Many and various thoughts 1/15/22

Seeking to destroy the liberal framework

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, on a network news show, responded to a question about January 6 thusly:

“As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds said, noting that none of the irregularities brought to his attention would’ve changed the outcome in any state. “The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”

45 did not appreciate that:

Trump, who in a statement Monday morning accused Rounds of going “woke” on the “fraudulent” 2020 election. “Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive,” Trump continued, lying. “Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.”

The Morning Dispatch

I could not comprehend how any sensible person, whatever his grievances against our traditional political elites, can think that this vengeful narcissist is a suitable Presidential candidate. But Damon Linker has now explained it:

By the time Trump burst on the scene in the summer of 2015, the traditionalist right had nearly given in to outright despair, even in public, with many moving into a purely defensive position. No longer hoping to reverse the direction of the culture, they now hoped they might merely receive modest federal protection from persecution at the hands of emboldened secular liberals.

At first Trump’s campaign didn’t inspire much cause for optimism among disaffected traditionalist conservatives. He was, after all, a personal paragon of moral decadence. Yet once Trump seized the GOP nomination, and then the presidency itself, a rethinking began among the most pessimistic conservatives. Might his unexpected triumph open other, more radical options for the future? Could his aggressive, unapologetic hostility to liberal norms and institutions signal an openness among American voters to a fundamental rethinking of ideological premises, cultural limits, and the range of political possibilities?

For a series of pessimistic conservatives — especially the "integralist" Catholics (Adrian Vermeule, Gladden Pappin, Patrick Deneen, Sohrab Ahmari, Chad Pecknold) and the philosophically anti-liberal and anti-progressive writers at the Claremont Institute and the American Greatness website — Trump came to represent a new way to achieve old ends. Instead of encouraging Republican presidents to struggle within a liberal framework against the inexorable drift of the country, including its government and its culture, toward the secular left, conservatives could cheer on a political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself.

"A political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself." That’s fancy-talk for what I feared was the motivation in 2016 — "To hell with it! Let’s tear it all down!" — which is notably nihilistic rather than conservative.

These traditionalist Christian "conservatives" might justify that as desperate measures for desperate times (responding to an existential threat, another Flight 93 Election, but one mark of conservatism has been sober recognition that bountiful crops don’t grow in the scorched earth of revolution.

What a difference a day makes

My Friday reaction

Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, authorities said Thursday.

Ten other people also were charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, when authorities said members of the extremist group came to Washington intent on stopping the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

AP Report.

That’s close enough to a domestic terrorism charge to satisfy my curiosity (and desire for retribution) about why nobody had been charged with terrorism in the January 6 whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

My Saturday course correction

We have an adversarial legal system because there are often two plausible sides to a case.

Did the Oath Keepers commit seditious conspiracy? I thought so, and so did a law prof. An ex-prosecutor, who has actually convicted seditious conspirators, says not so fast, pal.

I’m with the second now. And the reason why, in a nutshell, is that the President of the United States sent them off to "stop the steal" — ritually disavowing violence but almost assuring it by his inflammatory "fight like hell" and "stop the steal" rhetoric. To those foolish enough to believe Trump, the notion that if we don’t stop the steal, we won’t have America any more is a potent incitement to "any means necessary."

This all matters because unless the prosecutors have filed multiple counts, including counts that don’t require proving that the Oath Keepers consciously were trying to overrule a legitimate election rather than gullibly trying to stop the nonexistent steal, they could well be acquitted. Since they are dangerous fiends or fools who need to be out of circulation for a good long time, both for safety and to deter others, I don’t want that.

Go for the easy single, guys, not the home run.

No particular place to be

I can take a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or of the deepest underwater caverns, nearly as easily as I glance across the room. Every foreign wonder, hidden place, and obscure subculture is immediately available to my idle curiosity; they are lumped together into a uniform distancelessness that revolves around me. But where am I? There doesn’t seem to be any nonarbitrary basis on which I can draw a horizon around myself—a zone of relevance—by which I might take my bearings and get oriented. When the axis of closer-to-me and farther-from-me is collapsed, I can be anywhere, and find that I am rarely in any place in particular.

Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

We’re all experts now

When Covid hit, we were knee-deep in spoofed phone numbers slamming our cellphones about fake car warranties. We were wading through emails trying to steal our identities. We were triangulating Yelp reviews and Consumer Reports summaries with testimonials and marketing research just to buy a new mattress or an air fryer. We were checking out our own purchases at the grocery store and waiting on hold to replace the credit card that got hacked for the umpteenth time. We were staring, bleary-eyed, into apps that promised less “friction” in our everyday lives if we would just consent to tracking — not that we had a clue as to what exactly we were consenting to. The tiny boxes to “sign up” are labeled “terms and conditions,” after all, and not “Here is how we are going to farm your personal data for profit.” And when we complained — to a manager, to a clerk, to our spouses, to the internet — someone was all too glad to tell us how we could have prevented all of this if we had just become an expert in everything.

It is no wonder that so many of us think that we can parse vaccine trial data, compare personal protective equipment, write school policy and call career scientists idiots on Facebook. We are know-it-alls because we are responsible for knowing everything. And God forbid we should not know something and get scammed. If that happens, it is definitely our fault.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, ‌We’re All ‘Experts’ Now. That’s Not a Good Thing.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, skipped vaccine and treated with Ivermectin and Hydrochloroquine when they contracted Covid.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, are convinced that the CDC is sluggish and wimpy and that it’s vitally important that we get vaccinated, boosted, and put on our N95 masks and quarantine until the end of January.

I value my friends, but having fallen for pseudoscience more than once in my long life, I’m trying to trust the CDC directionally, titrating with common sense. I’m 73, and I’m going to die of something some day. Meanwhile, I don’t want to live in irrational fear or with irrational exuberance.

Trafficking in racial animosities

There are strong incentives to provoke the left on race, and that provocation can often take the form of rhetoric that looks a lot like outright racism. Take, for example, this comment from Tucker Carlson regarding immigration and the alleged Democratic effort to “replace” the American electorate with immigrants:

I know that the left and all the gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term replacement, if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World. But, they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.

Carlson says his comments have nothing to do with race—with the so-called Great Replacement theory (a white-supremacist theory that, in its current American incarnation, holds that Democrats—often led by Jews—are trying to replace white voters with nonwhite immigrants). “This is a voting-rights question,” says Carlson. “Every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter,” he claims.

David French, How the Right’s Rules of Rhetoric Create Racial Provocateurs . If you can show me a meaningful difference between "new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World" and "nonwhite immigrants," I’ll buy you a burger at your favorite burger joint.

Tucker Carlson is definitely trafficking in racial animosities.

Hospitalized with Covid or hospitalized because of Covid?

New data published by New York’s Department of Health show that, although the state’s topline COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are near record highs, 43 percent of COVID-positive patients currently hospitalized were admitted for another reason, and only tested positive for COVID-19 incidentally.

The Morning Dispatch, 1/1/22

Human motivations are rarely unmixed

"Admission changes to [Loudon County Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High] were driven by jealously infused xenophobia and racism against the Asian community,” says Mr. Jackson. “Most of the internal deliberations focused on a tailored solution to get just enough black and Hispanic kids in to open the floodgates for rich white affluent families, the primary beneficiaries."

William McGurn, quoting Harry Jackson, former president of the Thomas Jefferson PTA.

Worthy new center-left Substack

I believe it was on this blog that I solicited suggestions for left-leaning honest brokers on the internet, since so much of my reading has become, at least in popular parlance, right-leaning, Several of the writers still identify as liberals or even, in one case, communist — but their honest brokerage gets them branded otherwise. I read them more for the delight and reassurance that I and other conservatives aren’t the only ones who "get it."

Well, the center-right Dispatch recommended a new Substack from Josh Barro, Very Serious, just such a center-left figure, as a likely counterpart to the Dispatch. And the introduction is promising:

The conversation that gets erroneously called a “national conversation” — conducted among select journalists, operatives, activists and academics — is essentially a conversation by and for people who supported Elizabeth Warren. It reflects the values and preferences and linguistic quirks of one minority part of one political party’s coalition. And sure, I am contrarian in relation to that subculture, but not to our overall politics or society, within which I sit closer to the median than most other people you will hear from in the press.

Dissenting from and complaining about this subculture is not novel; it’s become a cliché to jump to Substack and complain about it. But my beef with this subculture isn’t quite the usual one, and that’s why this newsletter is going to be different. I don’t feel oppressed by the subculture. But I do think it has caused certain influential people to become badly misinformed in ways that have been damaging to the interests of both the press and the Democratic Party.

Josh Barro, in his introductory post in his new Very Serious.

(I believe his is a Substack blog — it certainly looks like one in the invitation to paid subscription — but the domain is Barro’s own, which presumably gives him control of the content should he ever leave Substack.)

Riddle solved

[T]here’s a simple solution to the seemingly complicated riddle of Hawley, Cruz and Pompeo. And Marche provides it: Right now their surest path to power, or firmest grip on it, involves the theatrical trashing of their own trappings, the reinvention of themselves as characters in a story other than their own. They haven’t had some post-Ivy moral or philosophical epiphany. Their makeovers are fundamentally commercial: They sized up the current marketplace and manufactured what sells best.

And for them — as for too many people in this age of runaway vanity — brand dictates belief.

Frank Bruni, ‌Trump’s pride goeth before our fall

Bait and switch

This week, the writer Colin Wright posed on Twitter the following question: “What rights do trans people currently not have but want that don’t involve replacing biological sex with one’s subjective ‘gender identity’?” And the response was, of course, crickets. The truth is: the 6-3 Bostock decision places trans people in every state under the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It’s done. It’s built on the sturdy prohibition on sex discrimination. A Trump nominee wrote the ruling.

What the trans movement is now doing, after this comprehensive victory, is not about rights at all. It is about cultural revolution. It’s a much broader movement to dismantle the sex binary, to see biology as a function of power and not science, and thereby to deconstruct the family and even a fixed category such as homosexuality. You can support trans rights and oppose all of this. But they want you to believe you can’t. That’s the bait-and-switch. Don’t take it.

Andrew Sullivan, The Trans Movement Is Not About Rights Anymore

Sully on Biden

The appeal of Biden was that he understood the Senate, represented a moderate middle, and wouldn’t polarize the country with divisive, incendiary rhetoric, as his predecessor had. The reality of Biden is that he has lost the Senate’s trust, has been an enabler of the far left, and is now seeking to call all those who object to a Democratic wishlist of electoral reforms the modern equivalents of the KKK. The speech was disgusting. It will do nothing but further alienate the Senators he needs. It sure alienated me. It could have been written by a Vox intern on Adderall.

I’d wax more eloquently on this but don’t feel I can best either Jonah Goldberg or Peggy Noonan. I voted and supported Biden as the least worst option — in the primaries and general election. I favor an urgent reform of the Electoral Count Act — to avoid a 2020 scenario next time. I’d be open to some of the Democratic proposals. So I should be the kind of voter Biden is appealing to.

