Inauguration Day

At noon today, to my extreme delight, the abominable and detestable Donald Trump was finally deprived of the White House (he actually left earlier) and the symbolic and substantive accoutrements thereof (which he retained until noon).

I am less delighted that the price we pay for that is Joe Biden.

But to my countrymen who are Democrats: Thanks. You surely could have done much worse than Biden from the perspective of an observant Orthodox Christian who still, reflexively and by conviction, leans conservative, especially on cultural issues.

Over the next four years, I will criticize Biden, and if Kamala Harris plays an active role, I’m likely to more harshly criticize her (based on her track record, which I assume reflects her actual convictions and wasn’t just pandering a bit to the California Left). But I will remember the alternative, too.

I hope that the Republicans don’t engage in obstructionism to pander to their own bane, a substantial number of Flight 93/MAGA/QAnon ideologues who profess the sheer evil of all things Democrat. The nation needs massive cooperation across the aisles from those (few? many?) of good will in both major parties.

Let’s leave it there and enjoy today’s celebrations.

Brave New World and its enemies

COME AND TAKE MY TURKEY, Ted Cruz exclaimed in one of the most asinine tweets ever shared on a platform that specializes in asininity. Dan Crenshaw said that Thanksgiving COVID restrictions should be met with organized resistance from individuals and businesses that feel unfairly oppressed. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) echoed this call to flout the law, applauding a sheriff who is choosing not to enforce it. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) wanted to prove that he could put on his big-boy pants by himself this year, saying “I will do whatever I want on Thanksgiving.”

Well here’s the deal, Chip and Lee and Dan and Ted: We all want to do what we want this Thanksgiving. But one thing that most people have learned by the time they are adults is that they don’t get to do whatever they want whenever they want. And this year, we are in the middle of a fucking pandemic that has killed over 260,000 people and is once again starting to overwhelm hospitals around the country, so our wants and desires conflict with the broader interests of our nation. It’s a concept that grown men would understand.

There’s No War on Thanksgiving – The Bulwark


[Aaron] said that he and his wife don’t allow their children to have smartphone access, and are criticized for it by others in their community. It’s as if the adults have decided among themselves that protecting their children from the basilisk is too hard, so they’ve agreed, however subconsciously, to shame any parents who don’t surrender.

Aaron told me that he is grateful to this blog for many things. One thing he said stuck with me: that it reminds him that he is not crazy, that the things he sees really are happening, that he is a sane man in a world gone mad.

Rod Dreher, A Sane Man In A World Gone Mad


What happens when Biden reaches the White House? That’s a doctrinal, as well as political, question. The debate centers, in part, on a Catholic Catechism statement: “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.”

“Grave” is a crucial term, since Catholic Canon Law states that those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The current Catholic leader in Washington, D.C., is Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who on Nov. 28th will become the first African-American cardinal. He told Catholic News Service that Biden received communion during his years as vice president and, “I’m not going to veer from that.”

Gregory pledged to maintain a dialogue in which “we can discover areas where we can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree.”

Biden and the US bishops: Compromise crafted by ‘Uncle Ted’ McCarrick still in place — GetReligion

Parody

Wilton D. Gregory, the new cardinal-designate of Washington, D.C. said he would not prevent Joseph Biden, the Catholic president-presumptive who promotes abortion, from receiving Communion in the archdiocese.

“Hey, I’m a bureaucrat,” said the cardinal-designate. “It’s not as though I were a shepherd of souls or anything. If the gentleman is in peril of damnation, it’s no skin off my nose.” A twinkle in his eye, he added “We call that being pastoral.”

The cardinal-designate continued, “I don’t highlight one issue or another. It’s no different than if he supported, say, infanticide or the sexual abuse of minors.” He said that disagreements about such things as are part of “being a family, a family of faith.”

“Informed Catholics won’t be confused,” he asserted. “They’re smart. They don’t need me to tell them what the Church teaches.” When the interviewer asked about canon law, which specifies that anyone who facilitates abortion automatically incurs excommunication latae sententiae (just by the fact of doing so), the cardinal-designate replied “See? Like I said. You knew that already.”

