We knew full well he was a snake

I suggested soon after the 2016 elections that something big was happening, though I’d barely began to understand it. It feels timely to take another look now.

Trump has co-opted “movement conservatism” almost completely. Former “never Trump” conservatives in many cases have become his sycophants. The three Republicans who want to replace moderate Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly in Indiana are generally trying to out-Trumpify one another (here, here and here). To speak any criticism of Trump, howsoever true (e.g., he’s a lout sexually), is to invite boos and hisses, as Mona Charen learned at CPAC last week.

I detest the media’s reckless use of the term “far right,” but a telltale sign that “far right” may indeed be what’s happening to movement conservatism is that CPAC invited Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. As Mona Charen later noted, Mademoiselle LePen holds no public office or particular prominence in France, but her aunt Marine and grandfather Jean-Marie are, respectively, far-right secularists and extreme far-right, even crypto-Nazi. In short, she was invited for the far-right frisson of her family name, like inviting Milo to your campus only with genuinely sinister undertones instead of just mindless iconoclasm.

UPDATE: I intended to acknowledge that CPAC almost certainly got more than it bargained for from LePen, who did not dish up a racist anti-immigration rant and actually pushed some conservative themes that few American conservatives are ready to hear sympathetically. Rod Dreher discusses this well enough that I’ll link to his blog and quote this:

Do not take me as endorsing Marion Maréchal-Le Pen! I honestly don’t know enough about her to do such a thing, and I certainly condemn the racism and anti-Semitism of her grandfather — and, if she espouses it, then her own racism and anti-Semitism. However, I generally don’t trust the US media’s reporting on her, or on the European anti-liberal right.

And Trump himself gave a CPAC speech that included a poem (actually song lyrics), based on one of Aesop’s fables, which I didn’t know had become part of his schtick. He explicitly makes immigrants the treacherous snake in the doggerel.

During the campaign,

Trump left the stage soon after finishing “The Snake” — and it acted as a sort of lens through which the evening’s hatred and xenophobia and racism could be focused and made clear. Those howls of approval? That’s the sound of thousands of hateful worldviews being confirmed all at once by a single work of art.

(Paul Constant, What Donald Trump’s favorite poem tells us about Donald Trump)

Do you miss mere “dog whistles” yet, progressive Americans?

But Constant continues, elaborating what hit me when I heard Trump read that poem:

Recently, Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter who worked on Donald Trump’s book The Art of the Deal, pointed out that the key to understanding Trump is this: when he tosses around insults, he is really talking about himself. With this insight in mind, you can see all Trump’s insecurities swirl to the surface in his attacks: he’s called Hillary Clinton “a lose [sic] cannon with extraordinarily bad judgement [sic] & insticts [sic],” he’s labeled Elizabeth Warren a “racist,” said President Obama “doesn’t have a clue,” and he loves to call the press “dishonest.” It’s like he’s performing advanced psychotherapy on himself by projecting his self-loathing onto the world.

And so with that discovery in mind, consider what Trump might find so compelling about “The Snake.” Audiences seem to interpret the poem as a charge against kindness. Trump supporters like to say that we can no longer afford to accept immigrants because our generosity has been taken advantage of again and again. The implication is that we need to get our house in order before we open our doors again. But that’s a misreading of “The Snake.” Instead, “The Snake” is about believing against all evidence to the contrary that someone’s nature will change in different circumstances.

For the last few months, Republican leaders have tried to assure the electorate that Trump would pivot during the election, that he would start calming down and presenting as a more reasonable candidate when we got closer to the general election. Trump himself has said that he would act presidential if he won the election. We have repeatedly been told — by Trump’s family at the Republican National Convention, by Trump himself, by Trump’s running mate — that we are not seeing the real Donald Trump.

But what Trump is telling us with “The Snake” is that he is the snake in that story, and that he will never stop spreading his poison. Trump’s whole pitch is that he’s been an asshole his entire life, and that he’s willing to be the asshole on our behalf for a change. He’s proud of his bankruptcies, his tax-dodging, his dishonorable business practices. Many of his followers argue that he’s just the kind of monster we need to even the playing field with international competitors. But in his speeches, Trump himself keeps urging us to believe the evidence before our eyes: we know damn well he is a snake, so why would we take him in?

(Emphasis added) There’s plenty of other commentary on Trump and this poem, too.

