Is (Liberal) Democracy Dying?

The Atlantic for October is a theme issue:

840

I can’t provide URLs because it’s still subscriber-only, but you get get to your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. All of the following are from that issue, as was Anne Applebaum, A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come, about which I blogged earlier.

1

It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.

Yuval Noah Harari, Why Technology Favors Tyranny.

And a stunning microcosm:

On December 6, 2017, another crucial milestone was reached when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 had won a world computer chess championship in 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as decades of computer experience. By contrast, AlphaZero had not been taught any chess strategies by its human creators — not even standard openings. Rather, it used the latest machine-learning principles to teach itself chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of 100 games that the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish 8, AlphaZero won 28 and tied 72 — it didn’t lose once. Since AlphaZero had learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to the human eye. They could be described as creative, if not downright genius.

Can you guess how long AlphaZero spent learning chess from scratch, preparing for the match against Stockfish 8, and developing its genius instincts? Four hours.

(Emphasis added)

2

Many progressives, particularly young ones, have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty is an engine of discrimination. Property rights are a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that “a diverse and inclusive society” is more important than “protecting free speech rights.” Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is “essential,” compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

… One of our students told us: “I don’t know any lefty people my age who aren’t seriously questioning whether the First Amendment is still on balance a good thing.”

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, The Threat of Tribalism.

But wait! There’s more! It’s not tribalist without at least two tribes!

In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press “to criticize politicians” was “very important” to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. In other 2017 surveys, more than half of Trump supporters said the president “should be able to overturn decisions by judges that he disagrees with,” and more than half of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it “until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.”

I can’t pick which side is worse. Can you?

3

Jeffrey Rosen incited in me kindly feelings toward California:

Voters in several states are experimenting with alternative primary systems that might elect more moderate representatives. California and Washington State have adopted a “top two” system, in which candidates from both parties compete in a nonpartisan primary, and the two candidates who get the most votes run against each other in the general election — even if they’re from the same party. States, which Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy,” are proving to be the most effective way to encourage deliberation at a time when Congress acts only along party lines.

Madison and the Mob.

4

This author was shot, randomly, with a 22:

Knee-jerk calls for gun control didn’t resonate with me. Yet a reverence toward guns no longer felt right either.

I found my ambivalence unsettling. Everyone else seemed so sure about how to feel about guns—people on campus, on the internet, back home. Unlike most of them, I had made intimate acquaintance with gun violence. I should have had some special insight. If what had happened to me wasn’t fodder for clarity, I feared nothing ever would be.

As we drove, he asked me to remind him what I was writing about. I said some- thing lazy, offhanded: “What it was like getting shot in a place that loves guns.”

“It’s not love,” he said. We pulled into the parking lot of his store, which sits high on a hill. You can see almost all of Tuscaloosa from there. “It’s about necessity.” He mentioned rattlesnakes and coyotes. For people in rural areas — that’s more than 40 percent of Alabamians — guns are still a day-to-day defense against such animals. Yes, there is ample love for guns in Alabama. But to forget that they’re tools is to miss an important point.

Elaina Plott, The Bullet in My Arm.

Perhaps, but they’re not the kind of tools Our People use now, are they dear?

5

A 2018 U.S. Magazine asking whether democracy is dying might be suspected of a hit on 45, but it really was not. He did get more than passing mention in David Frum’s contribution, though:

[A] Donald Trump with impulse control would not be Donald Trump …

When Trump refers to “my” generals or “my” intelligence agencies, he is teaching his supporters to rethink how the presidency should function. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s remark that he and his wife were but “the latest tenants in the People’s House.”

In 2016, Trump supporters openly brandished firearms near polling places. Since then, they’ve learned to rationalize clandestine election assistance from a hostile foreign government. The president pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for violating civil rights in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of violating election-finance laws—sending an unmistakable message of support for attacks on the legal order. Where President Trump has led, millions of people who regard themselves as loyal Americans, believers in the Constitution, have ominously followed.

Building an Autocracy.

6

To stop the rot afflicting American government, Americans are going to have to get back in the habit of democracy.

[In the 19th Century] From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives.

Civic participation was thus the norm, not the exception.

Democracy had become the shared civic religion of a people who otherwise had little in common.

But the United States is no longer a nation of joiners. As the political scientist Robert Putnam famously demonstrated in Bowling Alone, participation in civic groups and organizations of all kinds declined precipitously in the last decades of the 20th century.

Trump turned the long-standing veneration of civic procedure on its head. He proclaimed that America is “rigged”; that “the insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money.” The norms and practices of democratic governance, he insisted, had allowed elites to entrench themselves.

Trump secured the Republican nomination by speaking directly to those voters who had the least experience with democratic institutions. In April 2016, when the Republican field had narrowed from 17 candidates to three, a PRRI/The Atlantic survey found Trump enjoying a narrow lead over second-place Ted Cruz among Republican-leaning voters, 37 to 31 percent. But among those who seldom or never participated in community activities such as sports teams, book clubs, parent-teacher associations, or neighborhood associations, Trump led 50 to 24 percent. In fact, such civically disengaged voters accounted for a majority of his support.

Yoni Applebaum, Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Any More.

7

And finally:

The cardinal fact always is the loss of contact with objective information. Public as well as private reason depends upon it. Not what somebody says, not what somebody wishes were true, but what is so beyond all our opining, constitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And a society which lives at second-hand will commit incredible follies and countenance inconceivable brutalities if that contact is intermittent and untrustworthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that flourishes where discrimination fails, and only those who are at grips with things themselves are impervious to it. For … the demagogue, whether of the Right or the Left, is, consciously or unconsciously an undetected liar.