The cardinal-designate declared, “The difficulty is that too many people want to call some Catholics unfaithful just because they discredit the faith of the Church. Like the Pope says, who am I to judge?”

“Besides,” he concluded, “non-Catholics and uninformed Catholics will respect the Church more if it doesn’t stand for anything.”

(See: In Washington, With New President, Cardinal-Designate Hopes For Dialogue)

J. Budziszewski, Parody: Cardinal-Designate Hopes for Dialogue with President-Presumptive | http://undergroundthomist.com


I just re-read Brave New World, which I consider a far more prescient dystopia than 1984.

It must have been decades since I last read it — time goes fast at my age — because I remembered so little of it. For instance, I did not remember the story of Linda and John — a big omission — or the Fordian Mass, a Neo-pagan mash-up of eucharistic worship and orgy.

In the revelatory meeting of the Savage and his fordship Mustapha Mond, I found again and again intimations of contemporary arguments I’ve read recently. Our society doesn’t look much like Huxley’s in many ways, but there are a few similarities.

“Have you read it too?” he asked. “I thought nobody knew about that book here, in England.” “Almost nobody. I’m one of the very few. It’s prohibited, you see. But as I make the laws here, I can also break them … “But why is it prohibited?” asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else. The Controller shrugged his shoulders. “Because it’s old; that’s the chief reason. We haven’t any use for old things here.” “Even when they’re beautiful?” “Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.” “But the new ones are so stupid and horrible. Those plays, where there’s nothing but helicopters flying about and you feel the people kissing.” He made a grimace. “Goats and monkeys!” Only in Othello’s words could he find an adequate vehicle for his contempt and hatred.

The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.” “Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.” “But they don’t mean anything.” “They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.” “But they’re . . . they’re told by an idiot.”


Even more than its dramatic and mystical worship, Orthodoxy is most at odds with this world in its fasts. The fundamental orientation of our modern Western world is: more, faster. There are left-wing versions of this and right-wing versions of this, and you can find them within plenty of churches. My own biases — in both my convictions and my instincts — pull me to the right, which means that I tend to be moralistic and intellectual in my Christianity. There is nothing wrong with having strong morals and cultivating the mind, but Christianity cannot be summed up in either a moral code or a philosophy (though there is a Christian moral code, and there are Christian approaches to philosophy). But that is not the whole of the Christian life and calling …

Similarly for those Christians whose biases draw them to what we identify as the political left, it is good to stand up for the weak (as Christ did), and to bring skepticism to the way we apply traditional moral codes (as Christ did, for example, when he challenged the mob about to stone the adulteress). But if we make idols of the weak and oppressed, forgetting that they too are sinners in need of a life-transforming encounter with the Word Made Flesh, or if we forget that Christ did not negate the Law, but rather fulfilled it, then we will fall short of the harmony to which we are all called.

So much of our religious anxiety is really about having to figure out how we can avoid doing the things we know we must, while still being obedient to God. We become religious minimalists, giving God only as much as we need to do to appease him, while keeping as much as we can for ourselves. This, as opposed to desiring as God himself desires. This, as opposed to living in reality.

Reconciling With The Really Real


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

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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

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).

Chickens coming home to roost

Every single goal the gay-rights movement set out to achieve in my lifetime has now been won. Gays can marry; we can serve our country openly with pride; we are categorically protected from discrimination in employment and public accommodations in every state. Many once thought it would happen in reverse order, with employment discrimination barred before civil marriage was extended to gays and lesbians, but history has its surprises. Nonetheless, it’s done. Finished. Accomplished.

The Equality Act, the key piece of Democratic legislation designed to update the 1964 Act to include gays and transgender people, is therefore moot. The core goals have been accomplished without Congress needing to pass any new laws. What Gorsuch has achieved is exactly what that bill purports to legislate — except for the Act’s attempt to gut religious freedom, by exempting its provisions from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. And that, surely, will be the remaining business: a battle between religious freedom and gay and transgender equality.

Andrew Sullivan, When Is It Time to Claim Victory in the Gay Rights Struggle?

Thus does it become salient that Evangelical fealty to Donald Trump and the GOP, flavored with Christian Nationalism, has given religion and religious freedom a particularly bad odor, and not just to the secularists of the ascendant Left.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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.

