The Equality Act

When I listen to news, I listen to NPR. I’m aware of its liberal bias, which manifests in how it covers news but also — and this is too rarely appreciated — what it considers "newsworthy" in the first place.

But NPR really dropped the ball on the Equality Act, which comes up for vote in the U.S. House today. Its story doesn’t even mention opposition based on the certain (not speculative) effect of requiring that male-to-female transgender persons be permitted to compete in athletic events against biological women.

A guest opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal identifies other problems besides the Act’s adverse effect on religious and conscience rights:

The Equality Act would threaten the existence of women’s prisons, public-school girls’ locker rooms, and women’s and girls’ sports teams. It would limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and scientific inquiry. It would threaten the rights of physicians who doubt the wisdom of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures, and parents who seek to protect their minor children from such treatment.

This isn’t hyperbole. Similar state laws have already resulted in such harm. In California, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits for declining to perform life-altering “gender affirmation” surgery in September 2016. In Connecticut, two biologically male athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, allegedly taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners in June 2019. Alaska’s Equal Rights Commission opened an investigation into a women’s shelter after it turned away a biological male in September 2019. H.R. 5 would impose the most extreme form of these laws on the whole country.

The bill is so broad that even some who support the measure in principle have called for Congress to carve out exceptions. Writing in the Washington Post in 2019, tennis legend and activist Martina Navratilova asked Congress to exempt athletic competitions. “The reality,” Ms. Navratilova wrote, “is that putting male- and female-bodied athletes together is co-ed or open sport. And in open sport, females lose.”

Women forced to compete against male athletes risk not only losing competitions, but also serious injury. Ask Tamikka Brents, whose orbital bone was fractured by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in the latter’s first professional fight as a woman. Ms. Brents said she felt “overwhelmed” by the fight.

The reason that some contexts require separation of the sexes is obvious: Women have unique physical vulnerabilities. Female inmates are kept separate from male inmates for just this reason. How can we possibly reduce the number of sex crimes against women if the law refuses to recognize such basic differences?

Under the guise of fairness, the Equality Act would forbid policy makers from ever taking into consideration the differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and equality of the sexes.

The Equality Act isn’t about protecting people from discrimination; it’s about compelling adherence to gender ideology. Don’t let its name fool you.

The Equality Act Makes Women Unequal – WSJ

Religious freedom was once held in such high esteem that Congress was almost unanimous on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act less than 30 years ago, and Bill Clinton supported it and signed it. Today, it generally appears in scare quotes, often with intensifiers (e.g., "so-called ‘religious freedom’"), and is to the cultural left a bugaboo like saying "George Soros" to the cultural right.

NPR mis-reported the primary objections to The Equality Act, a bit of liberal groin piety analogous to tax cuts on the right, and I can’t help but suspect that they did so to "poison the well." Selma envy is alive and well as a prime motivation of today’s progressivism.

Another curated collection

There’s another strange point that I would add, and maybe we’ll talk about this a little bit more because it does touch on broader issues, but it would be a strange doctrine indeed [if] every time the government takes over a new function and starts to contract about it, the scope of free exercise or free speech rights just automatically shrinks. Because that would mean that in order for the government essentially to do what it wants it just has to occupy the field on any particular field …
The growth of the administrative state has been putting a lot more pressure on the exercise of religion, and this would be a good example of that. And this came up in oral argument: Justice Barrett asked this question at one point, “well could the city just take over running all the hospitals and then say that ‘we’re going to contract it out and everybody has to agree with our terms’?”

Marc O. DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian, respectively, Legal Spirits Episode 028: Oral Argument in Fulton v. Philadelphia – LAW AND RELIGION FORUM, starting at about the 12:05 mark (hyperlink added).

Fulton is last Wednesday’s SCOTUS oral argument over Philadelphia taking over foster care and then banning Catholic Social Services because, had a hypothetical gay couple (or any unmarried couple) shown up seeking to foster or adopt, CSS would have referred them elsewhere. Oh, the horror!

It was a strange oral argument, though, as noted both by these two and by David French and Sarah Isgur last week on Advisory Opinions (starting at 49:00).


“There’s a lot of parallels between a community that’s 96% Hispanic and a community that’s 96% white,” said Freddy Guerra, a former mayor of nearby Roma[, Texas]. “Racism is not something that people deal with in Starr County because everybody’s brown. Climate change isn’t something they feel. They prefer bread on the table.”

Elizabeth Findell, How Democrats Lost So Many South Texas Latinos—the Economy – WSJ

This reminds me of my six weeks in Europe and the British Isles in 1968, touring with the Wheaton College Men’s Glee Club.

When we were in Belfast and Northern Ireland more generally, I (good Protestant boy though I was) was appalled at the anti-Catholic bigotry. I was not surprised when the Catholics started fighting back the next year — The Troubles.

Ireland to the south, in contrast, was tolerant of its Protestant minority.

Seeking some explanation other than intrinsic Catholic tolerance (an answer that I’d have found most uncongenial at that point in my life), I was told that it was pretty simple: Protestants were too few in Ireland to worry about, while Catholics were a very large part of Northern Ireland.

I guess our American polarization could be caused by either of two things:

  • No place is so nearly homogenous as Ireland; there’s no place where a dissident minority can be ignored; or
  • We don’t perceive the United States as a bunch of places, so any dissent from our views anywhere is a threat.

Maybe there are other options, or maybe I’m generalizing too hastily.


A great cry went up from Orthodox throats across the globe earlier this year when the Turkish government repurposed Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. The cry was an echo of May 29, 1453, when the city of Constantinople fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. That day, and its pain, have remained an iconic tragedy of a lost world and an abiding sadness. No one dared ask that the Church be returned to use as a Church – better a museum than a mosque. In truth, even as a museum, the loss remains intense. What is lost is not real estate, a building. It is the right place of beauty in the Christian experience. That loss is repeated in museums across the Western world.

Years ago, as a young Anglican priest, I visited the art museum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC (my home town). With me was an Anglican monk. Together we made our way through a surprising collection of Italian Church art, and, at the time, one of the largest collections of Russian icons outside of the Soviet Union. Guards followed us carefully through the museum – not that we were perceived as potential thieves. Rather, I think, we were perceived as potential idolaters. That “Christian” museum was, in many ways, a parallel of Hagia Sophia.

The Russian icons at Bob Jones were originally created not just as exemplars of an abstract beauty, but as objects of veneration. They were (and are) “windows into heaven.” The Fathers said of icons that they “make present that which they represent.” They are a means of communion. In the museum-world of modernity, what is contemplated is our own feelings and thoughts. Beauty becomes “art,” serving only our self-gratification.

That which is made present in an icon is perceived only in the act of veneration. In that action, the one who sees also participates through the extension of the self towards that which is made present ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Museums, Churches, and My Back Yard – Glory to God for All Things (emphasis added).

