Single-Issue Voting — Again

There was a time when I considered myself substantially a single-issue voter, and that single issue was abortion. But then a smart guy infuriated me by insisting that the Republicans were insincerely "playing" anti-abortion voters with anti-abortion rhetoric. The guy had some political baggage that gave me a second reason to discount his opinion — besides, that is, not wanting to look like a fool to myself.

Whether before or after that encounter, I began noticing GOP fools or rogues, quite unsuitable for high office, regardless of what they said about abortion. And less than three years after my infuriating encounter, I repudiated the GOP for unrelated reasons.

The GOP hasn’t gotten any better, but they got my votes more often than not.

Now details have emerged on exactly what Trump was up to on January 6 when the crowd he enfrenzied rioted in the Capitol, calling for Mike Pence, for whom a gallows had been prepared: Trump was executing a plan by a sociopath named John Eastman (who certainly should be expelled from the Federalist Society for this stunt) to "legally" steal the election through ambiguities of the Electoral Count Act of 1887. See here, here, here and probably many other places.

It’s appalling.

After laying the factual predicate from November 3 to present, ranging from death threats to officials with integrity to absurdities like the Ohio GOP censuring a Michigan Congressman, Mona Charen summarizes her (and my) feelings:

So there really is only a single issue I will vote on in 2021—truth. The Republican party, in Washington and nationally, has become a conspiracy of liars. As such, it threatens the stability of the republic. Even a seemingly inoffensive candidate like Glenn Youngkin has given aid and comfort to this sinister agenda by stressing “election integrity” in his campaign. It doesn’t change a thing to reflect that he’s almost certainly insincere. He stopped talking about it after winning the primary, suggesting that all the “integrity” talk was just a sop to MAGA voters. Still, a victory for him will send a message that the Republican party is normal again, a party that good people can support.

It’s not. It’s a cult dedicated to lying, rewarding liars, and punishing truth tellers. I won’t vote for it.

Me neither. When I can’t vote for Democrats (i.e., most of the time), I’ll be voting third party or abstaining.


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.

Politically homeless (and more)

Where is my political home?

David French was at the top of his game as a socio-legal pundit Sunday. It’s hard to know what to excerpt, and you really should read it all.

But excerpt I feel I must.

After registering his concerns with the new Texas abortion law, he turns "meta":

I don’t think most Americans appreciate how much the debate over abortion has changed in the last thirty years of American life. Two changes are particularly important. One is profoundly negative, and the other is extraordinarily positive.

First, the legal and political debate over abortion has become purely partisan at exactly the time when our nation’s profound polarization means that party affiliation is becoming central to millions of Americans’ personal identities.

Thirty years ago there was a robust pro-life wing of the Democratic Party. Even 15 years ago, when I moved back to Tennessee, my congressman was a proudly pro-life Democrat. My heavily Republican district voted him out in 2010. It preferred a “pro-life” candidate who faced evidence that he tried to pressure a girlfriend to abort their child and supported his ex-wife’s two abortions.

And now? Elected pro-life Democrats are very, very hard to find. Even worse, as the parties move away from each other on a host of important political issues—and as the GOP continues to embrace Donald Trump and his ethos and contains an ever-expanding coalition of cranks and radicals—it is increasingly difficult to ask Democrats to lend any aid and comfort to a party that they find unmoored from even basic decency, integrity, and truth itself.

Or, as I’ve heard so many believers from many faiths say: “I’m pro-life, and I want the law to protect the unborn. I welcome refugees. I want to address the contemporary reality and persistent legacy of racism. I want politicians to be people of good character and fundamental integrity. Where do I go? Where is my home?

(Emphasis added) Abortion was not my personal breaking point with the GOP, but I spent at least a decade politically homeless, and my new home is a third party (and ipso facto quixotic).

Third Commandment?! Is that old thing still around!?

My plea to my fellow Christians: If you insist on refusing the vaccine, that is your right. But please do not bring God into it. Doing so is the very definition of violating the Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Curtis Chang, Christian Exemptions to Vaccine Mandates Lack Sound Basis – The New York Times

The reader, the author, and the young traveler

I had meant to live like a tramp or a pilgrim or a wandering scholar, sleeping in ditches and ricks and only consorting with birds of the same feather. But recently I had been strolling from castle to castle, sipping Tokay out of cut-glass goblets and smoking pipes a yard long with archdukes instead of halving gaspers with tramps. These deviations could hardly be condemned as climbing: this suggests the dignity of toil, and these unplanned changes of level had come about with the effortlessness of ballooning.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water, which recounts one leg of his walk across Europe — this time, central Europe — in the 1930s, before storm clouds of war were mounting.

