Thursday, 9/29/22

Today marks the 24th anniversary of my father’s death and 40 days since the death of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a titan in Anglophone Eastern Orthodoxy.

I’m surprised at how much I’ve aggregated. It definitely was time to get it out of draft and onto the internet.

Rightward swings in the Western World

When Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders

Rapid mass migration, we now know, is arsenic to egalitarian social democracy.

But why turn to the former neo-Nazis? You won’t find an answer to that in woke-captured media either. The answer is similar to the reason Americans turned to Trump: for a very long time, no one in the mainstream parties or media would acknowledge the reality of the migrant crisis or do anything about it, except call those asking questions racists and fascists.

… In the immortal words of David Frum: if liberals won’t enforce borders, fascists will.

Andrew Sullivan on the roots of Sweden’s political swing to the hard right.

Italy’s rightward swing

We’re left with a picture of a country in which the center-left is supported mainly by the educated, secular, and professional classes, while the right appeals to a cross-section of the rest of the country—the working class as well as the middle and upper-middle classes, along with the religiously pious and the large numbers of Italians who treat religion as a symbol or identity-marker without actually believing in or practicing it.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because similar things have been happening in many places over the past decade. The precise political results of these shifts have varied from country to country as they’ve interacted with different electoral systems, but the underlying trends in public opinion can be seen to a greater or lesser extent in France, Great Britain, the U.S., and other countries. In each case, the center-left has gone into decline with the center-right and anti-liberal populist right rising to take its place.

Until the center-left figures out a way to win back the working- and middle-class, as well as the nominally religious, it will continue to lose precious political ground to the populist and nationalist right.

Damon Linker

I’m quite impressed with Linker’s still-newish Substack. He’s been writing almost daily, but I don’t recall any total duds yet, and that’s a bit of a rarity even with writers whose schedules are more relaxed.

Angry Incoherence from the 5th Circuit

“I think passing this law was so much fun for these [Texas] legislators, and I think they might have expected it would get struck down, so the theater was the point.” But she also believes that there is likely some lack of understanding among those responsible for the law about just how extreme the First Amendment is in practice. “Most people don’t realize how much horrible speech is legal,” she said, arguing that historically, the constitutional right has confounded logic on both the political left and right. “These legislators think that they’re opening the door to some stuff that might offend liberals. But I don’t know if they realize they are also opening the door to barely legal child porn or pro-anorexia content and beheading videos. I don’t think they’ve understood how bad the bad is.

Daphne Keller, director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, via Charlie Warzel on NetChoice v. Paxton, a bizarre 5th Circuit opinion upholding a Texas law that, motivated by a perception of liberal bias in moderation, essentially forbade big internet platforms to moderate content — and forbade them from ceasing to do business in Texas to boot! Is This the Beginning of the End of the Internet?.

Domestic Politics

Proxy or Leader?

The flow-with-the-go model of politics is baked into representative democracy. Or, rather, representative democracy invariably is shaped by the tension between the conception of representative-as-proxy—“I’m just here to represent the Will of the People!”—and representative-as-leader, a  role in which a representative will, from time to time, be obliged to ignore or overrule popular sentiment in service to prudence and justice. This is Edmund Burke 101: “Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgement; and he betrays you instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Kevin D. Williamson, Grift 2.0

Burke’s has been my view of representative democracy for longer than I can remember. And his examples of "Grift 2.0" ring true.

Comparative hate

I don’t know a statement more indicative of the character of our moment than this by J. D. Vance: “I think our people hate the right people.”

Alan Jacobs. Sadly, Vance is quite public about his Christian faith. That he should consider hate-promotion a feature, not a bug, is jarring.

Powered by Pure Spite

The cardinal virtue of modern conservative populism is spite. Whatever gambit a populist is pursuing, whatever agenda he or she might be advancing, the more it offends the enemy the more likely it is to be received by the right adoringly. Ron DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt is an efficient example. It accomplished nothing meaningful yet observers on both sides agree that he helped his 2024 chances by pulling it off. He made the right people mad. That’s more important than thoughtful policy solutions.

Why spite has become so important to the right-wing populist ethic is hard to say, as it’s not symmetrical between the parties. The most prominent left-wing populist in Congress is probably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a politician who, despite her many faults, doesn’t want for policy ideas. Ask AOC what her top priority as a legislator is and she might say the Green New Deal or Medicare For All. The most prominent right-wing populist in Congress is likely Marjorie Taylor Greene. Ask Greene what she wants to do with her power as a legislator and she’s apt to say, “Impeach Joe Biden.”

“Impeach Joe Biden for what?” you might ask, as if that matters. …

Spite doesn’t need a reason.

Nick Catoggio (f/k/a Allahpundit), The Wild Ones

True Movements or Mostly Hype?

It is perfectly clear that there is a movement in America of people who call themselves evangelicals but have no properly theological commitments at all. But what’s not clear, to me anyway, is how many of them there are. Donald Trump can draw some big crowds, and those crowds often have a quasi-religious focus on him or anyway on what they believe he stands for — but those crowds are not large in the context of the entire American population. They’re very visible, because both Left and Right have reasons for wanting them to be visible, but how demographically significant are they really?

I have similar questions about, for instance, the “national conservatism” movement. Is this actually a movement? Or is it just a few guys who follow one another on Twitter and subscribe to one another’s Substacks?

Alan Jacobs

Culture

I dread our being too much dreaded

I must fairly say I dread our own power, and our own ambition; I dread our being too much dreaded. . . . We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing, and hitherto unheard-of power. But every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.

Edmund Burke via Michael Brendan Dougherty, defending himself and Christopher Hitchens against charges of being Putin apologists for long opposing our policies in Ukraine, almost none of which charges are made in good faith.

Dougherty continues:

To [Peter] Hitchens, whom I have admired greatly for some time, I say now is the time to apply realism to the trolls and demagogues and even to many of the think-tankers and mandarins on the other side. Our case is that they are mishandling grave matters, that they are hubristic and deluded about their own nations and about grand strategy. We think they are casting themselves, absurdly, as great statesmen like Churchill. You and I, having read just a little more history than can fit into a two-hour movie, don’t even belong to that cult in the same way they do. Why, then, should we ever have expected them to treat their powerless critics fairly?

Realism means admitting that our leadership is unworthy, deluded, and stupid. Really they are unprepared, or unfit for their roles. They have led us from one disaster to the next for over two decades. But we may avoid the worst calamity in spite of their failures. We may be saved the miscalculation of others. Or our salvation may be that the huge treasury of power and advantage bequeathed to our nations by previous generations cannot be wasted entirely, even by foolish heirs like these. Or it may be by pure dumb luck, or the grace of God.

White Liberals

I love WL’s [White Liberals], love ’em to death. They’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches.

Paul Farmer via Alan Jacobs

Invisible infrastructure

Our immigration system is broken, and relies on the invisible infrastructure maintained by non-profits and religious groups.

