Monday 2/20/17

  1. Enemies of Enemies
  2. Legal Refresher Course
  3. A rose by another name
  4. A million lies is a statistic

1

I quoted the observation last week that conservatism isn’t just opposition to liberalism. I quoted it because it seemed to distill and clarify a lot of my ill-ease about our divided nation.

The conservatives I’ve respected over the last decade or more have almost unanimously been, at most, very cool toward Donald Trump, whose supporters in turn have appeared to be something much different that what I recognize as conservative.

The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Trump’s February 18 Orlando-area rally corroborates the tribalism of his most vocal and enthusiastic supporters:

The president, who spoke for 45 minutes from a podium flanked with teleprompters, tried to sound a more unifying tone at the end of his speech.

“Let us move past the differences of party and find a new love rooted deeply in our country,” Mr. Trump said.

It fell flat with the crowd.

(Donald Trump Ramps Up Media Attacks at Raucous Florida Rally — emphasis added) From such crowds, we may expect neither constructive action nor stable support for a truly conservative outlook. The enemy of my enemy isn’t necessarily my friend.

Were I a thoughtful liberal, I probably would lament the reverse of this on my own side. I can think of a couple of examples readily enough. But for me (with a conservative paper trail) to write about them would come across as encouraging the anti-liberal fake conservatives or concern-trolling the liberals.

I’ll let others do that job.

“We are in a trust spiral,” said Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University. “My fear is that we have reached escape velocity where the actions of each side can produce such strong reactions on the other that things will continue to escalate.”

“There is really only one period that was analogous, and that is the Civil War and its immediate aftermath,” said Doug McAdam, a Stanford sociology professor. “I’m not suggesting we are there, but we are straining our institutions more than we really ever have before.”

One facet of recent political life has been large-scale protests against Mr. Trump. They have been largely peaceful, but when there is violence, even on the fringes, it tends to reduce popular support for them, Professor Haidt said, citing recent research. And for many Trump voters, even peaceful protests are unsettling.

“I don’t have a problem with protesting as long as it’s peaceful, but this is destroying the country,” said Ann O’Connell, 72, a retired administrative assistant in Syracuse who voted for Mr. Trump. “I feel like we are in some kind of civil war right now. I know people don’t like to use those terms. But I think it’s scary.”

Mrs. O’Connell is a registered Democrat. She voted for Bill Clinton twice. But she has drifted away from the party over what she said was a move from its middle-class economic roots toward identity politics. She remembers Mr. Clinton giving a speech about the dangers of illegal immigration. Mr. Trump was lambasted for offering some of the same ideas, she said.

“The Democratic Party has changed so much that I don’t even recognize it anymore,” she said. “These people are destroying our democracy. They are scarier to me than these Islamic terrorists. I feel absolutely disgusted with them and their antics. It strengthens people’s resolve in wanting to support President Trump. It really does.”

(Sabrina Tavernise, Are Liberals Helping Trump?)

2

Let us recall the Law of Merited Impossibility: It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it. I think that the late Antonin Scalia is the patron saint of the Law of Merited Impossibility. In his 2003 Lawrence v. Texas dissent, he pointed out that the Court had opened the legal door to constitutionalizing same-sex marriage. He was right about that, as we saw in the majority ruling in Obergefell. In his Lawrence dissent, Scalia also said this:

The Court embraces instead Justice Stevens’ declaration in his Bowers dissent, that “the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice,” ante, at 17. This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation. If, as the Court asserts, the promotion of majoritarian sexual morality is not even a legitimate state interest, none of the above-mentioned laws can survive rational-basis review.

(Rod Dreher, commenting on a law book coming out in May, describing “the next frontier in family law.”)

3

Abbot Tryphon, without using the words “Benedict Option,” makes the case for one fundamental part of its Christian realization: thick Christian friendship.

… The life of a Christian has never been easy, but in an age that is proving to be hostile towards the things of God, Christian friendship is all the more important. We need each other. We need the encouragement that Christian friendship can give us, as we face a world that has rejected Christ ….

If you think he’s exaggerating about the “age” and the “world,” you may be part of the problem.

4

When you work at The Wall Street Journal, the coins of the realm are truth and trust — the latter flowing exclusively from the former. When you read a story in the Journal, you do so with the assurance that immense reportorial and editorial effort has been expended to ensure that what you read is factual.

Not probably factual. Not partially factual. Not alternatively factual. I mean fundamentally, comprehensively and exclusively factual. And therefore trustworthy.

This is how we operate …

Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes — Breitbart News and the rest. Another way of making this point is to say that he’s trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism.

His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn’t that there’s a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He’s perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt — so long as it’s on his side.

But again, that’s not all the president is doing.

Consider this recent exchange he had with Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly asks:

Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things that you can’t back up factually, and as the President you say there are three million illegal aliens who voted and you don’t have the data to back that up, some people are going to say that it’s irresponsible for the President to say that.

To which the president replies:

Many people have come out and said I’m right.

Now many people also say Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say Barack Obama was born in Kenya. “Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

We are not a nation of logicians.

I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.

If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life, it’ll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity. It’s the same truth contained in Stalin’s famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic.

(Bret Stevens in the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA) 

Constant Presidential bullshitting is profoundly toxic. This should not be seen as a partisan political argument, and I cannot understand how anyone with integrity can argue that Trump does not casually lie daily constantly — basically, whenever he speaks extemporaneously, off script.

* * * * *

“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.