Explaining myself

I posted last night some clippings from commentary on the U.S. Presidential debate of September 29, after almost four weeks’ absence and talk of ending the blog.

Problem 1 is that Wordpess, my platform, has been making “improvements” again. I’ve generally used its native editor, and they’ve replaced it with a monstrosity called a “block editor,” which is perfectly indecipherable. It wasn’t worth the effort to learn it since it’s a patently absurd way of writing essay-like things for people to read. [UPDDATE: As I subsequently tried to find a lighter graphic theme than War Correspondence had affected, it appeared that WordPress, or bloggery in general, is focused on commerce, photomontage, and other non-essay activities.] 

Problem 2 is not really a problem at all: even at my advanced age (500 dog years), I’m learning new tricks far more rewarding that mastering a stupid editor, such as not wallowing so much in news and commentary. This was made possible by spiritual adjustments which are best summarized by the advice of Fr. Stephen Freeman (for years, and especially here) and the late Fr. Thomas Hopcko. I’ve said for years that my epitaph should be “Darn! Just when I almost had it figured all out!” — a pathetic joke for a Christian, but an accurate reflection of how I was living. This annus horribilus has been a good one for taking stock of things and changing them as needed, and I can finally consider a better epitaph because that old one doesn’t fit any more.

If you think that’s too much information or a digression, it’s not: It means I’ve had less to say because I’m less “well-informed” and less in need of “venting” about things.

There may be more, but the third factor, the one facilitating my return to blogging, is the realization that I need not use WordPress’s stupid editor. I’ve acquired MarsEdit, on which I composed last night’s blog and am composing this one. It’s worth learning for me.

So I have the blogging tools I need but less to vent about. For that reason, I’ll almost certainly not return to daily blogging, and the conceit of warring against the deathworks already is feeling stale. I may return to the Tipsy Teetotaler name and a brighter graphic theme.

Finally, I commend to you Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not by Lies, which I got on the Tuesday release date and finished yesterday — a relatively ferocious pace for me (facilitated by not wasting time on ephemeral news — see, it all connects). I think Dreher is fundamentally right about the future for cultural conservatives, but I’m partial to a Christian (Lutheran) reviewer who suggested that we may be heading for more open and literal warfare between Social Justice Warriors on the Left and “Traditionalst” atavists on the Alt-Right, with sane Christians mostly suffering collateral damage rather than being the targets of the SJWs.

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

and

You shall love your crooked neighbour

“With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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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.

Scary stories ’round the campfire

Things are getting ugly, with Portland streets taken over by antifa (the press pretends that alt-right agitators are the real story) and Trump’s takeover of the GOP playing out pathetically at a convention with no platform, only grievances and lurid stories around the campfire.

Anyone who didn’t already know this but believes it now because Michael Cohen said it should be disenfranchised.

Here’s the story.

Love the illustration, but the issue is serious. After saying (truthfully, I think) that he didn’t know much about QAnon, he rambled on about it in ways likely to make some of his supporters QAnon acolytes. And his Covid-19 misinformation is legendary.

Here’s the story.


Tim Alberta was trying to figure out what it means, today, to be a Republican, what they believe in:

I decided to call Frank Luntz. Perhaps no person alive has spent more time polling Republican voters and counseling Republican politicians than Luntz, the 58-year-old focus group guru. …

“You know, I don’t have a history of dodging questions. But I don’t know how to answer that. There is no consistent philosophy,” [GOP focus group guru Frank] Luntz responded. “You can’t say it’s about making America great again at a time of Covid and economic distress and social unrest. It’s just not credible.”

Luntz thought for a moment. “I think it’s about promoting—” he stopped suddenly. “But I can’t, I don’t—” he took a pause. “That’s the best I can do.”

When I pressed, Luntz sounded as exasperated as the student whose question I was relaying. “Look, I’m the one guy who’s going to give you a straight answer. I don’t give a shit—I had a stroke in January, so there’s nothing anyone can do to me to make my life suck,” he said. “I’ve tried to give you an answer and I can’t do it. You can ask it any different way. But I don’t know the answer. For the first time in my life, I don’t know the answer.”

It can now safely be said, as his first term in the White House draws toward closure, that Donald Trump’s party is the very definition of a cult of personality. It stands for no special ideal. It possesses no organizing principle. It represents no detailed vision for governing. Filling the vacuum is a lazy, identity-based populism that draws from that lowest common denominator [Mark] Sanford alluded to. If it agitates the base, if it lights up a Fox News chyron, if it serves to alienate sturdy real Americans from delicate coastal elites, then it’s got a place in the Grand Old Party.