The passages describing his sojourns among the patricians of Middle Europe are among the happiest in the book, but among the saddest too: for we know, as the author knows, but as the young traveller never did, that all that happy, reckless and cultivated society, which answered his knocks at the door with such instant generosity, was doomed. Within Paddy’s own lifetime, it would be eliminated.

(Introduction to the book)

Unintended Consequences

Spotted:

Did Texas Hand Biden a Lifeline?
By Matthew Continetti The unpredictable politics of abortion in 2022 and 2024.

Good question. Since I let my National Review subscription lapse, I don’t know Continetti’s answer for certain. But Afghanistan was a blow to Biden, until our amnesiac press decided that the quirkey-to-the-Nth-degree Texas abortion law would sell more papers, get more clicks.

I’m no longer privy to high-level pro-life litigation strategy as I once was, but I very much doubt that any law like Texas’ was a part of it. This was Texas being contrary, independent Texas!.

Another possible unintended consequence of the Texas heartbeat law: if the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi’s ban on abortions after the 15th week in its upcoming Dobbs case (which would put us in line with Western Europe), the result may be hard to portray as extreme.

Takes a village

Not the village I’ve seen …

I have seen the village, and it don’t want it raising my child.

Spotted by my wife on Pinterest

… and sure as hell not Los Angeles!

It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”

Cecily Myart-Cruz, head of United Teachers Los Angeles

Astonishingly, the reporter on this story, Jason McGahan, said of this woman

the following:

She doesn’t look much like a firebrand. Short and stout, with sparkling brown eyes, brightly painted pink lips, and copper-red, shoulder-length hair, she’s a Central Casting version of a kindly, cuddly school teacher.

McGahan must have gone to a really tough school. She looks to me like a Central Casting version of a villainous (villainess?) woman pro rassler.

Fundamentalism then and now

I am thinking about moving to Texas so that I can be in open disagreement with the powers that be and express this freely, instead of living in colonies of liberal progressives where I must put tape over my mouth except when among close personal friends. Freedom of speech is watched closely where I live and we all know it. “What exactly is it you want to say that you can’t?” you wonder. It is something that, were I to say it, I’d be kicked out of the Democratic Party and my library card would be confiscated and I’d be barred from Amazon and Starbucks and the Episcopal church would make me sit in the Penitents’ Corner. So I’ll keep it to myself.

I grew up fundamentalist so I’m familiar with the drill. We couldn’t join marching band because we believed that rhythmic movement would lead to dancing, which then led to fornication. We never sang uptempo hymns, only dirges. Women kept silent in church because the sound of their voices would lead men to think impure thoughts. So the rigidity of progressive righteousness is familiar to me. I can live with it. I know which friends can be trusted and which cannot.

Garrison Keillor.

I’m not so sure, Gary. Merely acknowledging that today’s progressives are every bit as prim and uptight as yesterday’s fundamentalists might get you cancelled.

Trump redux

I sure hope I’ll be able to drop the subject if the Orange One rules out a 2024 run, but meantime some reminders are in order:

Inglorious Bastards

The Bulwark is a website (news and commentary — mostly the latter) that arose to oppose Trump from a conservative (neocon, it seems to me) perspective. On January 4, Mona Charen (who I’ve loved for decades) righteously ripped into the Wall Street Journal for its record during the Trump years:

In the Trump era, the Journal’s editorial board has betrayed its readers. It has trimmed and hemmed and to-be-sured its way through the most sustained assault on truth and the American political order of our lifetime. Every now and then—usually on textbook economic matters like tariffs—the board has issued stern rebukes of the president’s policies. But rarely. For the most part, it has retreated into anti-anti-Trumpism, averting its gaze from the president and focusing disproportionately on his opponents.

Today, the Journal concedes, “too many Republicans refuse to accept Mr. Trump’s defeat.” They note that the Senators who have agreed to contest the Electoral College count this week cite no evidence of fraud, “Instead they cite ‘allegations of fraud and irregularities’ that feed ‘deep distrust’ of the results—distrust they and the President are feeding.” So far, so good. But then, in a typical misfire, the editors caution that “this is a . . . lousy political strategy for returning to power.” Ah. So that’s the main issue then?

