Will we ever unsee this?

Young Goodman Brown had a dream in which his “goodly” neighbors literally were trafficking with Satan — and wondered ever after if they really were what they seemed.

Some of our “goodly” neighbors have been behaving badly, too, over the past few years.

This episode, as all things must, will someday end. It may even do so without the erection of a full-blown autocracy on the grave of the American republic. Trumpism may be rejected in a fair national vote, and Trump may in fact leave office. A semblance of rule of law may be preserved.

What then? Like young Goodman Brown, can Americans unsee the lawless bacchanal of the past three years? Can they pretend it did not happen, and that the fellow citizens who so readily discarded law and honesty never did so?

Trump has, one way or another, changed our national life irrevocably. When one side of a political struggle has shown itself willing to commit crimes, collaborate with foreign powers, destroy institutions, and lie brazenly about facts readily ascertainable to anyone, should the other side — can the other side — then pretend these things did not happen?

Garrett Epps, America’s Goodly Veneer Was a Lie.

Flawed, a little too one-sided, but powerful.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Presumption of Regularity

Jonah Goldberg’s Remnant podcast (Episode 146. I cannot find a direct link except to this download file) recently hosted Adam White of the American Enterprise Institute on a sort of “Impeachment 101” episode.

Some attention was given, of course, to the White House transcript of the infamous Ukraine phone conversation (which did have a quid pro quo, just for the record) and specifically to the deeply corrupt and impeachable request that Ukraine interfere in the 2020 Election by digging up dirt on Joe Biden. I am not going to digress to defend “quid pro quo” or “impeachable.” Listen to the whole podcast if you want to hear them defended.

Less remarked than the effort to involve Ukraine in smearing Biden was a reflection of Trump’s bat-guano crazy theory that the DNC mail server is in Kiev. That apparently is an actual extant delusion of the rightmost fringe, so of course our very stable genius is totally into it — enough so to debase his office by asking about it on a diplomatic call.

Then there was the booing at the World Series game 5, which some thought demeaned “the office of the Presidency.” That is not an argument that I find unsympathetic normally, but something is so abnormal about the present moment that it seems disingenuous.

White nails the present abnormality (interjections and “throat-clearing” omitted):

Goldberg: People are slipping Trump garbage from like GatewayPundit and Breitbart. The reason why the President of the United States said it was okay to betray the Kurds because they weren’t at Normandy — that came from like a Kurt Schlichter column.

White: … One thing about the President and this quid pro quo — I do think we need to step back and remind people: all this — … things that for a normal President would be kind of pushing the boundaries — President Trump doesn’t get that benefit of the doubt because of “Lock her up!” Right? He made this part of his campaign that he was going to go after, he was going to threaten his political enemies. And all his fans sort of rose up and loved that line, and they liked the President because he was so outside the box.

The problem is all the conventions of deference that we afford Presidents and the space we give them to use their Presidential power — it’s all contingent on our vision of what a normal President is, and what lawyers sometimes call “the presumption of regularity.” President Trump having smashed that box on his way into the office — he and his supporters can’t really be offended now when the rest of the system doesn’t treat him like a normal President, doesn’t give him those benefits of the doubt.

That’s why we need conventional statesmen in office so that we can trust them that, if they misspeak when they’re talking to Ukraine and they actually are interested in corruption or some far-fetched theory that they just want to ask about — that we can kind of step back and trust that this isn’t the President just wielding these powers to punish his enemies.

The President gave all that up before he was even in office ….

When I refresh my memory on the presumption of regularity, I’m struck by its power in explaining good people’s distrust of Trump. Frankly, I’d distrust him apart from “Lock her up!” because he’s a multi-adulterous, multi-bankrupt, sociopathic and punitive liar, New York real estate developer, Casino operator, pro wrestling promoter and reality TV figure.* But White and Goldberg don’t mention those.

Whether you’re sanely left or sanely right, you likely would enjoy and profit from the whole podcast episode, which agreed with me on some key points (of course we told the Russians we were going in after Abu Bakr al-Baghadi; we didn’t want them shooting down our helicopters) and enlightened me on others (there’s no requirement or even a well-established expectation that an Administration tell Congress about an imminent counter-terrorism operation). On the other hand, many of the pro-Trump talking points are rubbish, as they also note.