Walter Lippman, November 1919 (before my father was born), quoted in a side-bar.

I’m venturing a guess that nobody born since 1970 will understand his use of “discrimination” unless they have a liberal arts college education.

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Mostly religious, 9/21/18

1

Small-o orthodox Christians are up against immense power. Think of the opening lines of David Foster Wallace’s famous Kenyon College commencement address:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

This is liberalism. If we wish to change the water, so to speak, we have to first learn what water is, why it’s wrong, and how to be in the water, but not of it …

It’s not an either-or, but a both-and. But as Alan Jacobs says, if we’re going to have Daniels and Esthers, we have to have fathers, mothers, and communities that produce Daniels and Esthers. Notice, though, that Dante (the pilgrim) comes to Marco from a world where the formative institutions have become corrupt. Marco tells Dante that if he wants to undertake the work of reforming the corrupt institutions, he has to start with his own heart, and work outward.

It’s true for us too.

Rod Dreher.

Remember: Dreher is not using “liberalism” as an epithet for the beliefs of the Democrat party. He’s using it as a term that fits roughly 99% of us — or at least I thought it did until the 2016 election. Its opposite is not “conservative” but “illiberal.”

I don’t think I’d ever read that David Foster Wallace commencement address before. It’s well worth reading.

2

Some fellow named Richard Gaillardetz explains in The Tablet (pay wall — my summary is from an email teaser) what’s going on with Pope Francis:

Francis is determined to realise the bold, reforming vision of the second Vatican Council, and some of those closest to him are determined to stop him.

Gosh. That was easy — facile, even. It’s nice when neutral observers can help clear the mind of troublesome doubts.

3

I should say that the danger to our own social order is not that a relatively small number of people engage in same-sex acts, but that a great number of people are approaching the view that the bodily powers have no purpose but physical pleasure, and that not even marriage has any necessary connection with either the procreation of children or the union of their parents. One might say that heterosexuals are coming to accept an essentially homosexual view of sex.

J. Budziszewski, responding to a question about whether we should treat homosexual acts as an evil whose eradication nevertheless would bring even greater evil (as Augustine treated prostitution).

4

Having left Evangelicalism some 21 years ago, I’ve lost track of who’s who (with a few exeptions: Tim Keller, good; Jen Hatmaker, bad). I had heard the name “Beth Moore” but couldn’t place her.

Now Emma Green has done a profile, occasioned by Moore’s lost attendance, revenues, etc. because she thought there was something rotten about Evangelicals barely skipping a beat for Trump even when the obstacle was “grab them by the pussy.”

She still gets push-back, even from people who attend her rallies, talks or whatever they are:

“I don’t think this is the avenue for political discussions,” said Shelly, 56. “I think it should stay focused on God.”

Moore believes she is focused on God. The target of her scorn is an evangelical culture that downplays the voices and experiences of women. Her objective is not to evict Trump from the White House, but to clear the cultural rot in the house of God.

Moore has not become a liberal, or even a feminist. She’s trying to help protect the movement she has always loved but that hasn’t always loved her back—at least, not in the fullness of who she is.

(Emphasis added)

I still don’t know whether Moore is a solid teacher or a flake; that’s not within Emma Green’s scope, really.

But I do find it reasonable to view Evangelical acceptance of Trump’s misogynist (okay: maybe it’s just misanthropy or narcissism) remarks as clean clinical specimin of the mind that gave us, most recently, Bill Hybels and Paige Patterson. That mind could use some reform, no?

5

Phillipino Catholics are as zany as American Evangelicals:

Who is the world’s worst popular president? “Probably the foul-mouthed, gun-toting septuagenarian president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. His most recent approval rating was 88 per cent, rising to 91 per cent among the poorest Filipinos. How does he do it? By indiscriminately rubbing out supposed bad guys – and if some of them do actually turn out to be criminals, so much the better. Insulting all and sundry seems to help too. He recently had a pop at God himself, who is a ‘stupid … son of a bitch’ in the president’s considered opinion. And all that in a country that remains deeply Catholic.”

Micah Mattix, Prufrock

6

It may seem at times that I’m a Democrat because of all the scorn I heap on the Republicans. But that would be like thinking I’m an atheist because of my frequent criticisms of Evangelicalism and my fascination with lurid news out of Roman Catholicism.

I am not a Democrat. I have never been a Democrat. As long as they remain the Friends of Feticide I will never be a Democrat. My favorite old characterization of that party was that of, I believe, the late Joe Sobran: the party of “vote your vice.” Were sexual vices the only vices, that would have been true at the time he wrote it. Nowadays, I give the GOP no credit for any manner of probity, sexual or otherwise.

To he## with them both. My most formal affiliation is with the American Solidarity Party, though I expect no miracles from that quarter.

I’m so full of disgust about the state of our politics that I’m going to ignore it now. Really. I’ve done it dozens of times before. It’s easy. You’ll see.

Or not.

Religiously, I’m Orthodox.

Long observantly Christian, I stumbled into Orthodoxy 21 years or so ago. I finally told the story a few years ago, first on my own blog and then, verbatim, here. I think I could easily enough be Western Rite Orthodox (just as there is “Byzantine Rite” Roman Catholicism), but I happen to be “Eastern” Orthodox because such was (and is) the rite used in the parish through which I entered the Church. I hope to visit a Western Rite parish some day, as much of the language is familiar from 55 years of singing sacred choral music.

