Just desserts

Vice President Mike Pence had better be awfully circumspect about filling the role that the Constitution and its Twenty-Fifth Amendment assign him. Trump will be watching. So long as Trump is conscious, he will not allow it; should he lose consciousness, he will retaliate when and if he recovers.

… He refused and forbade the most basic safety precautions in the close quarters of the West Wing and on Air Force One, except for testing, which was intended to protect him personally. On Tuesday, Trump was on the debate stage mocking former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing face masks; as the positive tests came in, he did not bother to inform Biden or his team that Trump had exposed him to the coronavirus. Until we know the date of Trump’s last negative COVID-19 test, we can only guess at the number of people he exposed. By sticking to an aggressive travel schedule with in-person gatherings while eschewing even minimal safeguards, Trump has carried the risk of disease across the country.

What you can expect is a lot of victimhood and self-pity. Trump and those around him have always demanded for themselves the decencies that they refuse others. They will get them, too. Trump’s opponents will express concern and good wishes—and if they do not, Trump’s allies will complain that those opponents are allowing politics to overwhelm human feeling. It was only three days ago that Trump on a debate stage dismissed Biden’s dead son, Beau, and falsely claimed that Biden’s surviving son, Hunter, had been dishonorably discharged from the military. The next day, Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., appeared on Glenn Beck’s show to describe Hunter as a “crackhead.” Now, though, we will hear a lot about how people are not being respectful enough to a president in his time of illness.

Trump has all his life posed a moral puzzle: What is due in the way of kindness and sympathy to people who have no kindness and sympathy for anyone else? Should we repay horrifying cruelty in equal measure? Then we reduce ourselves to their level. But if we return indecency with the decency due any other person in need, don’t we encourage appalling behavior? Don’t we prove to them that they belong to some unique bracket of humanity, entitled to kick others when they are writhing on the floor, and then to claim mercy when their own crimes and cruelties cast them upon the floor themselves?

David Frum, What Did You Expect of Donald Trump? – The Atlantic


Like all tyrants, Trump lives in an alternate universe where his will, tempered only by his whim, determines everything. And like all tyrants, Trump will eventually be defeated by the distance between his universe and the real one. The question has always been how long that would take, and how much damage would be done in the process. But the toll has been piling up of late. 205,000 dead, a stalled economy, a broken constitution, a bankrupt treasury, a ravaged environment, and the most toxic political culture in memory have not, exactly, made America great “again”. And, with his tax returns now public, the reality that Trump is a failed businessman and tax dodger is as inescapable as the truth that he is a serial sexual abuser.

The one simple thing I learned from being diagnosed as positive with a lethal virus decades ago is that I am not in control, and that maturity subsists in acceptance of this. A life well lived is not in denial of reality, but in difficult, unsatisfying, daily, hourly engagement with it, alongside a spiritual attempt at occasional transcendence. Similarly, it seems to me, politics is best conducted as a tackling of the world as it is, free from delusion and ideology, wary of our own bias and wants, humble in our goals, prudent in our methods. It is not a show, let alone a psychotic melodrama about a deranged narcissist.

Andrew Sullivan, Reality Ends The Reality Show – The Weekly Dish


Persuasion:
What is schadenfreude?

Watt Smith:
Thinkers like William James in the 19th century thought a lot about why we might enjoy seeing someone else suffer in a visceral, bloody way. He thought it was an evolutionary throwback to our more violent past, a glitch. But that is not quite what is at stake with the Trump situation. It’s not that you’re enjoying seeing someone suffer in a random way. And it’s not that you’re enjoying a moment of slapstick. It comes down to this question of justice and just desserts.
From research in psychology and neuroscience, there is a lot of evidence that we get a pleasurable kick from seeing justice done.

Is It Wicked to Feel Glee Because the President Is Sick? – Persuasion

Democrat face-plant

[I]n the area of historical consciousness [Donald Trump] is, truly, a hopeless cause. But this week Democrats joined him in the pit.

Do they understand what a disaster this was for them? If Mr. Trump wins re-election, if in fact it isn’t close, it will be traceable to this first week in February.

Iowa made them look the one way a great party cannot afford to look: unserious …

And what happened a day later in the House was just as bad.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi shattered tradition, making faces, muttering, shaking her head as the president delivered his State of the Union address. At the end she famously stood, tore the speech up and threw down the pieces.

“But he didn’t shake her hand.” So what? Her great calling card is she’s the sane one.