“Owning the libs and pissing off the media,” shrugs Brendan Buck, a longtime senior congressional aide and imperturbable party veteran if ever there was one. “That’s what we believe in now. There’s really not much more to it.”

… Unsavory fringe characters have always looked for ways to penetrate the mainstream of major parties—and mostly, they have failed. What would result from a fringe character leading a party always remained an open question. It has now been asked and answered: Some in the party have embraced the extreme, others in the party have blushed at it, but all of them have subjugated themselves to it. The same way a hothead coach stirs indiscipline in his players, the same way a renegade commander invites misconduct from his troops, a kamikaze president inspires his party to pursue martyrdom.

… This continues to be the bane of the GOP’s existence: The party is so obsessed with fighting that it has lost sight of what it’s fighting for.

Tim Alberta, The Grand Old Meltdown – POLITICO

(I pause to note that I hate with the white-hot heat of a million suns the new block-oriented WordPress editor. It’s worse than the new Facebook. And I don’t yet know how to get the old one back.)

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.

White nationalist terrorism

I read news reports of mass shootings, and commentary about them, selectively. Few tell me anything vital I didn’t already know. The new twist is the 8chan angle, so I read a little about that.

I’m not saying “there’s nothing we can do about them.” Once seen, it’s hard to unsee that white nationalist terrorism has surpassed jihadi terrorism as a threat on our shores, and we should treat it as we treat jihad in law enforcement strategy.

But:

[L]aw enforcement isn’t enough. Targeted gun control isn’t enough. Culture matters …

Members of a radicalized underground often work diligently to introduce their themes and ideas into public discourse. They want to kill, yes, but they also want to change the culture. When national leaders use their rhetoric or adopt their themes, it is thrilling. It is energizing. It is inspiring to the movement. It tells them that they just might win.

Think of the thrills, energy, and inspiration they’ve experienced from the highest office in the land — and from parts of the most popular cable network in the land — since Trump came down the escalator in 2015.

Alt-right support for Trump wasn’t random. It wasn’t arbitrary. It was directly related to his rhetoric, and it was cultivated by his allies, and it was cultivated in part because it was a new way to fight, to punch back against the hated Left.

… [W]hen a nation experiences the wave of mass killings, threats, harassment, and radicalization we see now, it’s time for American leaders to respond with unequivocal, relentless messages not just of condemnation for racists but also with their own words of reconciliation and national unity …

… It’s worth saying 10,000 times: Fighting for your political values does not ever require you to abandon decency and respect. In fact, given the magnitude of the issues at stake, decency is even more urgent. It helps keep emotions under control.

… [O]ur nation’s leaders need to focus on reconciliation and unity, and if they are not up to that most basic and fundamental aspect of their job, then they must be replaced.

David French, Declare War on White-Nationalist Terrorism (emphasis added).

You know full well that Donald J. Trump is not up to that aspect of the job. He cannot convincingly utter conciliatory words.

But — and this is not a throw-away line — it remains to be decided whether his Democrat opponent next year will also be divisive. There are several prominent in the twenty-plus hopefuls who are licking their chops in anticipation of meting out pay-backs, though they may try to conceal it. I won’t name names, because I haven’t kept a scorecard to prove my case, but I form pretty accurate impressions.

It may come down to a matter of degree. Less divisive is better. Less blatantly divisive is better, too (I’ll bet Democrats are wistful about the days of “dog whistles”). The Democrat field offers a few candidates who can convincingly play the role of Reconciler-in-Chief.

But when it comes to degrees of divisiveness, platforms and policy agendas start to weigh more, too, as does the placement of the pale. I’m more than okay with white nationalists being beyond. I’m more than okay with Connor Betts being beyond. I’m not okay with orthodox Christians being beyond.

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

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

Omitted legacy

This is, though certainly not by premeditated design, a supplement to yesterday’s blog.

“The alt-right is a combination of ideology and tactics,” [David] French said Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “Ideologically, the alt-right is white nationalist. It is post-constitutionalist. And it is often quite pagan … Nobody knows how big it is … if it numbers in the thousands or the tens of thousands … It’s not a huge number of people.”

But tactically, he continued, “they punch way above their weight. So how are they doing it? Well, in 2015 and 2016 … they did it as a wave of targeted harassment directed primarily against Trump critics.” …

As he sees it, the alt-right’s core tactic is inflicting pain for political ends, “often in the way that is the most personal.” Is the Republican Party influenced by the alt-right? “Yes,” French said. “Cruelty as a tactic is now a part of the playbook on the right.”

