Antipopes, Jackasses, Jennyasses, and more

Best Historical Analogy for Loser Trump?

[Antipope Benedict XIII] retain[ed] sufficient political capital to pressure heads of states to pick sides, bestowing benedictions and other benefits and if nothing else gumming up earnest efforts to allay divides. Weary, irritated leaders, both religious and royal, “said, ‘You’re out, you’re out, you’re out,’” … “and he said, ‘No, I’m in, I’m in, I’m in.’”

“Donald Trump’s not an ex-president—he’s a right-wing, nativist, revolutionary leader,” presidential historian Doug Brinkley told me recently. “He has a movement that is massive with global implications—that kind of revolutionary—and he took on the entire federal government of the United States. That kind of character doesn’t register as a typical ex-president.”

Across the Atlantic, some 600 years back, everybody said they wanted unity.

But unity was hard. “Comparing a pre-democratic system with a democratic system, there is kind of something odd,” Rollo-Koster said, offering a necessary caveat. “But behaviors remain constant throughout history regardless of the political system.” And unity was hard at that moment because of the whims and wants of leaders, because of ever-shifting protections and allegiances, and because people who had power didn’t want to give it up. “The schism,” wrote Barbara Tuchman in A Distant Mirror, “was a trap not easy to get out of.” It “lasted as long as it did,” as Rollo-Koster put it in her book, “because it benefited the private interests of many parties.”

Michael Kruse, The Antipope of Mar-a-Lago – POLITICO

GOP Hijinks

The Oregon GOP’s official position is that the assault on the Capitol was a false flag operation, mounted to “discredit” President Trump.

The infinitely flexible Nikki Haley asks not whether former President Trump attempted to steal the election, but how low the base would like her to sink. Appearing on the Laura Ingraham show, she offered up the expected persecution narrative: “They beat him up before he got into office. They are beating him up after he leaves office. I mean, at some point, I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on.”

See how this works? It was Trump who was beaten, not Officer Sicknick.

Mona Charen, Republicans Make Me Proud I Voted for Biden – The Bulwark

You can’t make this stuff up, and there’s so much of it (read Charen’s full column) that it’s hard to pick an emblematic examples.

Charen continues:

Republicans are like toddlers encouraged to put on big boy underpants. They understand that it’s exciting to be a big boy. They want to. But they also know that if they put on big boy underpants, they will have responsibilities. They will have to act like big boys. So they retreat to the comfort of their diapers.


MTG

I “find it interesting” that Marjorie Taylor Greene finds interesting (i.e., makes up) a bunch of “speculation” that would warm the cockles of Nazi hearts.

What a coincidence! What are the odds that that a sane person would entertain such odd views?

H/T Jonathan Chait, GOP Congresswoman Blamed Wildfires on Secret Jewish Space Laser


[N]umerous liberal democracies have seen right-wing “populist” movements and parties emerge. So far, those that have risen to power have done so through liberal institutions — and despite moves to rig the systems in their own favor (most boldly in Hungary and Poland), nowhere has liberal government been fully overturned in favor of outright authoritarian rule or worse.

But the United States presents a distinctive, and potentially ominous, case.

Over the past three months, the Republican Party has proven itself to be a right-wing antiliberal party. Yes, this has been the culmination of a long process. Yes, it has antecedents in the American past. Yes, there are still some decent people in the party trying to oppose the trend from within. But despite all of these caveats, what we’ve recently witnessed in the GOP is something new — and newly alarming.

… [T]he Republican Party is now dominated by ideas and individuals who consider it acceptable to reject the legitimacy of democratic elections when they deliver a loss, and to encourage, affirm, and spread outright lies in order to gain and hold political power. That makes the Republican Party a great danger to liberal democratic government in the United States.

