Inauguration, antecedents, accoutrements and sequelae

Out with the old

For a person who pledged to “drain the swamp,” [Trump’s] pardons show an unprecedented sense of sympathy (and clemency) for those who profiteered in public office. Yet, those pardons pales in comparison to the contradiction in one of Trump’s last acts as President: rescinding his bar on current and former members of his administration from lobbying their respective agencies for five years.

Jonathan Turley, Refilling the Swamp? Trump Rescinded The Ethical Lobbying Bar For Aides As He Was Leaving Office (emphasis added)

Indeed, some QAnon zombies realized at 12:01 pm Wednesday that they’d been punked, and they responded by feeling sick to their stomachs because their bodies weren’t accustomed to truth.

But far more — infinitely more — anyone who thought Trump had any intention of draining the swamp should be writhing in agony at allowing members of his administration to begin lobbying and otherwise cashing in immediately — a major if not defining marker of swampiness. It makes utter mockery of his ostentatious imposition of the bar in the first place.


Of all the figures around Trump, including Trump himself, Giuliani’s descent into villainy is the most tragic, because tragedy is about the downfall of heroes. Like all good villains, Giuliani is at peace with what he’s become. When warned by friends he’s setting fire to his legacy, Giuliani said, “My attitude about my legacy is f— it.”

Mission accomplished, Mr. Mayor.

Jonah Goldberg, The Remarkable Descent of Rudy Giuliani – The Dispatch

Because “tragedy is about the downfall of heroes,” Trump’s downfall will never qualify as tragic.


[V]ast swaths of the right still don’t see that they were wrong about anything.

Nearly all the usual suspects are like little kids who like to play with matches, despite constant warnings not to, standing in front of the smoldering ashes of their own home. When you say, “Do you understand now?” They’re like, “What? What’s the big deal?”

Worse, they’re constantly whining about how everything is so unfair. Newt Gingrich is blathering about how Democrats want to “exterminate” Republicans. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz are pretending they were right all along, and Jim Jordan is spewing nonsense about how impeachment is the apotheosis of unjust cancel culture. Hell, Bill Bennett is demanding that Biden “apologize” for Trump’s first impeachment (and stop the unjust and divisive second one). I am unaware of Bill saying that Trump has anything to apologize for in the events that got him impeached either time—or for anything else. My friend Bill Bennett—The author of The Death of Outrage, The Book of Virtues, The Moral Compass, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, et al.—looks upon Donald Trump, consults his clipboard of virtue, and says, “Yep. This checks out.”

My point is that while there’s plenty to gloat about, I don’t feel like gloating (much), because these people are taking all the fun out of it by doubling down on many of the worst aspects of Trumpism, starting with an utter denial that they did—or are doing—anything wrong. It’s one thing to dance in the end zone and celebrate a win. But when the losing team and its fans call the scoreboard “fake news” and just keep bleating about how they didn’t really lose, or that the game was rigged, or that they did nothing wrong when they told their fans to storm the field and wreck the place, gloating is robbed of some of its luster. And when good sportsmanship is redefined as pretending the losers were in fact cheated, anger is hard to keep at bay.

Jonah Goldberg, I’m Not Going To Say I Told You So … But – The G-File


“But the judges!” you protest. Fair point: Trump’s absurd attempts to overturn the election through specious legal challenges were laughed out of court by the very men and women he appointed to the bench. Even his judges think he’s a joke.

Everybody has figured that out. Except you.

And so, goodbye, Donald J. Trump, the man who wanted to be Conrad Hilton but turned out to be Paris Hilton. Au revoir, Ivanka and Jared, Uday and Qusay — there’s a table for four reserved for you at Dorsia. So long, Melania — it’s still not entirely clear what you got out of this, but I hope it was worth it. A fond farewell to Ted Cruz’s reputation and Mike Pence’s self-respect, Lindsey Graham’s manhood and Fox News’s business model. In with “Dr.” Jill Biden, out with “Dr.” Sebastian Gorka.

Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

I’m sure we’ll all meet again. But I’d really rather we didn’t.

Kevin D. Williamson, Witless Ape Rides Helicopter


The great theme of the Trump years, the one historians will note a century from now, was the failure of America’s expert class. The people who were supposed to know what they were talking about, didn’t.

Barton Swaim, Trump and the Failure of the Expert Class – WSJ.

There is more than a little irony in Swaim speculating about future historians’ verdict on the Trump era. At least the experts he derides speculated about things that were testable over the short term, whereas Swaim speculates about something a century in the future.

That experts don’t know what they’re talking about, of course, correct, though they’re not demostrably worse than the WSJ guy at the end of the bar after his seventh shot.

This is why I will be reducing my consumption of news and punditry again now that we have survived Trump’s assault on Democracy (during which assault I just couldn’t help myself). I prefer my own delusional predictions to others’.

In with the new

In May 2016, the federal government issued a mandate that would require a doctor to perform gender transition procedures on any patient, including a child, even if the doctor believed the procedure could harm the patient. The mandate required virtually all private insurance companies and many employers to cover gender reassignment therapy or face severe penalties and legal action.

But there were two major insurance plans exempted from HHS’s mandate—the plans run by HHS itself: Medicare and Medicaid. Why? Research shows that not only are there significant risks with gender reassignment therapy – especially in childhood – such as heart conditions, increased cancer risk, and loss of bone density, but studies show that children with gender dysphoria found that fewer than 1-in-4 children referred for gender dysphoria continued to experience that condition into adulthood. Some grew out of it, but many of the children ended up realizing that they were not transgender but instead gay. The government’s own panel of medical experts concluded that these therapies can be harmful and advised against requiring coverage of these medical and surgical procedures under Medicare and Medicaid.

Sisters of Mercy v. Azar – Becket.

This is the sort of liberal groin piety I fear will be institutionalized in the Biden administration. It is quite mad, but it appears to be every bit as much Democrat orthodoxy as tax cuts are now Republican orthodoxy.


The late novelist Michael Crichton once wrote:

> Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
>
> In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
>
> That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

True, true. It’s not just journalists, though, but all of us, about something. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Rod Dreher’s “Daily Dreher” Substack blog

So what is the purpose of the press? Is it merely to shape a consensus narrative, however removed from reality, that we can all live with?


Without doubt, there are non-Western groups that resist Western colonialism violently. But given that, in Selengut’s own account, the West is the aggressor, why is this not framed as an account of the violence of secularism? Or, if we take Selengut’s words about the proselytizing approach and religious conviction with which secularism is imposed on the rest of the world, why doesn’t Western secularism count as a type of religion? Either way, there is no basis for using this account of colonial violence and anticolonial reaction as evidence that the religious is peculiarly prone to violence in ways that the secular is not.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

[T]here is something in man that hungers for the exaltation of his own will, that thirsts after his own glory, something that longs for violence, for conquest and power — something that refuses to be civilized.

Treason: A Catholic Novel of Elizabethan England

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Inauguration Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri 12/19/20

The easy way for me to say this would be to cut-and-paste material I’ve already collected, but it would be inordinately long, imposing on intelligent readers, for me to do so. So let me summarize:

  • Donald Trump’s post-election lawsuits are all crap, with the exception of one he could and should have brought before the election if he was concerned about that state’s new election rules.
  • Trump and his team have been lying shamelessly about fraud in front of the cameras and on social media. The proof is that they don’t follow through by trying to prove it in court. The clearest example is that it admitted in Wisconsin federal court that the case was about little details of the means whereby administrators conducted the election, not about vote fraud. See this Andy McCarthy column (McCarthy supported Trump in the election).

