Potpourri, 1/19/19

Trump and his defenders

1

George Will:

By his comportment, the president benefits his media detractors with serial vindications of their disparagements … [M]any journalists consider[] him an excuse for a four-year sabbatical from thinking about anything other than the shiny thing that mesmerizes them by dangling himself in front of them.

Dislike of him should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen. It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Donald Trump. He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life. His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance — preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion — concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.

The shabbiest U.S. president ever is an inexpressibly sad specimen.

2

Trump defenders want to defend everything Trump does outside of the lines of normalcy on the grounds that he is a disrupter. There are several problems with this argument, but I’ll focus on two. The first is that much of Trump’s disruptiveness is characterological, not programmatic or ideological. If you want to defend the president’s prerogative to question the value of NATO, that’s fine. That’s one kind of disruption, to be sure. But his personal behavior from his pettiness, impulsiveness, and constant mendacity is disruptive, too. And you can’t expect people un-besotted with him to compartmentalize the two the way you do. Trump’s erratic behavior is endearing to some and worrisome to others. Expecting those endeared to find it troubling is as foolhardy as expecting the worriers to find it charming, particularly if the worrier has a responsibility to act.

Second, Trump supporters simultaneously celebrate his disruptiveness, and even his violation of democratic norms, but are scandalized when he provokes equally disruptive or norm-violating responses. When I hear Kevin McCarthy complain that Nancy Pelosi’s quasi disinvitation to deliver the State of the Union is “beneath” the office of the speaker, or when I hear praetorian pundits denounce the profane language of his opponents as if they shock the conscience of Trump supporters, I want to resort to the international sign-language gesture for Onanism.

Jonah Goldberg

Trump’s eventuality

3

The point I want to make is this: the ideologically-driven anti-Christian aggression of the Spanish Republican Left eventually drove Christians into the arms of a military man who turned into a dictator. Over and over on this Spanish trip, I heard Catholics say some version of: Franco may have been bad, but at least he didn’t want to kill us. What choice did we have?

The Left lost the first war, but from a Catholic point of view, ultimately triumphed. Spain has mostly de-Christianized. The Catholic Church is a shell of its former self — this, according to Spanish Catholics with whom I talked in every city I visited. It was remarkable to me — astonishing, really — to encounter in these ordinary lay Catholics deep anger at Catholic institutions (the bishops, many clergy, Catholic schools). I saw this over and over …

For the entirety of the Franco dictatorship — from 1939, until his death in 1975 — the Catholic Church enjoyed a privileged position in Spanish public life. After Franco, it all collapsed. This is the danger of relying on a political solution. One older man told me that in the 1950s, when he was a boy, the teaching of religion in Spain was by rote. There was no life in it. We didn’t get to talk about it in depth, but it’s not hard to imagine that the Spanish church grew fat and complacent, and came to see its role as more or less managers of the Sacrament Factory, whose monopoly was protected and enforced by the dictatorial state. Those American Catholics who believe integralism is the answer for the problems of liberalism ought to come to Spain and see what Franco’s legacy has been for the faith.

Rod Dreher, A Yankee Franco & The Long Defeat. Ponder that title.

For that matter, read the whole (long) blog, which has some solecisms that I assume are the result of travel fatigue (Dreher is on a book tour in Spain and Ireland). Solecisms aside, there are some powerful analogies between the Spanish moment of the early 30s and our present American moment.

Donald Trump was not a fluke. The only reason I personally could see to vote for him (which I did not do) was that he had allied with semi-orthodox Christianish volk (the Evangelicals) and probably would leave me alone, unlike Hillary who would have zestfully pursued all manner of progressive suppression of orthodox Christianity outside the eight walls of home and church. That reason sufficed for untold numbers of voters.

4

As if to vindicate Dreher’s “there will be hell to pay for Christians’ perceived alignment with Trump,” some adolescent Roman Catholic high-schoolers from Kentucky, wearing their school sweatshirts and MAGA hats, broke away from Friday’s March for Life to confront, intimidate and mock a 64-year-old native American drummer. The resultant video has gone viral and the incident is in mainstream press.

Antsy McClain “gets” the optics of this.

Some Girardian scape-goating of the lads by their priests and principal back in the Bluegrass State may be necessary—punishing them not only for bad acts, but for bringing disgrace to the pro-life cause, the Roman Catholic Church, and their school.

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

More positive notes

5

The other pre-requisite for living sanely in an insane world is an attitude toward life, which I can describe no further than as gratitude and joy in the very fact of one’s existence, and in the existence of one’s fellow human beings. The cynic responds, why should one be joyful in life, when in no time it is followed by death, and when with each person‘s death the whole universe, provide person, ceases to exist? My answer strikes me as reasonable, though perhaps it is merely a rationalization of my own joy. Scientists, as we know, deal improbabilities rather than, as was once thought, in absolute laws. Anything that happens with the probability of, say, 10 to the millionth power to one, is pretty much a sure thing. If the theory of evolution has any validity (I regard it as somewhat silly, a confirmation of Chesterton’s comment that people who don’t believe in God will believe in anything), if it does have any validity, I say, what do you suppose the probability of man’s existence is? I am speaking of the movement up through the countless environmental changes and mutations necessary for the evolution from primordial ooze to humanity. I can assure you that it is considerably more far-fetched than a ten-to-the-millionth-power-to-one shot; it is approximately as likely as the spontaneous transformation of every atom in this room into an atom of plutonium.