Some progressive members refused to attend, or walked out during the speech—one said, without irony, that she was “triggered.” …

The speech itself was shrewd and its political targeting astute …

More than ever, more showily, this was an aligning of the GOP, in persons and symbols, with “outsiders”—with those without officially sanctioned cultural cachet, with the minority, the regular, the working class. It was plain people versus fancy people—that is, versus snooty liberals and progressives who talk a good game about the little guy but don’t seem to like him much; who in their anger and sarcasm, in their constant censoriousness and characterological lack of courtesy, have managed to both punch above their political weight and make a poor impression on the national mind.

This was the president putting the Republican Party on the side of the nobodies of all colors as opposed to the somebodies. (Van Jones on CNN had it exactly right: Trump is going for black and Hispanic men, and the Democrats are foolish not to see it.) This is a realignment I have supported and a repositioning I have called for and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t please me to see it represented so effectively, and I very much regret that the president is a bad man and half mad because if he weren’t I’d be cheering.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added) Note that this is her blog, with no paywall (unlike the Wall Street Journal version).

I quote at length because this is the rare occasion when I was uncomfortable with her column. Apart from

  • the snooty liberals and progressives talking a far, far better “common man” game than they’ve played in decades,
  • that there is a realignment of parties still going on, and
  • that Trump is a bad man and half mad.

we were not seeing things alike.

But put those three bullet points together and subtract the Republican loyalty she retains but I’ve abandoned, and we are seeing things substantially alike! I just had to read more carefully and mull it a bit.

I try to avoid watching that man because I don’t enjoy feeling enraged. So I might conceivably have noticed “shrewd” or “astute” had I been watching. She is paid to watch things like that and to call them to others’ attention.

I thought it meet and right to share the impressions of someone shrewder and of cooler head than my own. You may enjoy the entirety, of course, by clicking the link, which I recommend.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

Cultural Liturgies

America does not have a liturgy of repentance. The days of fasting once enjoined upon us are a thing of the past. Even then, for all the prayers and fasting of Lincoln’s republic, no particular liturgy ever marked the end of slavery, much less sought to repent for its evils. To this day, many seek to justify its history.

When the Soviet Union fell, within a few short years, Russians began to create memorials and liturgies for the atrocities of the Soviet Union. In Moscow, at the killing fields of Butovo, a Church now stands as a memorial to its victims. Public liturgies are held there on a regular basis. It is one of many such memorials across the country.

Our public narrative is very thin. The Church historian, Martin Marty, once said that American Christianity was “2,000 miles wide and 2 inches deep.” When our Christian theology mimics the triumphant patriotism of our culture, nothing deeper ever begins. Depth comes with suffering. Suffering creates sorrow, and sorrow, of a godly sort, produces repentance.

We are bad at enough stuff and have a history sufficiently marked with sorrow to create fertile ground for repentance. It lacks the humility to greet it.

It is ever so much more than a game.

Fr, Stephen Freeman

I suspect that Fr. Stephen’s blog entry was spurred by Sunday’s SuperBowl LIV, with the only liturgical elements our nation knows: patriotism with a dash of remembrance. It might even have been influenced by Fr. Steven browsing the Eighth Day Books book table at the Eighth Day Symposium a bit over a week ago, on which table I’m pretty sure James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies trio was on display.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

The Ghost and his Lizard

This is Trump’s ultimate victory. Every argument on every topic is now all about him. Hating Trump together has become the ultimate bonding ….

(David Brooks, Trump Has Made Us All Stupid)

* * *

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

‘Off so soon?’ said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

‘Yes. I’m off,’ said the Ghost. ‘Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap’ (here he indicated the Lizard) ‘that he’d have to be quiet if he came—which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.’

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit–an angel, as I now understood.

‘Be careful,’ it said. ‘He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams—all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent…’

‘Have I your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.

‘I know it will kill me.’

‘It won’t. But supposing it did?’

‘You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’

‘Then I may?’

‘Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, ‘God help me. God help me.’

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.

‘Ow! That’s done for me,’ gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing ….

C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

* * *

Here endeth our parable.

The Ghost doesn’t die. Neither, oddly, does the Lizard.

The Ghost turns into a solid man. The lizard turns into a beautiful stallion, on which the Ghost rides off into deeper heaven.

Let him hear who hath ears to hear. I’ve got smaller fish to fry.

We don’t know what life will be like without our lizard. He won’t go away gladly or entirely. I don’t even know if we can get back the status quo ante (“You can’t turn back the clock,” they say) or that doing so is desirable (we invited him onto our shoulder for some reason, however ill-considered).

But on balance, how much worse could the alternative be than living with this creature?

* * *

For what it’s worth, The Great Divorce played an important part in my departure from the Protestantism I’d known all my in favor of Orthodox Christianity.

That departure entailed greater and more glorious changes than I could imagine, but which I might have apprehended had I heard that the great spiritual conflict of our age is The Struggle Against the Normal Life. The linked podcast also could be called “Orthodoxy versus Protestantism from 40,000 feet in 11 minutes, 5 seconds.”

