I may have finally reached a tipping point trying to process David French’s commentaries on religion and politics. Henceforth, I will either not bother at all or at least approach his columns and podcasts with an attitude of “tell me, in the first paragraph or two, why I should stick around and hear you out.”
I’ll still listen to him on law, but I don’t think he has anything I need to hear about the intersection of religion and politics.
That problem isn’t that he’s anti-Trump, goodness knows. The problem is that he’s reflexively parochial, and his “parish” is white Evangelicalism; that he says “Christians” when he means “white Evangelicals” drives me to distraction.
I suppose this bugs me so much because French is writing and podcasting in secular, not Evangelical, spaces. He’s being read by people who may judge all of Christianity by his fixations on North American white Evangelical grotesqueries.
There is a Church that is rooted far deeper in history than the Second Great Awakening, utterly orthodox in its Christianity, and ambivalent-to-indifferent in its politics (the impressions of some American converts notwithstanding). If you’ve read me for long, you know where I think it’s found. All we ask of a polity is that we may lead a calm and peaceful lives in all godliness and sanctity.
But you’d never appreciate that by reading David French, who basically tells the Western world that “Christians be like Falwell Jr. and Orange Man.” That’s just not true, and eliding Christianity with Evangelicalism turns people off to the holy and life-giving potential of authentic, historic Christianity.
Up with Jake Meadorism
Here is one of the arguments some friends have made in defending the evangelical hard pivot toward Trump and right-wing politics more generally: The country is changing. No one will be friendly to all of our beliefs or values. However, if the progressives win, the likeliest outcome is some blending of dhimmitude and persecution. On the other hand, if the right wins, religious liberty will at least mostly be safe and we’ll be left alone. So it makes sense for orthodox Christians to migrate rightward.
The difficulty I see with this: Our churches do not exist within sealed spaces closed off from the world outside the congregation. Rather, our parishioners are being discipled all the time by the networks they participate in. So when we strengthen our ties to the political right and, in particular, when we tend to look past or gloss over the right’s sins for sakes of the political coalition (which is just a reality of life with any political coalition you try to participate in), we aren’t simply retreating into a stable space where right-wing governments protect our stable, faithful Christian communities. Rather, our communities are being shaped through the very act of partnering with specific groups, of speaking about some sins and not speaking about others. These things are, in themselves, formative.
To get his core insight, I had to quote most of his short post, but there is a bit of good stuff left, and with no paywall, either.
Jake Meador, Places of Refuge are Places of Discipleship. Meador, too, is Protestant, and as a Reformed Christian, he (as did I) appears to think himself Evangelical or Evangelical-adjacent. Unlike French, he doesn’t parochially collapse Christianity into Evangelicalism.
Why I Will Disregard any American Episcopalian Who Complains About Small States Getting As Many Senators as Big States
“Yes, a bishop’s episcopal charism does not depend on the number of worshipers in their see. But when almost all the micro-dioceses are in the west, and when western bishops are disproportionately present at Lambeth 2022, this is white privilege in action," he wrote. "Lambeth 2022 is taking place even though the bishops of half of African Anglicans have refused to come. Their dioceses constitute a third of the total Anglican Communion. Western bishops may say ‘it was their choice not to come.’ But this is not a good look."
Many western bishops lead "micro-dioceses" with under 1,000 active members or "mini-dioceses" with fewer than 5,000.
The Church of Nigeria claims 17 million members and 22 million active participants.
Uganda has 10 million members
Rwanda has 1 million members.
A Christian Culture (for the very first time)
By pretty much all measures, the Orthodox Christian countries of Eastern Europe take their faith more seriously than the Catholic countries further West or the Protestant countries which mainly lie around the continent’s fringes. I should really say ‘former Protestant countries’ because, as I have written here in the past, these countries – including mine, Britain – are now post-religious. Faith has been replaced by politics, ideology, activism or the material and technological idolatry which we call ‘progress.’
All of which means that I have until recently never seen a real Christian culture, of the kind my country used to be many centuries ago, and my adopted country, Ireland, used to be until more recently.
“If we say our God is an all-loving god, how do you explain that at any given time probably 400 million living on the planet at one time would be gay?” he asked. “Are the religions of the world, as does Catholicism, saying to those hundreds of millions of people, ‘You have to pass your whole life without any physical, genital expression of that love?’”
Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, recently deceased, to the New York Times in 2009, roughly seven years after exposure of his hush money payment to a male lover (or rape victim).
It is suggestive that “the religions of the world” seem, to the disgraced Archbishop, to speak with one voice. How could that be if the idea of lifelong sexual abstinence is so stupid? Might it be that the spirit of our age is the anomaly, the deviation from the wisdom of the ages?
Did the Archbishop not confess that Mary, the “Mother of God,” remained ever a virgin? Or did he, like a highly multiparous protestant I corresponded with at some length, rule out Mary’s ever-virginity because that would be “perverted”?
Further, it is famously not just the Church that tells people “You have to” do something you’d rather not do, See, e.g., decalogue.
Still further, surely a substantial part of the work of the Church is dealing sacramentally and pastorally with people who fail to live up to divine expectations. See, e.g., confession.
Finally, the surmised number of gay people is irrelevant to the correct answer to the Archbishop’s tendentious question.
[T]he thing that disturbs me the most right now is that the conversations often that I’m having with younger evangelicals. When someone says to me I’m thinking about walking away, it’s usually a very different conversation than I would have had 10 years ago. 10 years ago, it would have been with a younger person saying I just can’t believe the supernatural stuff that we believe anymore. Or I really think the moral ideas of the church are too strict and too judgmental, and I want to walk away.
Now it’s almost the reverse, almost directly the reverse. It’s people who are saying, I don’t think the church believes what it says it believes and what it’s taught me, or at least I fear that it doesn’t.
[W]e’re not looking for some Christian America in the past because in order to do that, we would have to redefine what we mean by Christian … [i]n all sorts of ways that I think are harmful.
Repentance is everything you do to get sin, those inborn passions, out of you. It’s reading, thinking, praying, weeding out disruptive influences in your life, sharing time with fellow Christians, following the guidance of the saints. Repentance is the renunciation of what harms us and the acquisition of what is beneficial to us, writes a holy counselor.
In essence, [Employment Division v.] Smith demoted the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to a glorified nondiscrimination doctrine. Rather than granting Americans an affirmative right to practice their religion absent compelling governmental reasons to restrict that practice, the Free Exercise Clause becomes almost entirely defensive—impotent against government encroachment absent evidence of targeted attack or unequal treatment.
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.
For most believers, the truths of their faith have become platitudes taught in catechism or Sunday school. The mysteries of faith—those strange events such as the Incarnation, Transfiguration, and Resurrection—have lost their awe and wonder and become replaced by sensible morality and proper reverence. There is nothing wrong with morality or reverence, but pious propriety is a starvation diet for the soul. Modern versions of the Bible, which translate verse passages into prosaic language for the supposed sake of clarity, are mistranslations, since they change the effect of the text.
When Jesus preached, he told stories, spoke poems, and offered proverbs. The Beatitudes are a poem about the merciful Kingdom of God in contrast to the selfish world of mankind. Jesus was not much concerned with theology. He left that to posterity. He did not ask his listeners to think their way to salvation; he wanted them to taste and see the goodness of God. He told them stories in which they could see themselves. He spoke to people as creatures with both a body and soul. He addressed them in the fullness of their fallen humanity, driven by contradictory appetites, emotions, and imagination.
When the Second Vatican Council dropped these sequences from the Catholic missal, it demonstrated how remote the Church had become from its own traditions. The new Church wanted to reengage the broader world and get rid of the musty traditions of the past. Vatican II wanted to be practical, positive, and modern; its motto was aggiornamento, Italian for “bringing things up to date.” The poetic sequences, which had seemed so splendid to the old Church—rapturous artistic vehicles for the contemplation of divine mysteries—felt too pious, formal, and elaborate for modern worship.