Yet the Democrats thus far will not moderate to seize disaffected conservatives, now read out of their former party and movement. The near-term future thus looks as polarized or even more polarized (“paralyzed,” I typed initially in a Freudian slip) than the present.

In my post-election suggestion of big ferment, I quoted Michael Lind of Politico that what we were seeing was actually the end of a partisan realignment:

The partisan coalitions that defined the Democratic and Republican parties for decades in the middle of the twentieth century broke apart long ago; over the past half century, their component voting blocs — ideological, demographic, economic, geographic, cultural — have reshuffled. The reassembling of new Democratic and Republican coalitions is nearly finished.

What we’re seeing this year is the beginning of a policy realignment, when those new partisan coalitions decide which ideas and beliefs they stand for — when, in essence, the party platforms catch up to the shift in party voters that has already happened … The future is being built before our eyes, with far-reaching consequences for every facet of American politics.

That still rings very true to me, and I am coming to detest the ideas and beliefs of the new Republican party as much as I’ve long detested the deal-killer abortion stance of the Democrats. Maybe, pace Lind, the increasing frank and unapologetic racism of the GOP is the eventuality of the “dog whistles” of which progressive America complained: the kennel’s full now, and the occupants nominated the snake.

But it’s not all bad.

  1. Neal Gorsuch.
  2. The death of Zombie Reaganism as the GOP’s mantra. (Unfortunately, Living Trumpism is far worse than Zombie Reaganism.)

Seriously, within the last two years or so, I’ve affiliated with the American Solidarity Party. Its platform is far enough out of the current mainstream that it feels utopian. In some ways, it’s my ideological placeholder: “not Republican, not Democrat, but flirting with this kind of Christian vision for our common life.”

Over the weekend, I discovered, subscribed to, and delighted in American Affairs, a journal explicitly founded because “the conventional partisan platforms are no longer relevant to the the most pressing challenges facing our country.”

In short, I don’t yet see any place for me emerging from either the Republicans or the Democrats, and I think the interesting discussions are happening in places like American Affairs, with its welcoming conservative atmosphere but no dogmatic positions that I’ve seen.

I’m still not quite sure what’s up, but I’m seeing glimmers that it actually might not be some “rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouch[ing] towards Bethlehem to be born.” But maybe that’s just the sunshine and hints of Spring deceiving me.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Rhetorical Alchemy #Fail

With astounding cynicism, Democrats rushed to capitalize on dead teens, while ineffectually dragging out the same fatigued arguments they’ve been making since the Clinton era.

(Kimberly Strassel, The GOP’s Gun Temptation, Wall Street Journal)

Braun’s ad was a shock to the Uber driver’s widow, Deb Monroe. She told The Washington Post in a phone interview on Thursday that Braun did not seek permission to use her husband’s photo or politicize his death.
“I would never let anybody use my husband’s name that way,” she said. Regarding the accused man, she added: “I don’t think his immigration status had anything to do with my husband’s death.”

(Samantha Schmidt, Widow says Republican candidate’s immigration ad politicizes her husband’s death, Washington Post)

The parallel is imperfect. Deb Monroe presumably is not a pro-immigration crusader. But the take-homes are the same:

  • People exploit tragedies to promote their goals.
  • Proximity to tragedy doesn’t transform a leaden argument into gold.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The age of bloodless assassination

[C]harges of bigotry function these days in the same way assassinations did during the 1930s. George Orwell was disgusted by the ideological brutality he witnessed while serving on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. One did not discuss; one eliminated. A similar spirit is at work today. What happened to the professors at Yale targeted by black students? What happened to the Claremont McKenna dean who was forced to resign over charges of racial “insensitivity”? They were not killed. We live in a bloodless era, thankfully. Instead, they were professionally assassinated. Professor James McAdams at Marquette was assassinated in this way. Some at Duke Divinity School tried to use the method of professional execution to get rid of Paul Griffiths.

The assassinations are by no means limited to the poisoned groves of academia. We see it happening elsewhere. James Damore was recently assassinated at Google, and before him Brendan Eich at Mozilla … These assassinations create an atmosphere of fear, which is the goal. We should be grateful that the left does not put bullets in the back of the heads of those who dissent. But let’s not kid ourselves; it is a velvet terror, but still a reign of terror.

