Potpourri 5/6/17

  1. Flurry of academia stories
  2. DJT as the Wizard of Oz
  3. Populism on our side of the pond
  4. That may sound like a crazy exaggeration …

With Star Wars Day and Cinco de Mayo behind, a potpourri on this boring, overcast Saturday.


Anthony Esolen is leaving Providence College in favor of Thomas More College. He doesn’t dwell at all on his travails at Providence, but describes the attraction of Thomas More.

Micah Mattix of Prufrock sees parallels with Carol Swaim, who is retiring early from Vanderbilt:

In the late nineties, she left a tenured faculty seat at Princeton to complete a master’s in law at Yale before taking joint appointments in law and political science at Vanderbilt. In the meantime, she also quit the Democratic party and became reborn in Christ. “I jokingly say they hired one person, a very different one showed up,” she told me. “I showed up a born-again Christian, and I would say my Christian conversion was very dramatic. It has shaped everything I’ve done since then, and it affects how I see the world.”

“Affects how I see the world” sounds to me like the words of a person with integrity — one who doesn’t, because she just can’t, compartmentalize her life into “what I believe or pretend to believe on Sunday” versus “the way things really are.” May her tribe increase.

This Black Christian scholar has an interesting take on Barack Obama:

White voters would gladly support a black candidate if he were a convincing enough moderate to promise racial healing across party lines, she predicted. Our first black president, Swain wrote in December 2006 for Ebony, would be someone like freshman senator from Illinois Barack Obama or former national security adviser Colin Powell, men whose immigrant backgrounds relieve them and their voters of the “baggage” of the civil rights era. (Obama declared his candidacy in early February following a family vacation, a typical time to catch up on magazine reading, Swain slyly noted in our first call.)

She lost hope, however, when the influence of Obama’s spiritual mentor, black liberation preacher Jeremiah Wright, came to light: “I know that if you really are interested in bringing together people of different races, you don’t belong to a black nationalist church.” President Obama “did everything to start a race war,” she continued, arguing that he and Democrats during his two terms in office “racialized every issue” while declining to condemn racially or religiously motivated violence by name. “You can’t stir it, bring up all this stuff,” she said, “and then put it back in this box to pull it out during election time.” She finds common ground with those who criticize Obama’s racial legacy from the left: He took political advantage of racial anxiety but did not deign to address it.

Read the rest of the Weekly Standard profile. This is a woman who doesn’t mind a good ideological fight.

Paul Griffith, too, put up a lovely fight at Duke Divinity before deciding to leave.

Another alternative in similar circumstances is to gird your loins, lawyer up, and get ready for a long fight. That’s what Mike Adams did, relishing the fight along the way, and prevailed.

At the rate this is going, surviving some of these institutions may become a cloud on one’s reputation by suggesting that one is too compliant with idiocy and heresy.


I simply view President Trump as the Wizard of Oz.

Loud and bombastic. A charlatan. Nothing behind the screen — other than the institutional chaos that defines his White House and the psychic chaos that governs his ever-changing mind. What to do? Ignore what’s behind the curtain. Deal with what comes out in front: the policy, the pronouncements, the actions.

… But there are limitations to the Wizard of Oz approach. Some things do extrude from behind the curtain that are hard to ignore.

(Charles Krauthammer)


After describing populist politics in Europe, Damon Linker contrasts the U.S.:

Whereas Democrats (at least since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992) have embraced neoliberalism’s characteristic synthesis of democratic socialism and free-market economics, the Republican Party has come to stand for something far more radical: anti-statist libertarianism, which leaves Americans far more exposed than their European counterparts to the creative destruction of markets and the rapaciousness of corporations aggressively seeking maximal profits for their shareholders.

And yet, for a complicated set of reasons, America’s populist energies managed to gain political power in 2016 not by challenging the country’s two-party establishment from the outside or by taking over the Democratic Party but rather by rising up through the institutional structure of the Republican Party. If this had been a genuine political coup, overthrowing the GOP’s libertarian convictions from the inside of the party and replacing them with a commitment to helping the voters who elected Donald Trump to the presidency, the result might have been a coherent populism. But what we got instead was a blatant, self-destructive contradiction: Populist anger propelled Republicans to victory at all levels of government, but once in office they immediately began enacting a libertarian agenda that is bound to stoke even greater anger, and provoke an even greater populist revolt in the not-too-distant future.


Some criticisms of Trump actually go too far:

President Trump has a message for conservative Christians: It’s all about you. On Thursday, he’ll sign an executive order that professes to strengthen “religious liberty,” but isn’t about the liberty of Jews or Muslims or Hindus or mainline Protestants. It’s about offering some special privileges to right-wing Christians who want to restrict women’s reproductive lives and turn their churches into semi-official arms of the Republican Party.

That may sound like a crazy exaggeration ….

Yes, it does, because it is. Here’s the gist of what he means by “restricting women’s reproductive lives”:

While the full text of the order hasn’t been made available yet, in comments to reporters, administration officials have described it as broadening the ability of organizations and companies to exempt themselves from certain laws, like the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance plans cover birth control, if they claim a religious objection.

So having to spend $10 of your own money on birth control pills each month, because of your employer’s religious scruples, is a “restriction,” not just a rebalancing of benefits and burdens.

Further, this Executive Order charade is trumped (pardon the expression) by the regulation that mandates contraceptive coverage. Expect litigation if the administration tries to ignore that, but for now, even the ACLU is cool with it:

Today’s executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome. After careful review of the order’s text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process. The order portends but does not yet do harm to the provision of reproductive health services.

President Trump’s prior assertion that he wished to ‘totally destroy’ the Johnson Amendment with this order has proven to be a textbook case of ‘fake news.’

The political motivation of the Order, though, is probably as described, and there are Chumps for Trump who will tell the faithful that Donald Trump is now to be counted among the faithful — or at least that he’s LARPing Sadaam Hussein as the protector of his persecuted Kurdish Christians.

* * * * *

Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.