The reminder that a lot of museum’s misappropriate stuff (legally) was chastening. And I can’t resist poking a bit at BJU given a legitimate opportunity.


I corrected a shocking omission in my education today by finally reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, A World Split Apart:

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to his readers, or to his history — or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist usually always gets away with it. One may — One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none — and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on in the readers’ memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification.

The press — The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary.

More:

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people giving their contribution to public life … There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of a petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

Still more:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.


I also read some less enduring stuff.

The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.

Former Republican President George W. Bush, in a statement congratulating Joe Biden for winning the presidency, quoted in Knowhere News

Only in the fevered mind of Donald Trump is this statement not admirable, but I’ll be surprised if Trump hasn’t mean-Tweeted it.


The fine print on the campaign’s website shows that 60 percent of contributions to Trump’s new “Election Defense Fund” will actually be diverted toward retiring his campaign’s debt, and Axios reported last night that the president plans to “hold campaign-style rallies … in an effort to prolong his fight against apparent insurmountable election results.”

The Morning Dispatch: Biden Calls for Unity


Did you even read past the first sentence? Or are you just purposely lying so you can talk tough? No one said give up. I literally said investigate every irregularity and use the courts. You’re a member of Congress now, Marjorie. Start acting like one.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw to Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spouted some chest-thumping misrepresentation of Crenshaw on Twitter.

Thank you, Mr. Crenshaw.


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


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).

“Because of … Sex”

I’ve tried to let go of my anxieties about things beyond my control, and I’m not doing too badly in my effort.

Part of my calm comes, ironically, from some political realism (call it fatalism if you must): my side lost the culture wars, at least for now and the near future, so there will be adverse legal and political consequences.

Those consequences likely will be worse because so many of the noisesome avatars of American Christianism have been humping Trump’s leg for 42 months, evoking disgust from normal and Left-abnormal alike.

That I wasn’t among them will give no impunity, partly because, God willing, if a knock comes in the night I’ll not say “No! Not me! I’m not that kind of Christian!” Like ’em or not, the leg-humpers are my distant spiritual kin, so to deny them in time of great peril is like denying Christ.

Another bit of calm comes from the realization that, consequences or not, for now and the near future cultural conservatives, mostly Christian, will almost certainly have it incomparably better than most Christians in the past. (This also means that “knock in the night” is pretty unlikely.)

By “past,” I do not mean “since the birth of Evangelicalism in the 18th and 19th century Great Awakenings.” I mean 2000 years of Christianity. Commemorating the Martyrs and Confessors in Matins each week has taught me that. Real believers will survive and perhaps thrive — although things could get worse than I imagaine so they’ll thrive by departing to be with Christ;  “winsome” don’t always feed the devil-dawg’s bloodlust.

But “not anxious” doesn’t mean “disinterested,” and I’m pretty keenly interested in yesterday’s Title VII  decision (hereafter “Bostock“).

“Not anxious” also doesn’t mean “oblivious” to ramifications that are going to roil the nation for a while. The ones that most get my attention are not the ramifications under Title VII, which deals with discrimination in employment in details I’m unfamiliar with, but ramifications on what sex discrimination prohibitions will mean, by exactly the same Bostock logic, in Title IX and elsewhere. Title IX, for instance, is where the “biological males in women’s locker rooms” specter arises, as not many employers have people getting naked in locker rooms, but most educational institutions do.

Nevertheless, I’m going to pretty much set aside such sequelae to focus on the decision, it’s logic, illogic, dissents and hints about the current court going forward. Sequelae may get comments when they come.

You can get a skillfully pared-down version (from 120 pages to 30) of the Bostock decision here, by the way. If you don’t at least skim it, don’t you dare make snarky remarks about any of the authors.


First observation: I see no sign of bad faith by any of the three authors. Cases don’t get to SCOTUS unless they’re difficult legally. Specifically, I repudiate demagoguery that Gorsuch was just being true to his elite class (What other class do we want on the court? Anyone who makes it onto any Federal Court is ipso facto subject to the “elitist” charge.) or sucking up to the NYT Editorial Board.

Indeed:

The decision was a remarkably clear illustration of several fault lines that persist within the conservative movement. First, there is the friction between textualism and originalism, two judicial philosophies that are often lumped together but that found themselves squarely opposed in this case.

Speaking for the textualists—those who eschew a law’s authorial intent to focus only on its explicit wording—Gorsuch’s argument was simple: Title VII forbids any and all discrimination on the basis of sex, and “an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.” In short: If you are a business owner, and your female employees are allowed to date men, but you fire a male employee for dating a man, it’s hard to argue his sex was not a determining factor in your decision.

Speaking for the originalists—those who attempt to determine what the intent of a law was at the time it was passed—Justice Samuel Alito fervently disagreed: It was staggeringly plain, he argued, that not a single legislator who voted to codify Title VII would have considered discrimination “on the basis of sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The very concepts would have been foreign to them.

That friction was nothing, however, compared with what became evident between the conservatives who praised Gorsuch’s decision as quality textualism and those who argued that it amounted to a betrayal of the whole point of getting Trump justices on the court: to get the right some policy wins.

… Tweeted Jon Schweppe of the social conservative American Principles Project: “I was told there would be winning.”

The Morning Dispatch: The Supreme Court Expands Discrimination Protections.

Left and Right seem agreed that SCOTUS is a political legislative body in disguise. Left and Right are wrong.


Commentary on the oral argument in Bostock last November:

The argument is this: If an employer would never fire Ginger for taking a romantic interest in men, but does fire George when it learns that he does so, it has treated him differently because of his sex. Similar arguments can reach the case of an employee’s gender identity.

You might call the phenomenon “surprise plain meaning”—a meaning of the text that the drafters did not intend or notice at the time. Every law student learns about this early on, as with the question of whether a “No Vehicles in the Park” rule covers bicycles, skateboards, or a statue of the general in his Jeep.

Of the five conservative Justices, Neil Gorsuch showed himself the most hospitable toward the plaintiffs’ case on Tuesday [i.e., oral arguments], and no wonder: as the most committed textualist, he’s the likeliest to see surprise plain meaning as beating legislative history.

The Supreme Court Is Not Debating Your “Humanity”. The comments on Gorsuch were prophetic, but certainly not unique.

I thought that the dissent by Justice Alito, who faulted Justice Gorsuch’s adoption of the Ginger and George logic, was quite persuasive. Take a deep breath for an argument that’s nothing like television smack-talk:

At oral argument, the attorney representing the employees, [Pam Karlan] a prominent professor of constitutional law, was asked if there would be discrimination because of sex if an employer with a blanket policy against hiring gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals implemented that policy without knowing the biological sex of any job applicants. Her candid answer was that this would “not” be sex discrimination. And she was right.