* * * * *

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.

Tattletale telltales

“It is, I think, deeply concerning, that at a time when the President of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival, that there may be evidence that there were members of Congress complicit in that activity,” [Adam] Schiff told the press on Tuesday. …

This is unprecedented and looks like an abuse of government surveillance authority for partisan gain. Democrats were caught using the Steele dossier to coax the FBI into snooping on the 2016 Trump campaign. Now we have elected members of Congress using secret subpoenas to obtain, and then release to the public, the call records of political opponents.

Wall Street Journal, making what I think is a very legitimate point.

Let me rephrase Schiff’s barb:

The President of the United States used the power of his office to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. I and my fellow Democrats used our power to dig up what might be dirt on Congressman Devin Nunes, who has resisted our impeachment efforts.

I seem to recall complaining to my parents at the dinner table that my brother had his eyes open while dad prayed before the meal. The implication about my own eyes was not lost on my parents.

This is one of many reasons why even people of good will, who detest Donald Trump, have some qualms about the impeachment proceedings.

Another reason is signaled by yesterday’s suggestion by one of the Democrats’ law professor witnesses that the mere request by Trump that Zelensky announce an investigation, even without a quid pro quo, was an abuse of power.

In the eyes of we jaded citizens who didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, that’s the kind of abuse of power that probably is Standard Operating Procedure among friendly elite leaders — reinforcing Jonathan Turley’s testimony that impeaching on the set of facts Congress has collected so far sets a precedent we may live to regret.

I want Trump gone from my life, which won’t happen until one of us is dead, but at least he’ll debase the country less from Florida rather than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Increasingly, an election strikes me as the preferred way to evict him.

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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

Wednesday, November 13

We’ve come a long way from the days when the Tea Party handed out pocket Constitutions. Now, in the interests of defending President Trump, smart people are exploiting civic ignorance to maintain the red wall against impeachment. No, that’s too mild. They’re not just exploiting civic ignorance, they’re affirmatively deceiving the American people about the content and meaning of the Constitution. They’re trying to make people believe things that plainly aren’t true. They’re making the American people less constitutionally literate.

What do I mean? Take this comment, from Rand Paul:

The Sixth Amendment is pretty clear. It’s part of the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, and it says that you get to confront your accusers. And so, I think it’s very clear that the only constitutional mandate here is, is that if someone’s going to accuse you of something that might remove the president from office, for goodness’ sake, shouldn’t they come forward and present their accusations in person?

This has become a talking point among the Trumpist right. For another—rather shocking—example, read this from Northwestern University law professor and Federalist Society co-founder Steven Calabresi:

Impeachment is a legal proceeding, and just as criminal defendants have constitutional rights in criminal trials so too does Trump have constitutional rights, which House Democrats are denying him. For example, the Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to “a speedy and public trial.” House Democrats are trying Trump in secret and are denying him the right to a public proceeding….

The Sixth Amendment also guarantees criminal defendants the right to be “informed” of the charges against them. House Democrats are not informing Trump of the charges against him and are leaking salacious information to the press.  This, too, violates Trumps rights under the federal Bill of Rights.

Moreover, the Sixth Amendment guarantees Trump the right “to confront the witnesses against him,” which right House Democrats are denying to Trump. The president has a right under current Supreme Court case law to have a public face-to-face confrontation with the witnesses against and to testify in his own defense. House Democrats are denying the president that very basic constitutional right….”

Now, compare that comment with the actual text of the Sixth Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Note the key words—“in all criminal prosecutions.” As the CATO Institute’s David Post notes, Calabresi’s argument is “utter nonsense, completely devoid of any apparent constitutional logic.” The scope and reach of the Sixth Amendment has been extensively litigated, and it most assuredly does not apply to the House’s impeachment inquiry.

One can certainly make a good faith argument that maintaining the whistleblower’s anonymity is unfair, but to argue that it violates the Sixth Amendment is simply and plainly wrong.

But this Sixth Amendment nonsense is only the tip of the iceberg of constitutional confusion. Take these paragraphs from a recent piece by Victor Davis Hanson:

The “inquiry,” supposedly prompted by President Trump’s Ukrainian call, is only the most recent coup seeking to overturn the 2016 election.

Usually, the serial futile attempts—with the exception of the Mueller debacle—were characterized by about a month of media hysteria. We remember the voting-machines-fraud hoax, the Logan Act, the Emoluments Clause, the 25th Amendment, the McCabe-Rosenstein faux coup and various Michael Avenatti-Stormy Daniels-Michael Cohen psychodramas. Ukraine, then, isn’t unique, but simply another mini-coup.

