When politics becomes a religion

Religionized politics bodes to kill us:

I’m convinced that 2020 is going to be the most spiritually challenging year for politically engaged Christians of my adult lifetime. In an increasingly de-Christianized America, politics itself is emerging as a competing religious force, and it’s a religion that’s increasingly based on hate and fear, rather than love and grace.

[T]he idea that a person is “good, but wrong” or even “decent, but wrong” is vanishing. Instead, the conventional wisdom is that our political opponents are “terrible and wrong.” Our opponents not only have bad policies, they are bad people.

Now, let’s thrown in an additional complicator for people of faith. Perhaps a religious partisan could attempt to justify the animosity if they could map out a nice, neat religious divide. “Of course they’re terrible people—they’re all heretics.” After all, “reasoning” like that has launched countless wars of religion. And indeed, Republican partisans do make the claim that the GOP stands as a bulwark against increasingly godless Democrats.

But here’s the very different truth. The bases of both parties are disproportionately composed of the most God-fearing, church-going cohort of Americans—black Democrats and white Evangelicals. So, no, while there are serious differences regading abortion, religious liberty, immigration, and a host of other vital moral issues (and blue states tend to be more secular than red states), American politics cannot be neatly defined as a battle between the godly and the godless.

Thus, while the stakes of our modern political conflicts are thankfully lower than the awful carnage of the Civil War, the political division between black Democrats and white Evangelicals reminds me of Lincoln’s famous words in his second inaugural: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” And we face a similar reality: “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”

David French (emphasis added).

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

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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1

Holy Smokes! Tucker Carlson lit a long fuse and Michael Brendan Dougherty just ignited!

Carlson pointed to the real molten fissure that is burbling sulfur on the American right. By doing so without ever mentioning the name, the character, or the political fortunes of Donald Trump, he allowed everyone to be more frank than usual. Carlson’s case is that elite-driven economic and social policy has destroyed the material basis for the family life, that our technocratic elite has the wrong measures of national health. Further, he argues, if the American Right doesn’t give up on its absentminded idolatry of “the market,” the country will quickly move toward socialism.

My colleagues David French and David Bahnsen, along with Ben Shapiro, argued forcefully against him. The themes are remarkably similar. Carlson says true things about the state of family life, they admit. But he is encouraging a victim mentality …

While French, Bahnsen, and Shapiro all variously object to Carlson’s jeremiads about elites, and his iconoclasm when it comes to the “free market,” nobody disputed that, as Carlson said, sometimes private-equity outfits do take advantage of our laws to extract value from existing companies for shareholders, charging fees while passing on pension burdens to the public. Also, nobody argued against Carlson’s contention that, absent a dramatic effort to change the conditions for America’s middle and working class, the country will turn to socialism. I found these omissions curious.

Bahnsen writes: “Carlson wrongly chooses to assign blame for the decisions people make to macroeconomic forces, instead of focusing on the decisions people make and the microeconomic consequences people absorb.”

To those who object to Carlson along these lines I would ask: At what point can we actually move on from the subject of personal responsibility and onto governance? Or, to put it another way, are there any political conditions in which the advice to be virtuous and responsible aren’t the best counsel you could give an individual?

It seems that it would be just as true to say these things in Russia during the post-Communist period, which saw soaring substance-abuse problems and plunging life expectancies. Then as now, the best advice you could give an individual Russian man was not to drink until his liver failed and he died. You could advise Russian women not to abort so many of their children. You could advise people to go back to church. All that would be salutary and more practically useful than having them wallow in elite failure. But none of that advice is inconsistent with political reflection and action for building a more flourishing society.

And our jobs at National Review and the Daily Wire include writing about and reflecting on political conditions. We are, all of us in this debate, dedicated to causes in which political effort and coordination is difficult. Would any of us really conclude that because the Russian state wasn’t forcing men at gunpoint to drink, Russia’s mortality rate had nothing to do with the corruption, venality, and misgovernance of the era? I doubt it.

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I agree that a victim mentality isn’t helpful. A victim mentality doesn’t even help most actual victims. It wouldn’t help most political prisoners held unjustly. They, too, benefit spiritually from self-control (and religion)! My fear is that we are now so self-conscious about legitimizing a victim mentality that we have decided that justice is hardly worth pursuing. We trust an invisible hand so thoroughly that we don’t ask whether the laws and policies that govern trade, employment, and markets are prudent. We are becoming as glib as those who say “Don’t like abortion? Then don’t have one.”

(Bold added)

Kudos to Carlson for starting this intra-conservative fight. Kudos to Dougherty for the cojones to point out that his colleagues, most or all of them senior to him, are selling buck-naked, Emperor’s-New-Clothes nostrums that few are still buying. And Kudos to National Review for allowing Dougherty to deviate from the conservative party line.

