Potpourri, 1/19/19

Trump and his defenders

1

George Will:

By his comportment, the president benefits his media detractors with serial vindications of their disparagements … [M]any journalists consider[] him an excuse for a four-year sabbatical from thinking about anything other than the shiny thing that mesmerizes them by dangling himself in front of them.

Dislike of him should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen. It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Donald Trump. He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life. His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance — preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion — concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.

The shabbiest U.S. president ever is an inexpressibly sad specimen.

2

Trump defenders want to defend everything Trump does outside of the lines of normalcy on the grounds that he is a disrupter. There are several problems with this argument, but I’ll focus on two. The first is that much of Trump’s disruptiveness is characterological, not programmatic or ideological. If you want to defend the president’s prerogative to question the value of NATO, that’s fine. That’s one kind of disruption, to be sure. But his personal behavior from his pettiness, impulsiveness, and constant mendacity is disruptive, too. And you can’t expect people un-besotted with him to compartmentalize the two the way you do. Trump’s erratic behavior is endearing to some and worrisome to others. Expecting those endeared to find it troubling is as foolhardy as expecting the worriers to find it charming, particularly if the worrier has a responsibility to act.

Second, Trump supporters simultaneously celebrate his disruptiveness, and even his violation of democratic norms, but are scandalized when he provokes equally disruptive or norm-violating responses. When I hear Kevin McCarthy complain that Nancy Pelosi’s quasi disinvitation to deliver the State of the Union is “beneath” the office of the speaker, or when I hear praetorian pundits denounce the profane language of his opponents as if they shock the conscience of Trump supporters, I want to resort to the international sign-language gesture for Onanism.

Jonah Goldberg

Trump’s eventuality

3

The point I want to make is this: the ideologically-driven anti-Christian aggression of the Spanish Republican Left eventually drove Christians into the arms of a military man who turned into a dictator. Over and over on this Spanish trip, I heard Catholics say some version of: Franco may have been bad, but at least he didn’t want to kill us. What choice did we have?

The Left lost the first war, but from a Catholic point of view, ultimately triumphed. Spain has mostly de-Christianized. The Catholic Church is a shell of its former self — this, according to Spanish Catholics with whom I talked in every city I visited. It was remarkable to me — astonishing, really — to encounter in these ordinary lay Catholics deep anger at Catholic institutions (the bishops, many clergy, Catholic schools). I saw this over and over …

For the entirety of the Franco dictatorship — from 1939, until his death in 1975 — the Catholic Church enjoyed a privileged position in Spanish public life. After Franco, it all collapsed. This is the danger of relying on a political solution. One older man told me that in the 1950s, when he was a boy, the teaching of religion in Spain was by rote. There was no life in it. We didn’t get to talk about it in depth, but it’s not hard to imagine that the Spanish church grew fat and complacent, and came to see its role as more or less managers of the Sacrament Factory, whose monopoly was protected and enforced by the dictatorial state. Those American Catholics who believe integralism is the answer for the problems of liberalism ought to come to Spain and see what Franco’s legacy has been for the faith.

Rod Dreher, A Yankee Franco & The Long Defeat. Ponder that title.

For that matter, read the whole (long) blog, which has some solecisms that I assume are the result of travel fatigue (Dreher is on a book tour in Spain and Ireland). Solecisms aside, there are some powerful analogies between the Spanish moment of the early 30s and our present American moment.

Donald Trump was not a fluke. The only reason I personally could see to vote for him (which I did not do) was that he had allied with semi-orthodox Christianish volk (the Evangelicals) and probably would leave me alone, unlike Hillary who would have zestfully pursued all manner of progressive suppression of orthodox Christianity outside the eight walls of home and church. That reason sufficed for untold numbers of voters.

4

As if to vindicate Dreher’s “there will be hell to pay for Christians’ perceived alignment with Trump,” some adolescent Roman Catholic high-schoolers from Kentucky, wearing their school sweatshirts and MAGA hats, broke away from Friday’s March for Life to confront, intimidate and mock a 64-year-old native American drummer. The resultant video has gone viral and the incident is in mainstream press.

Antsy McClain “gets” the optics of this.

Some Girardian scape-goating of the lads by their priests and principal back in the Bluegrass State may be necessary—punishing them not only for bad acts, but for bringing disgrace to the pro-life cause, the Roman Catholic Church, and their school.

More positive notes

5

The other pre-requisite for living sanely in an insane world is an attitude toward life, which I can describe no further than as gratitude and joy in the very fact of one’s existence, and in the existence of one’s fellow human beings. The cynic responds, why should one be joyful in life, when in no time it is followed by death, and when with each person‘s death the whole universe, provide person, ceases to exist? My answer strikes me as reasonable, though perhaps it is merely a rationalization of my own joy. Scientists, as we know, deal improbabilities rather than, as was once thought, in absolute laws. Anything that happens with the probability of, say, 10 to the millionth power to one, is pretty much a sure thing. If the theory of evolution has any validity (I regard it as somewhat silly, a confirmation of Chesterton’s comment that people who don’t believe in God will believe in anything), if it does have any validity, I say, what do you suppose the probability of man’s existence is? I am speaking of the movement up through the countless environmental changes and mutations necessary for the evolution from primordial ooze to humanity. I can assure you that it is considerably more far-fetched than a ten-to-the-millionth-power-to-one shot; it is approximately as likely as the spontaneous transformation of every atom in this room into an atom of plutonium.