It is a bitter disappointment that eight days after a snarky Wall Street Journal Op-Ed questioning Jill Biden’s insistence on the title “Doctor,” the pissing contest back and forth continues, with National Review descending into stuff like reading Dr. Biden’s dissertation and branding it “garbage.” See here, here and here.

I’m glad I’ve cut back on news consumption because it’s mostly manufactured controversies like this any more (and the Wall Street Journal knowingly manufactured it).

For what it’s worth, my late father referred to each of the Purdue professors in our Church as “Doc” — Doc Mott, Doc Remple, Doc Stanley, etc.


What’s even worse is First Things publishing a column that solemnly weighs the evidence of fraud, every instance of which has been thoroughly debunked if the author would pull his eyes out of his navel, his ears out the echo chamber, for a few minutes. See An Unstable System | John William O’Sullivan | First Things.

This is the sort of refutation that’s readily available:

Sure, it is easy to look at Biden and ask, “How could we possibly lose to this guy?” But Democrats are at least equally baffled that 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and, after four years of watching him in office, that 74 million did in 2020. The candidates on offer in both 2016 and 2020 were deeply distressing to a lot of Americans, many of whom no longer understand their neigh bors and most of whom decided to choose what they saw as a lesser evil. Trump, in particular, spent four years inflaming his critics’ loathing of him. He made the infuriating of liberals (“owning the libs,” in Internet-speak) central to his brand. Should we be surprised that liberals turned out in droves, if not to support Biden, then simply to stop being infuriated by Trump?

Yes, Biden held few in-person events, and drew far fewer in-person votes. But Bi den’s supporters were disproportionately people who preferred to err on the side of caution. For months, Democrats preached that in-person voting was unsafe; for months, Republicans preached that mail-in voting was untrustworthy. It should sur prise nobody that the two parties’ voters behaved in starkly different fashion.

… the timeline of vote counts was so predictable in 2020 that it had a name before Election Day: the “red mirage.” Because Democrats were more likely to vote by mail, and because the most heavily Democratic cities already tend to be the last counters owing to urban inefficiency, it was widely predicted that in those cities the counting of mail-in ballots would delay the most Democratic portion of the vote tally until the end. This did not happen everywhere: States such as Florida and Texas allowed mail-in ballots to be tabulated before Election Day. But Republican legislatures in the Midwest blocked early counting, and the result was in fact a high concen tration of Democratic ballots at the end. Everybody who was paying attention saw this coming a mile away.

Dan Mclaughlin, Presidential Election: ‘It Must Have Been Stolen’ | National Review


O sacred monarch, do not leave us. But if you do, we your faithful people will await your coming again in glory in 2024.

Alan Jacobs, The Return of the King (Snakes and Ladders)


On a much brighter note:

What’s especially striking to me is the reversal of the long historical pattern of the Rs representing the well-off and the Ds representing the struggling working people. That has reversed here just as it has nationally: The wealthier someone is around here, the more likely they are to be D … The Democratic Party that I knew and supported for 40 years was on the side of the working people, but that just isn’t true now, either legislatively or culturally … I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: If Democrats want to ‘unify’ the country—and I frankly don’t believe that they do—they’d get off their god damned high horses for once, and ditch their overweening, self-declared superiority, and join the human race.

Charlie Wilson, quoted by Tim Alberta in 20 Americans Who Explain the 2020 Election – POLITICO.

All other things aside, Trump’s basic lack of competency disqualifies him. I’m pretty sure a lot of people who voted for him wouldn’t want him for a boss, co-worker, or subordinate, yet they vote for him the way they might vote for a contestant on a TV reality show.

Stephen Rosenthal, quoted by Tim Alberta in 20 Americans Who Explain the 2020 Election – POLITICO

I’ve lived in SE Michigan my entire life, and have always been a Republican—part of the Evangelical-Republican alliance, back when it was, I believe, honorable. But Evangelicals as a whole lost their way many years ago when the alliance became a religious cause in itself, a cause larger than our former convictions … We became so enamored with power, it should have been no surprise to me (though it was) that evangelicals were and are willing to sacrifice our moral reputations for the sake of ‘winning.’ … I’ve hated every moment of Trump’s presidency, because of what I fear it’s done to the Gospel, and the reputations of those who claim to believe it.

Pastor Ken Brown, quoted by Tim Alberta in 20 Americans Who Explain the 2020 Election – POLITICO.

(But perhaps Pastor Brown has conflated charismatic flakes with traditional Evangelicals. See my recantation. The more I look, the more these New Apostolic Reformation theocrats seem clearly outside the commonest accepted boundaries of Evangelicalism. See, too, this Evangelical source that’s trying to be careful about NAR.)

“As with many if not most of our large institutions, these two parties are hollowed out … We saw in 2016, two outsiders, Sanders and Trump—not even historical members of the parties—were arguably the only candidates who brought any real dynamism to the race, whereas if these organizations were strong and highly functional, they wouldn’t even have permitted them to run under their party’s banners.”

In this regard, Rosenthal is a man after my own heart: I’m a firm believer that no conversation about institutional decline in America can be had without examining the deterioration of both major parties as gatekeepers to separate serious people from sideshows ….

Stephen Rosenthal, quoted (with approval) by Tim Alberta in 20 Americans Who Explain the 2020 Election – POLITICO

The whole Tim Alberta ‘splainer is worth your time if you want to hate your countrymen less.


You’ll notice we are not having a national debate about paying off poor people’s mortgages. We could do that just as easily if the self-declared champions of the poor had any interest in anything other than their own status and their own appetites. They don’t.

Kevin Williamson

The only explanation I’ve heard from the Democrats is that while the middle- and upper-classes have more student debt, student loan forgiveness would improve the net worth of poor debtors more.

Nice try. I do believe that Oren Cass’s campaign to make the GOP a union-friendly worker’s party has got real merit.


I proposed to my husband, Chasten, in an airport terminal.

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, joking about his qualifications after being nominated for Transportation Secretary by President-elect Joe Biden.

(Knowhere News)

It’s nice to know that there may be a sense of playfulness on Team Biden, but this (out of context, as it came to me) goes beyond playful to flippant or defiant. I trust that the Senate will wipe any smirk off his face in confirmation hearings.


America’s constitutional order, the political scientist Gregory Weiner argues, depends on a style of politics that the conservative political philosopher Michael Oakeshott called “nomocratic.” Nomocratic regimes hold themselves accountable to public processes (such as voting) whose outcome no one can be sure of in advance. They commit themselves to the rule of law and democratic decision making, even if the other side wins. Teleocratic politics, by contrast, is accountable to particular outcomes. Legitimacy comes not from following the agreed-upon rules but from obtaining the desired result. In other words, the election is valid—provided our side wins.

Trump has placed himself explicitly in the teleocratic camp. Teleocracy is incompatible with democracy and the rule of law; Trump’s position would once have horrified Republicans.

… Until Trump, no American politician had ever imagined running a fire-hose-of-falsehood campaign against the American public, much less had figured out how to do it. Trump saw the possibilities and capitalized on them. He opened the disinformation spigot on the first day of his presidency, with a blatant lie about the size of his inauguration crowd, and then spewed falsehoods at a rate that defied fact-checking—in October, more than 50 falsehoods a day.