For anyone who doubts that Trump, the Republican Party’s leader, has a cruel streak, read up on his past. If you doubt that Trumpism has that same streak, read Adam Serwer’s “The Cruelty Is the Point” …

Conor Friedersdorf, The Alt-Right’s Tactical Cruelty. I did read up on it, and even read Adam Serwer (who’s not my cup of tea in most regards).

People disagree about the ideal traits to have in a leader. But almost no one wants a president who has proven himself an addict to being cruel, mean-spirited, and spiteful. For decades, Trump has been deliberately cruel to others, often in the most public ways. He behaves this way flagrantly, showing no sign of shame or reflection.

What kind of person still acts that way at 70? A bad person.

It is that simple.

Conor Friedersdorf, The Senseless Cruelty of Donald J. Trump. This concludes a long and convincing set of examples.

At a rally in Mississippi, a crowd of Trump supporters cheered as the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who has said that Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump has nominated to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, attempted to rape her when she was a teenager. “Lock her up!” they shouted.

Even those who believe that [Christine Blasey] Ford fabricated her account, or was mistaken in its details, can see that the president’s mocking of her testimony renders all sexual-assault survivors collateral damage. Anyone afraid of coming forward, afraid that she would not be believed, can now look to the president to see her fears realized. Once malice is embraced as a virtue, it is impossible to contain.

Adam Serwer, The Cruelty Is the Point. True to form, Adam Serwer frequently disappointed, but his introductory material about grinning lynch mobs was powerful and on point, and this block quote is true and revealing.

If you wonder about my agenda in writing these things, I’ll try to summarize as truthfully as I can:

  1. They are deathworks and I’m loathe to call out only deathworks from the left. Ephesians 5:11, if that helps.
  2. I’m anticipating another horrid Presidential electoral choice next year, and I “think out loud” about such things. Policy aside, the cultural legacy Trump is leaving is deeply, deeply evil.
  3. I’m calling to repentance professing fellow-Christians who not merely considered  Trump the lesser evil in 2016, but have become his enthusiasts. That is incomprehensible to me and legitimately scandalous to the sentient non-Christian world.

That’s what comes to mind.

Though I may belabor some topics, I haven’t repeated this often enough: The 2016 Presidential election foreshadows major partisan re-alignments I’m still having trouble projecting. My alienation from the Republican Party grows ever deeper, but the Democrats, for new reasons as well as the same old same-old, are not attracting me at all.

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

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

Joe Biden and the Crackers

I had vaguely registered some backlash against Joe Biden’s comments about James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, and I couldn’t help but wonder (1) was there some malapropism in Biden’s comments that wasn’t being reported and (2) is there anything at all to commend in the backlash?

The answer to both my questions appears to be “no.” This is not just an instance where the younger generation has apprehended some truth my generation has trouble seeing. It is an instance where my generation is right and young progressive pearl-clutchers are out of their right minds.*

I base this opinion on Bret Stephens’ Saturday OpEd in the New York Times, which completely vindicates my antecedent bias.

I cheerfully admit that I haven’t read Biden’s critics on this point, and I cheerfully admit it because life is too short to explore every rabbit trail, or, as my late father once said, “you don’t have to dig through garbage to find food in this country.”

Here is the key passage in Stephens, in my estimation:

All of this is evidence of what psychologist Pamela Paresky calls the “apocalyptic” approach to politics that increasingly typifies today’s progressivism. “It is an apocalyptic view, not a liberal one, that rejects redemption and forgiveness in favor of condemnation and excommunication,” she writes in Psychology Today. “It is an apocalyptic perspective, not a liberal one, that sees the world as needing to be destroyed and replaced rather than improved and perfected.”

Paresky contrasts that to what’s been called the “prophetic culture” in American politics, which takes human nature as it is and gladly goes to work with its crooked timber. Abraham Lincoln was a part of this prophetic culture, as was Martin Luther King Jr. John Brown was part of the apocalyptic one — as is, in its way, the new “cancel culture” of the left.

The irony here is that the left’s apocalyptic tendencies have everything in common with the behavior of the Trumpian right: the smash-mouth partisanship; the loathing for moderates on its own side; the conviction that its opponents are unbelievably stupid as well as irredeemably evil; the belief that the only political victories worth gaining are total ones.

The apocalyptic view (remember “The Flight 93 Election”?) does not bode well for political peace any time soon. I can only hope that the press has amplified it a hundredfold for commercial reasons, and that its prevalence in the electorate at large is negligible.

* Update: Okay, okay, okay. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son’” was a malapropism, and since Biden never is Mr. Malaprope, he must have meant something totally toxic and un-American by it.

