Monday 2/6/17

  1. Who Are We? What Are We For?
  2. How to protest better
  3. Annihilating truth
  4. WA AG prevaricates
  5. Gannett Journalism #Fail

1

Take a deep breath and set aside distractions:

I think the West is decadent, and have been saying so for a long time. This makes me a Putinist how? …

If Vladimir Putin sees things the same way, well, good for Vladimir Putin. So does Ryszard Legutko, and as a Polish patriot, he is no fan of Vladimir Putin’s. The late Fidel Castro believed that the state should have a strong role in alleviating social inequality. So do many Democrats. That does not make them Castroites, does it?

I also oppose the West pushing its values on more traditional societies, spreading to them the same values that mark our own decline. Vladimir Putin appears to oppose this too. Am I supposed to change my mind because the president of Russia shares that view? Like Bannon says, we can be clear-eyed about where Putin goes wrong without ignoring or downplaying what he gets right.

But what about we who don’t believe that God ordained the United States to spread democracy and prosperity throughout the world? What has the spread of democracy in Iraq, for example, accomplished by American arms, done to better the lot of that country’s people? …

What if liberal democracy is not the solution to our problems, but the cause of at least some of them? In other words, what if the decadence we’re now living through isn’t because we have betrayed liberal democracy, but because liberal democracy is working? And if so, then what?

We have to be extremely careful not to make an idol of America. I worry that “national greatness” conservatism does this, though what it really idolizes is liberal democracy and capitalism, of which the US is history’s avatar. Trumpism, it appears, denies the universality of that faith, and its global evangelical mission. Yet one reason I am skeptical and pessimistic about Trumpism is that his kind of nationalism seems to make a different kind of idol out of the nation, treating America as an end in itself, beholden to no higher standards than its own self-interest. This is also idolatry.

This is a difficult and confusing moment in our history. As a nation, and as a civilization, we don’t know who we are or what we are meant to be doing. We have lost the narrative. What happens when you don’t trust the old myth, but there is nothing new and persuasive to take its place? To put it more pointedly, what do you do when the ancien régime has been discredited, but the one aspiring to take its place does not inspire confidence or loyalty? This is where I find myself these days …

Who are we? What are we for? These are vital questions. These are the questions of our time. Ultimately, they are religious questions, and they will have religious answers, even if the people answering them have no religion at all. I believe it was Russell Kirk who said that all political questions are ultimately religious questions, because they have to do with the nature of man and the belief in transcendent order.

(Rod Dreher) If you like these excerpts, read Rod’s whole column which has much more, including a most arresting illustration.

These sorts questions about our national myth are among those I’ve been mulling over for a couple of decades now. “What’s the glue that holds us together?” Long before I began blogging, I shared the question and my tentative answer over lunch with a well-meaning, wrong-headed county commissioner (wonder what became of her? She’s completely off the radar); she seemed to get the question but to be satisfied with the David Brooks version of the American Myth (my characterization may be a little anachronistic).

Once it seemed to me that the answer, at least for purposes of “water cooler talk,” was “network TV and public schools.” But then came hundreds of channels on TV, millions of channel equivalents on the internet, and the rise of charter and increasing numbers of private schools.

“So,” I thought, “it must be Mel Simon’s shopping malls.” But now they’re struggling to survive, while older shopping centers have become de facto blight: the big department store that merged into Macy’s and moved to the Simon Mall was recently a heap of “antique” dealers sharing space, and now that the “Antique Mall” failed, it is self-storage!

Trump and Bannon (I hate to keep pairing them, but Bannon does at the moment seem a key ideological player) may be trying to provide an answer. In 2014, before he had hitched his wagon to Trump, Bannon gave a rather long talk, followed by Q&A, to a predominately Roman Catholic group. It seems to be his heartfelt position, not political posturing. Judge it for yourself, but I find it mildly reassuring.

If such questions are at heart religious as Kirk thought, and if explicitly religious answers are ruled out of bounds, then we’ll get, I fear, half-assed civil religion answer wiped clean of fingerprints or, likelier, just brazenly denial that they are in any way religious at all (brazen denial being perk that Establishments uniquely get away with).

UPDATE: Rod Dreher tells of a boy in Texas who reported on his hero, Santa Anna, and then this:

I think it is possible … for a white Southerner to look upon the history of Southern whites in the 19th century and be proud of their virtues, while at the same time deploring the vice of slavery. I think it’s possible to look also to the Civil Rights marchers as men and women of virtue who are also Southerners, and who played a laudable role in the tragic history of white Southerners. But this is hard to do, and I don’t think most people can pull it off. Irony and tragedy make history complicated. Who we think we are today depends on who we think we were yesterday. Most people, being people, want the story to be neat and clean, when history rarely is that.