Michael Sean Winters got into the assassination game. Our publication of Romanus Cessario’s review of a translation of Edgardo Mortara’s spiritual memoir (“Non Possumus,” February) stirred up controversy. A sharp debate followed. Winters is not interested in debate. He wants an execution. “Dominican Fr. Romanus Cessario, professor of systematic theology at St. John’s Seminary, associate editor of The Thomist, senior editor of Magnificat, and general editor of the Catholic Moral Thought series at the Catholic University of America Press, should be sacked. Not permitted to retire early. Not permitted to resign. He should be sacked and sacked publicly.” The reason for this public hanging? We need to adopt a “zero tolerance policy against anti-semitism by clerics.”

The reign of terror works in part because conservatives too often play along ….

(R.R. Reno)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A day in the land of my sojourn

Again, I’ve lingered too long this morning over very good stuff found in my internet haunts. But I’ve withdrawn some things (see below) scheduled on Hootsuite for later release to Facebook and Twitter, because I’ve found something else that wraps up my feelings poetically.

Much as I’ve thought that every sentient Christian should be moved by Psalm 51 (50 in Orthodox Bibles), so I think they should be moved by Peggy Haslar’s late-Thursday Sparrowfare blog. She’s the poet (even if she borrows from late songster Rich Mullins). Savor it.

“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.”

(John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1920) p. 196. H/T Edwin Bensen) Be a saint anyway.

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If you’re curious, here are three things I pulled from Hootsuite:

    1. Understanding Conservative Christian Silence on Donald Trump’s Porngate in three perceptive points.
    2. Purity and Prejudice is a weak title for “theme and variations on ‘cads and louts won the sexual revolution.'”
    3. President Trump is the Freest Man Alive, and you’re worse than an idiot if you want to be like him.

The second and third are particularly good, but Haslar’s Sparrowfare outshone them.

The third, it seems to me (from always-insightful Elizabeth Bruenig), vindicates Patrick Deneen’s premise that liberalism (in the broad sense in which even “conservatives” are liberal) has failed. The “burly sinner” in the White House epitomizes the individualism espoused by liberalism, and he is a train wreck of a human being precisely because of his superlative acquisition of all the liberal anti-virtues. Q.E.D.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Abuses of power

Rod Dreher revisits for the third time the Edgardo Montara case from the 19th-centry papal state that included Bologna, Italy. He quotes a Patheos column by Eve Tushnet, which quote includes this:

I am not sure I’ve seen any discussions of Catholic “postliberal” politics which acknowledge the need for any peaceful social order to accept and accommodate disharmony. If your temporal political goal is public harmony you can either a) make a lot of compromises with unbelief and sin for the sake of peace or b) impose order by force, thus creating a lot more chaos, cruelty, and sin … Any reasonably okay society will have a lot of uncriminalized sin and a lot of unpunished crime, because the things you need to do to root out and punish sin will themselves involve sinful abuses of power.

That’s a great summary of why, some 50 years ago, I supported decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults. But since I believe, now as then, that those acts are sinful, I’ve been unwilling to go further into things like protected class status.

I’m not alone in that. But the nation is moving toward suppressing as intolerable the disharmony folks like me create. Dreher:

Here’s the thing that is very hard to get progressives to understand: liberalism today is turning illiberal in a way that resembles the Papal States of Pio Nono. Many on the left don’t see it because they are caught up in the relentless logic of virtue. Let’s step away from the religion aspect for a second. Have you been watching the progressive mob savaging Margaret Atwood — Margaret Atwood! — as a traitor to feminism for having said publicly that a Canadian academic punished for sexual harassment was denied due process? The Handmaid’s Tale author was a hero to feminists yesterday, but today she’s a monster because she deviated ever so slightly from the Virtuous Position. Extremism in the pursuit of progressive virtue is no vice …

Progressive militants are thrilled to throw dissidents from their purity project on the metaphorical bonfire, torching careers and reputations for the sake of Justice. And if one protests that this or that person was treated unfairly, well, mistakes might be made, but maybe it’s time that the Enemy (males, whites, straights, religious believers, et al.) knows what it feels like to be oppressed. That’s the rationale.

I have no doubt that there are more than a few progressives who read the controversy over Edgardo Mortara’s case and are rightly appalled, but who would tomorrow cheer the State for removing a child deemed transgender by experts from the home of his Christian parents who disagree.