Frankly, my residual care about politics is mostly for “completion of our lives in peace and repentance” as one of our litanies has it — and tides have turned so suddenly that it’s clear that the United States is not exempt from the 30,000 foot view of history in Psalm 2, elaborated in the Acts of the Apostles:

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One.

(Acts 4:26) They hate Him and they’ll hate us. Get over it. Better: get ready for it.

 

7

This is, or is very close to, Autumnal Equinox, but I’d be a non-trivial amount that the sky will not be as light at 7:09 today as it was at 7:09 yesterday evening, when I happened to notice it.

Update: Equator, dummy, equator. #facepalm.

 

8

Just about anyone can spark a Trump meltdown; forcing lasting reform on Nike would be a real feat.

Matt Steward, Notes on Nike.

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My blog overfloweth

Oh dear! So much that’s shareable today!

The Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal

1

Nike reportedly is facing a boycott for an ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, who famously “took the knee” during the NFL’s repulsive and gratuitous pre-game patriotic frenzies.

Kaepernick

We’ll see if Nike actually believes in something, “even if it means sacrificing everything.” Nike has set itself up nicely to illustrate how “courage” no less than “patriotism” can be insincerely weaponized for commercial purposes.

Contrast:

Viganò

2

Ross Douthat … in a twitter thread which noted, among other things,

One of the striking things about the Hebrew Bible is that it’s the record of a people that makes extraordinary claims for itself — that their tribal god is the Only God, that they are His chosen people, that all nations will eventually worship him, etc.

And they buttress those claims with an extensive history in which they are … terrible. Morally terrible, politically impotent, constantly apostasizing, ignoring their prophets, the works.

Basically the Hebrew Bible says: “Hi, we’re the true chosen people of God, and to prove it let us tell a long series of stories about how our patriarchs were sinners, our kings were even worse, and we failed God completely time and time again.”

The best king of Israel, the awesome all-conquering one, is a philanderer and murderer. The second-best one, the temple-builder, becomes an idol-worshiper. And about the rest, the less said the better.

Pace certain evangelicals-for-Trump and certain RC churchmen, this is not an argument for tolerating ugliness in service of some higher good. God and His prophet deal very harshly w/David when he kills Uriah, and the attitude of the prophets throughout is horror at Israel’s sins.

But for all their horror the prophets never doubt that Israel is the elect, the chosen people, God’s intended bride. And if the Old Testament is supposed to be a revelation with big implications for the new covenant, for the Christian church, that part is important.

Eve Tushnet quoting, obviously, Ross Douthat.

Trump & the Vichy Republicans

3

News:

Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff.

(Another damned Tweet by our Tweeter-in-Chief, who thinks an Attorney General is a wingman.)

News analysis by Peter Baker and Nicholas Fandos:

  • His tweet over the holiday weekend chastising Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for the Justice Department’s recent indictments of two Republican congressmen because it could cost the party seats in November crossed lines that even he had not yet breached, asserting that specific continuing criminal prosecutions should be decided on the basis of partisan advantage.
  • “I think it was appalling,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine, another Republican, told reporters asking on Tuesday about the tweet. “It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable.”
  • Over nearly 20 months in office, Mr. Trump has repeatedly castigated the Justice Department and the F.B.I. for investigating his associates and not investigating his enemies. He has threatened time and again to fire Mr. Sessions because his recusal from the Russia investigation meant that he could not protect the president from the inquiry.
  • Mr. Trump’s suggestion would have been a major scandal under any other president, veterans of past administrations said. “His interference in an ongoing criminal investigation may be the single most shocking thing he’s done as president,” said Walter E. Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general under President Bill Clinton.
  • Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican who has been among the president’s most outspoken critics in his own party, had the same reaction. “Those who study this kind of thing say it’s a lot more evidence for abuse of power or obstruction,” he said. “I just know it’s not healthy for the institutions of government to have the president want to use the Department of Justice that way.”
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, likewise criticized the president’s comments. “I’m looking at them just as you are looking at them,” she told reporters. “I thought that yesterday’s comments were not appropriate and they upset me.”

I agree with Walter Dellinger. If Trump is impeached, I hope his browbeating of law enforcement people for doing their jobs is prominent among the charges.

4

Ross Douthat imagines the defense theme of the Vichy Republicans in the court of public opinion:

Yes, they would say, the president is erratic, dangerous, unfit and bigoted. But notwithstanding certain columnist fantasies you can’t impeach somebody for all that — or for pretending to be a dictator on Twitter, for that matter. And by the standards of any normal presidency we still have him contained.

Sure, the trade wars are bad, but every president launches at least one dumb trade war. We stopped the child migrant business, his other immigration moves are just stepped-up enforcement of the law, we’ve stepped back from the brink (however bizarrely) with the North Koreans, we’re still sanctioning the Russians.

Meanwhile he’s nominated the most establishment Republican jurist possible to the Supreme Court, and we won’t even let him fire his own attorney general, let alone Bob Mueller.

Look, we’re not enabling an American Putin here. We’re just babysitting the most impotent chief executive we’ll ever see, and locking in some good judges before the Democrats sweep us out.

5

I have given my qualified approval to President Trump’s defense of religious freedom. The qualification is that he hasn’t shown any solicitude for the religious freedom of anyone other than Evangelical Protestants (though we other Christians collect crumbs from their State Dinner Table).

