Saturday 2/4/17

  1. Confusing aggression with boldness
  2. How to Thwart an Autocracy
  3. The Battle of American Myths
  4. Human rights, individual autonomy
  5. Brilliant, salty, visionary, driven
  6. Not rocket science
  7. 2 things the hijab and burqa say
  8. Get a life, Luke!


The president and his advisers are confusing boldness with aggression. They mean to make breakthroughs and instead cause breakdowns. The overcharged circuits are leaving them singed, too. People don’t respect you when you create chaos. Prudence is not weakness, and carefulness is a virtue, not a vice.

The handling of the [immigration] order further legitimized the desire of many congressional Republicans to distance themselves from the president, something they feel they’ll eventually have to do anyway because they know how to evaluate political horse flesh, and when they look at him they see Chief Crazy Horse.

(Peggy Noonan, Nothing in Trump’s Washington Seems Stable)

This Trumpish behavior was not, strictly speaking, inevitable, but it seemed to me through the whole election season that a common theme among Trump supporters was a radical willingness to break things, so it was virtually inevitable.

A conservative impulse, in contrast, recognizes that “How could things possibly get worse?” is best answered by “At the hands of people who think ‘it can’t get any worse’ smashing the system.”

And for what it’s worth, I don’t think there are “many” Congressional Republicans distancing themselves even if, deep down inside where some little part of them hasn’t been bought, they’d like to do so.


Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.

(Conclusion of David Frum’s How to Build an Autocracy in the Atlantic)

Besides, they say, Donald Trump the candidate or Donald Trump the showman is different from the sane man who will actually govern.

Nearly two weeks into the Trump presidency, we now know they are wrong. The unprecedented beginning for the administration included purposefully picked battles with the intelligence community, immigrants, and foreign allies; illegal executive orders; elevation of political advisers over military and foreign policy experts; gaslighting and lies; and a general chaotic and bumbling approach to executive organization. This presidency is everything we feared and it will only get much worse.

The focus now turns to our Republican friends who are the only ones with any real power to do something about it: What will you do as it inevitably gets worse and Trump pushes the boundary of what is right or constitutional? Where is your red line that cannot be crossed? Your answer to those questions will color not only your own legacy and the party’s, but also the country’s.

Conservatives will understandably cheer Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, but it may cause some to momentarily overlook and forget Trump’s dangerous and destructive approach to the law. Trump’s entire career, as well as his campaign, show him to be someone who knows little and cares less about the U.S. Constitution as a constraint on what government can do; an open, repeated, boastful abuser of legal process against the weak and those who have crossed him; an explicit advocate of the use of regulation and prosecution for political score-settling; someone with open contempt for the ideals of impartiality, the ethical use of legal process, and the rule of law as something that must restrain the powerful as well as the common. He did not flinch at the idea of giving unlawful orders to the military and expecting them to be obeyed.

(Joshua Claybourn: Republicans face a great fork in the road, in Howey Indiana Politics. H/T Doug Masson)

As long as Trump continues to enjoy implausibly high popularity numbers among people who are willing to bluster, troll, shamelessly deny or invent facts and threaten opponents, the cost of bucking him, I predict, will be too high for more than a handful of courageous Republicans to pay.

So what will embolden unprincipled and cowardly Republicans to oppose him? Lowered popularity is all, it seems to me.

And what will lower his popularity? To that, I really don’t know the answer, but I’ve got a hypothesis:

  1. The only people who can afford to oppose Trump right now are those who owe him nothing — not even the loan of some coattails in the stunning November election.
  2. Point 1 rules out most Republican politicians.
  3. Point 1 leaves the hundred million or so non-politicians who aren’t in the tank for Trump.
  4. When some of those hundred million or so demonstrate against Trump, his supporters chortle and say “Keep it up, jerk-heads! That’s what made Trump popular in the first place!” But I think I hear a little tremor in the voice as they say that, and it’s never a good idea to take concern-trolling advice from people who do not wish you well. Think of Brer Rabbit’s fake fear of the briar patch.
  5. Thus I suspect that peaceful, public resistance (in the streets if necessary or timely) and in blogs, letters to the editor and social media (polite, factual, resolute — I think of the current kerfuffle over Kellyanne Conway’s confabulation about a nonexistent Bowling Green Massacre) will eventually prick the consciences of Trump supporters, and they’ll drop off one by one, muttering “That’s the last straw! I’m tired of making an ass of myself supporting this buffoon!” as they go.

