Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas has bothered me a lot in the age of Trump.

He was supposed to be a really bright guy, who wrote biographies of Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, both of which were acclaimed at least in the parts of the virtual world I visit. But then he got an eponymous radio talk show, and started supporting Trump, for support of whom I had not heard and could not imagine any “really bright” defenses.

Was really bright Metaxas seeing something I was missing? Or had he just decided it was time to cash in on his “bright guy” reputation, seeing how even acclaimed books don’t pay that much in royalties? That doesn’t seem to fit: I’ve looked at the podcast version of his radio show, and two other podcasts Metaxas does, and they look a bit too high-toned, and even non-political, frankly, to be cash cows. (I’m not subscribing, but they’re apparently not the cesspools I feared, either.)

Then came a recent “debate” over Trump between him and David French. In my opinion, Metaxas did not produce even semi-bright arguments for Trump. It’s hard to identify Metaxas’ argument beyond that because it’s a “thought salad” (he’s too smooth for word salads), a fusillade of arguments lame and lamer.

I will not say that Metaxas makes evangelical-friendly arguments that he does not believe, whatever I may suspect about that. But he clearly is making fear-based arguments about the horrors that will come if Democrats are elected. (If Democrats gain the Presidency and the Senate, it could indeed get ugly because (a) they’ve been terrible on religious freedom since, oh, roughly, when Bill Clinton signed RFRA and RLUIPA and (b) now some of them are out for explicit revenge against at least Evangelicals, and it’s hard to punish Evangelical Trumpists without mucho collateral damage.)

So: Gotcha! You’re voting/inciting votes based on fear, Metaxas!

But so what? I’m voting against Trump because I fear that his malignant narcissism will tragically misapprehend the world in a future crisis — a fear his January-February misapprehension of the novel coronavirus threat justifies in spades.

I think, though, that “fear” is an equivocal word in this context. My fear for the country isn’t exactly the same genus and species as the fear Metaxas is engendering toward the prospect of Democrats controlling the political agenda again — fear of “socialism” and, of course, increased abortion (which has actually been decreasing, including under Democrats, for a long time now).

So no, I wasn’t missing anything, but it seems that stupid pro-Trump arguments are kind of an inexplicable quirk of Metaxas, who may indeed be a really bright guy in other contexts — though the way he wielded Luther and Bonhoeffer in the debate with French disinclines me to buy either of their bios.

(H/T John Fea, The French-Metaxas Debate: Some Commentary, who first got the debate transcribed and then in later commentary confirmed my impression that Metaxas was fear-mongering and, for good measure, dog-whistling.)

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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

[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

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.

Illusions of clarity and autonomy

The Washington Post has an Op-Ed exhorting Want to help save hospitals from being overwhelmed? Fill out that medical directive now. I expected to hate it more than I did.

So why did I hate it at all?

1. The clear message is that the some of us really should be willing to die for the rest of us.

There is little or no guilt-tripping manipulation in the column beyond that tacit message, but it goes out into a culture amply primed to understand. ‘Nuff said.

2. You’re not as clear as you think.

“[I]t is vital for physicians to know, and to honor, every patient’s explicit wishes,” the authors say, but “explicit wishes” carries a crushing burden there.

I practiced law for almost 40 years, with a lot of estate planning included. I was avocationaly involved in promotion of appropriate medical treatment for all, such as a symposium on physician-assisted suicide at Stanford in 1988, beginning before “Living Wills” became a fad. (Ever since then, by the way, I’ve been convinced that, for better or worse, we are going to get a single-payer system of some sort. I’m surprised it has taken so long.) And apart from the parents of a childhood friend, I don’t think I ever heard or was able to tease out of a client any “explicit” wishes.

My friend’s parents, though not very old, were tired of living and wanted no medical measures to sustain life.

Me: You mean that if you collapsed on the floor in front of me right now, you wouldn’t want me to call 911?

Them: Yes.

Now that was clear. I helped them doument their wish as strongly as possible, and somewhat to my surprise, they both were dead within five years.

