How to deal with two conservative problems

David Hines takes a stab at answering How Do You Solve a Problem Like QAnon? | The American Conservative, and it was one of the better things I’ve read today if only because it doesn’t suggest that Q adherents aren’t wicked racists or antisemites that just need to be made dead. Indeed, without sugar-coating the problem, has has what seems a sensible solution that wouldn’t even be all that difficult to implement:

Not to put too fine a point on it, Righties have a weakness for believing stupid shit.

We’re not the only ones … But nobody on the left is as enthusiastic as deeply or as long about stupid shit as are people on the Right. When Lefties do employ stupid shit, such as gleeful pee tape rumors, the origins are typically elite Lefty circles. Our stupid shit comes from the base, tends toward the wildly implausible, and of late tends to promise imminent glory on earth: the end of a story, in which we win.

This divide exists because Left and Right are different outlooks and different cultures. Accordingly, Lefties have a different failure mode than we do. The failure mode of right-wing is kook. The failure mode of left-wing is puritan …

The central fantasy of QAnon isn’t adrenochrome, or cannibal cults, or mole children, or any of the myriad lunacies of the outlandish dystopia it presents. The central fantasy is the idea that things will be better because somebody is going to do something.

Any attempt to rein in Righty conspiracy theorists and make them actually useful will have to consider their actual interests and aptitudes. And they have them. Many of them are backbone-of-America types: they have jobs, have family lives, and are actively engaged in their communities in various ways. They turn out to events and meetings. They’re genuinely enthusiastic. They’re hard workers. They’re curious about the world and passionate to make a difference in it. They are genuinely interested in learning about things that aren’t immediately obvious. It’s just that they learn them from random YouTube videos because they don’t know how to use PACER to find court records, or how to file FOIA applications to get government documents, or how to look up Form 990s to learn about how nonprofits are organized and funded.

The Righty base desperately wants to do something, but doesn’t know how. And that’s because the elites don’t want it to learn. The root of our real problem on the Right is that elites and the base want different things. So elites don’t train the base in how to actually produce change. QAnon is what you get when a naïve, untrained base tries to fill that vacuum. What they fill the vacuum with is a story where somebody is doing something, and the end of the story is a great big WE WIN.

… It’s often noted that the Right has a surfeit of pundits; what we lack are diggers, the dedicated researchers who do the boring work of poring through documents to find news. But maybe we’ve had them all along — they’re just naive and untrained. What if we trained them, empowered them, and turned them loose?

People turn to conspiracy theories to explain a world they can’t understand. Giving them the tools to explore the real world could keep them more grounded — and turn up some interesting things for the rest of us.


For the senators who will try the impeachment, a thought: It’s time to demystify Donald Trump. He leaves the presidency disgraced. He is a diminishing asset: postpresidential power always wanes, and will especially in this case …

In running in fear from him you are running from a corpse. And you’ll never be safe anyway. Something wild has been let loose. So be brave. The Democrats want you tied to Mr. Trump forever. Stop, now.

Peggy Noonan, Liz Cheney Shows What Leadership Looks Like – Peggy Noonan (January 14)


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)

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).

A banquet of tasty morsels

No man or woman is an island, and no one should aspire to be one, either. That, at the core, is the claim of illiberalism, post-liberalism, or any of the other names given to the movement that pushes back against individualism as an ideal. The liberalism of Locke, deeply woven into American culture and political philosophy, takes the individual as the basic unit of society, while an illiberal view looks to traditions, family, and other institutions whose demands define who we are.

It always confuses me that illiberalism is taken as a belligerent ideology – both by its detractors and some of its proponents – as though it were rooted in strength and prepared to wield that power against others. It is con temporary liberalism that begins from an anthropology of independence, and presumes a strength and self-ownership we do not in fact possess.