And given the existence of human beings, the probabilities against my existence – or yours – are again as high as those against the existence of man. You can attribute this to God, or to big bangs, or to sheer blind luck; all I can do a shout hallelujah, I got here! My God, I got here! In the face of this colossal fact, I must exult in my gratitude, for everything else is trivial: no matter what the uncertainties, whether things are better or worse, whether I am hungry or well fed, whether I am sick or healthy, or cold or comfortable, or honored and respected, or despised and kicked and beaten, even that I shall soon be leaving, all is trivial compared to the miracle that I got here. Fellow miracles, let us rejoice together.

Forrest McDonald, 2002, to the last class he taught.

6

The instantaneous awareness of so much folly is not, I now think, healthy for the human mind. Spending time on Twitter became, for me, a deeply demoralizing experience. Often, especially when some controversy of national importance provoked large numbers of users into tweeting their opinions about it, I would come away from Twitter exasperated almost to the point of madness.

I thought of a verse from the 94th Psalm: “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” After an hour or so of watching humanity’s stupidities scroll across my screen, I felt I had peeked into some dreadful abyss into which only God can safely look. It was not for me to know the thoughts of man.

Barton Swaim. Yeah. Even without Twitter, I had twelve clippings today I could have shared, mostly downers. Further withdrawal from wallowing in news and commentary likely is called for.

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Political Potpourri 1/11/19

 

1. The Wall

Some of the headlines at alternate media are pretty good. For instance To Fund ‘White Supremacist Vanity Project,’ Trump Eyes Relief Funds Earmarked for Actual Disasters.

Putting it that way, it sounds almost criminal, doesn’t it? Which makes me wonder why I didn’t think of this:

Chuck and Nancy, in their calculated intransigence, are maneuvering to create an impeachable offense against Mr. Trump the moment he moves to declare an “emergency” and grabs some money from an executive agency cash-box to commence his wall-building.

James Howard Kunstler.

More from Kunstler:

The Left does not want to regulate comings-and-goings along the US-Mexico border. Not the least little bit. The reason is well-understood too: the DNC views everyone coming across as a potential constituent, as well as a household employee.

One of my newer podcast finds is The Argument, with Michelle Goldberg, Ross Douthat and David Leonhardt. The January 10 episode made it pretty clear, from the mouths of Goldberg and Leonhardt, that ascription of venal motives aside, Kunstler is pitch perfect.

Peggy Noonan is fed up with the shutdown over the wall:

Governing by shutdown … harms the democratic spirit because it so vividly tells Americans—rubs their faces in it—that they’re pawns in a game as both parties pursue their selfish ends.

The president at the center of this drama is an unserious man. He is only episodically sincere and has no observable tropism toward truthfulness. He didn’t get a wall in two years with a Republican Congress and is now in a fix. He is handling himself as he does, with bluster and aggression, without subtlety or winning ways. He likes disorder.

But the game didn’t start with Donald Trump. Two decades of cynical, game-playing failure produced him.

(Pay wall).

In case you’re wondering, here’s what real border security looks like.

2 Bigotries, Right and Left

49 or so Jack- and Jenny-Asses in Tarrant County Texas, goaded by an original core of just one Jenny Ass, ended up wanting to expel a Pakistani immigrant Muslim Surgeon from local GOP party leadership on the un-American basis that Islam is a bad religion that shouldn’t be in America.

At least the Jack- and Jenny-Asses got overwhelmingly voted down by their fellow Republicans.

Meanwhile, to the East-Northeast therefrom (to-wit: in the United States Senate), at least three prominent distaff Democrats (Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono) are unmistakably on record that seriously-believed and orthodox Roman Catholicism has no place on the Federal bench, either because the “dogma” lives too loudly or they could mix hinted misogyny into the mix of other anti-Catholic bigotries since the Knights of Columbus is all-male.

Jeremy McLellan made a video to explain the Knights to those with an open mind, concluding that “insurrection and paramilitary operations are only 3 percent of what the Knights of Columbus do. The other 97 percent? Pancake breakfasts and fish fries during Lent.”

In the process, he also cleared up what happened to (Republican) anti-Catholicism, of which I have person memories circa 1960: they transferred it to Islam.

See? It all fits together.

3 Alexandria Oscasio Palin-Cortez

From the Department of History Doesn’t Repeat, But It Rhymes: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Progressive Sarah Palin.

That’s a little unfair since Palin’s policy chops were essentially zero, while Cortez at least has “political spoonerisms” (a term I didn’t coin but wish I had) like the Pentagon being able to save $21 Trillion through better bookkeeping.

The Argument podcast I already linked is titled Why Do Powerful Women Make America Panic?, and I think Ross Douthat does a really good job of explaining why Cortez makes conservatives very uneasy. Sexism’s only a small part of it, and even that is inseparable from a kind of collar-loosening “Damn! Why does she have to be so attractive?!” The podcast is well worth a listen.

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Put Mass back in Christmas

In the late 1600’s in colonial Boston, the celebration of Christmas was against the law. Indeed, anyone evidencing the “spirit of Christmas” could be fined five shillings.

English Churches outside of the Catholic and Anglican were non-liturgical. The “feast” of Christmas was as absent as the “feast” of anything else. It was not part of their consciousness. Thus, the growth of a popular Christmas in the mid to late 19th century took place outside the walls of the Church. It became a cultural holiday, with an emphasis on family and the home.

Surprisingly, Christmas is probably far more a part of Protestant Church life in America today than at any time in our history. But the echoes of cultural Christmas remain strong. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, Christianity in America revisits its conflicted past. It is not unusual to see Churches of a more Evangelical background cancelling Sunday services, deferring to Christmas as a “family” celebration. For liturgical Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.) such a practice seems scandalous in the extreme.