And given the existence of human beings, the probabilities against my existence – or yours – are again as high as those against the existence of man. You can attribute this to God, or to big bangs, or to sheer blind luck; all I can do a shout hallelujah, I got here! My God, I got here! In the face of this colossal fact, I must exult in my gratitude, for everything else is trivial: no matter what the uncertainties, whether things are better or worse, whether I am hungry or well fed, whether I am sick or healthy, or cold or comfortable, or honored and respected, or despised and kicked and beaten, even that I shall soon be leaving, all is trivial compared to the miracle that I got here. Fellow miracles, let us rejoice together.

Forrest McDonald, 2002, to the last class he taught.

6

The instantaneous awareness of so much folly is not, I now think, healthy for the human mind. Spending time on Twitter became, for me, a deeply demoralizing experience. Often, especially when some controversy of national importance provoked large numbers of users into tweeting their opinions about it, I would come away from Twitter exasperated almost to the point of madness.

I thought of a verse from the 94th Psalm: “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” After an hour or so of watching humanity’s stupidities scroll across my screen, I felt I had peeked into some dreadful abyss into which only God can safely look. It was not for me to know the thoughts of man.

Barton Swaim. Yeah. Even without Twitter, I had twelve clippings today I could have shared, mostly downers. Further withdrawal from wallowing in news and commentary likely is called for.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Potpourri 1/16/19

 

1

When I’m looking for guidance in my life I always turn to a Dow 30 company … P&G (Gillette) for my relationship with women. Goldman Sachs for child rearing. Chevron for a mid-life crisis. Walgreen’s for spiritual insights.

A snarky Wall Street Journal reader on odd new Gillette ads. Suffice that I’m stickin’ with Harry’s.

2

[C]onsider what Sean Hannity had to say about taxing the rich. What’s that? You say that Hannity isn’t a member of the Trump administration? But surely he is in every sense that matters. In fact, Fox News isn’t just state TV, its hosts clearly have better access to the president, more input into his decisions, than any of the so-called experts at places like the State Department or the Department of Defense.

Anyway, Hannity declared that raising taxes on the wealthy would damage the economy, because “rich people won’t be buying boats that they like recreationally,” and “they’re not going to be taking expensive vacations anymore.”

Paul Krugman, Donald Trump and His Team of Morons. Now that is an epic Freudian Slip.

3

In their criticism of King, you get the sense that Republicans are actually relieved to be in the position of attacking racism for a change, instead of being forced to defend it from the president. They seem to be signaling that they are not really the bigots they appear to be. Republicans seem desperate to explain that they are normal and moral — despite all the evidence. Attacking King reveals some sense of shame at what they have become.

Yet, in the end, Republican critics of King manage to look worse rather than better. If racism is the problem, then President Trump is a worse offender. And the GOP’s relative silence on Trump is a sign of hypocrisy and weakness.

By any standard, Trump says things that are reckless, wrong, abhorrent, offensive and racist. Until Republicans can state this reality with the same clarity and intensity that they now criticize King, they will be cowards in a time crying for bravery.

Michael Gerson

This is a perfectly defensible opinion, and it is opinion that Gerson writes for the Washington Poast. The NYT crossed the traditional line by putting the equivalent sentiment it in news:

House Republican leaders removed Representative Steve King of Iowa from the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees on Monday night as party officials scrambled to appear tough on racism and contain damage from comments Mr. King made to The New York Times questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive.

Trip Gabriel, Jonathan Martin and Nicholas Fandos (emphasis added). But that traditional line has been pretty well obliterated by advocacy journalism, I fear, and editorializing within news stories is likely here to stay.

Now for my opinion: by uttering his most notorious sentence (“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”), Rep. King brought Western civilization into disrepute, and should be tarred, feathered, and rode back to Iowa on a rail. Censure is too mild.

4

Having announced a Presidential run, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard puts some distance between herself and the Democrat voices that keep telling me I’d better not vote for them if I value first-class citizenship:

Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that there “shall be no religious test” for any seeking to serve in public office.

No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because “the dogma lives loudly within you” as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings in 2017 to serve as U.S. Circuit Court judge in the 7th Circuit.

While I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state as a necessity to the health of our nation, no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office.

The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today.

We must call this out for what it is – religious bigotry. This is true not just when such prejudice is anti-Catholic, but also when it is anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, or anti-Protestant, or any other religion.

(Emphasis added)

5

The guy who called out Emily is named Herbert. He told “Invisibilia” that calling her out gave him a rush of pleasure, like an orgasm. He was asked if he cared about the pain Emily endured. “No, I don’t care,” he replied. “I don’t care because it’s obviously something you deserve, and it’s something that’s been coming. … I literally do not care about what happens to you after the situation. I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever.”

But the “Invisibilia” episode implicitly suggests that call-outs are how humanity moves forward. Society enforces norms by murdering the bullies who break them. When systems are broken, vigilante justice may be rough justice, but it gets the job done. Prominent anthropologist Richard Wrangham says this is the only way civilization advances that he’s witnessed.

Really? Do we really think cycles of cruelty do more to advance civilization than cycles of wisdom and empathy? I’d say civilization moves forward when we embrace rule of law, not when we abandon it. I’d say we no longer gather in coliseums to watch people get eaten by lions because clergy members, philosophers and artists have made us less tolerant of cruelty, not more tolerant.