Potpourri 1/16/19

 

1

When I’m looking for guidance in my life I always turn to a Dow 30 company … P&G (Gillette) for my relationship with women. Goldman Sachs for child rearing. Chevron for a mid-life crisis. Walgreen’s for spiritual insights.

A snarky Wall Street Journal reader on odd new Gillette ads. Suffice that I’m stickin’ with Harry’s.

2

[C]onsider what Sean Hannity had to say about taxing the rich. What’s that? You say that Hannity isn’t a member of the Trump administration? But surely he is in every sense that matters. In fact, Fox News isn’t just state TV, its hosts clearly have better access to the president, more input into his decisions, than any of the so-called experts at places like the State Department or the Department of Defense.

Anyway, Hannity declared that raising taxes on the wealthy would damage the economy, because “rich people won’t be buying boats that they like recreationally,” and “they’re not going to be taking expensive vacations anymore.”

Paul Krugman, Donald Trump and His Team of Morons. Now that is an epic Freudian Slip.

3

In their criticism of King, you get the sense that Republicans are actually relieved to be in the position of attacking racism for a change, instead of being forced to defend it from the president. They seem to be signaling that they are not really the bigots they appear to be. Republicans seem desperate to explain that they are normal and moral — despite all the evidence. Attacking King reveals some sense of shame at what they have become.

Yet, in the end, Republican critics of King manage to look worse rather than better. If racism is the problem, then President Trump is a worse offender. And the GOP’s relative silence on Trump is a sign of hypocrisy and weakness.

By any standard, Trump says things that are reckless, wrong, abhorrent, offensive and racist. Until Republicans can state this reality with the same clarity and intensity that they now criticize King, they will be cowards in a time crying for bravery.

Michael Gerson

This is a perfectly defensible opinion, and it is opinion that Gerson writes for the Washington Poast. The NYT crossed the traditional line by putting the equivalent sentiment it in news:

House Republican leaders removed Representative Steve King of Iowa from the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees on Monday night as party officials scrambled to appear tough on racism and contain damage from comments Mr. King made to The New York Times questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive.

Trip Gabriel, Jonathan Martin and Nicholas Fandos (emphasis added). But that traditional line has been pretty well obliterated by advocacy journalism, I fear, and editorializing within news stories is likely here to stay.

Now for my opinion: by uttering his most notorious sentence (“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”), Rep. King brought Western civilization into disrepute, and should be tarred, feathered, and rode back to Iowa on a rail. Censure is too mild.

4

Having announced a Presidential run, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard puts some distance between herself and the Democrat voices that keep telling me I’d better not vote for them if I value first-class citizenship:

Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that there “shall be no religious test” for any seeking to serve in public office.

No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because “the dogma lives loudly within you” as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings in 2017 to serve as U.S. Circuit Court judge in the 7th Circuit.

While I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state as a necessity to the health of our nation, no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office.

The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today.

We must call this out for what it is – religious bigotry. This is true not just when such prejudice is anti-Catholic, but also when it is anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, or anti-Protestant, or any other religion.

(Emphasis added)

5

The guy who called out Emily is named Herbert. He told “Invisibilia” that calling her out gave him a rush of pleasure, like an orgasm. He was asked if he cared about the pain Emily endured. “No, I don’t care,” he replied. “I don’t care because it’s obviously something you deserve, and it’s something that’s been coming. … I literally do not care about what happens to you after the situation. I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever.”

But the “Invisibilia” episode implicitly suggests that call-outs are how humanity moves forward. Society enforces norms by murdering the bullies who break them. When systems are broken, vigilante justice may be rough justice, but it gets the job done. Prominent anthropologist Richard Wrangham says this is the only way civilization advances that he’s witnessed.

Really? Do we really think cycles of cruelty do more to advance civilization than cycles of wisdom and empathy? I’d say civilization moves forward when we embrace rule of law, not when we abandon it. I’d say we no longer gather in coliseums to watch people get eaten by lions because clergy members, philosophers and artists have made us less tolerant of cruelty, not more tolerant.

The problem with the pseudo-realism of the call-out culture is that it is so naïve. Once you adopt binary thinking in which people are categorized as good or evil, once you give random people the power to destroy lives without any process, you have taken a step toward the Rwandan genocide.

Even the quest for justice can turn into barbarism if it is not infused with a quality of mercy, an awareness of human frailty and a path to redemption. The crust of civilization is thinner than you think.

David Brooks, The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture.

This one caused me a bit of introspection, as I have on several occasions committed pre-internet acts of calling out, about which acts I’ll not go into detail. Let’s just say there can be a fine line between wanton cruelty and condoning by silence, and I may have landed on the wrong side of that line.