But Biden’s polarizing rhetoric, as McConnell made clear, has made compromise on any of this toxic.

Andrew Sullivan again (third topic by my count)

Getting the run-around

Alan Jacobs had a few questions on his University’s health insurance. Nobody would admit that they had answers:

It’s important to recognize that what I went through in both of the circumstances did not result from bugs in the systems, but from features — from purposeful design. The goal of all our contemporary Departments of Circumlocution is simply this: To make us give up. To bring us to the point of shrugging our shoulders and crossing our fingers in the hope that whatever illness we have will somehow get better; or to the point that we pay for medicine ourselves because we can’t figure out how to get the insurance we pay for to cover it, and don’t dare try to get by without it. The object of these systems is the generation of despair. Because if the systems make us despair then the companies that deploy them can boast of the money they have saved the organizations that purchase their services.

Wherein I brand myself

J Budziszewski chose an unusually provocative title: Novelists as Pimps. That I agree with him enthusiasticly no doubt brands me as some sort of comic caricature.

Pretty good book

I’m not going to oversell it, but this was a book I felt well warranted the time to read it:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”

To put it bluntly: we are all expressive individuals now. Just as some choose to identify themselves by their sexual orientation, so the religious person chooses to be a Christian or a Muslim. And this raises the question of why society finds some choices to be legitimate and others to be irrelevant or even unacceptable.

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. If you are comprehensively familiar with Philip Rieff, you can skip it.

Worthy book, but I passed up a favorite annual conference this weekend even though Trueman was one of three keynoters.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Miscellany, 1/8/2022

Fairly Political, but not in a partisan way

Politics of friendship, politics of enemies

[Y]ou can’t operate political systems without friendship, and what has been terrifying in the United States is the replacement of a politics of friends with a politics of enemies. And this then makes any possibility of legislative comity just impossible. That’s why one of my friends has talked about a civil war, because a civil war is a state where a politician across the other aisle regards you as an enemy who is about to destroy everything you value most, and must be resisted by all means, fair or foul. That culture of antagonism is extremely dangerous to the stability of democratic systems. I think we’re living through a very bad period.

I’m a historian, so let’s not set our hair on fire. We can remember periods in American history where, for example, one senator crossed the floor, picked up a stick and nearly beat another senator to death. Now, that was in the run up to the real Civil War. Let’s not forget, we’ve been there before, and we’ve walked it back. And I think we could walk it back again, but I fear that it’s going to take some calamity to wake us all up. And I thought, in fact, that January 6th and the invasion of the sacred precincts of the Congress would have been the calamity that would wake everybody up. But it doesn’t appear to have done so. That’s another sign that democracy in America is in a very, very serious place.

I don’t think there should be enemies in the American house. I don’t think there can be, except one kind of enemy who takes up arms against the system itself. The people who took up arms against Congress on the 6th of January are enemies; they have to be dealt with by the security forces. They have to be put in jail. But apart from that, there are no enemies.

Michael Ignatieff to Yasha Mounk

Whaddya gonna do with your enemies?

I rarely read New York Times Editorial Board opinions, but this one caught my eye (before I noticed its authorship):

[P]eel back a layer, and things are far from normal. Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election.

(Emphasis added, because it’s true and chilling)

January 6 was terrorism

January 6, 2021, was not a riot. It was not a protest, an insurrection, or a (failed) coup—at least, not exclusively so. None of those terms capture the exact nature of premeditated violence done for psychological effect to achieve political ends that characterized the violence at the U.S. Capitol that day. There is a better term, one that does precisely capture that mix: terrorism. January 6 was an attempted terrorist attack on the U.S. Congress. It is important that we call the attack by its rightful name to recognize the threat we face.

Terrorism is, under U.S. law, “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” There is no question the January 6 attack, in which hundreds of people violently broke into the Capitol building to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election, fits that definition.

Most of the protesters on the Mall were peaceful, and even a majority of those at the Capitol did not illegally enter the building. But that is a little like saying 9/11 was mostly peaceful because a majority of New Yorkers were not murdered that day. It somehow misses what was distinctive and noteworthy that morning. Most people act peacefully and lawfully most of the time. But we’re rightly interested in what is unique and unusual behavior—which will be, by definition, a minority of people in a small amount of time—that has outsized influence and does disproportionate damage to public safety and democratic norms.

Paul Miller, ‌Stop Calling It a Riot.

After I wrote this, someone (Matt Labash, I think) said January 6 was a bunch of LARPers who let things get out of hand. That seems too benign, but that "[t]here is no question the January 6 attack …fits that definition" invites the question "then why has nobody been charged with terrorism?" I think there’s an answer, but I’m going to let others develop it if they can.

Freudian slip

Sen. Ted Cruz is very, very, very sorry that he referred to January 6 as a “violent terrorist attack” earlier this week. Please forgive him, 2024 presidential primary voters, he’ll never do it again.

The Morning Dispatch

Never, ever, ever, talk or act as if "cancel culture" exists only on the Left.

Ted Cruz is not a stupid man (see below). That makes him all the more dangerous. But we’re blessed at the transparency of his demagoguery, and his profound personal offensiveness.

Sauce for the Goose

Proving that his political instincts remain just as sharp as ever, Sen. Ted Cruz on his podcast Friday sounded off on the question of whether Republicans will impeach President Biden if the GOP retakes the House. While Cruz’s assessment that House Republicans would be very likely to impeach Biden is quite right, the Texas senator shouldn’t be gassing about it. Cruz is universally known and mostly disliked across the political spectrum, so his comments will provide lots of fodder for Democrats to say that a vote for Republicans this fall is a vote for another impeachment. Cruz justified the idea even if it was not merited, saying “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” “That is not how impeachment is meant to work,” he said. “But I think the Democrats crossed that line." Adding to the miseries of Kevin McCarthy, Cruz even offered some guidance for the House GOP on how to proceed. Democrats will be trying to get Republicans to wade into impeachment issues right up to the election in hopes of forcing candidates to either scare moderates or anger radicals on their own side. This time, the fish jumped right in the boat for them.

‌Chris Stirewalt

Be mindful, folks, that this same Ted Cruz holds forth as the Real Christian®️ candidate.

Fiddling while the pyromaniacs are at work

At a moment when the highest value should be placed on rebuilding consensus around the conduct of elections and restoring confidence in results, both parties remain fixated on revving up their respective bases with boob bait.

Yuval Levin lays it out in his New York Times piece this week: “If we take both parties’ most high-minded arguments at face value, they are worried about problems that barely exist. It is easier than ever to vote: Registration has gotten simpler in recent decades, and most Americans have more time to vote and more ways to do so. Voter turnout is at historic highs, and Black and white voting rates now rise and fall together. These trends long predate the pandemic, and efforts to roll back some state Covid-era accommodations seem unlikely to meaningfully affect turnout. Meanwhile, voter fraud is vanishingly rare. The most thorough database of cases, maintained by one of the staunchest conservative defenders of election integrity, suggests a rate of fraud so low, it could not meaningfully affect outcomes.”

‌Chris Stirewalt again.

Slim pickin’s if you dumb along with dishonest

[A]las, though Cruz, Hawley, and DeSantis have proven plenty dishonest, they’re not that dumb. DeSantis went to Yale, then Harvard Law. Cruz went to Princeton, then Harvard Law. Hawley mixed things up a bit, going to Stanford, then Yale Law. You know, just like all honest-to-God populists do.

That’s why if you’re pulling for the dumb-and-dishonest ticket, you have to endorse someone like Lauren Boebert/Madison Cawthorn, the spiritual future of the party.

Matt Labash, Was January 6 an Inside Job?

Changing with the Times

Sometimes, a column’s title is so evocative that I don’t feel the need to read the column:

The G.O.P. Is Making ‘Critical Race Theory’ the New ‘Shariah Law’

(Charles Blow)

Not Political

Substack

One of my (few) favorite things about 2021 is the emergence of Substack, and that writers at hidebound prestige publications have been able to cast off their employers’ fetters and speak the truth as they see it. Some of them see it quite clearly.

Some, like Rod Dreher, have found in Substack a side gig — a place to write occasionally about concerns beyond quotidian politics. (I’m hoping Rod will break entirely from blogging for American Conservative, since his blogging there keeps setting his hair on fire.)

A few (at least) are finding it markedly more remunerative to write for Substack than, say, for the New York Times or New York magazine (I’m looking at you, Bari and Sully).

And at least one, who sabotaged his employment by a mental health flare-up, is getting almost all his income there.

Such is the left-liberal hegemony of prestige media that most of the fugitives tend to sound right-liberal. If you know of any interesting and honest left-liberal or hard-left Substackers, I’d love to know about them, too.

After I had substantially written this item, Bari Weiss kicked off the New Year asking her readers to tell her a bit about themselves. They obliged, and obliged, and obliged, more than 1500 (and counting) times. The responses are roughly what I would expect. The least common denominator, it seems to me, is a desire to be told, soberly, the truth. Many of us know these truths, but it’s a little disorienting, week after week after month after month, to see nothing but damnable denials in the mainstream media.

Parting shot: Since it is in my conscious working memory at the moment, I perhaps should note that a disproportionate share of my Substack subscriptions are Lesbian (Bari Weiss) or Gay (Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald and David Lat. It will soon leave my working memory, unless writing it down cements it. Since I can think of no plausible explanation for it beyond coincidence, it’s not worth obsessing about.

On cancel culture, deeper than usual

Of course it’s stupid that [Patton] Oswald faced such condemnation for posting a meaningless photo [of himself with Dave Chappelle] in the first place. But come on, dude. Have some self-respect. More importantly, have a little strategic sense here: they’re not going to stop coming after you. They never stop. Apologizing is just blood in the water. You can’t be good enough to satisfy this particular kind of frenzy. What we could do is to advocate for both interpersonal charity and for the kind of moral humility that ancient religions counseled. But then, if you do that you can’t reap the benefits that Oswalt has from carrying the right water for the right people. Those moral forces which you unleash on other people you unleash on yourself, and thus we have Oswalt in a profoundly 21st century dilemma that resonates with lessons from antiquity.

Does anyone involved think that going after Patton Oswalt will materially benefit trans people in any real way? It’s one thing to find Chappelle’s words bigoted and offensive, a perfectly fair position. It’s another thing to think that the people ostensibly fighting against them here are actually motivated in good faith, given that this action can’t possibly help trans rights. Some people just love to rage out on the internet and find juicy targets, and they fall all over the political spectrum.

Social conservatism is essentially dead in American life, as crazy as that sounds; the church ladies and scolds of the right have ceded the ground to bizarre techno-reactionaries, conspiracy theorists, anti-politicians, and crypto-utopians. But there are still a lot of people out there who endorse a bitter and provincial moral vision carved out of folk Christianity and American exceptionalism. The issue is that those people have no presence whatsoever in our culture industries, certainly not in the mainstream media and increasingly little in the conservative media, which is increasingly made up of shmucks trying to get “Intellectual Dark Web” cred who don’t even pretend to care about Jesus.