A world that holds up independence as the ideal offers us two rival duties: to obscure our dependence and to be resentful of it. No woman can lightly assent to the illusion of autonomy. Because a baby is alien to the world of self-ownership, every woman’s citizenship in that imaginary republic is tenuous. A world of autonomous individuals can’t acknowledge both woman and child simultaneously. The sheer amount of work it takes to stifle fertility, put eggs on ice, or pump milk for a baby not welcome outside the home makes it clear that there is something untruthful and sharp-clawed at loose in the world.

Fear and hatred of weakness and dependence wound the dependent most obviously, but are poison to all, even the people who are strong at present. Without repeated reminders that the broken are beloved, how can we remember who God is?

Our physical weakness is a training ground for our struggles with moral weakness. There is no physical infirmity we can endure that is more humiliating than our susceptibility to sin. The elderly woman with tremors that leave her unable to lift her cup to her lip is not, in the final sense, weaker than any vigorous young man who finds he must echo Paul and admit, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19).

To give an honest accounting of ourselves, we must begin with our weakness and fragility. We cannot structure our politics or our society to serve a totally independent, autonomous person who never has and never will exist. Repeating that lie will leave us bereft: first, of sympathy from our friends when our physical weakness breaks the implicit promise that no one can keep, and second, of hope, when our moral weakness should lead us, like the prodigal, to rush back into the arms of the Father who remains faithful. Our present politics can only be challenged by an illiberalism that cherishes the weak and centers its policies on their needs and dignity.

Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dependence: Toward an Illiberalism of the Weak, Plough Quarterly.

I admire the heck of of Leah and expect to read her with pleasure until the day I die.


[I]t is her “Declaration of Conscience” speech for which [Margaret Chase Smith] is best remembered. It was 1950 and she was increasingly disturbed by Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist crusade. In February he’d made his speech in Wheeling, W.Va., charging communists had infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels. He claimed to have 205 names of known communists; in later statements he put the number at 57 and 81.

The base of the party found his opposition to the communist swamp in Washington electrifying. His wildness and disrespect for norms was seen as proof of authenticity: He’s one of us and fighting for us.

Smith was anticommunist enough that Nikita Khrushchev later described her as “blinded by savage hatred,” and she was certain communism would ultimately fail. But you don’t defeat it with lies.

She always listened closely when McCarthy spoke. Once he said he was holding in his hand “a “photostatic copy” of the names of communists. She asked to see it. It proved nothing. Her misgiving increased.

She didn’t want to move against him. She was new to the Senate; he was popular in Maine. She waited for her colleagues. They said nothing.

Finally she’d had enough. On June 1, 1950, she became the first Republican to speak out. On the way to the chamber Joe McCarthy suddenly appeared. “Margaret,” he said, “you look very serious. Are you going to make a speech?”

“Yes,” she said, “and you will not like it.”

When history hands you a McCarthy—reckless, heedlessly manipulating his followers—be a Margaret Chase Smith. If your McCarthy is saying a whole national election was rigged, an entire system corrupted, you’d recognize such baseless charges damage democracy itself. You wouldn’t let election officials be smeared. You’d stand against a growing hysteria in the base.

You’d likely pay some price. But years later you’d still be admired for who you were when it counted so much.

Peggy Noonan, Who’ll Be 2020’s Margaret Chase Smith?

I also admire the heck out of Peggy Noonan, but we’re too close to contemporaries for me to expect her writing to outlive me.


I don’t know if I was oblivious, or just too avoidant of National Review during his tenure there, or if being there forced him to write things he didn’t entirely believe, but I am rediscovering Jonah Goldberg since his co-founding of The Dispatch. This excerpting captures the full gist of what I think is a powerful argument:

You aren’t a conservative if you believe in conspiracy theories.

[T]he incompatibility of conservatism with conspiracy theories is … fundamental. One of the central tenets of conservatism is the idea that society is too complex to be easily controlled by a despot or even cadres of well-intentioned social engineers and bureaucrats, or what Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, dubbed “sophisters, calculators and economists.”

The “sophisters, calculators and economists” had real power. They had the power to make laws, and to order police and armies to enforce them.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that conspirators—globalists, the deep state, lizard people or, as QAnon would have you believe, blood-drinking pedophiles—can pull off whatever they want in total secrecy and with no formal power?

