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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Counter-hegemony

A fine Saturday WSJ profile of Heather MacDonald, who was only halfway onto my radar previously. She has some very plausible explanations of phenomena that swim against both progressive and conservative streams on snowflakes, Title IX Due Process, patriarchy and more.

Emphasis added.

1

Heather Mac Donald may be best known for braving angry collegiate mobs, determined to prevent her from speaking last year in defense of law enforcement. But she finds herself oddly in agreement with her would-be suppressors: “To be honest,” she tells me, “I would not even invite me to a college campus.”

No, she doesn’t yearn for a safe space from her own triggering views. “My ideal of the university is a pure ivory tower,” she says. “I think that these are four precious years to encounter human creations that you’re otherwise—unless you’re very diligent and insightful—really never going to encounter again. There is time enough for things of the moment once you graduate.”

2

Her views are heterodox. She would seem a natural ally of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” They argue that college “snowflakes” are the products of overprotective childrearing, which creates oversensitive young adults.

Ms. Mac Donald doesn’t buy it. Minority students disproportionately come from single-parent homes, so “it’s not clear to me that those students are being helicopter-parented.” To the contrary, “they are not getting, arguably, as much parenting as they need.” If anyone is coddled, it’s upper-middle- class whites, but “I don’t know yet of a movement to create safe spaces for white males.”

The snowflake argument, Ms. Mac Donald says, “misses the ideological component of this.” The dominant victim narrative teaches students that “to be female, black, Hispanic, trans, gay on a college campus is to be the target of unrelenting bigotry.” Students increasingly believe that studying the Western canon puts “their health, mental safety, and security at risk” and can be “a source of—literally—life threat.”

3

She similarly thinks conservatives miss the point when they focus on the due-process infirmities of campus sexual- misconduct tribunals. She doesn’t believe there’s a campus “rape epidemic,” only a lot of messy, regrettable and mutually degrading hookups. “To say the solution to all of this is simply more lawyering up is ridiculous because this is really, fundamentally, about sexual norms.”

Society once assumed “no” was women’s default response to sexual propositions. “That put power in the hands of females,” …

Young women … are learning “to redefine their experience as a result of the patriarchy, whereas, in fact, it’s a result of sexual liberation.”

4

What about the idea of actively enforcing viewpoint diversity? “I’m reluctant to have affirmative action for conservatives, just because it always ends up stigmatizing its beneficiaries,” Ms. Mac Donald says. Still, she’s concerned that as campuses grow increasingly hostile to conservatives, some of the best candidates may decide, as she did, that there’s no space left for them.

5

What worries Ms. Mac Donald more than the mob is the destructive power of its animating ideas. If the university continues its decline, how will knowledge be passed on to the next generation, or new knowledge created? Ms. Mac Donald also warns of a rising white identity politics—“an absolutely logical next step in the metastasizing of identity politics.”

6

I turn now to Andrew Sullivan, as I often do on Friday or Saturday.

His Friday column, The Danger of Trump’s Accomplishments, is almost perfect, but “Put a spoonful of sewage in a barrel of wine and you get sewage”:

The Republican senators likely to be elected this fall will, if anything, be even more pro-Trump than their predecessors. Corker, Flake, McCain: all gone. The House GOP will have been transformed more thoroughly into Trump’s own personal party, as the primary campaigns revealed only too brutally. And if by some twist of fate, a constitutional battle between Congress and president breaks out over impeachment proceedings, Justice Kavanaugh will be there to make sure the president gets his way.

(Emphasis added)

That ipse dixit about Brett Kavanaugh defending Trump from impeachment is vile, far beneath Sully’s usual level and, I’d wager, wrong. Moreover, it undermines the judiciary and, thus, the rule of law as surely as Democrats do when they talk as if Kavanaugh is some kind of Manchurian Associate Justice.

And — set me straight if I’m missing something — I think it’s stupid. The House impeaches; the Senate tries the impeachment. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has nothing to do with this process which, as we’ve been reminded much of late, is political despite the allusion to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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Alan Jacobs on Evangelicalism

Some very sharp observations by Alan Jacobs in a Los Angeles Review of Books interview. I’ll not highlight as you should read it all (if at all) and let Jacobs himself guide you:

I felt that [Marilynne] Robinson was, in many cases, using her entry to the liberal intelligentsia — she can always be published in the NYRB or wherever else — to be very critical of her fellow Christians, and I just wished that went the other way around. I wished she would use her opening with the liberal intelligentsia to be more critical of them.