Leah Libresco Sargeant (italics added).

I think everyone knows the system is broken, but I had not been award of the invisible infrastructure. Maybe Paul Farmer wasn’t completely right about white liberals.

Because I say so. That’s why.

Over two decades ago, when I was getting to know Eric [Metaxas], we had a friendly argument over something theological, as we walked around Manhattan. When I challenged something Eric said, he replied that God had told him it was the thing to do. “How do you know that?” I asked. Because he did. The argument went nowhere. I remember it so clearly because that was the first time I had ever had a conversation with someone who asserted that something was true not because God said it — all Christians must believe that, or throw out Scripture — but because God had said it to them personally.

Rod Dreher, What I Saw at the Jericho March (MAGA at prayer event a shocking display of apocalyptic faith and politics — and religious decadence)

Apple pulls back from China

Apple announced Monday it has already begun manufacturing its new iPhone 14 in India, just weeks after the updated product launched and months earlier than previously expected. Production of the company’s newest line of phones typically begins in Chinese factories because of existing supply-chain efficiencies, with some of it shifting to India after six to nine months. The move is likely indicative of Western companies’ newfound desire to limit reliance on China amid economic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions.

The Morning Dispatch for Tuesday, 9/27/22

Battling Amazon in France

France introduces a delivery charge for books: The “minimum charge of €3 will help small independent booksellers struggling to compete with Amazon and other giant online retailers.”

Micah Mattix

The New Economy

Financialization itself, at the grand scale, was a racket—substituting swindles and frauds for the old economy of industrial production.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency

Journalism, traditional and new

Toxic News Swamp

[H]ow could MSNBC and CBS News have both purported to “independently confirm” a CNN bombshell that was completely false?

Glenn Greenwald, How Do Big Media Outlets So Often "Independently Confirm" Each Other’s Falsehoods?

Oases of Sanity

If you’re tired of tearing your hair out over political writing, Alan Jacobs has the cure: an array of sane writers who are not carrying water for anyone or any cause:

  • Leah Libresco Sargeant
  • Noah Millman
  • Damon Linker
  • Zeynep Tufecki
  • Yair Rosenberg
  • John McWhorter
  • Freddie deBoer
  • Jonathan Rauch
  • Jonathan Haidt
  • Jesse Singal
  • David French
  • Andrew Sullivan

Wordplay

Shameware

Software voluntarily installed on a smartphone to allow someone else to monitor, and challenge, one’s internet browsing. One group of Churches in particular is using it.

Similar to surveillance software like Bark or NetNanny, which is used to monitor children at home and school, “shameware” apps are lesser-known tools that are used to keep track of behaviors parents or religious organizations deem unhealthy or immoral. Fortify, for instance, was developed by the founder of an anti-pornography nonprofit called Fight the New Drug and tracks how often an individual masturbates in order to help them overcome “sexual compulsivity.” The app has been downloaded over 100,000 times and has thousands of reviews on the Google Play store.

Wired

My first reaction was “maybe some people really need this to straighten out.” But the security holes it creates are technically worrisome apart from spiritual or psychological concerns.

Mechanical Jacobins

Automobiles, in the lexicon of Russell Kirk

Fractally wrong

Techdirt founder Mike Masnick’s summary of the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholding Texas’ ban on big sites moderating content (see above). In greater detail…

made up of so many layers of wrongness that, in order to fully comprehend its significance, “you must understand the historical wrongness before the legal wrongness, before you can get to the technical wrongness.”

Via Charlie Warzel, Is This the Beginning of the End of the Internet?.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Monday collation

Politics

The Irreligious Right

I used to say "If you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait till you see the nonreligious Right." The nonreligious Right is here, and now dominates the grassroots GOP.

Frankly, it’s not (yet) as bad as we feared for varying reasons (but it’s trending worse, I think).

A fantastically good overview, ‌Republicans Are Now the Party of the Nonreligious Right appeared Thursday in, of all places, the New York Times, written by one Nate Hochman of National Review. It is long and deep, and I’m going to need to read it again to sort out what this means for me personally; Hochman already brilliantly identified why the GOP now gives me the willies (as do the Democrats, but then they always have).

I don’t know if I picked up the moniker in the Hochman article, but it appears to me that what he describes may be closely related to what others have calle "Barstool conservatism":

What could unite free-market libertarians, revanchist Catholics, Southern evangelicals, and working-class Reagan Democrats but their shared hatred of… actual Democrats?

Derek Robertson, How Republicans Became the ‘Barstool’ Party.

Drain those brains

In the Washington Post, Josh Rogin argues some congressional Republicans are forgetting one of the key takeaways from the Cold War: that exploiting brain drain from autocratic societies is a “smart and righteous” strategy. “The whole world is competing for the talents of those who are fleeing from Hong Kong and Putin’s Russia,” Rogin writes, noting Republicans have blocked efforts to ease visa restrictions for high-skilled workers from those regions. “Cruz claimed that accepting Hong Kongers was the first step to opening our borders and that the Chinese Communist Party could exploit the program to send spies to the United States. This ignores the fact that China has much easier ways to get spies into our country and that the CCP is trying to stop Hong Kongers from leaving because Beijing knows the brain-drain risk for China is real. … Republicans’ excessive fear of immigration should not waste a strategic opportunity for the United States to strengthen itself and weaken its rivals at the same time. Congress should work to ensure that China’s and Russia’s losses are America’s gains.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Surely Rogin is right, right?

Justin Trudeau

One of the oddities of Canadian politics is that its Liberal Party politicians so often sound like they’re running for office in the U.S. And, right on time this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that he wants to ban the sale of handguns and confiscate so-called assault weapons via a mandatory buyback.

The timing is no coincidence, as Mr. Trudeau is responding to the U.S. debate over guns and mass shootings. Apparently Canadian politics is too boring, or parochial, or something, because he also vowed to defend abortion rights after the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked. He even made a show of kneeling at a Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. I generally avoid Editorial Board offerings on the basis that the King James Bible is the only work of art ever created by a committee, but the title "Justin Trudeau Runs for Congress" was powerful bait.

Answer me this …

This battle has been lost, and I see no hope of reversal. I even suspect, as do others, that reversal would be worse than letting it be. But I don’t think questions like this were ever answered:

Assuming a general policy of recognizing committed dyads, should the benefits that Oscar and Alfred [applicants for a hypothetical marriage license] receive depend on whether their relationship is or can be presumed to be sexual?

Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George, What Is Marriage?, Kindle Location 295.

If the benefits received depend on whether the relationship is presumed sexual, then aren’t we leaving a lot of lifelong friends out of the more Platonic benefits that were thrust front and center in rationalizing same-sex marriage?

Damon Linker

Another bright light moves to Substack from legacy media: Damon Linker leaving The Week. His focus, reflected in the Substack title, is the Right.