… Trump’s development of an American model for mass disinformation may prove to be his most important and pernicious legacy.

Jonathan Rausch, What Trump Is Doing to the Country Right Now – The Atlantic


I called Klain the other day to ask him how he knew, to such a granular degree, that the Trump-Fauci relationship would go sideways. “We knew already that Trump has a style of governing that rejects facts and that demands that people see the world his way, that they live in his counterfactual reality,” he said. “He also has a tendency to downplay threats, whatever kind of threats they are. I knew Dr. Fauci well enough to know that he was going to tell the truth and speak out and that sooner or later that would run afoul of the Trump approach to governance.”

Klain was in a unique position to make predictions about COVID-19. As the coordinator of Obama’s successful fight against Ebola, he had developed important knowledge about infectious disease. But he also gained an understanding of Trump’s destructive impact on public health.

“One thing people forget is that after ‘birtherism’ blew up on Trump, he faded from view for a little while and only emerged back into our politics around Ebola,” Klain said. “He was the leading public voice attacking Obama’s Ebola response. His tweets—there are studies that show this—were a main cause of the fear that galvanized around Ebola. He tweeted that the efforts to fight Ebola in West Africa were a mistake, that bringing home the doctor who had contracted Ebola in West Africa was a mistake—he said he should be left to die. Trump was completely unhinged from science, and this had a significant impact on the public psyche. It gave me an early indication of how he would handle a pandemic.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, Ron Klain on Donald Trump and the Coronavirus Outbreak – The Atlantic


Last, but sadly not least:

Every time that the science clashed with the messaging, messaging won.

Kyle McGowan, quoted by Noah Weiland, ‘Like a Hand Grasping’: Trump Appointees Describe the Crushing of the C.D.C.. I was afraid I was seeing that in “real time.”

Church and State, but not Church/State

Where religion and politics meet

David French is not happy with his co-religionists, who he provincially calls “the Church”:

… core biblical values are contingent, but support for Donald Trump is not …

We’re way, way past concerns for the church’s “public witness.” We’re way past concerns over whether the “reputation” of the church will survive this wave of insanity. There is no other way to say this. A significant movement of American Christians—encouraged by the president himself—is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic.

It’s clear now that when many of those people declared Trump to be “God’s anointed” they did not mean that his presidency was “instituted by God” in the same manner as other governing authorities, as described in Romans 13. (By conventional Christian reasoning, Joe Biden’s upcoming presidency is also instituted by God.)

No, they believe that Trump had a special purpose and a special calling, and that this election defeat is nothing less than a manifestation of a Satanic effort to disrupt God’s plan for this nation. They were not “holding their nose” to support him. They were deeply, spiritually, and personally invested in his political success.

We know that mainstream American Christian leaders can unite to condemn secular and progressive movements and ideas they find biblically problematic. For example, late last month the presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries united to declare that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”

As I’ve written, critical race theory has its uses and its flaws, but I wonder—how many critical race theorists are in conservative Christian pews? But how many more election conspiracy theorists and Christian nationalists are sitting right there, including in my own denomination, fervently believing lies and fervently praying for actions and outcomes that are fundamentally unjust?

Simply put, there should be at least as much concern about injustice and sin from the religious right as from the secular left.

David French, The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism

French’s column (along with Damon Linker’s gimlet-eyed identification of Trump as “demonic”) has me musing about whether Donald Trump qualifies for the title “AntiChrist” according to the standards of those who obsess over identifying AntiChrist.

And French’s labeling of Christianish Trumpists as part of “the church” reinforces my skepticism about Evangelical ecclesiology (French is Evangelical or at least Evangelical-adjacent; I think he’d choose the former) — about the possibility of Christ’s Church being so expansive as to take in delusional political freaks whose main interest in Christ seems to be His political utility.

Sigh! It’s none of my business to stake out the boundaries of the Church, but I can understand the reflex “if this is Christianity, I want no part of it.” I wish I could say “this is not, in any sense, Christianity,” but I can’t. I can (and do below) say something else that’s just as decisive for me.


Evangelicalism has figured out how to avoid the numerical decline besetting many religions: become so identified with Republican politics that people whose Lord and Savior is the GOP will self-identify as “Evangelical,” albeit without darkening the doors of church. For instance,

for 2008, 2012, and 2016 low attending evangelicals all start in basically the same spot – 35–40% conservative. But look at the solid pink line representing the data from 2019. Nearly half of self-identified evangelicals who never go to church identified as conservative (a jump of basically ten points).

the most religiously devout evangelical in 2019 is a bit less likely to be conservative than a devout evangelical from 2008.

Ryan P. Burge, So, Why is Evangelicalism Not Declining? Because Non-Attenders Are Taking On the Label (Religion in Public).

Burge, by the way, is becoming huge in social scientific scrutiny of American religion.


I left frank Evangelicalism in my late 20s over the issue of dispensationalism, which I perceived as so pervasive as to almost define Evangelicalism. (I left basically as soon as I discovered that my skepticism about dispensationalist prophecy porn — “Rapture crap” — was shared by others, serious Calvinists, who were not compromising with unbelief.)

At age 49, I was Orthodox, no longer Calvinist, and thus not even “Evangelical-adjacent.”

So I cannot begin to persuade Evangelical Trumpists to repent their folly.

So why do I rail against them as if I could change their minds?

Partly because I persist in the increasingly-implausible instinct that some of them are sane and sincere. But probably a bigger part is performative: I want the world to know that I am not an Evangelical, that Evangelicalsm is well out of the historic Christian mainstream (in its prophecy obsession, yes, but more in its rejection of liturgy and sacrament), and that disgust with Evangelicalism (and Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse, for that matter) does not necessitate rejection of Christianity or adoption of some sort of me-and-Jesus-who-needs-Church delusion.

I other words, when all else fails, consider Orthodoxy. If there’s no Orthodox Church nearby, that’s curable in many cases.


I include this from Evangelical-leaning Anglican Alan Jacobs because he identifies an ascendant Evangelical vice:

There is no infallible means for discerning when a religious believer has been spoken to, directly and personally, by God. However, there is a reliable way to disconfirm such a claim. When a person demands that other people immediately accept that he has been spoken to by God, and treats with insult and contempt those who do not acknowledge his claim to unique revelation, then we can be sure that no genuine message has been received, and that the voice echoing in that person’s mind is not that of God but that of his own ego.

Alan Jacobs again, testing the spirits.

I suspect this has to do with Saturday’s “Jericho Marches,” which started with some guy who claimed that God told him to do it. I don’t recall whether he claimed that God told him that all Real Christians® must join him.


Evangelicals aren’t the only ones mucking about in political matters.

With America facing a bitterly divisive election, Episcopal Church leaders did what they do in tense times — they held a National Cathedral service rallying the Washington, D.C., establishment.

This online “Holding onto Hope” service featured a Sikh filmmaker, a female rabbi from Chicago, the Islamic Society of North America’s former interfaith relations director, the female presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a Jesuit priest known for promoting LGBTQ tolerance and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Our ideals, values, principles and dreams of beloved community matter,” said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the church’s first African-American leader. “They matter to our life as a nation and as a world. Our values matter!”