The attorney’s concession was necessary, but it is fatal to the Court’s interpretation, for if an employer discriminates against individual applicants or employees without even knowing whether they are male or female, it is impossible to argue that the employer intentionally discriminated because of sex. An employer cannot intentionally discriminate on the basis of a characteristic of which the employer has no knowledge. And if an employer does not violate Title VII by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity without knowing the sex of the affected individuals, there is no reason why the same employer could not lawfully implement the same policy even if it knows the sex of these individuals. If an employer takes an adverse employment action for a perfectly legitimate reason—for example, because an employee stole company property—that action is not converted into sex discrimination simply because the employer knows the employee’s sex. As explained, a disparate treatment case requires proof of intent—i.e., that the employee’s sex motivated the firing. In short, what this example shows is that discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity does not inherently or necessarily entail discrimination because of sex, and for that reason, the Court’s chief argument collapses….

I would paraphrase: “If an employer takes an adverse employment action for any reason that he considers legitimate in his sole discretion so long as it is not otherwise forbidden by law—that action is not converted into forbidden sex discrimination simply because the employer knows the employee’s sex.”


Legal experts who watched the arguments unfold weren’t entirely shocked that Gorsuch ruled as he did. The justice is well known as a textualist, someone who holds that the meaning of a law turns on the text alone, not the intentions of its drafters.

“What I saw in the argument [i.e., last November) was Gorsuch really struggling with the fact that the textual argument seemed really powerful to him,” Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor, told me. “There’s no way to think about sexual orientation discrimination without sex being part of it.”

Michelle Goldberg, Surprise! Justice on L.G.B.T. Rights From a Trump Judge


This is not a narrow ruling that just means you can’t fire a person for being gay. Extending civil rights law to protect a whole new category carries with it a host of ancillary protections.

… [T]he Bostock ruling won’t stay confined to employment law. The majority opinion protests, disingenuously, that “sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and dress codes” are “questions for future cases.” But federal law is full of prohibitions on sex discrimination (Justice Alito’s dissent lists over 100 such statutes), and every one of those will have to be reconsidered in light of today’s ruling.

Justice Gorsuch Just Opened Pandora’s Box


[L]et’s be honest: there was no leadership among the national Republicans. At least President Trump was willing to take the heat for a transgender military ban. But even he, and Republican politicians who supported him, did not articulate why they believe what they do.

If they can’t or won’t talk about these things substantively, it’s no wonder that people think it must be what Justice Anthony Kennedy once called “irrational animus.”

Again, I ask you: what, from a social conservative viewpoint, is the function of the Republican Party? Maybe:

  • to separate conservative Christians from their money and their votes
  • to dose Deplorables anxious about cultural decline with the Pill of Murti-Bing, a drug that induces a sense of happiness and blind obedience

What else?

Rod Dreher, Religious Conservatism’s Potemkin Power (emphasis added).

The problem is not just that your run-of-the-mill Congressional hack can’t talk about these things substantively, but that even the good arguments of people like Ryan T. Anderson are greeted with slack-jawed refusals of comprehension and then dismissed as lipstick on an irrational animus pig. (That this treatment is the real irrational animus is, of course, a posssibility that must not be uttered.)


Some conservative Evangelicals who work at Evangelical institutions (they told me their names and affiliations) have reached out to me tonight after reading this. Their collective view: [Bostock] is a real moment in which we can see the slow-motion collapse of conservative Evangelicalism.

Dreher, supra. Tacit admission that “Evangelical” is now a political label, not religious?


This decision hands LGBT activists the coercive machinery of civil rights law.

R. R. Reno


Interesting point about Bostock: It assumes that the original public meaning of “sex” in Title VII was “status as either male or female [as] determined by reproductive biology.”

In other words, it assumes the “gender binary” that some idiots pretend to find problematic. That assumption is not incidental, but central, though I’ve only heard one comment on it so far. From such subtle acorns mighty legal oaks may grow.

So the gender identitarians may have won a legal battle while losing a philosophical war (with future legal consequences to be determined).


Bostock‘s “textualist” (whether is is sound textualism is contested by the dissenters) decision on the meaning of “because of … sex” vindicates Phyllis Shlafly’s opposition to ERA on the basis of what the cognate “on account of sex” would come to mean.


Finally, I remember the rent garments, weeping, and gnashing of teeth among religious liberty advocates (including me) when Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith overruled Wisconsin v. Yoder (he pretended to be drawing out its real meaning, but nobody was fooled).

But it turned out that — well, let’s just say that for a couple of decades Employment Division v. Smith changed legal strategies and theories, but not many outcomes. Then Scalia’s imagination met its match in categorical bans on discrimination that cleared his “neutral law, general applicability” threshold.

Similarly, some people claim to see signs that Catholic Gorsuch has enhanced protections of religious liberty concealed in his coat pocket, ready for an appropriate case to apply them. Basically, they’re saying that he’s ready to create a judicial version of the rarely-successful “Fairness for All” legislative approach to the long struggle between sexual liberation and religious freedom.

Since the religious liberty cause has fared poorly in courts and commissions, obsessed as they seem to be with vindicating a right of sexual minoritiess to live life unaware that anyone disapproves for any reason,  I would like that more than a little.

UPDATE: Here’s David French talking, among other things, about the potential “Fairness for All” jurisprudential coup.

* * * * *

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.

Entangled musings

So long as worship of the Emperor as a God was required by law of all citizens, to become a Christian meant to become a criminal. In consequence, the Christians of the first four centuries A.D., subject like everyone else to the temptations of the Flesh and the Devil, had been spared the Temptations of the World. One could become a converted and remain a thorough rascal, but one could not be converted and remain a gentleman.

(W.H. Auden, in the Introduction to The Complete Poems of Cavafy)

My former activism on behalf of unpopular causes (e.g., against abortion, against mandatory social leveling on behalf of practitioners of trendy vices) was never a strategy to “get my name out there” so people would seek my legal services. Insofar as it did bring me clients, they strongly tended toward eccentricity if not outright crackpottery.

We were not formally criminals, my clients and I, but we knew that we could not aspire to unequivocal worldly respectability, either. (That is not a characterization of all my clients — just the ones who I knew as co-belligerents in lost causes.)

Most of these activism-related clients were “conservative” Protestants, as was I then. Most of them plainly were either tacitly Nominalists or at least utterly incapable of framing a confident argument in Realist terms. They were the proverbial “Bible-thumpers,” pulling out their favored proof-texts that sodomy is sinful, or that God knows each of us en ventre sa mère. The problem came connecting such things to law.

In a recent podcast, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon opines that Nominalism is probably, “the deepest flaw in the whole Protestant enterprise” (Luther referred to William of Ockham, the Franciscan popularizer of Nominalism, as his “mein meister”, and the Church of England still commemorates Ockham on April 10.) Fr. Pat’s podcast is actually a pretty succinct introduction to the Nominalist-Realist contrast. (Quick: is adultery wrong because God forbade it or did God forbid it because is wrong — contrary to reality as he created it?)