Most of what I got from clients was vague but heartfelt pleas amounting to “I don’t want to die, but don’t let me end up like Karen Quinlan!” Understandable from the standpoint of empathy (nobody wants to “end up like Karen Quinlan”), but not as a concrete decision.

And then I had to try to fit the best I could tease out of them into something “substantially” in a legislatively-prescribed format that by itself was just more of the same vagueness. Efforts at adding clarity or nuance threatened to make it not in substantially the required form.

I couldn’t know because there was no caselaw. And there was no caselaw because …

3. Some doctor you’ve never met before will drive a Mack Truck through your ambiguities.

I can imagine clear advance directives by people who have candidly spoken with their physician about the expected course of a specific terminal condition that has been diagnosed. That’s what P.O.S.T. laws are about.

But because advance directives other that P.O.S.T. orders are (almost – see above) always vague, physicians pretty much do what they think is reasonable.

Maybe you’re okay with your long-time physician doing that, but if you’re in the hospital, it’s likely to be a physician you never met before.

4. Once you’re incapacitated, you’re no longer autonomous.

Early in court disputes over medical decisionmaking for incapacitated people (see Karen Quinlan or Indiana’s Sue Ann Lawrence), judges were groping around for a rationale to keep the courts from being flooded with such cases. They frequently lit upon the notion of “autonomy,” a rationale so transparently bogus as to drive a philosopher mad, and I was too philosophical to suffer such foolishness gladly.

The rationale was absurd and perverse because the cases invariably involved incapacitated people.

If not incapacitated, patients make their own decisions, and are bound (in theory) by no limitations on their deciding. Want to make a bizarre and lethal decision to forego an antibiotic for an easily-treated staph infection? No problem. Injecting you would be malpractice and criminal battery if you refuse it.

But how about if you’re incapacitated? May a judge reason that your life — maybe lifelong disability, or mild to moderate dementia — is so wretched that a reasonable person in that position would prefer to die needlessly of staph rather than to continue living?

My answer was and is “no.” But (admittedly in more dire circumstances) many judges were saying “yes” and justifying it as “autonomy.”

I once challenged a court of appeals judge, sitting on a panel of presenters at a continuing legal education seminar, that “autonomy-by-proxy” was an oxymoron, implying that they needed a better rationale. So obviously true was my observation that her only “out” was to deny that that was what they were doing. (So of course she ended up life-tenured on a Federal court.)

But that is what they were doing. The autonomy belonged to the patient and was only autonomous when exercised by the patient. The judges were exercising counterfeit “autonomy” in the name of the patient.

5. Be a burden to your family.

You can’t get around that by appointing a friend or family member either. Insofar as you’ve lost capacity, you’ve lost control. Nobody, appointed by you or elected by fellow-citizens, can be autonomous for you. Get over it.

So what do I recommend? Proxies, like a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and/or an Appointment of Representative for Healthcare. (The titles and details tend to be state-specific.)

In other words, giving someone you trust (and ideal who loves you) the power to make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated isn’t properly autonomous, but it’s the best of a bad lot of choices — by a wide margin, too, in my opinion.

And then talk to them about your values and vague wishes before you are incapacitated.

I only had one client reject that offer, on the basis that he didn’t want to burden his family — and it turned out that he was secretly such a monster — driven by ideology, I think — that most in his family would have grieved little were he dead.

Don’t be like him.

* * * * *

[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

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.

In your heart, you know he’s wrong

Andrew Walker has written an excellent and sympathetic account of why many conservative Christians vote for Trump.

My critique has little to do with what he says about the objects he focuses on, more to do with his too-narrow field of vision:

  1. All the negative analysis of Trump is framed in terms of how wicked and intemperate his is. That’s secondary for me, as my top concern is how his extreme narcissism distorts his perception, cognition and volition. I don’t want a delusional man managing crises. I want someone who, when faced with a choice between doing right for the country and grabbing a benefit for himself, will know that there can be a difference, and is capable of putting the country first. In your heart, you know that’s not Trump.
  2. None of the analysis of the complexity of the choice mentions the possibility that our choice is not binary. Perhaps (as I think) both parties are so corrupt that it’s time to give up “let go and let God” on the short game — and by “short,” I mean the next few decades in all likelihood, and play a “longer game” politically by looking elsewhere.