You can’t be good enough. That’s the point of all of this, if this post is too long and complex for you. You can’t be good enough. They will come to you soon enough. Chappelle was once held up as an idol for the racial radicalism of his show by the people who now reject him. Louis CK was beloved of the woke, until… something happened. Amy Schumer was a hero until she wasn’t. There are others and there will be more. (Your heel turn is coming, Lil Nas X. I can feel it.) Offense is a market, and as long as there’s demand, there will be supply. We’re so desperate for targets of offense that they canceled Norman Mailer yesterday, and he’s been dead for 15 years.

Freddie deBoer, You Can’t Be Good Enough

Face-to-face versus Twitbook

Insightful anecdote from someone I follow on micro.blog:

Many people will write things online that they would never say face to face to someone. We human beings are not wired to see messages on a screen as coming from other full, complex people. I was communications director at a small, nonprofit organization sharply divided by a controversy. Different factions wanted to use the organization’s newsletter to supposedly advocate for their POV, but these "articles" were scorching condemnations of the other side. So I refused to publish them, not wanting to start a slow-motion flame war; which caused its own set of problems and endangered my job. The leadership made some rules: people must meet in person to talk about these things. Several meetings were set up to allow everyone who wanted to, to attend and say their piece. Leadership also announced they would not respond to emails or voice messages on the controversy; you had to come in person and discuss things face to face, with witnesses present. We got through this period only, I believe, because we did not allow the option of online communication. Some people left, but I believe it would have been far worse if the institution had endorsed debates in writing.

To be an American

This quote is not really representative of the long article from which it’s taken, but I think it nails something important:

To be an American is to inherit the gift of living with one foot in the present and one foot in the future, while the rest of humanity has one foot in the present and one foot in the past. Then, every 20 years or so, we trash whatever tenuous equilibriums we have cobbled together and leap off again into the unknown. So it is, and forever will be, until the oleanders bloom outside my door, and California tumbles into the sea—which might be any day now.

David Samuels, ‌The Happiest Place on Earth.

I watched an Amazon documentary on vineyards of Burgundy, and this "one foot in the present and one foot in the past" was vividly portrayed.

A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world.

I’ve written before about the value of moderation in consistency, of the need when cross-pressured by countering winds to tack back and forth. Similarly, there’s the need, when trying to understand one’s world, to alternate between specificity and generality. I do a lot better with specificity, because I have seen the ways that the embrace of a Big Theory tends to shut down people’s minds. But lately I have been feeling the absence, in my thinking, of a more general account of who we are, how we got here, and how we might navigate the prevailing winds of the future.

Or is that feeling merely a temptation? — Is the “general account” rather a snare and a delusion? …

[M]aybe a “general account” is not what is needed so much as equipment for acting wisely and lovingly — in a Christlike way — this day. A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world. What that might look like is something I plan to think about a lot in the coming year. Please stay tuned.

Alan Jacobs, ‌the cross-pressured self

Oopsie! I guess we were evil after all!

Black eye for the Google and class action rackets:

Google Street View provides panoramic street-level pictures from across the world, which it obtained from special camera cars. Google: Whoops, our cars also took substantive info, like passwords, photos, and documents, transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi. Much litigation ensues. A class action covering 60 million people settles for $13 mil, with the money going to attorneys’ fees, various costs, and an assortment of nonprofits that promise to use the money "to promote the protection of Internet privacy"—and not a penny to the people whose privacy was violated. Ninth Circuit: That’s fine. Concurrence: It’s time for us to reconsider our precedent okaying monetary awards to third parties instead of damages for class members.

‌Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Crash diet

John Huey—former editor-in-chief of Time Inc.—has a surprising New Year’s resolution: Consume less news. “Having spent more than 40 years reporting, writing and editing the news, I am surprised to conclude that overconsumption of news, at least in the forms I’ve been gorging on it since 2016, is neither good for my emotional well-being nor essential to the health of the republic,” he writes in the Washington Post, arguing there isn’t enough going on to “fill the 24/7 maw” of cable, talk radio, and social media. “I don’t intend to stop fretting about my country. Nor will I give up reading the newspapers and magazines I deem essential to understanding the world around me. But I am planning a crash news diet. … If the news is big enough, it will find me.”

The Morning Dispatch

Not endorsed

If man is doomed to perish, then universal infertility is as painless a way as any. And there are, after all, personal compensations. For the last sixty years we have sycophantically pandered to the most ignorant, the most criminal and the most selfish section of society. Now, for the rest of our lives, we’re going to be spared the intrusive barbarism of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism.

P.D. James, in her dystopian The Children of Men.

Purdue Men’s Basketball

Having had a stellar (undefeated) non-conference start, Purdue men already have dropped conference games to Rutgers and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin loss, this week, was especially bad, as Purdue’s defensive inadequacies were on full, mortifying display while their offense went uncharacteristically cold.

The Boilermakers bounced back today against Penn State, coached by a first-year coach who assisted at Purdue long enough to know the current players, and Coach Matt Painter’s mind, very, very well.

Penn State gave me a scare by having their big guy attack our big guys on offense, getting both Zach Edey and Trevion Williams in such foul trouble that Purdue played ten minutes with neither of them on the court — doing better than I feared they would.

Penn State has demonstrated come-from-behind potential, and they made a late-game run at Purdue, who held them off 74-67.

It’s going to be a "prove your stuff" season for the Boilermakers, ranked #3 just a few weeks ago, but with any luck it will toughen them, show the players that Coach is right about their weaknesses, and get them peaking by March Madness time.

Love isn’t love (acid test)

The government doesn’t really believe that "love is love," and I’m glad of that: No Security Clearance for Employee Who Had Admitted to Downloading Child Pornography

What we can’t not know

Life is and will ever remain an equation incapable of solution, but it contains certain known factors.

Nikola Tesla


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Abortion law, the Performative Jackass Caucus, Race, and more

Abortion Law

Politicization of the Supreme Court

In an exchange with Scott Stewart, the Mississippi solicitor general defending the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Justice Sotomayor had this to say:

Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible.

Here’s what one reader of mine had to say about Justice Sotomayor’s “stench” comment:

Whoever smelt it, dealt it. Sotomayor and Alito are the two most partisan, results-oriented members of the Court. It’s pretty rich of her, of all the justices, to be complaining about politics stinking up SCOTUS—in a soundbite that was clearly crafted to fire up the left.

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

Abortion and adoption

The last thing we should take from our nation’s debates about abortion is that adoption is a problem.

… the very idea that poverty—in this nation, of all places—could be the factor that causes a mother to part with her child is and should be a clarion call for action, both private and public, designed to facilitate family formation.

David French, Don’t Denigrate Adoption to Defend Roe

Politics, briefly

A guy can dream, can’t he?

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California is resigning from Congress at the end of the month to become CEO of former President Trump’s new social media company, Trump Media & Technology Group. First elected in 2002, Nunes served as chair of the House Intelligence Committee from 2015 to 2019, and would have been a contender to lead the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans recapture the chamber next year.

The Morning Dispatch

This seems like an epic bad career move, but given my opinion of Devin Nunes, he’s certainly welcome to it.

I wonder if Trump can get Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the rest of the GOP Performative Jackass Caucus to come work for him, too?

When the only meaningful correlation involves racial ambivalence

After January 6, a team led by Robert A. Pape, head of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats, scoured the profiles of the capital insurgents:

Only one meaningful correlation emerged. Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline. For every one-point drop in a county’s percentage of non-Hispanic whites from 2015 to 2019, the likelihood of an insurgent hailing from that county increased by 25 percent. This was a strong link, and it held up in every state.

Trump and some of his most vocal allies, Tucker Carlson of Fox News notably among them, had taught supporters to fear that Black and brown people were coming to replace them. According to the latest census projections, white Americans will become a minority, nationally, in 2045. The insurgents could see their majority status slipping before their eyes.

Barton Gelman, January 6 Was Practice.

This is a (the?) major article in a brand-new issue of the Atlantic largely devoted to the threat posed by the Trumpist Republican party. Recommended.

I apparently lead a sheltered life. I genuinely thought that frank racism (white people are better than darker people) had faded close to extinction, though I thought it likely that stereotypes remained (e.g., that black English did its speakers no favors in the job and other "markets").

Then came Barack Obama, and with it, birtherism and other unreasoning opposition.

Now, the "replacement theory" and the terrors it incites.

I’ve got to think this stuff was latent all along — just not obviously among my usual circle of mostly-Christian acquaintances.

Other

Root causes

Mark Bauerlein and Tim Perry discuss the deterioration of Christian burial practices, for which Perry finds startling roots:

Bauerlein: You link this deterioration to a bigger conceptual trend, and that is what happened with eschatology in the 20th Century. What went on there?
Perry: I think it’s a twofold story and it’s a little bit ironic. On the one hand, the Church lost its eschatological vocabulary. In the mainstream Protestant Churches and perhaps in the Catholic Church, more immediate concerns came to the fore: keeping the machine going in the days of decreasing revenues, decreasing membership rolls. In the churches that I’ve been shaped in as a child, I think we became a little bit embarrassed at our eschatological excesses, where we stopped talking about the traditional last things — death, judgment, hell and heaven — and started talking instead about secret rapture, great tribulation, who’s the antichrist, what’s the mark of the beast. I think evangelicals have, perhaps rightly, become a little embarrassed at that kind of speech. But instead of going back to the far richer and far more important language of the traditional last things, we’ve just stopped talking about eschatology altogether.

First Things Podcast, A Proper Christian Burial.

Well, I guess if you’re coy about death, judgment, hell and heaven, and allergic to orderly "liturgies," you’ve got little but novelties and pabulum to preach at funerals.

God will never forsake chosen America

This occurs to me so rarely, but seems so fitting when it does, that I thought I should capture it this time: a lot of support for Donald Trump, particularly but not exclusively among Evangelicals, results from fear that Democrats are an existential threat to the country, so they should vote Republican because God would never so forsake (or judge) America that we are left with shitty and unsuitable candidates in both major parties. That simply is unthinkable, since America supposedly is some kind of new chosen people.

I disagree — so much that I’m tempted to cease voting for Democrats or Republicans. That would mean I sit out many individual races. It should send at least a teensie-weensie signal of discontent that some voter in my precinct voted American Solidarity Party in the Presidential race, Libertarian or some other third party where ASP has no candidate, and not a single D or R.

Verbal tics

“Look, I’m an up-front guy,” Bear Hobart said. “I have to be honest with you—” Here it comes, Dylan thought. He was pretty convinced that you didn’t ever have to be honest with someone; maybe you should, and maybe you wanted to, but “I have to be honest with you” was a self-defeating sentence, since it was never true.

Eve Tushnet, Amends

There’s a kindred verbal tic: "Do you realize that you just [e.g., accused all the teachers in this school district of being sexual perverts]?", addressed to one who asks unwelcome questions. The italicized portion is a signal that the speaker is going to twist words beyond recognition in order to paint the initial speaker as some kind of crazy.