Damon Linker, Liberal democracy’s Achilles Heel


Over the years when national events have turned especially murky, I’ve asked [Senator Rob Portman’s] read on things, and what’s always struck me is his stubborn sense of reality: He doesn’t let his wishes get in the way of what he sees. In the geography of the Republican Party he’d be placed with figures like Mitch Daniels —the We Actually Know Things Caucus.

It really is something that we’re living in a time when ambitious people leave the U.S. Senate to get things done.

I asked about the comment of his former campaign manager Corry Bliss, published Tuesday in National Journal, on Portman’s decision not to run: “If you want to spend all your time on Fox and be an a—h—, there’s never been a better time to serve. But if you want to spend your time being thoughtful and getting s— done, there’s never been a worse time to serve.” Mr. Portman roared with laughter. “Did he say that?” He roared again. “Yeah, I won’t comment.”

Peggy Noonan, Rob Portman’s Exit Interview

Mitch McConnell’s Hijinks

Just as [Mitch McConnell] played Donald Trump for three Supreme Court justices and a tax cut, here he is convincing Democrats to let him have veto power over what happens in the upper chamber for years to come.

[T]he horrifying truth about American partisanship, the reason that the National Football League is vastly more entertaining than what goes on in Washington, D.C[. is that] almost no one there actually cares about winning. Holding on to office, getting the paychecks and the perks, receiving all the attention and adulation their parents and classmates apparently failed to shower upon them in their youth — these are what motivates most of our elected officials.

Which is why at the end of the day I am not hesitant to call McConnell the most effective Senate leader of the last half century, for the not very complicated reason that he not only cares about winning but does win more consistently than anyone else, regardless of the position in which he finds himself.

Mitch McConnell is the GOAT

GameStop Hijinks

The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

John Maynard Keynes via Axios, Gamestop trading pits Wall Street’s powerful against the powerless

Insurrection after-effects

Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III said this week that another police officer who was on duty during the January 6 Capitol attack, Jeffery Smith, died by suicide on January 15. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood also died by suicide on January 9, three days after the riot, and Officer Brian Sicknick died after sustaining injuries during the insurrection. “Between USCP and our colleagues at the Metropolitan Police Department, we have almost 140 officers injured,” Gus Papathanasiou, the chair of the Capitol Police Labor Committee said in a statement. “I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake.”

The Morning Dispatch


If all we do as a nation is lock up some individual pelt-wearing yahoos and cringe in fear from holding a public man to account for a catastrophic abuse of leadership in public office — if we have one law against the common man, another for the elite — we will have failed to deliver that message. If you take this from an American national perspective rather than a narrowly partisan one, that ought to be obvious.

… What we witnessed on January 6 … requires a more vigorous, less timorous, response.

And one man above all others was responsible for inspiring it and setting it in motion.

It is hard to think of any abuse of high office, short of treason itself, that would have alarmed the Founding Fathers more than inspiring a mob to target the democratic transfer of power.

Did Trump do that? Unquestionably. I walked in detail through his speech that day, and asked:

> If you heard and believed every word of this speech, coming from the president of the United States . . . what would you do? Would you believe that the time had come to take up arms to save your country and democracy? A lot of Americans, people of good will, very well might.

Neither Davidson nor Domenech answers that question. Neither deals with the speech or its claims at length, falling back on generality and euphemism. Davidson says that my view “boils down to arguing that because people feel strongly about elections, Trump should have toned down his criticism of election fraud because some radicals in his party might get crazy ideas about storming the Capitol.” But in fact, as the president, he should not have said those things while setting a crowd in motion toward the Capitol with the aim of getting them to pressure Congress and the vice president in the midst of the counting process. You cannot extract Trump’s speech from the time, the place, and the context in which he chose to make it. Nor can you present it as some sort of generalized critique of election integrity, when it bluntly asserted that the stealing of an election was ongoing just down the block, and that Trump expected the crowd to participate in stopping it.

Trump Impeachment & Mob Rule — A Reply to the Federalist | National Review

This was a masterful reply to two of the heavier hitters at The Federalist (the now-Trumpist website I stopped reading, oh, around election day 2016, not the esteemed professional Society) who were engaging in sophistries against convicting Trump in the impeachment trial.