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.

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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.

White nationalist terrorism

I read news reports of mass shootings, and commentary about them, selectively. Few tell me anything vital I didn’t already know. The new twist is the 8chan angle, so I read a little about that.

I’m not saying “there’s nothing we can do about them.” Once seen, it’s hard to unsee that white nationalist terrorism has surpassed jihadi terrorism as a threat on our shores, and we should treat it as we treat jihad in law enforcement strategy.

But:

[L]aw enforcement isn’t enough. Targeted gun control isn’t enough. Culture matters …

Members of a radicalized underground often work diligently to introduce their themes and ideas into public discourse. They want to kill, yes, but they also want to change the culture. When national leaders use their rhetoric or adopt their themes, it is thrilling. It is energizing. It is inspiring to the movement. It tells them that they just might win.

Think of the thrills, energy, and inspiration they’ve experienced from the highest office in the land — and from parts of the most popular cable network in the land — since Trump came down the escalator in 2015.

Alt-right support for Trump wasn’t random. It wasn’t arbitrary. It was directly related to his rhetoric, and it was cultivated by his allies, and it was cultivated in part because it was a new way to fight, to punch back against the hated Left.

… [W]hen a nation experiences the wave of mass killings, threats, harassment, and radicalization we see now, it’s time for American leaders to respond with unequivocal, relentless messages not just of condemnation for racists but also with their own words of reconciliation and national unity …

… It’s worth saying 10,000 times: Fighting for your political values does not ever require you to abandon decency and respect. In fact, given the magnitude of the issues at stake, decency is even more urgent. It helps keep emotions under control.

… [O]ur nation’s leaders need to focus on reconciliation and unity, and if they are not up to that most basic and fundamental aspect of their job, then they must be replaced.

David French, Declare War on White-Nationalist Terrorism (emphasis added).

You know full well that Donald J. Trump is not up to that aspect of the job. He cannot convincingly utter conciliatory words.

But — and this is not a throw-away line — it remains to be decided whether his Democrat opponent next year will also be divisive. There are several prominent in the twenty-plus hopefuls who are licking their chops in anticipation of meting out pay-backs, though they may try to conceal it. I won’t name names, because I haven’t kept a scorecard to prove my case, but I form pretty accurate impressions.

It may come down to a matter of degree. Less divisive is better. Less blatantly divisive is better, too (I’ll bet Democrats are wistful about the days of “dog whistles”). The Democrat field offers a few candidates who can convincingly play the role of Reconciler-in-Chief.

But when it comes to degrees of divisiveness, platforms and policy agendas start to weigh more, too, as does the placement of the pale. I’m more than okay with white nationalists being beyond. I’m more than okay with Connor Betts being beyond. I’m not okay with orthodox Christians being beyond.

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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).

Sacrificing Coventry

This story seemed to ripen while I was traveling abroad and otherwise occupied, but the new abortion bans in some states merit mention.

It has been decades since I was anywhere near the heart of pro-life litigation strategy — meaning cool heads figuring out how to chip away at the Supreme Court’s illicit abortion jurisprudence, as Thurgood Marshall once chippped away at segregation jurisprudence. That’s a caveat to all that follows.

But it also has long been clear to me that many “pro-life” politicians are more interested in grand, bold, and self-aggrandizing gestures than in finding plausible litigation paths through a legal minefield.

I’ll concede that if you see every abortion as a homicide, there’s a temptation toward reckless abandon, be it blowing up abortuaries or passing laws with negligible chance of withstanding constitutional challenge.

But my guiding light is, at least notionally, Winston Churchill, who knew that an air defense of Coventry (I believe it was Coventry, not another city) against an attack he knew was coming would clearly betray the Allies having quietly cracked German cryptography, thus compromising more strategic use of code-cracking.

He sacrificed Coventry — an incident that leaves me breathless at the burdens of power. A “long game” seldom is an unbroken string of successes, and the interim losses can be agonizing.

