Debate commentary aggrregation

From secondhand reports (see below), the surprises in the debate last night were that Biden fought back and Chris Wallace totally lost control.

P.S.: They need to give the moderator a kill switch.  

 

I know there were people last night watching the debate and then live-tweeting their responses — like people in the Ninth Circle of Hell who don’t think their circumstances are bad enough and try to dig a Tenth Circle with their bleeding raw fingers.

 

Alan Jacobs. If you’re only interested in highly literarate analysis, you can stop now. None of the other comments topped Ayjay’s in the category.

 

Considering what he was up against, Biden did fine. No one could have come away from Trump’s machine-gun barrage of bile anything other than diminished. How can one respond to a man who barks one lie after another while refusing to keep his pestilential maw shut for a mere two minutes so his opponent can speak? Try to respond to one lie and he lets loose another four and drowns you out with them before you’re done.

But the Trump campaign came into the debate pushing the line that Biden is a senile old man. He more than demonstrated that isn’t true, though much of the time Biden did give off the air of someone understandably overwhelmed by an onslaught of verbal violence. Most of all, Biden came off like an ordinary politician, citing policies and data and hitting the president over his record while occasionally trying to raise his own rhetoric to the lofty heights traditionally favored by men and women in public life, seeking the honor of winning its highest office.

Trump was something else entirely — some kind of post-truth, street-fighting, full-spectrum bulls**t artist. Say anything. Dominate constantly. Display no warmth. No compassion. No empathy. Just fight, fight, fight. Kick everyone’s ass, including that of the moderator, Chris Wallace, who repeatedly tried and usually failed to impose order on the chaos.

… Down the path Trump has opened up in our politics lies moral darkness and national decline. We will either begin to right ourselves and reverse course five weeks from now by repudiating him and everything he stands for — or the darkness and decline will deepen.

Damon Linker, Trump pummels Biden — and America

On Tuesday night the American people, or at least those unlucky millions who were not watching the Yankees-Indians game on ESPN instead, were subjected to an hour and a half of mindless shouting from two hapless sad-looking old men who looked as if they would rather be anywhere else but that auditorium in Ohio. President Trump also spoke.

… no actual transcription could possibly do justice to these 96 minutes of shouts, insults, interruptions, stray thoughts, and loose babble. It was like witnessing an argument about an arcane procedural rule during a senior bingo night at a nursing home in purgatory. It was vicious, tasteless, witless, and (surprisingly, alas) painfully unfunny.

Matthew Walther, The worst presidential debate of all time

Many people will criticize how the moderator, Chris Wallace, managed the debate, and surely he could have done better. But really, nothing short of a shock collar around Trump’s neck would have disciplined the man who is, after all, the president of the United States. A president who does not respect the tax laws, does not respect the FBI, is surely not going to be constrained by a debate moderator. It was pandemonium. But it was revealing pandemonium. Who and what Trump is could not have been more vividly displayed in all the psychological reality. Debate one was not Donald Trump versus Joe Biden, or red versus blue. It was zookeepers versus poop-throwing primates.

Biden may be faded from what he was: perhaps less crisp, less sharp, less fast. But when Biden spoke, he spoke to and about America. Trump spoke only about his wounded ego. Biden communicated: I care about you. Trump communicated: I hate everybody. Biden succeeded in putting his most important messages on record: your health care, your job, your right to equal respect, regardless of race or creed—all against Trump’s disregard and disrespect. Trump might have imagined that he projected himself as strong. The whole world witnessed instead the destructive rage of a bully confronting impending defeat. Trump disgraced the presidency on that stage. He might just have delivered the self-incapacitating wound that pushes the country toward self-salvation.

David From, Trump’s Theory of the Debate Was All Wrong – The Atlantic

“Watching that debate,” one Democratic strategist told us after, “was like watching the Angel of Death unfurl its glorious infinitely black wings before me, my eyes being taken ever deeper into the absolute void where no color can exist, and seeing in that moment nothing but death and the end of all things shouted at me through the guttural Queens accent of a madman.”

The Morning Dispatch: One Bad Debate – The Morning Dispatch

I think Hunter Biden’s capitalizing on his father’s power for personal gain is fair game, but for pity’s sake, don’t trash a man’s son for his brokenness with substance abuse. If they weren’t politicians, but two ordinary guys in a bar, I would have loved to have seen Joe Biden walk over and cold-cock Trump for trashing his boy.