Media lowjinks

“Whatever the platform, the competitive advantage belongs to those who can best habituate consumers, which in the stunted, data-obsessed thinking of our time, means avoiding at almost any cost impinging on the reality so painstakingly built around them. As outlets have increasingly prioritized habituation over information, consumers have unsurprisingly become ever more sensitive to any interruption of their daily diet. … Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally.

Chris Stirewalt, formerly of Fox News, in the Los Angeles Times via The Morning Dispatch (emphasis added)


The Deep Lie … does not merely mislead — it is a lie so deeply embedded in the media and political ecosystem that it distorts reality and shapes our political world. It is immune to evidence, to logic, or new information, and it is endlessly recycled until its shatters our sense of sanity.

It works this way. The lie (any lie) begins in the fever swamp—>social media —> Fox News/talkradio —> goes viral —> achieves critical mass —> politicians begin to “ask questions” because “people are saying” —> dominates political debate….and the loop continues until the lie shatters our polity.

Tucker Carlson and The Deep Lie – Morning Shots

Scott Alexander is back (and gives the skinny on the gender binary)!

Scott Alexander, late of SlateStarCodex, is back with AstralCodexTen on Substack. He stretches one’s brain.

They also have a category called “gender”. They say they included measures like “femininity” and “sex-stereotyped activities” in there – I can’t find more specifics. It has a CCFI of 0.42 with confidence interval including 0.5, so looks slightly more dimensional, but can’t quite rule out it being slightly more categorical. If anyone ever demands you have an opinion on the question “is binary gender real?”, I think the most scientifically-supported answer would be “it has a Comparative Curve Fit Index of 0.42 plus or minus 0.1, which means it trends towards dimensionality but taxonicity cannot be ruled out”.

Ontology Of Psychiatric Conditions: Taxometrics

Education Hijinks

Of all the stupid arguments the politically correct trot out to justify savaging reading lists, the idea that kids should see themselves in literature is the dumbest — but just about perfect for our narcissistic culture.

Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever.” Similarly, not to know, through books, worlds and peoples other than your own is to remain a child forever. It is to remain narrow, self-centered, and frightened of anything that is unfamiliar. I’m not the sort of person who is particularly interested in the life of a Norwegian farm woman of the Middle Ages, but Kristin Lavransdatter absolutely captivated me, because it transported me into a radically different world, but introduced me to people whose dreams and struggles seemed very human, and very relatable. What a poverty to hand a teenager some YA crap novel about alienated suburban teens cutting themselves and dreaming of changing their sex, when they could be reading Kristin Lavransdatter. What kind of culture does this to its kids?

Rod Dreher, A Door, Not A Mirror – Daily Dreher

Benediction

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Guard your imagination!

She was still in her innocence. No evil intention had been formed in her mind. But if her will was uncorrupted, half her imagination was already filled with bright, poisonous shapes.

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, Chapter 10.

In any sustained battle between the imagination and the will, the imagination eventually wins.

That, too, in almost a direct quote, is Lewis (retrieved from my memory).

Weston’s (actually, the UnMan’s) grinding away at The Lady, which I remembered as tedious from my long-ago reading, brilliantly illustrates both the power of “narrative” and the ingenuity with which the evil one seduces us. Sophistry having failed, the UnMan turned to stories of heroic feminine boldness – dozens, hundreds, thousands of stories.

Ransom saw that they were having their effect, and acted accordingly.

We must, must, must guard our imaginations!

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I’d prefer no orchestration, but the striking Georgian harmony comes through (and I’m pretty sure the Church exterior is Samtavra, not the Tblisi Cathedral).

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Cliché

If I weren’t so compulsive, I’d probably say of my reading this late-morning, “That’s enough! Time to stop and chew on this for a couple of hours.”