There are protests against the secular Christmas that say, “Put the Christ back in Christmas!” From a liturgical point of view I’ve wanted to add, “And put the Mass back in Christmas!” It is, after all, a feast of the Christian Church. Neither of these, however, will likely be dominant in a culture that once had little Christmas at all.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

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More clippings, 11/24/18

1

“I can virtually guarantee you that if Hillary Clinton had won the White House, you would not see these same law firms filing numerous lawsuits against her administration in the name of the rule of law,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation ….

Annie Coreal, New York Times. Yes, Big Law’s motives in challenging Trump on immigration are mixed, but “defending the rule of law” is part of the mix.

2

Alan Jacobs is going to write a book about the importance of reading old books, but Ben Sasse probably won’t read it. I may.

3

[F]or all the people who are exasperated by Friston’s impenetrability, there are nearly as many who feel he has unlocked something huge, an idea every bit as expansive as Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Shaun Raviv, The Genius Neuroscientist Who Might Hold the Key to True AI (Wired)

Does this mean “circular, but evocative”?

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Guilty of being accused (and more)

1

I’m obliged to the Wall Street Journal for its pointer to a very powerful Christopher Caldwell piece at The Weekly Standard.

Here’s what WSJ thought “Notable and Quotable“:

The grounds for rejecting Kavanaugh have shifted steadily. … Finally, it was whether his outburst at the committee showed a partisanship that was evidence he lacked the “judicial temperament” to serve on the Court. … The question is not “whether he’s innocent or guilty,” said Cory Booker. … This amounted to saying that Brett Kavanaugh lacks a “judicial temperament” because he objected to being summarily executed following a show trial. If you permit the criteria of culpability to shift, then you have the circular logic typical of totalitarian regimes. Just as there are people famous-for-being-famous, now there are people guilty-of-being-accused.

But in a column almost every word of which was notable and quotable, my selection would be this (because I’m less beholden to polite opinion than the Journal is):

[T]he Kavanaugh nomination shows what American politics is, at heart, about. It is about “rights” and the entire system that arose in our lifetimes to confer them not through legislation but through court decisions: Roe v. Wade in 1973 (abortion), Regents v. Bakke in 1979 (affirmative action), Plyler v. Doe in 1982 (immigrant rights), and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 (gay marriage). The Democrats are the party of rights. As such, they are the party of the Supreme Court. You can see why Ted Kennedy claimed in a 1987 diatribe that the Yale law professor Robert Bork would turn the United States into a police state. For Democrats, an unfriendly Supreme Court is a threat to everything.

That means the country itself. The general Democratic view that has hardened since the 1960s is the one expressed on many occasions by Barack Obama. The United States is not a country bound by a common history or a common ethnicity—it is a set of values. That is an open, welcoming thing to build a country around. But it has a dark side, and we have seen the dark side during the hearings. If a country is only a set of values, then the person who does not share what elites “know” to be the country’s values is not really a member of the national community and is not deserving of its basic protections, nice guy though he might otherwise be. Such people “belong” to the country in the way some think illegal immigrants do—provisionally.

(Emphasis added)

I’m one of those who questions the idea of a nation being a set of values. It would be futile to say “there’s no precedent for that” because those who hold that view are a step ahead by acknowledging that this feature is what’s unprecedented and precious about America. (But there’s no precedent for that anyway.)

The insight that people like me are “not really … member[s] of the national community” explains why I and others feel alienated: we are alienated, and that’s an active verb, not passive, in this context. It’s not something we did to ourselves.

I guess I could undo it by “believing” (or at least vehemently professing) what I do not believe, but that way lies madness.

Those of us who don’t “share what elites ‘know’ to be the country’s values” are not homogeneous, and there’s very little I find appealing in America’s anti-liberalism, alt-right and white nationalism. So again I’m alienated, this time from the other alienated folks.

The elites from which I’m alienated are doubtless alienated by Donald Trump, perhaps even more than I am (at least in the active-verb sense; Trump, as I say, doesn’t hate me and mine). They are not accustomed to being alienated. That’s why we call them “elites,” and that’s why we hear anguished howls from places like the New York Times Editorial Board, which weekly seems to plunge to new nadirs.

(I’m prescinding the question of whether all of us are under then thumb of the Rothschilds or something, so that all this distinction is trivial.)

Fortunately, there’s more to life than ideologies, because my life would be pretty wretched if I isolated myself from everyone who doesn’t share my views of good public policy. But I do keep my mouth shut about politics around people whose company I enjoy for non-political reasons, and that’s truer today than ever.

2

Consider two recent stories in the New York Times. The first was a more-than-13,000-word dissection of Donald Trump’s financial history that revealed long-standing habits of deception and corruption. It was newspaper journalism at its best — a serious investment of talent and resources to expand the sum of public knowledge.

Compare this with the Times’s exposé on a bar fight 33 years ago , in which Brett M. Kavanaugh allegedly threw ice at another patron. Apparently there was no editor willing to say, “What you have turned up is trivial. Try harder.” And there was no editor who was sufficiently bothered that one name on the byline, Emily Bazelon, was a partisan who had argued on Twitter that Kavanaugh would “harm the democratic process & prevent a more equal society.”

Let me state this as clearly as I can. It is President Trump’s fondest goal to make his supporters conflate the first sort of story with the second sort of story

… Some argue that all journalism involves bias, either hidden or revealed. But it is one thing to say that objectivity and fairness are ultimately unreachable. It is another to cease grasping for them. That would be a world of purely private truths, in which the boldest liars and demagogues would thrive.

Michael Gerson (emphasis added)

 

3

Peter Beinart dissents from the view that America or the Senate “hit rock bottom” last week. As usual, Beinart is worth reading.