But, I’ve got to say, there’s been a bit of a change in my thinking that can be deeply identified with the 80 percent rate at which white evangelicals — or people who call themselves evangelicals — voted for Trump. When that happened, I thought, maybe Marilynne Robinson is more right about my fellow evangelicals than I was, you know? At that point, I thought maybe I should just drop my criticism of her, she may have been right after all.

That was a very distressing moment for me. I knew there would be a lot of support for Trump simply because he was the Republican candidate. I didn’t expect it to be that high. What I expected was more of a nose-holding posture — like, I don’t like this guy, I don’t approve of his personal life, I don’t approve of many things about him, but he’s the lesser of two evils. What we got instead was a great many Christians refusing to acknowledge that there’s anything evil here at all — he’s great, he’s wonderful, he speaks for us. And I will have to admit that I was taken aback, not so much by the willingness of evangelicals to vote for him, but by the enthusiasm with which they voted for him.

And then I started looking into things a little more, because I was curious about this phenomenon. And I came to realize that a lot of people who are willing to claim the name “evangelical” are actually people who don’t go to church and couldn’t sum up what evangelical belief is. They just don’t know.

And while some see that as good news, that the people who voted for Trump aren’t really evangelicals, that’s not the lesson I took from it. The lesson I took from it is: How many of us are there? We used to think there are a lot of evangelicals in America. Maybe there aren’t very many people who are sufficiently formed in the Christian faith to be able to say what it is.

So, what does “evangelical” mean?

Right now, I have no freaking idea. [Laughs.] I couldn’t begin to tell you.

What is it supposed to mean?

So, the most classic definition is one that was coined by Scottish historian David Bebbington (you can Google the term “Bebbington quadrilateral”), and it consists of these four things: evangelicals are people who believe in a conversion experience; they believe in the authority of scripture; they have a theology centered on the cross, and Jesus’s atoning work on the cross; and, as Bebbington puts it, they engage in a theologically informed activism, they get out there and preach the gospel and try to win people over. Some have suggested revisions to that, but that’s the general thing.

And what we’re looking at now is that many of the people who call themselves “evangelical” in polls are people who actually could not in any meaningful way affirm any of those four things. But that’s not encouraging to me, because what that suggests is that there are all these people who have some kind of tribal association with the word “evangelical.” And that means that evangelical churches have allowed themselves to degenerate into a kind of tribalism, rather than theologically informed, compassionate activism.

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Friday 10/12/18

1

There is nothing new about disinformation. Unlike ordinary lies and propaganda, which try to make you believe something, disinformation tries to make you disbelieve everything. It scatters so much bad information, and casts so many aspersions on so many sources of information, that people throw up their hands and say, “They’re all a pack of liars.” As Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide and former leader of Breitbart News, succinctly put it in an interview with Bloomberg, “[T]he way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with shit.”

Although disinformation is old, it has recently cross-pollinated with the internet to produce something new: the decentralized, swarm-based version of disinformation that has come to be known as trolling. Trolls attack real news; they attack the sources of real news; they disseminate fake news; and they create artificial copies of themselves to disseminate even more fake news. By unleashing great quantities of lies and half-truths, and then piling on and swarming, they achieve hive-mind coordination. Because trolling need not bother with persuasion or anything more than very superficial plausibility, it can concern itself with being addictively outrageous. Epistemically, it is anarchistic, giving no valence to truth at all; like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading.

… By being willing to say anything, they exploit shock and outrage to seize attention and hijack the public conversation.

That last tactic is especially insidious. The constitution of knowledge is organized around an epistemic honor code: Objective truth exists; efforts to find it should be impersonal; credentials matter; what hasn’t been tested isn’t knowledge; and so on. Trolls violate all those norms: They mock truth, sling mud, trash credentials, ridicule testing, and all the rest.

Jonathan Rausch. Donald Trump is our Troll-In-Chief.

How do you balance:

  1. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and slowing of regulatory assaults on orthodox Christians; against
  2. The daily tacit denial from Trump and Sarah Sanders that there exists any such thing as objective truth and reality — “flooding the zone with shit”?