He later argues that “We are witnessing constitutional government dissipating before our eyes.” Words have meaning, and impeachment isn’t a “coup.” A coup is an unlawful (often violent) seizure of power. Impeachment is a constitutional process that can’t succeed without the affirmative votes of, first, a majority of the House, and then, a supermajority of the Senate—and every person voting is a person who won an election, also according to constitutional process. Impeachment isn’t the dissipation of constitutional government, it’s the exercise of constitutional authority.

And no, if Trump is impeached and convicted (highly unlikely), it doesn’t “overturn” the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton won’t be president. Every one of the laws, judicial confirmations, and regulations enacted during the entirety of Trump’s term would remain in place.

If one took literally the complaints of serious senators, law professors, and historians (and why wouldn’t you? They’ve spent a lifetime demonstrating their constitutional knowledge), you’d believe that House Democrats were currently engaged in an illegal, unconstitutional proceeding. If you’re a partisan, you already likely despise Democrats. And now they’re engaged in a “coup”? Outrageous!

Yes, I know that there’s a longstanding tradition of hyperbole in American political rhetoric, but there’s a difference between exaggerations and plainly false constitutional assertions. Moreover, while people expect hyperbole from Sean Hannity or any other screaming Trump defender on talk radio, the same ideas from the pen of a respected historian sends a message that “this really is a coup.” It’s not. It’s not even close.

If you follow social media in the age of Trump, you’ve likely noticed a pattern. When there’s a report of an alleged Trump scandal, there’s often a brief pause on MAGA Twitter and in MAGA Facebook. One set of defenders waits patiently for the media overreaction, ready to pounce on the first blue checkmark who goes too far or misstates the alleged facts. Another set waits for a credentialed or credible person to toss a word salad for Trump—granting them a “well akshually” fig leaf that they can trot out as a talking point online.

“Akshually, the founder of the Federalist Society says Trump has a constitutional right to confront the whistleblower.”

“Akshually, a Hoover Institution senior fellow and esteemed historian recognizes impeachment as a coup.”

This sets up the debate as a battle of experts, and we all know that when there’s a battle of experts, the expert you like tends to win—regardless of whether he’s despoiling his expertise.

 

David French.

Every Republican who makes “plainly false constitutional assertions” to defend Donald Trump is a traitor to his oath to uphold the Constitution.

Such was the status of Weimar America at the end of Wednesday. It got worse Friday, with the President Tweeting out witness-intimidating lies (“exercising my freedom of speech”) about a career diplomat who was on the witness stand at that very moment.

* * * * *

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

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

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.

But what about Fox?

I have hinted strongly that the Senate will not convict Trump on any impeachment articles for fear of his carpet-bombing them from Twitter after his removal from office. I may have overlooked something:

Though it is the most-watched cable (shall we say) “news” channel in the United States, [Fox’s] average primetime viewership of about 2.5 million people is less than 1 percent of the nation …

However, those Fox News viewers punch far above their weight in one regard: They are the core of any hard-right primary challenge that might be waged against an incumbent Republican senator. … Trump is neither popular nor admired among the Senate majority, but he is feared, therefore tolerated. The fear stems from his firm grip on that Fox News-viewing core and the belief that he could turn the core into an incumbent-crushing machine.

To the extent that Trump’s grip begins to loosen, the fear will begin to lift and the president’s Senate firewall will begin to crumble. That’s how I figure it, and I think Trump might be making a similar calculation, because his Twitter feed has been peppered lately with his annoyance at Fox News over various perceived acts of hostility. He might believe that he can maintain his standing solely through his unmediated tweets, regardless of Fox News. But I don’t think he really wants to find out.

David Von Drehle, (Trump’s fate is in the hands of Fox News) goes on to explain why Fox might turn on Trump. Hint: It rhymes with “Paul Ryan.”

It’s one of the cheeriest hypotheticals I’ve read in a while.

* * * * *

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

(Psalm 72:15-17, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

* * * * *

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

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

Clippings and Commentary 2/8/19

1

The Commonwealth of Virginia … prides itself on being the mother of presidents (eight so far) and a place of profound political decorum. But suddenly we’re living in Dogpatch … How can we continue looking down on Arkansas and Mississippi with this sort of stuff going on?

David Shiflett

Report: West Virginia Feeling Pretty Smug Right About Now

2

[T]he laws of physics override the bright ideas of politicians. America has been … promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter.

For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.

  • Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
  • Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
  • Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
  • Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
  • Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….

James Howard Kunstler

I suspect, after Citizens United, that public financing of elections to the exclusion of private contributions is unconstitutional. Other than that, I’m just trying to keep my head down while peeking regularly to see how this plays out.

