accuser, or even have a hearing.

(Harvey Silvergate in the Wall Street Journal)

I endorse Silvergate’s condemnation of Sen. Casey’s tendentious question. I do not accept the Obama Administration’s lowering of the burden of proof and “dear colleague” enticements to cut due process corners. To call full due process “making it more difficult for victims to receive justice” is contemptibly ignorant.


Well, this certainly ought to stir up the discussion a bit:

Donald Trump exists on two levels: the presidential level and the fool level. On one level he makes personnel and other decisions. On the other he tweets. (I honestly don’t know which level is more important to him.)

His tweets are classic fool behavior. They are raw, ridiculous and frequently self-destructive. He takes on an icon of the official culture and he throws mud at it. The point is not the message of the tweet. It’s to symbolically upend hierarchy, to be oppositional.

The assault on Representative John Lewis was classic. He picked one of the most officially admired people in the country and he leveled the most ridiculous possible charge (all talk and no action). It was a tweet devilishly well crafted to create the maximum official uproar. Anybody who writes for a living knows how to manipulate an outraged response, and Trump is a fool puppet master.

The sad part is that so many people treat Trump’s tweets as if they are arguments when in fact they are carnival. With their conniption fits, Trump’s responders feed into the dynamic he needs. They contribute to carnival culture.

The first problem with today’s carnival culture is that there’s an ocean of sadism lurking just below the surface. The second is that it’s not real. It doesn’t really address the inequalities that give rise to it. It’s just combative display.

This is a resolution I’m probably going to break, but I resolve to write about Trump only on the presidential level, not on the carnival level. I’m going to try to respond only to what he does, not what he says or tweets. I really wish some of my media confreres would do the same.

(David Brooks) If that seems abrupt or odd, mea culpa for not quoting more of what proceeded. Go to the source.


Pat Buchanan suggests that Donald Trump is the true heir of Ronald Reagan. Richard Cohen suggests that he’s the vulgar, gauche, boastful, thin-skinned, politically amoral, vengeful, unforgiving heir of LBJ, and his presidency is doomed.

I find Cohen more plausible than Buchanan.

I’ve been consistently wrong about Trump’s ability to “succeed” in the political task immediately at hand, but to start calling ’em like I don’t see ’em just because I’ve consistently seen ’em wrong seems like a formula for madness. [UPDATE: John Dean (remember him?) thinks Trump will be worse than Nixon but will survive/thrive.]

I don’t mean to forget, either, that the task at hand appears to be rearranging deck chairs. As James Howard Kunstler has put it several times, Donald Trump is the Designated Patsy for perhaps the biggest economic bubble burst since 1929 — a burst that’s inevitable, but that may be timed by the Deep State to slime the Cheeto Benito (or Orange Id — take your pick) even more than he slimes himself.


Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter. He will lead a nation that accommodated a cruel exception to its founding creed; that bled and nearly died to recover its ideals; and that was only fully redeemed by the courage and moral clarity of the very people it had oppressed. People like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. People like John Lewis.

There are a lot of debunkers at work in American society. They point out that the priest is really a balding, middle-aged man with sweat stains at his armpits. They see the judge as an old woman who has the remnants of lunch caught between her teeth. They see John Lewis as just another career politician. But the priest holds the body of Christ, the judge embodies the rule of law, and Lewis once carried the full weight of America’s promise across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Were John Lewis to call me every name in the book, I would still honor him.

Because Vladimir Putin praises him, Trump defends Putin. Because Lewis criticizes him, Trump attacks Lewis (as “talk, talk, talk — no action or results”). The only organizing principle is the degree of deference to Trump himself. It is the essence of narcissism.

A broader conception of the American story — a respect for the heroes and ghosts of our history — is absent in Trump’s public voice. He seems to be in the thrall of an eternal now ….

(Michael Gerson)

“In the thrall of an eternal now,” if true, is conclusive disproof of Trump being conservative, and it strikes me as true.

Is there any counter-evidence? Even at his “governing level“?


I was stunned to read a recent story in the British Guardian suggesting that the CIA and FBI had “taken various factors into consideration before deciding [the dossier] had credibility. They include Trump’s public comments during the campaign, when he urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.” Is there really anyone who did not hear that “urging” as a classically outrageous Trumpian joke? Yet that is here cited as major confirmation of his sinister Russian connections.

If the Russians were seeking to undermine the American political order, to discredit the U.S. presidency, and in short to destabilize the United States, then they have succeeded magnificently in their goal.

(Phillip Jenkins, Sexual Blackmail’s Long History)


We’ve prayed for relief. We ask and ask, and God sends . . . Trump? A thrice-married billionaire playboy who made his fortune in casinos and reality TV?

It’s hard to tell whether the answer is a Yes or a No …

Whether we think it’s Yes or No depends in part on what we wanted out of the election …

If we moderate our expectations and hope for nothing more than someone who will protect our right to be ourselves, a Trump presidency looks … promising.

Self-protection doesn’t seem a high-minded political agenda. Christians are other-directed, and rightly so. But that can turn into political masochism: We defend everyone but ourselves. That’s a practical problem, and also a theological mistake. Protecting Christian interests is a legitimate Christian interest.

One way to measure Trump’s presidency is: Will believers be freer to be believers under Trump than they have been for the past twenty-five years? Will Trump threaten the tax-exempt status of Christian colleges and ministries that reject same-sex marriage? Or will he challenge the fascist regime of group-think and group-speech? It’s pretty clear already: Trump may not share our convictions, but he shares our enemies. And that’s not nothing.

Given the Lord’s sardonic track record in answering prayer, we should at least entertain the possibility that Trump is a cleverly disguised Yes.

(Peter Leithart)

* * * * *

“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.