6

Without culture and its attendant explanation through story and ritual, what is left instead is “the quest for well-being,” where intellectuals “serve the public not in order to elevate it but to satisfy the need for novelty.” One need only look at the current adulation of TED talks or Silicon Valley to see confirmation of his prediction.

Gerald Russello, The Nonconformist, a review of Augusto Del Noce’s The Age of Secularization.

7

Wisdom requires us to ignore most provocations.

David Warren, The Wisdom of Sheep

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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.

Clippings (and a little opinion) 11/30/18

In some ways the most important items are last, but they have to do with heroes like Robert Mueller and villains like Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen. Some of you therefore might experience serious cognitive dissonance.

1

It’s unusual to open with the insights of a pseudonymous (or at least obscure) monk, but here goes:

The promise from the Universe, the deal I was offered by 1990’s-2000’s liberalism, is aptly summarized by Anthony Kennedy’s baptism of Existentialism as The American Philosophy in his Casey opinion, which self-same authority he quotes in his Planned Parenthood vs. Casey opinion. “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The Universe had begun to offer unlimited pregnancy-free sex via the birth control pill, and we happily accepted this deal. But the Universe didn’t keep up its end of the bargain, and guys kept on knocking up the ladies when they were hoping not to. Anthony Kennedy stepped up and let us know that the Universe would be held to its promise, for we have trusted in it up to this point, and some unwanted fetuses will not stand in the way of the promise.

… In the name of freedom, we denied the Incarnation of the One Logos, unaware of that denial’s concomitant task: the unique re-logosification of each material being.

Brother Sean Finds The Key

2

I do not trust our mainstream news media. That distrust is not Trumpian, so let me explain.

I think the Wall Street Journal does the best job of straight news reporting and avoiding sensationalism, but there’s always the problem of bias in story selection (the judgment of what is “newsworthy”) and its Opinion page is predictably—well, it’s predictably what you’d expect from a very committed capitalist journal during a time of resurgent putative socialism.

So I check the New York Times daily to see what more might be newsworthy (and to read conservative and liberal-leaning opinion from columnists I’ll not enumerate). But even excluding excluding sexual deviance—a topic of endless fascination at NYT (and one on which it has semi-officially decreed that only one opinion is permissible: deviance is entirely immutable yet fluid, unchosen yet an important part of designing one’s own very best life, without moral implications and nobody else’s business except when media want to shove it at us)—the Times has become unreliable at straight-up reporting, mixing opinion into its news too often and systematically excluding some voices.

I got so disgusted with the click-baity headlines at “the Jeff Bezos Washington Post” that I now skip directly to the Opinion page and the articles categorized under “Acts of Faith.”

There are, of course, weeklies and thoughtful journals beyond that.

But all those are mainstream, and I find the entire US mainstream frequently non compos mentis. So I’ve aggregated some non-mainstream voices, no less insane at times, but insane in different ways and a helpful balance to the mainstream.

It would be untruthful to suggest Breitbart, as I very rarely go there, but it might provide some balance to my list, which leans progressive (because the mainstream is more conservative than most people appreciate). In some ways, my whole RSS feed qualifies as alternate voices, with a few exceptions like Dilbert and religious news and commentary.

This is an answer to anyone wondering “where does he come up with all this stuff?”

3

Speaking of Traditional Right, 4th Generation War (a/k/a 4GW) is one of its obsessions:

The recent mass shooting at a country music bar in California again raises an important question: are such shootings, at least some of them, an aspect of Fourth Generation war?

… so far we know no motive for the California shooter. So where, if anywhere, does it fit into Fourth Generation war?

The answer, I think, may be that this and similar cases are men’s reply to the war on men being waged by feminism. When women get seriously angry, they talk. When men get seriously angry, they kill. And feminism’s war on men, which is being carried to ever-greater extremes, is making more and more men, especially young men, very angry.

The so-called “#MeToo” campaign is only the latest absurdity. Of course most women have been subject of sexual advances from men. It is hard-wired into human nature, and into the nature of most of the animal kingdom, that the male takes the initiative in sexual encounters. Most women expect and want men to do so …

But feminism now decrees that any man taking the initiative risks being charged with that most heinous of all crimes, “sexual harassment”. Even if the woman welcomed his advances at the time, if she later changes her mind, he is guilty. He is presumed guilty until proven innocent and the woman’s word must be taken as true. The man who is convicted is thrown out of school, loses his job, and may find his whole career path closed to him–all on nothing more than a woman’s word. Of course men are getting angry ….