Somehow, I was a Realist, or leaning strongly Realist, even before I knew the Nominalist-Realist distinction and well before Orthodoxy. I frequently lamented, if only in private, the embarrassing and counter-productive arguments of my co-belligerents in the causes we all supported (or, likelier, opposed).

My tacit Realism (which I’m fairly sure developed unawares after my adolescence) may have been another factor, along with my earlier-in-life onset of temperamental partiality to contemplation more than action, that made Orthodox Christianity click for me when I finally encountered it. I wish I were confident that North American Orthodox Christians, especially my fellow converts, were solidly Realist, because we’re living in parallel ecclesial realities if they’re not.

But I began talking about “my activism.” Do I contradict myself, interjecting contemplation? I think not. My “activism” was argumentation, verbal and in writing, which is a fairly contemplative form of activism. I’ve never raided a draft board, lain down in a street, or otherwise gotten into the physical scrum.

And is there some latent negativity in my oppositional activism (rather than supportive activism)? Again I think not, though it may, once more, dovetail with an aspect of Orthodoxy: apophasis, known in Latin as the via negativa. More specifically, I’m less confident of the location of the “this is right and good and pure” bullseye than I am about “wherever that bullseye is, it ain’t here.”

After more than 22 year in Orthodoxy, I’m still picking up threads that I think helped to lead me here. Picking them up, and acknowledging their entanglement and, sometimes, ineffability seems true to life — which is notoriously messy — more generally.

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Montana’s Blaine Amendment case

I know I’ve written about this general topic before, maybe for my private journal or maybe published, so forgive me if this is plowing old ground.

Mark Movesian at the St. John’s Law School Center for Law and Religion blogs at the Law and Religion Forum that he thinks the petitioner will prevail in Espinoza v. Montana Dep’t of Revenue, a case wherein the Montana Blaine Amendment led the state Supreme Court to invalidate an entire, modest program of state aid to private schools, including religious schools, but (let us presume, as it appears to be true) “wholly as a result” of parents’ “genuine and independent choice” (two criteria of a prior Supreme Court precedent).

That’s a mouthful I know. Here’s a longer, more relaxed account.

Because the Supreme Court took the case, I think Movesian is correct about the outcome: if the court wasn’t inclined to overrrule the Montana Supreme Court, it could have just rejected the case.

I hope Movesian is correct that the decision will be a shot across the bow of states that retain Blaine Amendments, rather than a vehicle to invalidate all Blaine Amendments. I hope that because, in my mind, it would be “conservative” judicial activism to rule more broadly (more correctly, it would require a whole lot of ‘splainin’ why it wasn’t judicial activism to persuade me).

I’m a strong advocate of religious freedom in an expansive sense, including some instances where some people would contend that one’s religious freedom causes harm (usually, “dignitary” harm) to another. Consequently, I detest Blaine Amendments’ typical operations today.

But the outcome in Montana is that religious parents and parochial schools are not being treated any differently than “secular” parents and their private schools. If I was a Montana legislator, I might be mad at my Supreme Court for striking down the program, but were I a Montana judge, I might well have found it the best balancing of my state Blaine Amendment’s ban with federal equal protection requirement to strike down the whole law, just as Montana’s Supreme Court did.

The best argument I can see for petitioner Espinoza is that “but for” (a causal connection) the state Blaine Amendment, the whole program would have stood and dollars could be going to the religious school of my preference — an argument that, lacking a complaint of unequal treatment, I find too weak, given my current ignorance of the arguments in the briefs.

Maybe my hesitation means I’m, oh, I dunno, a temperamental conservative or something,

* * * * *

In the fearful day of judgment, O Lord, forgive my prissy efforts at purity.

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.

Single standards

I commented just a bit earlier about the good news for religious freedom out of Michigan, courtesy of Masterpiece Cake Shop.

But now, I must quibble about my second encounter of the story:

For those who don’t recall, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips [proprietor of Masterpiece Cakes] in large part because a commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’s claim that he enjoyed a religious-freedom right not to be forced to design a custom cake for a gay wedding a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The commissioner also denigrated religious-liberty arguments as being used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

While all agreed that it would have been preferable had the court simply ruled that creative professionals could not be required to produce art that conflicted with their sincerely held beliefs, the question was whether Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong condemnation of anti-religious bigotry would resonate beyond the specific facts of the case.

David A. French (italics added)

David French is a very good lawyer and a steadfast friend of both free speech and the free exercise of religion, but he blew this one (I suspect a bit of cerebral flatulence; I doubt that he would disagree with me if he caught wind of my existence).

I, too, know something about the law in this area and I do not agree that it would have been preferable to carve out special immunity for creative professionals with sincerely held beliefs. I wanted the court to rule “that creative professionals could not be required to produce art.” Period. Full stop.

Carving out a exemption only for sincere religious belief is a retreat from the sound principle of artistic freedom and would, I believe, perversely feed into the designer narrative that “religious freedom is just an excuse for bigotry.”

Yes: because nobody should be able to coerce an artist to produce something he doesn’t want to produce for whatever reason, spoken or unspoken, I want a creative professional to be able to say to me “I’m an ardent atheist, hater of all things and all peoples religious, and I won’t create art for Christians. If you don’t like it, put it where the sun don’t shine.”

He’d be smarter to “just say no, thank you,” but polite bigots don’t deserve special exemption from legal coercion.

I do not mean to imply that bigoted utterances are completely harmless. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can bruise feelings. But as a general rule I think the harm of disrespecting someone, even openly, is lesser than the harm of coercing artistic expression — and we need to make laws for general cases, not rare exceptions. Coerced expression, after all, profoundly disrespects the artist.

A fortiori, I’d support the atheist if, for instance, he was a florist and we wanted him to deliver flowers to our Church early every Sunday morning, designed to complement our liturgical calendar or the sermon themes the pastor phoned in. Or a baker, and we wanted a “Jesus Loves Me” inscribed sheet cake.

I wouldn’t even call him a bigot for that: How is an artist supposed to artistically express something he thinks is at best hocus pocus, likelier an opiate of the people?

No doubt some can do it (I suspect impiety in some composers of great 20th Century English language religious choral works, the art form I know best, for instance), and I’ll leave it to them to deal with qualms of conscience. But I don’t expect, let alone want the law to compel, artists to prostitute their art.

This hypothetical atheist florist is very, very close to a reverse mirror-image of Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman and other artisans who have been punished (in Stutzman’s case, obsessively pursued by an evil elected official) for refusing orders to adorn same-sex weddings — the lightning-rod du jour.

Phillips and Stutzman both served gays gladly, but drew a line at celebrating by tangible proxy a “wedding” they considered something on the lines of wicked, or impious mummery.