I’m a Linker fan, but his first three postings seemed a bit underwhelming.

Legalia

Yes, I’m going to (gag!) say something (retch!) about THAT case

The jury in The Case That Kept Gossipy Television Gossiping has decide that she defamed him $15 millionsworth while he only defamed her $2 millionsworth.

It kind of has the feel of a suicide pact from what I could tell in the glimpses I got on TV.

Apparently, the jury verdict identified the three Heard statements they considered defamatory:

The jury was forced to examine three separate statements from the editorial, starting with the headline: “I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

The second involved Heard’s description of herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse, and the last statement at issue involved the public’s response: “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

(Johnny Depp Wins U.S. Defamation Lawsuit Against Amber Heard)

I could easily imagine an appeals court ruling as a matter of law that the second and third were not defamatory. Note, too, that the first technically doesn’t say that she was herself a victim of sexual violence, only that she spoke up against it.

Stay tuned. I don’t think this is over yet, though appeals won’t be blanket-covered like the trial was.

An open letter to SCOTUS Clerks

Very smart blogger David Lat has an open letter to the current Supreme Court clerks — the guilty and the innocent. I think it’s of interest even if you’re not a retired lawyer who still follows Indiana and Federal Courts.

So who’s stupid now?

Man pleads guilty to felony charge in riot at US Capitol

PHILADELPHIA – A suburban Philadelphia man charged in the January 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol after he was turned in by an ex-girlfriend after reportedly insulting her intelligence for not believing the election had been stolen has pleaded guilty to a felony count. Richard Michetti, 29, of Ridley Park pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Washington to a charge of aiding and abetting obstruction of an official proceeding. Officials said photos showed him inside the Capitol Rotunda. He is to be sentenced Sept. 1.

Wire Service Reports (emphasis added)

Sexual fad du jour

The author provides a high-point estimate of an 11-point increase in LGBT identity between 2008 and 2021 among Americans under 30. Of that, around 4 points can be explained by an increase in same-sex behavior. The majority of the increase in LGBT identity can be traced to how those who only engage in heterosexual behavior describe themselves.

Born This Way? The Rise of LGBT as a Social and Political Identity – CSPI Center (H/T Nellie Bowles)

Meanwhile, it’s hard to overestimate the goofiness and downright offensiveness of U.S. efforts to promote Pride Month.

Abortion

An odd, but telling, tid-bit: When the draft Dobbs opinion leaked, the Washington Post opined that reversing Roe would put us out of step with Western Europe. This myopic bit of mythology was so patently wrong that they had to retract or amend: reversing Roe almost certainly would bring us into better alignment with Europe, where legal abortion is more limited than in the U.S. under our juristocracy.

(Sorry I can’t give a link:

  • I heard it on a reliable podcast, but …
  • I’m persona non grata at WaPo; I suspect that never-subscribers can see more free stuff than former-subscribers.)

Guns

For the Record: 10 Cases in Past Year Where Law-Abiding Defenders "Have Stopped Likely Mass Public Shootings" With Guns

Wordplay

the rainforests of the ocean

The Economist’s poetic description of coral reefs.


When you skip the news, life is a lot more like Anne of Green Gables or The House at Pooh Corner.

Garrison Keillor


They were powerful until they were powerless. They lived on probation their entire lives.

Andrew Sullivan on gay life in Washington, DC for about 2/3 of the last century.

I sometimes second-guess my support (Caution: Ancient history ahead! Youngsters may be shocked!) for decriminalizing consensual adult sodomy in the late 60s and thereafter, since the ensuing 50+ years have brought more dubious demands. It’s good to be reminded of why a decision was right, even if it may have, in some sense, "set a bad precedent."


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.

Memorial Day Commentary Dump

Politics

Contemporary American Populism

It has slowly dawned on me that behind all the distracting and constant confabulations and shitpostings, the populists are onto something. I might well have noticed earlier had I not been distracted by said confabulations and shitpostings, but I won’t try to prove that self-congratulatory speculation.

Nevertheless I cannot imagine myself voting for a confabulator or shitposter, so I remain resolutely Never Trump (who I also consider a humbug). Must more serious populists establish their street cred by emulating him?

And I’ll note for the record my suspicion that if we brought back all those offshored jobs, and put them back in Youngstown (a synecdoche), it would lower the standard of living of the currently-ascendent and, perhaps, of the nation overall.

I’m not particularly troubled by that prospect since it bodes to raise the standard of living of the overlooked millions so drawn to populism. Further, it seems to me that we’re not all that happy a nation right now, despite the mind-bending wealth of the ascendent, and that a bit less inequality might just improve that.

The party of us

As the conservative pundit Erick Erickson, a Georgia Republican himself, puts it, “Georgia Republicans do like Trump, but they’re tired of his bullshit and want to move on.” Of course, Georgia may be a special case. This was the state that in 2020 witnessed more directly than any other state Trump’s preference for personal vendettas and loyalty over policy or party unity or anything, actually. But this is also the core truth about Trump — and if more widely believed in other states, it could begin to take a real toll. Chris Christie has honed a good line on this:

What we have to decide is: do we want to be the party of me or the party of us? What Donald Trump has advocated is for us to be the ‘party of me,’ that everything has to be about him and about his grievances.

And I can’t see how even many Trump voters would be able to disagree with that. Henry Olson notes:

An NBC News poll conducted in October 2020 showed that a majority of GOP voters said they supported Trump first over the party. Its May poll shows the situation reversed, with 58 percent saying they back the party first.

Trump once benefited from Americans’ short attention spans; but his continuing ego-driven fixation on 2020 hurts him now for the same reason. He’s become a total bore, a crank looking back, not forward, barely ever mentioning policy, in a way that only underlines his prickly, grudge-driven narcissism.

Andrew Sullivan, ‌Can A Cult Become A Movement?

Sophistication

If I’m a white guy in the middle of Georgia, the ad I see is him fighting for small businesses. If you’re a black farmer in South Georgia, the ad is him fighting the Department of Agriculture over historic racism. If you’re a gay man in Atlanta, the ad you see is Raphael Warnock fighting for civil rights. It’s the most impressive advertising campaign I’ve ever seen of a candidate.

Eric Erickson on the Dispatch Podcast (emphasis added). He still thinks football legend Herschel Walker is likely to win, though Warnock is "the superior candidate."

Warnock’s Republican opponent does, I’ll admit, have a bit less finesse:

Neither party represents America on abortion: Republicans are now saying their real opinions on abortion, and those opinions are to the right of most Americans. Herschel Walker, running for Senate in Georgia, wants a total ban on abortion with no exceptions.

Nellie Bowles.

This item is newsworthy, but not, I believe, because "Republicans are now saying their real opinions on abortion."