Modernity’s faith

“[F]aith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.”

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Recently-acquired aphorisms

  • A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. —Edward de Bono, The Mechanism of Mind
  • I am a slow unlearner. But I love my unteachers. —Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World

Via Philip Yancey’s Where the Light Fell.

I recommend this memoir (about which I wrote earlier), but read it to understand Yancey’s inner life, not to lay out a timeline of events in U.S. and American church history, which Yancey confuses or conflates at times.


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.

Riding the emotional roller-coaster

It pains me to see the wave of puritanism in the arts, arts organizations competing to see who can write the most militant mission statements declaring their dedication to Equality and Inclusivity and Anti-Elitism, which tells me clearly that the end is near. Art is elitist because some people are better singers than almost anyone else and some plays astonish and others only fill the time, and if equality is now the goal, then where do we go to experience the extraordinary? Art then becomes ideology, and for astonishment we must wait for the next blizzard or thunderstorm. A Manhattan thunderstorm is worth waiting for, but still.

We have a long haul ahead of us, people. Children dressed up as malevolent beings for Halloween: is this a good thing? I doubt it. November is a miserable month, with elections at which old people will outvote the young and timid school boards will be elected who’ll cut out any remaining art or music education and require history teachers to offer opposing points of view as to the legitimacy of the 2020 election ….

Garrison Keillor

That an aging lefty can call bullshit on the illiberal left and the trendier-than-thou institutions is a sign of hope. That "requiring history teachers to offer opposing points of view as to the legitimacy of the 2020 election" doesn’t sound too far-fetched is the antidote to that hope.

I read a Damon Linker column yesterday that instantly reminded me of Micael Anton’s then-pseudonymous Flight 93 Election of 2016. The form of both was "if you really believe that [the other party] is an existential threat, you’d be [doing more]." In Anton’s case, doing more was voting for a debauched, orange, and questionably sane poseur (since we certainly would die if Hillary got into the cockpit). In Linker’s case, doing more is "prioritizing election reform" by things like, "at the very least, overhauling the poorly drafted and dangerously ambiguous Electoral Count Act of 1887" or keeping Republicans from "rig[ging] the system so that Democrats can never win power again."

I don’t mean to suggest a simple "to hell with both parties." The Republicans were lying or hysterical when they said HRC was an existential threat. She was a crook and the bearer of bad policy, and not much more. The Democrats are stone-cold right about the Republicans threatening liberal democracy, which is why it truly is baffling that they’re farting around with progressivist megaspending proposals instead of protecting democracy.

Have I mentioned lately that if the center-left and center-right cannot find a way to win elections (and retention), I don’t see how this country isn’t doomed.


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.

Potpourri 10/11/21

Meaning is a necessity

> There are aspects of the human condition that can be explored through art, that must be explored through art, that are not conducive to stories about superheroes, wizards, cyborgs, monsters, or similar. And, in those cases where such themes are explored with genre tropes, they are generally unattractive to (some would say inappropriate for) children. And so adults should look beyond art intended for children, in order to deepen their understanding of life and the world and grapple with what it means to live a mortal life in a universe without meaning. > > … > > In life we have both cookies and kimchi, both lemonade and whiskey. There are, in other words, acquired tastes as well as obvious ones, and the former are some of the best stuff in life. This, again, does not in any way dismiss the pleasures associated with cookies and lemonade. The point is merely that very few people only consume cookies and lemonade, but far too many never access any movies or shows or books that deal in the bleaker, harder, subtler, quieter parts of life. > > Now the common rejoinder is to say “do both!” And indeed – watch both, read both. I can’t complain about that. But the entire point is that people aren’t watching both. Do you know how many people consume literally nothing but superheroes, sci-fi, zombies, video games, and so on? Very, very many. And how could there not be? Any sense that we should feel embarrassed to remain fixated on art for children in existence that once existed – and I have never been convinced that it ever did – has long since been utterly obliterated in our current moment, a time when art populism manages to both be utterly commercially and critically dominant and yet cast as a perpetual underdog. Precisely because they need to be acquired, acquired tastes have a higher barrier to entry than others, and so their embrace by the public will always be more tenuous. But there are treasures there. Think of how much is lost for so many when there is no social pressure at all to try new things, new types of things. > > It is no coincidence that we are all living in the digital world alongside a cadre of angry, embittered, activist nerds who rage out endlessly about all of the perceived slights against them. After all, there culture has told them to never leave their fantasies behind, so how can we be surprised that they react violently to the difference between those fantasies and their reality? …

Freddie DeBoer, ‌the Second Part of Life.

I do not agree with atheist Freddie that the universe is meaningless — or that humans actually can live humanly as if it were. Even atheists desire and quietly ferret out at least tacit and private meaning.

> [F]or human beings, meaning is not just a luxury. It is a necessity.

Historian Wilfred McClay, ‌Has America Lost Its Story?

Cramped narratives

> "A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large." The ideological narratives that are popular now offer just this kind of terribly cramped sense. They account for all the facts within a very small circumference, one typically marked out by the chatter of the extremely online, but they exclude much that is required for healthy, sane judgment: local particulars, affection for neighbors, and good humor, to name a few.

Jeffrey Bilbro, Staying Sane in a Mad Time (Front Porch Republic) quoting G.K. Chesterton.

Meyer Lansky vindicated!

> In the 1940s, organized crime kingpin Meyer Lansky boasted that his casino-based empire was “going to be bigger than U.S. Steel.” His prediction has been wildly surpassed. In 2014, U.S. Steel had revenue of $17.5 billion and employed 42,000 people. Indian casinos alone employed 400,000. In one recent year, gambling took in $72 billion in the United States; movie tickets, $9.5 billion; theme parks, $10.3 billion, cable TV, $51 billion. Gambling is bigger than any other form of recreation and entertainment in the country.

Helen Andrews, ‌Casino Capitalism, Literally

What troubled Michael Goldhaber

> When you have attention, you have power, and some people will try and succeed in getting huge amounts of attention, and they would not use it in equal or positive ways.

So I won’t accused of monomania for thinking that this describes Donald Trump, I acknowledge that it was stated as a general principle in the article that introduced me to the powerful concept of the "attention economy": Charlie Warzel, Michael Goldhaber, the Cassandra of the Internet Age (The New York Times). It’s one of the most illumining articles I’ve read this year, and one that I plan to review regularly until I stop getting anything new from it.

I still think it fits Trump to a gold-plated "T", but that’s not surprising, is it?

More:

> In June 2006, when Facebook was still months from launching its News Feed, Mr. Goldhaber predicted the grueling personal effects of a life mediated by technologies that feed on our attention and reward those best able to command it. “In an attention economy, one is never not on, at least when one is awake, since one is nearly always paying, getting or seeking attention.”

Fetishists

These days, when a pundit writes about politics, instead of simply stating his opinion, he feels obliged to start off with various polling numbers on what people think about it.

We are innumerate, yet we fetishize "science" that corroborates, however weakly, what we see. And most polls are very weak corroboration indeed.

Powerful fanatics compelling lies

> David Chappelle’s The Closer is, in fact, a humanely brilliant indictment of elite culture at this moment in time: a brutal exposure of its identitarian monomania, its denial of reality, and its ruthless tactics of personal and public destruction. It marks a real moment: a punching up against the powerful, especially those who pretend they aren’t. > > … > > The debate … is about whether a tiny group of fanatics, empowered by every major cultural institution, can compel or emotionally blackmail other people into saying things that are not true.

Andrew Sullivan, David Chappelle is Right, Isn’t He? (hyperlink added).

Yes, Virginia, we’re still at war. Of course we are.

Justice Kavanaugh asks a telling question:

> “Is the United States still engaged in hostilities for purposes of the AUMF against al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations?” The AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) is the 2001 congressional resolution that served as the basis for the war in Afghanistan and for continuing U.S. military operations and detention of enemy combatants. > > Yes, [Biden’s acting solicitor, Brian] Fletcher conceded, “that is the government’s position.” And it is the position the Biden administration holds, he elaborated, “notwithstanding withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.” Whatever the White House may say about the end of the forever war, the Justice Department has represented to the Supreme Court that “we continue to be engaged in hostilities with al-Qaeda and therefore that detention under law of war remains proper.”

Andrew C. McCarthy, ‌Kavanaugh Question Reveals Biden Administration Dishonesty on Ending Forever War

What’s self-evident in education?

> Educators take nothing to be self evident; trainers take everything to be so.

Elizabeth Corey and Jeffrey Polet, Indoctrination Sessions Have No Place in the Academy. By "indoctrination," they mean "[this, that, and the other] training" of most sorts.

After reading and writing this, I found that one person, Chloé Valdary, has a relatively attractive approach to antiracism training.

Good riddance, ideologue

> I think there’s an image that a lot of Republicans have, both in politics and they sort of represent a sober and judicious way of looking at the world, and we are the adults in the room. > > And it’s more about a culture than it is an ideology. > > The original Republican conservative movement, I thought, was going to go back and look at the Constitution, when Jefferson said it won’t work if you pile up everybody in the cities because they will be subject to mass hysteria. Or de Tocqueville, and you look at certain ideas, I thought that’s what we were.

Victor Davis Hanson, interviewed by Tucker Carlson, on ‌Why I Left National Review.

I’m not a big fan of National Review. I even let my subscription lapse, but recently renewed because I was being denied access to any full article (I think online publications consciously do that to recently-lapsed subscribers.) They have a few authors I like well enough to make it worth, what, $0.77 per week?

But when VDH complains that "it’s more about a culture than it is an ideology," I’m with NRO. I’ve had it with ideology. I’ve had it with "No True Conservative would willingly live in a big city" or "you’re ignoring Tocqueville."

As far as I’m concerned, conservatism is epistemically humble and therefore more cultural than ideological.

But the VDH approach is common enough, as are innumerable others, that the name "conservative" has become virtually useless.

Goodness, gracious!

> “Can’t anybody here play this game?” comes to mind when I read about Congress and the debt ceiling hassle and the Republicans’ aversion to talking about climate change even as the reality of it is rather clear and auto manufacturers are planning for electric car production, but Republicans are satisfied with a policy of denial. This is not intelligent but they believe it’s a winning strategy. Goodness gracious. Who are these people? What game are we playing?

Garrison Keillor, ‌A few beams of light on our current situation

Thoughtcrime in America

> You may disagree with parents like me who do not want our children indoctrinated with Critical Race Theory, masked during recess, or told that their biological sex is is not real. But in a free society, we don’t call the feds to police our fellow Americans because we don’t share their politics.

Maud Maron, ‌Why Are Moms Like Me Being Called Domestic Terrorists?

The other side

I detested and still detest Donald Trump. But I’m not positive I’ve counterbalanced against his unhinged narcissism (and all its corrolaries) the Democrats’ 2016 and following dirty tricks. This Holman Jenkins column helps.