William S. Lind

4

I’m keeping an eye on Hungary because of my sympathy for some of what Viktor Orban has done and despite the drumbeat from our mainstream media labeling Orban or Hungary “far right.”

A NYT opinion piece Friday accuses Orban of “attacking civil society,” which, if true, would be a major black mark. But the link to prove that charge opens this piece, which opens:

Hungary’s parliament has voted to tighten control over non-governmental organisations that receive financing from abroad, as prime minister Viktor Orban continues to rail against alleged foreign interference in his rule.

(Emphasis added) It’s true that Orban’s vision of a good Hungarian society differs from that of, most notably, George Soros, King of the Meddlesome “Open Society” NGOs. But I don’t consider outside NGOs to be “civil society”, or at least consider the question so debatable that it’s tendentious to equate opposing foreign NGOs with “attacking civil society.” Hungary already has a very venerable civil society, thank you, even if Communism suppressed it.

Critics say the rules are intended to hinder the work of NGOs and portray them as suspicious and disloyal elements …

Yes. And just what is your point?

5

[T]his week the Senate Judiciary Committee had to halt progress on confirming talented judges thanks to GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

… Mr. Flake has said he will block all judicial nominees until he receives a vote on a bill that would insulate Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation from normal political accountability …

Mr. Flake’s stunt will have zero effect on President Trump or Mr. Mueller, and he’s compromising a substantive principle to make a futile political gesture. Mr. Flake is hurting the cause of confirming conservative judges who would enforce the Constitution in the name of a bill that is unconstitutional.

The legislation violates the Constitution because it would prevent the special counsel from being fired except by a Senate-confirmed Justice Department official for “good cause.” But Article II allows the President to fire inferior officers of the executive branch at will.

Wall Street Journal editorial (emphasis added)

Tim Scott drove the final nail in the coffin on the nomination of Thomas Farr on grounds that his fingerprints were on an illegal effort to suppress black votes in South Carolina in 1990. I respect that, especially considering Sen. Scott’s skin tone and unique position.

But I’d have to agree with the Journal on Jeff Flake’s blanket obstruction, and for the reasons I’ve quoted. What good is an oath to uphold the Constitution if the urge to continue the pissing contest with Donald Trump can overcome it?

Jeff Flake’s Sad Exit” indeed.

6

The Benedict Option has now been translated and published in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Portuguese. It will soon be published in Croatian and Korean. The book has sold fewer raw copies in Europe than in the US, where it was a bestseller, but from my calculations, has done much better proportionally with European Christians than it has with American Christians. Why is that?

[Daniel] McCarthy’s [Spectator US] column explains it, pretty much. So many conservative American Christians have not yet come to terms with demographic reality. They still believe that because Donald Trump is president and the Republican Party is doing well politically, that they (we) have meaningful cultural power. European Christians don’t have the luxury of this illusion, and haven’t had for some time. They understand clearly that the future of the Christian faith depends on recognizing reality and acting on facts, not sentimentality.

Rod Dreher

7

[T]here were real problems facing the working class, a social crisis that had some link to stagnating incomes and the decline of industrial jobs, and the tax-cuts-as-panacea style of conservatism had passed its sell-by date. What was needed was not a repudiation of Reaganomics but an updating (and a recovery of some of Reagan’s own forgotten impulses), in which conservatism would seek to solidify the material basis of the working-class family and blue-collar communities — with child tax credits, wage subsidies, a more skills-based immigration system — even as it retained its basic commitment to free trade, light regulation and economic growth.

That was the story we wanted Republican politicians to tell. Instead Donald Trump came along and told a darker one. “Sadly the American dream is dead,” he announced after that escalator ride, and proceeded to campaign on a radically pessimistic message about the post-Reagan economic order, in which bad trade deals and mass immigration were held responsible for what he called “American carnage” in working-class communities.

During the campaign I called this message “reform conservatism’s evil twin,” since it started from a similar assumption (that the existing Republican policy agenda wasn’t offering enough to the American worker) and ended up in a more apocalyptic and xenophobic place.

Ross Douthat

8

Here is one fact beyond dispute. Look at the men whom Trump has traditionally surrounded himself with: Stone, Corsi, Paul Manafort, Cohen. These are some of the least reputable people in American politics. Trump’s inner circle has always been a cesspool.

And there is a reason for this — a reason Trump has traditionally employed unethical people to serve his purposes. It is because he has unethical jobs for them to do, involving schemes to remove political threats and gain electoral advantage. And there is every reason to believe that Trump has fully participated in such schemes.