William Wordsworth was a religious man who saw the poet’s role as prophetic, but his Christianity expressed itself most eloquently in pantheistic Deism. He grew more devout and conventional in middle age, to the detriment of his verse. His pious Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822) marked the lowest point of his career. Read any page of it outdoors—the stupefied bees will stop buzzing and the birds fall senseless from the trees.
Minor poets with major minds, Chesterton and Belloc were smart, brash, and wickedly funny. Unintimidated by their intellectual foes, they swaggered when others would have taken cover. For the first time since the Elizabethan Age, there was an outspoken Catholic presence in English verse.
And then, in conclusion:
Christianity has survived into the twenty-first century, but it has not come through unscathed. It has kept its head and its heart—the clarity of its beliefs and its compassionate mission. The problem is that it has lost its senses, all five of them. Great is the harvest, and greater still the hunger it must feed, but its call into the world has become faint and abstract. Contemporary Christianity speaks mostly in ideas. Potent ideas, to be sure, but colorless and hackneyed in their expression …
A major challenge of Christianity today is to recover the language of the senses and to recapture faith’s natural relationship with beauty. There is much conversation nowadays about beauty among theologians and clergy. They seem to consider it a philosophical problem to be solved by analysis and apologetics. Those are the tools they have. Their relation to beauty is passive rather than creative. Even the clearest thinking can’t close the gap between how people experience their existence—a holistic mix of sensory data, emotions, memories, ideas, and imagination—and how the Church explains it—moral and spiritual concepts organized in a rational system. The theology isn’t wrong; it’s just not right for most occasions. It offers a laser when a lamp is what’s needed.
These things matter because we are incarnate beings. We see the shape and feel the texture of things. We instinctively know that the form of a thing is part of its meaning. We are drawn to beauty, not logic. Our experience of the divine is not primarily intellectual. We feel it with our bodies. We picture it in our imaginations. We hear it as a voice inside us. We are grateful for an explanation, but we crave inspiration, communion, rapture, epiphany.
It probably will come as no surprise to you that I do not think that Orthodoxy has "lost its senses."
But I am one man, formed in the West, which has lost its senses, so I face extra hurdles acquiring the mind of the Church.
I read more on Saturday of his first book, A Branch from the Lightning Tree, and it was so overwhelming that despite having had two giant cups of coffee, I had to come back to the room to sleep. There is deep magic in his words. I see now why Guite, an Anglican priest, told me that only Orthodox Christianity will be able to contain the immensity that is Martin Shaw’s imagination and sensibility.
I’m experiencing Martin Shaw that way, too, though I’ve only caught snippets and haven’t yet read the book I bought.
C.S. Lewis, reacting to the claim that society was returning to paganism, said something to the effect of "Would that it were so! The pagan is an eminently convertible man." Paul Kingsnorth and Martin Shaw may be the first fruits that add "prophet" to Lewis’ encomiums.
What Athos has on offer
Why have western scholars virtually ignored this experiential form of mystical Christianity at a time when numerous Westerners have turned their gaze toward Hinduism and Buddhism? What does Mount Athos have to offer to the Western world today that is not available within the mainstream churches?
Remember that old saw "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue"?
Gilbert Meilander, with help from C.S. Lewis throughout, reminds me that a charge of "hypocrisy" ought to be used very sparingly. Excerpt from the introduction:
Discussing his experience as a soldier in the Great War, he writes of a fellow soldier who was not only (like Lewis) a scholar from Oxford, but also—alarmingly to Lewis—“a man of conscience,” committed to adhering to taken-for-granted moral principles.
Embarrassed by the contrast with his own life, Lewis did his best to conceal the fact that he himself had not taken moral obligations so seriously. “If this is hypocrisy,” Lewis writes:
then I must conclude that hypocrisy can do a man good. To be ashamed of what you were about to say, to pretend that something which you had meant seriously was only a joke—this is an ignoble part. But it is better than not to be ashamed at all. And the distinction between pretending you are better than you are and beginning to be better in reality is finer than moral sleuthhounds conceive. . . . When a boor first enters the society of courteous people what can he do, for a while, except imitate the motions? How can he learn except by imitation?
For human beings, the ability to belong is more [evolutionarily] adaptive than the ability to see what’s true.
I’m thinking of an American-made religion with (1) what strikes me as an unusually implausible founding story, but (2) a very strong sense of community. That religion was still growing rapidly last time I looked at the stats (though that has been a while). Score one datapoint for Haidt and Jacobs.
You’re churches, for God’s sake. Quit fighting for social justice. Quit saving the bloody planet. Attend to some souls. That’s what you are supposed to do. That’s your holy duty. Do it. Now. Before it’s too late. And the hour is nigh.
Well, that’s bracing — unless your church was already doing that.
If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.
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.
Second, a caution: "We must do something!" is true. But we mustn’t do performative (dare I say "masturbatory"?) things — things that we already know or should know won’t bear any fruit beyond giving supporters momentary catharsis.
Third, two proposals that might actually improve things:
David French, Pass and Enforce Red Flag Laws. Now. (I am reliably informed that French is incorrect about only one red state having such a law; my fair state, Indiana, also has one. Surely we’re not considered "purple" because we went for Obama in 2008!) But Red Flag Laws won’t do any good until people hate slaughter of the innocents enough to risk destroying a friendship with someone who is taking leave of reality while stockpiling weapons.
The nature of the problem, as best I can tell, is that American life isn’t about what is good but is rather about nothing at all (which is, at least, broadly inoffensive and inclusive of most tastes and creeds) or about violence itself. The scope of the problem includes every facet of life that culture touches, which means most every element of daily life.
… [A] culture of death is like a prophecy, or a sickness: It bespeaks itself in worsening phases. Right now, we find ourselves foreclosing upon our own shared future both recklessly and deliberately—and perhaps, gradually, beginning to behave as if there is no future for us at all; soon, I sometimes worry, we may find ourselves faced with a darkening present, no faith in our future, and a doomed tendency to chase violence with violence.
… this demonic murder lottery of schoolchildren …
When we say, in despair, that “these men are byproducts of a society we’ve created; how could we possibly stop them?,” we could be referring to almost anyone in the great chain of diffuse responsibility for our outrageous, inexcusable gun-violence epidemic—the lobbyists who argued for these guns to be sold like sporting equipment, the politicians who are too happy to oblige them, the shooters themselves.
Elizabeth Bruenig, as dark as I’ve ever seen her. I can’t unequivocally agree with every word of that ("these guns," as I understand it, are "sporting equipment" even if they’re tricked out to look military) but I surely agree with “these men are byproducts of a society we’ve created.”
I am not a liberal.
At least, not in the way that some people think.
Having grown up in the evangelical community, someone who was “liberal” meant that he did not believe that Jesus is God, or that He was born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit, or that He rose from the dead, or that His crucifixion saved humanity from sin, or that the Bible stories of miracles are true, or that Scripture is authoritative and communicates God’s Word.
I believe all these things.
In this sense, when I became Orthodox, I became even “less liberal.” In addition to the above, I also believe things that are even older than the evangelical community. I believe in the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins. I believe that the Eucharist is the bread and wine transmuted into the Body and Blood of Christ. I believe in the continuing presence of the saints, led by the greatest worshiper, pray-er, and worker of all, the Virgin Mary.
But there has been something of a “confusion of categories.” In the aftermath of the mass shooting of 19 children and 2 teachers on Tuesday (May 24th), I was called “liberal.” Why? Because I called for the minimum age for gun purchase to be raised to 21, nationwide. Because I called for universal background checks at every gun purchase – including gun shows and private sales. Because I called for the ban of the sale of military weaponry – including assault rifles – to civilians.