National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty, responding to nonsense from formerly-respected Roger Kimball, sounds off, too:

> Nearly everything Kimball says about the ongoing resistance to Trump is true. It was meretricious, hysterical, and dangerous. Even before Trump won the election, I predicted the unprecedented subterfuge that would probably be aimed at him if he won the presidency. We saw the deep state as it really is: an ongoing class warfare against the democratic peoples and their representatives whose disruptions provide accountability. No one has to coordinate 50 former intelligence agents to issue a statement denouncing the New York Post’s Hunter Biden scoop as probable Russian disinformation, justifying suppression of the story just days before the election. The deep-staters know how to do it. > > … > > We can all throw Trump the biggest pity party in history about the subterfuge he faced within the executive branch. He didn’t have the guts to clean house and make the government employees do their jobs. In other words, he didn’t do the job he was elected to do. For a president to take control of the executive branch, he must  hire people he can trust to run one of the largest organizations on earth. Trump couldn’t or wouldn’t. Every account of the Trump White House’s operation tells us that Trump trusted and respected no one who didn’t have the last name Trump or Kushner. What his actions leading up to January 6 show us is that he didn’t respect his followers, either.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, ‌January 6 Was No Hoax, Trump Abused Supporters’ Trust

Like Dougherty, I refuse to valorize either toxic narcissist Donald Trump or the "meretricious, hysterical, and dangerous" resistance. (I confess that I was slow to recognize the latter, so dangerous did I consider the former.)

Reality Check

> (Here’s a fun tip for you all: if you have the power to get someone fired or otherwise ruin their life you are not a powerless, marginalized Other.)

Freddie DeBoer

Freddie’s ability to see through cant is why I pay to read his Substack posts. A couple of others I apparently prepaid (for a year) have become annoying noise (I’ve told my computer to put them more or less out of sight.)

Another Substack

> If you come here to take in my slant on the world, wherever that leads, you’re in the right place. If you come here to watch me own the libs, you’ll probably be disappointed. I’ll rent them on occasion, as the spirit moves. Yet I’m a firm believer that if you only find the other guy’s side to be full of con artists, chiselers, and demagogues, you’re not paying close enough attention to your own.

Matt Labash, introducing his new Substack, Slack Tide.

I’m not familiar with Labash, but I’m told he’s really good.


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.

Calling spades “spades”

Four snippets over the past few days (several of the articles are months old, though) from people who were taking no guff.

From New York Magazine last November, on turmoil at the New York Times:

Twitter presented innumerable headaches, with reporters having to be chastised for being overtly political, or simply for sounding un-Timesian in their pursuit of likes and retweets. “There’s a very sad need for validation,” one Times journalist who has tweeted tens of thousands of times told me.

Some of the trickiest jounalistic questions have centered on what the Times is or isn’t willing to say. After [James] Bennet’s ouster, [A.G.] Sulzberger met with a columnist for the “Opinion” section who had expressed consternation about the decision. Sulzberger promised the columnist that the Times would not shy away from publishing pieces to which the Times’ core audience might object. “We haven’t lost our nerve,” Sulzberger said.

“Yes, you have,” the columnist told Sulzberger. “You lost your nerve in the most explicit way I’ve ever seen anyone lose their nerve. You can say people are still gonna be able to do controversial work, but I’m not gonna be the first to try. You don’t know what you’ll be able to do, because you are not in charge of this publication — Twitter is. As long as Twitter is editing this bitch, you cannot promise me anything.”

Reeves Wiedeman, Inside the New York Times’ Heated Reckoning With Itself


I had forgotten this prophesy:

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.

Trump’s invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before.

Maybe you hesitate. Is it a fact that if Trump loses, he will reject defeat, come what may? Do we know that? Technically, you feel obliged to point out, the proposition is framed in the future conditional, and prophecy is no man’s gift, and so forth. With all due respect, that is pettifoggery. We know this man. We cannot afford to pretend.

Barton Gellman, What if Trump Refuses to Concede?, September 23, 2020.


Successful Substack writers continues to evoke envy, which tends to get expressed (in writing inferior to the Substack average) as addlepated moral outrage. Marxist blogger-turned-Substacker Freddie de Boer has had lots of thoughts about that, culminating most recently in this:

I write tens of thousands of words on topics ranging from why everyone is actually exhausted to The Giving Tree to the Nation of Islam to Instagram feminism to the charter school scam to atheism after the New Atheists (coming Monday!). Don’t like it? Write better shit, man. Or get mad online. It’s up to you. My people will support me, and I earned that.

What are you, 12? There’s no “deserves”


I hadn’t thought about the implications of some prominent Federalist Society members being implicated in the January 6 insurrection. But David Lat had thought about it quite a lot in the two weeks after:

The Federalist Society is a nonpartisan organization that does not — and cannot, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit — endorse candidates for elective public office. It therefore has no official relationship with Donald Trump …

Unfortunately — and quite reprehensibly — several prominent FedSoc figures played roles in Trump’s baseless challenge to the 2020 election results, and therefore bear significant blame for the Capitol attack. Law professor John Eastman — chair of FedSoc’s Federalism and Separation of Powers practice group, and a frequent participant in Society events over the years — represented Trump in his (meritless and unsuccessful) attempt to get the Supreme Court to intervene in the election, urged Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results, and had a prominent speaking role at the rally that was the precursor to the riots. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), two members of what conservative law professor John O. McGinnis once dubbed “the Federalist Society caucus” … led the charge in the Senate against certification of the election results, just hours after the horrific Capitol attack. In light of all this, a reckoning at the Federalist Society is in order.

So what should FedSoc do in the wake of the Capitol riots? …

First, and most obviously, the Society should no longer allow John Eastman, a prominent promoter of poisonous conspiracy theories about the election, to remain in leadership, as chair of the Federalism and Separation of Powers practice group …

Second, the Society should no longer host events with Eastman, Hawley, and Cruz …

Third, as a more general matter, the Federalist Society should try harder to steer clear of partisan politics. It should be non-partisan not just in name, but in spirit.

Of course, the larger and longer-term issue, not just for the Federalist Society but for conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans, is how much of their principles they are willing to sacrifice for power.  Allying themselves with Donald Trump for four years got them tax reform, three Supreme Court seats, more than 200 lower-court judgeships, and all sorts of other goodies. But was it worth it?

… I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?


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.

It’s Time to Talk About Violent Evangelical Extremism

I began the draft of this blog quoting well-framed criticism of political figures you’d recognize if you haven’t been living in a cave. But I suspect they thrive on any publicity, even bad publicity, so in a rare act of self-control, I deleted it.

You’re welcome. I need a drink.


In the original Star Trek series, there was an episode in which M-5, a revolutionary computer created by Dr. Richard Daystrom, is designed to handle all ship functions without human assistance.

It’s thought to be an impressive achievement—until M-5 takes total control over the USS Enterprise and begins to attack other Federation ships. Captain Kirk tells Daystrom to disengage the M-5 unit, but it proves to be impossible. M-5 has grown far more powerful and dangerous than anyone could have imagined; the crew scrambles to shut it down.

“Reverse thrusts will not engage, sir,” the chief engineer, Montgomery Scott, tells Kirk. “Manual override isn’t working either.” Mr. Spock, the first officer, chimes in: “No effect on any of the M-5 controls, Captain.” And then the chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy, utters this line: “Fantastic machine, the M-5. No off switch.”

Peter Wehner, The Moral Inversion of the Republican Party, thinks the GOP may have created an M-5.


David French sets the record straight not only on Robinhood/GameStop but also on Parler: The Fog of War Shrouds the Battle Over Online Censorship.

A named Republican politician who knows better has shouted out hasty bullshit versions of each — think of it in terms of rightwing demagogues racing to stupid conclusions much as CNN and Washington Post did on the Covington Catholic story two years ago. But since he hasn’t defamed any fresh-faced boys, he’ll never be called to account with money damages and an apology.


Shifting a bit, I note that Politico interviewed Elizabeth Neumann, who was raised Evangelical and who was high up in the Department of Homeland Security. Neumann gave insight into a religiosity that proclaims itself Real Christianity® but suffers from undiagnosed theopenia:☦︎

[They conclude] that eventually, pastors will not be able to preach against homosexuality or abortion, and if [they do], they’re going to end up arrested and unable to preach. I’ve heard that argument made multiple times over the last 10 years. The irrationality is the idea that there are no protections, that the courts wouldn’t step in and say, “No, the First Amendment applies to Christians as well.”

It tries to assert that they are losing power and must regain that power by any means necessary — which is why you can justify voting for Trump, so that we can, for God’s purposes, maintain this Christian nation.

The article, titled It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism, really should be titled It’s Time to Talk About Violent Evangelical Extremism. The interview subject was raised Evangelical and that movement, and its vulnerabilities to Christian nationalism, apocalypticism, authoritarianism and violence, was her entire focus. There was no effort to implicate any other Christian traditions in violent extremism.

More:

She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same.

Do you see anything about the evangelical tradition that could make its believers more susceptible to QAnon?

I really struggle with this question. I’ve been trying to figure out how it is so obvious to me …

There is, in more conservative Christian movements, a strong authoritarian streak, where they don’t believe in the infallibility of their pastor, but they act like it; they don’t believe in the infallibility of the head of the home, but they sometimes act like it; where you’re not allowed to question authority. You see this on full display in the criticisms of the way the Southern Baptist Convention is dealing with sexual abuse, which is so similar to the Catholic Church [sex abuse scandal]. There is this increasing frustration that church leaders have [this view]: “If we admit sin, then they won’t trust us to lead anymore.” But if the church is not a safe place to admit that you messed up, then I don’t know where is — or you clearly don’t believe what you preach.

The authoritarian, fundamentalist nature of certain evangelical strands is a prominent theme in the places where you see the most ardent Trump supporters or the QAnon believers, because they’ve been told: “You don’t need to study [scripture]. We’re giving you the answer.” Then, when Rev. Robert Jeffress [a prominent conservative Baptist pastor in Dallas] says you’ve got to support Donald Trump, and makes some argument that sounds “churchy,” people go, “Well, I don’t like Trump’s language, but OK, that’s the right thing.” It creates people who are not critical thinkers. They’re not necessarily reading scripture for themselves. Or if they are, they’re reading it through the lens of one pastor, and they’re not necessarily open to hearing outside perspectives on what the text might say. It creates groupthink.

Another factor is Christian nationalism. That’s a huge theme throughout evangelical Christendom. It’s subtle: Like, you had the Christian flag and the American flag at the front of the church, and if you went to a Christian school, you pledged allegiance to the Christian flag and the American flag. There was this merger that was always there when I was growing up. And it was really there for the generation ahead of me, in the ’50s and ’60s. Some people interpreted it as: Love of country and love of our faith are the same thing. And for others, there’s an actual explicit theology.

There was this whole movement in the ’90s and 2000s among conservatives to explain how amazing [America’s] founding was: Our founding was inspired by God, and there’s no explanation for how we won the Revolutionary War except God, and, by the way, did you know that the founders made this covenant with God? It’s American exceptionalism but goes beyond that. It says that we are the next version of Israel from the Old Testament, that we are God’s chosen nation, and that is a special covenant — a two-way agreement with God. We can’t break it, and if we do, what happened to Israel will happen to us: We will be overrun by whatever the next Babylon is, taken into captivity, and He will remove His blessing from us.

