Social collapse (and more)

1

This reminded me of something a professor, himself a conservative Christian, I spoke with at Notre Dame said to me about The Benedict Option. He asked how it had sold, and I said pretty well, but probably not as well as he thinks, given the hype. He said that he believes the book has only gotten started. How come? I asked.

“Most conservative Christians don’t understand what’s going on in the culture,” he said. “It’s going to take Trump losing, and the Democrats taking over in Washington, for them to feel the full force of the post-Christian culture on their necks. Right now, they don’t grasp how precarious things are for us — but they will.”

It’s odd to have one’s professional success tied to the decline of one’s culture. I would rather sell no more books and be wrong about the future! But I don’t think I am wrong about the future.

… Some years ago, I interviewed Oxford historian Bryan Ward-Perkins about his book The Fall Of Rome. Ward-Perkins draws on archaeological data to understand late antiquity, and the period after the collapse of Rome in the West. In his book (and in our interview), he emphasized how massive the collapse of technical knowledge and skill was in the West. For example, he said that it took something like six centuries for Europeans to learn how to build roofs as well as the Romans could. It wasn’t only architecture. People forgot how to do a lot of things — the kind of things you assume are unforgettable.

I found this hard to wrap my mind around. How could such basic knowledge be just … lost? Not having books and mass literacy certainly creates an environment conducive to mass forgetting. But you’d think that basic life skills like how to cultivate crops, rudimentary metallurgy, and so forth, would not be so easily forgotten. It happened. Could that happen to us? Hard to see how, given that we do have mass literacy, and books.

Think about it, though: we have forgotten as a culture and civilization what marriage is for, and are well on the way to forgetting what men are, and are for, and women too. This is not a matter of knowledge being denied to us. This is a matter of will.

Rod Dreher.

2

Over the past few days, there’s been a lot of gossip over whether Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will keep his job. But it almost doesn’t matter, because from here on out, it’s Whitakers all the way down.

If conservatism is ever to recover it has to achieve two large tasks. First, it has to find a moral purpose large enough to displace the lure of blood-and-soil nationalism. Second, it has to restore standards of professional competence and reassert the importance of experience, integrity and political craftsmanship. When you take away excellence and integrity, loyalty to the great leader is the only currency that remains.

David Brooks. Call that “point.” Call this (“What Republican ‘Excellence’?”) from Rod Dreher “counterpoint”:

It is hard to imagine a Republican A-team more stellar than President George W. Bush’s national security inner circle. These are the best and brightest who led the nation into the disastrous Iraq War. President Bush’s economic team presided over the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, a crash brought about in part because of the president’s own policies. …

3

The main Republican argument against Trump is this: He is a person of horrible character who corrupts everyone around him, undermines essential social standards and is branding his party with an image of bigotry that will last a generation.

Michael Gerson, Will a Republican candidate stand up against Trump in 2020?

4

I finally finished Leon Podles’ book “Sacrilege”, and I challenge anyone to read that book and then assert that the ruling powers ought to somehow be under or subservient to the Church.

Rod Dreher’s Reader Elijah

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Potpourri, 11/15/18

1

I never really kissed dating goodbye as a teenager in the mid-2000s — to be honest, I was pretty late in kissing it hello. But like many who were brought up in contact with evangelical culture, I absorbed its tenets almost by osmosis even though I never even read the whole book. Falling in love means sharing a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back. Sex is a slippery slope, generally with disaster at the bottom. Hard decisions could be boiled down to one rule: Keep it chaste. Do things right, though, and you’ll get the reward you deserve. Follow the instructions: results guaranteed.

Christine Emba.

It’s the promise of a fairy tale ending that offends me. Evangelicals lack any tragic sense of life. (Just “pray away the gay,” for instance.)

Or maybe that absence of tragic sense is a besetting American sin. More Emba:

In essence, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and its (inevitable, if you think about it) fall represent a mind-set prominent in evangelical culture, but also in American society more broadly.

We insist that meritocracy works and combine it with a valorization of hard work (which itself stems from our country’s majority-Protestant roots). To maintain the story that success is accessible to all, we’ve developed a tendency to seek out and elevate simplistic formulas that we hope come with guarantees. Stay pure until marriage, and your marriage will flourish. Follow the “success sequence,” and you’ll never be poor. Go to the right school, and all career doors will open. Elect the right candidate, and America will be great once more.