Educated cynics suspect that all uses of … stock phrases are empty of thought; like a college professor whom I admired, they feel a burden to respond to every “How are you?” with a seven-seconds’ pause and measured reply. But imagine the strain, the impossibility, of trying to invent a unique response to every “How are you?”, a unique phrase for each circumstance needing “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “You have my sympathy”, a unique creed for every Christian. In this latter case particularly, pursuing freshness of expression would be _wrong. _A creed is not meant to express individual or innovative understanding and belief, but to give voice to communal, traditional understanding and belief. It is not expression but identification, not communication but communion.

That pedantic college professor is me, which is why I should chew on the rest of this very thoughtful and humane author’s insights.

And so the educated person must reassess, or risk the irony of his scorn of clichés becoming yet one more: the cliché of overeducated cynicism. Without denying Orwell’s point, could there still be an acceptable place for the cliché? Not in things meant to present and provoke fresh thought, but in circumstances that call for identification and communion? In circumstances when the rhythm of exchange, and not the reasoning of language, bears more weight?

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Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Adult fiction

I used to say that an “adult movie” was one where the lights went out after the kiss because adults knew what would happen next. I wish I had thought it up on my own, but its source, forgotten, was not my own creativity.

Wendell Berry is similarly discreet:

Billy perches himself in the branches of a box elder that stands above the car’s mysterious hideout. When the car arrives this time, Billy watches as the man takes the back seat out of the car and sits on it with his lady friend. The only way to describe what happens next is by quoting the narrator: “What followed Billy had seen enacted by cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, housecats, chickens, and, by great good fortune he was sure, a pair of snakes. And so he was not surprised but only astonished to be confirmed in his suspicion that the same ceremony could be performed by humans.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, of Wendell Berry’s new short story The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased to be Told.

There’s much more to the story than that, of course, this being Wendell Berry after all. The “more” is hinted at by the part of the title after the colon.

The good folks at Front Porch Republic, of which Bilbro is a part, also have a new Journal, Local Culture,  the premier issue of which I began last night. It’s very good, providing if nothing else a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent, our current “urgent” exercising all-too-tyrannical a hold over my attention most of the time.

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The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Mother Nature winds up

I have a sinking feeling that Mother Nature is gearing up to show us, yet again, that it’s not nice to try to fool her or to abuse her. The toll could be billions.

I’m not just talking about climate change. I’m talking about the moving human pieces, and the pushing-back human pieces, too.

Like this: the global south gets hot first; its residents mass-migrate north; authoritarian personalities in the north are mightily alarmed. Mayhem ensues.

Did I just accidentally paraphrase Camp of the Saints? It’s not a rhetorical question. I think mass-migration is a key element of that profoundly racist (I’m relying on Rod Dreher for that characterization) book.

Instead of just wondering, I looked it up: Dreher says the feckless official response to mass-migration was a key plot element in Camp of the Saints, too, and I’m not sure that climate change was the migration’s impetus. But those are indifferent details, aren’t they?

We’ve got feckless governments galore, and our choices seem to be between authoritarian and feckless. And if we got the happy medium of resolute government blocking excessive immigration, the agent of death would be heat and famine — the poor dying for our sins again, but not so directly as by armed anti-immigrants. (I’m not hyperlinking to Camp of the Saints, by the way, because I only looked at it once on Amazon and now Amazon bombards me with unwanted offers of various right-wing books.)

We could use a deus ex machina about now, couldn’t we? Or ex anywhere.

I’d say I’m waiting to finish Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism for my final judgment, but I never reach certainty on such complex things.

Final Judgment isn’t mine, anyway. It’s, uh, “Mother Nature’s.”

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

The assault on truth

The estate of George Orwell owes a debt of gratitude to our Very Stable Genius.

When dealing with a political figure who faces allegations of sexual assault, financial misdeeds and obstruction of justice, it is difficult to sort out the greatest damage to our public life. But a strong case can be made that it is the assault on truth.