I have decades of experience watching Republicans, especially Republican men, singing the pro-life songbook way off key and with smirks on their faces. So I’m cynical at comments like Herschel Walker’s (who as a candidate makes a pretty good fullback). I think the "no exception" position is either an opening gambit in anticipation of post-Dobbs negotiations or, likelier, performative chest-thumping (which may turn off more voters than it fires up).

(Be it remembered, by the way, that Raphael Warnock owes his Senate seat to Donald Trump, who effectively said to Georgia Republicans in the 2020-21 election wind-down "Your election system is utterly corrupt. Why even bother voting in those Senate runoffs?" But Warnock apparently isn’t giving that seat up without a very sophisticated fight.)

Guns

Senators headed home for a 10-day recess on Thursday, but signaled early optimism that a deal could be reached on some narrow pieces of gun-safety legislation when they return. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said he’d be willing to accept a more incrementalist approach than he has previously, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he encouraged GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to spearhead bipartisan negotiations on legislation “directly related to the problem.” A bipartisan group of nine senators met in the Capitol on Thursday, and Murphy said he is now “perfectly willing to let the good prevail over the perfect.”

The Morning Dispatch. But before you get your hopes up too high, remember this ancient wisdom:

There are two parties in Washington: the stupid party and the evil party. When they get together and do something stupid and evil, the press calls it "bipartisan."

(Attributed to Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.)

Immigration

Nellie Bowles notes that our Vice-President seems to have shed immigration from her portfolio:

Kamala Harris is quietly sloughing off the hard part of her job—all immigration-related activity has disappeared from her public schedule.  I don’t blame her! First because jobs are exhausting (I write TGIF barefoot from my kitchen and then I take a nap). Also your only option to remain a good progressive is shouting “open borders!” and running away. Otherwise handling immigration requires diving into a quagmire of issues whose solutions demand (at best) cold pragmatism. It’s an especially unpleasant task when the same detention practices that were a five-alarm-fire under Trump are now considered totally normal and humane, never to be discussed, under Biden. And so, Vice President Harris has looked at the issue long and hard, studied the maps, spoken to the experts, and she has decided: Thanks but no thanks.

Open Arms

Hmmmm. Is it possible that Putin so badly misread things that he expected Ukrainians to open Russian soldiers with open arms? (H/T N.S. Lyons)

Not our politics, exactly — but Ouch! anyway

“[Boris] Johnson believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligations which bind everyone else,” – a school report card in 1982 on the degenerate prime minister who would personally break every Covid rule he set for others.

The Tablet via Andrew Sullivan

The fallacy of Boromir

When people justify their voting choice by its outcome, I always think of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien emphasizes repeatedly that we cannot make decisions based on the hoped-for result. We can only control the means. If we validate our choice of voting for someone that may not be a good person in the hopes that he or she will use his power to our advantage, we succumb to the fallacy of Boromir, who assumed he too would use the Ring of Power for good. Power cannot be controlled; it enslaves you. To act freely is to acknowledge your limits, to see the journey as a long road that includes dozens of future elections, and to fight against the temptation for power.

What ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Can Teach Us About U.S. Politics, Christianity and Power

Retraction

I now retract my gratuitous comment about never wanting to live in any district in which Marjorie Taylor Green won her primary. I should have been more attentive to the possibility that such a crazy outcome is not the whole story.

Apparently, there were four or five guys splitting the remainder of the primary vote, some of them in pursuit of utterly lost causes.

That’s a very material fact. It’s not easy to find any place in American these days where some idiot cannot win an election if enough other idiots crowd the field.

Hall of Shame

Rep. Paul Gosar and Candace Owens go into my Hall of Shame for this stuff that I’ve tagged #jackasses #know-it-alls and #shitposters.

Not politics

Paris whimsy

Montparnasse Tower This sadly out-of-place 59-story superscraper has one virtue: If you can’t make it up the Eiffel Tower, the sensational views from this tower are cheaper, far easier to access, and make for a fair consolation prize. Come early in the day for clearest skies and shortest lines, and be treated to views from a comfortable interior and from up on the rooftop (consider their €5 breakfast with a view). Sunset is great but views are disappointing after dark. Some say it’s the very best view in Paris, as you can see the Eiffel Tower clearly…and you can’t see the Montparnasse Tower at all.

Rick Steves

Bill Maher on Kids

“Gender fluid? Kids are fluid about everything. If kids knew what they wanted to be at age 8, the world would be filled with cowboys and princesses. I wanted to be a pirate. Thank God nobody took me seriously and scheduled me for eye removal and peg leg surgery,” –

Bill Maher via Andrew Sullivan

Saying the silent part out loud

My crap detector seemed to be particularly sensitive Sunday morning. A National Review sub-headline:

The latest account of police actions [in the Uvalde, Texas shooting]should leave every parent in the country filled with disbelief and rage.

Note:

  1. Every parent in the country, wherever they’re located or whatever else their circumstances, should be filled with rage. (Really? If I’m not, am I a bad person?)
  2. Because NR is "conservative," that rage should be against feckless police, not against gun violence.
  3. Ginning up rage, and justifying it, it part of most journalistic business strategies.

Or, as Ross Douthat put it:

Like many people, the mass shooting of children in Uvalde, Texas, is basically the only thing I’ve read about for days. But as I’ve marinated in the horror — and, increasingly, in rage at the police response — I’ve also been aware of the way our media experience works today, how we are constantly cycled from one crisis to another, each one seemingly existential and yet seemingly forgotten when the wheel turns, the headlines change.

Climate change, systemic racism, toxic masculinity, online disinformation, gun violence, police violence, the next Trump coup, the latest Covid variant, the death of democracy, climate change again. This is the liberal crisis list; the conservative list is different. But for everyone there are relatively few opportunities to take a breath and acknowledge when anything actually gets better.

A good argument for a news approach like Alan Jacobs’, who ordinarily gets all his week’s news through the Economist on Friday or Saturday.

Guns (but from the culture side)

I’m actually grateful that I no longer have a job where I must find some angle from which to write or edit a piece, because I think this leads to a lot of bad writing and thinking, especially in the wake of a catastrophe.

Jesse Singal, Three Quick Thoughts On Guns.

Yes, there has been a lot of bad writing and thinking in the wake of Uvalde — almost everything I’ve read or heard, in fact.

Singal’s three quick thoughts, each one of which he elaborates briefly:

  • The Vast Majority Of Shootings Aren’t In Schools, Aren’t “Mass,” And Don’t Get Much Attention
  • If Significant Gun Reduction Is Off The Table, Nothing Is Likely To Make A Meaningful Dent In Gun Violence
  • There Are Dead-Serious Trade-offs Between “Doing Something About Gun Violence” And A Major Progressive Policy Priority: Criminal Justice Reform

Is the SBC clergy sex abuse scandal the same pattern as the Catholic scandal?

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote a rather balanced commentary on the Southern Baptists’ clergy sexual abuse problem, in which he saw "the same pattern" as that in his own Roman Catholic Church.

Well, yes and no.