What [threatens] that covenant? The moment we started taking prayer out of [public] schools and allowing various changes in our culture — [the legalization of] abortion is one of those moments; gay marriage is another. They see it in cataclysmic terms: This is the moment, and God’s going to judge us. They view the last 50 years of moral decline as us breaking our covenant, and that because of that, God’s going to remove His blessing. When you paint it in existential terms like that, a lot of people feel justified to carry out acts of violence in the name of their faith.


☦︎ So far as I know, theopenic and its cognate theopenia are my coinage.


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

Barstool Conservatives and other delights

What Trump recognized was that there are millions of Americans who do not oppose or even care about abortion or same-sex marriage, much less stem-cell research or any of the other causes that had animated traditional social conservatives. Instead he correctly intuited that the new culture war would be fought over very different (and more nebulous) issues: vague concerns about political correctness and “SJWs,” opposition to the popularization of so-called critical race theory, sentimentality about the American flag and the military, the rights of male undergraduates to engage in fornication while intoxicated without fear of the Title IX mafia. Whatever their opinions might have been 20 years ago, in 2021 these are people who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, accept pornography, homosexuality, drug use, legalized gambling, and whatever GamerGate was about. On economic questions their views are a curious and at times incoherent mixture of standard libertarian talking points and pseudo-populism, embracing lower taxes on the one hand and stimulus checks and stricter regulation of social media platforms on the other.

… Meanwhile, a small number of earnest social conservatives will be disgusted. But I suspect that a majority of them will gladly make their peace with the new order of things.

This is in part because while Barstool conservatives might regard, say, homeschooling families of 10 as freaks, they do not regard them with loathing, much less consider their very existence a threat to the American way of life as they understand it. Social conservatives themselves have largely accepted that, with the possible exception of abortion, the great battles have been lost for good. Oberfegell will never be overturned even with nine votes on the Supreme Court. Instead the best that can be hoped for is a kind of recusancy, a limited accommodation for a few hundred thousand families who cling to traditions that in the decades to come will appear as bizarre as those of the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Matthew Walther, Rise of the Barstool conservatives (emphasis added).

We can quibble over the label, but I think it’s fair to say that a lot of social conservatives have resigned themselves to voting for people who “do not regard them with loathing, much less consider their very existence a threat to the American way of life as they understand it.”

I understand the temptation. I considered voting Democrat in the primaries to vote for Bernie, the Democrat who struck me as so fixated on advancing socialism that he had little energy left for anti-Christian pogroms. But I didn’t, and although I’m under no illusions about reversing losses on the issues I’ve loved and lost, a social issue platform of “meh” is not good enough for my vote.


For hundreds of years at common law, moreover, while infertility was no ground for declaring a marriage void, only coitus was recognized as consummating (completing) a marriage. No other sexual act between man and woman could. What could make sense of these two practices?

Ryan T. Anderson et al., What Is Marriage?

I know the battle is lost, but I still can’t resist the opportunity to remind people that same-sex marriage swallows the hedonic marriage view lock, stock and barrel, and conservatives are justified if they ask (as fewer and fewer do) why government should be in the business of issuing licenses for people to enter what amounts to no more than relatively long-term pleasurable pairings.


Tesla posted its first full year of net income in 2020 — but not because of sales to its customers.

Eleven states require automakers sell a certain percentage of zero-emissions vehicles by 2025. If they can’t, the automakers have to buy regulatory credits from another automaker that meets those requirements — such as Tesla, which exclusively sells electric cars.

It’s a lucrative business for Tesla — bringing in $3.3 billion over the course of the last five years, nearly half of that in 2020 alone. The $1.6 billion in regulatory credits it received last year far outweighed Tesla’s net income of $721 million — meaning Tesla would have otherwise posted a net loss in 2020.

“These guys are losing money selling cars. They’re making money selling credits. And the credits are going away,” said Gordon Johnson of GLJ Research and one of the biggest bears on Tesla shares.

Tesla top executives concede the company can’t count on that source of cash continuing.

Tesla’s dirty little secret: Its net profit doesn’t come from selling cars


For many years, congressional Republicans have operated under a few rules:

* My way or the highway (you’re with the party consensus or you’re against the party).
* Politics is a zero-sum game (so there is no such thing as a compromise that can benefit both sides).
* Don’t fraternize across the aisle (which might lead to learning from Democrats or even wanting to compromise with them).

In the last five years, they added two more: If you don’t have something nice to say about Donald Trump, say nothing at all and If you repeat a lie enough times, you can act as if it’s true.

Now that the Republicans have lost control of the Senate, the House, and the presidency, they are both emboldened and scared at the same time. Emboldened because they can revert to their natural mode of obstructionism without responsibility for governing. And scared because two of President Biden’s main themes so far—his pleas for unity and his commitment to reality—directly threaten their tactics of division and fantasy.

The QAnon rioters were gone from the Capitol by the end of the day on January 6, but QAnon is now represented by outspoken members of Congress. It is disturbing to hear Nancy Pelosi say, as she did this week, “The enemy is within.” But she’s not wrong.

Brian Karem, The GOP Has Nothing to Offer – The Bulwark


My take on this is simple: It is better for a good book not to be taught at all than be taught by the people quoted in that article. Yes! — do, please, refuse to teach Shakespeare, Homer, Hawthorne, whoever. Wag your admonitory finger at them. Let them be cast aside, let them be scorned and mocked. Let them be samizdat. Let them be forbidden fruit.

They will find their readers. They always have — long, long before anyone thought to teach them in schools — and they always will.

Alan Jacobs


If you were looking for the faith-free version of [Cicely] Tyson’s life, the natural place to turn was The New York Times.

This story did a great job of capturing her impact on American culture, especially in terms of the sacrifices she made to portray African-American life with style, power and dignity. Here are two crucial summary paragraphs on that essential theme:

“In a remarkable career of seven decades, Ms. Tyson broke ground for serious Black actors by refusing to take parts that demeaned Black people. She urged Black colleagues to do the same, and often went without work. She was critical of films and television programs that cast Black characters as criminal, servile or immoral, and insisted that African-Americans, even if poor or downtrodden, should be portrayed with dignity.

“Her chiseled face and willowy frame, striking even in her 90s, became familiar to millions in more than 100 film, television and stage roles, including some that had traditionally been given only to white actors. She won three Emmys and many awards from civil rights and women’s groups, and at 88 became the oldest person to win a Tony, for her 2013 Broadway role in a revival of Horton Foote’s ‘The Trip to Bountiful.'”

But the only reference to her Christian faith — negative, of course — came in this bite of biography:

“Cicely Tyson was born in East Harlem on Dec. 19, 1924, the youngest of three children of William and Theodosia (also known as Frederica) Tyson, immigrants from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her father was a carpenter and painter, and her mother was a domestic worker. Her parents separated when she was 10, and the children were raised by a strict Christian mother who did not permit movies or dates.”

The Times also offered an “appraisal” of Tyson’s career with this striking headline: “Cicely Tyson Kept It Together So We Didn’t Fall Apart.

The New York Times is important, of course, but it is even more important that the Associated Press served up three stories about Tyson’s life, career and cultural impact without a single reference to her Christian faith (other than a fleeting reference to God in a Michelle Obama tribute quotation). These are the stories that would appear in the vast majority of American newspapers.

Now, I am happy to note that the Los Angeles Times package about Tyson did a much better job of weaving her own words into its multi-story package about her death.

It was hard to edit God out of Cicely Tyson’s epic story, but some journalists gave it a try — GetReligion


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell waded into the intra-GOP squabbles last night, declaring Rep. Liz Cheney “an important leader in our party and in our nation” and decrying Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s embrace of “loony lies and conspiracy theories” as a “cancer for the Republican Party.”

The Morning Dispatch

Memo to a**h*le Matt Gaetz: If you shoot at the GOAT’s friend, you’re gonna hafta kill the GOAT, too. And you didn’t:

What Wednesday did reveal, however, is the relative strength of the GOP’s various factions. Only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach President Trump last month; on a secret ballot, 145 supported Cheney’s right to do so. A staggering 139 House members objected to the electoral results in at least one state on January 6; on a secret ballot, “only” 61 wanted to boot Cheney for her vote of conscience.

Conservatives concerned with the direction of the GOP in recent years may take solace in these discrepancies. As we’ve written repeatedly, the majority of Republican lawmakers here in Washington are far less Trumpy personally than they would ever let on. But on a political level, the public persona is the one that matters: It’s what voters see, how narratives are shaped, and how decisions are made.

At some point, elected Republicans may once again feel comfortable speaking their whole mind. But not yet. Expect things to revert to normal when the cameras are back on today during the vote to punish Greene.

After all, according to a new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll, Greene is significantly more popular with GOP voters than Cheney is, +10 net favorability to -28.

The Morning Dispatch: Cheney Triumphs in Conference Vote


“Trump was our greatest champion, and it still wasn’t enough. He tried his very best. He did so much, but he’s only one man…I even helped stormed(sic) the capitol today, but it only made things worse…Why, God? Why? WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN US? Unless…Trump still has a plan?”

25-year-old LARPER/Loser Jack Griffith, who didn’t even vote in the election he was protesting. Unmistakably reminds me of the Ur-story instantiated here. “I did help. I sent an election.”


Why don’t I think of gentle mockery more often? It’s so much more effective a response to stupidity than my rage is. Jewish Space Laser Agency: We didn’t start the fire – The Forward


The reason why cancel culture has alarmed so many Americans is not because, say, Holocaust deniers face public shame or white supremacists can’t find jobs on network television. It’s because even normal political disagreement has generated extreme, punitive backlash. It’s because intolerant partisans try to treat mainstream dissent as the equivalent of Holocaust denial or white supremacy.

David French, Can We Have (Another) Conversation About Cancel Culture?


James Dobson … is now telling his followers that the outcome of the presidential election remains “unresolved.”

“Sadly, the highest court in the land didn’t review a word of the overwhelming volume of evidence,” wrote the 84-year-old Dobson, whose former employee, Jenna Ellis, was a member of Rudolph Giuliani’s “crack legal team” that sought to overturn election results in dozens of unsuccessful cases.

In the months since the election, the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family has regularly provided election skeptics with plentiful ammunition and has embraced men and women in Congress who voted to overturn state election results. Meanwhile, Focus’s partner organization in Washington, D.C., the Family Research Council, continues to claim the election was stolen, and that Antifa—not Trump supporters—caused the Capitol attack on Jan. 6. (There is no evidence to suggest Antifa led the attack, while FBI investigations have linked several militia and far-right extremist groups to the violence.)

… Before the election, Focus, Dobson and their numerous affiliated organizations promoted Trump. After the election, these organizations have promoted unfounded claims of election fraud. And after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, they’ve remained silent about the politicians they’ve endorsed who participated in or incited the insurrectionist mob.