 

4

Astonishing to normal people:

The 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury report—which Fr. Bochanski, a Philadelphia priest, should have read—offers this example of how the Archdiocese rationalized keeping an abusive priest in ministry:

According to one of Fr. [Stanley] Gana’s victims, who had been forced to have oral and anal sex with the priest beginning when he was 13 years old, Secretary for Clergy [Msgr. William] Lynn asked him to understand that the Archdiocese would have taken steps to remove Fr. Gana from the priesthood had he been diagnosed as a pedophile. But Fr. Gana was not only having sex with children and teenage minors, Msgr. Lynn explained; he had also slept with women, abused alcohol, and stolen money from parish churches. That is why he remained, with Cardinal Bevilacqua’s blessing, a priest in active ministry. “You see . . .” said Msgr. Lynn, “he’s not a pure pedophile.” (pp. 45-46)

Ron Belgau, explaining to Rod Dreher part of how a Priest/child molester kept getting returned to ministry.

 

5

Did Cold War II break out last week while no one was watching? As the Kavanaugh confirmation battle raged, many Americans missed what looks like the biggest shift in U.S.-China relations since Henry Kissinger’s 1971 visit to Beijing.

The Trump administration’s China policy swam into view, and it’s a humdinger. Vice President Mike Pence … denounced China’s suppression of the Tibetans and Uighurs, its “Made in China 2025” plan for tech dominance, and its “debt diplomacy” through the Belt and Road initiative. … Mr. Pence also detailed an integrated, cross-government strategy to counter what the administration considers Chinese military, economic, political and ideological aggression.

In the same week as the vice president’s speech, Navy plans for greatly intensified patrols in and around Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea were leaked to the press. Moreover, the recently-entered trilateral U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement was revealed to have a clause discouraging trade agreements between member countries and China. The administration indicated it would seek similar clauses in other trade agreements. Also last week, Congress approved the Build Act, a $60 billion development-financing program designed to counter China’s Belt and Road strategy in Africa and Asia. Finally, the White House issued a report highlighting the danger that foreign-based supply chains pose to U.S. military capabilities in the event they are cut off during a conflict.

Any one of these steps would have rated banner headlines in normal times; in the Age of Trump, all of them together barely registered. But this is a major shift in American foreign policy ….

Walter Russell Mead. Maybe the biggest threat from Trump is that his antics draw attention away from stuff like this and like his personal enrichment via the new dark money of booking Trump hotels and resorts to win his favor.

 

6

The Wall Street Journal coverage of the dog-and-pony-show “ceremonial swearing in” (a narcissistic Trump innovation, I think) of Justice Kavanaugh Monday night refers to the expectation that he will “provide a consistent vote to implement the conservative movement’s legal agenda in a range of areas where the Supreme Court has failed to produce ideologically consistent results.”

I dislike the phrase “implement the conservative movement’s legal agenda,” both hoping and believing that it is substantially misleading to impute an ideological “agenda” to top conservative jurists. Their judicial philosophy presumably will produce different results from that of, say, Charles Blow (who openly contemns the written constitution), and that’s why SCOTUS vacancies are contentious.

But since the Supreme Court gets to pick many or most of its cases through granting or denying writs of certiorari (there are a few cases it cannot avoid taking, but nothing makes them say more than “affirmed” or “reversed”), there’s grain of truth to the notion of an agenda in the sense of “what cases do these guys think are important enough to hear?” — just as the most important media bias and opportunity for pot-stirring is in the selection of what is “newsworthy.”

 

7

In 2015 I came out strongly against the candidacy of Donald Trump on facebook and in several articles at the conservative website – The Stream. It was not a political decision as no one at that time knew what his true political values were (I think we still don’t). But his willingness to ridicule others and his calls for violence against protesters concerned me. Yes his sexism and race-baiting was disturbing as well. But it was the overall package of playing to the worst instincts of ethnocentrism and fear in Americans that drove much of my hostility towards him.

I decided that Clinton would probably be a better president, but she has her own issues. So I could not support her. Eventually I decided to, for the first time in my life, vote third party and supported the American Solidarity Party. I think for the first time in my life I did not vote for the “lesser of two evils” and it felt good.

Yes, George Yancey, it did feel good. (Yancey goes on to explain why he won’t be voting this year, but if he explained why he won’t even go cast protest votes for third-party candidates, it eluded me.)

 

8

I see that Janet Jackson is nominated to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. I was never a fan, and the once or twice per year I hear of her, I think only of this song by perhaps the world’s only Anglophone British Muslim Natural Law folk singer.

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Thursday, 9/6/18

1

The sole reason that there are still secular laws on the books that prohibit and punish pedophilia is that Christianity came to dominate culture in the West through evangelization. The only reason that we have accepted homosexuality in culture and in law is the increasing de-Christianization of the culture in the West. As we become even more secularized (i.e., repaganized), pedophilia will soon be accepted, just as homosexuality, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia have already been embraced.

This is a massive, massive crisis in and for the Church because a deeply-embedded worldwide homosexual network among our priests, bishops, and cardinals is actively engaged in bringing about the full de-Christianization of the world by preying on boys between 12-18, literally recreating Greco-Roman sexual culture in our seminaries and dioceses. If you want to know what it was like in the sordid sexual days of ancient Greece and Rome, just read the Pennsylvania Report.

That’s a rather horrible irony, isn’t it? The very men most authoritatively charged with the evangelization of all the nations are full-steam ahead bringing about the devangelization of the nations. In doing so, these priests, bishops, and cardinals at the very heart of the Catholic Church are acting as willing agents of repaganization, undoing 2,000 years of Church History.

Benjamin Wiker, From a Moral-Historical Perspective, This Crisis is Worse Than You Realize (H/T Rod Dreher).