For what it’s worth, I doubt that the law would punish the atheist florist for declining weekly expressive bouquets to a church. There has been a double-standard that could well be dubbed “the LGBT distortion factor,” to go along with the “abortion distortion factor” (normal legal rules suspended in the presence of abortion) and the lesser know “creationist distortion factor” (any science teacher who both attends church and exposes evolution to critical examination loses and gets branded with a scarlet “C”).

I don’t like legal double-standards, which is precisely why I don’t like David French’s presumably inadvertent expression of what Jack Phillips’ partisans were hoping for in Masterpiece Cake Shop. I don’t doubt that there are some protections that free exercise of religion affords where free speech falls short, but compelled artistic expression surely isn’t one of them.

* * * * *

I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, 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.

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Masterful Resonance

Good news for religious freedom, out of Michigan and courtesy of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cake Shop.

For those who don’t recall, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips [proprietor of Masterpiece Cakes] in large part because a commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’s claim that he enjoyed a religious-freedom right not to be forced to design a custom cake for a gay wedding a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The commissioner also denigrated religious-liberty arguments as being used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

… [T]he question was whether Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong condemnation of anti-religious bigotry would resonate beyond the specific facts of the case.

David A. French

The answer is “yes, it would resonate more widely,” and I’m starting to see how this may play out:

In 2015 the state of Michigan passed a statute specifically designed to protect the religious liberty of private, religious adoption agencies. In 2018, however, Dana Nessel, a Democratic attorney general, took office. During her campaign, she declared that she would not defend the 2015 law in court, stating that its “only purpose” was “discriminatory animus.” She also described proponents of the law as “hate-mongers,” and the court noted that she believed proponents of the law “disliked gay people more than they cared about the constitution.”

Then, in 2019, the attorney general reached a legal settlement in pending litigation with the ACLU that essentially gutted the Michigan law, implementing a definitive requirement that religious agencies provide recommendations and endorsement to same-sex couples and banning referrals. The plaintiffs sued, seeking to enjoin the relevant terms of the settlement, and yesterday Judge Robert Jonker (a Bush appointee) granted their motion for a preliminary injunction.

His reasoning was simple. There was ample evidence from the record that the state of Michigan reversed its policy protecting religious freedom because it was motivated by hostility to the plaintiffs’ faith. Because Michigan’s targeted St. Vincent’s faith, its 2019 settlement agreement couldn’t be truly considered a “neutral” law of “general applicability” that would grant the state a high degree of deference in enforcement.

(French)

Kudos to Becket (which I’ve been calling “Becket Fund for Religious Liberty,” perhaps erroneously or anachronistically), which handled this important case. I like to think a few of my dollars went into it.

This is a gratifying outcome that avoids the deeper constitutional issue of silently excluding an entity from a program because of its religious beliefs.

Attorney General Nessel herself is now unmasked as a bigot who misunderstands or contemns the law — or to paraphrase her, “dislikes conservative religious people more than she cares about the constitution.” May she be suitably chastened — repentant even.

But I’m taking no wagers on that.

What’s notable is that Nessel felt free to utter those sentiments in public, and as part of a campaign promise. She apparently thought shaming observant Catholics (the Reformed Protestants of Bethany Christian Services, too) was an electoral plus for her, and it obviously didn’t wound her fatally.

Maybe her GOP opponent was terribly odious, but I fear it’s more a matter of not living in our parents’ civilly-religious America any longer.

Now, though, Nessel and her fellow bigots need to stifle the legally counter-productive expression of their bigotry.

So how do they get the electoral lift without the legal let-down? Welcome to the era of anti-religious campaign dog-whistles.

On that, I will take (modest) wagers. Instead of Willie Horton ads, maybe Jerry Falwell, Jr. or Pat Robertson ads?

* * * * *

I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, 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.

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

Ephemera, 2/12/19

1

Apropos of gazing on the Jeff Bezos crotch selfies and suchlike, past and future:

[H]aving a gander at the daily catch of ill-gotten erotica seems hard to fit into any preexisting category of wrongdoing. After all, looking at it doesn’t make you responsible for the initial invasion involved in stealing it. Not looking at it won’t put it back where it was, so to speak: What’s public is relentlessly public. Looking also doesn’t mean you have to participate in any kind of public shaming or pile-on. So what’s the harm in simply knowing what somebody texted to somebody else?

When it comes to viewing leaked sexual ephemera, the knowing is its own harm. This doesn’t necessarily count for every kind of secret; being aware of somebody’s private dislike of a mutual friend, for instance, doesn’t represent the same kind of violation as having ungranted sexual knowledge of them, because sex is different from other things. The exclusivity, the secrecy, that’s all part of the point — they’re the essential ingredients of intimacy. And simply knowing the details without invitation jeopardizes that.

Elizabeth Breunig. This principle can be extended to pornography generally, but I won’t go there just in case some reader believes in “ethically-sourced porn.”

2

For over 50 years, the Democratic Party has carried the banner of racial and gender equality, and all the more so during the Trump era. In contrast to an increasingly dystopian Republican Party, Democrats from the left and the center have united behind an idealistic image of their party as a rainbow coalition of resistance against racism and sexism.

The last 10 days in Virginia have thrown all of that into disarray — and demonstrated that political power will always trump political idealism.

For the Democratic Party, the recent series of blackface and sexual assault scandals at the top of the state’s leadership at first seemed like a moment for a thorough house cleaning. By the standards of an institution that has recently redefined itself in part by what Donald Trump and the Republicans are not, we would expect Democratic politicians to call for everyone’s resignation. Racism should have no quarter in the Democratic Party. Neither should sexual assault.

But reality, as the party is once again learning, is never that simple, especially where power is involved.

Leah Wright Rigueur

Note the tacit admission: It was never about purity. It was always about political posturing (and, thus, pursuing power).

I’m especially amused that “an assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government” should find herself bereft of enough insights to populate a guest column without repeating the same points in very thin disguise.

3

Identity politics is the key to understanding the ACLU’s apparent change of heart. The antiboycott laws the ACLU has defended are meant to protect gays and lesbians, an identity group they favor. The ACLU acknowledges that in many states it is “legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation,” but argues that companies that do so “must not be allowed to do so with taxpayer dollars.” It inexplicably ignores that the logic of those antiboycott laws applies equally to Israel.

The ACLU may think that refusing to do business with people because of their sexuality is immoral while refusing to do business with people connected with Israel is a blow for justice. That’s an intelligible political position, but it’s lousy First Amendment jurisprudence. First Amendment protections are the same regardless of what one thinks of the underlying conduct.

I played a role in developing the state anti-BDS laws, submitting testimony to legislatures and advising private groups that supported the measures. To avoid any constitutional doubts, I stuck to the model of antiboycott laws that the ACLU supports, comfortable in the knowledge that their constitutionality was unquestioned. I underestimated how much changes when sexual identity is replaced with Israeli identity.