Here’s a simple fact: The more you know about how government actually works, the less likely you are to believe anyone is actually in control. The idea that secret cabals could blow up the World Trade Center or steal the election, with the active participation of hundreds or thousands of conspirators, is beyond laughable when you consider that passing a budget is often beyond the capabilities of those “in charge.”

One of Buckley’s top priorities in fashioning modern American conservatism was that it be a worldview grounded in realism. Conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in anything beyond the vaporous phantasms of paranoia. They can certainly be “right-wing.” But conservative they’re not.

Jonah Goldberg, Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism


There was no chance in the world that in the autumn of 2001, I would have seen the towers fall and thought, ah-ha! this was a sign to us that we should behold the evil capacities inside ourselves, and repent. Would anybody?

Rod Dreher, Why Does God Show Us Evil?

Yes, some would. I know because I did. Then in January 2005, I repudiated the GOP when Dubya did an anti-repentance, declaring as President of the World’s Savior-Nation that we were going to eradicate tyranny from the world.

That others did not see this was the source of my now-consistent belief that the self-willed blindness of our land leaves us past the point of no return: that nothing will bring us to repentance, and that nothing good will come of our hubris. (The 2016 Presidential Election was another warning we refused to heed.)

The only open question is how our decadence will play out. For instance, who foresaw a pandemic playing out as this one has? (Some foresaw pandemic, and warned of it, and prepared plans that Trump seemingly ignored, but did they foresee the economic shut-down, the isolation, the acedia?)


I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates is, I believe, an atheist. I have never understood where atheists find bedrock on which to build their ethics. But I’m glad most do find it. The world would be a grimmer place if they didn’t.


We long ago gave up the wish to have things that were adequate or even excellent; we have preferred instead to have things that were up-to-date.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on “doing us good” according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These salespeople are now with most of us, apparently, even in our dreams.

The first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But, then, this is also the first duty of everybody else.

Wendell Berry again.


As Nietzsche put it, “no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.”

My Journey from Born Again Christian to the Church of Woke—And Halfway Back Again – Quillette

This tickled me because “owning yourself” (a/k/a “self-own”) is the eventuality of following Nitezsche’s advice.


The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike—it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.

T.S. Eliot, via The Crack In The Tea-Cup

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).

What do the two major parties really stand for?

There have been so very many arguments along the lines of the title of Politics Is More Than Abortion vs Character that I quickly abandoned it as unpromising.

Specifically, I stopped right after this:

The root problem is not that Trump is mean. The problem is that he is a nationalist, a problem that infects much of the right and thus will outlast Trump himself. Much of his meanness is not a character flaw so much as an ideological choice. Trump is mean because of what he believes about the world, about American identity, and about his fellow citizens.

I tend to disagree with that. I wouldn’t call it Trump’s meanness, but I think the “root problem” of the last four years has been Trump’s character, more specifically his toxic narcissism, which put us at risk of his fundamentally misunderstanding existential threats to the nation — understanding them in terms of how they make him look.

But then Winston Hottman, a thoughtful Baptist I’ve been following on micro.blog, quoted the conclusion:

The most urgent and most moral necessity in American politics is to dismantle the two-party system that artificially forces us into an impossible choice between two immoral options, neither of which represents a majority of Americans, embodies the aspirations of the American experiment, or articulates a vision of ordered liberty and human dignity. The American experiment is a miracle of political order, a miracle that is increasingly fragile and has no champions, no defenders, and no partisans in our contemporary political landscape except for the large and growing number of voters who reject the two parties who claim to govern in their name.

As an early recruit to the American Solidarity Party, I found that arresting enough to revisit the article.

The author, Paul D. Miller of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission elaborates his problems with nationalism, and makes plausible his belief that

[t]he political right has been prone to nationalism for decades; Trump only brought it out into the open. Trump’s bizarre and outsized personality make it seem like he is wholly unique and therefore that the nativism, xenophobia, and footsie-with-racism that has characterized his administration will go away when he leaves office …

Nothing in American history suggests that nationalism will simply go away. Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are persistent and strong tendencies in American political culture.