The problem with the pseudo-realism of the call-out culture is that it is so naïve. Once you adopt binary thinking in which people are categorized as good or evil, once you give random people the power to destroy lives without any process, you have taken a step toward the Rwandan genocide.

Even the quest for justice can turn into barbarism if it is not infused with a quality of mercy, an awareness of human frailty and a path to redemption. The crust of civilization is thinner than you think.

David Brooks, The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture.

This one caused me a bit of introspection, as I have on several occasions committed pre-internet acts of calling out, about which acts I’ll not go into detail. Let’s just say there can be a fine line between wanton cruelty and condoning by silence, and I may have landed on the wrong side of that line.

6

Without culture and its attendant explanation through story and ritual, what is left instead is “the quest for well-being,” where intellectuals “serve the public not in order to elevate it but to satisfy the need for novelty.” One need only look at the current adulation of TED talks or Silicon Valley to see confirmation of his prediction.

Gerald Russello, The Nonconformist, a review of Augusto Del Noce’s The Age of Secularization.

7

Wisdom requires us to ignore most provocations.

David Warren, The Wisdom of Sheep

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Clippings and (a little) comment

1

Social media is the miasma of mimetic desire. If you post pictures of your summer vacation in Greece, you can expect your “friends” to post pictures from some other desirable destination. The photos of your dinner party will be matched or outmatched by theirs. If you assure me through social media that you love your life, I will find a way to profess how much I love mine. When I post my pleasures, activities, and family news on a Facebook page, I am seeking to arouse my mediators’ desires. In that sense social media provides a hyperbolic platform for the promiscuous circulation of mediator-oriented desire. As it burrows into every aspect of everyday life, Facebook insinuates itself precisely into those areas of life that would keep people apart.

Certainly the enormous market potential of Facebook was not lost on Girard’s student Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who studied with him at Stanford in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A devoted Girardian who founded and funds an institute called Imitatio, whose goal is to “pursue research and application of mimetic theory across the social sciences and critical areas of human behavior,” Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook, selling most of his shares in 2012 for over a billion dollars (they cost him $500,000 in 2004). It took a highly intelligent Girardian, well schooled in mimetic theory, to intuit early on that Facebook was about to open a worldwide theater of imitative desire on people’s personal computers.

René Girard, The Prophet of Envy. I’ve got some Girard on the shelf among my many other unread books. I guess my excuse for not knowing him better is that nobody knew him better when I was getting my formal education.

2

Homo sapiens have been around for 200,000 years. Until the industrial revolution, we lived outside. How did we get through the Neolithic Era without sunscreen? Actually, perfectly well. What’s counterintuitive is that dermatologists run around saying, “Don’t go outside, you might die.”

Richard Weller, M.D. Quoted by Rowan Jacobsen, Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?.

More from the article, not from Dr. Weller:

Sunlight triggers the release of a number of other important compounds in the body, not only nitric oxide but also serotonin and endorphins. It reduces the risk of prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. It improves circadian rhythms. It reduces inflammation and dampens autoimmune responses. It improves virtually every mental condition you can think of. And it’s free.

(Emphasis added) At the risk of sounding like Tucker Carlson, “and it’s free” explains why the establishment is against it, just as the sugar industry got the establishment to blame fat for the diseases sugar causes. (The article chooses how we were “sold” margarine as its analogy.)

We are always being told to replace something natural with some artificial pill or product that is going to improve our health, and it almost always turns out to be a mistake because we didn’t know enough. Multivitamins can’t replace fruits and vegetables, and vitamin D supplements are clearly no substitute for natural sunlight.

Rowan Jacobsen, Is Sunscreen the New Margarine? H/T Christopher Chelpka

3

When one of his colleagues voiced frustration with the slow pace of conservative reform in the 1990s, Newt Gingrich replied, “Rome wasn’t burned in a day.” That’s a good line, and it says something that is true, but conservatives dread disorder. We aren’t vandals. In this, conservatives are a breed apart from the Jacobins of the Right who have their unsteady hands on the tiller of the SS GOP just now, steering it in the direction of every iceberg they can identity.

The drive for coast-to-coast conformity and homogeneity in political matters — particularly in cultural matters — is one of the most important drivers of the polarization of our politics. A devout Mormon and an evangelical atheist living next door to each other can be perfectly contented neighbors and friends — unless it is decided that one of their creeds and mode of life must prevail over the other’s and become mandatory. Then, they are enemies.

Kevin D. Williamson

4

My wife is a teacher who has worked at both public and church-run schools, and she says that from an orthodox Christian point of view the church-run ones are worse – precisely because they pretend to offer a religious education while what they actually do hardly deserves to be called that. As a Catholic, I would love to see Catholic schools in Germany develop and practice concepts for a thoroughly Christian education, in the sense that not only the contents that are taught, but also the methods of teaching are permeated by the Christian faith. But to be honest, I just cannot imagine our bishops endorsing such an idea. They seem much too busy trying to convince the secular society that Christians aren’t so different from Non-Christians after all.

Tobias Klein (emphasis added), commenting on the German social context of the court ruling there against the homeschooling parents.

5

The most interesting thing in conservative politics right now is … an ideological battle over Tucker Carlson’s recent Fox News soliloquy, in which he accused his fellow Republicans of building an anti-family, finance-dominated economic system that might be “the enemy of a healthy society.”