There is more at stake here than hypocrisy. The ACLU’s enthusiasm for Israel boycotts has led it to take legal positions that threaten to undermine the antidiscrimination norms it has worked for decades to achieve. Now it is prepared to risk legal protections for sexual minorities for the sake of creating a constitutional right to boycott Jews. The ACLU probably hopes to have it both ways, arguing that boycotts of Israelis are “political” and boycotts of gays and lesbians are just mean. But courts won’t maintain one standard for boycotts of progressives’ favored targets and another standard for everyone else.

Eugene Kontorovich. A very interesting point I hadn’t seen made before. I consider vindicated my opposition to anti-BDS law and my opposition to indiscriminate extension of anti-discrimination laws.

4

Mr. Cuomo is blaming the state’s $2.3 billion budget shortfall on a political party that doesn’t run the place. He says the state is suffering from declining tax receipts because the GOP Congress as part of tax reform in 2017 limited the state-and-local tax deduction to $10,000.

“What it does is it has created two different tax structures in this country,” Mr. Cuomo said Monday. “And it has created a preferential tax structure in Republican states. It has redistributed wealth in this nation from Democratic states” to “red states.” In reality, the once unlimited deduction allowed those in high tax climes to mitigate the pain of state taxes. It amounted to a subsidy for progressive policies.

… The Tax Foundation reported last month that repealing the cap would “almost exclusively provide tax relief to the top 20 percent of income earners, the largest tax cut going to the top 1 percent of earners.” The government would lose $600 billion over 10 years. This must be the first time in years that a Democrat has said the government needs less money, or that the rich need a tax cut.

The real problem is New York’s punitive tax rates, which Mr. Cuomo and his party could fix. “People are mobile,” Mr. Cuomo said this week. “And they will go to a better tax environment. That is not a hypothesis. That is a fact.” Maybe Mr. Cuomo should stay in Albany and do something about that reality.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. Cuomo’s complaint about people leaving the state now vindicates the Editorial Board’s characterization that the unlimited deduction amounted to a subsidy for [big-spending] progressive policies.

5

Meghan Murphy, a gender-politics blogger, alleges that Twitter violated unfair-competition law when it changed its hateful-conduct policy late last year. Under Twitter’s new policy, users can be banned for calling a transgender individual by their pre-transition names or referring to them with the wrong pronouns

Ms. Murphy says that Twitter locked her account on Nov. 15, telling her that to regain control of her account, she would need to remove two tweets she posted the prior month. One tweet stated: “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?” The other said: “Men aren’t women.”

Ms. Murphy deleted the tweets, and posted a response to Twitter, saying, “I’m not allowed to say that men aren’t women or ask questions about the notion of transgenderism at all anymore?” The post went viral, according to her suit, receiving 20,000 likes. Days later, Twitter informed Ms. Murphy that she needed to delete this tweet as well ….

I’m glad I left Twitter. Any platform that hostile to reality is nowhere I want to be.

But a coin just dropped: trans women are nominalist women but realist men. An awful lot of what ails us in Nominalism in one drag or another.

6

Parent: Are you worried that students will be suckered by the seductiveness of figures like Rousseau?

Dean: Yes.

Parent: Does it not seem dangerous to expose students to figures like Rousseau?

Dean: Yes, it seems dangerous.

Parent: Then why do it?

Dean: Because I am far more worried that students who never encounter Rousseau will get suckered by the delicious mediocrity of the world and be mindlessly swept along with the spirit of our age …  Classical schools tend to teach books which require a tutor or a guide. Rousseau requires a guide, as does St. Augustine, say.

Parent: So you’re not opposed to new things?

Dean: Heavens, no. I want to be patient, though, and I want to second guess myself. A great many “life-changing” bestsellers are read once, then shelved, never picked up a second time, and summarily forgotten by the time the next life-changing bestseller comes out.

Parent: So what books would you advise someone like myself to read?

Dean: I would advise you to read books which are good for your soul, and to force yourself to read classics as often as possible.

Joshua Gibbs

7

Rod Dreher’s test kitchen is starting to get feedback on his newest recipes.

8

My Church doesn’t use name tags, but if it did, one could do worse than this.

One also could do better, like “I once was dead but now I live.” (As Fr. Stephen Freeman truly says, “Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.”)

* * * * *

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Clippings and Comment, 2/6/19

1

Ms. Devi publicly defended Mr. Fryer. Since then, she says she’s struggled to find research collaborators and has lost nearly every female friend at Harvard: “Suddenly, I would find that my emails were going unanswered. People would avert their gaze from me walking down the hall. There was this culture of guilty until proven innocent and, if you’re defending him, guilt by association.”

Ms. Devi adds that every one of her remaining friends has advised her not to defend Mr. Fryer. One told her that “at a place like this, which is extremely progressive, it will only have a cost—it will have no benefit.” Ms. Devi says she knows of others who also wanted to defend Mr. Fryer but “don’t want to go against the social-media mob.”

An immigrant from India, Ms. Devi fears her outspokenness will limit her job prospects in the U.S. “It’s very, very high-risk to identify myself and defend an accused person,” Ms. Devi says. “Everyone protects the identity of the accuser. She gets to hide under the mask of anonymity, and we have to destroy our futures.”

Jillian Kay Melchior, Title IX’s Witness Intimidation, Wall Street Journal.

This is the kind of toxic culture against which Betsy DeVos’s regulatory legal changes are powerless.

2

It’s nice to be Trump. His bragging is unencumbered by his past. His self-satisfaction crowds out any self-examination. What he needs isn’t a fact check. It’s a reality check, because his worst fictions aren’t statistical. They’re spiritual.

The State of the Union address was a herky-jerky testament to that. I say herky-jerky because it was six or eight or maybe 10 speeches in one, caroming without warning from a plea for unity to a tirade about the border; from some boast about American glory under Trump to some reverie about American glory before Trump (yes, it existed!); from a hurried legislative wish list to a final stretch of ersatz poetry that read like lines from a batch of defective or remaindered Hallmark cards. As much as Trump needed modesty, his paragraphs needed transitions.

“Don’t sit yet,” he told them when he feared that they would end their celebration too soon, before his next great pronouncement. “You’re going to like this.”

Even the newly, briefly, falsely sensitive version of Trump couldn’t lose his bossy streak — or stop hungering for, and predicting, the next round of applause.

Frank Bruni.

3

I’m tempted to write “Democrats are reduced to pointless obstructionism,” but “obstructionism” implies the ability to obstruct. Senate Democrats lack that ability, having done away with the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominations when they were in control. Thus they are reduced even further, to “pointless mudslinging.”

Yet “pointless” doesn’t mean “harmless.” The Democratic senators’ juvenile tactics will not stop Rao’s confirmation, but they are lowering the already debased national discourse.