The president of the United States is attempting to subvert the democratic process. He is calling on his followers to swarm Washington, D.C., on January 6. For what conceivable purpose?

I particularly loved "trimmed and hemmed and to-be-sured its way through the most sustained assault on truth and the American political order of our lifetime", which is pitch-perfect.

But the main point is that no good ever could ever have come from "calling on [Trump’s] followers to swarm Washington, D.C., on January 6" and the Wall Street Journal covered itself with feckless shame for not saying so.

Dehumanizer to the core

What is it that I want from government, exactly?

The answer my brain keeps coming back to is in reference to something my guy Jeb Bush used to say about education. He wanted every child to have the opportunity to live a life of purpose and meaning. And that’s basically what I want from our government and society.

Donald Trump created a party that didn’t even pretend to care about dignity and purpose.

Trump saw Republican voters as customers who needed to be attracted to his brand. And if his customers wanted a brand identified with being as cruel as possible to other humans, then it was cruelty he would sell. Banning people from entry into the country if they are Muslim does not have a pro-human dignity side to the argument. Neither does separating parents from their children at the border. Or cheering on killer cops. Or grabbing women by the pussy against their will. Or trying to cancel the votes of people who live in a city with a lot of blacks.

Trump’s entire essence is in direct conflict with the notion that people have dignity. He is a dehumanizer to his core.

Tim Miller at The Bulwark

Gore Vidal redux

I was a young fan of Bill Buckley’s polysyllabic erudition, and cheered when Buckley threatened to “sock [Gore Vidal] in the goddam mouth.” But is Vidal’s later conspiracy theorizing looking prescient?


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

Potpourri 9/4/21

Opening insights

  • The Bitter Truth: There’s Still No Rhyme or Reason to COVID-19.” Charles C. W. Cooke has a refreshingly sane analysis of which policies help mitigate COVID-19: “There’s no rhyme or reason to this pandemic. Vaccines help a great deal. That much we know. Beyond that, though, the coverage of the virus has mostly been partisanship and witchcraft.”
  • Don’t Quit Twitter Yet. You Might Have a Moral Duty to Stay.” Tish Harrison Warren names a real and intractable problem: “Our implicit requirement of emerging leaders for copious social media engagement is like requiring all of America’s young cardiologists to take up smoking. The means necessary to have a public voice in our culture is precisely that which undoes the kind of deep thinking, nuance, creativity, humility, and compassion we desperately need from leaders of any sort.”

Front Porch Republic

Faire de la merde

[R]ead Noah Feldman’s new column. He writes that the Court "made a point that is incorrect in my view, but that is legally plausible." Why was it incorrect? Feldman explains, "The better view is that the court should have been creative and found a way to block the law anyway." And why should the Court have gotten creative? Feldman writes, "if the underlying law is unconstitutional and injures basic rights, the courts must have the power to block its operation." If there is a really bad law, the usual rules of jurisdiction can be ignored, because the court "must" be able to do something about it. I always appreciate Feldman’s candor. He says aloud what others are thinking. Unfortunately, telling courts to be "creative" is to tell courts to–pardon my French–"make shit up."

Joshua Blackman, New Op-Ed in Newsweek: The Supreme Court Could Not “Block” Texas’s Fetal Heartbeat Law – Reason.com (The heading of this item is from Google translate, and my colloquial French is too poor to know whether the French have any such colloquialism.)

Priorities today

  • Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.
  • Scotland, a cradle of the Enlightenment, abolished the crime of blasphemy in March. At the same time, however, it reintroduced it by creating new offences such as “stirring up hatred” and “abusive speech”—punishable by up to seven years in prison.

‌Left-wing activists are using old tactics in a new assault on liberalism (The Economist)

Then, contrary to script, it turned really bad …

So far, I remain grateful that Joe Biden rather than Donald Trump is our President. I voted for "neither of the above" because neither of them is really suitable and my fair state was not "in play"; it was going for Trump. Having gotten the lesser evil, I’m not going to spend four years berating him.

But his inept handling of Afghanistan led to his grandfatherly, compassionate mask coming off briefly.