… [Carlson] went somewhere that Fox hosts rarely go — from culture into economics, from a critique of liberal cosmopolitanism into a critique of libertarianism, from a lament for the decline of the family to an argument that this decline can be laid at the feet of consumer capitalism as well as social liberalism.

Just about every conservative worth reading was provoked into responding …

If there is to be a healthy American right, after Donald Trump or ever, this is the argument that conservatives should be having. And it is especially an argument that Fox News should be highlighting, since Fox is frequently responsible for stoking populism but keeping it vacuous or racialized, evading the debates the right really needs.

Ross Douthat

6

  • … “pearl-clutching lefty gays” … “desperate for villains” because they have “no one left to hate.”
  • “What’s not to love about Trump? He’s a drag queen. He’s a cartoon character. He’s fabulous. He’s a Kardashian!”
  • “If you love mischief, if you love upsetting delicate people, I don’t know where else you would be right now than the gay right.”

Chadwick Moore, gay “conservative” Fox provocateur


“I don’t hear any coherent vision for what the Democratic leadership believes in — most of what I hear is constant demonizing of Trump and his supporters,” she said. “I told Jill: ‘Let’s say I had a MAGA hat on. I wouldn’t, but let’s say I did. How far do you think I’d get down the street in New York, San Francisco or Berkeley before somebody spit on me or hit me?’

Ann, ex-Domocrat lesbian


“Trying to engage people in a thoughtful debate about ideas during the Donald Trump era seems like something very few people want to do,” he said. “I spend a lot more time thinking about how to exist during this time of political lunacy than I do about being a gay conservative.”

Ben Holden, another gay conservative.

These quotes are all from the same New York Times long-form article on gay conservatives in the age of Trump, published Saturday.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Political Potpourri 1/11/19

 

1. The Wall

Some of the headlines at alternate media are pretty good. For instance To Fund ‘White Supremacist Vanity Project,’ Trump Eyes Relief Funds Earmarked for Actual Disasters.

Putting it that way, it sounds almost criminal, doesn’t it? Which makes me wonder why I didn’t think of this:

Chuck and Nancy, in their calculated intransigence, are maneuvering to create an impeachable offense against Mr. Trump the moment he moves to declare an “emergency” and grabs some money from an executive agency cash-box to commence his wall-building.

James Howard Kunstler.

More from Kunstler:

The Left does not want to regulate comings-and-goings along the US-Mexico border. Not the least little bit. The reason is well-understood too: the DNC views everyone coming across as a potential constituent, as well as a household employee.

One of my newer podcast finds is The Argument, with Michelle Goldberg, Ross Douthat and David Leonhardt. The January 10 episode made it pretty clear, from the mouths of Goldberg and Leonhardt, that ascription of venal motives aside, Kunstler is pitch perfect.

Peggy Noonan is fed up with the shutdown over the wall:

Governing by shutdown … harms the democratic spirit because it so vividly tells Americans—rubs their faces in it—that they’re pawns in a game as both parties pursue their selfish ends.

The president at the center of this drama is an unserious man. He is only episodically sincere and has no observable tropism toward truthfulness. He didn’t get a wall in two years with a Republican Congress and is now in a fix. He is handling himself as he does, with bluster and aggression, without subtlety or winning ways. He likes disorder.

But the game didn’t start with Donald Trump. Two decades of cynical, game-playing failure produced him.

(Pay wall).

In case you’re wondering, here’s what real border security looks like.

2 Bigotries, Right and Left

49 or so Jack- and Jenny-Asses in Tarrant County Texas, goaded by an original core of just one Jenny Ass, ended up wanting to expel a Pakistani immigrant Muslim Surgeon from local GOP party leadership on the un-American basis that Islam is a bad religion that shouldn’t be in America.

At least the Jack- and Jenny-Asses got overwhelmingly voted down by their fellow Republicans.

Meanwhile, to the East-Northeast therefrom (to-wit: in the United States Senate), at least three prominent distaff Democrats (Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono) are unmistakably on record that seriously-believed and orthodox Roman Catholicism has no place on the Federal bench, either because the “dogma” lives too loudly or they could mix hinted misogyny into the mix of other anti-Catholic bigotries since the Knights of Columbus is all-male.

Jeremy McLellan made a video to explain the Knights to those with an open mind, concluding that “insurrection and paramilitary operations are only 3 percent of what the Knights of Columbus do. The other 97 percent? Pancake breakfasts and fish fries during Lent.”

In the process, he also cleared up what happened to (Republican) anti-Catholicism, of which I have person memories circa 1960: they transferred it to Islam.

See? It all fits together.

3 Alexandria Oscasio Palin-Cortez

From the Department of History Doesn’t Repeat, But It Rhymes: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Progressive Sarah Palin.

That’s a little unfair since Palin’s policy chops were essentially zero, while Cortez at least has “political spoonerisms” (a term I didn’t coin but wish I had) like the Pentagon being able to save $21 Trillion through better bookkeeping.

The Argument podcast I already linked is titled Why Do Powerful Women Make America Panic?, and I think Ross Douthat does a really good job of explaining why Cortez makes conservatives very uneasy. Sexism’s only a small part of it, and even that is inseparable from a kind of collar-loosening “Damn! Why does she have to be so attractive?!” The podcast is well worth a listen.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

1

Holy Smokes! Tucker Carlson lit a long fuse and Michael Brendan Dougherty just ignited!