Something tells me that the long-term costs of #2 — and not just in terms of damaging the credibility of Christianity (of which Evangelicals have dubiously made themselves avatars) — outweigh and perhaps vastly outweigh the benefits of #1. I can’t yet put my finger on it; maybe it’s ineffable or self-evident.

We’ve gone from agreeing that there is “Truth” (even if we disagreed about its content), to referring to “your truth” versus “my truth,” and now we hover on the edge of the Emperor’s truth being the only truth, with the Emperor smirking as he mocks us by changing that “truth” at will.

2

Purdue University,”mother” to an astonishing proportion of early astronauts and now sporting a rather new, large and prominent Neil Armstrong engineering building and archive, is atwitter over the release of “First Man” and should be (pardon the expression) over the moon at Joe Morgenstern’s Wall Street Journal review.

Speaking of which, our local TV news, which regularly interjects inadvertent comic relief into the news, covered the Armstrong archive last night with a comment about it housing “N pieces of his life,” reminding me of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women.”

3

Pushing back against talk about Texas Evangelical women pushing Beto O’Rourke past Ted Cruz in the Senate race:

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

Bobby Ross, Jr.

It’s good that this is in print, because one can read it categorically or presumptively (had it been spoken, the inflection likely would have disambiguated it):

  • I can’t support Beto  — because he’s pro-choice ….
  • I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice ….

I believe the moral law would permit Ross’s sister, for sufficient cause, to vote for Beto despite his being pro-choice, but never because he’s pro-choice.

The decisive question is the sufficiency of Cruz’s cynicism and lying. His cynicism stinks to the heavens, but I haven’t kept a scorecard on his lying. Texans probably have a better reading on that.

4

Be it remembered that Jeff Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters for the Presidency but Trump is getting ready to replace him because he won’t corrupt the Justice Department by conducting show trials against Trump’s enemies or by firing Robert Mueller.

This is the treatment Evangelicals can expect if they ever reach a “we must obey God, not Caesar” moment. Whether they have the integrity to reach that moment is an open question.

Add this to item #1 as a reason why Trump should be voted out either in the 2020 Republican primaries or against many potential Democrat nominees in the General Election.

Since we’re apparently slow learners, though, God may ordain that 2020 be a repeat of Trump versus Hillary or maybe even Trump versus Beelzebub.

5

Be it noted, too, that Atifa, at least in Portland, has itself become a fascistic mob, just as I figured would happen in this world where every evil has a euphemistic name.

At the beginning, they came out only when conservatives, including trolls like Milo or Ann Coulter, came to town. Now they call protests, take over the streets, redirect traffic, and threaten anyone who doesn’t comply.

That’s why I say “fascistic.”

6

Consider two recent surveys released before the Senate voted Saturday to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. After the riveting Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked: “If there is still a doubt about whether the charges are true, do you think Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed?” Respondents said no by 52% to 40%.

A Harvard-Harris poll released Oct. 1 asked: “If the FBI review of these allegations finds no corroboration of the accusation of sexual assault, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?” Sixty percent said yes and 40% no, with 86% of Republicans, 58% of independents and even 40% of Democrats supporting confirmation.

The 20-point swing between these two survey questions shows public opinion is malleable ….

Karl Rove.

I doubt that we’ll really know until November 7, if then, which way the Kavanaugh hearings cut politically.

7

I’ve periodically mentioned and lamented that “Christianity” in the U.S. Seems to have just two avatars, Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.

Roman Catholicism got that status by being huge and by claiming that it is The Church uniquely (a claim attenuated since Vitican II). Its claim had purchase in the West, which knew little of the four patriarchs from whom the proto-Popes went into schism (and which now are known as “Eastern Orthodox”). You were either Catholic or ex-Catholic via the Reformation. Those were the mental options.

I just realized, though, that I had that bit of history or Evangelicalism stored away that perhaps not everyone is aware of it.

Evangelicals got their status differently. I don’t discount the Great Black Swan, Billy Graham, and the boost William Randolph Hearst decided to give him, nor the sizzle of the Moral Majority and the rest of the Religious Right (which finally brought Evangelicalism into what the press thinks of as “reality”: contentious politics).