Not long ago, I sat on a plane next to a knowledgeable and articulate Trump supporter. The talk turned to the Mueller report, and I mentioned that Robert Mueller was awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery in Vietnam. “How do you know that?” snapped my conversation partner. I sputtered something about reading it in multiple, reliable sources. She remained unconvinced.

How is any political conversation or policy discussion possible when citizens inhabit separate universes of truth and meaning? This is Trump’s most dangerous innovation: epistemology as cult of personality.

Michael Gerson, beginning and concluding a must-read column.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Should a fascist poet be no-platformed?

Courtesy of Alan Jacobs, I found a wonderful essay by Edward Mendelson on a principled dispute between Bennett Cerf and W.H. Auden over Random House banishing Ezra Pound from a revised anthology, in the original of which several Pound poems appeared — that is, in modern parlance, defiantly “no-platforming” Pound.

The essay is multivalent with issues of today, starting with how grateful I am that we have no friends censorious enough to drop us over the name of our late, lamented cat Heidegger, whose namesake (in case you didn’t know) was a consequential philosopher before he was an inconsequential Nazi.

There’s no doubt that today’s progressive callout culture would side with Bennett Cerf’s initial position. My doubt comes in the area of whether they could be persuaded to reconsider, as Cerf did, or whether instead any attempted persuasion would risk getting the would-be persuader banished, too.

But the end of the essay evoked for me my own sentimental forgiveness of Auden’s unrepentant homosexuality (he tried and tried and tried chastity until he stopped trying — or so is my understanding; and yes, that reveals that there’s a callout culture temptation within me, too) based on my sense that his poetry reflected a powerfully Christian imagination despite his sexual irregularities. I think Auden himself would have rejected, and perhaps did reject, such sentiment:

Auden gave much thought to the question of writers “whose works / Are in better taste than their lives,” as he wrote with ironic understatement in his poem “At the Grave of Henry James.” When he wrote to Cerf that he got “very exasperated with the people who argue that Pound should be acquitted or let down gently because he is a poet, which is obviously nonsense,” he was refusing a subtler temptation that he, perhaps like every successful artist, knew from experience. “You hope, yes, / your books will excuse you, / save you from hell,” he wrote in a poem addressed to himself, part of his “Postscript” to a poem about poetry-writing, “The Cave of Making.”

In the same poem, he refused any fantasy that his work justified his faults—the same nonsense that he refused when others used it to justify Ezra Pound. Instead, he sensed, his faults had damaged his work: had he been a better person, he might have written better poems. In print and in private, he seems never to have condemned other writers’ work on the basis of their personal faults. He knew too little about them to judge. But his own self-knowledge led him to imagine a moment when his self and his work would both be subject to judgment:

God may reduce you
on Judgment Day
to tears of shame,
reciting by heart
the poems you would
have written, had
your life been good.

As for my own temptation to judge poetry according to the poet, Auden’s comment to Cerf hints at a cure: “The whole case only confirms my long-held belief that it would be far better if all books were published anonymously.”

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Magnum opus

At my retirement reception very recently, a colleague I’ve known since Junior High School quoted a quip of mine he remembers from, I believe, an 8th grade math class. “Do you remember that?” he pressed me.

He violated lawyer rule #1: If you don’t know the answer, don’t ask the question.

Well, I’m pretty scrupulous so I admitted that I did not remember it, and then, in lawyerly fashion, made him even more crestfallen by doing what we tell clients not to do in depositions: I volunteered that “your reminder has failed to refresh my memory about it,” (“refreshing memory” being a lawyerly tool whose merits and abuses I’ll not discuss).

Gosh, after all, it was just a smart-ass quip (not the slick toothbrush by that name), amounting to “thank you, but I’m too proud to say it that way” — and it was 56 years ago to boot!

Two authors I tend to read, though, quote themselves a lot: Rod Dreher and Ryan T. Anderson.