While Christianity teaches that all people sin and fall short of the glory of God, The Daily Citizen promotes heresy: only liberals sin. Reports about Democrats violating their own COVID restrictions (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Governor Gavin Newsom) are a regular feature. Only libs engage in political violence (“12-Year-Old Boy Assaulted by Woman for Pro-Trump Sign, Police Say”).

Steve Rabey, How evangelical media ministry Focus on the Family fueled lies and insurrectionists.

I have quibbled about whether flakes like Paula White qualify as “evangelical.” There is no quibbling about James Dobson: he’s as mainstream evangelical as they come. His bearing of false witness about the election is very wicked.


While pundits (myself included) have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past four years gravely pondering what Republican politics would look like post-Trump, these members of the House GOP [Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene] have given us what now looks to be the most plausible answer. Rather than a smarter, more responsible vehicle for enacting a set of distinctively Trumpian policies on trade, immigration, and foreign policy, let alone a reversion to the pre-Trump status quo (Romney-Ryan 2.0), we’re going to get a politics of bilious, lizard-brained idiocy along with intentionally cultivated and playacted outrage.

It’s certainly newsworthy when a just-elected congresswoman says something bizarre. But is it still newsworthy the 10th time she does it? Or the 100th? Maybe it is in the sense that it will generate strong ratings and give on-air talent something sensational to talk about. Is it really telling people anything new? Anything they need to know? I don’t see how.

What it does, far more, is give a powerful megaphone to someone who above all else craves national attention for her obsessions and derangements. In this respect, news organizations that place Greene and others like her at the center of the news cycle are being played. By incentivizing the madness, rendering it a sure path to national fame and notoriety, they play a new and pernicious role in the political ecosystem — as unintended facilitators of fascism, American style.

If the media and the leadership of both political parties really wanted to cut Greene down to size, they would deprive her of what she wants and needs most of all: our attention.

Damon Linker, Marjorie Taylor Greene is getting exactly what she wants


If Donald Trump was the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Josh Hawley is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s Apprentice. They have summoned and unleashed dark forces.


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

Sunday Potpourri

The Jericho March … co-founders are essentially unknown in the organized Christian world. Robert Weaver, an evangelical Oklahoma insurance salesman, was nominated by Trump to lead the Indian Health Service but withdrew after The Wall Street Journal reported that he misrepresented his qualifications. Arina Grossu, who is Catholic, recently worked as a contract communications adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. (Weaver and Grossu declined to comment.) Still, they will have far more influence in shaping the reputation of Christianity for the outside world than many denominational giants: They helped stage a stunning effort to circumvent the 2020 election, all in the name of their faith.

Emma Green, Storming the Capitol for God and Trump.

“Essentially unknown in the organized Christian world” is what I thought about Paula White and most of the “evangelical” leaders who gathered with Trump for photo ops in the Oval Office, laying hands on him as if anointing a King or Prophet.

I’ve been away from Evangelicalism for a while, though, and I don’t how big a tent “Evangelical” is these days — or what new celebrities have replaced the celebrities of my youth. (Yes, “celebrity” is my deliberate choice.)


Evangelical Christianity, which once played a central role in legitimizing democracy in the early days of the American experiment through its fusion with classical republican values, may now play a central role in the unraveling of America through its unholy union with modern conspiracy theory.

And, like [Milton William] Cooper [who inspired Timothy McVeigh], Trump, in the words of [David] Kilcullen, has played less the role of the Pied Piper, calling his followers hither and thither at whim with his flute, than the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, summing dark forces from the abyss that he has no clue how to control. Now we wait to see if someone will play McVeigh to Trump’s Cooper.

… [H]istorian John Fea has noted that “The U.S. Senators who objected to the Electoral College results,” including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, “were almost all evangelicals.” Though a number of notable evangelicals such as David French, Ed Stetzer and Russell Moore have challenged the unfounded claims of electoral fraud in a timely and persistent manner, others such as Franklin Graham have condemned the violence of the Capitol siege without challenging the false allegations about the election, which Kilcullen identifies as the key motive for the crowds who precipitated the violence in the first place.

Todd Thompson, A Homegrown Christian Insurgency – Mere Orthodoxy


[I]t’s difficult to define exactly what Christian nationalism is. To the extent one can create an academic definition, it’s hard to improve on the one Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd cites in a recent Gospel Coalition essay. He quotes Matthew McCullough’s description of Christian nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.”

[But e]xplicit “patriot churches” are still thin on the ground.

Thus, I agree with Kidd. “Actual Christian nationalism,” he says, “is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance.” He provides an interesting example:

“I recently saw a yard sign that read “Make Faith Great Again: Trump 2020.” I wondered, How can re-electing Donald Trump make “faith” great again? What faith? When did it stop being great? No coherent answers would be forthcoming to such questions, but that’s the point. The sign speaks to a person’s ethnic, religious, and cultural identity in ways easier to notice than to explain.”

Now let’s ask a challenging question—why do we see this nationalism more in white conservative Protestant Christianity than in any other strain of American Christianity, including the Black Protestant church or the Catholic church?

I’d argue it’s because that for more than two centuries, the United States of America was quite likely the best place in the world to live if you were a white theologically conservative Protestant. No, it wasn’t a perfect place. But it was the best place. Our freedom, our prosperity and (ultimately) our power were unmatched anywhere else.

As a practical matter, our culture slippers fit so darn well that it grew all too easy to see ourselves as “in” and “of” the United States of America.

Black Christians could not feel such comfort … And while theologically conservative Catholics and Protestants now often lock arms in the modern American culture war, that would have been unthinkable in the days when anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments stalked the land.

What is Christian nationalism? It’s a deep emotional attachment to a particular and exclusive culture, a skewed version of history, and a false sense of “marked superiority” that must and will fade away.

What is Christian patriotism? To echo C.S. Lewis and George Washington, it’s a love of home and place and neighbor that does its best to fulfill the vision of peace and justice articulated by the prophet Micah so many long years ago—“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”

David French, Discerning the Difference Between Christian Nationalism and Christian Patriotism


I’m a graduate in Medieval Studies, and when I try to explain some myths about it, people look at me as if I was insane. The Enlightenment propaganda is so strong, that telling the truth about Medieval era sounds like a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory. And this is a serious problem. Many school textbooks, media, etc. promote most of these myths, which are inherently biased and dangerous, because they distort the truth.

The Enlightenment historiography is still the most successful propaganda ever made; it refused to die, because the [anti-Christian] sentiment which these thinkers had promoted seems to be popular ever since. Demonizing the Other is the best way to begin a fight, because it gives you the feeling of the moral superiority. In our case, this has been done by distorting and misinterpreting historical facts, and inventing myths and false villains and heroes. This genius propaganda has affected and influenced most of us, therefore it’s not surprising how our imagination has been constructed. For example, when we think or talk about [the] historical horrors, the vast majority will think of the those ‘dark’ Middle Ages. Ironically, we rarely realize that the most morbid and inhumane crimes were committed during the Enlightenment and Modern era. Concentration camps, gulag, genocides, eugenics, racism, reign of terror, totalitarianism, etc. The aforementioned catastrophes are a result of the ideology which promoted the cult of progress, reason and science, which ended becoming the cult of irrationality, regress and crimes. But of course, rarely will we hear that being denounced, because we still live in that era, where one of the most criminal and bloody act of history [the French Revolution] is presented as ‘glorious’ and ‘good’.

The Enlightenment way of thinking may have ‘freed’ people from believing in religion or God, but at the very moment when this philosophy rose, ideologies were born. So, today, many don’t believe in religion because they consider it dogmatic, but unconsciously and even dogmatically believe and follow ideologies as Enlightenment.

Albert Bikaj, via The Neomedievalist. H/T Rod Dreher


Once upon a time there was a couple whose names were Oskar and Auguste. They had a little girl whom they named Johanna Maria Magdalena. Everyone called her “Magda” for short. She lived in a world that was soon awhirl with exciting possibilities, opportunities, and temptations. People looking at her said that she was to be envied as she rose to prominence, money, influence, and fame, riding an intoxicating wave that took her ever higher. Those able to see somewhat into the mystery and murk of the human heart knew that far from ascending ever higher, she was in fact sinking ever lower. Down and down she went spiritually into ever more dangerous, mad, and suffocating places, but only God could see the true tragedy of her descent. In the glittering world in which she lived and moved, she shone. Everyone knew her name. Everyone knew who Magda Goebbels was, the unofficial First Lady of the Third Reich, wife to Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the powerful Minister of Propaganda.

It quickly became apparent to her that it was all over. She would never again live in the world she had come to love. The world that was fast approaching would be a world without a triumphant National Socialism, a world in which swastika flags would not hang from every balcony, a world without Hitler, and for her, a world without hope. She could not bear the thought of her and her six young children emerging from the bunker to live in that world. She could not endure living a world without Hitler. Though urged to leave the bunker and allow her children to be smuggled safely out of Berlin, she refused. In a final letter to her adult son from a previous marriage, she wrote, “Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvellous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and National Socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow.”

Her will did not waver: on May 1, 1945 she had her six children drugged with morphine and then murdered with cyanide, and then took her own life. When the Russian soldiers finally breached the bunker, they found only her charred corpse in the Chancellery garden with that of her husband, and down below, the limp corpses of their six children, dressed in their nightclothes, with ribbons still tied in the girls’ hair.

Let us be clear about the lesson to be learned from this tragedy. The question to be asked is not “How should Magda be punished for her evil?” but rather, “What in the world can be done with Magda?” Magda Goebbels found the possibility of a life without Hitler and National Socialism too painful to bear. Living in that post-Hitler world was for her literally a fate worse than death. Life in that world would be agony, a ceaseless turmoil of tears and searing pain. That was why she murdered her children and took her own life.

Fast forward from this tumultuous age to the shining world of the age to come. What in that world can be done with Magda? In that world also there will be no Hitler, and the “glorious idea” that was ruined in 1945 along with “everything beautiful and marvellous” that she had known in her life will find no place there either. Instead, everywhere the Jew from Nazareth will reign supreme, and His face will illumine that world to its furthest corner. Magda would regard that world as an accursed place, for Hitler and the “glorious idea” of National Socialism will not simply be hated. For her it will be worse than that: as age succeeds sunlit age, Hitler and National Socialism will be utterly forgotten, left behind, like a disease which had long ago found its cure.

… [I]f Magda could not endure living in a post-Hitler world, if she would have found that world too painful to bear and a fate worse than death, how would she regard living in the sunlit world of the age to come? Such an existence would be for her worse than a fate worse than death. If a post-Hitler world would be too agonizing to endure, what would her pain be in this world?

This is where the pains of hell find their source. God did not create a subterranean torture chamber to punish the lost for their sins. The pain suffered by Magda Goebbels in that age will not come from the hands of Jesus, but from the heart of Magda.

Fr. Lawrence Farley.