His positions are not a good proxy for political liberalism in the modern American sense and they’re absurd as a proxy for deviation from Christian orthodoxy.
Sarah Isgur, Harvard-trained lawyer, central advisor to a Republican Presidential campaign, wife of one of the nation’s top SCOTUS advocates, and mother of a Texas toddler, broke down over Uvalde on the Advisory Opinions podcast when she thought about her shopping quest for a backpack for her son to start preschool. (She recovered nicely.)
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.
Jyoti [the writer’s wife] was a psychiatrist who earned actual money. But psychiatry was killing her, her role was not to cure people but to medicate them, to stick plasters on the wounds the Machine had gouged into the people at the bottom of the pile. There was nothing she could do about the wounds, and they kept coming.
My culture comes, most recently, from the southeastern suburbs of England. It’s a culture of hard work, of ‘getting on,’ of English Protestantism channeled into secular ambition. It’s about settling down and having a family, contributing, progressing, climbing up; not bad things, necessarily, not for a lot of people. But it’s also about selling up, moving on, about property ladders and career ladders, about staking your place on the consumer travelator that represents progress in a burning world. It’s about feeding the Machine that rips up the people and rips up the places and turns them all against each other while the money funnels upwards to the people who are paying attention. This is the crap our children are learning. There is not much sign at all that the tide is turning.
The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of ‘legitimate’ thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people. … Newton, for example, ‘revolutionized’ physics and the so-called natural sciences by reducing the physical universe to a linear mathematical equation. Descartes did the same thing with culture. John Locke did it with politics, and Adam Smith did it with economics. Each one of these ‘thinkers’ took a piece of the spirituality of human existence and converted it into a code, an abstraction … Each of these intellectual revolutions served to abstract the European mentality even further, to remove the wonderful complexity and spirituality from the universe and replace it with a logical sequence: one, two, three. Answer! (Quoting Russell Means)
‘In Western Civilization,’ says the poet Gary Snyder, ‘our elders are books.’ Books pass on our stories. Books carry the forbidden knowledge and the true. Books are weird things, inhuman things, abstract things, but they are gateways, at their best, to the world to which the drum and the fire and the sweat lodge used to take us. The Otherworld. At her best, the writer is a shaman, a priestess, a summoner.
Of Tucker Carlson in Hungary, Bill Kristol says out loud what others have been insinuating:
The New American Right is now explicitly embracing the Old European Right. Not to put to fine a point on it, the New American Right is…anti-American.
Rod Dreher is having none of it — from Kristol the rest of the Sacred Confraternity of Circle-Jerking Pundits:
Is anybody really moved by an older man calling a younger man “anti-American” because he goes to a NATO country and American ally, and speaks well of it? Isn’t that, you know, nuts?
The idea that an American conservative who admires some of what Viktor Orban does, and believes, is somehow “anti-American” is not only insulting, but is a smear designed to make people believe that to be a real American, you have to endorse selling your country, its institutions, and its traditions out to globalist liberals and American hegemons willing to start wars to turn the whole world into America. Forget it. I love my country, though I don’t love what it’s becoming. If I can learn from the Hungarians how to better resist what the people who are ruining America are doing, then that’s pro-American to me.
No one in New York is walking around saying “I don’t believe it” or “That’s not the Andrew I know.” It’s apparently the Andrew Cuomo a lot of people knew.
You may now resume your regularly-scheduled activities.
Another inversion, realignment
I’ve said since Election 2016 that a major political realignment was under way (though I said it much more in the early days, before the daily assaults from Trump became too dominant in my thoughts). Here’s an emergent example:
We’ve come to an odd pass in American politics. The people who have the deepest suspicions about the way government works are increasingly enthusiastic about the use of government power.
Somehow, many of the same folks who say that government authorities shouldn’t be trusted to make sure vaccines are safe or that elections are fairly conducted also say that we should have the government set industrial policy, regulate speech on the internet, or even engineer the size and shape of American families. How can institutions so corrupt as the ones described by right-wing nationalists be trusted with the power to administer matters far more complicated than testing vaccines or counting ballots?
This is perhaps hyperbolic, but it is at least directionally right as to some of Rod Dreher’s recent utterances, for instance:
Hungary is an important example for American conservatives in part because it compels us to recognize that the state is the only means we have left to defend ourselves from those who despise us and our institutions, and want to force us to bow to soft totalitarianism. This is a hell of a thing for an American conservative raised in the Reagan era to grasp, but that’s where we are. Just as the king’s role was in part to protect the people from the depredations of the nobility, in this current era of leftist capture of US institutions (including the military!), the state is the only means by which we conservatives can exercise power in our own self-defense.
Sullivan the Prophet
[Andrew Sullivan’s] term “Christianist” felt like a mild slap in the face, right until the afternoon of Jan. 6, when a mob of believers stormed the Capitol on a “righteous” mission to overturn an election — with crosses in the crowd and prayers on their lips.
In 1998, when Walden Homes hired Gregory Ledbetter as a counselor for troubled boys at Spring House, a group foster home funded by Dane County taxpayers, he was already an experienced sexual predator.
Ledbetter had moved to Madison less than a year before, after escaping 43 charges of sexually molesting boys at a group home in Indiana. His new job afforded him fresh opportunities, and he took prompt advantage of them, as ‘Henry’ would soon find out.
Henry (a pseudonym, like all names of juveniles in this article) was 15 when he ended up at Spring House, on Madison’s near east side, in 1999. ‘Almost every night,’ Henry later told police, he went to Ledbetter’s apartment, where they would ‘smoke marijuana, play videogames and watch porno movies.’
Ledbetter manipulated Henry into sexual acts, as he had with many other boys before and after, according to hundreds of pages of police and court records reviewed by Isthmus. Sometimes Ledbetter would perform oral sex on the boys; other times it was anal sex. A camcorder next to Ledbetter’s bed recorded the encounters.
Then Ledbetter would return his victims to Spring House, where he was paid to make meals, lead group discussions and serve as a role model for boys who’d been abandoned and suffered from emotional and behavioral problems.
Ledbetter, 39, was convicted last year of molesting several Spring House residents, among other victims. His crimes were so heinous that a Dane County judge sentenced him to life in prison, rejecting Ledbetter’s offer to be castrated.
Strikingly, Ledbetter is not the only sexual predator hired in recent years by Walden Homes to support and nurture some of Dane County’s most vulnerable teenagers. Angela Kalscheur, 26, faces more than 40 years in prison on charges related to sexual acts with four boys at Spring House. She has admitted to the crimes and will likely strike a plea bargain to avoid trial, now set for Feb. 7.
Both cases highlight breakdowns in a system that is supposed to provide care for kids in government custody. Background checks obviously failed, since Walden hired Ledbetter despite a dangerous and troubled past. And staff supervision was so poor that both counselors were able to prey on multiple youths over many months.
The cases also reveal insufficient oversight of private facilities that operate with public money. Even after the fact, county and state officials failed to aggressively investigate how such crimes could have happened. County and state officials operated in isolation so extreme that county officials praise Walden for its oversight efforts while the state accuses Walden of malfeasance. And elected officials with oversight responsibilities were kept in the dark.
County officials stress the assurances they’ve received from state regulators that Walden is in compliance with licensing rules.
‘We have nothing to hide,’ says Lynn Green, Dane County’s director of human services. ‘I am going to stand behind the work we’ve done in this situation 100 percent.’
Adds Bob Lee, administrator for Dane County’s division of children, youth and family services: ‘We feel as badly or more badly than anyone that some kids did not have good experiences there. But the totality of the agency’s experiences with Walden Homes is what’s most important to us.’