Crazy partisans likely wouldn’t enjoy the podcast. And sane people might have higher (in several senses) priorities than wallowing even more than necessary in impeachment news. Let your conscience be your guide, knowing that the podcast won’t agitate you with demagoguery.

* UPDATE: Also a Birther. How could I have forgotten Birtherism?

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Gonzo politics

When a group of House Republicans staged a protest and barged into the secure rooms of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning, claiming that the testimony being collected there about possible criminality and abuse of power by President Trump constituted a “Soviet-style process” that “should not be allowed in the United States,” Americans were witnessing perhaps the clearest example yet of the GOP’s embrace of gonzo politics.

Until recently the gonzo style was confined to an edgy form of muckraking quasi-journalism. When it dealt with public figures, including those involved with politics, it invariably sought to make them the butt of a joke. But in the digital age, this has changed — and interestingly, the change has taken place almost exclusively on the right, where a gonzo style of politics has migrated from alt-right “news” websites to the political arena. It has since taken root and flourished in the richly fertilized soil of the Trump presidency.

To grasp what’s distinctive about the gonzo style of politics, we first need to clarify what it isn’t.

“Normal” politics involves politicians and other public figures articulating principles and proposing policies to advance a normative vision of the public good. It presumes that all of us share a reality of truth and facts and that it’s possible to determine the best way to order that common life. The partisan clashes we associate with normal politics emerge from the fact that different classes and factions within the polity disagree about the public good and what it demands and requires. This clash of views prompts citizens to make arguments and deploy rhetorical appeals in order to persuade the greatest possible number of people to join one side in the conflict against the others. The tacit expectation of normal politics is that this debate will be conducted in good faith.

President Trump is in serious trouble. He and his closest advisers have admitted to impeachable actions. Others have testified to statements and behavior that incriminate him further. That makes mounting a defense of him in terms of publicly accepted standards of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, extremely difficult if not impossible. Yet the president is demanding a defense regardless, and members of his party have volunteered to go along by play-acting indignation and spouting indisputable lies.

Damon Linker. The “gonzo” adjective is inspired and illuminating. I even think it could be said that Trump’s is a “gonzo Presidency.” You really need to read Linker’s full column.

The utter disregard for truth in favor of what will preserve or expand power is a true deathwork.

I am aware that the Democrats, too, are power-seekers (toward ends whose toxicity, as I view the world, prevents my becoming a Democrat, too), but that’s a given in politics. It is the GOP’s abandonment of the norms of normal politics (chiefly “articulating principles and proposing policies to advance a normative vision of the public good;” the GOP chiefly exists to tear down what Obama built — for reasons they can’t or won’t articulate in terms of the public good they’ll replace it with) that distinguishes it as deeply toxic.

Final thought. As I was preparing to post this, I noted my new footer/epilogue. It strikes me that this may be young progressives’ version of gonzo politics:

This is the competitive advantage of the young—that they can so readily assimilate the ever-expanding list of shibboleths and forbidden expressions. Mock horror is the next generation’s form of rent-seeking, and political correctness the younger players’ edge.

Abigail Shrier, Ken Fisher, Joe Biden and the Merciless Young. I deplore it, too, but I’m too pissed at the GOP, my former party, to assert or deny equivalency.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.


The main difference between Trump and his predecessors is that the professional class / deep state / neoliberal order / whatever-you-want-to-call-it is fluent in a language that imposes a kind of regulative fiction on that chaos. Their fluency gives them a patina of legitimacy and not a little power over the less fluent, which comforts some normies but also drives conspiratorial thinking. Trump and a lot of the people around him lack this fluency and have no interest in cultivating it.

Mark Hemingway, quoting an unnamed friend.

I came across this via Wall Street Journal’s “Notable & Quotable.” I don’t regularly visit Federalist.com (not affiliated with the Federalist Society; I’d be worried for the Society if it were), but this column from there really is very good because:

  1. It gives me a plausible version of why 40% of my countrymen are adamant Trump voters without inviting me to despise them.
  2. It articulates my suspicions about the brokenness of our system being hidden by one aspect of what Hemingway’s friend calls “regulative fiction.”
  3. In so doing, it clarifies the stakes in the 2020 Election.

I mean all of that sincerely.

But there are big problems when you sit with the column a while.

First, Hemingway too easily elides our system’s brokenness into corruption. Then he compares the pre-Trump system’s brokenness to Trump’s corruption, though I think the two are incommensurable. And he poses a false dichotomy intended to favor Trump (or at least to muddy the waters about his awfulness).