For some reason, my personal reaction to male homosexuality has always been “Meh.” Don’t ask me either to think fondly about it or to join those who vocally express revulsion for the characteristic acts.

Yes, I can explain why, from a Christian standpoint, homogenital acts are morally wrong. You can find my answer, ironically, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2357, which says it better than I could.

So I take seriously analyses like Wiker’s; they just don’t stir my blood. That’s probably a character defect.

Of more interest to me, on a person-to-person level, is that I believe that the moral law is, to a significant extent, so written on the heart that we can’t not know it. I’m interested in Romans 1:18-32 not to “slam” people in debate but to plead with them (preferably privately, where confusion about “personal dignity” is less likely to cloud thought) to forsake behavior that will trouble their consciences and draw them away from God. Since we ultimately are meant for union with God, behavior that draws us away is the most “massive, massive” mistake of all.

2

One of the first ways you can discern whether to dismiss a protester, pundit, or politician as a serious person is whether they pay any attention at all to The Handmaid’s Tale as some sort of allegory for our times. The president is a libertine philanderer who pays off porn stars and playmates, but somehow we’re about two steps from Gilead. Yet sure as the night follows day, the Handmaids showed up to Kavanaugh’s hearing ….

David French, The Democrats’ No Good, Frivolous, Ridiculous Day.

3

I guess Anonymous won’t make it into a Nike commercial “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”

Mark W.

What the hell good did he expect this article to do, for the country? The author must have known it’d make Trump utterly wild and he’d quadruple down on hunting leakers and not trusting his advisors – so if the author really believes what he’s doing is necessary, why has he gone public knowing that this article will provoke Trump in such a way as to make this ‘management’ much harder?

GR

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Potpourri 2, 8/22/18

Second potpourri of the day. We live in interesting times and some tendinitis in my ankle leaves me with extra time to think and write about it.

1

I’ve reluctantly come to acknowledge that I’ve lost touch with my country. I don’t understand at any visceral level, for the most conspicuous example, how Donald Trump attracted enough votes in key places to become President.

Articles like Jonathan Rausch’s Why Prosperity Has Increased but Happiness Has Not provide a just-so framework for “understanding,” but ultimately leave me frustrated that the Real Question remains, transposed to a different key:

… all happiness is relative. Although moral philosophers may wish Homo sapiens were wired more rationally, we humans are walking, talking status meters, constantly judging our worth and social standing by comparing ourselves with others today and with our own prior selves.
… the witticism (frequently attributed to Gore Vidal) that “it is not enough for me to succeed; others must fail” is uncomfortably accurate …
Inequality, in short, is immiserating …

Yes, but why —other than The Fall, which is its own “Just So Story” in the sense that it cannot predict just how cussedness will break out next — are we irrational, status-metering mutterers?

Other countries, including some culturally similar to ours (think Scandinavia), experience much higher reported levels of happiness. As we see another economic downturn (if not outright collapse), we may find ourselves choosing between spitefully settling for the second half of Vidal’s witticism (“well, at least we’re making others fail worse”) or something like a Distributist or Social Democrat modus vivendi at lower absolute wealth levels.

2

When Jove Meyer, a wedding and event planner in Brooklyn, is working with a same-sex couple, he sometimes finds himself cringing when he hears a guest use the term “gay wedding.”

“It’s not with bad intention, but people like to label things because it’s easier to discuss,” said Mr. Meyer, who runs Jove Meyer Events. “But the couple is not getting ‘gay’ married. They are getting married. They’re not having a ‘gay wedding.’ They’re having a wedding. You don’t go to a straight wedding and say, ‘I’m so happy to be at this straight wedding.’”

Mr. Meyer, who also advocates for the L.G.B.T.Q. community and identifies as a gay man, explained that labeling same-sex couples as different from any other wedding is the root of the cause …

Stephanie Cain, New York Times.

Yes, that’s the theory, isn’t it? The institution of marriage is as howsoever malleable we want it to be.

I will not be surprised, though, if the language we use continues for a good long time to reflect the correct instinct that it’s not really true — and that phrases like “labeling same-sex couples as different from any other wedding is the root of the cause” are gibberish on an obfuscatory mission.

3

The medieval Jewish sage Maimonides counted 613 commandments, or mitzvot, in the Law that God gave his people, Israel. The 20th-century Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim, who escaped the Nazis’ genocidal clutches and devoted part of his scholarly life to pondering the moral meaning of the Holocaust, formulated what he called the 614th commandment: Give Hitler no posthumous victories. And how would Jews violate that “commandment?” By religious Jews denying the providential role of Israel’s God in Jewish life; by secular Jews abandoning the notion of Israel as a unique people with a distinctive historical destiny; by Jews acting toward other Jews in ways that tore at the spiritual and moral bonds that bound the people of Israel together.

George Weigel, whose concern is not with the Jews but with his Roman Catholic Church. Count me a skeptic, as I usually am toward Weigel these days.

UPDATE: Rod Dreher gives Weigel’s argument the derision it deserves, and gives it good and hard (while nodding toward the importance of “institutionalists” like Weigel and the late Richard John Neuhaus, who I respected more than I would have had I known of his fecklessness on “the long lent” about which he wrote so plausibly).

4

If neo-Nazis didn’t exist, the left would have to invent them. And to some extent have.

Holman Jenkins

* * * * *

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‘Zat all you got?

  • Brett Kavanaugh participated in an aggressive investigation of Bill Clinton under Ken Starr in his late 20s or early 30s.
  • He thereafter served in Dubya’s White House and gained a much greater appreciation of the weighty duties of the office (and what, perhaps, Bill Clinton could have done had he not been besieged legally).
  • So in 2009, when a Democrat was President (and he decidedly was not in the White House), Kavanaugh published a Law Review article suggesting that Congress should pass a law exempting the President from personal legal distractions until he leaves office.
  • So Brett Kavanaugh’s change of mind on this issue is not a cynical effort to endear him to Donald Trump, and the chance that he thinks Judges may exempt the President without Congressional legislation is very slim.