Rao is now 45 years old, solidly middle-aged. To reach middle age, one must first pass through an earlier stage of simultaneously knowing very little about the world while believing oneself to understand it completely. Youthful folly is particularly unfortunate in budding writers, who inevitably commit their stupidity to the page. If they write for publication — rather than privately composing the worst novel ever written in the English language, as I did at that age — their silliness will linger for posterity to sample.

… [F]rankly, Rao’s college writing wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. It wasn’t even as bad as I expected from early media coverage.

Megan McArdle

4

[F]rom the moment he announced his run for the presidency, I believed that Trump was intellectually, temperamentally, and psychologically unfit to be president. Indeed, I warned the GOP about Trump back in 2011, when I wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal decrying his claim that Barack Obama was not born in America. From time to time, people emerge who are peddlers of paranoia and who violate unwritten codes that are vital to a self-governing society, I wrote, adding, “They delight in making our public discourse more childish and freakish, focusing attention on absurdities rather than substantive issues, and stirring up mistrust among citizens. When they do, those they claim to represent should speak out forcefully against them.”

Today I see the Republican Party through the clarifying prism of Donald Trump, who consistently appealed to the ugliest instincts and attitudes of the GOP base—in 2011, when he entered the political stage by promoting a racist conspiracy theory, and in 2016, when he won the GOP nomination. He’s done the same time and time again during his presidency—his attacks on the intelligence of black politicians, black journalists, and black athletes; his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; and his closing argument during the midterm elections, when he retweeted a racist ad that even Fox News would not run.

Peter Wehner, on why he left the GOP and what he has gained thereby.

Apart from my having left the party earlier than Wehner, he captures my feelings very well.

5

What is the statute of limitations for being a jerk-goofball-hellraiser? asks Kathleen Parker of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam:

In 1983, just before winning a third term as Louisiana’s governor, Edwin Edwards famously said that the only way he could lose the race was “if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

Presumably, no one checked his yearbook.

Parker must have tenure, a large 401k, and a looming retirement, because it is now forbidden, on pain of professional death, to forgive youth and foolishness.

6

Had you heard about Liam Neeson making terrible, racist comments? Did your source bother quoting what he actually said, in context, or was your source someone like the preening Peacock Piers Morgan (“so full of shit his breath makes acid rain,” as Bruce Cockburn sang of someone else), who tells you what to think before he tells you what Neeson said?

We have created a culture that despises repentance, and condemns grace.

If you can’t multiply examples of that during the past week, you weren’t paying attention.

7

Of late, I’ve found a term for my political temperament: “trimmer” (second listed meaning). So I am today declaring myself a centrist non-candidate for POTUS. The toxicity of Left and Right, sampled above, have become intolerable.

8

My Church is the best Church because it never interferes with a man’s politics or his religion.

Uncle Toby in Tristram Shandy, via John Senior, The Death of Christian Culture, page 136.

Uncle Toby is Andrew Cuomo’s patron saint.

9

Because I find his droning, vulgar cadences intolerable, I did not listen to even to that portion of the President’s State of the Union address that may have been continuing as I left a musical rehearsal.

But it sounds as if I may have missed something even worse than the usual vulgarity: I may have missed a scripted approximation of normalcy, which would make the return to vulgar reality even more agonizing.

I’m too old for roller coasters, even if they’re just emotional.

10

A Canadian cryptocurrency exchange says about $140 million worth of customers’ holdings are stuck in an electronic vault because the company’s founder, and sole employee, died without sharing the password.

But two independent researchers say publicly available transaction records associated with QuadrigaCX suggest the money may be gone, not trapped.

They say it appears Quadriga transferred customer funds to other cryptocurrency exchanges, although it isn’t clear what might have happened to the money from there.

Paul Vigna, Wall Street Journal.

My avoidance of cryptocurrencies is vindicated.

11

In a reflection on the Nashville Statement written a few years ago, I wrote:

Like me, Justin grew up Southern Baptist. Sometimes, someone will ask me why I think Justin “changed his theology” to support gay marriage, while I stuck with conservative theology. However, the question actually rests on a misunderstanding. I did not “hold onto” the theology of marriage I learned in Southern Baptist Churches growing up. If I had, I would support same-sex marriage.

When I listen to Justin’s presentations, what I hear in his arguments for same-sex marriage is simply the logical outworking of the theology of marriage we both grew up with. Many of his arguments are modified versions of the arguments which I heard to rationalize divorce and contraception in the Southern Baptist congregation I grew up in.

And because of the obvious prejudice of so many conservative Christians toward gay people, it’s easy for him to dismiss conservative exegesis as Pharisaical legalism.

You might say that I “backed” my way into the Catholic Church,first by recognizing the link between accepting contraception and accepting same-sex marriage, and only later recognizing the flaws of the “slow motion sexual revolutionaries” I grew up with in the Southern Baptist Church.

Ron Belgau. This “alternate universe” argument, where one says “If I believed X, I would eventually come to believe Y,” is one that I have made, if only when arguing with myself about what I would believe today had I remained in the Christian Reformed Church.

12

Oh, how we miss the trolley problem .

There’s a runaway trolley plunging toward a widow and five orphans, but if you pull the lever to divert it, you’ll hit Elon Musk. Which do you choose?

This is a problem?!. Quick! Where’s that lever?!

* * * * *

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How big is Trump’s amygdala?

It has been a long time since I tried to write a book review, and I’m not sure I ever really knew how.

New Year’s Eve’s eve, I undertook to read Frank Buckley’s The Republican Workers Party, which my son thoughtfully bought for me, intuiting that I might like it because it was my wish list.

Clever lad. Good amygdala.

I wanted to read it because Buckley (no known relation to William F.) is a smart guy, not an elected hack, and I thought I might gain more insight into how Trump got elected, and why “it was just what we needed,” as the subtitle has it.

I finished it the next day, mission accomplished.

The book struck me as uneven, and as mostly a platform for Buckley to advance his pet theories, with Trump as a convenient if implausible icon of his impending triumph.

Nevertheless, I was impressed by a couple of what I considered key insights:

First, what everyone knows but tends to forget as Trump makes his own oafishness so prominent: Trump was not Hillary Clinton.

I thought that Hillary Clinton was vastly more mean-spirited and less principled than Obama, and more vindictive than Richard Nixon; that as president she would happily use all the tools at her disposal to silence dissent, and that the progressive media would cheer her on as she did so.

Page 10. That is exactly right. Had my state been in play, I feared I would need to vote for the corrupt but stable Hillary, with exactly such consequences when she won (as she surely would, right?).

The social conservative awakening that helped elect Trump came when voters realize that the liberal agenda amounted to something more than a shield to protect sexual minorities. It was also a sword to be used against social conservatives. The trump voters might have grumbled about the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell decision that recognized the right to same-sex marriage. But that didn’t pick anyone’s pocket and no great political protest followed. It was a different story when homosexual activists employed there newly one right to put religious believers out of business.