Hemingway puts the choice in 2020 thusly (and this is some of what the Wall Street Journal quoted):

So then, do we live with Trump, who lays bare all the problems with what happens when naked self-interest collides with power? Or do we tell ourselves some “regulative fiction” that pretends those who populate our sprawling administrative state are somehow above their own selfish impulses and can be counted on to act in the best interests of voters, when that is plainly untrue? …

If you’re wondering how Trump voters can continue to ignore Trump’s issues, it’s not even obvious to lots of voters that Trump opponents and D.C. institutionalists … are an obvious contrast to Trump even as a matter of personal corruption.

Q: “Lays bare all the problems with what happens when naked self-interest collides with power” has the (sole?) virtue of avoiding the passive voice, but what does its odd active voice actually mean?

A: It means that Trump is nakedly using his power to advance his own self-interest. “Nakedly” turns it into a relative virtue, I guess.

Q: Why must I tell myself some “regulative fiction” if I reject Trump?

A: I need not. I can (I did it before, and can do it again) allow that corruption happens even when a toxic narcissist sociopath fraudster isn’t in the White House.

The only alternative to “no government corruption” ultimately is “no government,” and Hemingway must learn the craft of distractive hand-waving much better if he wants to make me forget that.

In a similar vein, Victor Davis Hanson played whataboutism with Democrat sexual misbehavior to distract us from Trumpian sexual, financial and political corruption:

Again, why the unadulterated hatred? For the small number of NeverTrumpers, of course, Trump’s crudity in speech and crassness in manner nullify his accomplishments: the unattractive messenger has fouled an otherwise tolerable message.

While they recognize in the abstract that the randy JFK, the repugnant LBJ, and the horny Bill Clinton during their White House tenures were far grosser in conduct than has been Donald Trump, they either assume presidential ethics should have evolved or they were not always around to know of past bad behavior first hand, or believe Trump’s crude language is worse than prior presidents’ crude behavior in office.

“Nullify his accomplishments?” I think not. I’m grateful for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and many lower-court Federal judicial appointments as well, and I regard the good economic news the same way I regard it under other Presidents who get lucky.

And it’s not crude language versus crude behavior; it’s crude language and crude behavior versus crude behavior.

Oh: Plus the matter of open versus secret.

  • JFK didn’t commit adultery with Marilyn Monroe on national television. Bill Clinton had Ms. Lewinsky service him in private, and hotly denied sexual relations with her until a now-famous blue dress exposed his hair-splitting. Both louts conducted themselves in public with a modicum of dignity.
  • I am relatively un-scandalized by our leaders discreetly enriching themselves and their family members. I am appalled when a leader brazenly announces that the G-7 Summit will be hosted at his resort, or claims that a smoking gun phone conversation transcript was “beautiful,” or “perfect,” or whatever terms he used to gaslight us.

This world is fallen. Our rulers are flawed (as are we). The adulteries and corruption are inevitable, but I do not consider it good to have my nose (and everyone else’s) rubbed in dirty realities by a sociopathic narcissist. It is not better to put them on open, defiant, norm-shattering display. “Regulative fiction” seems like a fairly benign way of saying “humankind cannot bear very much reality,” or “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.”

I prefer a flawed ruler who feigns virtue to one who blatantly makes a virtue of vice and brags that he has never asked God for forgiveness because he hasn’t done anything wrong enough to need forgiving.

If you think brazenness makes vice more virtuous, you’re not my idea of a conservative. You’re a bomb-thrower — a tearer-down of what millennia have built up.

Thanks for helping me clarify that, Mark.

Of course we do still face the prospect that the alternative to Trump will be the furthest Left President we’ve ever elected, with all that entails (including the execrable “Equality Act,” which has legitimately become a factor to weigh seriously). But if politics is downstream of culture, the Hemingway and Hanson whataboutisms fall short of making Democrats sound culturally worse than Donald Trump.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Anecdotes and trends

One man in my parish is very frugal and doesn’t even own a car. He usually gets a ride to our rural church from someone else in the parish. But a few weeks ago, he had to hire a Lyft, and the driver, a Sikh man, asked if he could come in.

He ended up staying for the whole service and coffee hour, taking videos with his smartphone, and was welcomed warmly (there was even a staged photo of him with Father Gregory and another man in the parish with a notable beard).