I don’t think that shenanigans like those in Alabama and Louisiana were conceived in high councils of cool legal heads. Banning all abortions, or disguising such a ban under the rubric of heartbeat detection, is exceedingly likely to fail in the courts and to be a public relations setback for the pro-life cause. I don’t think the Supreme Court is anything like nakedly political on this issue, nor would I want it to be.

Eventually, Roe v. Wade and its progeny will fall. But that will just send the abortion issue back to the legislatures, where for better or worse it belongs. In anticipation of that day, we must win hearts and minds if we’re someday going to make abortion not just unlawful, but unthinkable.

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

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

When SCOTUS reverses Roe

Michael Gerson ponders “The Trumpification of the pro-life movement” and how it “exacts a price”:

[I]f the overturn or revision of Roe comes, it will almost certainly return greater flexibility to states regarding the regulation of abortion. This will kindle dozens of debates across the country and become a contest of persuasion and organization.

It is then that the Trumpification of the pro-life movement will exact a price. There is a serious cost when a movement that regards itself as pro-woman associates with misogyny. There is a serious cost when a movement that claims to be expanding the circle of social inclusion associates itself with nativism and racism. There is a serious cost when a movement that needs to be seen as charitable and reasonable associates itself with the politics of abuse and cruelty.

This turns out to be a particularly pure test of transactional, single-issue politics. Would you trade a major political gain for a large chunk of your moral reputation?

I don’t want to argue that such a choice is easy. Maybe gaining two justices is worth it. But I am skeptical ….

This is exactly right.

The Supreme Court is not going to outlaw abortion, though there is a little-known legal theory that correlates the roughly contemporaneous (a) enactment of early anti-abortion statutes under the influence of physicians who were becoming aware of the facts of embryology and (b) the post Civil War amendments, concluding that the unborn were and are thereafter constitutional persons with constitutional protection.

Back to practical reality. At most, the Court will remove some or all of the fanciful constitutional barriers to anti-abortion laws it has erected over nearly five decades.

Then, in most states, it will be necessary to fight for re-instatement of pro-life laws that were docilely taken “off the books” following Roe v. Wade (it’s “most states” because a few left there laws on the books in anticipation of Roe‘s eventual demise).

In those legislative debates, which are already beginning in states friendly to feticide and which anticipate reversal of Roe (see this New York Times editorial goading on “blue states … locking down reproductive rights”), the credibility of the pro-life movement will matter a lot, and its alignment with Trump’s person, his policies, and his Twitter ejaculations, will have proven to erode that credibility.

In short, it will come down for many to whether they can stomach voting in sync with those misogynistic, nativist, Trumpified pro-lifers.

Just. You. Damn. Watch.

This is among the reasons I’ve basically ceased financial contributions to the political side of the pro-life cause. Fate—or they themselves—has dealt them a very dubious hand, and I judge that my charitable dollars are better spent elsewhere.

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Clippings, 12/12/18

1

Many in the pro-life movement, of which I am passionately a part, will consider the Harvard Law-educated intellectual [Ben Shapiro] a huge get. Not me. Despite Shapiro’s star power and stature, I consider his appearance a serious mistake for the March, one that will move us even further from being understood as the broad-based human rights movement we need to embody in order to go from fringe to mainstream.

Shapiro’s appearance is an especially ominous sign after last year’s appearance via satellite TV of President Trump — the absolute nemesis of more left-leaning pro-lifers like myself.

It was bad enough to have the movement associated with Trump. On his year’s stage, will Shapiro read his show’s regular advertisements for the U.S. Conceal-Carry Association? How will the crowd react when he does his daily promotion of his “Leftist Tears: Hot or Cold” tumbler?

The set of all pro-lifers is huge, politically diverse, and, as I have argued in these pages, more representative of the views of people of color than of white people — especially white liberals.

Unfortunately, while the March features the occasional Democratic politician or openly liberal pro-life activist, the speakers’ list and political tone in recent years have become overwhelmingly Republican and conservative. Increasingly, and especially with Trump speaking last year, those who identity with a different political ideology have been alienated from the most important pro-life march in the country — as well as the most important annual pro-life strategic meetings that surround the March.