But it started earlier. Some evangelical visionaries early on saw the evangelistic potential of radio and, later, television. They scarfed up hundreds or thousands of FCC broadcast licenses in order to preach their version of the Gospel. Try to find a “Christian” radio station that isn’t Evangelical.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Crickets)

Domination of the airwaves had a big influence on perceptions of non-Catholic Christianity.

I don’t think Evangelicals set out to eliminate other voices from the airwaves, or otherwise to delegitimize those voices. It was more positive than that: spread the Gospel. The rest is epiphenomenal.

And the chaotic internet, where licenses aren’t yet required (but see next item) will perhaps diminish Evangelicalism’s place aside Rome in the Western Christian oligarchy.

8

Late Thursday, Facebook and Twitter began what appears to be a coordinated purge of accounts trafficking in real news our masters would prefer we not know and opinions that no bien pensant should entertain. Caitlin Johnstone, aware that “censorship” proper is a government act, thinks nonetheless that the rise of corporate power and the thin line between corporate and government power make this effectively censorship in our new media age.

I’m likely to have more to say about this, but for now, Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin will suffice.

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Redworld and Blueworld

1

[W]hen Ford came forward, it’s as if her allegations landed in two different countries. The good-faith residents of Redworld were skeptical and said, “Prove it.” The good-faith residents of Blueworld believed Ford and said, “Finally, she has a chance for justice.” The presumptions were diametrically opposite, and everything that followed turned on those different presumptions.

At the very heart of “Believe women” or “Believe survivors” is a flipping of the burden of proof. It’s a mind-set that says women almost always tell the truth about sexual assault, and that the failure of the criminal- or civil-justice systems to convict or impose liability on predatory men at anything approaching their rates of predation means that fundamental legal and cultural reform is mandatory. Compounding the injustice, the very process of proving the existence of abuse—especially when claims are subject to cross-examination and public scrutiny—can revictimize the survivor.

The abuse inflicts immense pain. The system inflicts more pain. And true justice is hard to find.

Redworld rejects this view. It treats sexual abuse as a crime like any other crime. Accusers should be heard and treated with respect, but they still have to prove their cases. They’re not “survivors” or “victims” until that proof has been offered. Redworld rejects the notion that women almost always tell the truth and is also concerned for men who face allegations that can and do wreck families and end careers. They do not see men as constituting a predator class or women as a victim class. There are men who are predators and women who are victims, but each case has to be judged on its own merits. Each case stands or falls on its own evidence. And, critically, every accuser bears the burden of proof.

Now, filter everything that followed through those two prisms.

David French, who proceeds to apply those two filters to episode after episode of the saga. Even before he really got to Kavanaugh and Ford, he hooked me (i.e., I read it because he wrote it) and then set the hook with this:

While no one can doubt the viciousness of the last presidential election, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a poor proxy for the true cultural and intellectual divides between left and right.

But I find his analysis of the hearings, which were a fearful proxy, almost perfectly in alignment with what I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears (bearing in mind that I did not watch the Thursday hearing with testimony from accuser and accused).

Did it fit what you perceived?

2

How can Western culture recover the will to live when, in Europe, the churches are empty because most of the clergy no longer believe the Nicene Creed, while in the U.S. many of the most popular churches preach a therapeutic narcissism that has little to do with taking up your cross and following Jesus?  Among the ruling elites in both Europe and America, Christian faith is regarded as spiritual eczema, an unfortunate condition to be covered up in public.

William Lind, A Second Reformation?

3

Today’s new word is henotheism:

the worship of a single god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other deities.

Hellenistic Judaism and Second Temple Judaism, and especially the cult of Yahweh as it was practiced in ancient Israel and Judah during the 8th and 7th centuries BC—have been described as henotheistic.

Use it in a sentence: “People who insist ‘Muslims don’t even worship the same god as Christians!’ appear as henotheists, not as trinitarian monotheists.”

Here endeth yet another approach to a pet peeve of mine. No, I’m not suggesting that we join ISIL for a round of Kumbaya, or that we can “just get along,” but people in pulpits should be more careful about how they lead their people away from sloppy bonhomie.

4

It is remarkable that the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who in this very letter cautions against questioning the motivations of other bishops, does not hesitate to say that Archbishop Vigano is suffering from “bitterness and delusions” that have led him to inflict “a very painful wound on the Bride of Christ.”

