Miscellany – August 24, 2020

President Donald Trump tweeted “Happy Sunday! We want GOD!“ as part of a string of religious-themed tweets on Sunday morning …

Also Sunday morning, the president headed to the Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Va., to play golf.

‘Happy Sunday! We want GOD!’ – POLITICO


I had grown up in a very conservative home. I’d been taught Christian values. I’d been taught that America was this exceptional country. And we’d never had somebody at the head of our party who was just completely morally bankrupt.

In fact, the moment I knew that I had a problem with Trump being our nominee was when there was a question asked in one of the debates when someone said, “You filed bankruptcy four times,” and his response was something to the effect of, “Well, yeah, I used the law to my advantage.” In my household, you would never file bankruptcy, or if you had to, it was because something devastating happened to you. You would never go out and think that you were going to use that to your advantage, because there’s somebody on the other end of that that was being harmed. You’d never swing your arm with the purpose of hitting somebody.

And it seems as though that’s what conservatism had all of a sudden become. At one point in time, conservatism was this idea of liberty, of rugged individualism. But at the same time, there was this deep sense about responsibility. It was both liberty and responsibility. You could swing your arm, but you certainly weren’t going to swing your arm to where it was going to connect with somebody else’s nose. What we’ve gotten to today is: I’m going to swing my arm. You got in the way. That’s bad on you, not on me. That’s not what conservatism always was, but it’s what it’s become.

Chad Mayes, former Republican leader in the California State Assembly, in Why California Republican Chad Mayes Left the Party (The Atlantic).

That really resonates.


There’s not going to be a Republican platform this year. This is just saying, “Whatever Trump does, we support.” They wouldn’t have needed to all be in the same room to hammer this out. They know perfectly well that there’s no point in doing so. This astonishing document appears to confirm that the Republican Party exists now as a personality cult. Did you see that Trump is now going to speak on each of the four nights of the Republican convention? Why not? If he’s the only thing the party stands for, it stands to reason.

Rod Dreher, Trump Team Chaos

UPDATE: Ferrret-Brain has outlined his agenda, which is bereft of things like “constitution” or “limited” or “life” or “judges” or “religion” or “faith” or “liberty.”


The day after the Steve Bannon indictment, I read a post claiming that:

  1. The We Build the Wall GoFundMe site didn’t meet its goal, so funds were promised to be returned.
  2. The defendants offered donors an “opt-in” transfer to a new We Build the Wall 501(c)(4) entity, and refunded to those who didn’t opt in.
  3. The new We Build the Wall 501(c)(4) entity didn’t promise that there would be no compensation for those running it.

According to the indictment, at least the third point is false:

To get the GoFundMe contributions transferred to We Build the Wall, it was essentially necessary to do a second fundraising campaign because donors would have to “opt in” — i.e., they would have to agree to the transfer.

To persuade donors to do that, the accused schemers solemnly vowed in corporate by-laws, GoFundMe website announcements, social-messaging posts, and other assertions that 100 percent of the contributions would go to wall construction. Contributors were assured that Kolfage would “not take a penny of compensation from these donations,” and would “take no salary.” Bannon is said to have publicly guaranteed, on several occasions, “I did this kind of as a volunteer” and “we’re a volunteer organization.”

Nevertheless, the indictment alleges that the defendants planned to and did divert funds for their own benefit …

Steve Bannon Indictment: If There Are Convictions, Potential Penalties Are Severe | National Review


Has Ellen DeGeneres passed her sell-by date?.

We tend to develop blind spots. There’s thinly-veiled cruelty in some of Ellen’s kindness schtick.

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A quiz

Take your pick. Is that video:

  1. Lies! Lies! All a pack of lies!
  2. What you always suspected.

Either way, you risk confirmation bias, but everything I know about Trump tells me the correct answer is 2.

 

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

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

“What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?”

Around 24 years ago, I had a series of related epiphanies (epiphanies have marked my whole religious life) that made me loosen my Calvinist grip and eventually to pitch Calvinism overboard, It seems to have survived alright without my nurture, and insofar as I’m not 100% Orthodox yet, the residue likely is Calvinist.