Well, not really. I’m rooting for Tulsi Gabbard for her party’s nomination because she favors religious freedom and opposes stupid, counterproductive wars that make war criminals of us.

3

Both parties are beholden to extreme partisans in their bases. But President Trump has his base onside. The conventional wisdom in 2016 was that the Republicans had nominated someone so extreme that he couldn’t possibly win. Yet he did. You watch: the Democrats are going to nominate someone so extreme on economics and culture that they’re going to ensure Trump’s re-election.

I lack Rod Dreher’s fear of Democrat faux socialism (or maybe I just don’t understand what he’s talking about since “socialism” is pretty equivocal these days), but I suspect I’m an outlier on that.

4

“This is a fight that doesn’t need to happen. The status quo is, there’s a diversity of agencies. And it doesn’t make anything more available to close down religious agencies because they have the wrong beliefs. It just takes away an option,” said Mark Rienzi, the president of the Becket Fund. The law firm, which focuses on religious liberty, advocates for the faith-based agencies. “Sometimes the presentation of this issue can suggest that the religious agencies are stopping people from being adoptive and foster parents. It’s just not true. There are lots of agencies. There really is an easy live-and-let-live solution.”

And this kind of sober focus on religious freedom is why I’ve developed a preference for Becket Fund over the better-known (but less focused on religious freedom per se) Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

5

It’s no accident that some of the most homophobic societies, like Iran, for example, are big proponents of sex-reassignment surgery for gender-nonconforming kids and adults (the government even pays for it) while being homosexual warrants the death penalty. Assuming that a non-stereotypical kid is trans rather than gay is, in fact, dangerously close to this worldview.

Andrew Sullivan, reflecting on the appearance of radical feminist TERFs (“Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” — women who recognized that calling men with gender dysphoria “women” isn’t a mere matter of good manners) on a Heritage Foundation panel.

6

I think Andrew Sullivan should have led with his third item last Friday:

If you’ve been waiting for the U.S. Senate to exercise its constitutional prerogatives in the era of Trump, you need wait no longer. A big bipartisan majority has finally stood up to Trump … by voting to advance an amendment in favor of continuing the 18-year occupation of Afghanistan and the ongoing intervention in Syria!

Mitch McConnell actually went on the Senate floor to argue that Trump’s proposed exit from Afghanistan, where no serious progress has been made for almost two decades, would be far too sudden. “The precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from either [Syria or Afghanistan] could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security,” he argued. “I believe the threats remain.” Precipitous!

In fact, the vote was — at 68-to-23 — veto-proof. Sure, 2,000 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, and 20,000 seriously wounded or injured. But they’re all volunteers! ….

So go right ahead and hold me in Contempt of Congress — and all other minions of the military-industrial-journalistic complex. I can’t even make an exception for my own Senator any more.

7

During the Berlin airlift, thought at the time to be the height of the Cold War, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who’d been Army chief of staff during World War II, was asked how worried he was. “I’ve seen worse,” he replied. He had. No one around this president has seen worse. When Jim Mattis, John Kelly and H.R. McMaster left the administration, a cumulative 123 years of military and diplomatic experience left with them.

Peggy Noonan, Can Trump Handle a Foreign Crisis? (Spoiler Alert: We have absolutely no reason to think he can.)

8

On a drive back from Indianapolis last night, I listened to (among others) a podcast post-mortem of Trump’s SOTU.

Toward the end, they played a fairly extended clip of the tail-end of SOTU, that “sounded deeply weird” to the host (beginning at 21:26):

You have come from the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii, from the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona, from the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California ….

I agreed that it sounded deeply weird, but I was a little bit disappointed that neither Rich Lowry nor Elizabeth Breunig put their finger on it: there is no way that Donald Trump in a million years would say anything so poetic on his own. Monkeys banging on typewriters would stumble into the Corpus Shakespeareanis before that.

What torture it must be to serve as a speech-writer for a man whose native tongue is so base as to be unworthy of any solemn occasion! You can’t even take pleasure in the sheer craft of making some moderately lofty sentiment sound natural as it issues forth from the boss.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items. Frankly, it’s kind of becoming my main blog. If you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly.

Potpourri, 12/22/18

1

Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Making Lynching a Federal Crime” says the headline. A photo caption describes the pressing need:

“More than 4,700 people were lynched in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968, according to one estimate, and over 70 percent of the victims were black.”

Am I wrong to think “A day late, a dollar short”? Tell me more:

“For over a century, members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror,” Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”

Okay. I had been lying awake at night worried that people weren’t recognizing that lynching is a stain on our country’s history. But then I’m WEIRD.

That addition is largely symbolic, said Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Yeah, I had kind of figured that out.