Perverse rejoicing

With a provenance like the Wall Street Journal’s “Houses of Worship” opinion series and a title like Thank God, American Churches Are Dying, you’d be justified in expecting a mix of self-conscious perversity and unhealthy, un-reflective antecedent bias.

You’d be right.

It’s true that denomination-based churches—Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic—have been on a downward slope for years. But nondenominational evangelical churches are growing in number, from 54,000 in 1998 to 84,000 in 2012 …

Fresh churches replacing and created from old ones, armed with modern ideas to attract and tend to a new generation of believers …

… The leaders … generally focus on creating churches that cater to specific needs. There is a church exclusively for employees of Disney World. Spanish-language services are more popular than ever. “House churches,” composed of neighbors meeting for informal services—usually in living rooms—are on the rise as well. Popular Christian leaders like Francis Chan, a former megachurch pastor who now advocates house churches, offer free training for this model.

Those with denominational affinity will be sad to see a certain kind of church fall away. But the success of new models shows significant groups of people looking for ways to live faithfully, albeit in a less structured way. Could this really signify a religious awakening?

Ericka Andersen.

Wow:

  • “Nondenominational evangelical[s]” (but she repeat herself)
  • “armed with modern ideas” and
  • “cater[ing] to specific needs;”even
  • a church that excludes you based on who employs you.

Yet the cockles of my heart remain ice-cold. I must be some kind of monster. All I can think of is the one holy catholic and apostolic church, and the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints without any license to pander, negotiate over it, or erect barriers around it.

I will not deny a certain je ne sais pas, a certain frisson, at the closure of some churches. And God works in mysterious ways, about which circuitousness I can be awfully dense.

But if this is truly God’s work, it surely is to use these curated, Disneyfied simulacra to prepare postmoderns for the real thing.*

I fear, though, that it’s not God’s work at all. There’s another who sometimes appears as an angel of light, and who does his best work these days with counterfeits more than with frank apostasy.

(* The article’s reference to “House Churches” doesn’t trigger quite so strong a gag reflex. Those might prove to be Benedict-Option necessity in coming darkness here, as they have elsewhere in the world.)

* * * * *

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

(Jude 3)

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.

In your heart, you know he’s wrong

Andrew Walker has written an excellent and sympathetic account of why many conservative Christians vote for Trump.

My critique has little to do with what he says about the objects he focuses on, more to do with his too-narrow field of vision:

  1. All the negative analysis of Trump is framed in terms of how wicked and intemperate his is. That’s secondary for me, as my top concern is how his extreme narcissism distorts his perception, cognition and volition. I don’t want a delusional man managing crises. I want someone who, when faced with a choice between doing right for the country and grabbing a benefit for himself, will know that there can be a difference, and is capable of putting the country first. In your heart, you know that’s not Trump.
  2. None of the analysis of the complexity of the choice mentions the possibility that our choice is not binary. Perhaps (as I think) both parties are so corrupt that it’s time to give up “let go and let God” on the short game — and by “short,” I mean the next few decades in all likelihood, and play a “longer game” politically by looking elsewhere.

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.

* * * * *

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.

This (sigh!) is as good as it gets

I’ve been waiting for decades for the orthodox to rout the progressives in a denominational split — which amounts to waiting for the progressives to overplay their hand just once.

The usual progressive ploy is to plead for dialog — again and again for as long as it takes to wear down the orthodox — then to give false assurances of pluralism once their heresy or immorality is grudgingly afforded the status of an option, then to crush the orthodox when they gain power. Or as Neuhaus’s Law puts it, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

It looks like the United Methodist split over homosexuality and same-sex marriage is as close as we’re going to get to an orthodox rout, and even there the progressives are keeping the denomination name (which may prove a blessing in the long run):

This week, a group of church leaders announced a plan for the dissolution of the worldwide church that would allow conservative congregations and conferences to leave the main body and join a new conservative denomination. Under the proposal, the UMC would give the new denomination $25 million and allow departing congregations to keep their property, and departing clergy, their pensions.