I can’t believe I wrote that line about a presidential debate. This is what Trump, the chaos agent, brings to our politics.

Rod Dreher, The Debate Disaster | The American Conservative

How old am I? I’m old enough to remember Al Gore’s boorish debate stunt, and Dubya’s effortless response.

Those were the good old days of mannerliness.

* * * * *

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

* * *

You shall love your crooked neighbour

With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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President Molotov

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted about the “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” that shield him and make him safe. Young Secret Service agents were girding for a fight, he wrote.

Presidents don’t normally feel compelled to boast about their protection …

Past presidents have sought to play a healing role when the nation is on edge, but Trump’s instinct is to plunge into combustible circumstances in ways that rouse his base ….

Donald Trump Is Afraid of the White House Protests (The Atlantic)

Can you imagine Donald Trump saying anything like this extemporaneously (or even playing it straight if it was on a teleprompter)?:

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Robert F. Kennedy on the Death of Martin Luther King Jr. (The Atlantic)

UPDATE:

Or better yet, saying these words:

I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.

Lyndon Banes Johnson.

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

Immanuel Kant

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, plus a bit more here. I am also beginning to save stuff at Pinboard (an under-appreciated gem), and this links to my public Pinboard should you be interested in what kind of reading makes me weird. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Present obsessions

Coronavirus seems to dominate the news and now is beginning to dominate our tribal animosities, but don’t forget Michael Flynn.

1

Some fascinating insights by one of Rod Dreher’s readers:

[B]ecause conservatives aren’t interested in environmental policy, public health, etc., they cede those fields to progressives, which means those institutions develop progressive biases, which both repels potential conservative workers and makes it harder for them to advance, which increases progressive bias, and so on. And when conservatives DO get the chance to helm these organizations–and this is where Trump infuriates me more than almost anything else–instead of putting serious thinkers with a body of work and experience into those positions, they put in grifters or people who intentionally dislike the institution and want to weaken it. In some areas, this is an understandable if sad dynamic. But public health has been viewed as part of the magistrate’s job for as long as war and courts. Governments have been quarantining infectious disease since well before the United States existed. It is a CRUCIAL field, and it has to function, and conservatives cannot just bitch about how “well it’s full of liberals and has a liberal bias.” Yeah, public health will institutionally be biased a bit towards statist, central action. It will be skeptical of religious institutions as partners. But your county health department is as vital to your community as your local school district or police, and by ceding fields like public health to the progressives, conservatives have basically lost all institutional knowledge about things like public health. There is no viable conservative alternative to public health in this crisis–the entirety of it is “bunch of libs doing lib stuff! No to that!”

Masks As Condensed Symbols | The American Conservative (emphasis added).

I’ve been repeatedly encountering lately reminders of how we abstract fairly concrete things so we can analyze them, and a portion of what Rod’s reader said was one of those reminders.

This was one of the best things I read today inasmuch as it acknowledges institutional liberalism but indicts conservatives as co-conspirators — and reminds us to “get real.”

2

First Things is much in the news as Editor in Chief R.R. Reno becomes increasingly strident, populist and Trumpist in general, and had a downright nasty Tweetstorm this week about coronavirus “cowards.” His outburst accelerated comments on the magazine’s decline — a fairly long slide, arguably dating to the arrival of Reno.

My own contribution:

Performative: I threw my June/July First Things in the trash, unopened.

Substantive #1: I already skimmed, “clipped” and annotated it digitally.

Substantive #2: skimming, clipping and annotating is a relatively trivial job these (waning?) days of the Rusty Reno reign.


Jonathan V. Last of the Bulwark has come onto my radar recently.  He’s had several good insights.

Not one of the (conflicting) coronavirus conspiracy theories finds any basis for faulting the guy where the buck is supposed to stop. That’s the big tell that, taken literally, every one of the conspiracy-mongers is bullshitting. That’s my distillation of part of one essay.

But:

We have a “don’t wear masks” movement that overlaps almost entirely with the “reopen immediately” movement.

There are only two possible explanations for why this might be. The first is that people are dumber than a bag of hammers.