Well of course they would! Gender is indelible, like baptism used to be superstitiously described, and the state is obliged to raise a boy-girl as a girl, as the Papal states thought they must raise a baptized Christian as Christian. Isn’t that obvious!?

Contemporaneously, Dreher and two others forecast other suppressions that may be more imminent.

First, Alan Jacobs sees Christian colleges and universities being destroyed by loss of accreditation for resisting the Zeitgeist:

As I have noted in another venue, calls are already being made for Christian institutions to lose their accreditation also. Many Christian colleges will be unable to survive losing federal aid for their faculty and students alike; … a loss of accreditation is likely to be the death knell for all of them, because that will dramatically reduce the number of students who apply for admission. Students with degrees from unaccredited institutions are deemed ineligible for almost all graduate education, and for many jobs as well. How many parents, even devoutly Christian parents, even those few who can afford it (given the lack of federal student aid), will be willing to pay to send their children to institutions if that narrows their future horizons so dramatically? Almost none, I suspect.

The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world.

Carl Trueman foresees trouble from Title IX and pressure to revoke tax exemption:

The specific point of conflict is likely to be (once again) Title IX legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination at any institution of higher education receiving federal funding. The law does allow an exemption for religious organizations such as colleges and seminaries, an exemption to which I shall return. What is worrying is the increasing elasticity of the legislation, which was extended under President Obama to include transgenderism. That “Dear Colleague” letter has since been rescinded, but the underlying cultural commitments that made Title IX expansions plausible remain in place.

Some colleges—for instance, Hillsdale and Grove City—stand apart from federal funding. Such places thus seem relatively safe. But are they? There is another point of vulnerability: the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University v. United States. This ruling denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of policies regarding interracial dating that were judged contrary to a compelling government policy. The text of the decision can be found here, but the key passage reads as follows:

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.

However we may cheer the particular result of the Bob Jones case, the implications unfolding in today’s climate are concerning. Replace “racial” with “sexual” in the paragraph above, and the point is clear.

The usefulness of Title IX and Bob Jones for the sexual-identity revolution lies precisely in the fact that most Christians see them as sound in what they were originally meant to accomplish, even as some might cavil at their heavy-handed application in after years. In a world where the law increasingly seems to exist not to protect minority opinion but to impose the sexual or identitarian taste du jour, the uses of these laws are increasingly sinister. Yet their origins make them hard to oppose with any cultural plausibility. For this reason, the religious exemption in Title IX will, I suspect, either fall or become so attenuated as to be in practice meaningless.

Dreher in a separate blog elaborates Trueman’s point:

Trueman points out a truth that far, far too many Christians refuse to acknowledge: that the political assault on orthodox religious institutions is happening because American culture has radically changed. Fighting politically and legally are necessary, but ultimately not sufficient to save us, because we increasingly don’t have the people with us. Writes Trueman, “It is the heart that must change if arguments are to carry any weight. And only things that go that deep will avail us at this time.”

But Dreher is getting used to being ignored:

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend, and how unprepared American Christians are for it. We really do labor under the self-indulgent illusion that It Can’t Happen Here. Oh yes, it most certainly can — and it is.

(Emphasis added) How can people be so insensate? A commonly-identified culprit is secularism, but Dreher names two more:

The other day, I had an e-mail exchange with a prominent scholar who studies religion in America. It’s not part of his public profile, but he happens to be a believing Christian. He was extremely pessimistic about the situation here, given the long-term data he is seeing about how the advance of secularism, consumerism, and individualism is routing belief.

(Emphasis added)

But some of that routed belief thinks it’s still faithful. We have met the enemy and he is, if not us, at least among our ranks. We will, in due course, have those routed believers held up as the truly exemplary believers.

We need to tolerate disharmony, as I think was done with decriminalization of sodomy, but that’s not where we seem to be headed, and this time I and mine are going to be the stigmatized.

If you’re a faithful and orthodox Christian, you are, too.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

First Amendment Follies

Which is more depressing?

  1. A California Attorney General ignorant of the first amendment or contemptuous of his oath to uphold the constitution; or
  2. A group of Texas College Presidents who, presumably having deliberated carefully, apparently couldn’t find among them even one College President to scream “Wait a minute! We’re going to make asses of ourselves!” before publishing solemn nonsense that made asses of themselves?