Frank Pezzella, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the bill’s passage also carries a message of deterrence …

So, while they’re at it, could they please pass a law deterring elephants from invading my living room?

“It was taken for granted in the South that whites could use force against any African-Americans who became overbearing,” he said. “How do we connect that with hate crimes in the present? Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place.”

“Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place”? Seriously? That‘s how we connect an evil history to this present virtue signalling? Well, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, I guess. Will we pass a law against the Senate’s own progressive McCarthyism in 2068?

Just about the only thing they got right was a definition of “lynching” that limits it to killing someone because of their race or religion, which at least arguably brings it into the legitimate constitutional powers of the national government.

But note that it was unanimous. I must be missing something about the pressing need for banning lynching as a government shutdown loomed.

2

Jerry Taylor, of the relatively new Niskanen Center:

Reason, as David Hume famously noted, is a slave of the passions, and libertarian passions point in one direction and one direction only: hostility to government. This passion is a powerful engine of motivated cognition, which invariably leads to weak policy analysis and dogmatism.

That was not at the top of my list of reasons for keeping libertarianism at arms’ length, but it’s a valid point. More:

  • Wherever we look around the world, when we see inconsequential governments with limited power, as libertarians would prefer, we see “failed states.” How much liberty and human dignity can be found there? Very little.
  • [A]ll libertarians agree that there are exceptions to their ethically-driven opposition to the use of government coercion and force. If there were not, there would be no libertarians; there would only be anarchists. But what are the scale and scope of those exceptions?
  • Factionalism within the libertarian world is rife and irresolvable because the principles themselves say less than you might think about what public policy ought to be (a point made with great force by my colleague Will Wilkinson).
  • Without some means of sorting through the reams of information coming at us every day, we would be overwhelmed and incapable of considered thought or action … Yet any set of beliefs, if they are coherent, are the wet clay of ideology. Hence, the best we can do is to police our inner ideologue with a studied, skeptical outlook, a mindful appreciation of our own fallibility, and an open, inquisitive mind.

3

Unable to make the case for his own virtues, Trump must aver that his vices are commonplace and inconsequential … When all this evidence is stitched together in a narrative — as Mueller’s report will certainly do — the sum will be greater than the sleaze of its parts. Russian intelligence officials invested in an innovative strategy to support the election of a corrupt U.S. businessman with suspicious ties to Russian oligarchs. The candidate and his campaign welcomed that intervention in public and private. And the whole scheme seems to have paid off for both sides … The United States seems to have gone from zero to banana republic in no seconds flat. But whether this transformation has been illegal, it must be impeachable — or else impeachment has no meaning.

Michael Gerson

4

In fact, over the years, as the locations for duels became more picturesque and the pistols more finely manufactured, the best-bred men proved willing to defend their honor over lesser and lesser offenses. So while dueling may have begun as a response to high crimes—to treachery, treason, and adultery—by 1900 it had tiptoed down the stairs of reason, until they were being fought over the tilt of a hat, the duration of a glance, or the placement of a comma.

In the old and well-established code of dueling, it is understood that the number of paces the offender and offended take before shooting should be in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the insult. That is, the most reprehensible affront should be resolved by a duel of the fewest paces, to ensure that one of the two men will not leave the field of honor alive. Well, if that was the case, concluded the Count, then in the new era, the duels should have been fought at no less than ten thousand paces. In fact, having thrown down the gauntlet, appointed seconds, and chosen weapons, the offender should board a steamer bound for America as the offended boards another for Japan where, upon arrival, the two men could don their finest coats, descend their gangplanks, turn on the docks, and fire.

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Kindle locations 750-53.

5

Planned Parenthood Is Accused of Mistreating Pregnant Employees, says the headline.

In interviews and legal documents, women at Planned Parenthood and other organizations with a feminist bent described discrimination that violated federal or state laws — managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, for example, or denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor.

In other cases, the bias was more subtle. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues.

Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.

At Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm suing Walmart for pregnancy discrimination, three lawyers have accused a founding partner, Cyrus Mehri, of mistreatment. Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired. Taryn Wilgus Null said Mr. Mehri questioned her child care arrangements in a performance review after she returned from leave.

And at Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive services, managers in some locations declined to hire pregnant job candidates, refused requests by expecting mothers to take breaks and in some cases pushed them out of their jobs after they gave birth, according to current and former employees in California, Texas, North Carolina and New York.

My antipathy toward Planned Parenthood is probably in the middle of the pro-life pack, but I’ll just let the story speak for itself, pausing only to congratulate the New York Times, which has zero antipathy toward PP, for reporting it.

