When SCOTUS reverses Roe

Michael Gerson ponders “The Trumpification of the pro-life movement” and how it “exacts a price”:

[I]f the overturn or revision of Roe comes, it will almost certainly return greater flexibility to states regarding the regulation of abortion. This will kindle dozens of debates across the country and become a contest of persuasion and organization.

It is then that the Trumpification of the pro-life movement will exact a price. There is a serious cost when a movement that regards itself as pro-woman associates with misogyny. There is a serious cost when a movement that claims to be expanding the circle of social inclusion associates itself with nativism and racism. There is a serious cost when a movement that needs to be seen as charitable and reasonable associates itself with the politics of abuse and cruelty.

This turns out to be a particularly pure test of transactional, single-issue politics. Would you trade a major political gain for a large chunk of your moral reputation?

I don’t want to argue that such a choice is easy. Maybe gaining two justices is worth it. But I am skeptical ….

This is exactly right.

The Supreme Court is not going to outlaw abortion, though there is a little-known legal theory that correlates the roughly contemporaneous (a) enactment of early anti-abortion statutes under the influence of physicians who were becoming aware of the facts of embryology and (b) the post Civil War amendments, concluding that the unborn were and are thereafter constitutional persons with constitutional protection.

Back to practical reality. At most, the Court will remove some or all of the fanciful constitutional barriers to anti-abortion laws it has erected over nearly five decades.

Then, in most states, it will be necessary to fight for re-instatement of pro-life laws that were docilely taken “off the books” following Roe v. Wade (it’s “most states” because a few left there laws on the books in anticipation of Roe‘s eventual demise).

In those legislative debates, which are already beginning in states friendly to feticide and which anticipate reversal of Roe (see this New York Times editorial goading on “blue states … locking down reproductive rights”), the credibility of the pro-life movement will matter a lot, and its alignment with Trump’s person, his policies, and his Twitter ejaculations, will have proven to erode that credibility.

In short, it will come down for many to whether they can stomach voting in sync with those misogynistic, nativist, Trumpified pro-lifers.

Just. You. Damn. Watch.

This is among the reasons I’ve basically ceased financial contributions to the political side of the pro-life cause. Fate—or they themselves—has dealt them a very dubious hand, and I judge that my charitable dollars are better spent elsewhere.

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Clips and comments, 1/22/19

1

From time immemorial, people have buried the dead. Sometimes, they even risked their lives to carry out this most basic duty. In times of persecution, for example, Christians put themselves in great danger to recover the bodies of martyrs so that they might receive the holy rites of Christian burial.

The Old Testament recounts the story of the elder Tobias, who, while exiled to Nineveh, observed the Hebrew Law by burying the dead against the wishes of King Sennacherib.

The body is sacred and must be treated with all due dignity and respect. It has always been that way. No one needed to explain why the dead must be buried—until our time.

Thus primed for a Catholic author, John Horvat II, to call on his church to repent of allowing cremation, I instead got standard-issue tongue-clucking about the Washington legislature, which is prepared to allow insult to reposed humans by a different pagan-tinged means than the cremation the Catholic Church now allows:

[I]t is hard not to be shocked by a bill now before the Washington State Legislature with a good chance of passage. Lawmakers are working toward allowing a new process called “recomposition,” by which human beings would be turned into compost.

Human composting is not just a practical alternative to burial. It is an eco-religious act. Its advocates openly promote it as an expression of social justice and ecological fervor. It fits into a pantheistic worldview where everything is reduced to matter in constant transformation.

The process of human composting consists of putting shrouded unembalmed human remains in a revolving cylinder with wood chips, alfalfa and other organic matter to hasten decomposition. After a month, the body is reduced to a cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil that can be used for planting trees to benefit the Earth.

The comments to this article features some (presumably Catholic) readers arguing over the relative environmental benefits of cremation versus composting (the author at least focused on the right thing), which tells me that the Catholic Church has already been utterly routed in the battle for human dignity after death.

2

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

From (the late) Mary Oliver, When Death Comes (H/T Christopher Benson)

3

I began reading John Senior’s The Death of Christian Culture anticipating delight and insight.

Those haven’t been absent, but neither has bitter disappointment:

The only way to bring Christianity to the Bantu or the British, however, is to bring them clothes, chairs, bread, wine, and Latin. Belloc was exactly right in his famous epigram: “Europe is the faith; the faith is Europe“ … The church has grown in a particular way and has always brought its habits with it, so that wherever it has gone it has been a European thing—stretched, adapted, but essentially a European thing.

(Page 19) I do not believe this, and don’t even think that an observant Roman Catholic should believe it. If Senior is not taking Belloc out of context, I’m disappointed in both.

This was first published in 1978, not 150 years ago, when it might have been forgivable for “a man of his times.” They read like the words of a man who mistook mere cantakerous atavism for fidelity.

His great-grandchildren will see Christian African missionaries in Europe (if it’s not too Islamicized in Europe to allow it), and they won’t be bringing tea, crumpets or chairs.

4

Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Coming Test Acts Will Challenge Religious Freedom, predicts that government is turning against orthodox faiths and will “threaten[] employment and restrict[] the political action of those dissenters who c[an] not endorse the established opinions of the state. And the pressure they bring to bear will be a major test of faith for Christians themselves.”

I may be wrong in thinking this fairly remote, but I am right to observe that concentrated corporate power is doing the same thing on its own, without laws to compel them or to impede them.

I’ve said for years that I oppose big corporate power as well as big government power, but at the moment I fear it far more.

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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.

UPDATE: I was probably misled on this story, in which the media apparently was credulous about a story that fit their biases too nicely to not be true. Here’s some corrective.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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

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