This alienation is among the factors pushing non-conservative pro-life organizations such as New Wave Feminists, Rehumanize International, Secular Pro-Life, Democrats for Life, Consistent Life, among others, to hold alternative events at the March. This is a disaster for a number of reasons, among them that the pro-life movement will never meet our goals unless we can be understood as a broad-based human rights movement — and not merely as a Republican or conservative constituency.

Charles Camosy.

2

PETA is all in on Twitter’s hate speech policy:

Calling someone a “pig” or a “dog,” PETA observed, is “supremacist and speciesist.” Additionally, using such language may have the effect of “normalizing violence against animals and desensitizing people to their suffering.” …

On December 4, PETA posted a tweet against using anti-animal language, using its new tagline “Bringing Home the Bagels Since 1980”! Bagels? That was in lieu of the more readily recognizable bacon, which PETA wants to help us remove from our language (“bring home the bacon”), along with all other animal products from our diets and lives as a whole.

PETA also wants us to change our language because, as the tweet stated, “Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Here’s how to remove speciesism from your daily conversations.” To help us “Stop Using Anti-Animal Language,” PETA offered other substitutions …

The Twitterverse erupted in mockery and ridicule, at least according to the mainstream media. The next day USA Today ran the headline, “PETA ridiculed, criticized for comparing ‘speciesism’ with racism, homophobia and ableism.” The Washington Post said, “the Internet thinks they’re feeding a fed horse,” a poke at one of PETA’s suggested replacement phrases.

Mercatornet

3

[P]erhaps instead of secularization it makes sense to talk about the fragmentation and personalization of Christianity — to describe America as a nation of Christian heretics, if you will, in which traditional churches have been supplanted by self-help gurus and spiritual-political entrepreneurs. These figures cobble together pieces of the old orthodoxies, take out the inconvenient bits and pitch them to mass audiences that want part of the old-time religion but nothing too unsettling or challenging or ascetic. The result is a nation where Protestant awakenings have given way to post-Protestant wokeness, where Reinhold Niebuhr and Fulton Sheen have ceded pulpits to Joel Osteen and Oprah Winfrey, where the prosperity gospel and Christian nationalism rule the right and a social gospel denuded of theological content rules the left.

Ross Douthat

4

Those people keep having kids and being happy and ignoring us. Don’t they read? They do read, but the wrong things! Why don’t they read what we suggest? Don’t credentials matter to them?

Smugness is most uncomfortable facing jolly fecundity.

John Mark Reynolds, quoting Salutation.

5

Talk about a twist: He sought the presidency, as so many others surely did, because it’s the ultimate validation. But it has given him his bitterest taste yet of rejection.

Frank Bruni

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Clippings and commentary, 12/1/18

1

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

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

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

2

In that light, Andrew Sullivan was on fire Friday.

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

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

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

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

This title piece is very strong.

3

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

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

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

4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5

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

WSJ Editorial Board, Democrats and Racial Division

6

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

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

In other words, don’t count on it.

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

Bret Stephens

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

7

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P.

8

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

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

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

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

(enough with the “Cultural Marxism” already)

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

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

9

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

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

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

George Yancey, Being Destroyed from Within

10

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

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

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Edifying and unedifying

1

For some fairly obvious reasons, football has become lashed at the hip to the idea of American patriotism. This is no doubt in part to many a coach’s misguided use of war as an analog for the sport—and vice versa. Fighter jet flyovers and platoons of soldiers waving oversized flags on the field are de rigueur for NFL and college games alike. More troubling, though, is the near-ubiquitous effort across the football landscape to pay overt and uncritical tribute to the military—the annual circus to Honor the Troops.™

Such empty gestures are dangerous, and need to stop …

Americans have been browbeaten into fearful reverence of the military-industrial machine. Thanking military service members has gone from an odd pleasantry to a social requirement …

Even the Kaepernick kneeling controversy—as simultaneously immortal and threadbare as it’s become—has been attacked with the cudgel of “RESPECTING OUR VETERANS WHO DIED FER YEW!”Framing the issue as a crass affront to our beloved men and women who ”defend our freedom” is the simpleton’s trump card.