A few years ago, a Texan Purdue student, from a Hindu family, completed a long catechumenate and was received into the Orthodox Church. Tomorrow, we receive a heavily-tattooed military veteran, formerly in one of the Arminian Christian traditions. A Protestant pastor is a respectful inquirer, and several Roman Catholics are in the catechumenate. Our founding Priest was Episcopalian, our current Priest Lutheran. I was Calvinist. One of my Godsons was Church of Christ, a Goddaughter raised without religion. Converts in our parish probably outnumber “cradle Orthodox,” though some of the converts have many “cradle Orthodox” children that I may be mistakenly thinking of as themselves converts.

[M]ore than every before, people are searching for the One True Church of Christ – they are searching for Orthodoxy.

Roman Catholics are aghast at the Amazonian Synod, the constant vague and confusing statements coming from Rome, and the consistent degeneration of their spirituality. They’re realizing that there is something serious has gone mission, and they know that there is more.

Protestant Christians are tired of the happy, clappy/seeker-friendly service which offers a spiritual experience a mile wide, an inch deep, and is often loaded with gnostic beliefs. They’re realizing that something is wrong, something is missing, and that there is something more.

Non-Christians in these latter days are turning from the world, desperate to find some beacon of Truth in a dystopian society. Many muslims, buddhists, and hindus are finding Christ. They’re having a spiritual awakening. They KNOW something is wrong. They want to fix it themselves, but they don’t know what it takes.

Father John at Journey to Orthodoxy. Need I add that this rings true?

It is also sadly true that some leave the Orthodox faith. That baffles me, but life is hard — harder for some than others — and people struggle with burdens they cannot (or do not) articulate.  But the trend seems to the contrary.

If any of Father John’s descriptions fit you, we’d love to see you.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Hold them in tension

Can I hold in my mind simultaneously these two realities?

I need to try. I’ve been so appalled by Trump that I have unduly resisted recognizing another vital part of the story.

That [Trump] was insincere and full of it and irresponsible, at first at least, when he attacked the “deep state” and the “fake news media,” doesn’t change the reality of what’s happened since. Even paranoiacs have enemies, and even Donald “Deep State” Trump is a legitimately elected president whose ouster is being actively sought by the intelligence community … [W]hile Donald Trump conducting foreign policy based on what he sees on Fox and Friends is troubling, it’s not in the same ballpark as CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post and the New York Times engaging in de facto coverage partnerships with the FBI and CIA to push highly politicized, phony narratives like Russiagate.

I owe Matt Taibbi a debt of gratitude, and strongly recommend his article. (Andrew C. McCarthy* tried to tell me many of the same things, but I wasn’t yet in the mood to buy a book, by a card-carrying conservative who might just be carrying water for the Orange One.)

I’m not sure this materially changes my voting calculus for 2020. It may take some time to navigate through that.

* UPDATE: How could I have forgotten? James Howard Kunstler also tried to tell me many of the same things.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Tragedy and Triumph

Beto O’Rourke says, in the special Thursday Democrat Pander-O-Thon for LGBT votes, that churches, colleges and charities should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

That’s the succinct version. But I wouldn’t blog if that’s all I had to say.

Liberals will say, “Don’t worry about it. Beto is scraping the bottom of the polls. What he says doesn’t really matter.”…

This conservative said that, too, but

… Huh. Don’t you believe it. If this belief isn’t already held by all the Democratic candidates now, it will be. As Brandon McGinley says, there really is no principled reason to resist it, given what the Democrats already believe about the sanctity of homosexuality and transgenderism. Haven’t we all lived long enough now to recognize that the Law of Merited Impossibility — “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it” — is as irrefutable as the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Even at this late date, we hear from many liberals that orthodox Christians are “obsessed” with homosexuality. They can’t grasp why, aside from bigotry, that we are so concerned about the issue. It’s largely because the march of LGBT ideology to conquer our culture tramples over the rights of orthodox/traditionalist religious people, and indeed of anybody who objects to whatever claim LGBTs make.

What Beto O’Rourke said last night is a perfect example of why many orthodox Christians who despise Donald Trump will vote for him anyway. The survival of our institutions depends on keeping the Democrats out of the White House (and Congress) for as long as we can ….

Rod Dreher (emphasis added).

Insofar as Dreher is describing why many Christians will hold their noses and vote for Trump, he is surely right.