The second is that when people tell you what they think about “reopening” and “masks,” they aren’t actually talking about the coronavirus. They’re telling a story about how they see themselves and their place in the world.

… [T]here is a non-trivial number of Americans—maybe it’s 1-in–10, maybe it’s 1-in–4—who … view the pandemic as … opportunity to posture and perform.

In part, this is an artifact of how successful the mitigation measures have been: Because the death toll has been held to the scores of thousands, many people have the luxury of talking and acting however they like without facing real-world consequences …

As America’s decadence has increased over the last 30 or so years and we have become—just objectively speaking—a less serious country, one of the stories we have told ourselves was that we could become a serious people again if we faced a big enough shock or a stern enough test. That the steely, strong, serious America of the last century—the America that survived the Depression and crushed the Nazis and put men on the moon—was still somewhere within us, just waiting to be awakened. That our true, best selves just needed a call to action, a grave, existential summons.

The reaction of this vocal and sizable minority to the pandemic suggests that this story might not be true, either.

Jonathan V. Last, The Curious Case of the People Who Want to “Reopen” America—But Not Wear Masks. Well, that kinda got dark at the end, didn’t it?


Rod Dreher, too, laments First Things, but pivots:

It should also be said that from my point of view, the Christian Left is completely bankrupt. What is its point at all? It is so besotted with LGBT activism and identity politics that it is impossible to discern anything distinctly Christian about it. I mean, if it is true that far too much of the Religious Right has subordinated itself to offering theological justifications for right-wing politics, this is, if anything, more true of the Religious Left, with progressive causes. Name one thing that any significant Religious Left figure stands for that opposes secular left-wing politics …

But that’s their problem. We on the Christian Right have our own to work out. What I regret is that First Things still has a unique position of being able to offer that leadership, but is squandering it. It was a mistake for Reno to endorse Donald Trump publicly, and to thereby tie the magazine to the Trump project. I don’t object to the magazine running piece sympathetic to Trump, but it would have been far, far more prudent to have kept the magazine uncommitted. And now, in the Covid–19 crisis, the magazine has not been a place for thoughtful, challenging theological and cultural analyses of the pandemic phenomenon, but has become known for Reno’s descent into bizarro crankishness.

Rod Dreher, First Things & The Future Of Religious Conservatism | The American Conservative.


Alan Jacobs had a long history with them, but now asks what to say about First Things? at his Snakes and Ladders blog. After editor Jim Neuchterlein left, universal acceptance of Jacobs’ manuscripts became universal rejection:

It was, and still is, hard for me to know how much I had changed and how much they had.

Not, for a long time, being willing to give up altogether, I managed to get a handful of things in the magazine, but it was obvious that my relationship with it was never going to be the same. And then things started getting more generally strange. A kind of … I’m not quite sure what the word is, but I think I want to say a pugilistic culture began to dominate the magazine. When I submitted a piece to an editor, another editor wrote me an angry email demanding to know why I hadn’t submitted it to him; whenever I disagreed with Rusty Reno about something, he would, with such regularity that I felt it had to be intentional, accuse me of having said things I never said; once, when I made a comment on Twitter about the importance of Christians who share Nicene orthodoxy working together, another editor quickly informed me that I’m not a Nicene Christian. (Presumably because, since I’m not a Roman Catholic, I don’t really believe in “the holy Catholic church.”)

I suspect all these folks would tell a different story than the one I’m telling, so take all this as one person’s point of view, but more and more when I looked at First Things I found myself thinking: What the hell is going on here? Sometimes the whole magazine seemed to be about picking fights, and often enough what struck me as wholly unnecessary and counterproductive fights. (Exhibit A: the Mortara kerfuffle.) So I stopped submitting, and then I stopped subscribing, and then for the most part I stopped reading.

I fear Jacobs isn’t alone, but he concludes with a reminder that all is not lost:

Rod Dreher is correct to say, in a follow-up to the post I linked to at the top of this piece, that no other magazine of religion and public life, or religion and intellectual life, has the reach of First Things. But I think the decision by the editors of FT to occupy the rather … distinctive position in the intellectual landscape that they’ve dug into for the past few years has left room for a thousand flowers to bloom in the places that FT is no longer interested in cultivating. I have gotten more and more involved with Comment; they’re publishing some outstanding work at Plough Quarterly; even an endeavor like The Point, not specifically religious at all, makes room for religious voices ….