The New York Times Daily podcast Wednesday was very disappointing on these matters, only once mentioning the 2009 date of the law review article, not noting that Barack Obama was then President, and generally hinting at a convenient and politically ambitious conversion.

Seriously, Times: Is that all you’ve got?

UPDATE: No, it’s not all the Left has. It took me about 10 seconds to decide that deleting this blog entry, upon learning the followng salient fact, would be dishonest, as I’ve tried to be an honest broker with my ideological cards on the table.

From that Law Review Article:

Even in the absence of congressionally conferred immunity, a serious constitutional question exists regarding whether a President can be criminally indicted and tried while in office.

Expect to hear that quoted back during confirmation hearings. Expect also to hear that it was a footnote acknowledgement, not a principal argument.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Will Kavanaugh butcher the sacred cow?

I think it was Nina Totenburg who on NPR Tuesday evening was incredulously challenging a Trump spokesman on the claim that President Trump didn’t ask SCOTUS nominee Kavanaugh about abortion — because Trump said on the campaign trail that he would appoint pro-life justices. As the spokesman pointed out, he also promised that there would be no litmus test and that he provided a list, later expanded, of people from whom he would nominate.

Here’s the solution of Totenburg’s clumsy effort at setting up a trick box:

  • There are no secret handshakes or pass-codes. Trump and Kavanaugh are (or will be) telling the truth when they deny discussing abortion. Get over it.
  • Trump (or, likelier, his advisers on judicial matters) are just quite confident that the people on his list are going to be hostile to the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence because it’s a hot, steaming mess, lacking firm roots in the Constitution. The people on the list revere the Constitution and will be disinclined, all else being equal, to ignore hot steaming messes that sully the Constitution by the pretext that it, the Constitution, and not errant justices, created the mess.
  • Notably, Democrat Chuck Schumer has declared his certainty — and horror — about how Kavanaugh would decide abortion cases (presumably starting with Kavanaugh’s constitutional reverence and following the trail from there, though Schumer would never admit that the one follows the other logically).
  • Democrat Presidents are similarly confident, without actually asking, that their nominees are not going to be overly troubled by the legal messiness of the status quo. Their party has a rather latitudinarian view about the importance of the Constitution’s original public meaning, plus some theories on how we can never know that meaning, and (double-plus) it reveres the sexual revolution. Q.E.D.
  • Trump was and is a bullshitter. Any correspondence between what he promises and what he does is, generally, coincidental. His judicial nominees from that list have been a happy exception, as he has hewed to the list of nominees from which he promised to pick. (Okay: Schumer’s a bullshitter, too, though definitely a minor-leaguer compared to President MAGA.)

A Kafkaesque part of the prescribed ritual combat will be invocations or deprecations of “Roe v. Wade.” It’s weird because Roe finally succumbed to its birth defects (helped along by a thousand cuts from Law Journal articles, left, right and center) in 1992, with Anthony Kennedy and company quietly interring it and trotting out the new rationale for continuing a liberal abortion regime: No more trimesters or such; the test of a law is whether it creates an “undue burden” on access to abortion, because “[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” (Damn! How could I have missed that?!)

Roe is dead. De mortuis nil nisi bonum. But if you take away the totemistic invocation of Roe, the Senate might be struck dumb(er).

And therein lies the dilemma that will produce some sordid theater over the coming months.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Encore!

This morning, I read an outstanding Rod Dreher blog that used the passing phrase “conscientious objector in the culture war.”

More than eight years ago, I wrote a long blog with almost exactly that phrase as its title, bearing this preface:

This may be the most controversial and polemical thing I’ve posted. I’ll tell you in advance, and in conclusion, that I’m disinclined to be dogmatic about most of it. Your mileage may vary.

Well, Dreher prompted me to find it and re-read it, and I would no longer endorse that preface:

  1. I have written much more controversial and polemical things since then.
  2. While “dogmatic” may not be the right word, the blog — almost every word of it — now reflects well-settled convictions, tested by eight years and buttressed (especially point 3) by the election of Donald Trump.

Everything else, I’d still endorse, So I’m indulging myself by re-publishing myself — a rare step that I don’t intend to repeat often.

* * * * *

One of the minor irritants in my life is Franky Schaeffer. I’ll go long spells without thinking of him, and then I get a catalogue from his publishing company, or maybe he pops up in the news (having once again found limelight). And I seethe.

But lots of people love limelight. Why does he, of all people, irritate me? Probably because his life is so parallel to mine, through all the twists and turns.

  • Evangelical: Check.
  • Produced the movie Whatever Happened to the Human Race; watched the movie as a turning point.
  • Now Orthodox: Check.
  • Religious Right activist: Check.
  • No longer Religious Right activist: Check.
  • 60-something years old: Check.

But he’s too strident and angry. He’s sort of a Christian James Howard Kunstler (another approximate contemporary of mine) but without Kunstler’s ubiquitous F-Bombs. Kunstler acknowledges that his speeches are a form of theater (listen to Kunstlercast #103 here); I think that’s true of Schaeffer, too, though he’d probably deny it.

I sense, too, that my reasons for dropping out of the culture wars are different than Schaeffer’s. I sense that partly because he seemingly just changed sides, now inveighing against his former friends, writing screeds, kiss and tell books, dubious fiction (his Calvin Becker fiction trilogy was quite calculatedly ambiguous about the extent to which it was autobiographical), paranoid apologies for Barack Obama, and sucking up to media personages who call him things like “a former leader of the anti-choice movement.” (They just love to get some sound-bites from an angry ex-whatever.)