Here’s someone else’s expression of one instance of where Trump has been bad on religious freedom.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings

6

Ben Sasse Conducts a Two-Minute Master Class in American Civics

7

Democrats Open Contentious Hearings With Attack on ‘Partisan’ Kavanaugh

When the New York Times puts in scare-quotes “partisan” as a description of a Republican Supreme Court nominee, I think it’s a sign that the Democrats beslimed themselves pretty good yesterday.

Is Steve Bannon fit for polite company?

8

A Venn diagram showing New Yorker readers and Trump fans would contain two circles miles apart. The folks in the New Yorker circle are far more likely to believe that Trump is a nascent despot than to believe that he is anything like a normal president. Nor are they likely to change their minds simply by spending an hour in the physical presence of Bannon.

Left-leaning cultural arbiters became too skillful with their weapon of choice, mastering those institutions so completely that certain kinds of progressivism became not merely normal, but mandatory. But by leaving less and less room for dissenters, the hegemons created a counter-tribe of outsiders who reject their authority as vehemently as they exert it. And thus, for the same reasons that the beliefs of New Yorker readers are in no danger from Steve Bannon, the views of Trump fans are entirely safe from David Remnick.

What’s left is a kind of ceremonial cleansing of the sacred city, a mighty labor to make sure that the two circles on the Venn diagram never, ever come into contact. There’s something admirable about uncompromising ethical purity, but also something rather dangerous. For it means that outside your circle, there’s an entirely different normal. And if you abdicate any influence over that alternate normality, while rigorously expelling your own heretics, you may one day awake to find that your impeccably maintained ring of truth has been swamped by that other normal, now grown entirely beyond your control.

Megan McArdle

9

I agree with those who think that he should never have been invited. Steve Bannon keeps failing in his various projects to overthrow the establishment or create a political mass movement. Were it not for the lavish media attention he still gets, he’d be a classic coffee-house revolutionary, regaling strangers about how he came “this close” to ruling and how, with a little help from you, he can get the revolution restarted. But because he provides relatively good quotes and calls back journalists, the mainstream media have an investment in keeping him more relevant that he really is. He was fired by Trump, defenestrated by Breitbart and the Mercers, and lives on largely as a useful prop for the media he claims to despise.

Jonah Goldberg

10

New Yorker, editor David Remnick, explaining why he had extended, and then quickly rescinded, an invitation to former presidential adviser Stephen K. Bannon to be interviewed on a public stage.

[I]t’s worth considering what Remnick’s disinvitation has actually achieved. Here’s my list:

It has kept Bannon’s name prominently in the news, no doubt to his considerable delight. It has turned a nativist bigot into a victim of liberal censorship. It has lent credence to the belief that journalists are, as Bannon said of Remnick, “gutless.” It has corroborated the view that the news media is a collection of left-wing group thinkers who, if they aren’t quite peddling “fake news,” are mainly interested in advancing only their own truths. It has kept readers of The New Yorker locked in their usual echo chamber. It has strengthened the belief that vulnerable institutions can be hounded into submitting to the irascible (and unappeasable) demands of social media mobs. Above all, it has foreclosed an opportunity to submit Bannon to the kind of probing examination that Remnick had initially promised, and that is journalism at its best.

The next time we journalists demand “courage” of the politicians, let’s first take care to prove that we know what the word means, and to exhibit some courage ourselves.

Bret Stephens

As Rod Dreher points out, The Economist did it better.

Miscellany

11

John McCain, well aware of his impending death, orchestrated a Resistance Funeral.

It’s currently obligatory to overlook his flaws as well as to remember his virtues, and I’ll not breach my obligation just yet. Indeed, I expect canonization forthwith.

But what I didn’t expect is hectoring pundits posing “WWJMD” criticisms every time Republicans do something deemed insufficiently bipartisan.

12

If you consider yourself a sane conservative, I’d suggest you bookmark the US edition of the Spectator. It’s pretty lively, with some voices other than the usual suspects.

It was there, for instance, that I learned that:

The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft (PCMW) in Maryland has just been afforded Tax Exempt Status by the IRS, which recognised it as a legitimate place of worship, or rather a ‘place of lesbian faith’. Serving a lesbian-feminist congregation, the PCMW is described on its website as, ‘a congregation of female-born, lesbian-led Women devoted to the liberation of Women and Girls from the oppression we face based on our sex.’

 

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Spleen ventings (and more)

1

Spleen venting #1: I’m pleased that the American Bar Association, which marginalized itself over decades, will now be denied its long preeminence in advising the Senate on federal judicial nominees.

I’m one of those who quit the ABA in 1992 when it endorsed abortion. I still say “to hell with ’em.”

They can line up with all the other conservative and liberal interest groups, as a liberal interest group is all they are these days.

2

Spleen venting #2:

This is what court evangelicals do. They tell the president to fire an Attorney General who rightly recused himself from the Mueller investigation. Falwell Jr. wants Sessions fired in the hopes that his replacement as Attorney General will end the investigation. In other words, Falwell Jr. wants to protect Trump against accusations that he is an adulterer, a liar, and a felon.

John Fea, Jerry Falwell Jr. Told Trump to Fire Sessions

This strikes me, a former Evangelical, viscerally, as I was enrolled for three semesters, during the Vietnam War, in a Christianish educational institution where support of that war was a litmus test.

I don’t think that educational mis-step of mine was why I left Evangelicalism; it certainly was not the proximate cause (the proximate cause was disenthrallment with Dispensationalism and discovery of Calvinism, which I also left decades later — see below). But I’ve never given a dime to that place after leaving.