This was the kind of rite – think National Public Radio at prayer – a church can offer when its history includes 11 U.S. presidents and countless legislators and judges from coast to coast.

Continuing its recent trends, “relevance” isn’t working for the ECUSA much better in 2020 than in other recent decades — witness the title Terrifying statistics from 2019 offer another Groundhog Day jolt for Episcopalians — GetReligion

Law and politics, straight up

When conservatives defend their fight to overturn the election as an answer to the way Democrats reacted to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, they are correct in the sense that most of their arguments and proposed tactics have antecedents on the liberal side …

The difference, though, is that the right’s fantasy has been embraced from the start by a Republican president (Hillary Clinton was a follower rather than a leader in calling Trump “illegitimate”), and it has penetrated much faster and further into the apparatus of Republican politics. In January 2017, only a handful of Democratic backbenchers objected to Congress’s certification of Trump’s election. But you can find the name of the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, on a brief supporting the ridiculous Texas lawsuit.

The Texas lawsuit didn’t torch any city blocks, but all those congressional signatures on the amicus brief did make it feel like something more than just another meme. The crucial question it raises is whether people can be fed on fantasies forever — or whether once enough politicians have endorsed dreampolitik, the pressure to make the dream into reality will inexorably build.

Ross Douthat, The Texas Lawsuit and the Age of Dreampolitik


On Saturday, a federal district court judge in Wisconsin issued an opinion explaining why, on the merits, Texas’s substantive arguments were without merit. And, as occurred on the Supreme Court, a judge appointed by President Trump, Brett Ludwig, ruled against him.

Some Trump supporters are inclined to suggest the campaign’s court losses are the result of progressive judicial activism or #Resistance judging. This is nonsense. Dozens of election suits have been filed, and dozens of judges of all political stripes and judicial philosophies have ruled against the claims put forward by the Trump campaign and its allies. In this case, the opinion was written by a judge appointed by President Trump in September. Trump and his allies claim they want their legal claims heard by judges who will apply the law. They have been.

Jonathan Adler, Another Court Loss for Trump Campaign in Wisconsin


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

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Trumpist alternative facts don’t lead me where they want me to go

Let’s take Trump’s claims seriously, just for the sake of argument. I don’t think my conclusion is his conclusion.

As I understand it, in this alternate world, Team Biden:

  • secretly organized a huge, multi-state conspiracy,
  • consisting of Republicans, Democrats, virtually every pollster and presumably a few Libertarians and independents,
  • including Governors, Secretaries of State, County and City officials, volunteers who help with elections, and
  • including federal and state judges at trial and appellate levels,
  • including Trump appointees, both trial and appellate (who Trump boasted would reliably do his will),
  • without any leaks or defections, and
  • without leaving a trace of articulable evidence (other than statistical sophistry that competent authorities demolish).

Whew!

Team Trump, in contrast, succeeded in four years at:

  • picking names off a list of prime judicial nominees handed to him by the Federalist Society and then letting Cocaine Mitch work his bright magic
  • mis-managing a pandemic response at the cost of scores- or hundreds-of-thousands of lives
  • implementing a “no good deed goes unpunished” policy for officials who take too seriously their oaths to uphold the law and Constitution
  • mean-Tweeting one or two gross of power-hungry Republican dipwads at the federal level into repeatedly and vigorously humping Trump’s leg.

I don’t want to minimize the feral cunning it takes to reduce a lot of ambitious manicured and razor-cut Republican hotshots to abject sycophancy, but apparently all that takes is demonically tireless mean-Tweeting (or threatening to mean-Tweet).

Team Biden’s exploit, in contrast, ipso facto proves that they are prepared to unite and govern a diverse and complicated country, including things that must be done without fanfare or even in secrecy.

It also proves that peaceful resistance to election of Biden is futile, and I’ll be damned (literally) if I’m stupid and evil enough to take up arms for the Orange Toxin.

He’s not known for coherence, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Team Trump wants me to conclude.

(Reminder: This was an exercise in the eventuality of “alternate facts.” And remember that Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism.)

Turning the heat down, but slowly

One of one or two semi-famous people I hang out with on micro.blog (Twitterish without the toxicity, largely non-political) is Alan Jacobs, formerly of Wheaton College, now in the Honors Program at Baylor (with perhaps a stop at Notre Dame in between, I seem vaguely to recall). He blogged this (on his pre-existing blog, not micro.blog) today, and it’s clarifying:

The United States of America has long had a two-party political system, but it now has a two-party social system also. The social system is not divided between Republicans and Democrats but rather between Manichaeans and Humanists. The Manichaean Party is headed by Donald Trump. He works in close concert with Ibram X. Kendi, Eric Metaxas, Xavier Becerra, and Rush Limbaugh, but really, the Party wouldn’t exist at all without him. The Humanist Party, by contrast, doesn’t have an obvious leadership structure and doesn’t make a lot of noise; its chief concern is less to enforce an agenda than to make it a little harder for the Manichaeans to enforce theirs.

The Manichaeans say, all together and in a very loud voice, You are wholly with us or wholly against us! Make your decision! I don’t know when I’ve had an easier choice.

the two parties – Snakes and Ladders

I’m not sure that the Manichean Party would disappear without Trump, but Trump makes a great many of us pretty crazy, inducing in me my first presidential “derangement syndrome.” I think the Manichean party would deflate, but not disappear without the Orange Toxin.

I, too, cast my lot with the Humanists.


I hope the the Trump effort to steal the 2020 Election will go away, and that I’ll soon have nothing further to say (or quote) about it. But today’s not that day.

Rudy Giuliani, who has been leading the Trump campaign’s legal challenge to Joe Biden’s election, says the vast criminal conspiracy that supposedly denied the president his rightful victory is “easily provable.” Yet he and other Trump supporters have not come close to proving it in court, where they have either failed to present credible evidence or failed even to allege the sort of massive fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election. Trump’s motion to intervene in Texas v. Pennsylvania, a last-ditch effort to prevent Biden from taking office, continues that pattern.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking the Supreme Court to rule that Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin violated the Constitution by changing election procedures without authorization from their state legislatures. Seeking to join that lawsuit, Trump attorney John Eastman acknowledges the lack of evidence to support the president’s conspiracy theories.

“Despite the chaos of election night and the days which followed, the media has consistently proclaimed that no widespread voter fraud has been proven,” Eastman writes. “But this observation misses the point. The constitutional issue is not whether voters committed fraud but whether state officials violated the law by systematically loosening the measures for ballot integrity so that fraud becomes undetectable.”

According to this account, the scheme to fraudulently anoint Biden as the president-elect, far from being “easily provable,” was so clever that it was “undetectable.” That argument completely contradicts everything that Trump, Giuliani, and pro-Trump lawyers such as Sidney Powell have been saying for weeks.

Jacob Sullum, Trump’s Lawyers Claim the Conspiracy To Steal the Election Is Both ‘Easily Provable’ and Impossible to Prove – Reason.com

Jacob Sullum had fallen off my radar, but he always was pretty sharp.

In a less colorful mode, I note that all the public hand-waving about fraud is almost completely performative, whereas the actual court pleading filed on Trump’s behalf are unanimous, or nearly so, in not alleging fraud, probably because the Rules of Civil Procedure in most states require that fraud be pleaded “with particularity” and particularity is exactly what Team Trump is lacking.

There’s an old lawyer saying:

When the law is on your side, argue the law. When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When neither the law nor the facts is on your side, bang loudly on the table.