The enlisted men and women of the U.S. military are the most respected professionals in America. They can break your heart with their greatness, as they did at Hamid Karzai International Airport when 13 of them gave their lives to help desperate people escape. But the top brass? Something’s wrong there, something that August revealed. They are all so media-savvy, so smooth and sound-bitey after a generation at war, and in some new way they too seem obsessed with perceptions and how things play, as opposed to reality and how things are.

A longtime friend of his once told me Mr. Biden’s weakness is that he always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. I asked if the rooms are usually small, and the friend didn’t bristle, he laughed. I suspect Mr. Biden was thinking he was going to be the guy who finally cut through, who stopped the nonsense, admitted reality, who wasn’t like the others driven by fear of looking weak or incompetent. He was going to look with eyes made cool by experience and do what needed doing—cut this cord, end this thing, not another American dead.

History would see what he’d done. It would be his legacy. And for once he’d get his due—he’s not some ice-cream-eating mediocrity, not a mere palate-cleanser after the heavy meal of Trump, not a placeholder while America got its act together. He would finally be seen as what he is—a serious man. Un homme sérieux, as diplomats used to say.

And then, when it turned so bad so quick, his pride and anger shifted in, and the defiant, defensive, self-referential speeches. Do they not see my wisdom?

When you want it bad you get it bad.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added)

More united than they’d prefer

European decision makers have never lacked the ambition for [ambitious pan-European military] projects. (In 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Jacques Chirac of France issued a portentous “Saint-Malo declaration” calling for an autonomous European strike force.) What they have lacked is a popular consensus for them. Creating an army befitting a superpower is a colossal expense. It makes sense to use the American one as long as it is on offer, rather than bankrupting Europe on a (perhaps quixotic) quest to duplicate it.

… Over the past 20 years, Europeans have watched as the United States first led Europe into wars Europe did not want to fight, and then succumbed to a passionate anti-elite politics that culminated in the election of Donald Trump. Frustration is to be expected. The Afghanistan collapse will surely sharpen it.

But the European Union is going to find it difficult to place itself at the center of Western defense arrangements, largely because it, too, has generated among its citizenry a distrust for elites as intense as the one that put the United States on its present path. In this respect, at least, Western countries are united, more united perhaps than they would wish to be.

Christopher Caldwell, ‌What the Afghanistan Withdrawal Means for Europe’s Future

A cure for despair

I found myself gape-mouthed that humanity was ever capable of producing urban spaces like this. We are far richer than the Veronese were at the height of their powers, but we can only produce mediocrity, or worse, ugliness. Verona is a palimpsest of Roman, medieval, Renaissance, and early modern architecture, all of it harmonizing in a gorgeous polyphony that ravishes the senses and elevates the spirit. If you despair of humanity, go to Verona, and see what we can be.

Rod Dreher, My Verona

Corporate "virtue"

Lyft wants me to know that it is "Defending drivers and women’s access to healthcare" by setting up a defense fund in case any of its drivers get sued for aiding and abetting an abortion under the now-famous Texas law. The tell is the domain from which they notified me: @marketing.lyftmail.com›. (Also they invited me to contribute to their defense fund.)

I’m unimpressed. I’m also unoffended by the substance of the action. But were I offended, Uber and Lyft are still the only ride-share services I know, and Uber is mostly smoke and mirrors.

Why people come to church for the wrong reasons

Undoubtedly, people come to church for a host of wrong reasons. But the pastor is able to help them find the words to acknowledge, sometimes to their own surprise, that they are here because God has willed them to be here, despite all their wrong reasons.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens


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.

Three especially for Churchmen

How should we live?

  • First, live as though in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated into the world and the outcome of history has already been determined. (Quit worrying)
  • Second, love people as the very image of God and resist the temptation to improve them.
  • Third, refuse to make economics the basis of your life. Your job is not even of secondary importance.
  • Fourth, quit arguing about politics as though the political realm were the answer to the world’s problems. It gives it power that is not legitimate and enables a project that is anti-God.
  • Fifth, learn to love your enemies. God did not place them in the world for us to fix or eliminate. If possible, refrain from violence.
  • Sixth, raise the taking of human life to a matter of prime importance and refuse to accept violence as a means to peace. Every single life is a vast and irreplaceable treasure.
  • Seventh, cultivate contentment rather than pleasure. It will help you consume less and free you from slavery to your economic masters.
  • Eighth, as much as possible, think small. You are not in charge of the world. Love what is local, at hand, personal, intimate, unique, and natural. It’s a preference that matters.
  • Ninth, learn another language. Very few things are better at teaching you about who you are not.
  • Tenth, be thankful for everything, remembering that the world we live in and everything in it belongs to God.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Violence of Modernity

I’ve probably shared these before, but I review them monthly for my own sake, so I thought you might benefit, too. In fact, I just reviewed the full blog post and all of it is excellent.