(Law & Religion Forum) Keeping property and pensions, and getting a farewell gift to boot, is a smashing victory — relatively speaking.

God bless the Africans, who forced the progressives (a majority in North America) to sue for “peace.” My great-grandchildren may someday need to be evangelized by missionaries from the global south.

* * *

I must also issue a caveat at this point, because the dominant media falsely make disputes like this a matter of good guys versus wicked homophobes.

David French provides an easy way to do so:

The true fracturing point between [progressive and orthodox] churches is over the authority and interpretation of scripture. The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause … [T]here is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.

Thus, at heart, the disagreement between the [orthodox and progressive] isn’t over issues—even hot-button cultural and political issues—but rather over theology. Indeed, the very first clause of the United Methodist Church’s nine-page separation plan states that church members “have fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice.” …

I’m not for a moment going to pretend that there aren’t homophobes and bigots in [orthodox Christianity]. I’ve encountered more than a few people who turn a blind eye to or rationalize and excuse all manner of heterosexual sin while scorning their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors. But for the thoughtful and faithful dissenters on both sides of the theological aisle, sexuality is the side issue. Differences over scriptural authority and biblical theology represent the central dispute.

Orthodox Christian sexual ethics have absolutely nothing to do with animus against gays and lesbians. In fact, there should be zero animus against any person of any sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead, the orthodox Christian sexual ethic—which reserves sex for the marriage between a man and a woman—rests on a sincere conviction that it is not only directly commanded by God through scripture, it’s also best for human flourishing, and it is symbolic of the sacred relationship between Christ and His Church.

And then caveats to the caveat:

French is an Evangelical, which characteristically (and in French’s case) involves a fair amount of parochialism and ecclesiological cluelessness. So I have modified his over-simplified contrast between Evangelicals and Mainstream Protestants to refer to orthodox and progressive more broadly.

Second, for Catholics and capital-O Orthodox, the scriptural teaching on sexuality is important but not all-important, because each Church’s tradition is consistent about the meaning of sexuality. Were I still Protestant, however, I would stand with the lower-o orthodox, because the case that scripture is unclear is dishonest. Here’s an admission against interest to that effect:

I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says… . [However] we must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture… and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.

(Pro-gay Roman Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson)

That will have to suffice, for everything eventually connect to everything else, and I don’t have an eternity to qualify and ramify.

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(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.

Book Report 2019

My total book reading for 2019 was 39 books. Highlights include three “classics”:

The Abolition of Man and Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power are always highlights, and I re-read both regularly.

I just completed book 39, and it was another highlight: Charles L. Marohn, Jr., Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. It might even merit re-reading, though its “timeless” wisdom is of a different timelessness than Lewis or Pieper.

Some excerpts from Marohn:

Let me summarize: in exchange for 26 years of tax relief, the community was able to get an out-of-town franchise restaurant to abandon their old building and move three blocks up the street where they tore down a block of buildings and replaced them with a development that is 44% less valuable than the development pattern of what was removed. By any financial measure, this is a bad investment, yet cities everywhere routinely do this exact kind of transaction.

(Page 134)

Middle-class housing subsidies and transportation spending are the bread and circuses of modern America. Americans express a preference for single-family homes on large lots along cul-de-sacs because that’s the lifestyle we subsidize. We’ve been willing to bankrupt our cities and draw down the wealth prior generations built, in order to provide that subsidy. It can’t go on forever.

(Page 145)

Planners like to describe neighborhoods with both homes and neighborhood-friendly businesses as “mixed use.” Our ancestors would simply have called them “neighborhoods.”

(Page 163)

[After noting that local governments not infrequently mistake insolvency for a mere cash flow problem.] A local government must be obsessively intentional, organized and disciplined to discern it true financial status.

I gave a presentation to a group of bond analyst from one of the large ratings agencies. I showed them how public balance sheet didn’t reflect the extent of municipal liability, that cities had under-reported amounts of maintenance obligations totaling many times the reported pension shortfalls. The analysts were stunned, professed this was new to them, and asked a lot of good questions. Then they informed for me that it wouldn’t change anything about how they rated bonds because cities don’t default on their debt – they have not defaulted en masse since the Great Depression – and that track record superseded all other considerations.