One general rule is for certain: we will never get anywhere good if Progress requires a certain group of people to hate their fathers. To be appropriately critical is one thing, but to hate them is quite another.

2

Of the Berkeley protests of provocateur Milo Wassisname — that provided cover for “black bloc” anarchists:

Does this protest paint an accurate, compelling picture of the world we’re trying to achieve?

A protest isn’t only a way to gauge the strength of feeling or strength of numbers on a side; it is also a way of judging character. A person on the other side, or who hasn’t made up his or her mind on an issue, observes a protest and asks: “If they win, what would it be like to live in a community in which their side is ascendant?”

Activists often face constraints that limit how much of a positive vision they can present through protest …

When protestors mobilize in response to an urgent need, with a specific way to help, their options for expression will be limited, because the best course of action is clear. The lawyers who rushed to airports last week to set up impromptu legal clinics for travelers threatened by Trump’s executive order had an enviably clear course of action.

It’s trickier when you want to protest a law or an idea that you abhor, but have no obvious means of making the law’s injustice visible—whether by breaking it and suffering the consequences, or by tending to the people harmed by the ideology. At protests like the one in Berkeley, or events like the Women’s March, the March for Life, and the several other pending marches on D.C., the protest’s form isn’t constrained by the target of the protest. Organizers face the challenge of finding a way to present a positive vision of what they’re fighting for, not just what they’re fighting against.

So, why stick to signs and chants outside the venue where an offensive speaker is scheduled to appear? Why not host an alternate event and speaker, or a prayer vigil—or, for that matter, an ideological speed-dating event, where participants can ask someone they disagree with a question they’re genuinely curious about? …

(Leah Libresco Sargeant)

3

Mr. Trump understands that attacking the media is the reddest of meat for his base, which has been conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem.

For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right’s immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.

The news media’s spectacular failure to get the election right has made it only easier for many conservatives to ignore anything that happens outside the right’s bubble and for the Trump White House to fabricate facts with little fear of alienating its base.

Unfortunately, that also means that the more the fact-based media tries to debunk the president’s falsehoods, the further it will entrench the battle lines.

All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself.

The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov drew upon long familiarity with that process when he tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Mr. Kasparov grasps that the real threat is not merely that a large number of Americans have become accustomed to rejecting factual information, or even that they have become habituated to believing hoaxes. The real danger is that, inundated with “alternative facts,” many voters will simply shrug, asking, “What is truth?” — and not wait for an answer.

In that world, the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth; a familiar phenomenon in an authoritarian state, but a radical departure from the norms of a democratic society. The battle over truth is now central to our politics.

(Charles Sykes) Maybe I sensed something brewing, but I created for this blog a category of “9th Commandent Watch” several years ago, as a subcategory under politics (in the WordPress user interface) because I noticed so much blatant lying and casual spreading of dubious rumors.

4

I watched with some annoyance as Washington’s Attorney general explained spun why it had gotten a Temporary Restraining Order against Trump’s immigration Executive Order. I was annoyed because I had read the TRO and knew that either I had missed something or he was making stuff up.

I hadn’t missed anything:

As widely reported, a Washington federal district court yesterday issued a nation-wide temporary restraining order against key portions of President Trump’s Executive Order that temporarily banned entry of individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries and restricted entry of refugees, particularly those from Syria. (See prior posting.) The temporary restraining order (full text) in State of Washington v. Trump, (WD WA, Feb. 3, 2017), does not set out which of plaintiffs’ arguments were persuasive to the court.  Those arguments, as set out in the complaint (full text), include establishment clause, due process and equal protection claims as well as statutory claims. Washington’s Attorney General has provided links to all documents in the case. The court has posted a video of the full oral arguments and judge’s ruling in the case.  Americans United filed an amicus brief (full text) with the district court setting out at length the Establishment Clause arguments.

(Religion Clause blog, emphasis added) The Washington AG’s confabulations about why he won also seem to fit my “9th Commandent Watch” category.

5

Senate Bill 404, authored by Sens. Eric Houchin, Travis Holdman and Jeff Raatz, would impose restrictions on minors seeking abortions … [T]he bill would make it a criminal offense for a physician or a religious leader to counsel a minor on whether or not to have an abortion.

(Fatima Hussein, Indianapolis Star, in the Journal & Courier) I was outraged at the blatant unconstitutionality of this provision, but before lighting into Sens. Eric Houchin, Travis Holdman and Jeff Raatz, I decided to read the bill.

I’m pleased with the Senators to report that I see no basis for this characterization. It doesn’t appear in the digest of the Bill nor does it appear anywhere in the parts of the Indiana Code that the bill proposes to add.

I’m baffled, though, that the reporter blew it so badly.

* * * * *

“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.