6

In an even marginally sane world, the fact that a nation’s armed forces are engaged in daily military violence would be cause for shock and alarm, and pulling those forces out of that situation would be viewed as a return to normalcy. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite. In an even marginally sane world, congressional oversight would be required to send the US military to invade countries and commit acts of war, because that act, not withdrawing them, is what’s abnormal. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite.

Caitlin Johnstone

7

 

Though I’m now a retired attorney, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever serve on a jury, partly because one of the two contending attorneys won’t want someone highly skeptical of bloodstain analysis and other pseudo-scientific tricks of the sophists’ trade.

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Clippings and commentary, 12/1/18

1

For a couple of months now, I’ve asked myself a question as I begin to blog on this platform:

Since Alan Jacobs and Caitlin Johnstone are right, what’s really worth blogging today? How about the practical outworkings of their respective insights?

I think that has been helpful, but the two mostly articulate what I knew in my bones already—not that I’ve known it all that long, but a couple of years at least. So I’m not sure that all that much has changed.

2

In that light, Andrew Sullivan was on fire Friday.

His weekly contribution to New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer typically is in three unrelated parts, and often his second or third part drops off into something regarding his (homo)sexuality. Those often bore me.

But this week he had three strong parts, the first on The Right’s Climate Change Shame:

I honestly can’t see how the science of this can be right or left. It’s either our best working hypothesis or not. And absolutely, we can have a debate about how to best counter it: massive investment in new green technology; a carbon tax; cap and trade; private-sector innovation of the kind that has helped restrain emissions in the U.S. already. And this debate could be had on right-left lines. But we cannot even have the debate because American conservatism has ruled it out of bounds.

Then there is the final, classic Republican nonargument: “I don’t see it.” When nothing else works, just subjectively deny all objective reality.

This title piece is very strong.

3

True to form, the second part is about sex, but he’s very stimulating:

Does the fact that less than one percent of humans feel psychologically at odds with their biological sex mean that biological sex really doesn’t exist and needs to be defined away entirely? Or does it underline just how deep the connection between sex and gender almost always is?

… the fact that this society is run overwhelmingly on heterosexual lines makes sense to me, given their overwhelming majority. As long as the government does not actively persecute or enable the persecution of a minority, who cares? An intersex person is as deeply human as anyone else. So is a gay or transgender person. It’s stupid to pretend they are entirely normal, because it gives the concept of normality too much power over us ….

4

Finally, he gets into his own sexuality but in context of a delightful reductio ad absurdum of intersectionality:

[A]n oppressor can also be identified in multiple, intersectional ways. I spend my days oppressing marginalized people and women, because, according to social-justice ideology, I am not just male, but also white and cisgendered. My sin — like the virtue of the oppressed — is multifaceted. So multifaceted, in fact, that being gay must surely be included. Also: HIV-positive. Come to think of it: immigrant. And an English Catholic — which makes me a victim in my childhood and adolescence. Suddenly, I’m a little more complicated, aren’t I? But wait! As a Catholic, I am also an oppressive enabler of a misogynist institution, and at the same time, as a gay Catholic, I’m a marginalized member of an oppressed “LGBTQ” community, as well as sustaining an institution that oppresses other gays.

It can get very complicated very fast. I remain confident that I remain an oppressor because my sex, gender, and race — let alone my belief in liberal constitutionalism and limited government — probably trump all my victim points. But that is a pretty arbitrary line, is it not? Think of the recent leftist discourse around white women. One minute, they are the vanguard of the fight against patriarchy; the next minute, they are quislings devoted to white supremacy and saturated with false consciousness.

And that’s why I favor more intersectionality, not less. Let’s push this to its logical conclusion. Let’s pile on identity after identity for any individual person; place her in multiple, overlapping oppression dynamics, victim and victimizer, oppressor and oppressed; map her class, race, region, religion, marital status, politics, nationality, language, disability, attractiveness, body weight, and any other form of identity you can. After a while, with any individual’s multifaceted past, present, and future, you will end up in this multicultural world with countless unique combinations of endless identities in a near-infinite loop of victim and victimizer. You will, in fact, end up with … an individual human being!

In the end, all totalizing ideologies disappear up their own assholes. With intersectionality, we have now entered the lower colon.

In saying that, he probably has made himself an Enemy of the People—the kind of creeps who don’t just tweet insults, but who show up at your home en masse, beating on the door and threatening imminent harm.

For the rest of us, Sullivan provided some material to save the world (or rebuild after collapse).

5

For two years, Democrats have denounced President Trump’s rhetoric as divisive, and sometimes they’ve been right. Yet they’re also only too happy to polarize the electorate along racial lines, insinuating that Republicans steal elections and pick judges who nurse old bigotries.