And that’s not entirely bad because they got some things quite right. The Westminster Larger Catechism‘s elaboration of the Ten Commandments, for instance, is very good, which brings me to today’s topic:

Q. 143. Which the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Ex. 20:16.

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own: appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; study and practising of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Zech. 8:16; 3 John 1:12; Prov. 31:8-9; Ps. 15:2; 2 Chr. 19:9; 1 Sam. 19:4-5; Josh. 7:19; 2 Sam. 14:18-20; Lev. 19:15; Prov. 14:5, 25; 2 Cor. 1:17-18; Eph. 4:25; Heb. 6:9; 1 Cor. 13:7; Rom. 1:8; 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 1:4-5, 7; 2 Tim. 1:4-5; 1 Sam. 22:14; 1 Cor. 13:6-7; Ps. 15:3; Prov. 25:23; Prov. 26:24-25; Ps. 101:5; Prov. 22:1; John 8:49; Ps. 15:4; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:21; Prov. 17:9; 1 Pet. 4:8.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence; suborning false witnesses; wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause; out-facing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence; calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery; concealing the truth; undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vain-glorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumours, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defence; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavouring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt; fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report; and practicing or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

1 Sam. 17:28; 2 Sam. 16:3; 2 Sam. 1:9-10, 15-16; Lev. 19:15; Hab. 1:4; Prov. 19:5; Prov. 6:16, 19; Acts 6:13; Jer. 9:3, 5; Acts 24:2, 5; Ps. 12:3-4; Ps. 52:1-4; Prov. 17:15; 1 Kings 21:9-14; Isa. 5:23; Ps. 119:69; Luke 19:8; Luke 16:5-7; Lev. 5:1; Deut. 13:8; Acts 5:3, 8-9; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Kings 1:6; Lev. 19:17; Isa. 59:4; Prov. 29:11; 1 Sam. 22:9-10; Ps. 52:1-5; Ps. 56:5; John 2:19; Matt. 26:60-61; Gen. 3:5; Gen. 26:7, 9; Isa. 59:13; Lev. 19:11; Col. 3:9; Ps. 50:20; Ps. 15:3; Jas. 4:11; Jer. 38:4; Lev. 19:16; Rom. 1:29-30: Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29; 1 Cor. 6:10; Matt. 7:1; Acts 28:4; Gen. 38:24; Rom. 2:1; Neh. 6:6-8; Rom. 3:8; Ps. 69:10; 1 Sam. 1:13-15; 2 Sam. 10:3; Ps. 12:2-3; 2 Tim. 3:2; Luke 18:9, 11; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 4:6; Acts 12:22; Ex. 4: 10-14; Job 27:5-6; Job 4:6; Matt. 7:3-5; Prov. 28:13; Prov. 30:20; Gen. 3:12-13; Jer. 2:35; 2 Kings 5:25; Gen. 4:9; Gen. 9:22; Prov. 25:9-10; Ex. 23:1; Prov. 29:12; Acts 7:56-57; Job 31:13-14; 1 Cor. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:4; Num. 11:29; Matt. 21:15; Ezra 4:12-13; Jer. 48:27; Ps. 35:15-16, 21; Matt. 27:28-29; Jude 1:16; Acts 12:22; Rom. 1:31; 2 Tim. 3:3; 1 Sam. 2:24; 2 Sam. 13:12-13; Prov. 5:8-9; Prov. 6:33.

Does observance of the Ninth Commandment describe our politics and journalism today? Are we better or worse than we were ten or twenty years ago? How do, say, QAnon or the Comet Ping Pong conspiracy theories square with “unwillingness to admit of an evil report” or avoiding “doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions …”?

One of the great shames of many supporters of Donald Trump is that they act as if anything short of an outright lie about a political opponent is okay for a Christian — and I may be giving too much credit to think they draw even that line.

I acknowledge the availability of “whatabouts” to Trump’s supporters. But it is a great and grave shame when a putative Christian is willing to suspend the moral law in an effort to “win” politically, even if the other side is doing it.

H/T to David French for the reminder of what his denomination’s Catechism says about the ninth commandment.

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

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Presumption of Regularity

Jonah Goldberg’s Remnant podcast (Episode 146. I cannot find a direct link except to this download file) recently hosted Adam White of the American Enterprise Institute on a sort of “Impeachment 101” episode.

Some attention was given, of course, to the White House transcript of the infamous Ukraine phone conversation (which did have a quid pro quo, just for the record) and specifically to the deeply corrupt and impeachable request that Ukraine interfere in the 2020 Election by digging up dirt on Joe Biden. I am not going to digress to defend “quid pro quo” or “impeachable.” Listen to the whole podcast if you want to hear them defended.