Page 57 (italics added). Here, I hope he’s right. We could really use a backlash in this area, and Hillary would have resisted that backlash.

In our culture wars, in Hillary’s condemnation of the deplorables, the religious voter experience to reverse Sally Fields moment: “You dislike me! You really dislike me!“

Page 58. Again, pitch perfect. I took some solace in the perception after the election that at least Trump did not hate people like me, and that he had enough supporters of a sort for which he likely would mistake me, that I would remain Not A Target in a Trump regime. So far, so good on that.

While Hillary Clinton ignored Catholics, Trump went out of his way to court them. It didn’t happen overnight. Early in the campaign he picked a stupid quarrel with Pope Francis. But by the end he was persuaded to grant a lengthy interview to the Catholic EWTN television network and to tweet his happiness at the canonization of mother Theresa. The mainstream media didn’t notice any of this, but Catholics dead. They were seven-plus for Trump, and white Catholics were +23 for him, providing him with the winning margin in the crucial rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. And that was the election.

Add a dinner party, I told all this to a New York Times reporter. “What’s EWTN?” he asked me.

Page 59. Insularity is not a flyover country exclusive. Or as Jonathan Haidt has noted, conservatives grok liberals better than vice-versa.

Second, social immobility has become a real problem. Chapter 6, Where Did the Dream Go?, focuses on our loss of social mobility in the United States, both absolute and relative to other nations. Canada vastly outstrips us in social mobility, and people will suffer a lot of deprivation stoically until they think their children will have it no better.

Immobility matters more to us than inequality. Only three things will last to the end of time, God‘s promise to Abraham; the Church; and the selfish gene.

P 44. Very nice line.

The American dream isn’t dead; it just migrated to Canada, and the other countries that are more mobile than us. In what we wrongly take to be the land of opportunity, a bicoastal aristocracy, smug, self congratulatory and disdainful of the Trump deplorables in the heartland, has cleaved itself off. Because of this we are living in what Marxists call an objectively revolutionary society.

Page 45. This is a severe problem, even if putative billionaire Trump, who got his money by a mixture of gift, inheritance and tax fraud, is a dubious avatar of renewed social mobility.

Third, in chapter 8, Nationalism, the author compares the Republican Workers Party to the Christian Democrats of Europe. If I could buy that, it could be very welcome news, and I sort of half buy it.

Before you laugh derisively, remember that he’s describing the Republican Workers Party, not your father’s Republican party, and that we’re in the midst of a big political realignment. Allow me—a notional member (my state doesn’t register party affiliation) of the American Solidarity Party, which is pretty explicitly Christian Democrat—at least to be hopeful.

On nationalism versus “white nationalism,” a nice quip at page 68:

There isn’t much room for white nationalism in American culture. For alongside baseball and apple pie, it includes Langston Hughes and Amy Tan, Tex-Mex food and Norah Jones. You can be an American if you don’t enjoy them, but you might be a wee bit more American if you do.

Fourth, Chapter 9, How to Bring Back Our Mojo, includes an discussion of the importance of school choice, which Trump supposedly made central to his campaign. I don’t recall that and I haven’t seen Betsy DeVos do anything about it.

There will be many roadblocks and lawsuits if DeVos tries to reform primary and secondary education, and I’m not sure how well we (as opposed to nations who’ve long enjoyed school choice) would execute school choice after having a substantial monopoly by government schools for so long.

But the educational statistics are horrible. Let’s just say that America is #1 only in unearned self-esteem, and in the teens or lower far too often. And the excuses are lamer than Buckley at his lamest.

Speaking of which, Chapter 9 is also one of Buckley’s most deeply uncharitable chapters, imputing to the New Class (his derisive term) all kinds of nasty, self-serving motives, reminding me of the John Birchers who thought that every misstep was ipso facto part of a conscious Communist conspiracy. He makes many solid points about educational choice and about the folly of our immigration laws, but to me they were sullied by those sleazy and demagogic imputations.

Shame on him. The points could have stood without creepy theories about his ideological adversaries, and probably would have been more forceful.

Fifth, Chapter 11, Draining the Swamp, includes a proposal for a truly radical slashing away at regulations, through appointment of a Commission to eliminate duplicate or anti-competitive regulations, cutting the Code of Federal Regulations by something more than 50% (I think it was closer to 90%). He cites a Napoleonic project along those lines.

Though this vastly ambitious idea has some appeal, I don’t trust any administration to do it without checks, even if the APA itself might be too cumbersome a check. Verdict: not remotely ready for Prime Time.

Chapter 11 also includes the author’s most disingenuous point, among several, that taxing large college endowments “would serve to focus them on their educational mission.” Surely he knows better, and after his book went to press, it emerged that this proposal, now enacted, will cause collateral damage to religious friends of the administration. Insofar as they supported the tax as a way to punish liberal educational foundations, I’m feelin’ the schadenfreude burn.

Buckley is not entirely unaware of Trump’s shortcomings, and takes at least token notice of a few:

At the White House, we’ve been treated to a succession of feckless amateurs, flaming egomaniacs and shady hustlers.

Page 4.

Every time things have turned his way, Trump has made an equal and opposite gaffe. Firmness and prudence, energy and tact, were not given to him in equal measure, and the man who wrote The Art of the Deal now finds himself obliged to deal with people who can scarcely hide their contempt for him.

Page 4.

In the passage that I thought was most counterproductive to the author’s aims, he discusses a theory that the amygdala correlates to empathy. He seems to assume that Donald Trump is empathetic, but he left me wondering:

  • How big is Trump’s amygdala?
  • What’s his cunning/empathy ratio?

At its worst, which worst spanned several chapters, Buckley’s “argument” reminded me of the opening anecdote in Tucker Carlson‘s early Politico piece about Trump:

About 15 years ago, I said something nasty on CNN about Donald Trump’s hair. I can’t now remember the context, assuming there was one.

In any case, Trump saw it and left a message the next day. “It’s true you have better hair than I do,” Trump said matter-of-factly. “But I get more pussy than you do.” Click.

At the time, I’d never met Trump and I remember feeling amused but also surprised he’d say something like that. Now the pattern seems entirely familiar. The message had all the hallmarks of a Trump attack: shocking, vulgar and indisputably true.

Trump’s response wasn’t much beneath Carlson’s original snarky remark. But “We won, so suck it up” (i.e., “I get more pussy than you do”), even if tacit, really isn’t really an satisfactory response to many (or most) of the criticisms of Trump.

Yet that was Buckley’s tone, I thought, as he made a number of implausible and pro forma arguments about how Trump does this or intends that. See, for instance, “amygdala,” above.

Verdict: Worth reading, especially if you are still baffled and disoriented about how Trump could happen, but keep your critical thinking at about Defcon 2.

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