Note, too — apart from the argument between orthodox Christians and universalists — the personal implications of this: I can pray The Sinner’s Prayer and then declare my eternal security, but if I then live like the devil, presuming on that supposed eternal security, I can end up shriveled, turned in on myself, wanting what I’ve taught myself to want no matter what, and … outside of heaven by my own choice.

There was too much of that in my life. That realization was a key in my decision to turn my back on Calvinism and enter Holy Orthodoxy.


Nothing here is sinister
because nothing is at stake.
Everything is null and void
of depth, of resonance,
not real but celluloid.

From Vijay Seshadri, “City of Grief”


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

Antipopes, Jackasses, Jennyasses, and more

Best Historical Analogy for Loser Trump?

[Antipope Benedict XIII] retain[ed] sufficient political capital to pressure heads of states to pick sides, bestowing benedictions and other benefits and if nothing else gumming up earnest efforts to allay divides. Weary, irritated leaders, both religious and royal, “said, ‘You’re out, you’re out, you’re out,’” … “and he said, ‘No, I’m in, I’m in, I’m in.’”

“Donald Trump’s not an ex-president—he’s a right-wing, nativist, revolutionary leader,” presidential historian Doug Brinkley told me recently. “He has a movement that is massive with global implications—that kind of revolutionary—and he took on the entire federal government of the United States. That kind of character doesn’t register as a typical ex-president.”

Across the Atlantic, some 600 years back, everybody said they wanted unity.

But unity was hard. “Comparing a pre-democratic system with a democratic system, there is kind of something odd,” Rollo-Koster said, offering a necessary caveat. “But behaviors remain constant throughout history regardless of the political system.” And unity was hard at that moment because of the whims and wants of leaders, because of ever-shifting protections and allegiances, and because people who had power didn’t want to give it up. “The schism,” wrote Barbara Tuchman in A Distant Mirror, “was a trap not easy to get out of.” It “lasted as long as it did,” as Rollo-Koster put it in her book, “because it benefited the private interests of many parties.”

Michael Kruse, The Antipope of Mar-a-Lago – POLITICO

GOP Hijinks

The Oregon GOP’s official position is that the assault on the Capitol was a false flag operation, mounted to “discredit” President Trump.

The infinitely flexible Nikki Haley asks not whether former President Trump attempted to steal the election, but how low the base would like her to sink. Appearing on the Laura Ingraham show, she offered up the expected persecution narrative: “They beat him up before he got into office. They are beating him up after he leaves office. I mean, at some point, I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on.”

See how this works? It was Trump who was beaten, not Officer Sicknick.

Mona Charen, Republicans Make Me Proud I Voted for Biden – The Bulwark

You can’t make this stuff up, and there’s so much of it (read Charen’s full column) that it’s hard to pick an emblematic examples.

Charen continues:

Republicans are like toddlers encouraged to put on big boy underpants. They understand that it’s exciting to be a big boy. They want to. But they also know that if they put on big boy underpants, they will have responsibilities. They will have to act like big boys. So they retreat to the comfort of their diapers.


MTG

I “find it interesting” that Marjorie Taylor Greene finds interesting (i.e., makes up) a bunch of “speculation” that would warm the cockles of Nazi hearts.

What a coincidence! What are the odds that that a sane person would entertain such odd views?

H/T Jonathan Chait, GOP Congresswoman Blamed Wildfires on Secret Jewish Space Laser


[N]umerous liberal democracies have seen right-wing “populist” movements and parties emerge. So far, those that have risen to power have done so through liberal institutions — and despite moves to rig the systems in their own favor (most boldly in Hungary and Poland), nowhere has liberal government been fully overturned in favor of outright authoritarian rule or worse.

But the United States presents a distinctive, and potentially ominous, case.

Over the past three months, the Republican Party has proven itself to be a right-wing antiliberal party. Yes, this has been the culmination of a long process. Yes, it has antecedents in the American past. Yes, there are still some decent people in the party trying to oppose the trend from within. But despite all of these caveats, what we’ve recently witnessed in the GOP is something new — and newly alarming.

… [T]he Republican Party is now dominated by ideas and individuals who consider it acceptable to reject the legitimacy of democratic elections when they deliver a loss, and to encourage, affirm, and spread outright lies in order to gain and hold political power. That makes the Republican Party a great danger to liberal democratic government in the United States.

Damon Linker, Liberal democracy’s Achilles Heel


Over the years when national events have turned especially murky, I’ve asked [Senator Rob Portman’s] read on things, and what’s always struck me is his stubborn sense of reality: He doesn’t let his wishes get in the way of what he sees. In the geography of the Republican Party he’d be placed with figures like Mitch Daniels —the We Actually Know Things Caucus.

It really is something that we’re living in a time when ambitious people leave the U.S. Senate to get things done.

I asked about the comment of his former campaign manager Corry Bliss, published Tuesday in National Journal, on Portman’s decision not to run: “If you want to spend all your time on Fox and be an a—h—, there’s never been a better time to serve. But if you want to spend your time being thoughtful and getting s— done, there’s never been a worse time to serve.” Mr. Portman roared with laughter. “Did he say that?” He roared again. “Yeah, I won’t comment.”

Peggy Noonan, Rob Portman’s Exit Interview

Mitch McConnell’s Hijinks

Just as [Mitch McConnell] played Donald Trump for three Supreme Court justices and a tax cut, here he is convincing Democrats to let him have veto power over what happens in the upper chamber for years to come.

[T]he horrifying truth about American partisanship, the reason that the National Football League is vastly more entertaining than what goes on in Washington, D.C[. is that] almost no one there actually cares about winning. Holding on to office, getting the paychecks and the perks, receiving all the attention and adulation their parents and classmates apparently failed to shower upon them in their youth — these are what motivates most of our elected officials.

Which is why at the end of the day I am not hesitant to call McConnell the most effective Senate leader of the last half century, for the not very complicated reason that he not only cares about winning but does win more consistently than anyone else, regardless of the position in which he finds himself.

Mitch McConnell is the GOAT

GameStop Hijinks

The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

John Maynard Keynes via Axios, Gamestop trading pits Wall Street’s powerful against the powerless

Insurrection after-effects

Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III said this week that another police officer who was on duty during the January 6 Capitol attack, Jeffery Smith, died by suicide on January 15. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood also died by suicide on January 9, three days after the riot, and Officer Brian Sicknick died after sustaining injuries during the insurrection. “Between USCP and our colleagues at the Metropolitan Police Department, we have almost 140 officers injured,” Gus Papathanasiou, the chair of the Capitol Police Labor Committee said in a statement. “I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake.”

The Morning Dispatch


If all we do as a nation is lock up some individual pelt-wearing yahoos and cringe in fear from holding a public man to account for a catastrophic abuse of leadership in public office — if we have one law against the common man, another for the elite — we will have failed to deliver that message. If you take this from an American national perspective rather than a narrowly partisan one, that ought to be obvious.

… What we witnessed on January 6 … requires a more vigorous, less timorous, response.

And one man above all others was responsible for inspiring it and setting it in motion.

It is hard to think of any abuse of high office, short of treason itself, that would have alarmed the Founding Fathers more than inspiring a mob to target the democratic transfer of power.

Did Trump do that? Unquestionably. I walked in detail through his speech that day, and asked:

> If you heard and believed every word of this speech, coming from the president of the United States . . . what would you do? Would you believe that the time had come to take up arms to save your country and democracy? A lot of Americans, people of good will, very well might.

Neither Davidson nor Domenech answers that question. Neither deals with the speech or its claims at length, falling back on generality and euphemism. Davidson says that my view “boils down to arguing that because people feel strongly about elections, Trump should have toned down his criticism of election fraud because some radicals in his party might get crazy ideas about storming the Capitol.” But in fact, as the president, he should not have said those things while setting a crowd in motion toward the Capitol with the aim of getting them to pressure Congress and the vice president in the midst of the counting process. You cannot extract Trump’s speech from the time, the place, and the context in which he chose to make it. Nor can you present it as some sort of generalized critique of election integrity, when it bluntly asserted that the stealing of an election was ongoing just down the block, and that Trump expected the crowd to participate in stopping it.

Trump Impeachment & Mob Rule — A Reply to the Federalist | National Review

This was a masterful reply to two of the heavier hitters at The Federalist (the now-Trumpist website I stopped reading, oh, around election day 2016, not the esteemed professional Society) who were engaging in sophistries against convicting Trump in the impeachment trial.

Media lowjinks

“Whatever the platform, the competitive advantage belongs to those who can best habituate consumers, which in the stunted, data-obsessed thinking of our time, means avoiding at almost any cost impinging on the reality so painstakingly built around them. As outlets have increasingly prioritized habituation over information, consumers have unsurprisingly become ever more sensitive to any interruption of their daily diet. … Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally.

Chris Stirewalt, formerly of Fox News, in the Los Angeles Times via The Morning Dispatch (emphasis added)


The Deep Lie … does not merely mislead — it is a lie so deeply embedded in the media and political ecosystem that it distorts reality and shapes our political world. It is immune to evidence, to logic, or new information, and it is endlessly recycled until its shatters our sense of sanity.

It works this way. The lie (any lie) begins in the fever swamp—>social media —> Fox News/talkradio —> goes viral —> achieves critical mass —> politicians begin to “ask questions” because “people are saying” —> dominates political debate….and the loop continues until the lie shatters our polity.

Tucker Carlson and The Deep Lie – Morning Shots

Scott Alexander is back (and gives the skinny on the gender binary)!

Scott Alexander, late of SlateStarCodex, is back with AstralCodexTen on Substack. He stretches one’s brain.

They also have a category called “gender”. They say they included measures like “femininity” and “sex-stereotyped activities” in there – I can’t find more specifics. It has a CCFI of 0.42 with confidence interval including 0.5, so looks slightly more dimensional, but can’t quite rule out it being slightly more categorical. If anyone ever demands you have an opinion on the question “is binary gender real?”, I think the most scientifically-supported answer would be “it has a Comparative Curve Fit Index of 0.42 plus or minus 0.1, which means it trends towards dimensionality but taxonicity cannot be ruled out”.

Ontology Of Psychiatric Conditions: Taxometrics

Education Hijinks

Of all the stupid arguments the politically correct trot out to justify savaging reading lists, the idea that kids should see themselves in literature is the dumbest — but just about perfect for our narcissistic culture.

Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever.” Similarly, not to know, through books, worlds and peoples other than your own is to remain a child forever. It is to remain narrow, self-centered, and frightened of anything that is unfamiliar. I’m not the sort of person who is particularly interested in the life of a Norwegian farm woman of the Middle Ages, but Kristin Lavransdatter absolutely captivated me, because it transported me into a radically different world, but introduced me to people whose dreams and struggles seemed very human, and very relatable. What a poverty to hand a teenager some YA crap novel about alienated suburban teens cutting themselves and dreaming of changing their sex, when they could be reading Kristin Lavransdatter. What kind of culture does this to its kids?

Rod Dreher, A Door, Not A Mirror – Daily Dreher

Benediction

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

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

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

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

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

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