Less remarked than the effort to involve Ukraine in smearing Biden was a reflection of Trump’s bat-guano crazy theory that the DNC mail server is in Kiev. That apparently is an actual extant delusion of the rightmost fringe, so of course our very stable genius is totally into it — enough so to debase his office by asking about it on a diplomatic call.

Then there was the booing at the World Series game 5, which some thought demeaned “the office of the Presidency.” That is not an argument that I find unsympathetic normally, but something is so abnormal about the present moment that it seems disingenuous.

White nails the present abnormality (interjections and “throat-clearing” omitted):

Goldberg: People are slipping Trump garbage from like GatewayPundit and Breitbart. The reason why the President of the United States said it was okay to betray the Kurds because they weren’t at Normandy — that came from like a Kurt Schlichter column.

White: … One thing about the President and this quid pro quo — I do think we need to step back and remind people: all this — … things that for a normal President would be kind of pushing the boundaries — President Trump doesn’t get that benefit of the doubt because of “Lock her up!” Right? He made this part of his campaign that he was going to go after, he was going to threaten his political enemies. And all his fans sort of rose up and loved that line, and they liked the President because he was so outside the box.

The problem is all the conventions of deference that we afford Presidents and the space we give them to use their Presidential power — it’s all contingent on our vision of what a normal President is, and what lawyers sometimes call “the presumption of regularity.” President Trump having smashed that box on his way into the office — he and his supporters can’t really be offended now when the rest of the system doesn’t treat him like a normal President, doesn’t give him those benefits of the doubt.

That’s why we need conventional statesmen in office so that we can trust them that, if they misspeak when they’re talking to Ukraine and they actually are interested in corruption or some far-fetched theory that they just want to ask about — that we can kind of step back and trust that this isn’t the President just wielding these powers to punish his enemies.

The President gave all that up before he was even in office ….

When I refresh my memory on the presumption of regularity, I’m struck by its power in explaining good people’s distrust of Trump. Frankly, I’d distrust him apart from “Lock her up!” because he’s a multi-adulterous, multi-bankrupt, sociopathic and punitive liar, New York real estate developer, Casino operator, pro wrestling promoter and reality TV figure.* But White and Goldberg don’t mention those.

Whether you’re sanely left or sanely right, you likely would enjoy and profit from the whole podcast episode, which agreed with me on some key points (of course we told the Russians we were going in after Abu Bakr al-Baghadi; we didn’t want them shooting down our helicopters) and enlightened me on others (there’s no requirement or even a well-established expectation that an Administration tell Congress about an imminent counter-terrorism operation). On the other hand, many of the pro-Trump talking points are rubbish, as they also note.

Crazy partisans likely wouldn’t enjoy the podcast. And sane people might have higher (in several senses) priorities than wallowing even more than necessary in impeachment news. Let your conscience be your guide, knowing that the podcast won’t agitate you with demagoguery.

* UPDATE: Also a Birther. How could I have forgotten Birtherism?

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

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

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Banana Republicans

When the National Weather Service’s office in Birmingham tweeted on September 1 that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian,” it was correct. Alabama did not see any impacts from Hurricane Dorian.

Yet that accurate weather forecast has sent an ever-growing part of the federal government into convulsions. On Friday, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross threatened to fire senior officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration if that (correct) forecast was not adjusted to match President Donald Trump’s claim that Dorian was on track to hit Alabama, according to The New York Times.

Neil Jacobs, who directs NOAA, initially resisted Ross’s demand, according to the Times. But then he gave in. Late on Friday, NOAA published an unprecedented, unsigned statement that took Trump’s side and chided the Birmingham office for speaking “in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” The statement did not bear Jacobs’s name.

In other words, NOAA’s leadership—under threat from a Cabinet official—discredited its professional employees for correctly forecasting that Hurricane Dorian would not hit Alabama.

Robinson Meyer, A Fight for the Soul of NOAA

I don’t believe I’ve had a single occasion, since January 20, 2017, to use the category “Zombie Reaganism” for one of my blogs. I never thought I’d miss it.

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Clippings and comment, 1/8/19

1

In response to the government shutdown, I have stayed in bed, gone without bathing, turned off the phone. I am going to continue until Walmart sends me six fresh walleye and a set of white sidewalls autographed by Barbara Walters. I know what is needed and I can hold out for years if I have to.

Garrison Keillor

2

[T]here is a good chance that the Democrats will impeach Trump this year or next. When that happens, you Senate Republicans are effectively the jury. Suddenly Trump needs you more than you need him. Suddenly he’s going to be much less likely to go against you personally. Even the mere specter of impeachment changes his whole attitude toward you.