You’re disrespecting our soldiers who are defending our freedom against ISIS! Or the Taliban. Or somebody in Africa. We think. We’re pretty sure anyway. Honestly, we don’t even know or care who we’re fighting now or where, but man that Kaepernick guy really pisses. us. off.

The flaw in these rituals of adoration is that they give fans, players, and universities a cheap pass. They are an insidious placebo in the maintenance of our democracy—a democracy still struggling with the ramifications of fully voluntary military service and the social chasm it created. Honoring the troops with this sterilized, prepackaged, hot-dogs-and-apple-pie brand of reverence allows everyone involved to feel as though something meaningful has occurred. These displays of gratitude provide us the cheap comfort of believing we have both bridged the civil-military divide and come to some deeper understanding.

In reality, such spectacles only reinforce the notion that the military is part of the great “them”—that group of faceless citizens who exist far outside the sphere of our lives and who should be seen and heard only at arm’s length (and only for a few hours on a Saturday each fall). …

“GoForThree,” a pseudonymous 13-year Army veteran. I’m glad he/she said it.

Bonus: The article illustration is “patriotic” Purdue helmets. Are you listening, Mitch?

2

While we’re Honor[ing] the Troops™, here’s another helping of reality.

William S. Lind is at the rightmost edge of bloggers I follow, and I read him with caution because I’m aware that he’s pretty far “out there.”

But I can find little to fault in Get Out While We Can, and find the last paragraph especially chilling:

Afghanistan has a long history of being a place easy to get into but hard to get out of. Successful retreats are perhaps the most difficult of all military operations no matter where they are conducted. Conducting a successful retreat from Afghanistan is near the top of the list of daunting military tasks.

Everyone knows we have lost and will be leaving soon …

[W]hat we may face is a widespread realignment within Afghanistan in which everyone tries to get on the good side of the victor, i.e., the Taliban, with American forces still there. Afghan government soldiers and police will have a tempting opportunity to do that by turning their weapons on any nearby Americans. In that part of the world, “piling on” the loser is a time-honored way of changing sides to preserve your own neck …

What is needed most now is detailed planning by the Pentagon for a fighting withdrawal [from Afghanistan]. I am not saying we want to get out that way. It is contingency planning in case we have to. I fear that planning will not be done because it will be politically incorrect, since the military leadership still pretends we are winning. Subordinates will be afraid to initiate planning that contradicts their superiors’ public statements. But if we have to put a fighting withdrawal together on the fly, a difficult situation will become a great deal more hazardous. I hope some majors and lieutenant colonels are developing the necessary plan now, even if they can’t tell their bosses what they are doing.

3

I have no reason to doubt that the University of Oklahoma participates in the wretched excess, but here’s a story from there about something much more serious, and immune from the charge of giving anyone “a cheap pass”:

A course in the Great Books which was described by those teaching it as “the hardest course you’ll ever take” has received “sky high” enrollment as students rose to the challenge. Inspired by a syllabus taught at the University of Michigan in 1941 by the British poet, W. H. Auden, the course requires 6,000 pages of reading: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Horace, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Pascal, Racine, Blake, Goethe, Kierkegaard, Baudelaire, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Rimbaud, Henry Adams, Melville, Rilke, Kafka and T. S. Eliot. And that’s not all. For good measure, the course also includes opera libretti from Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Bizet and Verdi.

Oklahoma is not entirely alone, but may be unique in the size of the host institution. Smaller programs exist at Wyoming Catholic College and Sequitur Classical Academy in Baton Rouge, where Rod Dreher’s kids attend, and which I believe is the institution alluded to in this:

The depth and breadth of learning that these students have achieved is evident in the depth and breadth of the topics that interest them. Here are a few of the topics chosen, each of which speaks for itself:

The Separation of Church and State: Good for Our Nation?

Church Music: Congregational and God-Centered

The Environment and the Extent of Man’s Moral Obligation

Love: How Objective and Subjective is it?