Just a hypothesis, I say.

I don’t like disorder; I’m a geezer, after all. But if a little disorder and even civil disobedience is what it takes to drive Trump from office (I’m convinced he will never be able to cease his narcissistic prickliness and love of limelight while in office), through impeachment if necessary, I’ll pull on my big boy pants and take it — I think.

But doesn’t that put me in the camp of “smash the system; how could it get worse”? I don’t think so, because decreasing Trump’s popularity at least partially defuses the grass roots bomb that would go off if, for instance, there were some sort of coup right now.


At the New York Times, David Brooks (A Return to National Greatness) contrasts the historic American myth with the new Steve Bannon/Donald Trump dark, sinister and “Russian” myth.

There’s more than an element of truth to his observations, but despite the revulsion he evokes at the Bannon/Trump counter-myth, look at his description of the historic one:

America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.

This historical story was America’s true myth. When we are children, and also when we are adults, we learn our deepest truths through myth.

Myths don’t make a point or propose an argument. They inhabit us deeply and explain to us who we are. They capture how our own lives are connected to the universal sacred realities. In myth, the physical stuff in front of us is also a manifestation of something eternal, and our lives are seen in the context of some illimitable horizon.

That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan. It was wrestled with by John Winthrop and Walt Whitman. It gave America a mission in the world — to spread democracy and freedom. It gave us an attitude of welcome and graciousness, to embrace the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and to give them the scope by which to realize their powers.

I couldn’t help thinking that this myth comes right out of the Protestant Deformation, and has produced, as its missionaries, troops, bombers and drones to advance its “way of life” and “democratic model.” (How willingly we allow ourselves to be deluded about such things!)

I reject both myths as I rejected both major party candidates. If we must have a national myth, back to the drawing board, I say.


The largest changes of our time — with massive legal consequences — have been in the realm of moral ideas. Legal liberals quote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy more like scripture than precedent: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

The liberalism of Eleanor Roosevelt — a commitment to universal human rights — has largely been replaced by Kennedy’s elevation of personal autonomy. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights(which Roosevelt helped shape) honored “the inherent dignity and . . . the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” In the aftermath of World War II, her emphasis was on defending the vulnerable. Kennedy’s version of liberty is the right of competent adults — by definition, the strongest members of the “human family” — to define and pursue their own universal mystery.

Is there really no legal consequence in choosing between these two liberal visions of the good? Gorsuch’s fine book is a sustained explanation of how and why our most basic conceptions of liberty matter so much. A legal theory that elevates personal choice, even in matters of life and death, is claiming a great deal — even more than many of its advocates wish to admit. If a suffering cancer patient can rightfully ask a doctor to end his or her life, why not a depressed 21-year-old? Or a widow in despair? If autonomy is the rule, there can be no limit, save individual will.

On the other hand, if only the hopelessly ill are allowed to receive a doctor’s help in killing themselves, a utilitarian social message is unavoidably sent. The general right to life, in this view, is overridden only in cases where people become burdens on themselves and others. How does this not become a social message to the ill and infirm they have a duty to depart? This role also transforms medical providers — making them the means by which a society disposes of life no longer worth living.

(Michael Gerson) This is a well-articulated version of what I’ve known for nearly 30 years now, when a seminar on Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Next Frontier sounded to many like hysterical exaggeration.

Yesterday’s unthinkable bodes to become today’s axiom because “Autonomy!” (How willingly we allow ourselves to be deluded about such things! Is there an echo in here?)