That may not be good enough for local elected officials. County Supv. David Worzala, chair of the county’s Health and Human Needs Committee, was ‘astounded’ to learn of the abuse from Isthmus last week. County Supv. Barb Vedder, the committee’s vice chair, also professed ignorance: ‘I am surprised we weren’t told about this.’ (Charges in both cases drew media attention, but some accounts did not mention Spring House by name.)
This week Worzala launched an investigation into oversight of Walden Homes, which continues to annually receive about a million dollars in county funding.
‘My conclusion is it’s outrageous that this has occurred in group homes in Dane County,’ says Worzala. ‘These kids are in our care. They’re vulnerable, and we need to provide a safe environment.’
Where is the oversight?
Worzala, a member of the Dane County Board since 2004, doesn’t like to criticize county government. He uses the word ‘we’ when referring to it, and says he’s a ‘big fan’ of Green and her department.
But Worzala is at a loss to explain why he first learned of these incidents from a reporter: ‘I don’t know what to say. However, I will say this: Now I know about it, and it will be addressed.’
Next Tuesday, Worzala plans to call officials from Dane County and the state Department of Health and Family Services to account for their actions before his committee.
‘These are horrific cases,’ he says. ‘The system’s broken. We need to look at it. Clearly county and state oversight needs to be reviewed and discussed. We need to do something to make sure this never happens again.’
Walden Homes Ltd. is a nonprofit corporation that continues to run three group homes in Dane County: Coventry Group Home on the north side, and Horizon House and Thoreau House on the isthmus.
Dane County taxpayers have paid Walden $4.7 million over the past five years to care for children ordered into its group foster homes. A tax filing for 2004 shows county taxpayers, at $910,882 that year, were by far Walden’s largest source of income; next in line was the state Department of Corrections, at $44,550. The money went in part to Walden’s longtime director, George Nestler, who received a salary of about $90,000.
Nestler did not return repeated calls seeking comment on this article.
According to the tax filing, Walden Homes aims to provide ‘a stable, highly supervised group foster home environment’ for adolescents. But that’s hardly what it did for nearly a dozen of Dane County’s most troubled teens, who were victimized by these two counselors.
Indeed, records suggest that Spring House, 511 S. Ingersoll St., was a deeply troubled operation. Police have been called to the group home 151 times since 2000, often in response to neighbor concerns. Police logs reviewed by Isthmus show complaints about disturbances, thefts, damaged property, liquor law violations and general juvenile complaints. Other calls involved battery, drugs and an overdose.
‘There were police over there all the time,’ says Scott Thornton, who lives nearby. Neighbors also complained to state regulators about lax supervision. (Walden’s corporate office is located at 1102 Spaight St., just around the corner from Spring House.)
But the decision to close Spring House in June 2006 purportedly had nothing to do with child molestation or complaints from neighbors. Rather, Walden told the state it wanted ‘to make better use of our resources.’ Agrees Dane County’s Green, ‘It was purely a financial decision on their need to fill beds.’
From Indiana to Wisconsin
On Oct. 15, 2005, after being tipped off by a neighbor that Ledbetter, then 38, was having sex with a 16-year-old boy, Madison police executed a search warrant on his apartment. They discovered a jackpot of evidence in his bedroom: 150 videotapes stashed in a locked dresser drawer and a safe. The tapes, spanning more than a decade, were meticulously labeled with the boys’ names, ages and dates.
In letters and testimony to Dane County Judge Dan Moeser, Ledbetter and his parents traced his predatory pedophilia to his troubled childhood. They said Ledbetter had a sexual relationship with an older man when he was a teen. And, when he was around 17, his best friend committed suicide with Ledbetter’s shotgun after announcing that he was gay and being rejected by his family.
‘He gave me an ultimatum about him killing himself, and I didn’t stop him,’ Ledbetter wrote. ‘I carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life.’
‘Greg was never the same after that,’ his parents wrote. Following his own suicide attempt around this time, Ledbetter was committed to a mental hospital in Washington, D.C., where his sister lived, but was released after a few months when the insurance money ran out. ‘We regret to this day not keeping him institutionalized.’
Court records say Ledbetter graduated from Purdue University with an education and fine arts degree and worked as a student teacher in an elementary school. At about age 26, he began working at the Cary Home for Children in Lafayette, Ind. He was there for two years.
In January 1996, prosecutors charged Ledbetter with 43 counts of child seduction based on allegations from two group home residents.
According to Indiana police reports obtained by Isthmus, one boy said he had dozens of sexual encounters with Ledbetter between December 1993 and May 1995, when he was 16 and 17. It began with oral sex at Ledbetter’s parents’ house and escalated to anal intercourse, with the use of marijuana almost always preceding the sex. A second group home boy, 17 at the time, reported having at least 35 sexual encounters with Ledbetter.
Indiana newspapers reported that the allegations against Ledbetter were the second sexual allegations against Cary Home staffers in two years, and local politicians called for the firing of the home’s director.
The arrest also captured local headlines because Jerry Ledbetter, Greg’s father, was a city councilman who supported a local ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The family said Ledbetter was arrested in retaliation for his father’s progressive politics, and spent $19,000 in legal fees fighting the charges.
In January 1997, prosecutors dropped the charges after Ledbetter’s defense attorney secured an affidavit from one of the boys, saying he made up the allegations.
Eight years later, Madison police would discover what Indiana police did not: videotapes of Ledbetter having sex with at least three boys from the Indiana group home.
From Spring House to prison
By 1998, Ledbetter had moved to Madison and was looking for a job. The Spring House group home had just opened, and it was hiring. Ledbetter’s first day was April 20, 1998.
Ledbetter had already spent at least five years preying on vulnerable boys in Indiana. Over the next 22 months, he was given regular access to troubled boys in Dane County’s care. He made the most of it.
Police reports and a detailed criminal complaint relate the accounts of several group home victims, including ‘Billy,’ who was 14 when the abuse began.
‘The situation has made things hard for me,’ he told a detective. ‘You know, it was hard to go on with my life.’
Henry, mentioned above, told police he once complained that Ledbetter would openly tell the boys in his care that he ‘loved to suck cock.’ Henry said Ledbetter let the residents ‘smoke dope and go wherever they wanted,’ for which he ‘expected something in return.’ Henry also said Ledbetter once showed him a .45 caliber handgun.
‘Jeff,’ who was 16 when he engaged in sexual encounters with Ledbetter at Spring House, told police he ‘felt obliged to do this with the defendant since the defendant was making their life at the group home fun.’
In February 2000, Ledbetter left Spring House. Over the next five years, records show he met other boys through his jobs at a Walgreen’s, a Blockbuster video store, a Marcus movie theater and a store in South Towne Mall.
One of these was a 16-year-old who, his mother told police, had brain damage stemming from childhood abuse and suffered from learning disabilities, cancer and cerebral palsy. Court documents offer a particularly disturbing summary of one videotaped encounter. The boy, who appeared to ‘act more like an 8-year-old than his own age,’ expressed ‘random thoughts regarding eating at Old Country Buffet and videogames and his mother and his curly hair’ during unprotected anal intercourse with Ledbetter.
Yet another boy told police that Ledbetter handcuffed him and used duct tape on his mouth before anally penetrating him.
It’s not clear from court documents and police reports how many boys Ledbetter molested during his eight years in Madison. Ultimately, Dane County prosecutors charged him with 92 felony counts of child sexual assault, enticement and sexploitation, relating to 10 boys.
In July 2006, Ledbetter was convicted following a plea agreement; he received a 90-year prison sentence. Under the state’s truth-in-sentencing law, he won’t be eligible for parole until he is 129 years old.
