Public Affairs, 11/19/22

I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately, blogging daily. That’s not a goal, but I’ve just stumbled into it.

I’m going to try to separate any blogging about Florida Man into separate posts. If we are lucky, he’ll continue fading from memory and relevance anyway. Today is not a day when I write about him.

My (Other) Man Mitch

I’ve long been an admirer of outgoing Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who adopted Dubya’s praise of “my man Mitch” and made it his own when he ran for Governor of Indiana.

But I also respect the heck out of Mitch McConnell, and am pleased that Senate Republicans spared no time re-electing him as their leader over a Trumpier challenger.

McConnell is shrewd, stable, and flexible. He cooperated with Trump a lot without becoming a sycophant. He also criticized Trump without becoming an unhinged never-Trumper, and that even in the face of Trump’s racist attacks on his asian wife. He carefully assesses electability when parsing out dollars to candidates from funds he effectively controls, and I have little doubt that the Republicans would have a majority in the Senate come January if primary voters had picked his preferred candidates over Trump’s parade of grotesques.

In other words, he’s a grown-up in a city of petulant, limelight-seeking adolescent Republicans and soccer-flopping progressives.

Democrats like to demonize McConnell as Republicans demonize Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, but we’d put an end to the “do-nothing Congress” if we had more Senators and Representatives of his temperament and experience.

What does he know, anyway?

Reacting to an uncommonly silly pronouncement from Peter Thiel:

Wait. What? The three options for the liberal democracies of Western Europe are Sharia law, “Chinese communist AI,” and some kind of green energy state? And there are “no other doors?” The only thing that separates that comment from a light-night, weed-infused dorm room bull session is his few billion dollars. That’s the person who should reshape the GOP? 

I’ve come to your inbox less to condemn the gurus (though people who commit fraud should pay the price), but to ask a different question. Why do we fall for them time and again?

I’m not someone who tells celebrities to “shut up and sing” or athletes to “shut up and dribble.” And I’d never tell Elon Musk to “shut up and get to Mars” or tell Peter Thiel, “shut up and facilitate cashless transactions.” I like the marketplace of ideas. I’m open to interesting thoughts from unlikely sources. 

But I object to the presumption of insight from famous or successful people. I object to the hero worship (or greed) I’ve seen with my own eyes, where sycophants and fans won’t tell the wealthy and famous obvious truths because they hope to bask in their reflected glory or benefit from their largesse.

David French, America, Can We Talk About Our Guru Problem?

It used to be stars and starlots on whose every oracular word we waited. Now it’s billionaires, more than one of whose bubbles could turn them into mere millionaires by tomorrow.

Blake Masters

Speaking of Peter Thiel, the George Soros of the Right (and neither of those two is as dumb or evil as their detractors think), one of his boys, Blake Masters, lost in Arizona.

I don’t need to have, and don’t have, an overall impression of Masters. But I’ve got some litmus tests and one of them is “if a candidate quotes the late Sam Francis without caveats, don’t vote for him.”

Francis was brilliant, atheist, and deeply racist. I appreciated his brilliance until his racism became undeniable, and it is why he should be “consigned to the dustbin of history.”

Federalist Society at a Crossroad

Peter Cannelos thinks the Federalist Society was all about reversing Roe v. Wade and is adrift now. (“You get your white whale and what do you do? What’s the next thing?”)

“Not so fast,” say David French and Sarah Isgur on Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast. That was never the purpose of the Society and its actual purpose remains vital. The real question is whether the Society will stand by its principles when populist Republicans, not liberals or progressives, are the ones trampling on the Constitution, as the Society has become closely identified with the GOP and the GOP has become performatively populist at the state level in particular.

David and Sarah seem to think FedSoc will stand by its principles initially, but that losing its “conservative” friends when it does so will intensify long-term pressure to forsake principle for politics. It’s the nature of those long-term pressures that make Cannelos’s piece worth reading. And he’s not necessarily wrong that abortion is what FedSoc was about in public impression.

Begin listening at 46:33.

EA

Although SBF and the collapse of FTX have cast a pall over EA, that’s unwarranted.

(If you find the prior paragraph undecipherable, congratulations: you’re more immune to ephemera than I am.)

We really should think about how much our charitable giving actually helps, not about how virtuous it makes us feel. That doesn’t mean we all should suddenly start giving only to deploy mosquito nets against malaria, but:

Aw, heck! I wrote most of the preceding before Ross Douthat weighed in. He touched on some of the same themes but added other good stuff. This link is supposed to get you through the New York Times paywall to read his take.

Michael Gerson, RIP

Still, Gerson deserves high marks for his criticism of Donald Trump and, above all, for his readiness to call out fellow evangelicals for their abject obeisance. The day after the assault on the Capitol, he wrote a column holding them more responsible than anyone else for “unleashing insurrectionists and domestic terrorists.”

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Nor did he hesitate to name names: Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Penny Nance.

Mark Silk, Two cheers for Michael Gerson

Gerson’s reasons for coming back to evangelicals in the Trumposene were closely akin to my reasons.

For what it’s worth, I don’t share Silk’s condemnation of him for his role in selling the Iraq war. I voted for Bush’s “humbler foreign policy” in 2000, but I understood on 9/11 that the pressure for a strong military response against someone-or-other was going to prevail, and better people than I backed it at the time. I don’t think I ever supported the war (God forgive me if I did), but relentless resistance was futile.

Remembering our collective sins

He asked me if I had been to Auschwitz, in Poland. I hadn’t. “Don’t go there,” he said, shaking his head. “People are all with their phones. It should be prevented. And they go”—he raised his hand a few feet from his face and looked at his palm, emulating someone taking a selfie—“ ‘Me in front of the crematorium.’ ‘Me in front of the ramp.’ I mean, it’s so obscene.”

In the United States there are 41 million Black people; we make up 12.5 percent of the population. In Germany, there are approximately 120,000 Jewish people, out of a population of more than 80 million. They represent less than a quarter of 1 percent of the population. More Jewish people live in Boston than in all of Germany. (Today, many Jews in Germany are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their descendants.) Lots of Germans do not personally know a Jewish person.

This is part of the reason, Steiner believes, that Germany is able to make Holocaust remembrance a prominent part of national life; Jewish people are a historical abstraction more than they are actual people. In the United States, there are still millions of Black people. You cannot simply build some monuments, lay down some wreaths each year, and apologize for what happened without seeing the manifestation of those past actions in the inequality between Black and white people all around you.

Steiner also believes that the small number of Jewish people who do reside in Germany exist in the collective imagination less as people, and more as empty canvases upon which Germans can paint their repentance.

Clint Smith, How Germany Remembers the Holocaust

The story was so long that I almost didn’t read it, despite some trusted person’s recommendation. I’m glad I did. It brought tears to my eyes in places.

The explicit challenge is “how will America remember its sins?”, but that feels like an afterthought, to add a touch of “relevance,” and few answers are suggested.

Superwoman

“I would just like to announce that I am in my third trimester and I am an absolute powerhouse that can create human life. I can do ANYTHING … except sit or stand or lie down or recline,” – Mary Katharine Ham. (Via Andrew Sullivan).

New Category!

Today, I’m introducing a new category, “soccer-flopping.” All honor to David French for introducing me to the metaphor. The bad news is that “grievance mongering” may fall into disuse


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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