But I really dropped out because:

  1. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms.
  2. I suspect that the strident tactics make most things worse rather than better.
  3. I don’t really trust my former allies.
  4. I don’t really trust the candidates we’re supposed to vote for.
  5. I still don’t trust my former adversaries.
  6. If I’m a prominent culture warrior, it will spill over harmfully into other areas.
  7. Maybe I’m just a worn out old hippie pacifist.

1. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms. We may get a majority vote for the “right” side on this issue or that, but that will not end the war. There will be other battles. There will be guerilla warfare. There will be no peace, and there’s only a minimal chance for the “Right” to win. Not until the Right’s own culture changes.

Changing culture is the work I’m about now – feeling my way rather than barreling ahead. That’s much subtler work than culture war. I’m not sure how good I am at it. But I’m convinced, to take just one Culture War example, that we won’t stop abortion until we change the toxic combination of unchastity and avarice that gets women pregnant and then justifies aborting the innocent child to maintain prosperity (greater or lesser).

The Right is not with us on that. Fox Radio recently aired an ad, between Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly, for an online service for married men seeking adulterous affairs. (I didn’t hear it, but read about it from someone who didn’t note the incongruity of this appearing on a putatively conservative news source.)

Whaddya think? I’m betting that the ad wasn’t there for the 13 liberals who were eavesdropping on Fox that day, but for the red-meat, red state regulars.

TownHall.com syndicated columnist pages every day have ads for “conservative” slogan t-shirts draped on attractive young lasses, selling conservative politics, like everything else, with sex. Today there’s a sexy avatar for some video game, too. It’s all a racket.

This could as well go under the caption “I don’t really trust my former allies.” But on present terms I think the idiocy of modern pseudo-conservatives belongs in this “unwinnable” category, if only because their position on the sexual side of the culture wars seems to be “anything goes, so long as it’s not gay.” That’s a losing position long-term as well as being a sign of untrustworthiness.

2. The Culture Wars are unwinnable on present terms partly because stridency and contempt beget stridency, contempt and alienation.

Whichever side of the Culture Wars you’re on, think about the fundraising letters you get. Are you edified by their tone? Do you appreciate the sober, educational emphasis? Do you find yourself walking away with something of substance to ruminate on?

If so, I’ve got bad news for you: you’re an idiot. (Shall I write that slower? You. Are. An. Idiot.)

The groups who used to send me fairly sober letters have gone strident. The groups that used to send me strident letters are now frothing at the mouth. And I’m sure the other side is doing the same. Shrill is the new green.

I don’t care who fired the first volley. That’s lost in the mists of history like the instigation of the Hatfields versus the McCoys. I’d like the shooting to stop. I’d like artificial divisions to end. I suspect there’s more common ground than either side presently will admit because of how things have been framed. Let’s tone it down a bit and then explore what the real divisions are. The more we insult the other side, the more we paint both sides into corners from which dialog, let alone truce, is impossible.

[Update: We now teeter on the brink of civil war. I had no idea it would get so bad so fast. I commend Better Angels]

3. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms, too, because there’s darned little difference between the two sides on some of the deep presuppositions.

They’re both, ironically, secular. One side is secular because they don’t believe in any divine rules. You know which side I’m talking about. (Hint)

The other side – my side – is mostly secular because they functionally believe that God’s only presence in the world is His rules. They “honor” Him by keeping his rules – sort of the way a rank amateur “paints” by number. That’s why I don’t really trust them. The tranformative significance of the Incarnation: God the Son, Who took on our flesh forever – qui sedes ad dexteram patrem (who sits at the right hand of the Father) in resurrected human flesh – is lost on them. God is up to something more than commandment monitoring and forgiving transgression of the commandments. The incarnation changes everything. [Update: The seeds in this paragraph have grown into my episodic forays into the realism/nominalism distinction and explicit scorn for sub-Christian anthropology.]

“Love God and do as you will” would strike them as modern relativism. They’re very anti-relativist. Except on Ecclesiology. Then they’re apt to utter Babbitry like “Isn’t it swell that there’s a church for every taste!

At the other end from the relativist “conservatives,” there’s a Protestant Church in my home town that produces a disproportionate share of Religious Right activists. Several of them have been elected to public office. But they’re theonomists, or more specifically Reconstructionists. If they had their way, there would be 18 Old Testament Capital Crimes in our law books – including sassing parents. They’d shut down my Church and desecrate its icons. They might, for all I know, execute me for one of those 18 capital offenses for the icons in my home prayer corner. [Update: One of their ideologues brought disgrace upon himself and his wife via their religious “covenant” without a marriage license. I must spare you details of the breakup.]

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of …” the folks I encountered who dreamed of kingdoms, feigned righteousness, broke promises, shot off their mouths, tried to set fires, escaped the edge of euphemisms …. (Cf. Hebrews 11:32-34) These are the folks with whom I’d be a “co-belligerent” (Francis Schaeffer’s coinage to distinguish temporary and unreliable political friends from reliable “allies”) were I to continue in the culture wars. And they outnumber many-fold any well-formed Christians of historical and liturgical bent.

We Orthodox have been here before. After the attempted union with the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Florence (see also here), the Orthodox decided they’d risk rule by Sultan over rule by Pope.

That is not a throw-away line: I’m not so sure a secularist regime would be worse than what Christian Reconstructionists would bring upon me and my fellow Orthodox Christians that I’m willing to be bedfellows with Recontructionists.