(Page 190-91)

At the national level, I tend to be libertarian. Let’s do a few things and do them very competently.

At the state level, I tend to be a Minnesota version of conservative Republican. Let’s devolve power, use market and feedback where it drives good outcomes, and let’s do limited state interventions when we have a broad consensus that things would be better by doing it. Let’s measure outcomes and hold ourselves to a high standard.

At the regional level, I tend to favor a more progressive approach. Let’s cooperate in ways that improve everyone’s lives. Let’s work together to make the world more just.

At the city level, I’m fairly progressive. What do we need to do to make this place work for everyone? Let’s raise our taxes, and put sensible regulations in place, to make that a reality.

At the neighborhood level, I’m pretty much a socialist. If there’s something I have that you need, it’s yours. All that I ask is that you do the same in return for me and my family.

At the family level, I’m completely communal. Without hesitation, I’ll give everything I have so my family has lives that are secure, happy, and prosperous. I expect nothing in return.

(Page 210)

We’re all Detroit, just a couple of decades behind. Then we’re back to living humanly — that is, making small bets, winning or losing small, learning from both wins and losses, and in general building antifragility, like we (other than Detroit) had until the postwar suburban sprawl was thrust upon us.

Next year I hope actually to hit 52 books, my unattained goal for this year. I think the news in 2020 will be so distressing, dominated as it will be by Presidential politics, that ignoring it more, in favor of books that might make me wise, will be relatively easy.

To that end I’ve recently discovered a podcast and an alternate view of the digital New York Times that expedite getting the necessary news, the latter by letting me focus on the real news of the day without digging through NYT’s “most viewed” and otherwise boosted stories day after day after day.

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(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

Wednesday, November 13

We’ve come a long way from the days when the Tea Party handed out pocket Constitutions. Now, in the interests of defending President Trump, smart people are exploiting civic ignorance to maintain the red wall against impeachment. No, that’s too mild. They’re not just exploiting civic ignorance, they’re affirmatively deceiving the American people about the content and meaning of the Constitution. They’re trying to make people believe things that plainly aren’t true. They’re making the American people less constitutionally literate.

What do I mean? Take this comment, from Rand Paul:

The Sixth Amendment is pretty clear. It’s part of the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, and it says that you get to confront your accusers. And so, I think it’s very clear that the only constitutional mandate here is, is that if someone’s going to accuse you of something that might remove the president from office, for goodness’ sake, shouldn’t they come forward and present their accusations in person?

This has become a talking point among the Trumpist right. For another—rather shocking—example, read this from Northwestern University law professor and Federalist Society co-founder Steven Calabresi:

Impeachment is a legal proceeding, and just as criminal defendants have constitutional rights in criminal trials so too does Trump have constitutional rights, which House Democrats are denying him. For example, the Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to “a speedy and public trial.” House Democrats are trying Trump in secret and are denying him the right to a public proceeding….

The Sixth Amendment also guarantees criminal defendants the right to be “informed” of the charges against them. House Democrats are not informing Trump of the charges against him and are leaking salacious information to the press.  This, too, violates Trumps rights under the federal Bill of Rights.

Moreover, the Sixth Amendment guarantees Trump the right “to confront the witnesses against him,” which right House Democrats are denying to Trump. The president has a right under current Supreme Court case law to have a public face-to-face confrontation with the witnesses against and to testify in his own defense. House Democrats are denying the president that very basic constitutional right….”

Now, compare that comment with the actual text of the Sixth Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Note the key words—“in all criminal prosecutions.” As the CATO Institute’s David Post notes, Calabresi’s argument is “utter nonsense, completely devoid of any apparent constitutional logic.” The scope and reach of the Sixth Amendment has been extensively litigated, and it most assuredly does not apply to the House’s impeachment inquiry.

One can certainly make a good faith argument that maintaining the whistleblower’s anonymity is unfair, but to argue that it violates the Sixth Amendment is simply and plainly wrong.

But this Sixth Amendment nonsense is only the tip of the iceberg of constitutional confusion. Take these paragraphs from a recent piece by Victor Davis Hanson:

The “inquiry,” supposedly prompted by President Trump’s Ukrainian call, is only the most recent coup seeking to overturn the 2016 election.