David Brooks, opining in the form of an open letter to Senate Republicans.

3

As the effect moves well beyond the nation’s capital, craft brewers cannot get approval from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for new beer labels.

New York Times. Now that is a national emergency!

4

PETA’s campaign against wool is so preposterous that it makes me wonder if it’s some kind of false flag operation.

5

At the root of the Aristotelian approach [to ethics] is the premise that the human person is originally in need of formation. At the root of the [Rousseau] approach is the premise that the human person is only in need of liberation. This has marked a long-standing difference between right and left, with conservatism often on the side of character building and progressivism often on the side of personal expression. But with Trump, something remarkable has happened: The right is increasingly on Rousseau’s side as well.

Michael Gerson. This was a very good column that deserves full reading, not sampling.

Is this a truth which, when perceived, will turn the tide, or are we in a “whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad” moment?

6

We have reached quite a nadir when our President is so flamboyantl, shameless and transparent a bullshitter that a serious case can be made against giving him live (versus time delayed) television coverage for an oval office speech. (I write this after the speech, which I didn’t hear because of a standing musical rehearsal and of which I have read no post-mortems.)

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Potpourri 11/10/18

I indulged my urge to travel from October 29 through election day, with a long transcontinental flight back on Wednesday. Time didn’t permit keeping up with news, let alone commenting.

I’ve spent too much time trying to “catch up.” Aware, though, that much of what passes for news is noise and commercial solicitation, I deleted many items I initially had clipped for later reading.

Here are a few thing that survived.

1 Philosophy and Religion

In the name of mercy, some recent theologians have suggested that there are elements of good in some objectively wrong acts and relationships. For example, friendship is good, and there certainly is an element of friendship in an illicit sexual relationship.

The question should not be whether there are elements of value in sins, but whether there is anything valuable about sinning.

Consider: No one can love evil for its own sake. The only thing it is possible to will for its own sake is good. Thus, the only way it is even possible to will an evil is that something about it seems good to us.

But something seems good to us in every evil, because evil cannot exist in itself. The only way to get an evil at all is to take something good and distort it.

The upshot is that the fact that evil contains disordered elements of good doesn’t mean it isn’t evil. What this fact shows is why evil can be attractive.

J Budziszewski, The Underground Thomist (emphasis added).

Having been in the “elements of good” camp, I stand corrected.


The shallowness and poverty of Evangelical thought on sexuality will not be cured by repudiating I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Where’s the positive vision?

Abigaile Rine Favale elaborates.

I’m tempted to elaborate on my own. Nominalism. Realism. Natural Law. Chastity > Virginity. That kind of thing.

But I won’t.


The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters, notes that there are many ways for the government to provide contraceptives without forcing nuns to violate their beliefs.

An Unnecessary Culture War: The Little Sisters of the Poor finally get their religious exemption (WSJ, 11/10/18)

I love, and financially support, Becket Fund.

 

2 Politics

Pace Jonathan Haidt, liberals likely are not more “open” to “experience” in general than conservatives.


News from the birthplace of the free speech movement.

In a real sense, the most fascist people in America are young progressives.


Of all the ways in which Donald Trump’s presidency has made America worse, nothing epitomizes it quite so fully as the elevation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States. Intellectually honest conservatives — the six or seven who remain, at any rate — need to say this, loudly. His appointment represents an unprecedented assault on the integrity and reputation of the Justice Department, the advice and consent function of the Senate, and the rule of law in the United States.

Bret Stephens


The mystery of Donald Trump is what impels him to overturn the usual rules. Is it a dark sort of cunning or simple defects of character? Because the president’s critics tend to be educated and educated people tend to think that the only kind of smarts worth having is the kind they possess — superior powers of articulation combined with deep stores of knowledge — those critics generally assume the latter. He’s a bigot. He’s a con artist. His followers are dumb. They got lucky last time. They won’t be so lucky again.

Maybe this is even right. But as Trump’s presidency moves forward, it’s no longer smart to think it’s right. There’s more than one type of intelligence. Trump’s is feral. It strikes fast. It knows where to sink the fang into the vein.

Bret Stephens.

Having been recently in the offices of the Jerusalem Post, I was surprised to note that he was once its Editor-in-Chief, and Wikipedia confirms that he took that post when he was all of 29 years old.