Unlike all too many GOP politicians, the conservative justices showed tonight that they are neither Trump toadies nor partisan hacks, and reaffirmed the Court’s independence.

Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s Unanimous Rejection of the Texas Election Lawsuit – Reason.com

By the way: don’t buy Trump’s lie that Alito and Thomas sided with him.

Alito and Thomas have long held a minority opinion (not dumb, but not yet accepted by the other seven) that the court has no discretion to bar its hallowed doors to an Original Action. They believe that the court must let it in and then refuse the relief requested if that’s what they find appropriate. That was the entire gist of their separate statement, in my opinion, though Howard Bashman thinks Alito left a sliver of ambiguity that could have been eliminated with a tiny tweak.


… this wise, just, and unassailable decision by the Supreme Court will not stem the tide of power-hungry jackwads defiling the Constitution in the name of sycophancy to Donald Trump. It will only embolden them.

Releash the Kraken – The G-File

Jonah Goldberg’s whole column is both hilarious and infuriating. I am so glad I left the GOP almost 16 years ago, though I can by no means join today’s Democrats.


The modern house is not a response to its place, but rather to the affluence and social status of its owner.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America


Optimism says that everything can only get better. But that’s not realistic. Hope, on the other hand, says that things might get better, but if they don’t, and we meet bad times in the right spirit, that God can use them, and us, for good.

Rod Dreher, Of Comets And Falling Men

More on Republican Treachery

Like a dog returning to its vomit have I returned to excessive wallowing in political news. I must stop.

But first, Jonah Goldberg captures my the gist of one of my foremost feelings over the last four years:

I have been defending the Electoral College and the larger Madisonian vision behind it—often called “federalism”—for decades. As a pointed critic of the president, this put me in the awkward position of defending the legitimacy of his presidency—Donald Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 but won in the Electoral College—while simultaneously arguing he was unfit for the job to which he was legitimately elected.

Jonah Goldberg, The Galling Hypocrisy of Texas AG Ken Paxton – The Dispatch.

Exactly: Donald Trump was our duly elected, manifestly unfit President. Because of his manifest unfitness, I found it hard to acknowledge the impropriety of Democrat efforts to oust He Whom I Gladly Would See Legitimately Ousted After His Legitimate Election.

I did not anticipate, though, that Trump would be so relentlessly and effectively demagogic that he would cow the Republican Party into complete subservience:

A majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives endorsed an amicus brief Thursday supporting a widely criticized Texas lawsuit aimed at overturning the results of the election. The release of the list of supporters—106 as of late afternoon Thursday—came after an intense behind-the-scenes battle between President Donald Trump’s most eager supporters and others in the Republican conference.

… Trump personally lobbied some of the signatories, and a letter sent to members by the leader of the effort, Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, recently elected vice chairman of the Republican conference, indicated the president would be made aware of who refused to sign.

Some signatories acknowledged privately that the case itself was foolish, but rationalized their support by noting that the Republican base remains enthusiastic about Trump and has come to believe the election was stolen.

That so many elected Republicans are willing to sign onto an effort to toss out the results of an election because their candidate lost is, to put it lightly, alarming and inauspicious for the future of American democracy.

The Morning Dispatch. This makes it even likelier that gullible Trump supporters will think Texas’ damnfool lawsuit meritorious and go ballistic when SCOTUS rebuffs it, 9-0.

Amicus U.S. Representative James R. Baird represents the Fourth Congressional District of Indiana in the United States House of Representatives.

That‘s my Congressman who caved. A decent disabled veteran I always feared was out of his depth.

What’s the gist of their case? Adding hypocrisy to perfidy, they cast doubt on democracy by saying that

unconstitutional irregularities involved in the 2020 presidential election cast doubt upon its outcome and the integrity of the American system of elections.

Their pleading (emphasis added).

Yeah. They actually said that. They apparently have no shame. They certainly have no new clothes.

When Donald Trump was granted a coat of arms for his Scottish golf courses in 2012 (after a lengthy court battle, of course), he chose as its motto “Numquam concedere”: Never concede.

The Republican Party Is Abandoning Democracy – The Atlantic. Henceforth “not trying to steal the election will be seen as RINO behavior.”

I’ve got news for every single one of the 106 Congressmen: no amount of “good” you may ever do by surviving election in 2022 and thereafter will outweigh this infamy.

(I write in haste, anticipating (in both senses of the word) that the Supreme Court will smack down this perfidious nonsense today.)

UPDATE, 9:14 pm EDT Friday:

Justices throw out Texas lawsuit that sought to block election outcome
Supreme Court Unanimously Denies Texas Emergency Relief, Refuses to Grant Motion for Leave to File (Updated)
Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s Unanimous Rejection of the Texas Election Lawsuit

Like a dog returning to its vomit have I returned to excessive wallowing in political news. I must stop.

But first, Jonah Goldberg captures my the gist of one of my foremost feelings over the last four years:

I have been defending the Electoral College and the larger Madisonian vision behind it—often called “federalism”—for decades. As a pointed critic of the president, this put me in the awkward position of defending the legitimacy of his presidency—Donald Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 but won in the Electoral College—while simultaneously arguing he was unfit for the job to which he was legitimately elected.

Jonah Goldberg, The Galling Hypocrisy of Texas AG Ken Paxton – The Dispatch.

Exactly: Donald Trump was our duly elected, manifestly unfit President. Because of his manifest unfitness, I found it hard to acknowledge the impropriety of Democrat efforts to oust He Whom I Gladly Would See Legitimately Ousted After His Legitimate Election.

I did not anticipate, though, that Trump would be so relentlessly and effectively demagogic that he would cow the Republican Party into complete subservience:

A majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives endorsed an amicus brief Thursday supporting a widely criticized Texas lawsuit aimed at overturning the results of the election. The release of the list of supporters—106 as of late afternoon Thursday—came after an intense behind-the-scenes battle between President Donald Trump’s most eager supporters and others in the Republican conference.

… Trump personally lobbied some of the signatories, and a letter sent to members by the leader of the effort, Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, recently elected vice chairman of the Republican conference, indicated the president would be made aware of who refused to sign.

Some signatories acknowledged privately that the case itself was foolish, but rationalized their support by noting that the Republican base remains enthusiastic about Trump and has come to believe the election was stolen.

That so many elected Republicans are willing to sign onto an effort to toss out the results of an election because their candidate lost is, to put it lightly, alarming and inauspicious for the future of American democracy.

The Morning Dispatch. This makes it even likelier that gullible Trump supporters will think Texas’ damnfool lawsuit meritorious and go ballistic when SCOTUS rebuffs it, 9-0.

Amicus U.S. Representative James R. Baird represents the Fourth Congressional District of Indiana in the United States House of Representatives.

That‘s my Congressman who caved. A decent disabled veteran I always feared was out of his depth.

What’s the gist of their case? Adding hypocrisy to perfidy, they cast doubt on democracy by saying that

unconstitutional irregularities involved in the 2020 presidential election cast doubt upon its outcome and the integrity of the American system of elections.

Their pleading (emphasis added).

Yeah. They actually said that. They apparently have no shame. They certainly have no new clothes.

When Donald Trump was granted a coat of arms for his Scottish golf courses in 2012 (after a lengthy court battle, of course), he chose as its motto “Numquam concedere”: Never concede.