But the dark side of all this is that when the formulas fail — as they so often do — it’s you who must have done something wrong. And then it’s up to you to fix it on your own. Bad marriage? You must have screwed around as a teen. Still in public housing? Should have gotten a better job. The if/then mind-set doesn’t take into account how much is actually out of our personal control, or the systemic forces — race, class, family history — that might hold someone back.

It is difficult to counter such an ingrained — and easy — habit of thought. But give him credit: In reevaluating “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Harris is modeling one way of doing so — he’s admitting to complexity and engaging directly with others, rather than sending down recommendations from above. Alas, even this admirable attempt won’t undo the harms that his formula caused in the first place.

But let the implosion of a cultural touchstone like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” serve as a lesson, or at least a warning. The next time we’re tempted toward too-formulaic thinking, we’ll know to take it with a grain of salt. After all, life is rarely so pure.

2

Once upon a time, Protestant congregations had pulpits. This was a form of church furniture, a glorified lectern as it where, behind which pastors read the text for their sermon and preached it to boot. Today, contemporary design of church buildings makes little of fixed places for anyone participating in worship, except for the drummer who may be quarantined in a drum shield.

… as ministers of God’s word, pastors’ actions, including their feet, while communicating a message of such great moment should encourage the idea of permanence. That is one reason for having a pulpit with serious heft. It symbolizes that what goes on in this space is of great significance and enduring value (though some look so permanent that even the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth will not unsettle them).

The permanence of the word preached is also a reason for ministers to stay in the pocket behind the pulpit and not move around. At best, happy feet is a distraction that calls more attention to the man than his message. At worst, they invite liturgical dance. So if the argument from permanence does not help, maybe the thought of overweight men and women in leotards will assist pastors (some on the rotund side themselves) keep both feet firmly planted behind their congregation’s ample pulpit.

D.G. Hart

3

[S]cientists are … making declarations ex cathedra — as a direct result of intellectual movements that began in humanities scholarship twenty-five years ago.

So for those of you who think that the humanities are marginal and irrelevant, put that in your mental pipe and contemplatively smoke it for a while.

Many years ago the great American poet Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called “Shame,” in which he imagined “a cramped little state with no foreign policy, / Save to be thought inoffensive.”

Sheep are the national product. The faint inscription
Over the city gates may perhaps be rendered,
“I’m afraid you won’t find much of interest here.”

The people of this nation could not be more overt in their humility, their irrelevance, their powerlessness. But …

Their complete negligence is reserved, however,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the whole empire.

Alan Jacobs, the imminent collapse of an empire

4

[W]hen you are told endlessly that there is no meaning to existence, then guess what? You actually start to think that way. And then everything loses its flavor. Everything starts to taste like rice cakes.

… [Y]ou cannot have it both ways. You cannot bleach divinity and Transcendence out of the cosmos and tell everyone that the whole affair is just an aimless and pointless accident, and then turn around and talk to us about the “moral necessity” of this or that urgent social cause.

Larry Chapp via Rod Dreher.

5

From before the election, but when I was otherwise occupied:

Trumpism … is the new normal. It is not going away. And there is no going back. The challenge for the center-right and center-left across the West is to accommodate this new normal in ways that do not empower authoritarianism, provoke constitutional unraveling, or incite civil unrest. And it seems to me that the lesson of the last two years is that the Republican Party is unable and unwilling to perform that function. It has turned itself into a cult behind a figure hostile to liberal democratic norms, responsible government, and any notion of moderation. It is less a political party than a mass movement sustained by shame-free, mendacious propaganda around a man whose articulated values place him more in the company of Putin and Duterte than Merkel and Macron.

The GOP cannot be talked out of their surrender to this strongman. With each rhetorical or policy atrocity, they have attached themselves more firmly to him. The dissenters are leaving; the new members of Congress will be even Trumpier than the old. They have abandoned any serious oversight role. Their singular achievement has been supplying judicial ranks who will not stand in the way of executive power. That was the real issue in the Kavanaugh nomination, as Newt Gingrich blurted out last week. A subpoena for the president from the special counsel would be fought, he promised, all the way to the Supreme Court, which is when we would see “whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.” This is a party bent on enabling authoritarianism, not restraining it.