‘I am viewed more as someone who was over-punished and denied the right of rehabilitation as a sex offender,’ Ledbetter wrote to Judge Moeser in October from prison in Waupun. He now spends his days playing classical music on a piano, painting and drawing in his cell, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
‘There’s things I need’
Angela Kalscheur graduated from Mankato State University in Minnesota in 2004 with a degree in criminal justice, records show. She interned at a center for juvenile sex offenders before Walden Homes hired her in November 2004 to work at Spring House.
Like Ledbetter, Kalscheur worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift as an assistant counselor at Spring House. Her duties included preparing meals, supervising homework and leading group talks. And while she and Ledbetter likely never met, Kalscheur used many of the same strategies to entice boys into satisfying her sexual desires.
According to a criminal complaint, ‘Nick,’ then 15, arrived at the group home in March 2005 and quickly learned that Kalscheur was having sex with several boys; he later told police this was ‘common knowledge.’ Nick said he didn’t report Kalscheur because he used this information as leverage to extend his curfew and get an allowance without doing work. Once he walked in on Kalscheur having intercourse with ‘Joe,’ and was invited to participate.
Joe told police that within a week of arriving at Spring House in the spring of 2005, when he was 17, Kalscheur told him something to the effect of, ‘There’s things I need,’ then hugged him and put his hand down her pants. Joe estimated that he and Kalscheur had sexual contact about 35 times, including twice at her house.
A third boy, ‘Damon,’ told police that Kalscheur performed oral sex on him about five times, starting on his 16th birthday. He said he knew other residents were having sex with Kalscheur, and that she asked him not to tell because she could lose her job.
‘Just keep giving me head,’ Damon said he told her, ‘and you won’t need to worry about it.’
Kalscheur, the complaint says, regularly gave the boys alcohol and cigarettes. She also drove them to a location on the south side, where they bought marijuana. The boys would get high as Kalscheur returned to the group home.
In June 2005, another Spring House counselor had a chance meeting with a former resident, who told of sexual encounters with Kalscheur when he was at the home. The counselor reported the allegations to Walden Homes’ director Nestler, who, as required by law, reported the allegation to Dane County officials.
Kalscheur continued to work at Spring House for the next month, and was fired on July 27 on a matter unrelated to sexual abuse, county officials say.
On May 25, 2006, Madison police detective Dave Gouran spoke with Kalscheur at her home. After initially denying any wrongdoing, Kalscheur eventually admitted to having sexual contact with Joe, Nick and Damon, as well as other boys from the group home.
Kalscheur’s attorney, Eric Schulenburg, expects to reach a plea agreement in the near future, and will argue at sentencing that her crimes don’t merit prison.
‘To send her to prison is a crime, and there’s no need to make this two crimes,’ says Schulenburg, adding that he has trouble viewing the 16- and 17-year-old boys in this case as victims.
The unprecedented abuse at Spring House ‘ going back decades, county officials can’t remember another substantiated molestation case at a juvenile group home ‘ has local politicians worried.
‘Clearly, two makes a pattern,’ says Supv. Worzala. ‘The Ledbetter case is frightening. You’re talking about border hopping of predators. It’s unacceptable.’
But Dane County’s Bob Lee says that after learning of misconduct, local officials ‘did what was required’ and took ‘appropriate action.’ These actions included interviewing group home residents and attending Spring House staff meetings.
Regulating group homes, county officials stress, is the state’s responsibility. ‘The state is required to license and monitor. The onus is on them,’ says Marykay Wills, the county’s mental health and alternative care manager. ‘The state assured us that Walden did what they were supposed to do.’
But state officials and records provided to Isthmus undercut many of these claims and suggest that county officials either aren’t being forthcoming or remain uninformed as to the state’s apparently grave concerns about Walden Homes, both before and after these molestation cases came to light.
‘It is very likely that we would have taken the steps to revoke the license at Spring House if they had not voluntarily closed,’ says Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Family Services.
State officials accused Walden Homes of a ‘lack of cooperation with the department in its attempt to thoroughly investigate the allegations,’ according to a letter sent to Walden dated Oct. 25, 2006, written after Isthmus began making inquiries into the state and county’s handling of the matter.
That letter, and a follow-up (click HERE), allege that Walden staff members were told by a Walden supervisor and in a written memo not to cooperate with investigators. The letters criticized Walden’s management and accused Walden supervisors of overlooking complaints from other staff about Kalscheur’s behavior.
County officials are also apparently clueless as to the rules regarding background checks. Lee explains Ledbetter’s hire by saying ‘the state does not require out-of-state background checks. Now should they? Maybe. But they don’t.’
Marquis contradicts this, saying state law does indeed require out-of-state criminal background checks for any state in which an applicant may have lived in the past three years, information he or she is required to provide.
How Ledbetter passed his background check after being charged with 43 counts of child molestation at his last group home job may never be known. When state regulators sought to review Walden’s records, they discovered that ‘all terminated staff files and discharged resident files’ from Spring House had been destroyed by Walden’s director in December 2005. The destruction of these files occurred in the middle of police investigations into both the Ledbetter and Kalscheur cases.
State officials fined Walden $1,000 in the Kalscheur case, which Walden initially appealed. Walden dropped its appeal after it closed Spring House and moved its residents to Thoreau House, located around the corner in the same building as Walden Homes’ Spaight Street headquarters.
Walden Homes continues to reap county contracts for its three other group foster homes, into which troubled teens are regularly ordered. In 2006, Walden received $986,766 in county funding. Lynn Green, the county’s human services director, thinks the relationship is working well.
‘Walden has a long history of providing very good group home services in Dane County,’ she says. ‘They were one of the early group homes, and George Nestler has been with them 20-plus years. Hundreds if not thousands of Dane County kids have received excellent services from the Walden Homes system.’
I don’t hold a lot of grudges, but I hold a few related to this sorry case.
It’s not that “everyone knew” the Lafayette charges were true and that the local scribes were ignoring what everybody knew. I had spoken to one of the accusers professionally, and I wasn’t certain. One seldom is.
When the boys withdrew their accusations, I considered possible both that the charges had been false and that Defense counsel for Ledbetter had “gotten to” the accusers somehow. I wasn’t sure which.
My grudge is that the Journal & Courier didn’t know, either. Yet it wagged its corporate finger at everyone who believed (or dutifully investigated) the adolescent boys who accused Ledbetter, and turned a secret abuser into a martyred saint. Everyone should have had the Journal & Courier’s confidence that the charges were false, though the confidence was unwarranted and turned out to be false. I was at the very least adjacent to those the santimonious ink-stained wretches were excoriating.
My grudge also is that hiring an “out” homosexual to have unmonitored supervisory access to troubled adolescents (that’s the kind of facility that employed Ledbetter) of the same sex, whatever the written rules may have said, was recklessly in defiance of common sense — as it would have been reckless to hire a heterosexual to have unmonitored supervisory access to troubled adolescents of the opposite sex. This was not, in other words, a “freak accident.” It was completely foreseeable. More heads should have rolled than did (though Commissioner Nola Gentry’s replacement was a Marjorie Taylor Greene type, far inferior to Nola).
So my grudge, finally, is that not all “discrimination” is invidious (some is utterly sensible), and thus not all discrimination should be legally forbidden, as it increasingly is — and as the Journal & Courier supports.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.
What the House Republican conference is doing, probably today, is contemptible, but let it be conceded that there is a market for it in the recently-revolutionized Republican base. So I turn to politics, holding non-political items for later.
Today, we stand on the precipice of the House Republican conference ratifying this attempt to subvert American democracy. They are poised to punish Liz Cheney for saying this simple truth: “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.” In her place, they will elevate Iago in heels, Elise Stefanik, whose claim to leadership consists entirely of her operatic Trump followership.