Individualism and Atomism: The Destruction of Family and Society

Discoveries in Genetics and the Flaws of Evolution

Medical Ethics: Treating Both Body and Soul

Technology: When Seeking Freedom Enslaves Man

Pretty impressive for high schoolers.

4

Education can only go so far, though. Ted Cruz is very well-educated and smart, but:

“All they can do is attack the president all day long on the scandal of the day,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) who became an aficionado of the term [“Trump Derangement Syndrome.”].

This is the same Cruz who, in 2016, called Trump a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen” and “a serial philanderer.” Perhaps the senator suffers from Trump Rearrangement Syndrome, a disorder common among Republicans who disown every criticism they ever offered of Trump so he’ll help them win reelection.

E.J. Dionne.

And prudence is needed, too. I applauded Chief Justice John Roberts’ rebuke of the guy in the White House. I was imprudent to do so.

We do have an independent judiciary. Judges are not beholden to any president, including the one who appoints them. The judiciary plays a key role in our system of checks and balances. “Trump judges” should rule against Trump when he is wrong. That is why it is so important for the chief justice stay above politics. Roberts is right that our “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” Rolling around in the rhetorical mud with Trump is not just bad form; it also undermines the very judicial independence Roberts is seeking to uphold.

Marc Thiessen

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Friday 10/12/18

1

There is nothing new about disinformation. Unlike ordinary lies and propaganda, which try to make you believe something, disinformation tries to make you disbelieve everything. It scatters so much bad information, and casts so many aspersions on so many sources of information, that people throw up their hands and say, “They’re all a pack of liars.” As Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide and former leader of Breitbart News, succinctly put it in an interview with Bloomberg, “[T]he way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with shit.”

Although disinformation is old, it has recently cross-pollinated with the internet to produce something new: the decentralized, swarm-based version of disinformation that has come to be known as trolling. Trolls attack real news; they attack the sources of real news; they disseminate fake news; and they create artificial copies of themselves to disseminate even more fake news. By unleashing great quantities of lies and half-truths, and then piling on and swarming, they achieve hive-mind coordination. Because trolling need not bother with persuasion or anything more than very superficial plausibility, it can concern itself with being addictively outrageous. Epistemically, it is anarchistic, giving no valence to truth at all; like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading.

… By being willing to say anything, they exploit shock and outrage to seize attention and hijack the public conversation.

That last tactic is especially insidious. The constitution of knowledge is organized around an epistemic honor code: Objective truth exists; efforts to find it should be impersonal; credentials matter; what hasn’t been tested isn’t knowledge; and so on. Trolls violate all those norms: They mock truth, sling mud, trash credentials, ridicule testing, and all the rest.

Jonathan Rausch. Donald Trump is our Troll-In-Chief.

How do you balance:

  1. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and slowing of regulatory assaults on orthodox Christians; against
  2. The daily tacit denial from Trump and Sarah Sanders that there exists any such thing as objective truth and reality — “flooding the zone with shit”?

Something tells me that the long-term costs of #2 — and not just in terms of damaging the credibility of Christianity (of which Evangelicals have dubiously made themselves avatars) — outweigh and perhaps vastly outweigh the benefits of #1. I can’t yet put my finger on it; maybe it’s ineffable or self-evident.

We’ve gone from agreeing that there is “Truth” (even if we disagreed about its content), to referring to “your truth” versus “my truth,” and now we hover on the edge of the Emperor’s truth being the only truth, with the Emperor smirking as he mocks us by changing that “truth” at will.

2

Purdue University,”mother” to an astonishing proportion of early astronauts and now sporting a rather new, large and prominent Neil Armstrong engineering building and archive, is atwitter over the release of “First Man” and should be (pardon the expression) over the moon at Joe Morgenstern’s Wall Street Journal review.

Speaking of which, our local TV news, which regularly interjects inadvertent comic relief into the news, covered the Armstrong archive last night with a comment about it housing “N pieces of his life,” reminding me of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women.”

3

Pushing back against talk about Texas Evangelical women pushing Beto O’Rourke past Ted Cruz in the Senate race:

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

Bobby Ross, Jr.