Until very recently it was rare to see one bishop engage in such open criticism of another. No doubt Archbishop Vigano realized that he would be bringing such criticism on himself, when he dared to raise public questions about the leadership of Pope Francis. But isn’t it revealing that the bishop who has become the target for the most vituperative public criticism is not the bishop who preyed on his seminarians, nor the bishop who used diocesan funds to pay for the silence of an old lover, nor any of the bishops who lied to aggrieved parents, but the one bishop who, by telling inconvenient truths, put himself outside the protection of the clerical club?

Philip Lawler via Rod Dreher.

5

Before considering whether the Court’s legitimacy is seriously threatened, it is worth asking what exactly we mean by that. As I use the term here, a crisis of legitimacy does not happen merely because the Court makes rulings that many people hate. Such decisions are issued almost every year. Nor will it occur merely because many believe the justices’ rulings are influenced by politics (though such beliefs might help contribute to a crisis). Rather, the Court’s legitimacy undergoes serious challenge only when a strong political movement seeks to curtail the Court’s authority or take drastic measures to subordinate it to the party in power. Refusing to obey court decisions (as some nineteenth century presidents threatened to do) is an example of the first. “Court-packing” (as famously attempted by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937) is an example of the second.

Nonetheless, there are good reasons to take the looming potential threat to Court’s legitimacy seriously. The most significant is that left-liberal activists are indeed seriously considering drastic measures that were previously considered taboo, most notably court-packing ….

Ilya Somin

6

I watched several political attack ads last evening that made me say “I didn’t know that about [the attacked person]. Filtering out the tendentious rhetoric, I’m now likelier to vote for them.”

In neither case was it merely “I don’t like attack ads.” In both cases it was a matter of a fairly mainstream position being desperately spun as sinister.

7

Paul Moxley, head of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley in an Oct. 5 letter that the ABA committee is “reopening” its “evaluation” of Justice Kavanaugh. This is the same ABA committee that on August 30 gave the judge its highest rating in a report replete with praise. Now Mr. Moxley writes that this could change, given “new information of a material nature regarding temperament during the September 27th hearing”….

Wall Street Journal. There is no need for pseudo-expert ABA evaluation of what happened in public. The ABA has been controlled by progressives for 30 years or more and has increasingly marginalized itself.

8

“Trump’s Contradiction: Assailing ‘Left-Wing Mob’ as Crowd Chants ‘Lock Her Up’“. Oh, picky, picky, picky!

 

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Mildly offensive to all

1

There has been a fair amount of terse commentary in my field of vision on the question of “Is R.R. Reno correct in this assessment?” By “this assessment, I assume the reference is to the conclusion, from which I’ll quote a great deal:

I’m willing to bet that hostility toward Kavanaugh increases proportionally with socio-economic status. It is an elite rage of law professors and management consultants. It’s the rage of the powerful, which is always more dangerous than the rage of the downtrodden. It finds articulate, well-placed leaders who can draw upon fully theorized narratives of oppression. They position themselves to speak for all who resent exclusion or exploitation, actual or perceived. They draw upon an intersectionality of rage.

For this reason, the decision by the Democrats to turn the Kavanaugh hearings into a theater of rage was a dangerous ploy. Perhaps I am even over-stating the element of calculation in the decision. Because this rage affects the powerful, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, and the others may themselves be animated by it—rage’s instruments, rather than its masters. If so, the situation for the Democrats is more perilous still.

Donald Trump raises the emotional stakes of political debate. This has been the key to his political success. But his success has come at a cost. Trump’s politics of rage unsettles establishment Republicans. Staid suburban voters who are moderate conservatives see Trump as a destabilizing figure in our body politic, putting a hard ceiling on his support.

In this context, Democrats have much to gain by presenting themselves as the responsible adults, the ego to Trump’s id. Dianne Feinstein and most other Democratic leaders are ultra-establishment figures with no interest in upheaval. Soon they will pivot back to playing the “responsible party” against Trump and Republican “extremism.” But the rage on display during the Kavanaugh hearings will not be easy to contain. It is fueling Leftist populism, which is on the rise. It highlights the Left’s own destabilizing politics of rage and destruction.

Ever since Trump’s ascent, the strongest arguments against him have focused on his temperamental unfitness for the presidency and his polarizing effect on our society. These are arguments for establishment competence and sobriety. In the aftermath of the rage-driven strategy to derail Kavanaugh’s appointment (quite different from the quiet, procedural tactics of Mitch McConnell, which derailed Merrick Garland’s appointment), these arguments are harder to make.