That’s more plausible than I anticipated when I stopped reading the first time. I will add to his comments four of my own:

  • The GOP has been mostly wandering, directionless, since the fall of European communism — trying to find some schtick that will stick with voters.
  • Where did birtherism come from if not from racism — Trump’s own or at least what he assumed about much of America?
  • Why did Trump malign a Hoosier-born judge of Mexican ancestry as ipso facto biased if not from xenophobia — his own or at least what he assumed about much of America?
  • What are the most prominent and vehement Trumpist Congressmen and Senators touting as they vie to become Trump’s successors? Josh Hawley, for instance (what a bitter disappointment he has been!)? Nationalism, that’s what.

As for the Left, its problem is

progressivism. Progressivism, like nationalism, is a totalistic political religion that is fundamentally inconsistent with the ideals of a free and open society.

Progressivism is best understood as a philosophy of history, a belief that history unfolds in the direction of progressive policy preferences. Today’s progressive elites act like a self-appointed vanguard commissioned by history to open up the next chapter in our story. Such a self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing narrative has no moral horizon or framework and no way to justify what its policy preferences are, other than vague appeals to “the children,” “the future,” and “the right side of history,” which means whatever they want those empty phrases to mean on any given day.

Shorn of any fixed moral commitments, the goals of progressivism deteriorate into the lowest common denominator available within the rhetoric of freedom: individual autonomy, personal discovery, self-expression, fulfillment, and empowerment. Progressivism is an endless pursuit of ever-greater liberation, freedom, autonomy, and self-discovery.

That indictment is familiar and comfortable to me, but Miller goes on to elaborate its fundamental problems (just as he did with nationalism — a critique much less familiar and comfortable).

I commend Miller’s article, which you can read in twelve minutes (if Instapaper is right). It further solidified my “none of the above” stance in the last two Presidential cycles (including the one that ends today).

Yes, friends, the two major parties, as avatars of nationalism and progressivism respectively, have served us up a shit sandwich yet again as we vote today with each pretending to represent something other than what Miller identifies and warning of the destruction of America or even the whole world if the other is elected.

I said in 2016, after Trump’s election and probably after his coronation as GOP nominee, that a big political realignment was under way. At the time, I was thinking of what was happening between and within the two major parties, but I see hopeful signs that more and more people are fed up with them both, ready to entertain third parties.

At the same time, I have become increasingly convinced that the Libertarian party is little if any better — and maybe the worst of both. Its laissez faire economics (it seems to me, but perhaps “Libertarian” now is a term of art that designations something miles and miles from Murray Rothbard) will further gut the middle class while its lifestyle liberalism further immiserates the poor by making family formation even harder (with all that entails).

I have too little knowledge, current or semi-recent, to speak of other third parties except my beloved American Solidarity Party, which has made great strides in four years. It was actually on the ballot today in eight states, and certified for write-in votes in twenty-four more. 20 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined supporting some of its positions, had it existed then, but what we’ve got is broken in more ways than I can count, and ADP points the way to something more humane.


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


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).

Present obsessions

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

1

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

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

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

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

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

2

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

My own contribution:

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

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

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


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

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

But:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

3

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

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

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

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

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

4

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

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

That makes three of us.

5

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

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

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

6

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

Is this it?

7

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

(#Satire #PleaseDoNotSueMeJerry)

8

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

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

* * * * *

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).

Democrat face-plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The speech itself was shrewd and its political targeting astute …

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

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

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

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

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

we were not seeing things alike.

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

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

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

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

Peter Sunderman

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

Same God?

Hang on here. I purposefully meander a bit today, which is a fitting way of sharing a little epiphany I had while reading un-Christmassy stuff (Thomas S. Kuhn and Ian Hacking, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition) on Christmas Eve.