Carlson pointed to the real molten fissure that is burbling sulfur on the American right. By doing so without ever mentioning the name, the character, or the political fortunes of Donald Trump, he allowed everyone to be more frank than usual. Carlson’s case is that elite-driven economic and social policy has destroyed the material basis for the family life, that our technocratic elite has the wrong measures of national health. Further, he argues, if the American Right doesn’t give up on its absentminded idolatry of “the market,” the country will quickly move toward socialism.

My colleagues David French and David Bahnsen, along with Ben Shapiro, argued forcefully against him. The themes are remarkably similar. Carlson says true things about the state of family life, they admit. But he is encouraging a victim mentality …

While French, Bahnsen, and Shapiro all variously object to Carlson’s jeremiads about elites, and his iconoclasm when it comes to the “free market,” nobody disputed that, as Carlson said, sometimes private-equity outfits do take advantage of our laws to extract value from existing companies for shareholders, charging fees while passing on pension burdens to the public. Also, nobody argued against Carlson’s contention that, absent a dramatic effort to change the conditions for America’s middle and working class, the country will turn to socialism. I found these omissions curious.

Bahnsen writes: “Carlson wrongly chooses to assign blame for the decisions people make to macroeconomic forces, instead of focusing on the decisions people make and the microeconomic consequences people absorb.”

To those who object to Carlson along these lines I would ask: At what point can we actually move on from the subject of personal responsibility and onto governance? Or, to put it another way, are there any political conditions in which the advice to be virtuous and responsible aren’t the best counsel you could give an individual?

It seems that it would be just as true to say these things in Russia during the post-Communist period, which saw soaring substance-abuse problems and plunging life expectancies. Then as now, the best advice you could give an individual Russian man was not to drink until his liver failed and he died. You could advise Russian women not to abort so many of their children. You could advise people to go back to church. All that would be salutary and more practically useful than having them wallow in elite failure. But none of that advice is inconsistent with political reflection and action for building a more flourishing society.

And our jobs at National Review and the Daily Wire include writing about and reflecting on political conditions. We are, all of us in this debate, dedicated to causes in which political effort and coordination is difficult. Would any of us really conclude that because the Russian state wasn’t forcing men at gunpoint to drink, Russia’s mortality rate had nothing to do with the corruption, venality, and misgovernance of the era? I doubt it.

*     *     *

I agree that a victim mentality isn’t helpful. A victim mentality doesn’t even help most actual victims. It wouldn’t help most political prisoners held unjustly. They, too, benefit spiritually from self-control (and religion)! My fear is that we are now so self-conscious about legitimizing a victim mentality that we have decided that justice is hardly worth pursuing. We trust an invisible hand so thoroughly that we don’t ask whether the laws and policies that govern trade, employment, and markets are prudent. We are becoming as glib as those who say “Don’t like abortion? Then don’t have one.”

(Bold added)

Kudos to Carlson for starting this intra-conservative fight. Kudos to Dougherty for the cojones to point out that his colleagues, most or all of them senior to him, are selling buck-naked, Emperor’s-New-Clothes nostrums that few are still buying. And Kudos to National Review for allowing Dougherty to deviate from the conservative party line.

2

I do think Trump will declare a bogus national emergency because it provides a similacrum of accomplishing something.

So: Which is the worse precedent?

  1. A President declaring a bogus national emergency to gesture at fulfilling a key campaign promise?
  2. Federal Courts ruling that a declaration of national emergency is bogus?

Note that I’ve kept personalities out of it because the question is precedent.

The President claims that his lawyers have given a legal green light to the proposed declaration of national emergency. His oath to uphold the laws and constitution oblige him to satisfy himself of that.

  1. Has the Department of Justice really vetted this proposal for conformity with what the law has in mind by “national emergency” (rather than just “can I get away with it”) and said “Yes. This is a classic national emergency”? Or …
  2. Will there be principled resignations of lawyers whose opinions are being misrepresented?

3

Are there enough millstones left in the world to appropriately bedeck the necks of Fordham faculty, staff and counselors?

4

… I no longer recognize my country and I don’t feel welcome here anymore. That is why I’m leaving America, for the same reason my ancestors came here, to find home.

… Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned the new breakaway Ukrainian patriarch to offer the US Government’s support. I can’t expect the US Government to have a theological care about the destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, but I hate that my government is exploiting this rift to gain advantage against Russia.

It gets worse. In 2016, the Trump State Department put out a $300,000 bid to hire culture-war mercenaries to go into Macedonia with the express purpose of fighting Orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality. The American taxpayer paid money to export the destruction of Macedonia’s Christian culture.

… Personally, I don’t know what it would mean to “give up” on America. That said, I find our country to be an increasingly hostile, alien place, in terms of the direction of the culture, and the lack of a sense that there’s anything left to restrain its descent.

Rod Dreher, An Expatriate Of The Heart, initially quoting a reader from Atlanta.

I’m thinking of “the … closing lines in Alasdair MacIntyre’s … After Virtue, in which MacIntyre concludes:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead . . . was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

Patrick J. Deneen

Unlike Rod’s reader in Atlanta, my wife has not left me for another woman. I have a son, his wife, and two grandchildren. I serve my parish as Cantor.

These loyalties, not any attachment to the nation writ large (let alone to the government, a true force for evil in the world), keep me here (along with frank recognition that my language skills aren’t supple enough to make emigration to any Orthodox land feasible).