The Democrats may imagine that they, like Trump, will benefit from the politics of rage. But the Democrats’ power flows from their monopoly on the “responsible center.” The last season of leftwing rage came as the 1960s crashed to a close, and it did great harm to the Democratic Party. This time is different, in that both sides are drawing upon reservoirs of rage. But in my estimation, the Democrats will suffer more than the Republicans, because the Democrats have long been the establishment party. The politics of rage are far more likely to undermine than to renew the Ivy League–Goldman Sachs–Silicon Valley liberalism that has stood astride our politics since 1945, for rage always upsets the calculations by which establishments maintain their grip.

The analysis seems too varied to support a wager, so I’ll not play my chips. But I dread living in a country where the two major parties have become, basically, alt-right and antifa.

2

I can hear the “what about Merrick Garland” already:

Democrats file cloture on every nominee, which kicks off 30 hours of debate even if no Senator is opposed. They figure if they can’t defeat nominees they can delay and consume valuable time. Democrats have forced 117 cloture votes—versus 12 in Barack Obama’s first two years and four in George W. Bush’s.

Wall Street Journal. This is not “responsible center,” is it? Were I in Congress, I’d want to make sure there were as many adults around Trump as possible, unless my motive was letting him screw things up so badly that my odds of winning the next Presidential election reached the stratosphere.

3

Longtime readers will remember that three years ago, a reader told me his elderly mother, who spent years in a communist prison as a dissident, told him that the spirit overtaking our culture today reminds her of the years when communism came to her country.

Thinking that must be an exaggeration, I relayed that observation to a friend in the UK who defected with his wife in the 1960s from a communist country. He said that it was absolutely true. I asked him to explain that conclusion, because it made no sense to me. He said that it has to do with the willingness of people to try to destroy their opponents. With righteous mobs, aided and abetted by the media. Ideological hysteria. This was how the communist behaved. And these aging former dissidents, who don’t know each other, see the same thing happening in the liberal West.

(Rod Dreher, The Media & The Mob)

4

Oh, dear! At least one person is not fawning over Nikki Haley during her lame duck period:

But because she only advocates establishment-sanctioned mass murders (and perhaps partly because she wears the magical “Woman of Color” tiara), Haley can be painted as a sane, sensible adult-in-the-room by empire lackeys who are paid to normalize the brutality of the ruling class. While you still see Steve Bannon routinely decried as a monster despite his being absent from the Trump administration for over a year, far more dangerous and far more powerful ghouls are treated with respect and reverence because they know what to say in polite company and never smoked cigars with Milo Yiannopoulos. All it takes to be regarded as a decent person by establishment punditry is the willingness to avoid offending people; do that and you can murder as many children with explosives and butterfly bullets as your withered heart desires.

Haley will be departing with a disgusting 75 percent approval rating with Republicans and 55 percent approval with Democrats, because God is dead and everything is stupid. It is unknown who will replace her once she vacates her position (I’ve got my money on Reaper drone in a desk chair), but it’s a safe bet that it will be someone who espouses the same neoconservative imperialist foreign policy that this administration has been elevating since the beginning. Whoever it is should be watched closely, as should the bipartisan beltway propagandists whose job it is to humanize them.

Caitlin Johnstone, Empire Loyalists Grieve Resignation Of Moderate Psychopath Nikki Haley.

5

A non-trivial number of Evangelical women in Texas are supporting Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz. Two vignettes feature competing baby-centered narratives:

“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke, one of Ms. Mooney’s friends, confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”

Ms. Clarke, who sells candles poured by refugee women in Dallas, began to weep as she recalled visiting a migrant woman detained and separated from her daughter at the border.

Plenty of white evangelical women still support Mr. Cruz. Pam Brewer, who leads women’s ministries at Mr. Jeffress’s First Baptist Dallas, does because she wants to end legalized abortion and increase border security, to stop allowing “criminals to come kill our babies,” she said.

6

Justice Kavanaugh’s worst decision of the last month (it’s not even a close call, IMHO) was taking a victory lap with partisans Monday night. Everyone knew Trump would sully it.