Usually, the serial futile attempts—with the exception of the Mueller debacle—were characterized by about a month of media hysteria. We remember the voting-machines-fraud hoax, the Logan Act, the Emoluments Clause, the 25th Amendment, the McCabe-Rosenstein faux coup and various Michael Avenatti-Stormy Daniels-Michael Cohen psychodramas. Ukraine, then, isn’t unique, but simply another mini-coup.

He later argues that “We are witnessing constitutional government dissipating before our eyes.” Words have meaning, and impeachment isn’t a “coup.” A coup is an unlawful (often violent) seizure of power. Impeachment is a constitutional process that can’t succeed without the affirmative votes of, first, a majority of the House, and then, a supermajority of the Senate—and every person voting is a person who won an election, also according to constitutional process. Impeachment isn’t the dissipation of constitutional government, it’s the exercise of constitutional authority.

And no, if Trump is impeached and convicted (highly unlikely), it doesn’t “overturn” the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton won’t be president. Every one of the laws, judicial confirmations, and regulations enacted during the entirety of Trump’s term would remain in place.

If one took literally the complaints of serious senators, law professors, and historians (and why wouldn’t you? They’ve spent a lifetime demonstrating their constitutional knowledge), you’d believe that House Democrats were currently engaged in an illegal, unconstitutional proceeding. If you’re a partisan, you already likely despise Democrats. And now they’re engaged in a “coup”? Outrageous!

Yes, I know that there’s a longstanding tradition of hyperbole in American political rhetoric, but there’s a difference between exaggerations and plainly false constitutional assertions. Moreover, while people expect hyperbole from Sean Hannity or any other screaming Trump defender on talk radio, the same ideas from the pen of a respected historian sends a message that “this really is a coup.” It’s not. It’s not even close.

If you follow social media in the age of Trump, you’ve likely noticed a pattern. When there’s a report of an alleged Trump scandal, there’s often a brief pause on MAGA Twitter and in MAGA Facebook. One set of defenders waits patiently for the media overreaction, ready to pounce on the first blue checkmark who goes too far or misstates the alleged facts. Another set waits for a credentialed or credible person to toss a word salad for Trump—granting them a “well akshually” fig leaf that they can trot out as a talking point online.

“Akshually, the founder of the Federalist Society says Trump has a constitutional right to confront the whistleblower.”

“Akshually, a Hoover Institution senior fellow and esteemed historian recognizes impeachment as a coup.”

This sets up the debate as a battle of experts, and we all know that when there’s a battle of experts, the expert you like tends to win—regardless of whether he’s despoiling his expertise.

 

David French.

Every Republican who makes “plainly false constitutional assertions” to defend Donald Trump is a traitor to his oath to uphold the Constitution.

Such was the status of Weimar America at the end of Wednesday. It got worse Friday, with the President Tweeting out witness-intimidating lies (“exercising my freedom of speech”) about a career diplomat who was on the witness stand at that very moment.

* * * * *

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.

Norms

The main difference between Trump and his predecessors is that the professional class / deep state / neoliberal order / whatever-you-want-to-call-it is fluent in a language that imposes a kind of regulative fiction on that chaos. Their fluency gives them a patina of legitimacy and not a little power over the less fluent, which comforts some normies but also drives conspiratorial thinking. Trump and a lot of the people around him lack this fluency and have no interest in cultivating it.

Mark Hemingway, quoting an unnamed friend.

I came across this via Wall Street Journal’s “Notable & Quotable.” I don’t regularly visit Federalist.com (not affiliated with the Federalist Society; I’d be worried for the Society if it were), but this column from there really is very good because:

  1. It gives me a plausible version of why 40% of my countrymen are adamant Trump voters without inviting me to despise them.
  2. It articulates my suspicions about the brokenness of our system being hidden by one aspect of what Hemingway’s friend calls “regulative fiction.”
  3. In so doing, it clarifies the stakes in the 2020 Election.

I mean all of that sincerely.

But there are big problems when you sit with the column a while.