The Republican Party Is Abandoning Democracy – The Atlantic. Henceforth “not trying to steal the election will be seen as RINO behavior.”

I’ve got news for every single one of the 106 Congressmen: no amount of “good” you may ever do by surviving election in 2022 and thereafter will outweigh this infamy.

(I write in haste, anticipating (in both senses of the word) that the Supreme Court will smack down this perfidious nonsense today.)

UPDATE, 9:14 pm EDT Friday:

Justices throw out Texas lawsuit that sought to block election outcome
Supreme Court Unanimously Denies Texas Emergency Relief, Refuses to Grant Motion for Leave to File (Updated)
• Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s Unanimous Rejection of the Texas Election Lawsuit

Republican Treachery

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is attempting to overturn the election through a an “original action” in the Supreme Court against several other states. Observations (no claim of originality):

  • The lawsuit is utterly frivolous.
  • Paxton is under federal investigation for corruption of some sort, which actions led a lot of his deputies to resign. Trump can pardon him of any federal offense.
  • Paxton’s highly-regarded Solicitor General is not on Paxton’s pleading, which “speaks volumes.”
  • But 17 political hack Republican State Attorneys General have jumped on board, which will create in legally unsophisticated Trump supporters an impression that this must be a pretty solid case, thus turning a case that is frivolous into one that will spark outrage when the Supreme Court rejects it, 9-0, as I predict will happen.

Shame on these creepy 17, including drunken groper Curtis Hill of Indiana, who leaves office in less than a month. (Mumble mumble drawn and quartered mumble mumble taken out and shot.)

Speaking of dumb election lawsuits, David French also has pointed out several times the telltale that there are literally hundreds of highly-qualified, politically-interested conservative legal movement lawyers — not one of whom is involved in any of these post-election lawsuits because they have reputations for probity to maintain. That tells you a lot about the sanity of the courtroom relative to the madness of retail politics today.

Indeed, the only top-drawer lawyer I know who was involved with any of these suits, James Bopp of Terre Haute, Indiana, dismissed the suit and hasn’t been heard of since (so far as I know).

So here’s where we stand: the likes of Rush Limbaugh (who opened today talking about red state secession – what does he care with advanced cancer?) and the Republicans who amplify or concur in Donald Trump’s delusional claims are inflaming the Right half of a potential civil war.

Biden won the election and Trump lost. That is a fact. It is reality. The president could have accepted it and conceded the race. Or if he didn’t, his party could have stood against him, in defense of truth instead of lies.

Some will reply that in this case Trump’s supporters would have stuck by him and turned on the traitors. This is probably true about some, or even many, of them. But many others might have paused in their headlong plunge into derangement if people like Limbaugh and Graham and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham and Greg Kelly and many others hadn’t actively, aggressively, intentionally chosen to spread a miasma of lies.

They made a choice. They make it every day.

A country in which millions of people are being actively cultivated to reject democracy, to cheer on tyranny, to exult in conspiracies and outright lies is a country deliberately careening toward a precipice. The next time it won’t just be a show of nonsense lawsuits thrown out of court. It will be several states tossing out thousands or millions of votes in order to bestow a victory on the loser of a free and fair election.

I don’t know if we’re heading toward authoritarian kleptocracy or a civil war, or if we’ll somehow manage to turn the wheel just before we reach the cliff’s edge. But I do know this: If any of the worst-case scenarios unfold, it will be because some among us made a conscious decision to cultivate madness.

Damon Linker, The GOP is driving itself mad

If you want to know even more, listen to David French and Sarah Isgur on Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast, starting at about 5:10.

Too many Republicans are heedless of the eventuality of going along with Trump’s delusions. They should pull on their big boy pants, tell the truth, and risk Trump’s mean Tweets rather than risk what they’re recklessly risking.


Speaking of conservative “courage,” David French observes on an earlier podcast that “weakness” and “cowardice” are charges that conservatives fear much as moderates and liberals fear the charge of “racism”, but:

What is the wildest thing to me is that a draft-dodging narcissist who doesn’t so much fight as pitch temper-tantrums became the iconic example of the new conservative man.

(This point comes up roughly two minutes from the podcast’s end.)


Probably because I stopped visiting or otherwise following the Federalist website (a formerly conservative website that became a semi-swampy Trump Club, unaffilliated with the Federalist Society, cultivator of conservative movement lawyers who tend to become judges and justices), I missed this very fine piece for fully sixty-eight months:

My generation engages in straw men, misinformation, and lies because, in every year of social studies class, we studied the civil-rights movement not as history, but as hagiography. We didn’t just learn what events happened on American soil, we were encouraged to mimic the segregation-defeating holy ones and merit for ourselves a place alongside them in glory. Combining that admonition with our general aversion to hard work, we concluded that the only thing necessary to be as righteous as the saints who fought racial injustice was to decry an injustice that no one else was. And we became so desperate to find that injustice, we lost our minds in the process.

More than we wanted to find the perfect prom date, we wanted to find our own bigotry to eradicate. After years of hearing those saints sing “We Shall Overcome,” we were overcome with jealousy. We coveted Selma. We envied that march. We looked at that footage and hungered for our own cause to devour.

Then, one day, manna descended from heaven in the form of gay marriage …

What did it cost us to embrace this cause? Absolutely nothing! It required no moral consistency, no financial sacrifice, no effort. We could sleep with as many people as we wanted, divorce as many people as we wanted, father and then abandon as many children as our hearts desired, and lose no credibility. We could spend our entire adult lives defecating on the institution of marriage and this could not sully our gay marriage halos.

On top of that, these oppressed souls were so gainfully employed that they paid for their own lawyers and lobbyists, so we didn’t need to give them a cent. All we had to do was change our profile pictures on Facebook and beatification was ours. Our prayers were answered. The bright, shiny diamond of righteousness no other generation could claim had been placed into our hands.

So when you argued that disapproving of gay marriage didn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as oppression of black Americans, we knew you were right … We objectively know you’re not hateful bigots. But we called you that anyway because, in order to keep our righteousness shiny, someone had to play the role of Bull Connor, and you were the best fit we could find.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, countless children of God will embrace the older saints who gave them lives of far greater dignity on earth by following Christ’s example and enduring insults, beatings, imprisonments, and even death for them. We know this and yet we will insist that we’re owed an equal measure of honor because we tweeted our support for every gay kiss on “Glee.”

From the days of our youth, my generation hungered for a cause that would make us as righteous as the saints who marched on Selma. We have found that cause. We have sunk our teeth into that righteousness and, at this point, we couldn’t care less if it’s real. The Lord of Social Justice has finally answered our prayers. And Lord help the bigot who comes between us and our cause.

Hans Fienes, Gay Marriage Isn’t About Justice, It’s About Selma Envy

Is poor-mouthing about how we’re persecuted the religious conservatives’ counterpart to progressive “Selma Envy”? Should we call it “Gulag Envy”?

There’s probably a bit of truth in that possibility, but I’m not going there today.

G’night.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Amusing Ourselves to Death

In 1985, Neil Postman published, to immediate critical acclaim, Amusing Ourselves to Death. For some reason, I did not read it at the time, but it has endured if not grown in value — so say all my friends in cyberspace (about which more later) — so I read it Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share some highlights with you, or if I shared all my highlights (though that is technically easier to do), because phrases I found arresting in context might well be boring in isolation. So here goes.