Do we, however, really need to describe what separates Galileo from Aristotle, or Lavoisier from Priestley, as a transformation of vision? Did these men really see different things when looking at the same sorts of objects? Is there any legitimate sense in which we can say that they pursued their research in different worlds? Those questions can no longer be postponed, for there is obviously another and far more usual way to describe all of the historical examples outlined above. Many readers will surely want to say that what changes with a paradigm is only the scientist’s interpretation of observations that themselves are fixed once and for all by the nature of the environment and of the perceptual apparatus. On this view, Priestley and Lavoisier both saw oxygen, but they interpreted their observations differently; Aristotle and Galileo both saw pendulums, but they differed in their interpretations of what they both had seen.

(Page 120, Kindle edition)

These sorts of questions could be extended to other areas, which was why Stanley Fish so insistently schooled Nico Perrino, on one So to Speak podcast:

[Stanley]: Do you believe in the distinction between faith on the one hand and reason or empirical investigation on the other?

Nico: Yes.

Stanley: Yes, I thought you would.

Nico: Of course, I do. So, I’ve fallen into your trap.

Stanley: Because I don’t. I taught a course yesterday on Inherit the Wind. It’s a movie about the Scopes Trial in the early part of the 20th century.

Nico: Yeah, Scopes Trial.

Stanley: That’s a movie produced and directed by Stanley Kramer who is a stalwart First Amendment liberal. The entire dramatic rhetoric of the movie depends on the distinction between faith on the one hand and reason, especially reason associated with scientific experiments, on the other hand. That distinction doesn’t hold up for a second. That distinction doesn’t hold up. What’s you’re dealing with in science as opposed to let’s say orthodox Christianity or something else are two different faiths.

Two different kinds of faiths undergirded by radically opposed assumptions and presuppositions. But it’s presupposition and assumptions which are generating the evidence and facts on both sides. Again, you have – I can tell and say this with all the generosity – you are deeply mired in the basic assumptions and presuppositions of classical liberalism. Anything else that is brought to you, anything that is brought to you by some kind of retrograde sinner like me sounds outlandish and obviously perverse.

Nico: No, not necessarily. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you.

Stanley: Good point.

Nico: But, you know, we’re at the corner of what? 5th and 12th Avenue. Are you telling me it’s not a fact that we’re at the corner of 5th and 12th Avenue?

Stanley: Oh, come on. Come on. Look, have you ever read The Structure of Scientific Revolution?

Nico: I have not.

Stanley: Okay. Do you know what it is?

Nico: No.

Stanley: Okay. It’s a book that is probably the most influential book in the social sciences and humanities for the past 75 years. That’s not an understatement. That is not an overstatement. Kuhn, his project, is the history of science as his title suggests. What he does is challenge the picture that I’ve already referred to where he says that science is not an activity in which one generation because of using its powers of observation and experiment adds to the details of the description of nature that was begun by previous generations.

What he’s saying is that scientific knowledge is not cumulative in the way that the usual picture of science suggests. Instead, scientific knowledge, that is the establishment of scientific fact, depends on what he calls paradigms. What’s a paradigm? A paradigm is the set of in place assumptions and authorized methodologies that govern and are in fact the content of scientific investigation at any moment. Paradigms rather than any direct confrontation between the observer and the world. Paradigms are what produces evidence and interpretations.

Finally, interpretations that are persuasive and successful for a while until that paradigm, for reasons that he details, is dislodged by another. When that happens, when the paradigm within which scientific observers work Kuhn says changes. One might say without exaggeration that without the world in which the scientific practitioner works has itself changed.

Nico: See, I don’t buy it though because there are things that scientist do maybe through this paradigm that produce a tangible result that only come as a result of. Changing the paradigm won’t change the result.

Stanley: Tangible result is itself along with other talismanic phrases like that – tangible result will be recognized as one depending on what pragmatic point of view you are situated. What Kuhn would say, he’s not the only one and I’m not the only one, is that any conclusion that you might reach and be confident in is not supported by some correspondents between your methodological, descriptive protocol and the world. Rather it’s produced by the paradigm within which you are ensconced and of which you are in some sense an extension.