The Southern Baptist Convention had, and took advantage of, a defense rooted in its "church polity" or form of governance: Every Southern Baptist Church is independent, self-governing. The Convention has no authority over them except to admit them or disfellowship them. When they got a complaint, they turned it over to their lawyers, who played that church polity to the hilt, thus shielding the Convention from legal liability while wreaking moral havoc. This was a defense utterly unavailable to the Roman Catholic hierarchy because it’s, well, a hierarchy.

I owe the insight in the preceding paragraph to David French on the Advisory Opinions podcast of May 27, which is worth listening to especially if you’re in an independent Evangelical Church, because I see interesting ramifications for the Evangelical World.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant body in the land, but they’re probably outnumbered by the combined memberships of tens of thousands of independent Evangelical Churches. If you doubt that sexual abuse is occurring in those independent churches, you’re not very ight-bray.

But unlike Southern Baptist churches, many or most of them are not remotely answerable to any higher body, not even a "convention" of independent Churches. That means there’s no way for a victim of sexual abuse in those churches to go over the heads of their pastors and local elders (or deacons, or whatever their church calls them). That makes it less likely that the churches will face any day of reckoning collectively. There is no collective.

Instead, there will be occasional yellow-journalism exposes, probably of megachurches (big enough to give the journalists some bragging rights) while tens of thousands of little spiritual fiefdoms continue, too independent to have peers for accountability, too small to attract media attention, their founding pastors exercising an astonishing degree of control.

I had a very pious Uncle, a key figure in our family’s religious life, who at one point decided that denominational structures inevitably drag their denominations into religious liberalism, and that independent churches were the way to safety.

There is no way to safety. The devil is seeking whom he may devour wherever he finds them. Maybe he devours by liberalism when he finds, say, a United Methodist, but devours amid grunts and groans on the pastor’s office floor in Southern Baptist (or Plymouth Brethren, or Calvary Chapel, or "Bible Church") churches.

There’s not even safety in the Orthodox Church. So far as I know, we’ve done pretty well with regard to clergy sexual abuse; the last time I checked, an Orthodox #MeToo site ascribed virtually every act of abuse to fake Orthodox, like defrocked clergy who set up shop on their own or under schismatics. But "Orthodox fundamentalism" claimed one of our families (and then broke that family to pieces), and an unknown number of young white men seem to think we’re the natural home for White Christian Nationalism. (I’d be interested in whether they’re still around after 3 years, and whether they’ve shed most of their racism if they are.) The list of harms from that roaring lion probably could go on.

Our little parish had a three friends who formed a little "byzantine bluegrass" band. The refrain of their song Long Road cautions that going it alone is the unsafest option of all:

It’s a long way to Heaven dear Lord, it’s a hard row to hoe
And I don’t know if I’ll make it dear Lord but I sure won’t make it alone.

Massive Hubris

As a feminist, I can come up with only one reason to stay in the Catholic Church: to try to change it

Rosemary Radford Ruether, who died May 21. Her hubris is manifest in the quote.

Science and faith

Fixing a machine with found parts is an example of human ingenuity. Making a cheese is too, but it is also something more. It is an example of faith, of placing trust in forces that we do not fully understand. Cheesemakers should know the science, but say a prayer to Saint Brigid anyway.

Flat Hats and Fatalism, ‌Lost cheeses and impersonal cruelty

Wordplay

Mispronouning: failing to use an individuals preferred nonsensical or ungrammatical pronoun. A school district in Wisconsin "appears to believe that once a student announces different pronouns to others, any subsequent use of the biologically and grammatically correct pronouns—even when not directed to the student—may be punishable as sexual harassment under Title IX." (WSJ).

The Journal describes the counties in the district as "deep red," so I’d wager a modest amount that the only heads that will roll will be those of woke administrators.

Revenge travel. As in, "I’m fed up and I’m not going to stay put any more!" Dare I suggest that this may contribute to the stunning price I just paid to fly to and from a Pacific-Northwest port for Alaska Cruising?

‌Paradoxical counterproductivity: a dynamic that takes hold “whenever the use of an institution paradoxically takes away from society those things the institution was designed to provide.” It appears to be a coinage of Ivan Illich. Though Illich was a man of the left, a lot of his insights resonate on the right, too:

Anyone who has taught will be familiar with the type of student who hasn’t the slightest interest in the subject matter but an intense concern with how to get an A. Whatever their other faults, such students are proceeding from a realistic view of the institution they are operating within, which has replaced learning with artificial signs of it.


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.

Ye olde variety store

Reminder to self

I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations lately that various conservatives are white supremacists, or, somewhat more narrowly, that they are adherents of "white replacement theory." My initial reaction was to treat this as a way of mainstream media saying that conservatives have cooties.

But when it comes to white replacement theory, there’s a very important line: it is on one side of the line to think that there is a conspiracy to replace white people with darker skinned people, and that the southern border (for instance) has been thrown open by the Democrats as part of that conspiracy. It is on the other side of the line to note that much of our immigration is darker-skinned people, and that white folks have sub-replacement fertility levels, and that as a matter of fact we are on track for white people to be outnumbered by the year 2050 — without carrying on luridly about how that, ipso facto, will be "the end of America.”

My personal history of dismissing warnings too casually is cautionary. I was slow to see that the charges of anti-Semitism against conservative columnists Joseph Sobran and Samuel Francis were not just epithets thrown by liberals, but true. (Both were brilliant, but both really were antisemitic, though Sobran at least wrote a lot that was not tinged with antisemitism.) I was also slow to see that Patrick J. Buchanan was coming unhinged, as I think he was (and is).

So in dealing with charges of white replacement theory, and giving due allowance to the possibility that somebody like Tucker Carlson is insincerely talking about it just to attract viewers, I need to be aware that even if the comments, prima facie, fall on the right side of the afore-described line, bringing the subject up obsessively is a very bad sign. That’s what should have tipped me off earlier on Sobran.

Meatloaf on side constraints

The Federalist Society is committed to advancing the rule of law, which is why many of its members, in their individual capacities, have worked so hard for the appointment of judges who believe in the rule of law. And many of those judges, in ruling against meritless election challenges brought by the man who appointed them, stood up for the rule of law in the past few months, to their great credit.

But to sacrifice the rule of law as a value, in the hope of getting four more years of a president who might appoint good judges but is otherwise anathema to the rule of law (sic), is simply perverse. 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?. Lat was commenting in the second paragraph on some individual Federalist Society members. The Society itself cannot lawfully back a candidate, nor did it do so unlawfully.

On choosing to cease choosing

[H]uman flourishing depends, [Antonio García Martínez] says, on the acceptance of various "unchosen obligations" (to family, to community, to God) that form the backdrop of a morally and spiritually satisfying life. Hence his attraction to Judaism, an ancient, communally based system of laws that seems far more secure than our confusingly fluid world of freely choosing individuals.