I’m of a generation and personal temperament that come to such conclusions relatively easily, I suspect. But I was a bit surprised to find myself agreeing so thoroughly with Rod’s reader.

I strongly suspect we’re at such the kind of “crucial turning point” MacIntyre described in the U.S., too. The comments to Dreher’s blog confirm that I’m not alone.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Clippings and comment, 1/8/19

1

In response to the government shutdown, I have stayed in bed, gone without bathing, turned off the phone. I am going to continue until Walmart sends me six fresh walleye and a set of white sidewalls autographed by Barbara Walters. I know what is needed and I can hold out for years if I have to.

Garrison Keillor

2

[T]here is a good chance that the Democrats will impeach Trump this year or next. When that happens, you Senate Republicans are effectively the jury. Suddenly Trump needs you more than you need him. Suddenly he’s going to be much less likely to go against you personally. Even the mere specter of impeachment changes his whole attitude toward you.

David Brooks, opining in the form of an open letter to Senate Republicans.

3

As the effect moves well beyond the nation’s capital, craft brewers cannot get approval from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for new beer labels.

New York Times. Now that is a national emergency!

4

PETA’s campaign against wool is so preposterous that it makes me wonder if it’s some kind of false flag operation.

5

At the root of the Aristotelian approach [to ethics] is the premise that the human person is originally in need of formation. At the root of the [Rousseau] approach is the premise that the human person is only in need of liberation. This has marked a long-standing difference between right and left, with conservatism often on the side of character building and progressivism often on the side of personal expression. But with Trump, something remarkable has happened: The right is increasingly on Rousseau’s side as well.

Michael Gerson. This was a very good column that deserves full reading, not sampling.

Is this a truth which, when perceived, will turn the tide, or are we in a “whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad” moment?

6

We have reached quite a nadir when our President is so flamboyantl, shameless and transparent a bullshitter that a serious case can be made against giving him live (versus time delayed) television coverage for an oval office speech. (I write this after the speech, which I didn’t hear because of a standing musical rehearsal and of which I have read no post-mortems.)

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Catching up with Kunstler

For a while, I tired of James Howard Kunstler’s blog and stopped following it. Maybe it was because he focused so much on Democrat wrongdoing against Donald Trump, which seemed very odd — and which has not ceased.

But I was reminded that he is one of the day’s great rhetoricians, who can be read with pleasure even when he’s wrong. So I resumed following him and gleaned these:

The shale oil “miracle” was an impressive stunt. For a while, it goosed US production way above the former all-time production peak of 1970, and it achieved that with astounding speed — about a decade. But this is oil that is very expensive and complex to produce. It was made possible by massive borrowing at artificial low interest rates, which are now rising. Something like three-quarters of the shale operators never made a red cent in net profit, and many of these companies will find it hard or impossible to roll over their existing debt, especially with oil under $50-a-barrel. But the price is a deceptive metric. If it zoomed up to $100-a-barrel tomorrow, the effect would only be to crush economic activity, because industry requires cheaper oil to pencil out its operations and citizens can barely afford to drive when gasoline hits $4-a-gallon at the pump. At the lower $45-a-barrel, the price crushes the oil producers. Take your pick. There’s no “Goldilocks” price.

James Howard Kunstler

It’s Nancy Pelosi’s smile that gets me … oh, and not in a good way. It’s a smile that is actually the opposite of what a smile is supposed to do: signal good will and good faith. Nancy’s smile is full of malice and bad faith, like the smiles on representations of Shiva-the-Destroyer and Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun god who demanded thousands of human hearts to eat, lest he bring on the end of the world.

James Howard Kunstler

Financialization of the economy was the last ploy to keep this boat floating. It allowed political and business leaders to pretend that asset-stripping the interior of the country — so that coastal moralizers could enjoy micro-green lunches and sex-change surgery — would promote the general welfare.

James Howard Kunstler

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Clippings 1/6/19

1

My admittedly unscientific sample of a dozen Federalists’ personal stories — backed up by political scientists’ more systematic research into the question — suggests that each individual Federalist is akin to an excited synapse in a sprawling hive mind with no one actually in charge.

The society itself lobbies for no policies; it never signs amicus briefs or represents clients in cases. No one at Federalist Society headquarters in Washington dictated Barnett’s moves or told him how to advocate for what positions. It’s just that at a few gatherings made possible by the Federalist Society that Barnett happened to attend, synapses fired, a corner of the hive mind engaged, and Barnett took it from there. Multiply that chemistry tens of thousands of times over the past 36 years and you have the Federalist Society’s true source of power.

David Montgomery, Conquerors of the Courts

2

It’s clear why it’s disturbing that a teenager amputates his penis. It is less clear why it is not disturbing, but in fact a wonderful thing, that a surgeon amputates a healthy teenager’s penis. In the first case, it’s a sign of mental illness; in the second case, it’s “gender confirmation.”

Rod Dreher

3

This is the dumbest publishing platform on the web.

Text.fyi (H/T Alan Jacobs)

4

Trump’s Terrible Record on Property Rights. That a sleazy land developer should think stealing from widows and orphans is a great idea comes as no surprise.

5

“I realize that homosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is,” he said, “but then, of course, heterosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is, too. And being a man is a serious problem and being a woman is, too. Lots of things are problems.”

Robert Gottlieb, quoting Artist/Illustrator Edward Gorey in a review of Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey. The story caught my attention because of a 1973 photo of Gorey, and I’m glad it did. A very unusual man, whose opening art on Masterpiece Theater I did remember.