3

I think I’ve reached a conclusion that Judge Emmet Sullivan is acting properly seeking amici in the Department of Justice’s bizarre motion to dismiss charges against Michael Flynn. Randall D. Eliason convinced me:

[W]hat makes the Flynn case different, and so unusual, is that Flynn has already pleaded guilty. Once the court has gone through the solemn process of accepting a guilty plea, the balance of interests changes. Executive branch decisions about whether and how to prosecute are no longer implicated, because those decisions have already been made. The prosecution is largely over, the defendant stands convicted, and all that remains is sentencing — which is the prerogative of the judge. At that point, the court has a greater role to play in determining how the case proceeds.

The cases largely relied upon by Flynn and his supporters — including the most frequently cited, United States v. Fokker Services, B.V. — are cases involving prosecutorial decisions where there has been no guilty plea. That’s a crucial distinction. No one is pointing to cases in which the government has moved to completely drop a prosecution after a guilty plea because, frankly, no one can think of another example.

At the very least, because the government’s request is so unusual, it raises complex issues concerning how the court should proceed and what legal standards apply. With the Justice Department now in bed with Flynn, neither is going to present the other side of those issues to help Sullivan determine what to do next, and that makes it appropriate for a judge to invite outside experts to provide advice.

The judge in the Michael Flynn case has taken some unusual steps. Here’s why they’re appropriate.

4

“I found out with both Bush and Clinton, their childhood heroes were Willie Mays,” Shea said. “Bush told me that he didn’t want to be a president, he wanted to be Willie Mays.”

Willie Mays at 89: ‘My Thing Is Keep Talking and Keep Moving’ – The New York Times

That makes three of us.

5

Three new unnamed articles on race from the Immanent Frame. I’ve named them:

  1. How the social construct of race got constructed
  2. Race explored in poetry
  3. “Doing” religion and race together

I found the third easier to take if I imagined it as a spoof.

6

I’ve never quite understood what American Exceptionalism is. It seems to shape-shift so that you contest it at your own risk.

Is this it?

7

Having established the principle that each department must “pull its weight” financially, Liberty University abolishes all departments to focus on Division I major sports.

(#Satire #PleaseDoNotSueMeJerry)

8

Peggy Noonan seems a fitting bookend, as she comments the class warfare aspects of our coronavirus contentiousness: Scenes From the Class Struggle in Lockdown.

I think we’re going to open up the economy again, but in a vulnerable age group and without a compelling need to go out, I’ll merge back into life slowly. Meanwhile, others had darned well better behave themselves lest we do finally push hospitals beyond their limits.

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

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

When politics becomes a religion

Religionized politics bodes to kill us:

I’m convinced that 2020 is going to be the most spiritually challenging year for politically engaged Christians of my adult lifetime. In an increasingly de-Christianized America, politics itself is emerging as a competing religious force, and it’s a religion that’s increasingly based on hate and fear, rather than love and grace.

[T]he idea that a person is “good, but wrong” or even “decent, but wrong” is vanishing. Instead, the conventional wisdom is that our political opponents are “terrible and wrong.” Our opponents not only have bad policies, they are bad people.

Now, let’s thrown in an additional complicator for people of faith. Perhaps a religious partisan could attempt to justify the animosity if they could map out a nice, neat religious divide. “Of course they’re terrible people—they’re all heretics.” After all, “reasoning” like that has launched countless wars of religion. And indeed, Republican partisans do make the claim that the GOP stands as a bulwark against increasingly godless Democrats.

But here’s the very different truth. The bases of both parties are disproportionately composed of the most God-fearing, church-going cohort of Americans—black Democrats and white Evangelicals. So, no, while there are serious differences regading abortion, religious liberty, immigration, and a host of other vital moral issues (and blue states tend to be more secular than red states), American politics cannot be neatly defined as a battle between the godly and the godless.

Thus, while the stakes of our modern political conflicts are thankfully lower than the awful carnage of the Civil War, the political division between black Democrats and white Evangelicals reminds me of Lincoln’s famous words in his second inaugural: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” And we face a similar reality: “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”

David French (emphasis added).