Falwell, too, is making enemies of many of his growing number of former students.

And because all American Christians are judged disproportionately by the doings of “Rome” and Fundamentalists/Evangelicals, I’m feeling a bit slimed again.

(Hereditary Evangelical fiefdoms, by the way, are a scandal too rarely highlighted.)

3

Trump hates the media because he hates the news, and he hates the news because the news about him is bad. Unable to attack the news itself, he attacks those who report it. He isn’t the first president to attack the press, but he’s the first to label it “the enemy of the people” — a Stalinist term so odious that Nikita Khrushchev banned it. President Richard Nixon said, “The press is the enemy,” but at least he said it privately, as a means of venting, not on social media or to raucous crowds who prefer the Second Amendment to the First.

In his book The True Believer, Eric Hoffer wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” …

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that colleges were turning young people into sensitive snowflakes. Trump is the ultimate snowflake. He wants all of cyberspace to be his safe space.

As Harry Truman famously didn’t say, if you can’t stand the heat, complain about the heat, lie about the heat, and, if possible, ban ovens and stoves.

To find out what Truman really said, Google it.

Windsor Mann, Please be sensitive to our snowflake president’s need for safe space.

Gotta either laugh or cry. I try to choose laughter, even if derisive.

4

It’s interesting to consider, but the Protestants I’ve known who became Catholic were not angry at the church they left behind. They’re been simply grateful to have embraced what they consider to be a more truthful, richer form of the Christian faith. The ex-Catholics I’ve known tend to be angry. In all honesty, I haven’t known many ex-Catholics who were Protestant or Orthodox. Almost all of the ex-Catholics I know ceased to practice any form of the Christian faith. It hadn’t occurred to me until this morning, but I think that’s interesting. Why might they leave Christianity entirely, instead of just become Episcopalian or Southern Baptist?

The answer, I believe, is that Catholicism is such a totalizing faith. That’s not a criticism at all …

I describe having lost the ability to believe in it anymore as like leaving a bad marriage. I wanted so bad for this “marriage” to work, but I realized one day that my bride didn’t love me, that she loved herself, and was going to do whatever she wanted to do, and to hell with me and the kids. Staying in this marriage meant putting up with her abusiveness. I couldn’t do it anymore ….

Believe it or not, one reason I write so often about this current Catholic scandal is that I want the Catholic Church to be healthy and holy. I may not be part of it anymore, but if she is sick unto death, then that affects the entire Body of Christ. If I had no Christian faith at all, I would still want the Church to be healthy, because as that scintillating atheist Camille Paglia has said in the past, the Church is a pillar of our civilization. No church, and we descend into barbarism.

Rod Dreher, reflecting, musing broadly on Damon Linker’s leaving the Roman Church (bold in original, italics added — though italics seem to disappear in this stylesheet).

I may have mis-gauged how coherent this excerpt would be without the elided material. It’s another powerful way of expressing the sense of loss Rod felt and still feels. I hope Linker feels it too, and finds Christ too compelling to forsake His Church (a very loaded term in this context) entirely.

For what it’s worth, my experience echoes Rod’s in this regard: I left Evangelicalism for Calvinism, pretty bitter about what I perceived as its pervasive Dispensational Premillennialism (it dawned on me later that I did not get that from my parents, but from my Christian Boarding School — proof, had I noticed it, that nondispensationist Evangelicalism was possible), but left Calvinism for Orthodoxy “simply grateful to have embraced … a more truthful, richer form of the Christian faith.” I still consider Calvinism a pretty good place to come from, and I don’t think that would change even if my wife had followed me from Calvinism to Orthodoxy.

5

Consider recent state and local actions punishing those who decline to use an individual’s pronouns of choice. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year threatening jail time for health-care professionals who “willfully and repeatedly” refuse to use a patient’s preferred pronouns. Under guidelines issued in 2015 by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, employers, landlords and business owners who intentionally use the wrong pronoun with transgender workers and tenants face potential fines of as much as $250,000.

… For those with a religious conviction that sex is both biological and binary, God’s purposeful creation, denial of this involves sacrilege no less than bowing to idols in the town square. When the state compels such denial among religious people, it clobbers the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, lending government power to a contemporary variant on forced conversion.

[I]ndividuals need not be religious to believe that one person can never be a “they”; compelled speech is no less unconstitutional for those who refuse an utterance based on a different viewpoint, as the Supreme Court held in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). Upholding students’ right to refuse to salute an American flag even on nonreligious grounds, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” This is precisely what forced reference to someone else as “ze,” “sie,” “hir,” “co,” “ev,” “xe,” “thon” or “they” entails. When the state employs coercive power to compel an utterance, what might otherwise be a courtesy quickly becomes a plank walk.

Abigail Shrier, The Transgender Language War (emphasis added)

6

Socialism moves human goods outside of market relationships and currency exchange. Most of the programs people now describe as socialism simply entail a more muscular welfare state liberalism. It must be repeated over and over again: “the government pays for stuff” is not socialism. And from my vantage, much of the [Democratic Socialists of America]’s national platform is precisely “the government pays for stuff.”

Fredrik De Boer, hyperlink added.

7

[W]hen people ask me why I didn’t try life among the Trads instead of leaving for Orthodoxy, the answer is right here in this tweet. Some of the best Catholic friends I have, and those I most admire, are Trads, but my general experience with Trads is that too often an intense bitterness, a hardness of heart, and barely-banked anger prevails among them. Our Lord told of the Good Shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep to go after the one who is lost. Far too many Trads would deride that lost sheep a weakling and a quitter.