Depth to which Republicans have not yet sunk: Trying to pack the court before they lost political power.

7

Reminder to the Democrats: There are good people who could actually vote for Democrats, but who don’t do so currently, because of your friends of feticide platform.

(Lurking background concern for some of us: your little-remarked transformation into the secularist party as the Republicans transformed into the Religious Right and then, mirabile dictu, the Trump party. But you’ll not cease friendship with feticide until that secularism moderates, and the GOP’s “religion” currently is so toxic, that this concern merely lurks.)

8

Noble is right to say that society sends me on a quest for authenticity. Wisdom sends me on a quest to know myself. They are utterly different adventures. Society wants me to be my true self, philosophy demands I be as I should be.

John Mark Reynolds in part of a series of comments on Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness.

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Guilty of being accused (and more)

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Emphasis added)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

Michael Gerson (emphasis added)

 

3

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

 

4

Astonishing to normal people:

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

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

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

 

5

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

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

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

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

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

 

6

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

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

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

 

7

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

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

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

 

8

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

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Can a perv be a great leader?

Tanya Selvaratnam’s whole story of sexaul abuse by disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is creepy but feels timely.

For my money, though, these are the creepiest parts:

  • Three of my close friends told me to keep quiet because Eric’s work was so important to the progressive cause. “We need him,” one said.
  • The months since then have not been easy. I’ve dealt with rebukes from friends, family and strangers telling me I should have shut up or that it was my fault.

In a country where progressives rallied around Bill Clinton despite his predations, and where whit Evangelicals now variously accommodate or enthusiastically support Donald Trump, this kind of thing does not surprise me.

But it offends me.

It offends me partly because I remember how Schneiderman served the progressive cause: with lots of abusive lawsuits, jawboned in the limelight he so loved. Kamala Harris did the same thing on the other Left Coast, and how she’s obviously angling for the Presidency in 2020.

On the other side, Trump serves something-or-other (it’s nothing I’d call “conservative”) by nonstop lying and sociopathic cruelties, with a limelight-seeking narcissism that makes Schneiderman’s pale in comparison.

And it offends me, too, because I don’t think a pervert (“My bad, bad girl, Daddy’s going to rape you.”), constant liar or sociopath ultimately can be a fit executive, and I’m apparently a real outlier on that one, with few allies either Right or Left.

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

Greg Coles.

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What kind of crummy miracle is this!?

Jesus answered and said to [John the Baptist’s disciples], ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” (Lk 7: 20-23)

… wait a minute … The poor were not “made prosperous,” or at least given a steady income? Wouldn’t that be the “cure” for them? But no, the poor “had the gospel preached to them.”

The point I’m making is that material poverty is not an “affliction” our Lord promises to “heal” materially.

Sr. Vassa Larin, The Gospel and Prosperity (emphasis added).

Sr. Vassa’s quick observation that “material poverty is not an ‘affliction’ our Lord promises to ‘heal’ materially” left me wanting more, and before the day was over, I got more.

Father Steven Freeman in a podcast (I think it was an older one I hadn’t yet heard) noted that Christ made the lame walk, not fly. Christ restored the truth of things, mended brokenness. He didn’t lower himself to cheap parlor tricks.

This brought to mind some of the things C.S. Lewis wrote about Christ’s miracles as well. For instance, I believe he commented on the miraculous change of water into wine at the wedding at Cana (I can’t find the Lewis passage) as being what God always does — though He usually uses sunlight, soil and time — so that there’s a fitness to Christ’s miracles in a way missing in some miraculous stories from other religious traditions.

Is there anything broken about poverty? Is a rich man whole in a sense that the poor man lacks? Apparently neither our Lord nor His Apostle James thought so. (The scriptures make clear, though, that relief of poverty is a Christian duty.)

So in what sense does preaching the gospel to the poor restore the truth of things or mend brokenness? I’m not sure there’s any deficit unique to the poor that the preaching of the gospel addresses, but there’s a deficit in us all. Our truth is that we were made for union with God. Our brokenness is that we are alienated instead. And that’s where the preaching of the Gospel is exact what the poor need — as do all of us.

 

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Potpourri (mostly political) 9/25/18

1

I apologize if I’ve quoted this before, but I’m a retired lawyer, I’ve watched SCOTUS for decades, and I can’t stop mulling this over.