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Once more, slowly, for the idiots

David French tries to set the record straight on Masterpiece Cakes, scheduled for argument in the Supreme Court Tuesday.

Forgive me for starting a piece with the oldest cliché in the practice of law. As the saying goes, “If the law is on your side, pound on the law. If the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. If neither are on your side, pound on the table.” In the run-up to the oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on December 5, we’re seeing a lot of table-pounding from the Left. In fact, I’ve never seen a case more mischaracterized in my entire legal career.

The actual facts of the case are crystal clear. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to custom-design a cake to help celebrate a gay wedding. As a Christian, he finds same-sex unions to be unbiblical and immoral, and he wasn’t willing to use his artistic talents to advance a message he holds to be wrong. In fact, he’d frequently declined to design cakes that advanced messages he found to be offensive. But he never, ever — not once — discriminated against any customers on the basis of their identity. He baked cakes for people of all races, creeds, colors, and sexual orientations.

Two years ago, in the Obergefell opinion, [Justice Anthony Kennedy] wrote this:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

If Justice Kennedy holds to this view, then not only does the First Amendment win, nondiscrimination laws won’t lose. Phillips isn’t discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. If Kennedy changes his mind, then he’ll erode vital American constitutional traditions and doctrines. The sexual revolution, not the Constitution, will be the supreme law of the land.

That old cliché explains why it will be hard to set the record straight. Neither the law nor the facts favor what Colorado has done to Jack Phillips, the proprietor. Only the inexorable demand of the sexual revolution to eradicate all wrongthought and wrongthinkers supports it.

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Like a spider monkey with a lit stick of dynamite

I didn’t mean to do it, but in short order this morning I had collected three worthy snippets on how Donald Trump manipulates us. (The third is my favorite, sublimely succinct and almost poetic.)

Every president has his own strategy for dealing with periods of acute difficulty. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan worked to disarm their opponents with charm, grace and humor. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton moved to the center. George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama tried to get down to business and to do something significant and concrete.

By contrast, Donald Trump heightens the contradictions. He tries to provoke unrest and discontent, with a clear intuition that they are his best friends. He creates demons and scapegoats. That’s also Stephen Bannon’s approach, and it captures what drew the two men together.

That might be smart politics. But more fundamentally, it appears to be Trump’s gut instinct, his go-to approach when cornered or in trouble. In some cases, his statements look uncomfortably like Russia’s Facebook ads.

While Trump’s characteristic strategy is to intensify social divisions, and to make what divides Americans as salient and visible as possible, that approach is more often associated with the left than the right (true to its Marxist origins).

(Cass R. Sunstein, Russia Is Using Marxist Strategies, and So Is Trump:
Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. election was aimed at stoking social tensions. Sound familiar?

In the year since Donald Trump was elected president, the national news media has congratulated itself on a new golden age of accountability journalism.

And it’s true in many ways. The scoops have been relentless, the digging intense, the results important.

But in another crucial way, the reality-based press has failed.

Too often, it has succumbed to the chaos of covering Trump, who lies and blusters and distracts at every turn.

Of course, given the differences among news organizations, generalizing is a fraught exercise. Nonetheless, each news cycle is an exhausting, confusing blast of conflicting claims, fact-checking, reactions and outrage.

Trump drives the news, all day and every day, a human fire hose of hyperbolic tweets, insults, oversimplification and bragging.

And then there’s the huge influence of Fox News, which early last week was discussing hamburger emoji as the rest of the national media was reporting the indictments of Trump associates.

The president has been sowing those seeds of mistrust for many months, and cultivates them daily with extra-strength fertilizer.

Reporters “have so-called sources that, in my opinion, don’t exist,” Trump told Lou Dobbs of Fox Business recently. “They just ― they make it up. It is so dishonest. It is so fake.”

Of course, that’s not true. Reporters for legitimate news organizations do not make things up. Those few reporters who fabricate sources get fired and are driven out of the business.

(Margaret Sullivan, Media Columnist for the Washington Post, in Trump’s message of mistrust is sinking in, even in journalism’s new ‘golden age’)

[T]he president grabs the public’s attention like a spider monkey running through a church with a lit stick of dynamite.

(Jonah Goldberg)

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.