WSJ Editorial Board, Democrats and Racial Division

6

Garry Kasparov, the chess champion and chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative (with which I’m associated), has an excellent suggestion for how to respond immediately to Russia’s attack Sunday on three Ukrainian naval ships operating in their own territorial waters: Send a flotilla of U.S. and NATO warships through the narrow Kerch Strait to pay a port call to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov.

The move would be Trumanesque, recalling the Berlin airlift of 1948. It would symbolize the West’s solidarity with our embattled Ukrainian ally, our rejection of Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and our defiance of the Kremlin’s arrogant, violent, lawless behavior. And it would serve as powerful evidence that, when it comes to standing up for the free world, Donald Trump is not, after all, Vladimir Putin’s poodle.

In other words, don’t count on it.

Where’s Sean Hannity when you need him to be embarrassed for his country?

Bret Stephens

Russia is our whipping boy (the Republicans’ after the cold war, now the Democrats’ and the elites’), and my reflex at new accusations against it is skepticism. But darned if that bridge over the Kerch Straits isn’t deliberately too low for big ships. Sometimes the accusations may be true.

7

Mr. Bush came to the Oval Office under the towering, sharply defined shadow of Ronald Reagan, a onetime rival for whom he had served as vice president.

No president before had arrived with his breadth of experience: decorated Navy pilot, successful oil executive, congressman, United Nations delegate, Republican Party chairman, envoy to Beijing, director of Central Intelligence.

Over the course of a single term that began on Jan. 20, 1989, Mr. Bush found himself at the helm of the world’s only remaining superpower. The Berlin Wall fell; the Soviet Union ceased to exist; the communist bloc in Eastern Europe broke up; the Cold War ended.

His firm, restrained diplomatic sense helped assure the harmony and peace with which these world-shaking events played out, one after the other.

Karen Tumulty, Washington Post. In other words, his greatest accommplishment may have been the war on falling Russia that did not happen.

R.I.P.

8

Alan Jacobs has been far less obsessive about debunking “cultural Marxism” as a useful category than various bloggers have been in accusing people of it.

Jacobs’ latest, starting with the definition of someone who thinks the term is useful:

So what is cultural Marxism? In brief, it is a belief that cultural productions (books, institutions, etc.) and ideas are emanations of underlying power structures, so we must scrutinize and judge all culture and ideas based on their relation to power.

The problem here, put as succinctly as I can put it, is that you can take this view of culture without being a Marxist, and you can be a Marxist without taking this view of culture.

(enough with the “Cultural Marxism” already)

I hope I’ve never personally used the term here, but if I have, I repent in sackcloth and ashes. The internet neighborhoods I frequent tend to be populated by people who use the term (no, they are not notably anti-Semitic), so it may have made its way into a quotation.

Maybe I should use its use as a categorical diqualification to join my Feedly stream—not as a litmus test for anti-Semitism, but as a litmus test for loose thinking.

9

I think the most powerful argument I have for my fellow Christians is that supporting Trump is destructive to the way we represent Christ. Some Christians talked about trying to guide Trump through our support and help him be a better man. Maybe they actually believe that would happen, but the opposite has happened. Evangelicals have become worse rather than Trump becoming better. Evangelicals once believed that our sexual morals mattered in leadership but no more. The defense of Trump by some evangelicals reaches the height of hypocrisy. I have Christian contacts who were very hard on Trump during the primaries and were disgusted with Trump in the general election. If they did vote for Trump, they held their nose while they did it. Today, to my dismay, some of those same Christians have turned into some of his biggest supporters. Christians did not save Trump. Trump corrupted them.

And none of this is to ignore that by supporting Trump, Christians have tied themselves to his race baiting, sexism, lying and incompetence. I know that many of my Christian friends hated that argument when I used it. They pointed out that just because they voted for Trump does not mean they agree with him on everything. I understand that logically. But in reality people are going to associate a vote with Trump as an affirmation of all the characteristics linked to him. It does not matter that you voted for Trump because you did not like Clinton; when you vote Trump you get the whole package. All the lying, race-baiting, sexism and the rest is something you will be seen as endorsing. So that 81 percent of white evangelicals number will continue to plague evangelicalism for some time to come.

It is better to stand for something, even if that something is rejected by the larger society, than to show oneself as willing to compromise one’s own morals to achieve political victories ….

George Yancey, Being Destroyed from Within

10

There is no level of fraudulence, falsity, and charlatanism that our elites will not eat up on the subject of “education,” because the subject itself is empty of content (hey-hey-ho-ho Western-Civ-has-got-to-go led to the most appalling vacuum) and thus all of the grifters, shakedown artists, hucksters, frauds, and the like have come flooding in to fill the void.

Matt in VA, quoted in Rod Dreher’s story on a fraudulent Louisiana alternative school.

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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.