I really urge to read this book because he considers – he’s not debunking science. He’s not debunking scientific achievement. He’s just giving a different picture of it which challenges what he thinks of as the over simplified picture, again, of a world out there waiting to be correctly described. We, as rational observers, having the task to describe it.

Having now read a bit more than half of Kuhn, I understand what Stanley was saying, and I’m less inclined to agree with with Nico.

Anyway, one extension of the “paradigm” (or “gestalt,” as Kuhn so often has it) is the continually vexed question of “whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” which I have visited several times in the past (here, here, and even here in passing).

My paradigm, which led me to say “of course they do“ is monotheism strictly and literally speaking: There is only one God, howsoever He may be misunderstood. Those who say they do not worship the same God strike me as tacitly embracing henotheism, usually with some vehement tribal pride thrown in about the superiority of our God.

But in fairness, the paradigm of the “different God” folks is perhaps doctrine, and “common parlance” rather than strict and literal monotheism. A sufficiently different understanding of God (as the Islamic understanding differs from the orthodox Christian) is, figuratively, “another God,” much as scientists after a gestalt shift are figuratively in “a different world,” according to Kuhn (and Fish?).

Further, my paradigm is apparently flexible. I sometimes ruminate on how the “loving God” I met in bedtime Bible stories as a child, and in childhood Sunday School, got displaced by an “angry God,” prickly, even furious, at how our screwups besmirch His dignity, as if He were a feudal lord. They do indeed feel like different Gods. (I found the loving God again, once and for all, in Orthodox Christianity, but that story is too tangential today.)

Likewise, a “progressive Christian” profession that Matthew 25 is the “heart of the Gospel” arises from a different hermeneutic than mine and, I suspect, is a convenient way of making Christ’s incarnate deity an optional doctrine and doing away with “the scandal of the Cross.” In their paradigm/gestalt, Matthew 25 being the heart of the Gospel is almost axiomatic, and the stupendous paradox we celebrated yesterday is at best tangential, likelier credulous or even incomprehensible. They and I are divided by our nominally common (“Christian”) faith. (It also makes Christian sexual morality, which rivals the Cross for scandal-giving these days, optional.)

And then there are the Jews. I and they, too, worship different Gods if you want to be very figurative about it, though their non-Trinitarian God is pre-Christian rather than anti-Christian. I wonder, though, how many of the “Muslims-worship-a-different-God” folks even think about the Jews when blasting the Muslims?

So what? So can we, on this second day of Christmas (indeed, on all days) be less hasty with expressions that needlessly divide us with intimations that The Other believes as he believes because he’s pure evil rather than out of a very different, good faith, perspective?

That doesn’t mean we all unequivocally worship the same God, for God’s sake, but might our divisions can produce yearning instead of angry denunciations?

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

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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Trade-offs of pluralism

Sohrab Ahmari and David French finally faced off live at Catholic University of America Thursday evening, moderated by Ross Douthat.

In debating terms, it was no contest: French cleaned up. In fairness to Ahmari, his wife had a child on Wednesday, so he had things on his mind more important than a mere livestreamed national debate of sorts.

But again and again, French, in good Evangelical style, spoke of the freedom to preach the Gospel in a content-neutral public square, to lead drag queens to Jesus, and such. That’s pretty consistent with the forward-facing values of ADF, the Evangelical-leaning public-interest law firm for or with whom he formerly worked.

It started to sound as obsessive as Ahmari’s concern over Drag Queen Story Hour. So I was glad to see Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy argue for something a bit thicker than mere neutrality:

For most of the … campus ministries at Nebraska, …universities were convenient social institutions because they rounded up a large number of demographically similar young people into a single place where they would have broadly identical routines, all of which made it very easy to evangelize them. Many of these groups did not think anything of taking their students away from campus regularly on retreats, heavily programming their weeks (thereby cutting into their time to give to their studies), and even sometimes suggesting that their academic work was of mostly incidental importance. The real life happened in Bible studies and when you prayed and over coffee with your discipler or disciplee. College, much like one’s eventual career, was mostly a necessary evil that simply secured material goods for you.