Michael Gerson

9

When asked whether his party’s rout of Republicans on Nov. 6 indicated that many voters recoiled when they saw “R” next to a candidate’s name, [Colorado] Gov.-elect Jared Polis demurs, saying what they effectively saw was: “T.”

George Will

10

If you have any interest in what Special Counsel Robert Mueller is up to, Ken White lays it out in the Atlantic. This has been a very consequential week, with heavy foreshadowings.

I now fully expect the new House to impeach Trump, with well-supported and serious “high crimes and misdemeanors.” As usual, “it’s not the ‘crime,’ but the coverup.”

I cannot (yet?) predict what the craven Senate will do.

(Update: I tweaked a typos and an artifacts of rephrasing.)

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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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Is (Liberal) Democracy Dying?

The Atlantic for October is a theme issue:

840

I can’t provide URLs because it’s still subscriber-only, but you get get to your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. All of the following are from that issue, as was Anne Applebaum, A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come, about which I blogged earlier.

1

It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.

Yuval Noah Harari, Why Technology Favors Tyranny.

And a stunning microcosm:

On December 6, 2017, another crucial milestone was reached when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 had won a world computer chess championship in 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as decades of computer experience. By contrast, AlphaZero had not been taught any chess strategies by its human creators — not even standard openings. Rather, it used the latest machine-learning principles to teach itself chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of 100 games that the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish 8, AlphaZero won 28 and tied 72 — it didn’t lose once. Since AlphaZero had learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to the human eye. They could be described as creative, if not downright genius.

Can you guess how long AlphaZero spent learning chess from scratch, preparing for the match against Stockfish 8, and developing its genius instincts? Four hours.

(Emphasis added)

2

Many progressives, particularly young ones, have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty is an engine of discrimination. Property rights are a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that “a diverse and inclusive society” is more important than “protecting free speech rights.” Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is “essential,” compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

… One of our students told us: “I don’t know any lefty people my age who aren’t seriously questioning whether the First Amendment is still on balance a good thing.”

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, The Threat of Tribalism.

But wait! There’s more! It’s not tribalist without at least two tribes!

In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press “to criticize politicians” was “very important” to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. In other 2017 surveys, more than half of Trump supporters said the president “should be able to overturn decisions by judges that he disagrees with,” and more than half of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it “until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.”

I can’t pick which side is worse. Can you?

3

Jeffrey Rosen incited in me kindly feelings toward California:

Voters in several states are experimenting with alternative primary systems that might elect more moderate representatives. California and Washington State have adopted a “top two” system, in which candidates from both parties compete in a nonpartisan primary, and the two candidates who get the most votes run against each other in the general election — even if they’re from the same party. States, which Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy,” are proving to be the most effective way to encourage deliberation at a time when Congress acts only along party lines.

Madison and the Mob.

4

This author was shot, randomly, with a 22:

Knee-jerk calls for gun control didn’t resonate with me. Yet a reverence toward guns no longer felt right either.

I found my ambivalence unsettling. Everyone else seemed so sure about how to feel about guns—people on campus, on the internet, back home. Unlike most of them, I had made intimate acquaintance with gun violence. I should have had some special insight. If what had happened to me wasn’t fodder for clarity, I feared nothing ever would be.

As we drove, he asked me to remind him what I was writing about. I said some- thing lazy, offhanded: “What it was like getting shot in a place that loves guns.”

“It’s not love,” he said. We pulled into the parking lot of his store, which sits high on a hill. You can see almost all of Tuscaloosa from there. “It’s about necessity.” He mentioned rattlesnakes and coyotes. For people in rural areas — that’s more than 40 percent of Alabamians — guns are still a day-to-day defense against such animals. Yes, there is ample love for guns in Alabama. But to forget that they’re tools is to miss an important point.

Elaina Plott, The Bullet in My Arm.

Perhaps, but they’re not the kind of tools Our People use now, are they dear?

5

A 2018 U.S. Magazine asking whether democracy is dying might be suspected of a hit on 45, but it really was not. He did get more than passing mention in David Frum’s contribution, though:

[A] Donald Trump with impulse control would not be Donald Trump …

When Trump refers to “my” generals or “my” intelligence agencies, he is teaching his supporters to rethink how the presidency should function. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s remark that he and his wife were but “the latest tenants in the People’s House.”

In 2016, Trump supporters openly brandished firearms near polling places. Since then, they’ve learned to rationalize clandestine election assistance from a hostile foreign government. The president pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for violating civil rights in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of violating election-finance laws—sending an unmistakable message of support for attacks on the legal order. Where President Trump has led, millions of people who regard themselves as loyal Americans, believers in the Constitution, have ominously followed.