Let’s be clear: The substitution of Stefanik for Cheney is a tocsin, signaling that the Republican party will no longer be bound by law or custom. In 2020, many Republican office holders, including the otherwise invertebrate Pence, held the line. They did not submit false slates of electors. They did not decertify votes. They did not “find” phantom fraud. But the party has been schooled since then. It has learned that the base—which is deluded by the likes of Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin—believes the lies and demands that Republicans fight. As my colleague Amanda Carpenter put it, the 2024 mantra is going to be “Steal It Back.”
If Cheney must be axed because she will not lie, then what will happen if Republicans take control of Congress in 2022 and are called upon to certify the Electoral College in 2024? How many Raffenspergers will there be? How many will insist, as Pence did, that they must do what the Constitution demands? How many will preserve any semblance of the rule of law and the primacy of truth?
With this sabotage of Cheney, House Republicans are figuratively joining the January 6 mob.
Here’s the problem that is obvious to voters: If GOP leaders in both chambers were doing a better job containing Trump, Cheney wouldn’t need to comment. Their pleas of “but we need a conference chair to speak for the conference” argument or “see, we replaced a woman with a woman” (albeit one who is more ideologically moderate and won’t challenge Trump’s lies) won’t connect beyond the Always Trump echo chamber. In 2022 races, these dogs won’t hunt, especially with suburban female voters.
The meaning is obvious. Trump matters more than truth. The post of GOP conference chair is now a third-party validator for CNN and Vox. “With Cheney’s impending ouster, the GOP chooses Trump over principle,” CNN writes. “The Big Lie is the GOP’s one and only truth,” according to Vox.
The problem for the GOP is conservative outlets like the Wall Street Journal opinion section and National Review are making the same argument, and they are right.
In its piece, “Liz Cheney is Not the Problem,” NRO dismantles the Always Trump case: “The problem isn’t that Cheney is making controversial statements; the problem is that Republicans consider her obviously true statements to be controversial.”
… Be careful about trying to put people in their place, particularly when they are motivated by principle, patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution.
Those are stunning contrasts. So why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?
A superficial answer would be that for a conservative, I rate shocking low on loyalty in Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. But I’m almost positive there’s something more important than that.
First, a distinction.
Dissatisfied with my superficial reading habits, I am currently reading Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book (revised and updated 1972). Chapter 8 is titled “Coming to Terms with an Author”:
[I]n the analytical reading of a book, coming to terms is the first step beyond the outline. Unless the reader comes to terms with the author, the communication of knowledge from one to the other does not take place. For a term is the basic element of communicable knowledge.
A term is not a word–at least, not just a word without further qualifications … [A] word can have many meanings, especially an important word. If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms.
Second, a story, which may be apocryphal, but I did not make it up.
A conservative returned to his alma mater for a commencement address and opened thusly:
By a strange coincidence, I am a graduate of a vastly different institution which occupied this very site 40 years ago and even bore the same name …
For some 23 years now, I’ve been an adherent of a religion called “Christianity,” based on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorious second coming of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. It was once, under the necessity of distinguishing it from a particular heresy, partially summarized in a Creed. To distinguish it from other versions, it’s called “Orthodox,” with a capital-O.
Meanwhile, my country is breathing the last few whiffs of an empty bottle labeled, by a strange coincidence, “Christianity,” which apparently is based on the intuition that God wants us to be nice and happy or, in its robust “Evangelical” versions, that Jesus Christ was very special and died a horrible death so that God would get over his anger issues with us and we could get on with being nice and happy.
Its proper name is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Although we share a mostly-overlapping vocabulary of words, I cannot come to terms with it, except in relatively brief and exhausting bursts of attempted empathy.
I remember from some 55 years ago an even more rigorous version, to which I then and for several more decades adhered, but it lives on today mostly notionally, in the scribblings of über-fissiparous “discernment bloggers.” I stay as far from them (and it) as I can, because I’m recovering from a mild-to-moderate case of that mindset and I’ve seen the harm it can cause, including when someone brings that mindset into Orthodox Christianity.
There were and are some other versions of “Christianity,” with some of which I have more or less come to terms, but they are not all that easily pigeon-holed politically.
So back to the question: “why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?”
First, because it forfeited any claim to my loyalty:
In 2000 and 2004, it was Dubya. He was, we were told, a good Evangelical Christian. He cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher. He talked about America walking humbly in the foreign policy world.
Then 9-11 came, and he turned into a fierce Commander In Chief …
And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declared as U.S. policy the eradication of tyranny from the world and the planting of democracy. If you don’t understand how delusional that is, read it again: eradicating tyranny from the world. As national policy.
Second, I have no confidence that was a blip, a lapse. In fact, the ensuing years have confirmed that endless war truly is the position of the party insiders (even though party voters chose a putatively antiwar mad, toxic and incompetent man for President in 2016).
Third, the Churches these Republicans so assiduously attend engage in worship that’s pure glucose and teach religion(s) with which I cannot come to terms sufficiently to form any kind of alliance. That Republicans are so much likelier to attend Church weekly is not all that interesting considering the Churches they attend.
I knew that 10 years ago (if not earlier, but I drove a stake in the ground then — a blog that’s held up surprisingly well) and they drove a stake though whatever remained of “Republican” in my heart on November 8, 2016.
* * *
Perhaps some day I’ll post a more nuanced version of why it’s difficult for a former-Evangelical, former-Calvinist, now-Orthodox, to “come to terms” with typical versions of contemporary American “Christianity.” I acknowledge painting here with a broad brush, but if there’s no glimmer of recognition, then you may to inattentive, gentle reader.
* * * * *
Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
Clipped from my reading today, but with a common theme — or very close to one.
Through this period, people often noted that the polarization of American political life had become corrosive and unhealthy. Everyone in Washington knew this, but no matter; it became an addiction. Every issue now defaults to the same petty level.
The greatest damage has been to the Democratic Party. Here a distinction is in order. By and large, the states are being capably led in their response to the coronavirus crisis by both Democratic and Republican governors. Apparently working below the radar of the national media is the antidote to political insanity.
Seattle NPR member station KUOW has issued a statement to explain its editorial decision to refrain from broadcasting live daily briefings hosted by President Trump and including members of the White House coronavirus task force. “After airing the White House briefings live for two weeks, a pattern of false information and exaggeration increasingly had many at KUOW questioning whether these briefings were in the best service of our mission — to create and serve a more informed public,” notes the statement, posted Wednesday afternoon. “Of even greater concern was the potential impact of false information on the health and safety of our community.”
When you are poor—and when keeping yourself, your family, and your home clean is a matter of urgency—a laundromat is not a dispensable business. I live in Pennsylvania, one of the states taking strict measures to enforce social distancing and self-quarantining. Last week, the governor’s office released a list detailing which businesses were considered “life sustaining” and which would be subject to mandatory closure. Astonishingly, laundromats were on the shutdown list, at least at first. This was yet another reminder of how the coronavirus pandemic is widening the divide between the haves and have-nots.
[U]ntil at least Inauguration Day of January 2021, Donald Trump is the president we have. That’s just a fact. I’m thinking now of a conversation I had earlier this year, before the crisis, with a prominent journalist who is a total Trump hater. I don’t begrudge him his anger. I share a lot of it. But what was so strange about it was how consumed this man was with his spite for Trump. It seemed like a kind of black hole that warped the man’s perception of everything else. I recalled that conversation when I read Kyle Smith’s exhortation to the media to stop baiting Trump, and making him worse than he is. Smith writes:
… As far as I know, every member of the Washington press corps, even Jim Acosta, is a resident of Planet Earth. Why are they all acting as if they’re looking down from the Nebulon-235 system and not subject to everything that is happening?
We know that the president is unusually thin-skinned and capricious, that he is keenly and perhaps unhealthily focused on what the media are saying about him at any given nanosecond, that he has a short temper and a quick fuse. He goes through cabinet secretaries like a newborn goes through diapers. And pointing out his errors is the legitimate business of CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, the Washington Post, etc. But the way the media are trying to gin up a feud between Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci is disgraceful and disgusting.