Rod Dreher, reflecting on this pharisaic Tweet:

* * * * *

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Saturday Potpourri 8/25/18

1

I cannot personally rule out voting for Trump in 2020, despite the fact that I believe he is a menace to the rule of law. To vote against Trump will almost certainly mean voting for a president who will turn the power of the state on people like me. That still might be the decent and correct thing to do, and if so, I hope I have the courage to do it. But it’s a hell of an ask.

Rod Dreher. His quotes from Andrew Sullivan (overlapping what I quoted) and Peter Beinart are notable, too.

Like Dreher, I don’t entirely buy the Beinart argument — did we ever really worry about dark men raping pale women, or was that just a pretext for recreational lynching? — but the general gist about competing notions of “corrupt” does seem to be on the scent of something.

I think I’d have voted for Hillary in 2016, had my state been “in play” instead of a lock for Trump, though I knew she would “turn the power of the state on people like me.” But that was because I considered Trump’s narcissism so extreme as possibly to land us in a war, not because I thought she was nicer or less venal.

By 2020, if Trump hasn’t Tweeted us into war, the attacks on the rule of law will predominate in my opposition. But it is quite conceivable that the Democrats will nominate some extremist without Hillary’s demonstrated semi-competence in actual governance. I’m not holding my breath for a return to normalcy of any sort.

2

What do you mean, “crisis”? We have (at least) three is an interesting, even disturbing, short blog by Chris Damian on clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Church.. The crisis/es include “abuse of minors.” This crisis is

the most understood and the most explored. Following the 2002 reporting by the Boston Globe, the US bishops commissioned a study, run independently by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

I was surprised at some of the findings Damian reported from John Jay, but he provided a link, so I’m assuming until alerted otherwise (or I have enough time on my hands to read the report) that he has not misrepresented them.

They disrupt, if taken seriously, the sense I was developing about the sources or causes of the crises. No, make that “seriously disrupt ….”

3

Allen Weisselberg [Trump Organization CFO] testified before a grand jury, the third confidant of Trump known to have provided information in an illegal hush-money investigation that has implicated the president.

Wall Street Journal teaser for this article. According to NPR, one might say “Longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.”

Don’t discount the depth of what this guy could be disclosing. That so many confidants are testifying to the grand jury, many with grants of immunity, is legally big, but as I think I’ve said, I’m at a loss for what any of this means politically in a country I barely still recognize.

4ts

Yesterday, an Anabaptist man from nearby came and powerwashed my house. Then some younger Anabaptist men (his kin, I suspect) washed the windows. They did wonderful work at a reasonable price. We will seek them out for return engagements.

I’ve had similar “nice bearded men” in black straw skimmers doing our home remodeling and upgrades. They, too, did wonderful work, though a bit “saltier” on price.

They’re all from a group akin to the Old Order Amish (who congregate further North in Indiana), but they drive cars and trucks, use cell phones, tend to be in construction and things like power washing, concrete leveling and repair. They’re well represented behind the tables of our Farmer’s Market. The fanciest career I’ve noticed any of them undertaking is accountant (uncertified). I grew up hearing them called “German Baptist.”

Their grammar isn’t perfect. Their affect is generally a bit laconic. But they make themselves useful to their fellow men and women, support their families, and seem (from an unplugged family life, I strongly suspect) to avoid a lot of the nonsense that exercises most of their countrymen, present company not excluded. I suspect they’re not too exercised about Special Counsel grand jury proceedings, grants of immunity, and what it all means politically.

That’s not nothing. Starting fresh, I might prefer the via media of a Matthew Crawford, but somehow our Exceptionally American desk jobs and 401k’s have left us among the unhappier of the world’s peoples. Yet we seem to think that spreading our ways is an apt response to the categorical imperative.

I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods, though I can’t decide how much of it was deliberate (“if we do this, we can induce people into doing that“) versus such a state of affairs coming about by inexorable cosmic logic once we start off thinking filthy lucre is the summum bonum that can buy us whatever else we want. I could elaborate a few reasons for thinking that we were deliberately manipulated, but “deliberate” doesn’t necessarily mean “malicious” or “consciously exploitative.” The human capacity for self-deception is really deep.

5

Thus began the Beloved Festival, at which some 2,500 people pitched tents or splurged for a luxury “glamping” yurt for four days of “sacred” activities that ended on August 13th. These included kundalini and “galactivated” yoga, Sufi soul singing, crystal-bowl sound healing, medicinal poetry, Thai massage, Latino storytelling, native-American shamanism, gong meditation inspired by NASA data from deep space, grief rituals from Burkina Faso’s Dagara tribe and rave-like takes on Oriental ecstatic dance.

… Moss Kane, a Beloved visitor who works at Two-Spirit Shamanic Healing, a practice in Portland, Oregon, reckons that the boom in transformational festivals has already begun to chip away at the “crumbling power” of bad capitalism through the emergence of more people with older, wiser souls.

… Beloved hosts workshops on diversity, gender equality and using empathy to fight “divisive entitlement”. Marji Marlowe, who ran Beloved’s Care Circle Sanctuary this year, says a big part of her job is alerting visitors to the privilege whites enjoy but did not earn. Beloved also offers education on the misstep of “appropriating” cultures by, for example, donning feather headdresses, says its community manager, Dez Ramirez. Given the cultural mishmash of Beloved’s programme, this approach may perplex some, but other transformational festivals do the same.