Here goes:

I can imagine two operative standards for a nominee in Kavanaugh’s shoes. One is what we might call the minimally convincing standard—which we can loosely define as a showing just powerful enough to align the few uncommitted Republicans with the already-declared Republicans and thus assure confirmation.

The other let’s call the no-asterisks standard—that is, a showing sufficiently powerful that a reasonable person will not spend the years of Kavanaugh’s service mentally doubting his integrity or fitness for the role he is playing. It is a showing sufficient for a reasonable pro-choice woman to believe it legitimate—if not desirable—for Kavanaugh to sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade, or for a sexual-assault victim, whatever she may think of his views, to believe it legitimate for him to hear her appeal.

Putting it all together, Kavanaugh’s task strikes me as an unenviable one. He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.

Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic.

I have called this article “clarifying,” and I particularly had these passages in mind. But now I’m wondering.

We’re all aware of the high levels of polarization in the country. Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono says she disbelieves Kavanaugh’s denial of Dr. Ford’s accusation because she doesn’t like his ideology. On the other side, we have Donald Trump predicting he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it.

Consider Hirono and those blasé Times Square bystander archetypes. Where is the archetypal “reasonable person” (or “reasonable pro-choice woman”) who hasn’t already made up his or her mind on the Kavanaugh nomination, or whose opinion of his qualifications (not some political calculus) has materially changed because of the accusations against him?

If you were already inclined to trust Kavanaugh, the evidence against him is weak enough to justify rallying to his side. (“How dare these liberals engage in dirty tricks against this smart, decent family man who’s devoted his life to the law!”) But if you were already inclined to distrust him, the evidence against him is strong enough to justify feeling vindicated. (“You mean the guy who seems eager to gut women’s reproductive rights shows a pattern of misogyny and violence againéé women? No kidding!”)

Damon Linker.

Who thinks that they’ll watch Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh without a glimmer of confirmation bias?

Can any justice be confirmed in this toxic atmosphere without an asterisk by his or her name? (“Hey! I’m reasonable! I think he’s guilty as hell! He’s just the type!”)

Can any conservative man be confirmed without accusations of sexual improprieties? If it comes from an old acquaintance rather than a total stranger, won’t it always come packing an asterisk?

There’s an aphorism about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s on my mind these days.

2

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently told an audience that there must be a way that cryptographers hadn’t thought of yet to securely guarantee that law enforcement could unlock encrypted devices. He proclaimed “We put a man on the moon” in trying to make the point that if mathematicians and scientists could do that, surely they could find a way to build a secure encryption backdoor. But after decades of research and debate, the experts overwhelmingly agree: trying to build a secure backdoor would be like asking NASA’s to safely land a human on the sun. It’s not possible.

Robyn Greene

3

If Trump fires Rosenstein, he gets rid of the guy who has been Robert Mueller’s main protector at Justice. Yet firing him on charges of insubordination means believing that the Fake News got the story about Rosenstein’s 25th Amendment musings right. This may be the ultimate Trumpian dilemma.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

4

The clear implication of the [ad’s] sumptuous red lipstick and the impossibly tall high-heel is that a woman’s womb, ovaries, and breasts are recreational equipment which it would be unthinkable to waste on nurturing a new human being. Maybe when these organs are older and starting not to work so well, they can be used for making and nourishing babies—after a few rounds of chemical fertility treatment, of course. But right now, it’s party time. It’s me time. It’s little black dress time.

Because sex is fun, right? And it’s even more fun when there’s an edge of risk in it, which is why we end up with “emergency contraception” ads in the Underground and an epidemic of STDs. But what’s the purpose of all these cocktails and clubbing? Why do people devote so much of their lives to finding someone with whom to rub bodies if they’re not interested in what body-rubbing was designed to create?

Or take for example this WebMD article about “emergency contraception,” which suggests a woman might want to use it if she had sex and “something went wrong.” Could you run that by me again? In what other instance do we describe body systems accomplishing their intended functions by saying “something went wrong”? ….

G. Shane Morris, If You Don’t Want Kids, Don’t Have Sex (or Get Married).

Caveat: Do not ever think that my quoting something from Shane Morris implies that I agree with him more than about half the time. Some day, I may even unload on him about something in the other half.

5

… I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough … Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.

Otherwise, you might say I’m his No. 1 fan.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

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