First, Hemingway too easily elides our system’s brokenness into corruption. Then he compares the pre-Trump system’s brokenness to Trump’s corruption, though I think the two are incommensurable. And he poses a false dichotomy intended to favor Trump (or at least to muddy the waters about his awfulness).

Hemingway puts the choice in 2020 thusly (and this is some of what the Wall Street Journal quoted):

So then, do we live with Trump, who lays bare all the problems with what happens when naked self-interest collides with power? Or do we tell ourselves some “regulative fiction” that pretends those who populate our sprawling administrative state are somehow above their own selfish impulses and can be counted on to act in the best interests of voters, when that is plainly untrue? …

If you’re wondering how Trump voters can continue to ignore Trump’s issues, it’s not even obvious to lots of voters that Trump opponents and D.C. institutionalists … are an obvious contrast to Trump even as a matter of personal corruption.

Q: “Lays bare all the problems with what happens when naked self-interest collides with power” has the (sole?) virtue of avoiding the passive voice, but what does its odd active voice actually mean?

A: It means that Trump is nakedly using his power to advance his own self-interest. “Nakedly” turns it into a relative virtue, I guess.

Q: Why must I tell myself some “regulative fiction” if I reject Trump?

A: I need not. I can (I did it before, and can do it again) allow that corruption happens even when a toxic narcissist sociopath fraudster isn’t in the White House.

The only alternative to “no government corruption” ultimately is “no government,” and Hemingway must learn the craft of distractive hand-waving much better if he wants to make me forget that.

In a similar vein, Victor Davis Hanson played whataboutism with Democrat sexual misbehavior to distract us from Trumpian sexual, financial and political corruption:

Again, why the unadulterated hatred? For the small number of NeverTrumpers, of course, Trump’s crudity in speech and crassness in manner nullify his accomplishments: the unattractive messenger has fouled an otherwise tolerable message.

While they recognize in the abstract that the randy JFK, the repugnant LBJ, and the horny Bill Clinton during their White House tenures were far grosser in conduct than has been Donald Trump, they either assume presidential ethics should have evolved or they were not always around to know of past bad behavior first hand, or believe Trump’s crude language is worse than prior presidents’ crude behavior in office.

“Nullify his accomplishments?” I think not. I’m grateful for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and many lower-court Federal judicial appointments as well, and I regard the good economic news the same way I regard it under other Presidents who get lucky.

And it’s not crude language versus crude behavior; it’s crude language and crude behavior versus crude behavior.

Oh: Plus the matter of open versus secret.

  • JFK didn’t commit adultery with Marilyn Monroe on national television. Bill Clinton had Ms. Lewinsky service him in private, and hotly denied sexual relations with her until a now-famous blue dress exposed his hair-splitting. Both louts conducted themselves in public with a modicum of dignity.
  • I am relatively un-scandalized by our leaders discreetly enriching themselves and their family members. I am appalled when a leader brazenly announces that the G-7 Summit will be hosted at his resort, or claims that a smoking gun phone conversation transcript was “beautiful,” or “perfect,” or whatever terms he used to gaslight us.

This world is fallen. Our rulers are flawed (as are we). The adulteries and corruption are inevitable, but I do not consider it good to have my nose (and everyone else’s) rubbed in dirty realities by a sociopathic narcissist. It is not better to put them on open, defiant, norm-shattering display. “Regulative fiction” seems like a fairly benign way of saying “humankind cannot bear very much reality,” or “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.”

I prefer a flawed ruler who feigns virtue to one who blatantly makes a virtue of vice and brags that he has never asked God for forgiveness because he hasn’t done anything wrong enough to need forgiving.

If you think brazenness makes vice more virtuous, you’re not my idea of a conservative. You’re a bomb-thrower — a tearer-down of what millennia have built up.

Thanks for helping me clarify that, Mark.

Of course we do still face the prospect that the alternative to Trump will be the furthest Left President we’ve ever elected, with all that entails (including the execrable “Equality Act,” which has legitimately become a factor to weigh seriously). But if politics is downstream of culture, the Hemingway and Hanson whataboutisms fall short of making Democrats sound culturally worse than Donald Trump.

* * * * *

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.