Economist, Sex, crystals and compost toilets.

I’m betting on the German Baptist version of “older souls” in a head-to-head match with Beloved Festival and others of that ilk. At long odds, too.

6

I’m becoming a fan of professional soccer, especially European (Premier League, Bundesliga, and such). I’m still learning the rules to become a discerning viewer, but I have no favorite teams yet besides the default “home town” Indy Eleven (sort of as every Hoosier is supposed to be a Colts fan).

It’s probably worth mentioning that this is not really a protest or boycott of NFL. I’ve genuinely lost interest in NFL for a number of reasons

  • the hype (e.g., military flyovers)
  • the mostly-Sunday games
  • the hootchie-kootchie cheerleaders (who are abused about like bar bands are abused — underpaid because of huge supply, limited demand — and sexualized to boot) and
  • the evidence of chronic traumatic brain injury.

That last one’s why I don’t watch boxing or MMA, though I have a great-nephew who’s a professional MMA fighter.

Colin Kaepernick offends me less than Trump’s response and the owners’ capitulation, but that controversy was the only thing in recent years that made me want to watch at all. I’m even pretty indifferent to the Super Bowl any more.

Recommendation: If you want to give soccer a try, tune into Premier League or Bundesliga. They have NFL-size stadiums, packed with enthusiasts, the gentlemen spectators dressed like gentlemen and not visibly intoxicated. What’s not to like?

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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Sunken into mendacity

“You know I’m from Alabama—the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that did important work in the South, vital work at a pivotal time,” the attorney general explained.

He admitted that “there were hate groups in the South I grew up in. They attacked the life, liberty, and the very worth of minority citizens.”

Sessions recalled working with the SPLC to secure the death penalty for a member of the Ku Klux Klan. “You may not know this, but I helped prosecute and secure the death penalty for a klansman who murdered a black teenager in my state. The resulting wrongful death suit led to a $7 million verdict and the bankruptcy of the Klu Klux Klan in the South. That case was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said.

“But when I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a ‘hate group.’ Many in the media simply parroted it as fact,” the attorney general added. “Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities.”

Sessions charged that the SPLC has “used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience.”

He powerfully added, “They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others.”

Then the attorney general addressed ADF directly. “You and I may not agree on everything—but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group,” Sessions declared.

Then he made the case. “You have a 9-0 record at the Supreme Court over the past seven years—and that includes two of the most important cases of the last term,” the attorney general said. “Two of those nine cases were 7-2, one was per curiam, and one was 9-0. In the lower courts, you’ve won hundreds of free speech cases. That’s an impressive record. These are not fringe beliefs that you’re defending.”

Rather, “You endeavor to affirm the Constitution and American values.”

Tyler O’Neil, quoting Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

You’re right, Mr. Sessions, that I don’t agree with you on everything, but thank you for speaking the truth and sharing the “back-story.”

It irks me that NPR continues credulously to bring on “experts” from SPLC, one of its sponsors.

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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.

Dear Christians, …

Dear Christians, thank you for feeding, housing, and caring for the poor, but unless you do it in the manner we prefer, advancing the worldview we prefer — even to the point of adopting the personnel policies we demand — we will use all the power of law and public shame to bring you into compliance. We’ll pass laws that violate your conscience. We’ll call you bigots or misogynists when you resist. And all the while, the fact that you actually do serve and sustain (physically and spiritually) millions of Americans will be lost and ignored.

And in response to each event, as Christians leave campus or adoption agencies close their doors, many of these same progressives will be puzzled. Why close? Why leave? Just change your policies. Can’t you provide Catholic care and contraception — and blame the state for making you do it?

But this fundamentally misunderstands the nature of serious faith ….

David French, describing an increasingly pervasive progressive attitude, instantiated by FiveThirtyEight here and here. (He also speculates on how cafeteria Christianity may have made the progressives think their demands reasonable.)

It is a silver lining in this wretched Administration that it has largely kept its promises to protect religious freedom. That ought not be an optional and partisan policy, but if the Democrats want to be evil and stupid, it’s their right, as it’s my right not to vote for them despite the horrid condition of the national GOP.

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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.

Worldview shapers

They’re all good judges, but for what it’s worth, I hope President Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett to be the next justice on the Supreme Court.

… The way Senate Democrats treated Barrett last autumn — in particular, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s argument that Barrett was simply too religious and too devoutly Catholic to serve on the bench, declaring, “the dogma lives loudly within you,” revealed an argument this country needs to have: whether the country accepts deeply religious people in positions of legal authority.

… I don’t think you have to look too hard to find progressives who believe, more or less, that devout Catholics — perhaps devout Christians of any stripe — simply can’t be trusted to rule on the law and should be prevented from serving in the judiciary whenever possible. A Catholic judge can insist, loudly and often, that they believe their role as a judge is to rule on the law and the Constitution alone, and that while their faith no doubt shapes their values and their worldview — as much as any religion, philosophy, or atheism shapes the values and worldview of any other judge — and some progressives will insist it’s all a ruse. Some are determined to see any religiously active Christians as theocrats in black robes. (As this 2007 cartoon demonstrates, the arguments are sometimes not that subtle at all; merely an affiliation with a Catholic faith makes you an agent of the Pope.)