First, Postman is at great pains to distance himself from the Luddites. He acknowledges major communicative changes in the past, with some of what was lost and gained in each, before exploring how television is toxically different.

  • Regarding the Commandment against idols, “The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking.”
  • “Although one would not know it from consulting various recent proposals on how to mend the educational system, this point — that reading books and watching television differ entirely in what they imply about learning — is the primary educational issue in America today. America is, in fact, the leading case in point of what may be thought of as the third great crisis of Western education. The first occurred in the fifth century BC, when Athens underwent change from an oral culture to an alphabet-writing culture. To understand what this meant, we must read Plato. The second occurred in the 16th century when Europe underwent a radical transformation as a result of the printing press. To understand what this meant, we must read John Locke. The third is happening now, in America, as a result of electronic revolution, particularly the invention of television. To understand what this means, we must read Marshall McLuhan.”
  • “Each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility. Which, of course, is what McLuhan meant in saying that the medium is the message. His aphorism, however, is in need of amendment because, as it stands, it may lead one to confuse a message with a metaphor. A message denotes a specific, concrete statement about the world. But the forms of our media, including the symbols to which they permit conversation, do not make such statements. They are rather like metaphors, working by unobtrusive but powerful implication to enforce their special definitions of reality.”
  • “It is my intention in this book to show a great media-metaphor shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense.”
  • “[W]e do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities, but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations.”

There were waystations en route to television land, telegraphy featuring prominently (perhaps as synecdoche), for its obliteration of distance:

  • “Telegraphy … destroyed the prevailing definition of information, and in doing so gave a new meaning to public discourse. Among the few who understood this consequence was Henry David Thoreau, who remarked in Walden that ‘We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.… We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through the end of the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.’ … Only four years after Morse opened the nation’s first telegraph line on May 24, 1844, the Associated Press was founded, and news from nowhere, addressed to no one in particular, began to crisscrossing the nation. Wars, crimes, crashes, fires, floods — much of it the social and political equivalent of Adelaide’s whooping cough — became the content of what people called ‘the news of the day.'”

Now that we’re in television land, Postman also is insistent about not floating conspiracy theories about commies or lizard people deliberately using TV to make us stupid. For instance:

  • “The single most important fact about television is that people watch it. Which is why it is called “television.” And what they watch, and like to watch, are moving pictures — millions of them, of short duration and dynamic variety. It is in the nature of the medium that it must suppress the contact of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest; that is to say, to accommodate the values of show business.”
  • “What is happening here is the television is altering the meaning of “being informed” by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this word almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. This information does not mean false information. It means misleading information — misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information — information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I did not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans have a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say this when the news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result.”

It is a commonplace in Evangelical Protestantism that mediums (I know the plural is properly “media,” but that has accumulated distracting connotations) are neutral. Christianity being something I care about very much, Postman’s Chapter Shuffle off to Bethlehem really hit me:

Though it may be unAmerican to say it, not everything is televisible. Or to put it more precisely, what is televised is transformed from what it was into something else, which may or may not preserve its former essence. For the most part, television preachers have not seriously addressed this matter. They have assumed that what had formally been done at a church or a tent, and face-to-face, can be done on television without loss of meaning, without changing the quality of the religious experience. Perhaps their failure to address the translation issue has its origin in the hubris engendered by the dazzling number of people to whom the television gives them access.
“Television,“ Billy Graham has written, “is the most powerful tool of communication ever devised by man. Each of my primetime specials is now carried by nearly 300 stations across the US and Canada, so that in a single telecast I preach to millions more than Christ did in his lifetime.“ To this, Pat Robertson adds: “To say that the church shouldn’t be involved with television is utter folly. The needs are the same, the message is the same, but the delivery can change.… It would be folly for the church not to get involved with the most formative force in America.“
This is gross technological naïveté. If the delivery is not the same, then the message, quite likely, is not the same. And if the context in which the messages experienced is altogether different from what it was in Jesus’ time, we may assume that it’s social and psychological meaning is different as well.

I believe that I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.

I’ve long not been a fan of televangelists, but I hadn’t thought it through as Postman did. I can’t even say “Aha! He put my intuition into words!”, as I so often feel, because I tacitly bought the idea that mediums are neutral. Maybe the single most important lesson of this book, for me if not for everyone, is that “neutral medium” is rubbish.

And I should have known better all along. Every sick-Sunday or Covidtide streamed Divine Liturgy screamed at me “I am inadequate!” Each was inadequate as “television” and as Christian worship. Every medium shapes all messages it mediates.

To a slightly lesser extent, I care about education. Postman sets forth three commandments of televised education, which I distill:

The three Commandments that form the philosophy of the education which television offers:
– Thou shalt have no prerequisites.
– Thou shalt induce no perplexity.
– Thou shalt avoid exposition like the ten plagues visited upon Egypt.
The name we may properly give to an education without prerequisites, perplexity and exposition is entertainment.

Postman’s concluding chapter not only brings back a lot of stuff for a curtain call, but summarizes colorfully:

An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, than a Huxleyan. Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist the prison when the gates begin to close around us. We are not likely, for example, to be indifferent to the voices of the Sakharovs and the Timmermans and the Walesas. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Bacon, Voltaire, Göethe and Jefferson. But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusement. To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?

What I suggest here is a solution is what all does Huxley suggested as well. And I can do no better than he. He believed with H.G. Wells that we are in a race between education and disaster, and he wrote continuously about the necessity of our understanding the politics and epistemology of media. For in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.

Now for a bit of critique.

Television is still with us, but with a fourth broadcast network (Fox, which I recall being announced on NPR in April 1988 — recalled because (a) I was driving a rented Camry around San Francisco and down Highway 1, and (b) I thought it was a stupid idea for which Rupert Murdoch would pay dearly) and countless cable offerings. I don’t think this changes anything. The news is as stupid or stupider than ever, and has us broken into tribes to boot. So much for a peaceful Huxleyan world — and for my ability to spot a good money-making idea when I see it.

But we also can control television, which means relying on it for entertainment — which is all it’s good for — and nothing else. We can only do it at the family level, though, which means we still swim in polluted waters when we step out into the work-world.

Computers, however, Postman underestimated — perhaps because he did not foresee the “technology” of ARPANET expanding to the public and becoming virtually its own “medium.” I am aware of its potential for harm, pornography having become ubiquitous, for instance (and the emergence of “ethically-source porn” and the happy “sex workers” to replace unhappy, exploited “prostitutes”, both to make sensitive wankers feel better about their vice), but I dare say, from personal experience and experiment, that it is concurrently a great power for good. I have Anglophone “friends” around the world as a result, for instance.

Dare I say that the world awaits a treatment of the internet equal in stature to Postman’s treatment of television? Or perhaps it’s here and I just haven’t read it. There are definitely efforts being made to write it.


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

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening, November 1937

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Election, Justices and Sanity

The Election

From “Our choice is Joe Biden*,” an editorial in the New Hampshire Union Leader, Oct. 25:

> Our endorsement for President of these United States goes to Joe Biden.
>
> While Joe Biden is the clear choice for president, it would be a disservice to the country to send him to the White House without a backstop. We suggest splitting the ballot and electing a healthy dose of GOP senators and representatives. The best governance often comes through compromise. The civility of the Biden administration will help foster such compromise, but a blue wave would be nearly as disastrous for this country as four more years of Trump. It would result in a quagmire of big government programs that will take decades to overcome.