I frankly don’t know enough about Steve Bannon to endorse or repudiate what follows, but I’ve had trouble thinking that anyone could be as bad as the press is making him out to be without ending up behind bars. And here’s at least some corroboration:

Here is the Bannon I know. He is brilliant, salty, visionary, and driven. Did I say salty? Very salty. He can be loud and some say bullying but he’s just a tough boss, something even young snowflakes on the right aren’t used to.

Bannon never sleeps. Over almost three years I wrote several hundred stories for Bannon and Breitbart. I might be trading emails with Bannon at midnight, go to bed, and at 6 a.m. see he was still emailing me at 3 a.m. He and Trump are similar that way. I suspect they email each other all night long.

He is broadly and deeply read. I took Robert Reilly on the Breitbart News radio program on Sirius Satellite Radio one morning to talk about his then new book Making Gay Okay: How Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything. We sat down in the studio, went live, and quite unexpectedly Bannon launched into a half hour debate about a Theban general named Epaminondas, whom Cicero called “the first man of Greece” and who had two or three male lovers, one of whom he was buried with. Bannon knew everything about this man and about the political and military issues of those days. Reilly gave as good as he got. I could only sit and watch. Walking away, Reilly said, “That was amazing.” You get the feeling Bannon can do this on almost any topic.

I wish I could say that came from a candid progressive, but it really came from Austin Ruse at Crisis.


Secular progressives and religious conservatives of various ilks (Christians, but also Jews, Muslims, and Hindus) have different views about sexuality. Secular progressives — or so many religious conservatives fear — are not simply content with having their views of sexuality respected by the common law; often, they also want to use the power of the law to force religious organizations to comply with those views.

This is not an idle concern, and it causes rifts in American culture and institutions all the time. Several years ago, Catholic adoption agencies in Massachusetts had to shut down because the government of Massachusetts insisted they place children with same-sex couples. More recently, a group of nuns called The Little Sisters of the Poor, who looked after the poor and sick, sued the Obama administration over its “contraceptive mandate,” which required the group to provide contraceptive services to their employees. The nuns felt this violated their religious conscience.

The position of religious conservatives is almost tautological in its simplicity. In any mission-driven organization, employees need to be on board with the mission itself, and the organization has a right to remove employees and associates who disagree with the mission. If I was on the board of Greenpeace, for example, and I believed and proclaimed that global warming is a hoax and that oil companies should turn baby pandas into fuel, I would be asked to resign, and that would be right. This is a concept that progressives understand in any context, except those that have to do with religion and/or sexuality. Witness the plaudits for fashion houses that refused to dress Melania Trump for her husband’s Inauguration, or for preachers who opposed Trump on religious grounds.

(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry)


I think I’ve quoted this before, but I encountered it again and I love it:

The hijab and the burqa say two important things in a morally confused culture: “I’m not sexually available;” and “I belong to a community different and separate from you and your obsessions.”

(Attributed to Abp. Charles Chaput)

This subversive message presumably is why France wants to ban the burquini if not the burqa.

How can believing Christians say these same things, which should be true of us and important to say?


Luke O’Neil needs to Get a Life:

If there’s one thing that can reliably be said about the purposefully enigmatic — or boorishly obtuse, depending on your rooting interests — New England Patriots quarterback, set to compete in his record seventh Super Bowl this weekend, it’s that he really, really does not want to talk about Trump.

“If people want to take sides, you know, they can obviously do that,” he said this week. “It’s everyone’s right. They have a right to do that. And I have a right to stay out of it, too.”

But when it comes to Trump, no one can be apolitical. Brady’s nonchalant neutrality is itself a political statement, one that says he’s either too rich to worry about how Trump’s whirlwind of chaos will affect his life, or worse, too indifferent about the rapidly diminishing prospects of those who are not. This isn’t easy to say about someone I’ve idolized as an emblem of determination and athletic heroism for more than 15 years, but here in the reliably blue precincts of New England, Brady is already assuming a strange new role in the eyes of many fans: Tom Brady looks like a loser. Tom Brady looks like a coward.

(Emphasis added) This, I guess, is how we get self-important stars and starlots shooting off their mouths about politics and people hanging on every word as if it were something other than an embarrassing public attack of logorrhea.

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.