2

I do think Trump will declare a bogus national emergency because it provides a similacrum of accomplishing something.

So: Which is the worse precedent?

  1. A President declaring a bogus national emergency to gesture at fulfilling a key campaign promise?
  2. Federal Courts ruling that a declaration of national emergency is bogus?

Note that I’ve kept personalities out of it because the question is precedent.

The President claims that his lawyers have given a legal green light to the proposed declaration of national emergency. His oath to uphold the laws and constitution oblige him to satisfy himself of that.

  1. Has the Department of Justice really vetted this proposal for conformity with what the law has in mind by “national emergency” (rather than just “can I get away with it”) and said “Yes. This is a classic national emergency”? Or …
  2. Will there be principled resignations of lawyers whose opinions are being misrepresented?

3

Are there enough millstones left in the world to appropriately bedeck the necks of Fordham faculty, staff and counselors?

4

… I no longer recognize my country and I don’t feel welcome here anymore. That is why I’m leaving America, for the same reason my ancestors came here, to find home.

… Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned the new breakaway Ukrainian patriarch to offer the US Government’s support. I can’t expect the US Government to have a theological care about the destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, but I hate that my government is exploiting this rift to gain advantage against Russia.

It gets worse. In 2016, the Trump State Department put out a $300,000 bid to hire culture-war mercenaries to go into Macedonia with the express purpose of fighting Orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality. The American taxpayer paid money to export the destruction of Macedonia’s Christian culture.

… Personally, I don’t know what it would mean to “give up” on America. That said, I find our country to be an increasingly hostile, alien place, in terms of the direction of the culture, and the lack of a sense that there’s anything left to restrain its descent.

Rod Dreher, An Expatriate Of The Heart, initially quoting a reader from Atlanta.

I’m thinking of “the … closing lines in Alasdair MacIntyre’s … After Virtue, in which MacIntyre concludes:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead . . . was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

Patrick J. Deneen

Unlike Rod’s reader in Atlanta, my wife has not left me for another woman. I have a son, his wife, and two grandchildren. I serve my parish as Cantor.

These loyalties, not any attachment to the nation writ large (let alone to the government, a true force for evil in the world), keep me here (along with frank recognition that my language skills aren’t supple enough to make emigration to any Orthodox land feasible).

I’m of a generation and personal temperament that come to such conclusions relatively easily, I suspect. But I was a bit surprised to find myself agreeing so thoroughly with Rod’s reader.

I strongly suspect we’re at such the kind of “crucial turning point” MacIntyre described in the U.S., too. The comments to Dreher’s blog confirm that I’m not alone.

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Trimmer callout

Daniel Henninger at the Wall Street Journal accurately describes the Donald Trump foreign policy modus operandi:

The controversy overflowing the banks of the press conference between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is a moment to step back and assess the nonstop maelstrom called the Trump presidency.

Mr. Trump’s famous modus operandi is the art of the deal. Keep everyone guessing and off balance. Decision first, details later. Drive events, stay on offense, force everyone to react. In this, Mr. Trump has succeeded.

No one—from the individuals who work daily in the White House to friends and enemies in foreign capitals—knows what he may do next. A high-ranking official from an Asian ally who visited the Journal’s offices recently was asked if his government has a clear idea of what Mr. Trump wants them to do on trade. “No,” he said, “we do not.”

The whole world is back on its heels, which is where, according to theory, the art-of-the-deal master wants them.

As I read, I thought “This is true, and it describes an autocracy because nobody, including his White House staff, knows what he will do next and nobody is stopping him.”

Frank Bruni of the New York Times observes that “when it comes to babysitting this president, the Republican Party is a lost cause.” Bruni’s remark would have come across as a fairly anodyne liberal New York Times talking point had I not been mulling over Trump as autocrat (setting aside all other attributes).

That observation ramifies. Stay tuned.

Although one might make the case that this level of autocracy is impeachable, it would be a mere academic exercise at this point. If his own party won’t buck him, this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man, in control of the imperial Presidency we’ve built, has it in his tiny hands, guided by his cribbed mind, to cause untold damage in the world — that is, in foreign policy.

Henninger gives Trump much credit for the booming economy and for his judicial nominees.

When Mr. Trump entered office amid a generalized panic among political elites, the first thing some of us noticed was that he was filling his government with first-rate people. To revive the economy, they included economic advisers Gary Cohn and Kevin Hassett, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. On taxes, Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady provided a detailed template. The economy raced to full employment. The stock market boomed.

On the Supreme Court, the most astute minds in the conservative legal movement gave Mr. Trump a list of stellar options. He picked Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. More wins.