Zero-sum church

From an institutional perspective [Pope Francis’] move [against the Latin Mass] arguably appears perverse: Here you have a Western church conspicuously lacking in public zeal, religious vocations, large families, liturgical seriousness … and yet the leaders of the church have decided to act punitively against a small minority that, whatever its highly-debated growth rate, clearly is a locus for intense forms of piety and practice. It’s as if a major auto manufacturer whose big brands were all struggling decided to kill off one of its few profitable lines of cars, because it only turned a profit in a niche market and wasn’t big enough to subsidize the whole. A strange decision …

… but under the psychological conditions created by decline also an understandable one. In a general corporate climate of diminishment and disappointment a small form of success invites resentment: If the small brand isn’t capable of subsidizing the whole, then why are its engineers and salesman wasting their talents on its niche market, when they should be contributing to saving the larger company? Shouldn’t they be expected to chip in where the need is greatest, in the main brands — by analogy, big, empty diocesan seminaries and struggling Novus Ordo parishes and schools — instead of concentrating their talents serving a more intense but (it’s assumed) self-limited market?

In the specific case of traditionalism, it was that sense of relative stability that helped pave the way for the Latin Mass’s return from its 1970s exile, for the permissions issued by first by John Paul and then more sweepingly by Benedict. And then it’s the subsequent weakening of both conservative and liberal Catholicism — the former pushing more right-wing Catholics tradward, the latter making tradness appear more of a threat to a necessary acceleration of the Vatican II revolution — that’s given us the sharpened conflicts between traditionalism and Pope Francis, and now the attempt at outright suppression.

Ross Douthat, ‌The Latin Mass in the Zero Sum Church (first two ellipses in original; hyperlink likely paywalled).

My reaction to Pope Francis’ suppression of the Latin Mass (after reading some articulate howls from its proponents) was "doesn’t Francis see that this move tends to eradicate the Catholicism of his own youth and tends to the schism of those who won’t give it up?!" After reading Douthat, my reaction is "Of course he knows that. He wants a Novus Ordo Catholicism purged of Latin Mass Catholicism. He even said the Novus Ordo is now the exclusive Lex Orandi of the Church, and that he may be remembered as the Pope who split the Church."

In retirement, I have little occasion to bump into highly traditionalist Catholics (and a round of well-warranted litigation by my firm on behalf of the siblings of one of them estranged us even before I retired). But I read a few of them, and with Covid and Afghanistan and seeming national collapse of the U.S., and now the suppression of the Mass they love by a Pope they are obliged to obey, this is not a happy time to to be an American Latin Mass Catholic.

Always in the wrong

Revolutionaries are always in the wrong, since, in their juvenile fervor for everything new, in their hopes for a better future, and a way of life built on justice, they always base themselves on theories that are abstract and artificial, making a clean sweep of living tradition which is, after all, founded on the experience of centuries.

Conservatives are always wrong, too, despite being rich in life experience, despite being shrewd and prudent, intelligent and skeptical. For, in their desire to preserve ancient institutions that have withstood the test of time, they decry the necessity of renewal, and man’s yearning for a better way of life.

Both attitudes carry within themselves the seeds of death. Is there, then, a third way? Another destiny for society than of always being subject to the threat of revolutions which destroy life, or reactionary attitudes which mummify it? Or is this the inevitable fate of all terrestrial cities, the natural law of their existence?

In fact, only in the Church can we find both a Tradition that knows no revolution and at the same time the impetus towards a new life that has no end. Her theory (understood in the true sense of the word, namely “vision”) is based on a constant experience of Truth. Which is why she is in possession of those infinite resources upon which may draw all who are called to govern the perishable cities of this world.

Vladimir Lossky in Seven Days on the Roads of France, his account of fleeing the Nazis from Paris as he and his father had previously fled the Bolsheviks. (Via Fr. Stephen Freeman). I’ve ordered the book.


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.

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.)

* * * * *

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.

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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

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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