While watching the French-Ahmari debate last night it occurred to me that French seems to have a fairly similar vision of the nation—it’s an incidental good that is useful for advancing certain strictly material goods but it pales in significance when set next to the work of the church …

The point is not necessarily that French should endorse some species of integralism, although it is worth noting that in his handling of rights and the nature of religious doctrine as it relates to public life French is far closer to the Baptists than he is the traditional views of the reformed tradition to which he belongs. But that point aside, French could preserve many of the rights he cares about preserving while anchoring his account of the political in something more real than the pragmatic adjudication of disputes within a pluralistic society.

… That the government could be something more than a mere arbiter who threatens to hit you in the head with a brick if you don’t play nicely with your neighbor seems to be unimaginable ….

There’s much more Jake wrote, but you can go read it yourself readily enough.

By lifelong habit and inititating into the solemn mysteries of “thinking like a lawyer,” I don’t suppose I’ll ever be able to leave the camp of classical procedural liberalism, but the Ahmaris and Meadors of the world at least drive home that there are trade-offs in our pluralistic experiment.

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[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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Irenic Politics

Jonathan Haidt has said that conservatives generally understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives. I now offer a corollary that Trump supporters understand Never Trump Conservatives no better than liberals do.

Exhibit A is the premise of a column by Never Trumper Peter Wehner, who got a missive from a Trumpist friend:

I have a colleague who claims [talkshow host and now Presidential hopeful Joe] Walsh has instantly become the face of the Never Trump movement (much to his delight) and that his fellow Never Trumpers will never write a word of condemnation of Walsh, thereby proving their disingenuous position.

As a Conservative Never Trumper, I’m astonished at the cluelessness of that. First, I don’t need a “face” for my opposition to Trump. Second, I don’t know who Joe Walsh is well enough to adopt him, and the little I’ve heard makes me consider him quite unsuitable.

Wehner responds similarly, but first turns the tables:

I will get to Mr. Walsh and his racist rants in a moment, but first I will admit that my initial reaction to this email was bemusement at the question posed to me. Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters are now demanding that Mr. Trump’s most vocal critics do what they will not, which is to publicly recoil against a politician — in this case, Mr. Walsh — who appeals to the worst instincts and ugliest sentiments in America.

Their argument seems to be that decency requires the president’s relatively few conservative critics to call out Mr. Walsh for saying detestable things while Mr. Trump’s right-wing supporters cheerfully defend him under any and all circumstances, regardless of the fact that the president’s rhetoric is pathologically dishonest, dehumanizing, cruel, crude, racist and misogynistic. There’s a word for what Trump supporters are doing here: hypocrisy.

Then he does turn to Walsh as promised. Read it yourself if you like.

I should add that I understand Trumpistas about as badly as they understand me, which has been a frustration to me ever since Trump proved that he had nontrivial political support. (Before then, I worried about his fans about as much as I worried about any fans of bloodsport and other spectacle.)

Back to the beginning: there are exceptions to any generality. There’s a newish Know Your Enemy podcast from two lefties (one a former conservative) who admirably describe conservative positions.

I find their attacks after the initial descriptions somewhere between non-existent and unpersuasive — which could be by design, given the literal import of the irenic podcast title (promising knowledge, not persuasion) and assuming a Left audience rather than an undecided or Right audience.

But I wonder whether their podcast, in describing conservatism so well, may turn some of their listeners from Left to some version of Right, given Haidt’s observation of how poorly Left understands Right currently.

Answer: probably not if Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory is correct and there aren’t some other complicating factors it doesn’t cover. But greater mutual understanding would be a helpful alleviator of polarization anyway.

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

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

A common baseline of facts and information?

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Crawford since he wrote Shop Class as Soulcraft. His second book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, was solid, too.