That’s why I will vote Democrat next Tuesday. I have many issues with the Democrats, as regular readers well know. None of that matters compared with this emergency. I don’t care, in this instance, what their policies are. I am going to vote for them. I can’t stand most of their leaders and fear their radical fringe. I am going to vote for them anyway. Because it is the only responsible thing there is to do.

The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do.

Andrew Sullivan.

Or as William Blake put it:

what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I’m not at all certain that “judicial ranks … will not stand in the way of executive power” or that such was the aim of confirming them, but Sullivan otherwise is right about the abasement of the GOP, and the House has indeed flipped to the Democrats.

I wrote last week that the midterms would finally tell us what this country now is. And with a remarkable turnout — a 50-year high for a non- presidential election, no less — we did indeed learn something solid and eye-opening. We learned that the American public as a whole has reacted to the first two years of an unfit, delusional, mendacious, malevolent, incompetent authoritarian as president … with relative equanimity. The net backlash is milder than it was against Clinton or Obama (and both of them went on to win reelection).

What I take from this is that Trump really does have a cultlike grip on a whole new population of voters, as well as the reliable Republican voters of the past. That’s not just 42 percent of the country (to use Trump’s approval rating); it’s a motivated 42 percent. And what Trump has successfully done, by corralling right-wing media, tweeting incessantly, dominating the discourse, tending so diligently to his base, and holding rally after rally, is keep that engagement going. Most presidents are interested in governing and sometimes take their eye off the ball politically. Trump is all politics and all salesmanship all the time. And it works. If he can demonstrate this in the midterms, imagine what his reelection campaign will be like.

I’ve been razzed a little for using the term “existential threat” to describe Trump two and a half years ago. But I used it in a specific context: He was and remains such a threat to liberal democracy. Not democracy as a whole. Strongmen can win election after election with big majorities without rigging the vote. A single political party can co-opt the judiciary, or capture the Senate, by democratic means, for illiberal ends. I mean by liberal democracy one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power. The space for this in America has significantly shrunk these past two years and this election has only consolidated that new status quo.

Andrew Sullivan

I’ve detested the Republican party long enough now that my reflex to cringe at Democrat victories passes very quickly, replaced by a resigned feeling of “we are soooooo screwed!” — no matter which major party wins.

6

When you obsess about a problem, you have less energy and passion to pursue solutions. When you fret over every outrage, you elevate those outrages. Stories trend because consumers engage with them, clicking and sharing them, not because the news media dictates that they trend.

I think it would be a solid and beneficial step for us all to simply come to the realizations: Trump is going to Trump. He’s going to lie. He’s going to wink at the racists and Nazis. He’s going to demean women. He’s going to embarrass this country. It’s all going to happen.

Nevertheless, we can take this stand unequivocally: It is all unacceptable and we stand in opposition to it. It is not normal and must never be met as such.

But we must also focus on the future.

Charles Blow

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Trading Lenin for Bezos

Of Amazon’s decision to expand in New York and suburban D.C.:

I used to be suspicious of the phrase “costal elites,” but it seems more apt every day. And as those elites congregate with one another, and concentrate their wealth in ever-smaller enclaves, and increasingly see the 95% of the American landmass between the coasts as material (human and natural) to be exploited for their economic purposes, they also complain ever more vociferously that the American political system — with its “undemocratic” institutions like the Senate — prevent them from exercising even more complete domination over places they will never see and people they will never know.

Alan Jacobs

Remembers this when you hear our Lords and Masters blathering about them “winning the popular vote” or saying we deplorables have too much political power.

Don’t ever let them take away the Senate as currently constituted to reflect a federalist polity.


 

[I]n our last election, “Drain the swamp!” was the mantra of the Trump supporters. But did anyone really expect that the man we elected, a swamp creature if ever there were one, would be able to do this? And what, exactly, does one do with a drained swamp anyway? Probably sell it to developers who would build overpriced, poorly made, beige and boring condos, nicely accessorized with a strip mall complete with a Dunkin Donuts and a Vape shop. In other words, just a different kind of swamp. The Democrats prefer the fevered swamp of coercive governmental power, whereas the Republicans prefer the fetid swamp of corporate greed. So all we have really done is trade Lenin for Bezos.