Insofar as he is saying that the survival of our Christian institutions hinges on Donald Trump’s reelection, he is selling God short.

But this is admittedly a situation with high stakes, where the horrible terribleness of Donald Trump has emboldened the Democrats to veer sharply to their left and to promise their base the heads of orthodox Christians on a platter.

Trust in God comes hard in these circumstances, and the trusting ones need to abandon any illusion that Romans 8:28 means only good things happen to those who love and are called by God.

I’m still strongly inclined never to vote for Trump, come whatever may.

It’s not just “all things considered and on balance.” It’s a question of my ingrained, pre-theoretical ethical orientation. I just couldn’t vote for Richard Nixon, in my first Presidential election, once I’d concluded he was a crook. 47 years later, with a bit more ethical theory under my belt and a lot less starry eyes in my residual optimism, I still cannot begin to articulate a convincing deontological or virtue ethics argument for voting for Trump, and I reject Dreher’s implicit consequentialism.

I’d encourage any Christian readers inclined to vote for Trump to grapple with articulating at ethical case for voting for Trump, aware that consequentialism squares pretty badly with Christianity.

On the other hand, my scriptures (the Christian scriptures before the Reformers bowdlerized them — see this, for instance) do include this bit of consequentialism:

A large force of soldiers pursued them, caught up with them, set up camp opposite them, and prepared to attack them on the Sabbath.

There is still time, they shouted out to the Jews. Come out and obey the king’s command, and we will spare your lives.

We will not come out, they answered. We will not obey the king’s command, and we will not profane the Sabbath.

The soldiers attacked them immediately, but the Jews did nothing to resist; they did not even throw stones or block the entrances to the caves where they were hiding. They said,

We will all die with a clear conscience. Let heaven and earth bear witness that you are slaughtering us unjustly.

So the enemy attacked them on the Sabbath and killed the men, their wives, their children, and their livestock. A thousand people died.

When Mattathias and his friends heard the news about this, they were greatly saddened and said to one another,

If all of us do as these other Jews have done and refuse to fight the Gentiles to defend our lives and our religion, we will soon be wiped off the face of the earth.

On that day they decided that if anyone attacked them on the Sabbath, they would defend themselves, so that they would not all die as other Jews had died in the caves.

(Emphasis added)

Make of that passage what you will. It does seem a pretty consequentialist, and Judas Maccabeus remains a mythical hero.

Maybe the polls in your state will say, in 13 months, that your state’s a toss-up, so that choosing between evils feels compulsory.

What I make of the passage from I Macabees is that I at least must be gentle with fellow-Christians who vote for Trump or (because of his horrible terribleness) his Democrat opponent — and that I should hope and pray that they will recognize such a vote as at best a tragic, not triumphant.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Reaping what we’ve sown

The universal brotherhood of man is a real thing, but human beings are limited in their capacity to love and understand one another; we need a hierarchy of loves based on mutual understanding and presence (inseparable from history and culture) that we might best love one another …

We live in a world where various powers have callously disregarded the values of blood or soil. The history of colonialism is mostly one of displacement and stolen land, followed by the imposition of a political imaginary that interpolated blood into foreign political categories, creating the “tribalism” that sickens governments around the world. The recent history of economic development has provided many benefits to people at the cost that they displace themselves from their families or their land for the sake of a “good job.” Various wars have created our current refugee crisis, where people often have no hope of returning to their land or reuniting with their family members whose bones are sinking into that land. Extractive economies — most tragically, the drug economy — allow people in power to enjoy the fruits of the land while those who work that land suffer various kinds of violence.

Because the Gospel must be preached to all nations, because we as Christians have a trans-national identity that ultimately trumps any other identity, and because no man who wants to feed his family should be denied the opportunity to seek the employment necessary to do so, movement around the world should be free.

The fact that any man should be forced to travel halfway across the world to do so, disrupting his relationship with blood and soil, is a travesty of the natural order. The reality that Western nations fear men doing so only demonstrates that we have built our political order on a house of cards. We quake at the possibility that the conditions we have sown in other places through our economic practices and warmongering might come to us through migration. We are hysterical at the possibility of reaping what we have sown.

Matthew Loftus, Pro-Blood, Pro-Soil, Pro-Nation, Pro-Christianity, at Mere Orthodoxy.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees cause-and-effect between our economic and foreign policies and the migrants coming to our shores (Europe’s, too).

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.