6

Love or hate him (or anything in between), no reasonable person can deny that Trump is a textbook example of narcissistic personality disorder. Reading the list of symptoms on the Mayo Clinic’s website is like scrolling through the president’s Twitter: “Require constant, excessive admiration,” “exaggerate achievements and talents,” “be preoccupied with . . . brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate,” “monopolize conversations and belittle . . . people,” “expect special favors and unquestioning compliance,” “have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.”

David VonDrehle

7

Auden once wrote, “The same rules apply to self-examination as apply to auricular confession: Be brief, be blunt, be gone. The scrupuland is a nasty specimen.” I would amend that to say that the scrupuland — the overly scrupulous person — is a tired specimen. Nothing is more exhausting than ceaseless self-examination, self-reflection, self-criticism.

Alan Jacobs, Scruples

8

Unitarianism—that urbane form of the Arian heresy that denies the divinity of Christ, the existence of the Holy Spirit, and the need for sacraments and liturgy … A turn-of-the-century, moralistic, therapeutic, Deism, it espoused a rationalistic religion in which Jesus Christ was a good moral teacher and the Christian story provided a robust ethic of good works, good manners, good hygiene, good contacts, and respectability.

Dwight Longenecker, T.S. Eliot’s Magical Journey

My impression of our local Unitarian-Universalist Church, sharpened by weekly rehearsals of éy chamber choir as its guests, is that it has lost much of that cachet, though it is striving to be a welcoming community — universally welcoming, of course.

9

If we are stressed, we can talk ourselves into believing we are relaxed, but our jaw may be tight and our brow heavy. In the same way we sometimes mistake ‘correct doctrine’ for love, and wonder why we feel so angry when our doctrines are attacked. In the image, the little figures are ‘every man’ and ‘every woman’. They are lost in the present moment, and the only government is the beauty of the silent tree around which, with all their hearts, they dance.

Artist/Illustrator Linda Richardson, as part of commentary on an illustration for poet Malcolm Guite’s Waiting for the Word.

10

Conde Nast has tried slipping a morality clause into contract with writers:

granting Condé Nast, the New Yorker’s corporate overlord, “sole authority” to terminate writers’ contracts in the event they become the focus of a social-media mob, “the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals.” The morality clauses are now regular features of writers’ contracts at Condé Nast.

… Two things are almost always misunderstood about these campaigns: One is that the Twitter mobs are mostly camouflage for internal corporate politics — ABC is not making multi-million-dollar programming decisions based on the tweets of Caitlyn the Rage-Monkey on Twitter, but public outcries can provide plausible pretexts to internal plotters. Second, the institutions themselves — corporations, publications, government agencies — are the real target, not the writers or other contributors. The point of the Bret Stephens mob wasn’t to silence Bret Stephens, who has any number of places he can publish that will give him an audience comparable in size and prestige to that of the New York Times; the point of the Bret Stephens mob was for status-anxious and resentful nobodies to get a momentary jolt out of telling the New York Times “Dance, monkey!” and seeing its editors begin to tap their feet and sway.

One wonders what kind of magazine writer is not involved in public disputes, and what use he could be.

Kevin D. Williamson at National Review.

I’m pleased to report that Masha Gessen, who gives Camille Paglia a run for the heterodox money, declined to sign. Look for her soon in pages other than Condé Nasté.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Clippings, 1/4/19

1

A reminder that not all “Evangelical” Trump supporters are merely self-described Evangelicals who do not actually go to church:

You and other white evangelical leaders have strongly supported President Trump. What about him exemplifies Christianity and earns him your support?

What earns him my support is his business acumen. Our country was so deep in debt and so mismanaged by career politicians that we needed someone who was not a career politician, but someone who’d been successful in business to run the country like a business. That’s the reason I supported him.

Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?

No.

That’s the shortest answer we’ve had so far.

Only because I know that he only wants what’s best for this country, and I know anything he does, it may not be ideologically “conservative,” but it’s going to be what’s best for this country, and I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.

Washington Post interview with Jerry Fallwell Jr..

Don’t lose sight of the credulity amidst that idolatry. Jerry Fallwell Jr. actually believes that Trump is a successful businessman, not conman and tax fraudster who played a successful businessman on Reality TV.

I bow deeply to young, über-progressive Godbeat reporter Elizabeth Breunig for her synopsis:

Jerry Falwell Jr. is once again spreading his uniquely modern, American version of a business philosophy roughly based on the religion known as Christianity.

He seems … to have been reasoning backward, trying to explain in Christian terms why he holds the conclusions he does, rather than beginning from the religion and following it to its own conclusions ….

Breunig is not doing the usual cherry picking of progressive or secularist “clobber passages.” She reminds me instead of the conservative American Christian who went to Europe, found people who shared his religious convictions, but was stunned to find that they considered themselves socialists.

2

[T]he problem is the emergence, over the course of a century, of a fourth branch of government neither conceived by nor desired by the framers of the Constitution: a network of administrative agencies that combine legislative, executive and judicial powers and therefore threaten the integrity of the constitutional framework and the basic rights of the American people …

But conservatives often misdiagnose the process by which the administrative state has arisen. We emphasize the hyperactivity of the executive and judicial branches, and these are certainly part of the problem. But hiding in plain sight is a deeper cause: the willful underactivity of the legislative branch. In an effort to avoid hard choices and shirk responsibility, Congress enacts vague statutes that express broad goals, empower executive agencies to fill in the practical details, and leave courts to clean up the ensuing mess. The result can look like executive overreach and judicial activism, but the root of the problem is legislative dereliction.