4. In the current terms of the Culture War, the highest form of involvement, other than sending money in response to strident or frenzied letters, is to vote for Republicans. Any Republican.

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, oddly, Imam-In-Chief, as he assured us that “true Islam is a religion of peace.” (Well I’m glad he cleared that up!)

And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declare 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.

Many Religious Right figures in 2008 backed Mitt Romney, Mormon and heir of a 50s moderate Republican, George Romney. Mitt was, deep down, one of us – despite his left-leaning administration as governor of Massachusetts – they assured us. Now they’re pushing Sarah Palin, about whom I’ll not say much except that I do not now support her and see no sign that she has the goods to gain my support later. (I don’t even think she’s all that “hot,” for whatever that’s worth.)

I’m not gonna play Charlie Brown the placekicker to the GOP’s Lucy Van Pelt any more.

[Update: Do I really need to belabor how right I was?]

5. I still believe pretty much what I believed before on what makes for good living and a just society. I’ve even kept a hand in the debates by writing letters to the editor on a few hot-button issues. Those letters are far less demonizing of the opposition than the sort of letters I used to write. But I check the online comboxes and see that the other side has no lack of equally-but-oppositely mad partisans of its own, leveling vitriolic attacks on me, no matter how reasoned my argument, just because I reach conclusions they don’t like.

But even at more elite levels than smalltown cyberpaper comboxes, I’m still convinced that the other side is untrustworthy. One occasionally will catch one of them committing candor, as has Chai Felblum of Georgetown law school. Imagine a constitutional case with this issue:

Whether the inferred right to marry a member of the same sex, which is inferred from the right to engage in homosexual sodomy, which is inferred from the right to privacy, which is inferred from penumbra of he 4th, 9th, 10th, 14th and other consitutional amendments, is of sufficient constitutional gravity to warrant compromise of the explicit constitutional command against laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

Chai Feldblum would answer “yes.” I’m not making up her response (though I did make up the highly tendentious – but brutally accurate – faux issue statement). I appreciate her candor.

But her candor tells me that there’s no home for me in the left where Frank Schaeffer has seemingly pitched his tent.

The Orthodox Wedding service includes, for just one example, “grant unto these Your servants …a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, offspring long‑lived, fair fame by reason of their children, and a crown of glory that does not fade away.” You can’t pray that with integrity over a same-sex coupling, whatever you might think of it otherwise.

So while the Chai Feldblums of the world might not smash my icons like the Reconstructionists, they’ll soon enough take away my Church’s tax exemption, or otherwise put on the squeeze, because they’ll consider us a hate group for continuing the two-millennia-long practice of connecting marriage to procreation.

6. If I’m a prominent culture warrior, it will spill over harmfully into other areas of life. I was reminded Sunday how diverse my parish is. We have Romanians and Russians who were born, or even came of age, under communism. We have Greeks who think that 2nd Amendment mania is barbaric (in at least one case with justification that I can’t gainsay – a family member gunned down in cold blood by someone who went postal). We have young people and middle-aged academics who lean left. We have demographically unknown visitors most Sundays. I have something to learn from some of them.

Just as I don’t want someone to ask me “why are you here since you’re not Greek?,” I don’t want people of Right-leaning disposition to come up to me at Church and make some dismissive remark, which they assume I’ll find hilarious or profound, about a Left-leaning idea that may be held by another parishioner within earshot. I don’t want there to be ethnic, racial, socio-economic or political barriers to people. Political trash talk about trifles at Church is apt to drive people away though we have a faith in common and should be together on Sunday.

7. Maybe I should try a bit more empathy. Maybe I’m not angry because, unlike Frank Schaeffer, I have a day job, with a comfortable living, and don’t have to raise a fuss to sell my newest book. Maybe a brain or personality disorder prompted Franky to call Barack Obama’s election “miraculous” and to prophesy epochal political healing on Obama’s watch.

Maybe Frank’s suburban Boston parish (I think he’s in Brookline, Michael Dukakis‘ hometown) has a leftist litmus test and he caved in. Or maybe he’s rebelling against his upbringing in neutral Switzerland as I declare myself a Swiss-like neutral in the Culture Wars.

Or maybe I’m not angry, by and large, because I’m a child of the 60s, a former Conscientious Objector to conventional war, and now old enough that I’m kind of tired of fighting of all sorts – worn out, if you will. Maybe we really need young, testosterone-crazed Christian guys (and gals crazed by whatever crazes women) who still are eager for a fight. I see my role as one to ask questions of any such young hotheads from the perspective six decades gives. Such as the ones implied by what I’ve just written.

[Note: The rest of this is dated or refers to a blog template I no longer use.] So who am I hangin’ out with these days if not with the Alliance Defense Fund and the acolytes of R.J. Rushdoony? Check the bloglinks to the right – Especially Front Porch Republic (“Place. Limits. Liberty.”), Distributist Review  (guardedly). Small Is Beautiful has taken on new meaning for me. (My benighted generation got a few things right before we sold out or got complacent – and appreciating E.F. Schumaker was one of them).

I can’t even rule out Father Stephen. Nothing he writes is “about politics,” but everything he writes is about sane, human and humane living, which surely connects up somehow.

Basically, I’m going back and rethinking all things political and cultural. I’m wisdom-hunting. I read Wendell Berry essays and poetry, Bill Kauffman books, Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind, Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, Scott Cairns’ Poetry, W.H. Auden (“For the Time Being” is now on my list for every Advent).

My conversion to Orthodox Christianity started it in a way. I soon realized that the Church has not always prevailed, and has produced martyrs in every century. And that’s okay. Better we should lose honorably than win by selling our souls.

* * * * *

I heartily recommend the Dreher blog I opened with as a complement to this.