Folks, and by “folks” I mean you absolute freaking Muppets, are you trying to get Fauci fired? Do we really want to start over with a new specialist in infectious diseases in the White House? Would you be happy if Omarosa were Trump’s chief adviser on epidemiology? Would you be more secure if Jared were the last man standing during the medical briefings?
Yeah. I that’s right. I’ve been screaming about how Trump’s narcissism prevents his seeing the world accurately, but hatred of him can prevent accurate perception, too. This is, frankly, a risk for me personally, and I can see it, for instance, in yesterday’s NPR email: “One of the more unsettling byproducts of the growing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the rampant harassment of Asians and Asian Americans.”
“Rampant.” Really? (And of course it’s all because Trump trolled the press and the libs by calling it “Chinese virus” until someone got through to him.)
Be clear on what Smith is saying: not “don’t report critically on Trump” but rather “don’t exploit Trump’s weakness to make things worse for all of us.” … Do they really believe that Trump is going to resign, or be removed from office between now and the election? As Smith argues, it is in the interest of all of us that Trump do the best job of which he is capable. A big part of Trump’s problem in handling this crisis is that he treats it like it’s a reality show. But so do the media, when they try to blow things up between him and Fauci.
Along the same lines, this from Clarissa, a polyglot Ukrainian immigrant academic somewhere in Illinois:
The journalists at the virus press briefings make Pence, Fauci, Brix and even Trump look like serious, competent adults trying to pacify a roomful of pouty toddlers.
“How many deaths are acceptable?” asks one journalist. The question clearly isn’t trying to elicit any information that would be valuable to the public at such a difficult moment. The whole point of the question is to get a “gotcha, Trump” moment and garner a few thousand retweets.
Almost every journalist at the briefings is only interested in building a personal brand and is completely indifferent to the task of informing the public.
When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
The qualities we most need in a president during this crisis are calmness, wisdom, and reassurance; a command of the facts and the ability to communicate them well; and the capacity to think about the medium and long term while carefully weighing competing options and conflicting needs. We need a leader who can persuade the public to act in ways that are difficult but necessary, who can focus like a laser beam on a problem for a sustained period of time, and who will listen to—and, when necessary, defer to—experts who know far more than he does. We need a president who can draw the nation together rather than drive it apart, who excels at the intricate work of governing, and who works well with elected officials at every level. We need a chief executive whose judgment is not just sound, but exceptional.
There are some 325 million people in America, and it’s hard to think of more than a handful who are more lacking in these qualities than Donald Trump.
… He can’t easily create another narrative, because he is often sharing the stage with scientists who will not lie on his behalf.
America will make it to the other side of this crisis, as it has after every other crisis. But the struggle will be a good deal harder, and the human cost a good deal higher, because we elected as president a man who is so damaged and so broken in so many ways.
Jonah Goldberg was on an absolute tear in yesterday’s Dispatch podcast about how horribly Donald Trump has led the coronavirus effort, particularly as regards his colleage David French’s opinion that TV really should cover the daily press briefings because if you really focus and pay attention you can get a lot of true and useful information from the people surrounding Trump, including gentle corrections of Trump’s misinformation from moments before.
On this one, I’m with Goldberg and the media who are refusing to let the President abuse free airtime for crypto-campaign speeches.
Also mentioned in passing, though it caught my ear as a former pro-life activist and one appalled by R.R. Reno’s recent blog, was Jonathan Last’s January 24 prediction that Trump would corrupt the pro-life movement. Because it was on The Bulwark, which I don’t visit regularly, I missed its excellence:
One of the ways the pro-life movement has changed people’s minds over the last 20 years is by having science on their side. Another way is that they were more than just anti-abortion.
Pro-lifers made smart, principled arguments about stem-cell research …
Pro-lifers led the opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
Pro-lifers are the first people to speak up for the rights of the disabled and the inherent dignity of all persons.
They spread the gospel of the seamless garment of life and that’s how they attracted new people to their cause.
The more the pro-life movement narrows its focus to nothing but abortion, the less effective it will be at changing people’s minds on abortion. … Lasting progress comes from changing the culture.
Donald Trump is a recent convert on the cause of abortion … [but] Trump is one of the rare converts who came to oppose abortion without really having much truck with ideas about inherent human dignity.
Donald Trump may be opposed to abortion—and again, that’s great—but he clearly does not believe in any consistent life ethic. Which means that he is functionally opposed to much of the pro-life movement’s beliefs.
Should the pro-life movement be welcoming Trump at the March for Life? I don’t know. I’m not the boss of them.
But I would note that it is not uncommon for conservatives to dismiss entire causes or ideologies because of the presence of a bad actor. For instance, you may recall conservatives dismissing the Women’s March in 2017 because of the involvement of Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.
Why would outside observers not take the same attitude about the March for Life because of Trump?
Trumpism has corrupted every ideology and institution it has come into contact with. There is no reason to think that the pro-life movement will be excepted.
This is even better than Damon Linker’s column that same day (Trump’s scheduled appearance at the March for Life prompted both of them). Last more than Linker puts his finger on what I think was bothering me about Trump’s appearance, though I didn’t take time to sort through my thoughts and distill them (so far as I can recall).
The irony is that even before we could gauge how Trump’s appearance had hardened pro-abortion people in their position, and pushed fence-straddlers over to the pro-abortion side, Trump got supporters like Reno to take positions that undermine the principle of the sanctity of all human life.
Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.
[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….
I’ve been very active lately on my blot blog, where I mostly link to things with minimal comment, and it has been four days, I guess, since I found anything (other than fulminating about Donald Trump) that might involve enough original input to be worth writing here.
But now the first item in Andrew Sullivan’s weekly column for September 20 (metered paywall), When the Ideologues Come for The Kids, sounds all the right notes on a topic I’ve been fretting about a lot, right down to his retreat from previously endorsing Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH).
I am relatively disinterested in the identity politics and the picking on White boys (capitalization is from the Minnesota Teacher of the Year Sullivan dismantles), but this is a solid observation:
The forces involved — “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” “heterosexism” — are all invisible to the naked eye, like the Holy Spirit. Their philosophical origins — an attempt by structuralist French philosophers to rescue what was left of Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s — are generally obscured in any practical context. Like religion, you cannot prove any of its doctrines empirically, but children are being forced into believing them anyway … Having taken one form of religion out of the public schools, the social-justice left is now replacing it with the doctrines of intersectionality.
I have come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to eradicate “religion,” broadly construed, from education. Again and again, I’ve seen crypto-religious ideologies slip into public schools. Intersectionality is just the latest crypto-religious fad.
Religious neutrality is a myth, though delusions about it abound. The best thing I can say for public educators who profess it is that that few of them are perceptive enough to be cynical rather than credulous in that profession.
When Sullivan starts with his retreat from DQSH, he enters territory I’m familiar and very, very frustrated with: the mad destructiveness of gender ideology. If he missed a major point, it doesn’t come readily to mind:
Drag Queen Story Hour is a conscious effort to indoctrinate kids into the glories of queerness, “not campy encouragement for reading and fun.”
Kids who defy sex stereotypes are being told that they’re probably the opposite sex trapped in the wrong body. Consequences, in the form of hideous medical malpractice, may follow.
Claims of transgender identity are skyrocketing. This is neither a natural phenomenon nor a mere matter of closeted people finally coming out. In kids, it’s a combination of adult suggestion and social contagion.
Girls have proven more susceptible than boys to adult suggestion and social contagion, and virtually their only defenders are “a few ornery feminists.”
Most gender dysphoric kids, if not forced to “transition,” will grow up gay.