Yuval Levin, reviewing Judicial Fortitude by Peter Wallison.

Exactly. Thank you.

More:

[A] certain kind of judicial activism is actually a necessary precondition to judicial restraint and to any form of originalism: Judges must make sure that each branch of government does no more but also no less than the job the Constitution assigns it. “If Congress were permitted to delegate its exclusive legislative authority to the administrative agencies in the executive branch,” he writes, “the separation of powers would be a nullity and the dangers to liberty envisioned by the Framers could become a reality.” To avoid that, judges must insist that Congress engage in actual legislating by preventing it from handing over its power to regulatory agencies.

I very much like this idea. I’m tempted to buy the book to see how Wallison elaborates on “statutes that express broad goals, [and] empower executive agencies to fill in the practical details.” Is it just laziness, or is it fear of dark money ads ominously saying that “Congressman Schmoe voted against the Apple Pie, Motherhood and the Flag Act.”

3

I haven’t kept a scorecard, but I’ve been watching Kamala Harris since her days as California Attorney General, and she is toxic and hostile to people like me. Her treatment of Catholic judicial nominee Brian Buescher is not an uncharacteristic break in a record of tolerance, but just another mark of her progressive totalitarianism, her intent to use the levers of government to silence religious conservatives.

She is a very dangerous woman. And she’s generating a lot of buzz as the 2020 Democrat Presidential nominee.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Miscellany

1

Headlines of 2019: Let’s Get It Over With (Christopher Buckley)

2

There are now over a dozen investigations into Trump’s various scandals. If we lived in a healthy society, the ensuing indictments would be handled in a serious way — somber congressional hearings, dispassionate court proceedings. Everybody would step back and be sobered by the fact that our very system of law is at stake.

But we don’t live in a healthy society and we don’t have a healthy president.

Trump doesn’t recognize, understand or respect institutional authority. He only understands personal power. He sees every conflict as a personal conflict in which he destroys or gets destroyed.

When the indictments come down, Trump won’t play by the rules. He’ll seek to delegitimize those rules. He’ll seek to delegitimize our legal institutions. He’ll personalize every indictment, slander every prosecutor. He’ll seek to destroy the edifice of law in order to save himself.

We know the language he’ll use. It will be the anti-establishment, anti-institutional language that has been coursing through the left and right for the past few decades: The establishment is corrupt, the game is rigged, the elites are out to get you.

At that point congressional leaders will face the defining choice of their careers: Where does their ultimate loyalty lie, to the Constitution or to their party?

David Brooks

3

The era of limited government is emphatically over in the only political party where it once had some appeal. The GOP’s nonnegotiable demand is now a monumental public works project … A proposal that may eventually cost $40 billion (in an estimate by MIT engineers) has been shaped more by the president’s political instincts than by serious study of alternatives. Agents in the field overwhelmingly request better technology and more personnel rather than longer and higher border barriers.

Michael Gerson. Make that “a massive public works project with an East German vibe.”

4

(Trigger warning: This is from Garrison Keillor, on whom I have not given up as a writer. Your mileage may vary.)

As inauguration approached, a story went around about Russian prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room performing (alleged) bodily functions on his person as recorded by (so it was said) the KGB, all of which was leaked to the media, and suddenly people were passing puns like water and referring to the Republican potty — the story made a big splash, very amusing to an Episcopalian like me. Apparently, if you’re in Moscow, it’s not like Peoria. Scantily clad girls kneel over you, doing their business, saying: “You’re not just a man, you’re a nation.”

At a news conference, the Man denied all, of course, standing at a podium the size of a urinal with the sign “Office of the President Elect” on it. President-elect is not an office; it is a person waiting to take office. The sign belongs in the Smithsonian along with Lucy’s “Psychiatric Help 5¢.” He looked as if he still couldn’t quite believe that he was Number One.

Garrison Keillor

5

Goodness knows I have a confirmation bias for lurid stories about Evangelicals, but this seems pretty over-the-top.

“Get ready to king in our future lives,” he tells his followers. “Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”

Ralph Drollinger, Trump White House spiritual insider, quoted in an uneven-quality article by Katherine Stewart. I’m unclear on whether this quote is prophecy porn or anticipates temporal power in the current “dispensation.”

More:

I have attended dozens of Christian nationalist conferences and events over the past two years. And while I have heard plenty of comments casting doubt on the more questionable aspects of Mr. Trump’s character, the gist of the proceedings almost always comes down to the belief that he is a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord. I have also learned that resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God.

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.

I would fault Ms. Stewart for a deficit of Christian charity, but:

  • I don’t know if she purports to be Christian.
  • I’m far less than 100% certain that she’s exaggerating.
  • I don’t know whether these personnages are mainstream or fringe, so far is Evangelicalism behind me.
  • I have heard Evangelicals say that resistance to (Republican) presidents is resistance to God since Richard Nixon.
  • I have an old Evangelical friend who told me angrily in email in 2016 that Trump was the finest candidate she’d ever had the privilege of voting for (and she had been voting since Nixon). She also used the King Cyrus trope.

That’s Evangelicalism that’s behind me, note well; I am still Christian and deny the equation of Evangelical therewith.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.