With Dreher, it’s especially easy to understand why. He has a brutal writing schedule and blogs prolifically. Having really thought through a topic for a book like the Benedict Option, why should he repeatedly need to paraphrase himself? It’s less a matter of egotism than of efficiency (with a bit of book promotion to boot).

With Anderson, whose recent career has been methodically demolishing the day’s leading sexual dogmas (his latest major title is *When Harry Became Sally,” a tome on trangender mania), I sometimes wonder if it’s more “How long, O Lord, how long, must I go back and wallow in this nonsense!”—like a conscientious censor after a day of screening blue movies.

A third author, none of whose books I’ve read, though I’ve read, audited and watched many interviews, does the same thing for, I think, a more narcissistic reason. That author is Camille Paglia.

I admire the heck out of her, my approximate contemporary, but recently noticed her ability to quote, say, some cutting quip she uttered sotto voce in grad school 45+ years ago is really a marvel. She must have been rehearsing that as part of her iconoclast persona ever since! Her persona is her magnum opus, I think, but she’s got some legitimate academic chops or my name is Rube.

Dreher and Anderson are quoting their recent works. We’ll see if they’re quoting those works in another 30-45 years. I intend to continue enjoying all three of these stimulating “friends,” uncertain, however, that I’ll be quoting them many years hence.

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Peter Principle update

Do you know the Peter Principle?

1

Image Journal has a new editorial team, with James K. A. Smith taking the helm as the new editor in chief. That’s a bit of head-scratcher to be honest. Everything I’ve read by him on poetry and fiction is pretty much what you’d expect from a well-read theologian writing on poetry and fiction. That’s not a slight. Theologians and critics tend to approach texts in different ways, even if they might arrive at some of the same conclusions. For the critic, style is argument. For the Protestant theologian—and I’m generalizing here, so forgive me—style mostly contains argument. I can’t say this is always the case with Smith. He certainly has something like this view regarding form when it comes to liturgy, but I have never thought of him as being particularly interested in style in writing or in the forms of poetry or the novel. Anyway, he has a strong team under him, it seems, and I am sure he will bring in new readers. Good luck to the whole crew!

Micah Mattix’s Prufrock newsletter for October 18.

2

This item aggregates downers — I guess they’re “uppers” if you exult in Trump hatred instead of just shaking your head and saying “heaven help us.”

It is a sign of the times — the kind involving the seven-horned beast, and the rain of fire, and the end of days — that recent news has been dominated by Kanye, Stormy and the misogynist boor who is president of the United States. It would be a circus if it were not a crime scene, complete with credible accusations of financial corruption, obstruction of justice and campaign collusion with a hostile foreign power.

… I do think [the charge of fascism is] basically mere alarmism, yes. We have a president whose shallow malevolence is matched only by his bottomless incompetence. But that’s not fascism. It’s more weakness than strength.

And yet, it is impossible to listen closely to Trump without hearing echoes of fascist language and arguments. He describes a form of national unity based on deference to a single leader. He claims to lead a movement that speaks exclusively for American values. He defines this movement primarily through exclusion, by directing bigotry and contempt toward outsiders. He paints the picture of an idealized past, involving pride, ethnic solidarity and national greatness.

Fascism may not describe what Trump has done, as opposed to what he says. But what he says matters and can create its own dangerous dynamic. It is possible for a leader to be incompetent and still profoundly corrupt the people who follow him, undermining the virtues — tolerance, civility and compromise — that make democratic self-government work. It is possible for a foolish leader to leave the imprint of fascism on a portion of his followers ….

Michael Gerson (in part quoting an unnamed “conservative leader”).

Michael V. Hayden, a former C.I.A. director who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said that Mr. Trump could be coaxed into believing objective reality, but that it “is not the instinctive departure point for what Donald Trump does.”

“It’s something else — it’s feeling, emotion, preference, loyalty, convenience of the moment,” Mr. Hayden said. He quoted a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, Michael Gerson, about Mr. Trump: “He lives in the eternal now — no history, no consequences.”