* * * * *

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.

Gonzo politics

When a group of House Republicans staged a protest and barged into the secure rooms of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning, claiming that the testimony being collected there about possible criminality and abuse of power by President Trump constituted a “Soviet-style process” that “should not be allowed in the United States,” Americans were witnessing perhaps the clearest example yet of the GOP’s embrace of gonzo politics.

Until recently the gonzo style was confined to an edgy form of muckraking quasi-journalism. When it dealt with public figures, including those involved with politics, it invariably sought to make them the butt of a joke. But in the digital age, this has changed — and interestingly, the change has taken place almost exclusively on the right, where a gonzo style of politics has migrated from alt-right “news” websites to the political arena. It has since taken root and flourished in the richly fertilized soil of the Trump presidency.

To grasp what’s distinctive about the gonzo style of politics, we first need to clarify what it isn’t.

“Normal” politics involves politicians and other public figures articulating principles and proposing policies to advance a normative vision of the public good. It presumes that all of us share a reality of truth and facts and that it’s possible to determine the best way to order that common life. The partisan clashes we associate with normal politics emerge from the fact that different classes and factions within the polity disagree about the public good and what it demands and requires. This clash of views prompts citizens to make arguments and deploy rhetorical appeals in order to persuade the greatest possible number of people to join one side in the conflict against the others. The tacit expectation of normal politics is that this debate will be conducted in good faith.

President Trump is in serious trouble. He and his closest advisers have admitted to impeachable actions. Others have testified to statements and behavior that incriminate him further. That makes mounting a defense of him in terms of publicly accepted standards of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, extremely difficult if not impossible. Yet the president is demanding a defense regardless, and members of his party have volunteered to go along by play-acting indignation and spouting indisputable lies.

Damon Linker. The “gonzo” adjective is inspired and illuminating. I even think it could be said that Trump’s is a “gonzo Presidency.” You really need to read Linker’s full column.

The utter disregard for truth in favor of what will preserve or expand power is a true deathwork.

I am aware that the Democrats, too, are power-seekers (toward ends whose toxicity, as I view the world, prevents my becoming a Democrat, too), but that’s a given in politics. It is the GOP’s abandonment of the norms of normal politics (chiefly “articulating principles and proposing policies to advance a normative vision of the public good;” the GOP chiefly exists to tear down what Obama built — for reasons they can’t or won’t articulate in terms of the public good they’ll replace it with) that distinguishes it as deeply toxic.

Final thought. As I was preparing to post this, I noted my new footer/epilogue. It strikes me that this may be young progressives’ version of gonzo politics:

This is the competitive advantage of the young—that they can so readily assimilate the ever-expanding list of shibboleths and forbidden expressions. Mock horror is the next generation’s form of rent-seeking, and political correctness the younger players’ edge.

Abigail Shrier, Ken Fisher, Joe Biden and the Merciless Young. I deplore it, too, but I’m too pissed at the GOP, my former party, to assert or deny equivalency.

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

Masterful Resonance

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

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

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

David A. French

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

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

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

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

(French)

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

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

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

But I’m taking no wagers on that.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Banana Republicans

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

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

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

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

Robinson Meyer, A Fight for the Soul of NOAA

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

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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, 2/16/19

1

If you subscribe to First Things, don’t miss Baptism of Blood in the March edition. If you don’t, save the link for 30 days or so and the paywall will drop:

[W]hen they saw the video and knew with certainty what had happened, their confidence returned: “We now have a holy martyr in heaven, so must rejoice—nothing can harm us anymore.”

Which explains why the families handled the video with a complete sense of ease. There was an iPad in every household on which one could watch the full-length, uncut, unedited video. Malak’s mother was the only one who refused to look at the screen, while all her family’s young men, cousins, and brothers stared at it, apparently undisturbed, pointing out the men they recognized, as they had often done. There could have been no better place to watch the video—surrounded by the men’s families and runny-­nosed children, in rooms adorned with images of the crowned Twenty-One …

What would the murderers say about their video being shown like this? Would it surprise them to see how unflappable these simple-minded, poor folk were? Would they be able to see that their cruelty had failed to achieve the intended goal, and that their attempt to intimidate and disturb hadn’t succeeded?