You know that if Barrett is the nominee, someone on the Left will make an openly sexist criticism. You know her seven children will be discussed in depth. You know that someone will inevitably make an argument that amounts to, “Look, if we’re going to allow Catholics to be judges, they at least have to be lapsed Catholics.”

Why do some progressives see Catholics and/or Christians as aspiring dictators from the bench, eager to toss away any established rights, established traditions, and impose an oppressive doctrine on the entire country and stifle dissent and differing points of view?

Because that’s how some progressives see the role of the judiciary.

Jim Geraghty (boldface added)

I have already given my reasons why I hope President Trump does not nominate Judge Barrett for this vacancy, and neither Geraghty nor Rod Dreher have persuaded me that “teachable moment” outweighs “vicious bloodbath.”

But the text that I’ve boldfaced alludes to a blind spot that drives me nuts: the idea that there is neutral ground, and that our judges should be picked from there.

There is no neutral ground. That’s not a “this is war, so pick your side” statement. It’s a statement about the formation of educated, balanced and strong adults, from which sizable group we pick things like Supreme Court justices (and, normally, Presidents).

If there are any amnesiacs, who’ve truly lost the conceptual screen through which they sift reality (at least by default, and subject to changes of mind), they will not be chosen by any President who wants to leave a print on the judiciary, which is to say “by any President.”

Some remaining choices are candidates who know they have a screen through which they sift reality but lie about it, and those who have a screen through which they sift reality but don’t realize it.

I think a candidate who’s honest about his deepest personal commitments and plausibly promises to distinguish them from the law is the best choice of the three.

* * * * *

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.

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Δ blindness

The New York Times item (news? analysis? editorial?) on the Right “weaponizing” the First Amendment is, of course, subject to satire and plausible accusations of hypocrisy — as is the Rights newish romance with that Amendment.

But here’s a fresh spin on the story:

[I]f you follow this logic of this Times analysis, then workers at low-budget religious ministries that offer women alternatives to abortion actually represent “the powerful” classes in California, in a free-speech fight with government, Planned Parenthood, et al, over whether ministries can be compelled to give women what amounted to referrals to abortion facilities.

When you apply this to other crucial First Amendment doctrines then you would find yourself defending the rights of a single baker (a traditional Christian) to decline a request to create a one-of-a-kind artistic cake celebrating a same-sex wedding rite (after offering the couple any of the standard cakes or desserts in his shop). The baker’s very narrow, faith-based refusal of this task was offensive and caused pain, yet the gay couple had many other options in the local marketplace. The baker is “the powerful” force in this legal fight?

It would also be possible to defend Catholic nuns who refused government commandments that they cooperate with efforts to provide contraceptive options to their own staff, in violations of important Catholic doctrines linked to their mission. The elderly nuns represent the “the powerful” classes in this legal fight?

I am left, once again, wondering what label to assign to contemporary people and groups that are weak in their defense of free speech, weak in their defense of freedom of association and weak in their defense of the free exercise of religion. What should fair-minded journalists call them? What should the Times team have called the powers that be on the “progressive” side of the debate (including the newspaper’s editorial-page team)?

The one label that cannot be assigned to these groups is “liberal.” That just won’t fly, in the wider context of American political thought.

(Terry Mattingly, emphasis added)

Progressives and Conservatives have different characteristic blindnesses.

* * * * *

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.

Gotcha #fail

The Washington Post plays “Gotcha!” for the benefit of its more cynical readers in Why many religious liberty groups are silent about the Supreme Court’s decision on Trump’s travel ban, the premise being that the travel ban and Masterpiece Cakeshop are so obviously analogous that it’s hypocritical not to oppose Trump on the travel ban as they opposed Colorado on Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Assuming the analogy for sake of argument (although I’m not certain what the common nexus is supposed to be), the Post nevertheless did an injustice to Becket Fund:

The religious liberty groups that did not initiate any statements on the travel ban ruling included Becket … Becket responded to the Post’s question about its silence by noting the brief it filed in the case, which was neutral on the allegation of discrimination and took no side as to whether Muslims were targeted. Becket’s brief focused on its criticism of the legal strategy of those challenging the travel ban.

“Neutral on the allegation of discrimination” is technically true, but what Becket’s brief argued was that:

each lower court that has held for the plaintiffs on the constitutional issue has used the wrong Religion Clause and the wrong legal test to root out claimed religious targeting. The courts have used the Establishment Clause (which aims to prevent government involvement in religion) rather than the Free Exercise Clause (which protects religious individuals and groups from burdens on their religious beliefs and exercise) … To date, none of the lower courts in cases challenging the Proclamation or its predecessor Executive Orders has been asked to analyze the question of religious targeting under the clause of the Constitution that most naturally prevents it: the Free Exercise Clause.

Becket then laid out in 7-point detail how to analyze the ban under the Free Exercise Clause, which is considerably more than just carping about the challengers’ legal strategy and lower courts taking the bait:

  1. Does the law facially target religion?
  2. Does the law, in its general operation, result in a religious gerrymander?
  3. Does the law fail to apply analogous secular conduct?
  4. Does the law give the government open-ended discretion to make individualized exemptions?
  5. Has the law been selectively enforced?
  6. Does the law’s historical background show that the lawmaker’s purpose was to discriminate based on religion?
  7. Does the law discriminate between religions?

I’m proud of Becket, which I support, and which as usual did a principled, high-quality job.

It even strikes me that the Free Exercise Clause argument was more favorable to the challengers than an Establishment Clause argument, as two of the dissenting justices noted suspiciously uneven enforcement.

* * * * *

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)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.