Tragedy and Triumph

Beto O’Rourke says, in the special Thursday Democrat Pander-O-Thon for LGBT votes, that churches, colleges and charities should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

That’s the succinct version. But I wouldn’t blog if that’s all I had to say.

Liberals will say, “Don’t worry about it. Beto is scraping the bottom of the polls. What he says doesn’t really matter.”…

This conservative said that, too, but

… Huh. Don’t you believe it. If this belief isn’t already held by all the Democratic candidates now, it will be. As Brandon McGinley says, there really is no principled reason to resist it, given what the Democrats already believe about the sanctity of homosexuality and transgenderism. Haven’t we all lived long enough now to recognize that the Law of Merited Impossibility — “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it” — is as irrefutable as the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Even at this late date, we hear from many liberals that orthodox Christians are “obsessed” with homosexuality. They can’t grasp why, aside from bigotry, that we are so concerned about the issue. It’s largely because the march of LGBT ideology to conquer our culture tramples over the rights of orthodox/traditionalist religious people, and indeed of anybody who objects to whatever claim LGBTs make.

What Beto O’Rourke said last night is a perfect example of why many orthodox Christians who despise Donald Trump will vote for him anyway. The survival of our institutions depends on keeping the Democrats out of the White House (and Congress) for as long as we can ….

Rod Dreher (emphasis added).

Insofar as Dreher is describing why many Christians will hold their noses and vote for Trump, he is surely right.

Insofar as he is saying that the survival of our Christian institutions hinges on Donald Trump’s reelection, he is selling God short.

But this is admittedly a situation with high stakes, where the horrible terribleness of Donald Trump has emboldened the Democrats to veer sharply to their left and to promise their base the heads of orthodox Christians on a platter.

Trust in God comes hard in these circumstances, and the trusting ones need to abandon any illusion that Romans 8:28 means only good things happen to those who love and are called by God.

I’m still strongly inclined never to vote for Trump, come whatever may.

It’s not just “all things considered and on balance.” It’s a question of my ingrained, pre-theoretical ethical orientation. I just couldn’t vote for Richard Nixon, in my first Presidential election, once I’d concluded he was a crook. 47 years later, with a bit more ethical theory under my belt and a lot less starry eyes in my residual optimism, I still cannot begin to articulate a convincing deontological or virtue ethics argument for voting for Trump, and I reject Dreher’s implicit consequentialism.

I’d encourage any Christian readers inclined to vote for Trump to grapple with articulating at ethical case for voting for Trump, aware that consequentialism squares pretty badly with Christianity.

On the other hand, my scriptures (the Christian scriptures before the Reformers bowdlerized them — see this, for instance) do include this bit of consequentialism:

A large force of soldiers pursued them, caught up with them, set up camp opposite them, and prepared to attack them on the Sabbath.

There is still time, they shouted out to the Jews. Come out and obey the king’s command, and we will spare your lives.

We will not come out, they answered. We will not obey the king’s command, and we will not profane the Sabbath.

The soldiers attacked them immediately, but the Jews did nothing to resist; they did not even throw stones or block the entrances to the caves where they were hiding. They said,

We will all die with a clear conscience. Let heaven and earth bear witness that you are slaughtering us unjustly.

So the enemy attacked them on the Sabbath and killed the men, their wives, their children, and their livestock. A thousand people died.

When Mattathias and his friends heard the news about this, they were greatly saddened and said to one another,

If all of us do as these other Jews have done and refuse to fight the Gentiles to defend our lives and our religion, we will soon be wiped off the face of the earth.

On that day they decided that if anyone attacked them on the Sabbath, they would defend themselves, so that they would not all die as other Jews had died in the caves.

(Emphasis added)

Make of that passage what you will. It does seem a pretty consequentialist, and Judas Maccabeus remains a mythical hero.

Maybe the polls in your state will say, in 13 months, that your state’s a toss-up, so that choosing between evils feels compulsory.

What I make of the passage from I Macabees is that I at least must be gentle with fellow-Christians who vote for Trump or (because of his horrible terribleness) his Democrat opponent — and that I should hope and pray that they will recognize such a vote as at best a tragic, not triumphant.

* * * * *

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.