Which means that García Martínez is converting to Judaism in order to escape secular modernity — but isn’t his own decision to convert itself an individual choice? And as such, isn’t it just as much an expression of the modern mindset as any of the trends he denounces here and in his broader social media commentary?

Yes, it’s a choice to stop choosing, but that still grounds his conversion in an act of the individual mind and will. García Martínez will always know that what can be chosen can also be unchosen — that he can choose to leave Judaism with an ease that would have felt quite foreign to a premodern Jew.

This doesn’t mean that García Martínez is making a mistake in becoming Jewish. (I have my own complicted history with Judaism, Catholicism, and conversion.) But it does mean that doing so isn’t likely to liberate him from modernity, returning him to the premodern world as conservatives like to imagine it — a world defined by fated obligations individuals have no choice but to take on and accept with gratitude and fulfillment.

Choosing is the destiny of human beings, from which we will never be rescued.

Damon Linker

I wish Antonio García Martínez were choosing Orthodox Christianity instead of Judaism, but I had the same types of taunts tossed at me as I approached Orthodoxy: "So, you’re choosing to stop choosing, huh?! Har-de-har-har-har!"

I gotta live in the world as it is. In American law and the American mind, one’s church is a "voluntary association." You can opt in; you can opt out. Nobody can stop you legally and few will try socially*. But I can choose wisely and resolve to let the faith, in that chosen setting, do its work on me, not looking for greener grass elsewhere.

Or looking for sheer novelty, as if it doesn’t matter:

To assert that all religions are really just different paths to God is a denial of the central tenets of these religions. The Hindu Yogin trying to achieve oblivion and utter absorption into the faceless universe is not on the same path as the Jew bowing down before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Scientologist working to become “clear” of alien beings called “thetans.” To suggest that all these believers are really on the same path is to do damage to their theological systems—to assert that somehow we know better than these people do what their teachings really are.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

[* The late Jaroslav Pelikan, perhaps the greatest Anglophone church historian of the 20th Century, left his natal Lutheranism for Orthodoxy very late in life. A Calvinist friends who had studied at Yale said that would "shake Yale up." "Why?" I asked. "I didn’t think Yale still had strong religious identity." "It doesn’t," he replied, "and it will shake them up that one eminent among them cares enough about religion to actually change his."]

I just can’t figure this out

New York Times’s criteria for considering a story religious continue to baffle. Why, for instance, is a call for blessing same-sex couples, from German Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, not there?! It clearly is a religion story and it even flatters the Times’ notion of how arc of history is bending!

My, we are hard to please!

One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (a delightful book, but not Orthodox-with-a-capital-O; it’s Roman Catholic, but in a sort of anticipation of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity).

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

"A recent survey by the American College Health Association showed that, in 2008, one in 2,000 female undergraduates identified as transgender. By 2021, that figure had jumped to one in 20."

But any suggestion that there’s a social contagion involved is a Hateful Transphobic Lie.

The surge doesn’t exist, and it exists because Republicans are adding testosterone to our public water supplies to try to shore up the Eurocentric Heteronormative Patriarchy, and the one in 20 were there all along, but just too embarrassed to say it. Yeah! That’s the ticket!

[In this mad age, I probably should note that this was sarcasm.]

Zeal has its limits

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

St. Isaac of Syria, quoted here

And again:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

How we live today

“After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth,” we use our bodies “only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work."

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

No tribe wants him

I grow weary of the Covid discourse. So, so weary. I am particularly exhausted by the fact that the side that is more correct on the epidemiology, the pro-vaccine side, is also worshipful of expertise, incurious about basic questions, contemptuous of good-faith questions, and shrill in all things. I hate it all.

Freddie DeBoer, reprising this blog

Practicing silence

Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day, not to become more "productive", but to become more human and, ultimately, more Christlike.

This is advice to myself.

Silence?! 20-30 minutes of silence!? It’s so terrifying that I must try it.

UPDATE: A 300- knot prayer rope helps. I couldn’t imagine remaining silent for that long without my scattered mind going hither, thither and yon. But the same faith that (through one of its wise priests) counseled sitting in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day knows how to do that: repetitive prayer — not, I hasten to add, that God will hear me because of repetition, but that my heart (and who knows what else) will be changed by it.

The nice thing about this gigantic rope is that praying the full rope takes me about 21 minutes, and if I add another hundred knots (to the first bead, which is a tactile clue) I’m at almost 28 minutes. I don’t have to try to remember how many times I’ve prayed a 50-knot rope — which is itself a distraction from "silence."

Just for fun

I don’t know if I want to cheer or jeer Dutch artist Jens Haaring.


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.

Second Circuit blows it

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals now has the distinction of being the only Federal Court, District or Circuit, to uphold Team Trump’s denial of Byrne Grants to cities that do not actively comply with its congressionally-unauthorized immigration rules:

The Justice Department praised the decision, issuing a statement calling it a “major victory for Americans” and saying it recognizes that the attorney general has authority to ensure that grant recipients are not thwarting federal law enforcement priorities.

(AP)

It is not a victory for Americans. Americans lose when the Federal government aggrandizes itself at the expense of cities and states without Constitutional warrant, and lose doubly when the Executive aggrandizes itself without congressional warrant as well.

And it’s not a matter of “thwarting federal law enforcement priorities” to refuse cooperation.

What kind of “conservative” impersonators do we have running DOJ?

Ilya Somin gives his own reasons on how the Second Circuit is miserably wrong.

I hope this decision doesn’t survive review by the full Second Circuit, as this was just a (3-judge?) panel, not the full Circuit.

If it does, look for a successful Supreme Court challenge now that there’s a “Circuit split,” probably striking down 8 USC Section 1373 in the process.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Reaping what we’ve sown

The universal brotherhood of man is a real thing, but human beings are limited in their capacity to love and understand one another; we need a hierarchy of loves based on mutual understanding and presence (inseparable from history and culture) that we might best love one another …

We live in a world where various powers have callously disregarded the values of blood or soil. The history of colonialism is mostly one of displacement and stolen land, followed by the imposition of a political imaginary that interpolated blood into foreign political categories, creating the “tribalism” that sickens governments around the world. The recent history of economic development has provided many benefits to people at the cost that they displace themselves from their families or their land for the sake of a “good job.” Various wars have created our current refugee crisis, where people often have no hope of returning to their land or reuniting with their family members whose bones are sinking into that land. Extractive economies — most tragically, the drug economy — allow people in power to enjoy the fruits of the land while those who work that land suffer various kinds of violence.

Because the Gospel must be preached to all nations, because we as Christians have a trans-national identity that ultimately trumps any other identity, and because no man who wants to feed his family should be denied the opportunity to seek the employment necessary to do so, movement around the world should be free.