Larry Chapp via Rod Dreher.

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Potpourri 11/10/18

I indulged my urge to travel from October 29 through election day, with a long transcontinental flight back on Wednesday. Time didn’t permit keeping up with news, let alone commenting.

I’ve spent too much time trying to “catch up.” Aware, though, that much of what passes for news is noise and commercial solicitation, I deleted many items I initially had clipped for later reading.

Here are a few thing that survived.

1 Philosophy and Religion

In the name of mercy, some recent theologians have suggested that there are elements of good in some objectively wrong acts and relationships. For example, friendship is good, and there certainly is an element of friendship in an illicit sexual relationship.

The question should not be whether there are elements of value in sins, but whether there is anything valuable about sinning.

Consider: No one can love evil for its own sake. The only thing it is possible to will for its own sake is good. Thus, the only way it is even possible to will an evil is that something about it seems good to us.

But something seems good to us in every evil, because evil cannot exist in itself. The only way to get an evil at all is to take something good and distort it.

The upshot is that the fact that evil contains disordered elements of good doesn’t mean it isn’t evil. What this fact shows is why evil can be attractive.

J Budziszewski, The Underground Thomist (emphasis added).

Having been in the “elements of good” camp, I stand corrected.


The shallowness and poverty of Evangelical thought on sexuality will not be cured by repudiating I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Where’s the positive vision?

Abigaile Rine Favale elaborates.

I’m tempted to elaborate on my own. Nominalism. Realism. Natural Law. Chastity > Virginity. That kind of thing.

But I won’t.


The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters, notes that there are many ways for the government to provide contraceptives without forcing nuns to violate their beliefs.

An Unnecessary Culture War: The Little Sisters of the Poor finally get their religious exemption (WSJ, 11/10/18)

I love, and financially support, Becket Fund.

 

2 Politics

Pace Jonathan Haidt, liberals likely are not more “open” to “experience” in general than conservatives.


News from the birthplace of the free speech movement.

In a real sense, the most fascist people in America are young progressives.


Of all the ways in which Donald Trump’s presidency has made America worse, nothing epitomizes it quite so fully as the elevation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States. Intellectually honest conservatives — the six or seven who remain, at any rate — need to say this, loudly. His appointment represents an unprecedented assault on the integrity and reputation of the Justice Department, the advice and consent function of the Senate, and the rule of law in the United States.

Bret Stephens


The mystery of Donald Trump is what impels him to overturn the usual rules. Is it a dark sort of cunning or simple defects of character? Because the president’s critics tend to be educated and educated people tend to think that the only kind of smarts worth having is the kind they possess — superior powers of articulation combined with deep stores of knowledge — those critics generally assume the latter. He’s a bigot. He’s a con artist. His followers are dumb. They got lucky last time. They won’t be so lucky again.

Maybe this is even right. But as Trump’s presidency moves forward, it’s no longer smart to think it’s right. There’s more than one type of intelligence. Trump’s is feral. It strikes fast. It knows where to sink the fang into the vein.

Bret Stephens.

Having been recently in the offices of the Jerusalem Post, I was surprised to note that he was once its Editor-in-Chief, and Wikipedia confirms that he took that post when he was all of 29 years old.


Democratic leaders in the House … have the president at a disadvantage. He is a businessman who’s never had to answer to a board. His whole professional life it was him and his whims and his hunger and a series of organizations of which he was sole or principal owner. Democratic leaders should see themselves as his board. They’ve got a CEO they don’t like, but they’ve got some power and they’re using it to save the company. A united board can scare a CEO. Donald Trump up against a board will not be so sure-footed. He will agree to a lot of what you want.

Peggy Noonan.

I love this idea.


With his every utterance, Trump removes the moral guardrails that keep bigotry down.

… How does a conservative movement that is supposed to believe that every healthy society needs powerful moral guardrails give itself over to a president whose every other utterance cheerfully knocks those guardrails down?