Written of the families of the 21 Coptic Martys, beheaded by Muslim terrorists on a beach in Libya, and referring to a terrorist propaganda video of the rehearsed slaying. I immediately acquired an Icon of these Holy Martys and made it a point to join Copts in Matins and Liturgy two years ago.

(First published in micro.blog)

2

America Is Torn Between Trump’s Fibs and Progressives’ Fantasies.
The president is a master of little lies, but the left rejects the big truths that sustain politics and culture.

The problem with such a headline is that one may merely shake one’s head in vigorous affirmation without reading it:

My father … served for many years as an aide to Gov. and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. One night in 1979, he announced Rockefeller’s death before the television cameras. He thought it his duty as a gentleman to lie about the circumstances, and he never got over the shame of that lie.

Mr. Trump works with huckster falsehoods—the flashy superlatives of a car salesman. The progressive left works with conceptual falsities. Voters in 2020 will decide which style of lies they prefer.

Mr. Trump composes his reality after the manner of a Renaissance painter’s pentimento, except that he works at the speed of Twitter , making adjustments as circumstances shift. He slaps new paint over old facts when they become inconvenient. Mr. Trump’s abuses, he and his followers believe, somehow come right by coalescing in a larger truth—the mythic America that radiated from my father’s old Saturday Evening Post and came to its apotheosis in the Neverland of Dwight Eisenhower’s 1950s.

The progressive left embraces new visions of perfection—tamer in its methods than its 1930s predecessors, but sometimes outdistancing them in the fusion of dogmatic correctness with a fairly advanced decadence. Progressives are busy reinventing the Kingdom of God on Earth, trying to make their version as different as possible from his. They contrive elaborate new genders, for example—ones the deity didn’t think of. They invent vocabularies, terms ecstatic and bristling—“cisgendered,” “heteronormative,” “intersectionality”—designed to bully reality into compliance.

Their version of the kingdom mixes hopes of social justice with sexual nullifications and revenge fantasies. In my mother’s time, the far left in its dreams crushed capitalism and ushered the workers into paradise. Today they sweep white civilization and toxic males into the dustbin of history.

3

It was also exhilarating to see a congresswoman confront a figure who has pleaded guilty to misleading Congress before, and who helped cover up and minimize the slaughter of more than 800 civilians, including children, in El Mozote, El Salvador … [T]hat Abrams would go before the House and not be called to account for his past record would be an outrage. Making the powerful uncomfortable is what the Congress is supposed to do.

Now look at [Congresswoman Ilhan] Omar. She didn’t just push back on AIPAC’s distortion of American foreign policy, she reiterated a classic anti-Semitic trope that American Jews buy influence, period. She didn’t just confront Elliott Abrams, she refused to let him answer anything but loaded “yes” or “no” responses. And last week, for good measure, she demanded an investigation into the decision by USA Powerlifting to ban transgender women from competing in women’s powerlifting contests, because of the unfair advantage that developing a male body for most of your life will give you in lifting weights. The organization instituted the ban after a young trans woman, JayCee Cooper, smashed the state record for women’s bench press in Minnesota, beating her nearest female rival by a mile, only a year after joining the sport.

If the Democrats want to fight the next election on the need for a radical rebalancing of the economy in favor of the middle and working class, for massive investment in new green technology, for higher taxes on the superrich, and for health-care security for all Americans, they can win. If they conflate those goals with extremist rhetoric about abolishing everyone’s current health insurance, and starting from scratch, as the Green New Deal advises, not so much. If they insist that men and women are indistinguishable, that girls can have penises and boys can have periods, as transgender ideology now demands, they’ll seem nuts to most fair-minded people.

Are they really capable of fucking this up once again? The answer that is emerging in the first months of the new Democratic House is: of course they can.

Do not miss Andrew Sullivan’s Friday offering, on a single topic for a change. He had me howling in laughter at the hapless progressives, but then brought me crashing back to earth.

I won’t spoil it for you.

4

Socialism is … more frequently praised than defined because it has become a classification that no longer classifies. So, a president who promiscuously wields government power to influence the allocation of capital (e.g., bossing around Carrier even before he was inaugurated; using protectionism to pick industrial winners and losers) can preen as capitalism’s defender against socialists who, like the Bolsheviks, would storm America’s Winter Palace if the United States had one.