Don’t like #5? Move to Iran, where homosexuality is so loathed that the Mullahs pay for a world-leading rate of sex-reassignment surgeries: gay boys must be turned into girls, lesbian girls into boys.
Sullivan takes this last point personally:
I remember being taunted by some other kids when I was young — they suggested that because I was mildly gender-nonconforming, I must be a girl. If my teachers and parents and doctors had adopted this new ideology, I might never have found the happiness of being gay and comfort in being male. How many gay kids, I wonder, are now being led into permanent physical damage or surgery that may be life-saving for many, but catastrophic for others, who come to realize they made a mistake. And what are gay adults doing to protect them? Nothing.
Read it. Chew on it. Speak up. Get over your sex stereotypes: a “tomboy” isn’t a boy and a “sissy” isn’t a girl.
Don’t let them bully you into silence with charges of “homophobia” or “transphobia” as they take children and commit “transitioning” atrocities on them or merely screw them over over psychologically. In Sullivan’s words, “this is not progressive; it’s deeply regressive.”
UPDATE: I should have known better than to say he had hit all the major points. He missed the extent to which observant parents are fighting back alongside ornery feminists, and how the ideologues are savaging both.
* * * * *
I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.
There is nothing new about disinformation. Unlike ordinary lies and propaganda, which try to make you believe something, disinformation tries to make you disbelieve everything. It scatters so much bad information, and casts so many aspersions on so many sources of information, that people throw up their hands and say, “They’re all a pack of liars.” As Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide and former leader of Breitbart News, succinctly put it in an interview with Bloomberg, “[T]he way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with shit.”
Although disinformation is old, it has recently cross-pollinated with the internet to produce something new: the decentralized, swarm-based version of disinformation that has come to be known as trolling. Trolls attack real news; they attack the sources of real news; they disseminate fake news; and they create artificial copies of themselves to disseminate even more fake news. By unleashing great quantities of lies and half-truths, and then piling on and swarming, they achieve hive-mind coordination. Because trolling need not bother with persuasion or anything more than very superficial plausibility, it can concern itself with being addictively outrageous. Epistemically, it is anarchistic, giving no valence to truth at all; like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading.
… By being willing to say anything, they exploit shock and outrage to seize attention and hijack the public conversation.
That last tactic is especially insidious. The constitution of knowledge is organized around an epistemic honor code: Objective truth exists; efforts to find it should be impersonal; credentials matter; what hasn’t been tested isn’t knowledge; and so on. Trolls violate all those norms: They mock truth, sling mud, trash credentials, ridicule testing, and all the rest.
Something tells me that the long-term costs of #2 — and not just in terms of damaging the credibility of Christianity (of which Evangelicals have dubiously made themselves avatars) — outweigh and perhaps vastly outweigh the benefits of #1. I can’t yet put my finger on it; maybe it’s ineffable or self-evident.
We’ve gone from agreeing that there is “Truth” (even if we disagreed about its content), to referring to “your truth” versus “my truth,” and now we hover on the edge of the Emperor’s truth being the only truth, with the Emperor smirking as he mocks us by changing that “truth” at will.
Purdue University,”mother” to an astonishing proportion of early astronauts and now sporting a rather new, large and prominent Neil Armstrong engineering building and archive, is atwitter over the release of “First Man” and should be (pardon the expression) over the moon at Joe Morgenstern’s Wall Street Journal review.
Speaking of which, our local TV news, which regularly interjects inadvertent comic relief into the news, covered the Armstrong archive last night with a comment about it housing “N pieces of his life,” reminding me of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women.”
It’s good that this is in print, because one can read it categorically or presumptively (had it been spoken, the inflection likely would have disambiguated it):
I can’t support Beto — because he’s pro-choice ….
I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice ….
I believe the moral law would permit Ross’s sister, for sufficient cause, to vote for Beto despite his being pro-choice, but never because he’s pro-choice.
The decisive question is the sufficiency of Cruz’s cynicism and lying. His cynicism stinks to the heavens, but I haven’t kept a scorecard on his lying. Texans probably have a better reading on that.
Be it remembered that Jeff Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters for the Presidency but Trump is getting ready to replace him because he won’t corrupt the Justice Department by conducting show trials against Trump’s enemies or by firing Robert Mueller.
This is the treatment Evangelicals can expect if they ever reach a “we must obey God, not Caesar” moment. Whether they have the integrity to reach that moment is an open question.
Add this to item #1 as a reason why Trump should be voted out either in the 2020 Republican primaries or against many potential Democrat nominees in the General Election.
Since we’re apparently slow learners, though, God may ordain that 2020 be a repeat of Trump versus Hillary or maybe even Trump versus Beelzebub.
Be it noted, too, that Atifa, at least in Portland, has itself become a fascistic mob, just as I figured would happen in this world where every evil has a euphemistic name.
At the beginning, they came out only when conservatives, including trolls like Milo or Ann Coulter, came to town. Now they call protests, take over the streets, redirect traffic, and threaten anyone who doesn’t comply.
That’s why I say “fascistic.”
Consider two recent surveys released before the Senate voted Saturday to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. After the riveting Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked: “If there is still a doubt about whether the charges are true, do you think Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed?” Respondents said no by 52% to 40%.
A Harvard-Harris poll released Oct. 1 asked: “If the FBI review of these allegations finds no corroboration of the accusation of sexual assault, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?” Sixty percent said yes and 40% no, with 86% of Republicans, 58% of independents and even 40% of Democrats supporting confirmation.
The 20-point swing between these two survey questions shows public opinion is malleable ….
I doubt that we’ll really know until November 7, if then, which way the Kavanaugh hearings cut politically.
I’ve periodically mentioned and lamented that “Christianity” in the U.S. Seems to have just two avatars, Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.
Roman Catholicism got that status by being huge and by claiming that it is The Church uniquely (a claim attenuated since Vitican II). Its claim had purchase in the West, which knew little of the four patriarchs from whom the proto-Popes went into schism (and which now are known as “Eastern Orthodox”). You were either Catholic or ex-Catholic via the Reformation. Those were the mental options.
I just realized, though, that I had that bit of history or Evangelicalism stored away that perhaps not everyone is aware of it.
Evangelicals got their status differently. I don’t discount the Great Black Swan, Billy Graham, and the boost William Randolph Hearst decided to give him, nor the sizzle of the Moral Majority and the rest of the Religious Right (which finally brought Evangelicalism into what the press thinks of as “reality”: contentious politics).
But it started earlier. Some evangelical visionaries early on saw the evangelistic potential of radio and, later, television. They scarfed up hundreds or thousands of FCC broadcast licenses in order to preach their version of the Gospel. Try to find a “Christian” radio station that isn’t Evangelical.
Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Crickets)
Domination of the airwaves had a big influence on perceptions of non-Catholic Christianity.
I don’t think Evangelicals set out to eliminate other voices from the airwaves, or otherwise to delegitimize those voices. It was more positive than that: spread the Gospel. The rest is epiphenomenal.
And the chaotic internet, where licenses aren’t yet required (but see next item) will perhaps diminish Evangelicalism’s place aside Rome in the Western Christian oligarchy.
Those who demanded Facebook & other Silicon Valley giants censor political content – something they didn’t actually want to do – are finding that content that they themselves support & like end up being repressed. That’s what has happened to every censorship advocate in history: https://t.co/IZHF8GVkgC
Late Thursday, Facebook and Twitter began what appears to be a coordinated purge of accounts trafficking in real news our masters would prefer we not know and opinions that no bien pensant should entertain. Caitlin Johnstone, aware that “censorship” proper is a government act, thinks nonetheless that the rise of corporate power and the thin line between corporate and government power make this effectively censorship in our new media age.
I’m likely to have more to say about this, but for now, Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin will suffice.
* * * * *
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.