The Trumpian defense is that no political leader can fairly be held accountable for the acts of followers like Sayoc, much less of avowed opponents like Bowers. Also, what about James Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot Republican Representative Steve Scalise last year? But Sanders wasn’t instigating anyone to violence. He wasn’t calling on supporters at his rallies to “knock the crap out of” hecklers, or praising fellow members of Congress for body slamming a reporter.

… fanning one set of hatreds against immigrants has a way of fanning others, as it did for Bowers when he attacked the synagogue because he was enraged by its support for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Bret Stephens, Yes, the President Bears Blame for the Terror From the Right.

Inclined to agree though a bit unsure, I nevertheless thought this merited consideration. No, on second thought, I agree. Period. Full stop.


“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
― Theodore Dalrymple

Via Rod Dreher

Communism is dead, but pray for the humiliated souls of Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and all the other Trumpish sycophants who abase themselves with transparent lies for their boss.


 

It just occurred to me as I tagged and categorized this blog that “conservative” and “liberal” seemed to me to suffice for casual political talk. Then I decided that “right liberalism” and “left liberalism” were maybe more precise, as both fit classic liberalism. Now, with illiberals in the alt-right and progressive left, I’m more convinced than ever that “right liberalism” and “left liberalism” are useful and important categories (though I’ll probably continue to use conservative and liberal from habit).

A coalition of classical liberals might be a really good idea, but I’m not sure that Trump, who looks alt-right in comparison to right-liberals, will allow it.

 

3 Europe

“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” Mr. Macron said on French radio.

Europe is the “main victim,” Mr. Macron said, of Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That accord prohibits the use of intermediate- and shorter-range rockets, as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles.

“We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army,” Mr. Macron said.

Wall Street Journal.

This, of course, set Trump into foaming at the mouth.

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Can’t get away from it

I wasn’t going to pass this along, but after the arrest of the bombing suspect in Florida, I heard our President bloviating, and the feelings came rushing back.

The most fundamental moral principle in the universe may well be: “You break it, you buy it.” But a close second is: You can’t call women cruel and misogynist names, defame ethnic groups, discriminate based on religion, accuse opponents of being “un-American” and “treasonous,” excuse and encourage violence by your supporters, threaten political rivals with prison, tear migrant children from the arms of parents and then credibly call for national “unity” when it is politically useful.

This is the horrible reality of our political moment. The president of the United States says something entirely presidential — “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony” — and it did nothing more than add another layer to his lies. More specifically, President Trump wants Americans to join him in a fake reality — to prove their loyalty by taking outlandish hypocrisy at face value. It is like the sophomoric entrance ritual to some secret society. Eat this cow eye and pig intestine, and we will be bound forever by our willingness to do asinine things on command. Trump’s call for national unity is the functional equivalent of an offal banquet.

It would be different if Trump had accompanied his words of reconciliation with any sense of remorse. But this is a difficult thing for a narcissist to fake (though some have that talent). I come from a religious tradition where anything can be forgiven — but only if repentance involves demonstrated sincerity. Trump could not maintain his ruse of reconciliation for 15 seconds. He used his call for unity to blame the news media for hostility and negativity. This is like a leper blaming the mirror for his sores.

Michael Gerson (emphasis added).

Everybody, I think, knows this is true, but what do I know? I do not understand many of my countrymen any more. Maybe some of them really believe that the extreme snarkiness toward Trump of the New York Times, Washington Post and (slightly less) National Public Radio spontaneously combusted, and that I shouldn’t believe my lyin’ eyes telling me the Trump tossed matches almost every day.

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Pandering after relevance is a sure way to destroy the integrity of the church. (Attributed to Eugene Peterson by Mark Galli)

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Do it right

David French deals too gently, for my tastes, with the absurd histrionics of the New York Times and now the Washington Post on the meaning of “sex” in Title IX. (It’s apparent to me now that our elites distinguish wicked, troglodyte Republican science denial from shiny, trendy, bien pensant Democrat/progressive science denial.)

But I’m taking a second look at what the Administration is doing.