Democratic leaders in the House … have the president at a disadvantage. He is a businessman who’s never had to answer to a board. His whole professional life it was him and his whims and his hunger and a series of organizations of which he was sole or principal owner. Democratic leaders should see themselves as his board. They’ve got a CEO they don’t like, but they’ve got some power and they’re using it to save the company. A united board can scare a CEO. Donald Trump up against a board will not be so sure-footed. He will agree to a lot of what you want.

Peggy Noonan.

I love this idea.


With his every utterance, Trump removes the moral guardrails that keep bigotry down.

… How does a conservative movement that is supposed to believe that every healthy society needs powerful moral guardrails give itself over to a president whose every other utterance cheerfully knocks those guardrails down?

The Trumpian defense is that no political leader can fairly be held accountable for the acts of followers like Sayoc, much less of avowed opponents like Bowers. Also, what about James Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot Republican Representative Steve Scalise last year? But Sanders wasn’t instigating anyone to violence. He wasn’t calling on supporters at his rallies to “knock the crap out of” hecklers, or praising fellow members of Congress for body slamming a reporter.

… fanning one set of hatreds against immigrants has a way of fanning others, as it did for Bowers when he attacked the synagogue because he was enraged by its support for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Bret Stephens, Yes, the President Bears Blame for the Terror From the Right.

Inclined to agree though a bit unsure, I nevertheless thought this merited consideration. No, on second thought, I agree. Period. Full stop.


“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
― Theodore Dalrymple

Via Rod Dreher

Communism is dead, but pray for the humiliated souls of Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and all the other Trumpish sycophants who abase themselves with transparent lies for their boss.


 

It just occurred to me as I tagged and categorized this blog that “conservative” and “liberal” seemed to me to suffice for casual political talk. Then I decided that “right liberalism” and “left liberalism” were maybe more precise, as both fit classic liberalism. Now, with illiberals in the alt-right and progressive left, I’m more convinced than ever that “right liberalism” and “left liberalism” are useful and important categories (though I’ll probably continue to use conservative and liberal from habit).

A coalition of classical liberals might be a really good idea, but I’m not sure that Trump, who looks alt-right in comparison to right-liberals, will allow it.

 

3 Europe

“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” Mr. Macron said on French radio.

Europe is the “main victim,” Mr. Macron said, of Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That accord prohibits the use of intermediate- and shorter-range rockets, as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles.

“We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army,” Mr. Macron said.

Wall Street Journal.

This, of course, set Trump into foaming at the mouth.

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Can’t get away from it

I wasn’t going to pass this along, but after the arrest of the bombing suspect in Florida, I heard our President bloviating, and the feelings came rushing back.

The most fundamental moral principle in the universe may well be: “You break it, you buy it.” But a close second is: You can’t call women cruel and misogynist names, defame ethnic groups, discriminate based on religion, accuse opponents of being “un-American” and “treasonous,” excuse and encourage violence by your supporters, threaten political rivals with prison, tear migrant children from the arms of parents and then credibly call for national “unity” when it is politically useful.

This is the horrible reality of our political moment. The president of the United States says something entirely presidential — “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony” — and it did nothing more than add another layer to his lies. More specifically, President Trump wants Americans to join him in a fake reality — to prove their loyalty by taking outlandish hypocrisy at face value. It is like the sophomoric entrance ritual to some secret society. Eat this cow eye and pig intestine, and we will be bound forever by our willingness to do asinine things on command. Trump’s call for national unity is the functional equivalent of an offal banquet.

It would be different if Trump had accompanied his words of reconciliation with any sense of remorse. But this is a difficult thing for a narcissist to fake (though some have that talent). I come from a religious tradition where anything can be forgiven — but only if repentance involves demonstrated sincerity. Trump could not maintain his ruse of reconciliation for 15 seconds. He used his call for unity to blame the news media for hostility and negativity. This is like a leper blaming the mirror for his sores.

Michael Gerson (emphasis added).

Everybody, I think, knows this is true, but what do I know? I do not understand many of my countrymen any more. Maybe some of them really believe that the extreme snarkiness toward Trump of the New York Times, Washington Post and (slightly less) National Public Radio spontaneously combusted, and that I shouldn’t believe my lyin’ eyes telling me the Trump tossed matches almost every day.

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Pandering after relevance is a sure way to destroy the integrity of the church. (Attributed to Eugene Peterson by Mark Galli)

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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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Sunken into mendacity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyler O’Neil, quoting Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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

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

* * * * *

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

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.