Maggie Haberman. I didn’t used to think of left liberals as defenders of objective truth, nor of Evangelicals as indifferent toward it, but times change.

In the first 18 months of his administration, those who pointed out that he’d made a good decision, or failed to castigate him enough, were sometimes accused of “normalizing” Mr. Trump. But normalizing him wasn’t within their power. Only Mr. Trump could normalize Mr. Trump, by enacting normality and self-possession. He could have opted for a certain stature—the presidential stage, with its flags and salutes, almost leads you by the hand to stature. But he hasn’t.

Peggy Noonan.

3

Our clamoring after Christian “rock stars” — paired with the sheer volume of content those in the spotlight are expected to produce — has created the perfect environment for slipshod attribution and theft of content from lesser-known authors.

Mary DeMuth at Religion News Service.

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Thoughts on Complete Education

Your work and career are a part of your life,” he said when I met with him and the Santa Fe president, Mark Roosevelt. “Education should prepare you for all of your life. It should make you a more thoughtful, reflective, self-possessed and authentic citizen, lover, partner, parent and member of the global economy.” I love that assessment — the precision, balance and sweep of it.

Frank Bruni, writing about St. John’s College (emphasis added). During his visit to the Santa Fe campus and his eavesdropping on some classes:

Three dynamics stood out.

The first was how articulate the students were. Something wonderful happens when you read this ambitiously and wallow in this many words. You become agile with them.

The second was the students’ focus. A group discussing Homer’s “Iliad” spent more than 10 minutes on the phrase — the idea — of someone having his “fill of weeping.” If digital devices and social media yank people from one trumpet blast to the next, St. John’s trains them to hold a note — to caress it, pull at it, see what it can withstand and what it’s worth.

The third dynamic was their humility. They weren’t wedded to their initial opinions. They weren’t allowed to be. And they moved not toward the best answer but toward better questions. In the “Iliad” and in life, is there any catharsis in revenge? Any resolution in death? Does grief end or just pause? Do wars?

Jack Isenberg, a senior, told me that St. John’s had taught him how much is unknowable. “We have to be comfortable in ambiguity,” he said.

What a gift. What an education.

(Emphasis added)

It’s now official: if I get huffy and drop the New York Times again, Frank Bruni is part of what I’d miss, along with his more conservative brethren Ross Douthat and David Brooks. (Heck, I already miss Brooks because he’s on “book leave” or some durn thing.)


I added emphasis to the preceding item for a reason:

The end of education for the religious-minded person might be seen, depending on his or her particular religion, as, say, the salvation of one’s soul, the glorification of God, the attainment of holiness or enlightenment, that is, something distinctly transcendent or spiritual. For the secular-minded person, it might be career preparation, the material betterment of humanity, self-fulfillment, that is, something distinctly temporal and material … [B]oth extremes and those in between consider education as primarily a means to these all-important ends. For this reason, they tend to characterize the transmission of knowledge and skills as the right and only model for education, with right answers, whether spiritually or materially regarded, and the most useful skills, aimed at the good of the soul or the good of the world, the only proper curriculum.

In this view, questions and questioning are important, but only when they give rise to and are aimed at definite answers. And liberal-arts disciplines, such as logic and literature, are generally a good thing to learn, but only when directed to securing desirable spiritual or worldly goods. In this way, the priority of answers, especially the right answers, and useful skills, in a school’s curriculum and pedagogy tends to render other types of questioning and other, not-so-useful skills obsolete. Open-ended questioning, speculative contemplation, and philosophical enquiry, and those skills that are deemed “useless,” such as a capacity for wonder, an appreciation of the true, the good, and the beautiful, and a grasp of the world as a whole, are either a waste of time and money, or just mere means to obtaining “right” answers and useful skills.

Thaddeus Kozinski, Questions Are Better Than Answers: On the Socratic Method.

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