Building an Autocracy.

6

To stop the rot afflicting American government, Americans are going to have to get back in the habit of democracy.

[In the 19th Century] From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives.

Civic participation was thus the norm, not the exception.

Democracy had become the shared civic religion of a people who otherwise had little in common.

But the United States is no longer a nation of joiners. As the political scientist Robert Putnam famously demonstrated in Bowling Alone, participation in civic groups and organizations of all kinds declined precipitously in the last decades of the 20th century.

Trump turned the long-standing veneration of civic procedure on its head. He proclaimed that America is “rigged”; that “the insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money.” The norms and practices of democratic governance, he insisted, had allowed elites to entrench themselves.

Trump secured the Republican nomination by speaking directly to those voters who had the least experience with democratic institutions. In April 2016, when the Republican field had narrowed from 17 candidates to three, a PRRI/The Atlantic survey found Trump enjoying a narrow lead over second-place Ted Cruz among Republican-leaning voters, 37 to 31 percent. But among those who seldom or never participated in community activities such as sports teams, book clubs, parent-teacher associations, or neighborhood associations, Trump led 50 to 24 percent. In fact, such civically disengaged voters accounted for a majority of his support.

Yoni Applebaum, Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Any More.

7

And finally:

The cardinal fact always is the loss of contact with objective information. Public as well as private reason depends upon it. Not what somebody says, not what somebody wishes were true, but what is so beyond all our opining, constitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And a society which lives at second-hand will commit incredible follies and countenance inconceivable brutalities if that contact is intermittent and untrustworthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that flourishes where discrimination fails, and only those who are at grips with things themselves are impervious to it. For … the demagogue, whether of the Right or the Left, is, consciously or unconsciously an undetected liar.

Walter Lippman, November 1919 (before my father was born), quoted in a side-bar.

I’m venturing a guess that nobody born since 1970 will understand his use of “discrimination” unless they have a liberal arts college education.

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Friday Politics 9/14/18

1

I’m sure that if Brett Kavanaugh had not “misled the Senate under oath,” he’d have had Patrick Leahy’s vote for confirmation, but gosh durn it, he just had to mislead ’em.

What a bunch of preening jackasses we’ve elected (and thus, by definition, deserve)!

Speaking of which:

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) offered to sacrifice his political career in a move obviously calculated to serve his political career — boldly releasing “confidential” committee documents that had already been released and that did nothing to prove Kavanaugh’s unfitness.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) hinted darkly at the malignant influence of the Federalist Society — though it turned out that every member of the current Supreme Court, and Whitehouse himself, had participated in Federalist Society events.
  • Was Kavanaugh somehow personally responsible for the birth-control views of a plaintiff because the nominee made reference to it? This last charge — summarized by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as a “dog whistle going after birth control” — earned “Four Pinocchios” from The Post’s Fact Checker.

Each political side has chosen to live in a post-truth world. In one case, deceit serves the president’s interests and ego. In the other case, deceit serves progressive ideology. But in both instances, loyalty is proved by lies.

And by viciousness ….

 

2

As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

Anne Applebaum, A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come. This long and well-informed Atlantic article has me rethinking some things.

 

3

[W]here American conservatism began to go wrong[:] The goal is not to stand athwart history and cry “Stop!”, as William F. Buckley put it. It’s to be part of the stream of history and say: slow it down a bit, will you?

Andrew Sullivan. There’s much more there. I even bought a book on his recommendation.

 

4

When cars were first introduced, no one had to buy one if they didn’t want one. Now that we have reordered our entire society around them, outside of a very small number of cities, the use of an automobile is really no longer an option.

Motor vehicles have changed our urban form to the point where very few people live within walking distance of their job, shopping, or other everyday activities. And for those who do, the walk to that place is likely to be unpleasant and unsafe, due to the way that cars have altered the design of our streets and neighborhoods.

We should think long and hard about the fact that, within several decades, we reordered our entire society, our built environment, and our way of life to serve this machine that we were told would serve us.

Jason Segedy

 

5

The Carolinas can take solace during hurricane Florence that FEMA will give them the stellar, “unsung-success” treatment it gave Puerto Rico under the watchful eye of Glorious Leader.

 

6

Whatever you may think about [John] Kerry, he emerges in these pages as a man who’s strong enough not to worry that in telling the truth about himself, he might look weak.

David Ignatius, reviewing Kerry’s memoir, Every Day Is Extra.

No comment, no contrast, no way.

 

7

One company last year reportedly sold “unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water” for $6 a gallon.

Henry I. Miller

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