Now he has published a terrific longread article at American Affairs Journal: Algorithmic Governance and Political Legitimacy. I got pointed to it from here, and I don’t think I could improve on that as a summary of a dense, dense, but rewarding article.

The “density” isn’t from political theory jargon (Crawford has his doctorate in political theory), but from plain-English descriptions of things that have been so far off my radar that it takes a while to apprehend a few of the implications.

My personal take-away, at least tentatively, is to deeply distrust any politician who proposes to unite us with “a common baseline of facts and information” (Barack Obama’s locution). That seems to cash out as “persuade us to trust whatever Google’s opaque and proprietary algorithms serve up in response to our searches,” and I cannot grant that trust since I know that humans wrote the algorithms, humans have biases, and the biases of the humans at Google are of the sort that gets James Damore branded a monster and rode out of town on a rail.

That personal take-away does not do justice to Crawford’s long discussion, so be warned. Be warned, too, that you may need a few hours of punctuated reading to get through the article, but I think you’ll find it rewarding.

Frankly, the “common baseline of facts and information” conceit will probably be that of liberal or progressive politicians. On the other side, we have a narcissist who thinks anything less than fully flattering is “fake news.” The work of citizens in democracy is harder than ever now that we’ve been disenthralled. Heck, I “see through” so much stuff I’m in danger our not just plain seeing anything.

But I do believe that reality is out there (I think that was a tag-line for something but I’m too out of pop culture to tell you what it was), and the real work of politics, in the traditional sense, is persuasion, not surreptitious curation.

(I’m classifying this as “lifeworks” because it’s about Crawford. I’d class it as deathworks if it were about the curators.)

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

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

Dennis Prager’s Rohrschalk Test

A Dennis Prager column opens with a very broad-brush premise:

Every non-liberal leftist — that is, nearly every Democrat running for president, New York Times and Washington Post columnist, CNN and MSNBC host, and your left-wing brother-in-law — labels every Trump supporter and, of course, President Donald Trump, a “racist.”

And they don’t stop there. Leftists don’t only label the half of the country that supports the president “racist,” they label all whites and America itself “racist.”

Prager offers a three-question limus test to prove conservative non-racism:

  1. Do you have more in common with, and are you personally more comfortable in the company of, a white leftist or a black conservative?
  2. Would you rather have nine white leftists or nine black conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court?
  3. Would you rather your child marry a black Christian conservative or a white non-Christian liberal?

Granting for sake of argument that those questions effectively screen for the most virulent form of racism, explicit hatred of darker-skinned people, I doubt their effectiveness as screens for all varieties of the racism that lingers from America’s original sin.

But that’s not the prey I’m after: they expose something else worrisome. (Note that I did not say “far more worrisome.”)

A quick “the black conservative” in response to question 1 would betray an unhealthy ideological obsession, would it not? Why should there be any preference? Would a white, college-educated suburban conservative really have “more in common” with a random black conservative than with a white, college-educated suburban liberal? Has it come to that: ideology über alles?

So I cannot answer Prager’s question 1. I really cannot. It would depend too much on other variables. The test, as worded, is more a rohrschalk test for unhealthy ideology than a litmus test against racism.

I have no trouble with question 2 (a guy can dream, can’t he? But two white leftists might be good to keep the conservatives honest.).

Question 3 is rohrschalk in a different way.

I would prefer the “black Christian conservative” because I’m Christian and believe Christians should marry within the faith. But not all conservatives are Christian.

Why would a Jewish conservative categorically and reflexively prefer a “black Christian conservative” child-in-law to a “white non-Christian liberal,” since “non-Christian” includes “Jewish”? (You don’t need a Venn diagram, do you?) Does Prager, himself a Jew, think marrying within conservative ideology is more important than marrying within the faith?

Prager probably knows that his supposed test against racism is sophistry, but he created a pretty good test for visceral, tribal, toxic and all-consuming “conservative” ideology.

(Note: This blog has been edited several times within the first few hours after posting to clarity or intensify my meaning.)

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

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