It’s good that this is in print, because one can read it categorically or presumptively (had it been spoken, the inflection likely would have disambiguated it):

  • I can’t support Beto  — because he’s pro-choice ….
  • I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice ….

I believe the moral law would permit Ross’s sister, for sufficient cause, to vote for Beto despite his being pro-choice, but never because he’s pro-choice.

The decisive question is the sufficiency of Cruz’s cynicism and lying. His cynicism stinks to the heavens, but I haven’t kept a scorecard on his lying. Texans probably have a better reading on that.

4

Be it remembered that Jeff Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters for the Presidency but Trump is getting ready to replace him because he won’t corrupt the Justice Department by conducting show trials against Trump’s enemies or by firing Robert Mueller.

This is the treatment Evangelicals can expect if they ever reach a “we must obey God, not Caesar” moment. Whether they have the integrity to reach that moment is an open question.

Add this to item #1 as a reason why Trump should be voted out either in the 2020 Republican primaries or against many potential Democrat nominees in the General Election.

Since we’re apparently slow learners, though, God may ordain that 2020 be a repeat of Trump versus Hillary or maybe even Trump versus Beelzebub.

5

Be it noted, too, that Atifa, at least in Portland, has itself become a fascistic mob, just as I figured would happen in this world where every evil has a euphemistic name.

At the beginning, they came out only when conservatives, including trolls like Milo or Ann Coulter, came to town. Now they call protests, take over the streets, redirect traffic, and threaten anyone who doesn’t comply.

That’s why I say “fascistic.”

6

Consider two recent surveys released before the Senate voted Saturday to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. After the riveting Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked: “If there is still a doubt about whether the charges are true, do you think Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed?” Respondents said no by 52% to 40%.

A Harvard-Harris poll released Oct. 1 asked: “If the FBI review of these allegations finds no corroboration of the accusation of sexual assault, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?” Sixty percent said yes and 40% no, with 86% of Republicans, 58% of independents and even 40% of Democrats supporting confirmation.

The 20-point swing between these two survey questions shows public opinion is malleable ….

Karl Rove.

I doubt that we’ll really know until November 7, if then, which way the Kavanaugh hearings cut politically.

7

I’ve periodically mentioned and lamented that “Christianity” in the U.S. Seems to have just two avatars, Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.

Roman Catholicism got that status by being huge and by claiming that it is The Church uniquely (a claim attenuated since Vitican II). Its claim had purchase in the West, which knew little of the four patriarchs from whom the proto-Popes went into schism (and which now are known as “Eastern Orthodox”). You were either Catholic or ex-Catholic via the Reformation. Those were the mental options.

I just realized, though, that I had that bit of history or Evangelicalism stored away that perhaps not everyone is aware of it.

Evangelicals got their status differently. I don’t discount the Great Black Swan, Billy Graham, and the boost William Randolph Hearst decided to give him, nor the sizzle of the Moral Majority and the rest of the Religious Right (which finally brought Evangelicalism into what the press thinks of as “reality”: contentious politics).

But it started earlier. Some evangelical visionaries early on saw the evangelistic potential of radio and, later, television. They scarfed up hundreds or thousands of FCC broadcast licenses in order to preach their version of the Gospel. Try to find a “Christian” radio station that isn’t Evangelical.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Crickets)

Domination of the airwaves had a big influence on perceptions of non-Catholic Christianity.

I don’t think Evangelicals set out to eliminate other voices from the airwaves, or otherwise to delegitimize those voices. It was more positive than that: spread the Gospel. The rest is epiphenomenal.

And the chaotic internet, where licenses aren’t yet required (but see next item) will perhaps diminish Evangelicalism’s place aside Rome in the Western Christian oligarchy.

8

Late Thursday, Facebook and Twitter began what appears to be a coordinated purge of accounts trafficking in real news our masters would prefer we not know and opinions that no bien pensant should entertain. Caitlin Johnstone, aware that “censorship” proper is a government act, thinks nonetheless that the rise of corporate power and the thin line between corporate and government power make this effectively censorship in our new media age.

I’m likely to have more to say about this, but for now, Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin will suffice.

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