Notable & Quotable: A Footnote to a Biden Endorsement – WSJ

Yes, I agree, but I don’t think for a moment that’s what will happen next Tuesday.


For the people closest to me in terms of education (graduate degree), socioeconomic status (upper-middle-class suburban), region (the northeastern megalopolis stretching from Washington to Boston), and race (white), Donald Trump is an appalling human being in just about every respect. He’s corrupt. He’s cruel. He’s a bigot. He’s ignorant. He’s mendacious. He’s a narcissist. And he’s a jerk. Unlike many previous presidents, there is nothing admirable about him at all. He’s a kind anti-role-model, showing how a person shouldn’t behave in the world — the kind of person about whom you might say to your children, “Whatever you do, don’t be like him.”

But for people who write angry responses to my most critical columns about the president — most of them men, many of them from other parts of the country, quite often with military backgrounds — he looks very different. For them, Trump is a man of strength, of courage. He’s a fighter and a patriot. Even if he’s not particularly admirable as a person overall, he has qualities that we should want to have in a leader, and that are under threat in our country. They are qualities that Americans, and especially boys, should be raised to look up to and emulate, including a refusal to back down, a toughness and tenacity, and a willingness to insist that masculine strength be revered and inculcated.

I suspect this difference is a source of many of our political disputes, and the sense that we now reside in very different countries. That’s because the dispute has to do with an important and deeply significant disagreement about what type of human being, oriented to certain kinds of ideals and rooted in a certain kind of emotional life, we want our country to produce.

As a pundit, I usually shy away from issuing armchair psychological diagnoses of public figures, including our president. Unlike some columnists, I’ve never written that Trump is mentally “unwell.” Yet I have nonetheless become convinced by those who speculate that a good part of his worst behavior — the cruelty, the neediness, the craving for approval, the distinctive combination of comic bravado and paralyzing insecurity — could well be a function of him trying to make up or compensate for a childhood almost totally lacking in parental, and especially paternal, love.

Damon Linker, The very different emotional lives of Trump and Biden voters


[The] fears that religious conservatives feel are real and ought not be brushed off lightly. Losing our shaping and beloved institutions is a grievous loss. But I do not think our fears can ultimately be answered politically … Laws and policies that protect religious liberty are important, but we, as a Christian community, cannot seek those laws at any cost. If we do, we will lose our own souls in the process of preserving our freedoms.

If shoring up religious freedom requires us to champion someone whose administration is responsible for making more than 545 children orphans, someone who in Sen. Ben Sasse’s words “flirts with White supremacy,” who bullies and denigrates others and constantly engages in misogyny, arrogance and divisiveness, then we cannot preserve religious liberty while remaining faithful to the ethical call of Jesus. Self-protectiveness on the part of religious people is understandable, but … [t]he church exists to glorify God by loving and serving our neighbor. If our own institutional preservation trumps all other ethical commitments, then we have already lost what is most dear.

Given the Trump administration’s shutdown of the asylum system and so-called “Muslim ban,” it is debatable if his presidency has actually benefitted the cause of religious liberty … The root of religious freedom amid pluralism is love for our neighbors, especially our ideological or political enemies. We cannot spend eight years supporting a president whose basic modus operandi is meanness and cruelty– who vocally disagrees with the call to love one’s enemy–and then expect anyone to take us seriously when we ask them to respect our religious freedom.

“But wait!” I can hear traditional religious people cry, “Even if we are kind, respectful and honoring of our neighbor’s dignity, they will not be respectful of ours. We can be as ‘winsome’ as can be, and we will still be marginalized as bigots.” I think this may be true, but this objection assumes that kindness, respectfulness and the self-giving love of Jesus is useful [only – implied, I think] insofar as it is a successful cultural strategy. Christian discipleship calls us to radical love for our neighbor and to honor the dignity of those around us. We are called to work for the common good. We are called to witness to a different kind of King and a different kind of Kingdom. These ethical mandates are not contingent upon—nor a guarantee of—any particular outcome. They are a means to no other end other than to know and glorify God.

Tish Harrison Warren, Don’t vote Trump for religious liberty (emphasis added)


“The chief value proposition of Donald Trump’s presidency is appointees,” Noah Rothman, an editor at Commentary, told me. Barrett’s confirmation may be “the last act of this presidency,” and if Trump loses next week, “Republicans will look back on [it] fondly.”

Emma Green, Republicans Confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court – The Atlantic

“Chief value proposition”: Nice phrase, which being interpreted is “otherwise, he was and is pretty worthless.”


Reading The American Conservative 2020 Presidential Symposium, I’m disappointed how many are voting for Trump, but heartened that three are voting for the American Solidarity Party candidate Brian Carroll.


Amy Coney Barrett

“In a less political time than we find ourselves today, I suspect [Amy Coney Barrett] would have the unanimous support of this body,” said Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)

Knowhere News


[T]here is no precedent for judges or justices recusing because a case implicates the interests of the President who nominated them. Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh did not recuse in Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars, and Justices Ginsburg and Breyer did not recuse in Clinton v. Jones. Likewise, the only one of President Nixon’s appointees to recuse in United v. Nixon was William Rehnquist, who recused because of his work in the Office of Legal Counsel, not because he was a Nixon appointee.

Jonathan A. Adler, * Should Justice Barrett Recuse from 2020 Election Litigation?*


A fine irony: after spending ~150 years proving that Roman Catholics are good liberal democratic Americans, we get yet another Catholic Justice just as Catholic scholars Deneen, Vermeule, Pappin argue against liberalism.


General Sanity

According to Michael Casey’s description, lectio divina has four stages—lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio—that roughly correspond to the different senses of Scripture—literal, Christological, behavioral, and mystical. Though you need not move through these four stages chronologically, one could move through them in the following way. First, in the lectio stage, read and re-read the text, marking key passages where the author’s argument is clearest. Write in your own words the key ideas, concepts, and arguments. In the meditatio stage, think about the context in which the text was written. What was happening in the world or the author’s life when the book was written? What was the author’s motivation, and to whom does the author write? Third, in the oratio stage, pay attention to how these ideas speak to your conscience and make you reflect on your behavior, habits, and dispositions. Fourth, in the contemplatio stage, think about what these texts say about your relationship with God, either directly or indirectly.

Lectio divina helps us slow down.

Margarita A. Mooney, Lectio Divina and Online Learning | First Things


Yet another pet peeve: consequentialist arguments for Christianity (or “religion” if you must). See Tish Harrison Warren above for repudiation of one such bad argument: “that kindness, respectfulness and the self-giving love of Jesus is useful [only] insofar as it is a successful cultural strategy.”


I was leaning toward Supreme Court Term Limits (18-year term, one justice out every two years) until I read this from the son of my late Constitutional Law prof (and himself a ConLaw heavy-hitter). Too many big problems even if you assume a Constitutional Amendment would pass.


Words I hope never to hear in an Orthodox Church: Director of Paintball Ministry. (David French, bless his heart, filled this role at his heterodox church).


I believe we are far advanced down and past the destruction of the republic … [but] maybe Frodo and Sam are, even now, on their way to Mordor to throw the ring of power into Mount Doom.

Andrew Kern, Why We Couldn’t Keep it (I) | Circe Institute