The fact that any man should be forced to travel halfway across the world to do so, disrupting his relationship with blood and soil, is a travesty of the natural order. The reality that Western nations fear men doing so only demonstrates that we have built our political order on a house of cards. We quake at the possibility that the conditions we have sown in other places through our economic practices and warmongering might come to us through migration. We are hysterical at the possibility of reaping what we have sown.

Matthew Loftus, Pro-Blood, Pro-Soil, Pro-Nation, Pro-Christianity, at Mere Orthodoxy.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees cause-and-effect between our economic and foreign policies and the migrants coming to our shores (Europe’s, too).

* * * * *

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

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

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

Whither immigration policy?

I’m very happy to learn that the National Conservatism Conference immigration comments of law professor Amy Wax were, in context, not racist.*

I first read some of them through Rod Dreher who had gotten only excerpts that sounded pretty damning. I gratefully got the broader context this morning from David French.

Wax’s point was that cultural closeness matters in immigration policy because it eases assimilation, and that if we restrict immigration from backward, culturally-distant places, we are ipso facto favoring disproportionately white immigration.

French plausibly thinks that means, and that Wax intended it to mean, favoring immigration from Europe. If she said that, I missed it, but it’s a fair interpretation anyway.

I’m even happier, though, that French argues against Europhile immigration leanings, in three interesting points, the first of which is obvious almost to the point of being banal:

  1. “[N]onwhite immigrants (including nonwhite immigrants from developing countries) do very well in a key measure of American assimilation — economic industry … The bottom line is that skilled immigrants do well in the United States no matter where they’re from.”
  2. “[S]he wildly overestimates the extent to which European society represents some sort of cultural match with the United States. American culture and European culture have been drifting apart for decades on a key metric — religiosity. Secular nationalists may not care about this, but European-biased immigration is secular-biased immigration, and that will alter American culture in appreciable ways.” He’s right that I had no idea how non-religious Europe has become, and he illustrates it vividly: Poland (!) would rank 48th, near the religiosity bottom, were it an American state. All other European nations are off our national scale.
  3. “My final objection relates to one of the core, virtuous objectives of the new conservative nationalism — social cohesion. Perversely enough, the most polarized population in America is the white population … America’s black and brown populations are more moderate and more religious than white liberals.”

I’m grateful for this because I had been thinking along the same line Wax was thinking along, and was also troubled by the racial implications of disproportionately European immigration.

I like French’s summary of his own immigration views, but I’ve borrowed enough and will let you ferret them out on your own.

Enjoy.

[* Her comments will almost certainly continue being treated as racist by those who, exactly as she describes, think any immigration philosophy that focuses on culture is ipso facto racist because of correlations between race and culture. Suffice that I’m more concerned with intent than with effect when I say “racist.”]

* * * * *

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

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

Enduring legacy

I am among those who appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, his defense of religious liberty (at least for compliant Christians; Muslims’ and Unitarian Universalists’ mileage may vary) and increasingly his immigration policy at its highest level of generality — especially after all 20 Democrat debaters advocated for effectively open borders and lavish benefits for all who cross them.

But I am indicted by his base for morally culpable ingratitude, electoral stupidity, and worst of all, stylistic snobbery when I lament

  • his his sexual predations,
  • his vulgarity (which needs no adjective),
  • his racist-suffused rhetoric,
  • his reality-distorting narcissism,
  • his reflexive, unsurpassed and transparent lying,
  • his abysmal civic ignorance,

and I know not how much longer I could extend this litany.

Why can’t I take a moderately convincing “Yes, I’m on your side” for an answer?

Because of my conviction that the deficiencies, sub specie aeternis, matter more more.

Why that is so is not easy to articulate with clarity that satisfies even me, but Greg Weiner today helped me out:

Constitutions depend on habits and traditions, not the momentary outcomes they produce. Mr. Trump’s upending of these customs, not his transient policies, will form the legacy that endures.

Edmund Burke would recognize the error Mr. Trump’s base makes. He noted similarly flawed logic in the French Revolution. By destroying all political institutions, Burke wrote, the French revolutionaries had doubtless done away with some bad ones. By starting everything anew, they had inevitably done some good. But to credit their successes or excuse their crimes, it was necessary to show “that the same things could not have been accomplished without producing such a revolution.”

Mr. Trump’s defenders are in largely the same position: To excuse his trampling of norms, they must demonstrate that he could not have achieved his policy agenda without doing so. Yet there is no obvious connection between serial dissembling and the success of a policy agenda. Mr. Trump need not behave uncivilly to nominate originalist judges. He can advocate a reassessment of the nation’s foreign commitments without sacrificing the dignity of his office.

In fact, Mr. Trump would be better positioned to accomplish these things if he observed rather than overran norms, which would curb his most self-destructive impulses

There are already indications that Mr. Trump’s bombast will not leave the political scene when he does. At their debates last Wednesday and Thursday, many Democrats pledged to prosecute Mr. Trump if they are elected, which is hard to distinguish from his politicization of law enforcement.

… [T]here is a point at which style overwhelms substance …

[M]any of the same supporters claim to seek a constitutional revival. In particular, they believe that the judges he has named atone for every other presidential sin. It is true that these judges will shape constitutional interpretation for decades. But constitutions depend far more on traditions of voluntary adherence than on judicial decree.

If constitutionalism teaches anything, it is to trust laws over individuals and processes over outcomes. One reason is that power placed in an ally’s hands will inevitably be available to an adversary. Another is the fleeting nature of policy as opposed to the lasting need for constitutional traditions. Judges come and go, even if life tenure places them on a long clock. Taxes rise and fall even more quickly. In Mr. Trump’s case, the legacy of bulldozed norms will outlast the policies.

If self-proclaimed constitutionalists are actually willing to exchange enduring habits for transient policies, they should at least be sure the means are necessary to the ends. There is nothing Mr. Trump has achieved to which his incivility has been indispensable or even useful.

Greg Weiner, The Trump Fallacy.

This appeared in the New York Times opinion pages, by the way. I wish I could believe that the Times would entertain such opinions if the Democrats take over in 2021 and make good on promises that amount to destroying political institutions and civil society’s mediating structures, starting everything anew.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I omitted “constant, reflexive, arguably sociopathic cruelty” from my list of laments.

* * * * *

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

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

Trump’s appeal to inner demons

Many (most?) of our deathworks bear a “progressive” imprimatur, but let’s give “conservatives” credit for besliming us on the matter of immigration.

It was never enough. Nielsen may have been willing to violate the dictates of morality, but she wasn’t willing to actually break the law. The New York Times reports that “the president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum. She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.”

… [T]he points earned for gassing women and children were insufficient to save Nielsen’s job. Trump demanded more and more. In California on Friday, CNN reported via Twitter, “Trump told border agents he wanted them to stop letting people cross the border, despite the fact that Central American asylum seekers according to U.S. law can do so.”