Here’s the very legitimate beef with the 1/19/17 status quo:

In April 2014, the Obama administration quietly expanded the definition — without an act of Congress or even a regulatory rulemaking process. In a document called “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence” it stated that “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”

Empowered by this new definition, the Obama administration issued extraordinarily aggressive mandates to schools across the nation, requiring that schools use a transgender student’s chosen pronouns and that they open bathrooms, locker rooms, overnight accommodations, and even some sports teams to students based not on their biological sex but their chosen gender identity.

Again, this was done without an act of Congress and without even a regulatory rulemaking process ….

My question: How, precisely, does that differ procedurally from the Trump administration’s “formal guidance”?

The administration may issue formal guidance establishing a biological definition of sex. Specifically, the administration may define sex to mean “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”

(David French)

This isn’t an accusation of equivalence. Perhaps there is a principled difference between “formal guidance” (whatever that means) and Obama’s “quietly expanded”? The New York Times, when it was finished with sobs of anguish, made it sound as if this is a definition the Administration wants to see in new regulations, which would be a permissible approach.

I’m 100% in favor of undoing Obama’s lawless affrontery. I’m 99.9% in favor of Executive branch departments narrowly construing “sex” for purposes of Title IX enforcement policy until Congress or the courts expand the definition. I’m 99.9% certain that’s what Congress meant in enacting Title IX.

But let’s stop abusing Executive power.

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American culture is probably the least Christian culture that we’ve ever had, because it’s so materialistic and it’s so full of lies. The whole advertising world is just intertwined with lies, appealing to the worst instincts we have. The problem is, people have been treated as consumers for so long they don’t know any other way to live.

The late Eugene Peterson on PBS, via his New York Times obituary

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Merrick Garland died for Harry Reid’s sins

I mentally checked out of the GOP in 2005, which was the best I could do since Indiana doesn’t register voters by party. So I feel no keen interest in defending its wiles and works.

On the other hand, I’m not blind, and I care about the judiciary, not least the Supreme Court of the United States. And when some people suggested that Brett Kavanaugh suffered for Mitch McConnell’s sins toward Merrick Garland, I was pretty much dumbstruck, lacking any justifying argument (other than “we had the power,” which isn’t an argument at all) for not bringing Garland to a vote.

“Was” dumbstruck is now past tense. I stumbled onto a pretty good rationale today:

In 2013, Democrats had invoked the “nuclear option,” eliminating the filibuster for all federal judicial appointments except the Supreme Court — allowing them to pack the federal circuit courts with left-wing Obama appointees by simple majority. After Republicans won back control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms, McConnell put the brakes on the Democratic confirmation juggernaut — and then blocked President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died during Obama’s final year in office. Result? On Inauguration Day, Trump was presented with a slate of more than 100 judicial vacancies to fill, including a seat on the Supreme Court.

Democrats were so blinded by their anger over McConnell’s tactics that they made an unforced error: When Trump nominated Neil M. Gorsuch — a judge of unquestioned qualification and temperament — to fill Scalia’s seat, they decided to filibuster him. McConnell could not believe his luck. Some of his Republican colleagues had argued that, once in the majority, they should restore the judicial filibuster Democrats had eliminated — not extend it to Supreme Court nominations. But the Gorsuch filibuster changed their minds. “I argued to my people if this guy can’t get 60 votes then nobody a Republican president nominates is going to get 60 votes,” McConnell says. “That’s what allowed me to get people who were reluctant and complaining about using the nuclear option four years earlier to do it.”

Mark Thiessen, The tea party owes Mitch McConnell an apology. (Love that title!)

So Merrick Garland suffered for the Democrats’ packing of lower courts, led, as I recall, by Harry Reid.

You may now begin the Hatfield versus McCoy Infinite Resentment Regression if you like. It will cause me no more distress than I felt this morning before reading Thiessen’s column.

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Ain’t that just like life for ya?