Time was, socialism meant thorough collectivism: state ownership of the means of production (including arable land), distribution and exchange. When this did not go swimmingly where it was first tried, Lenin said (in 1922) that socialism meant government ownership of the economy’s “commanding heights” — big entities. After many subsequent dilutions, today’s watery conceptions of socialism amount to this: Almost everyone will be nice to almost everyone, using money taken from a few. This means having government distribute, according to its conception of equity, the wealth produced by capitalism …

The “boldness” of today’s explicit and implicit socialists — taxing the “rich” — is a perennial temptation of democracy: inciting the majority to attack an unpopular minority. This is socialism now: From each faction according to its vulnerability, to each faction according to its ability to confiscate.

George Will. I hope Rod Dreher will take to heart this equivocation before he actually names his forthcoming book “Cultural Socialism” — a title so wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to start.

5

Former representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas is experiencing a … sudden star turn. It’s easy to see why so many are attracted to him. He’s young (46), charismatic, has a beautiful family and appeals to a cross-section of Americans. But something about him seems manufactured. A leaner, lankier version of two likely role models, Bobby Kennedy and Barack Obama, his practiced performances tend to make one wish for the real McCoys. With unmistakable echoes of Obama’s cadences and Kennedy’s mannerisms, O’Rourke seems to have been created by an artificial intelligence that was informed by polls and demographic projections.

Kathleen Parker

6

Yes, Moscow Boosts Western Anti-Imperialist Voices. So What?

As we discussed recently, there will necessarily be inadvertent agreement between Russia and westerners who oppose western interventionism, because Russia, like so many other sovereign nations, opposes western interventionism. If you discover that an American who opposes US warmongering and establishment politics is saying the same things as RT, that doesn’t mean you’ve discovered a shocking conspiracy between western dissidents and the Russian government, it means people who oppose the same things oppose the same things.

If you really listen to what the CNNs and Ben Nimmos and Washington Timeses are actually trying to tell you, what they’re saying is that it’s not okay for anyone to oppose any part of the unipolar world order or the establishment which runs it. Never ever, under any circumstances. Don’t work for a media outlet that’s funded by the Russian government even though no mainstream outlets will ever platform you. Don’t even subscribe to an anti-establishment subreddit. Those things are all Russian. Listen to Big Brother instead. Big Brother will protect you from their filthy Russian lies.

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1

Holy Smokes! Tucker Carlson lit a long fuse and Michael Brendan Dougherty just ignited!

Carlson pointed to the real molten fissure that is burbling sulfur on the American right. By doing so without ever mentioning the name, the character, or the political fortunes of Donald Trump, he allowed everyone to be more frank than usual. Carlson’s case is that elite-driven economic and social policy has destroyed the material basis for the family life, that our technocratic elite has the wrong measures of national health. Further, he argues, if the American Right doesn’t give up on its absentminded idolatry of “the market,” the country will quickly move toward socialism.

My colleagues David French and David Bahnsen, along with Ben Shapiro, argued forcefully against him. The themes are remarkably similar. Carlson says true things about the state of family life, they admit. But he is encouraging a victim mentality …

While French, Bahnsen, and Shapiro all variously object to Carlson’s jeremiads about elites, and his iconoclasm when it comes to the “free market,” nobody disputed that, as Carlson said, sometimes private-equity outfits do take advantage of our laws to extract value from existing companies for shareholders, charging fees while passing on pension burdens to the public. Also, nobody argued against Carlson’s contention that, absent a dramatic effort to change the conditions for America’s middle and working class, the country will turn to socialism. I found these omissions curious.

Bahnsen writes: “Carlson wrongly chooses to assign blame for the decisions people make to macroeconomic forces, instead of focusing on the decisions people make and the microeconomic consequences people absorb.”

To those who object to Carlson along these lines I would ask: At what point can we actually move on from the subject of personal responsibility and onto governance? Or, to put it another way, are there any political conditions in which the advice to be virtuous and responsible aren’t the best counsel you could give an individual?