Someone had to be blamed for Trump’s failure to control the border, and Nielsen made a convenient scapegoat …

It is time to end the charade. Trump is agitated that Nielsen was not barbarous enough for his depraved tastes. She still retained some vestigial loyalty to the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Given that we are in a time of purported emergency, we can no longer afford such sentimental attachments. Rather than appoint another outsider who will never live down to his expectations, Trump should nominate as her successor the actual mastermind of the administration’s immigration policies: White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.

This is the 33-year-old wunderkind who orchestrated the Muslim travel ban, vast reductions in refugee admissions, efforts to build the wall, attempts to deport the “dreamers,” the deployment of troops to the southern border, and, of course, the family separations policy — along with the accompanying hysteria about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He even went so far as to deny that the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — represents the spirit of America. Miller has further ambitions such as ending “birthright citizenship” and slashing legal immigration. He should assume formal, legal responsibility for this un-American approach.

Max Boot, End the charade. Appoint Stephen Miller to run DHS.

Trump has taken what should be the honor of a lifetime — serving the country at the highest levels of the executive branch — and turned it into a reputational black hole.

… [T]he separation of crying migrant children from their parents as a deterrent, and the housing of children in prisonlike conditions, will be some of the most enduring political images of the Trump era. It says something about Nielsen that she took part in such practices. It says something about Trump that such actions were apparently too moderate and restrained for his taste.

I have no doubt that Trump is using the issue of immigration in a cynical way to solve political problems. But the implications are disturbing. The president clearly regards resentment against migrants as the common, binding purpose of the Republican Party. And, so far, he has not been wrong. The success of Trump’s cynical ploy depends on the existence of genuine enthusiasm for exclusion within his party. His play only works if the party’s nativism is broad and authentic.

… Trump’s appeal to inner demons above better angels proved easier than many of us hoped. And that makes the political and moral damage harder to repair.

Michael Gerson, Trump takes an honor of a lifetime and turns it into a black hole.

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

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

Accumulated clippings, 2/3/19

1

Must every London gentrified street have a Starbucks, a Pret A Manger, a Caffè Nero, a Costa Coffee, a Wagamama, an Itsu, a Tesco Express, an Eat, a Hotel Chocolat, a Foxtons and a Boots? Is that all that’s left?

Emptiness is what people feel. At the end of all the myriad diversions offered up by technology-at-the-service-of-efficiency lies a great hollowness. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” wrote Leonard Cohen. Modernity is a crack eliminator. The only cracks it allows in its polished, glistening, purring, scented spaces are fake ones.

I think the emptiness produced by watching a rigged globalized system deliver homogenization on a massive scale — one way to think, one way to work, one way to conceive of profit, one way to impose a brand, one way to (not) drink at lunch, one way to eat at your desk, one way to be healthy, one way to deliver a gentrified urban neighborhood — has been underestimated as a source of disruptive fury.

Roger Cohen, The Harm in Hustle Culture

2

Only Democrats can save this president. They can do so by nominating someone loopy enough to panic voters who are asking only for someone cheerful, intelligent and tethered to reality.

George Will

3

With the help of the Chapter “The Emperor’s New Literature” in John Senior’s The Death of Christian Culture, the coin dropped that part of what classical education accomplishes is that classically educated people in various countries are all reading in the Great Tradition, none in provincial or nationalistic ephemera.

That’s not nothing.

4

For a solid month Americans again focused on illegal immigration. In a country that’s never thinking about only one thing, that was a bit of a feat. Also, Mr. Trump in his statements and meetings with the press came across, for perhaps the first time, as sincere and informed. Previously he’d looked like a guy who’d intuited a powerful issue and turned it into a line.

The vast majority of the American people want order and the rule of law returned to the border. How it is done is up to the experts. They just want it done. The word “wall” has been symbolic to many of them too—it means taking the issue seriously.

Peggy Noonan

5

He’s fiscally to the right and on social issues to the left. There’s some market for that, but is it really where America is going?

No, it is not.

America is headed left economically. Two thousand eight changed everything, deeply undermining faith in free-market capitalism. One of the great sins of that time—and all the years after—was that the capitalists themselves, in their vast carelessness, couldn’t even rouse themselves to defend the reputation of the system that made them rich and their country great. In any case, the most significant sound in 2016 was Trump audiences cheering his vows not to cut entitlements. They would have cheered if he’d promised increases, too.

As for what are called the social issues, moderation is the future, maybe even a new conservatism, not leftism. The left has demanded too much the past few years, been maximalist in its approach, got in America’s face and space. Its social activism is a daily harassment in ways that don’t show up in the polls. The new abortion regime in the states, bake my cake, the farther edges of #MeToo, demands for changes to our very language. Liberation becomes propaganda and filters up through the media and down to the schools. America once had a lot of “live and let live” in it. Not anymore, and its giving way is causing barely articulable grief, and more broadly than the left imagines.

Wise Democrats are developing reservations. Young conservatives are perhaps about to come alive.

I think Mr. Schultz has it backward.

Peggy Noonan.

I can only hope.

6

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: There is no national security crisis on the southern border.

President Trump claimed otherwise in his nine-minute Oval Office address to the nation … But he was lying.

How do we know this? Because if there were a genuine national security crisis on the southern border, Republicans in the House and Senate would be tripping over themselves to fund — and take credit for funding — Trump’s border wall. There is no political downside whatsoever to taking a strong stand in defense of the country in the midst of a national security crisis.

And yet, what have we seen over the past two years during which Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and could have appropriated funds for Trump’s beloved wall at any time? Zip. Nada. Nothing.

[P]ublic opinion has shifted in favor of immigration since the president was elected, no doubt in large part because of the above-mentioned ineptitude and malice the administration has displayed toward immigrants over the past two years. That has, if anything, put the cause of immigration restrictionism in a weaker position politically than it was when he was running for president.

Like King Midas in reverse, every policy Trump touches turns to excrement.

Damon Linker

7

Iranian political culture is deeply authoritarian, and, therefore, whatever political order follows the mullahs is unlikely to be liberal. And that’s okay. We don’t need to replicate liberalism everywhere. Iranians can have a decent, benign regime that is nevertheless responsive to the deep longings in the Persian soul for order, continuity, and visible authority — kingship, in a word. That’s how the political culture is wired. My friends at Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the rest will, of course, find it repellent that I’d say so. But what can I say? I’ve lost a lot of my spread-freedom-everywhere idealism.

Sohrab Ahmari, emphasis added.

I should note that the interview is about Ahmari’s conversion from Shiite Islam to Roman Catholicism.

8

[A]t great cost I bought the first volume of the Works of St. John of the Cross and sat in the room on Perry Street and turned over the first pages, underlining places here and there with a pencil. But it turned out that it would take more than that to make me a saint: because these words I underlined, although they amazed and dazzled me with their import, were all too simple for me to understand.

They were too naked, too stripped of all duplicity and compromise for my complexity, perverted by many appetites. However, I am glad that I was at least able to recognize them, obscurely, as worthy of the greatest respect.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain.

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