Concrete instance:

So over the weekend President Trump made liberal heads explode by…proposing to return Title IX rules to the way they were before President Obama changed them

The truth is that this sort of confrontation was bound to happen, because there are roughly two ways of viewing transgenderism. A quick summary of those views follows:

View Number One: Transgenderism is the popular term for persistent gender dysphoria, a condition in which people who are clearly of one biological sex insist for a prolonged time period that they really are the opposite of their birth sex. Eventually they begin to dress, act, and live as though they are of the opposite sex because this brings some of them some psychological relief from the pain of their condition. Some may progress as far as lifelong medical treatments including surgeries that remove healthy body parts and organs. Many of them have other psychological comorbidities which can make the effective diagnosis and treatment plan for their gender dysphoria even more complicated. The general public should be sympathetic to their real sufferings and should be kind. However, it is not necessary for society to order itself in such a way that biological males living as females, or biological females living as males, must be given complete access to every space and situation which has been carved out for people whose actual biological sex matches their own rational perception of themselves–which is well over 99% of all human beings.

View Number Two: Transgenderism is the popular way to describe people who were really, actually born into the wrong bodies. At birth they were randomly assigned a sex based on a doctor’s observation of their exterior genitalia, but this is a barbaric practice that should be stopped, as a not-insignificant number of people who appear to be biologically male or biologically female are not the sex they appear to be. Superficial examination of body parts, internal observation of organs such as the reproductive system, and even DNA testing cannot reveal whether a person is a boy or a girl. It is, in fact, scientifically impossible to tell whether someone is male or female at birth. There is really no way at all to tell until the child, who should be raised with no gender symbolism whatsoever, is old enough to articulate his/her/their/zir/xyr preferred sex identity, at which point his/her (etc.) preference should be embraced, applauded, and supported whatever that requires. For the child whose internal sex identity actually matches his/her (etc.) body parts, there is a certain degree of unearned privilege which, though not the child’s fault, must be deplored. Other children are not so lucky and will require hormone injections, daily medications, surgeries to alter their genitals, and similar measures if they have any hope of living as a member of their true sex. Society must be radically restructured until there is no difference whatsoever between those whose apparent bodily sex matches their internal sex identity and those whose apparent bodily sex does not match their internal sex identity. This means that people who were formerly misgendered as “biologically male” must have full access to everything people born with vaginas have access to, and people formerly misgendered as “biologically female” must have full access to everything people born with penises have access to, whatever the social cost.

Erin Manning. I award this my Sanest Small Blog of the Day award.

Note that Barack Obama’s party unmistakably is the party of “View Number 2.” That is no small thing.

Generalization:

We’ve learned a few things about the Democratic Party. First, it’s still fundamentally a materialist party. The Trumpian challenge is primarily a moral and cultural challenge. But the Democrats are mostly comfortable talking about how to use federal spending to extend benefits …

Second, we’ve learned that when Democrats do raise a moral argument, it tends to be of the social justice warrior variety …

It has now become evident that Republicans are better at politicizing cultural issues and Democrats are better at offering economic benefits to those who are struggling. If you think voting behavior is primarily motivated by material appeals, the Democratic strategy is fine. But if you think it’s motivated by cultural identity, a desire for respect, a sense of what’s right, loyalty to a common story, the Democratic strategy leaves a lot to be desired.

These days, culture is more important than economics.

David Brooks. Do read it all; it’s richer than a few quotes can capture.

Yes, I think the Democrats do tend to go the Social Justice Warrior route on “moral” issues.

What does this portend for the election in two weeks? What should it portend for my absentee ballot, which I shall complete and mail Saturday or Sunday? Should I stick with doing my part to deliver the House to the Democrats, as both a rebuke to the Trumpistas and as a way prospectively to thwart Trump’s worst impulses?

It’s just like life to hand you a win in the culture wars (I have little doubt that View Number One is held by 75%+ of America, though they might lie to pollsters about it) accompanied by unpalatable truce terms.

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A modest way of being Christian

Under the Midgleys, I came to see that explanation is not always like the foundations of a building, keeping it up – as if, without a proper explanation, the building falls. On the contrary, an explanation is a way of making sense of what is already there, not a way of re-arranging it. Understanding is after the fact. So St Anselm’s ‘Faith seeking understanding’ – i.e. faith is not built on understanding but goes looking for it – opened up, for me, a way of being a Christian, without having resolved any of the underlying contradictions. And that hasn’t stopped being true. For me, believing in God names a certain sort of commitment, not the conclusion of an argument.

Giles Fraser, eulogizing philosopher Mary Midgley, very recently reposed.

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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.