It seems that it would be just as true to say these things in Russia during the post-Communist period, which saw soaring substance-abuse problems and plunging life expectancies. Then as now, the best advice you could give an individual Russian man was not to drink until his liver failed and he died. You could advise Russian women not to abort so many of their children. You could advise people to go back to church. All that would be salutary and more practically useful than having them wallow in elite failure. But none of that advice is inconsistent with political reflection and action for building a more flourishing society.

And our jobs at National Review and the Daily Wire include writing about and reflecting on political conditions. We are, all of us in this debate, dedicated to causes in which political effort and coordination is difficult. Would any of us really conclude that because the Russian state wasn’t forcing men at gunpoint to drink, Russia’s mortality rate had nothing to do with the corruption, venality, and misgovernance of the era? I doubt it.

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I agree that a victim mentality isn’t helpful. A victim mentality doesn’t even help most actual victims. It wouldn’t help most political prisoners held unjustly. They, too, benefit spiritually from self-control (and religion)! My fear is that we are now so self-conscious about legitimizing a victim mentality that we have decided that justice is hardly worth pursuing. We trust an invisible hand so thoroughly that we don’t ask whether the laws and policies that govern trade, employment, and markets are prudent. We are becoming as glib as those who say “Don’t like abortion? Then don’t have one.”

(Bold added)

Kudos to Carlson for starting this intra-conservative fight. Kudos to Dougherty for the cojones to point out that his colleagues, most or all of them senior to him, are selling buck-naked, Emperor’s-New-Clothes nostrums that few are still buying. And Kudos to National Review for allowing Dougherty to deviate from the conservative party line.

2

I do think Trump will declare a bogus national emergency because it provides a similacrum of accomplishing something.

So: Which is the worse precedent?

  1. A President declaring a bogus national emergency to gesture at fulfilling a key campaign promise?
  2. Federal Courts ruling that a declaration of national emergency is bogus?

Note that I’ve kept personalities out of it because the question is precedent.

The President claims that his lawyers have given a legal green light to the proposed declaration of national emergency. His oath to uphold the laws and constitution oblige him to satisfy himself of that.

  1. Has the Department of Justice really vetted this proposal for conformity with what the law has in mind by “national emergency” (rather than just “can I get away with it”) and said “Yes. This is a classic national emergency”? Or …
  2. Will there be principled resignations of lawyers whose opinions are being misrepresented?

3

Are there enough millstones left in the world to appropriately bedeck the necks of Fordham faculty, staff and counselors?

4

… I no longer recognize my country and I don’t feel welcome here anymore. That is why I’m leaving America, for the same reason my ancestors came here, to find home.

… Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned the new breakaway Ukrainian patriarch to offer the US Government’s support. I can’t expect the US Government to have a theological care about the destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, but I hate that my government is exploiting this rift to gain advantage against Russia.

It gets worse. In 2016, the Trump State Department put out a $300,000 bid to hire culture-war mercenaries to go into Macedonia with the express purpose of fighting Orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality. The American taxpayer paid money to export the destruction of Macedonia’s Christian culture.

… Personally, I don’t know what it would mean to “give up” on America. That said, I find our country to be an increasingly hostile, alien place, in terms of the direction of the culture, and the lack of a sense that there’s anything left to restrain its descent.

Rod Dreher, An Expatriate Of The Heart, initially quoting a reader from Atlanta.

I’m thinking of “the … closing lines in Alasdair MacIntyre’s … After Virtue, in which MacIntyre concludes:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead . . . was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

Patrick J. Deneen

Unlike Rod’s reader in Atlanta, my wife has not left me for another woman. I have a son, his wife, and two grandchildren. I serve my parish as Cantor.

These loyalties, not any attachment to the nation writ large (let alone to the government, a true force for evil in the world), keep me here (along with frank recognition that my language skills aren’t supple enough to make emigration to any Orthodox land feasible).

I’m of a generation and personal temperament that come to such conclusions relatively easily, I suspect. But I was a bit surprised to find myself agreeing so thoroughly with Rod’s reader.

I strongly suspect we’re at such the kind of “crucial turning point” MacIntyre described in the U.S., too. The comments to Dreher’s blog confirm that I’m not alone.

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Clippings and comment, 1/8/19

1

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

Garrison Keillor

2

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

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

3

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

New York Times. Now that is a national emergency!

4

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

5

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

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

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

6

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

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