Mr. Trump has said that in Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis and John Bolton he has the foreign-policy team he always wanted. He also said he wanted to do one-on-ones with Messrs. Xi, Kim and Putin. He has done that. The moment has arrived to start listening less to America’s adversaries and more to his own good people. That, in his first year, was the art of the win.

On foreign policy, his competent people are themselves in the dark, and our Narcissist-in-Chief doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Mr. Trump’s supporters say he deserves more time to negotiate wins on these big foreign-policy bets. It’s not going to get better.

(Henninger) Thus, it’s time for “show us the money.”

Trump’s ascendancy has highlighted the warranted discontent of those who’ve been left behind economically. Average is Not Over, and average America does not intend to go off to its Bantustan while the new plutocrats grow ever wealthier.

I think that message has been received. I hope it has been received, anyway, and I’m certainly trying to digest it. Our future is more populist. Restoration of the status quo ante will do average America few favors. This generally fits at least a few of my long-lived notions about course correction for America.

Moreover, the time probably has come (I’m ready at least, and have been ready since the anomalies came to my attention from reading smarter people) to re-examine NATO and our other trans-Atlantic alliances in light of nearly 30 years since the end of the Cold War. But I don’t want Trump-as-autocrat doing it by humiliating our historic allies and engaging in secretive tête-a-tête meetings with Vladimir Putin — and I say that as a Russophile. Rearranging treaties in light of changed facts on the ground needs to be an orderly process.

In 2016, Trump out-performed the polls. People lied or hid their true leanings (because supporting Trump would get you added to The Deplorables by the bien pensants). Having elected their secret favorite, a new tribe has tacitly enacted it own set of smelly tribal orthodoxies, starting with, in effect, “touch not God’s annointed autocrat.”

I’m hoping the current polls’ insane levels of support for Trump among Republicans are again off-base — that people are giving the approved tribal answers while secretly harboring doubts, deep doubts.

I see no reason to believe this except a disorderly and ever-weakening reflex that, under their tribal bluster, my countrymen are sane.

Bruni is calling for a blue wave in November if only to show quisling Republicans that not bucking Trump when appropriate is as dangerous as bucking him. I’m receptive to the idea that having rushed the cockpit of Flight 93 in 2016, wresting the controls from the establishment and putting them in Trump’s tiny hands, it’s time to rush it again and reverse our course.

No, make that “correct our course.” I don’t think there’s any simple going back. But I’m hoping for the emergence of tens of millions of Trimmers.

The ‘trimmer’ is one who disposes his weight so as to keep the ship upon an even keel. And our inspection of his conduct reveals certain general ideas at work … Being concerned to prevent politics from running to extremes, he believes that there is a time for everything and that everything has its time — not providentially, but empirically. He will be found facing in whatever direction the occasion seems to require if the boat is to go even.

May this tribe increase.

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Shelby Steele on NFL & BLM

Stanford Historian and Hoover Institute Fellow Shelby Steele has a powerful essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, behind a pay wall, about the feckless NFL “take the knee” protests. He also touches on Black Lives Matter. You probably can get a copy of the Journal at Barnes & Noble or another news stand if you move quickly. Or there’s always your local library.

I’m going to quote his core claim and, what I find a most powerful illustration, and his reasoning on why protests continue:

The oppression of black people is over with. This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless. We blacks are, today, a free people. It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.

Of course this does not mean there is no racism left in American life. Racism is endemic to the human condition, just as stupidity is. We will always have to be on guard against it. But now it is recognized as a scourge, as the crowning immorality of our age and our history.

Protest always tries to make a point. But what happens when that point already has been made—when, in this case, racism has become anathema and freedom has expanded?

To hear … that more than 4,000 people were shot in Chicago in 2016 embarrasses us because this level of largely black-on-black crime cannot be blamed simply on white racism.

We can say that past oppression left us unprepared for freedom. This is certainly true. But it is no consolation. Freedom is just freedom. It is a condition, not an agent of change. It does not develop or uplift those who win it. Freedom holds us accountable no matter the disadvantages we inherit from the past. The tragedy in Chicago—rightly or wrongly—reflects on black America.

That’s why, in the face of freedom’s unsparing judgmentalism, we reflexively claim that freedom is a lie. We conjure elaborate narratives that give white racism new life in the present ….

I tried to comment on this, but that only made it weaker.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Love of Country

[O]p-ed provocations notwithstanding, the 25th Amendment option isn’t happening — not without some major presidential deterioration in the midst of a major crisis, and probably not even then. And while I blame Republicans for a thousand things that brought us to this pass, it’s too extreme to blame them for not pursuing an option that’s never been tried before, against a president who was recently and (yes) legitimately elected, especially when that option requires extraordinary coordination across the legislative and executive branches and could easily fail … with God-only-knows what kind of consequences.

People may laugh at [Michael] Wolff’s assertion that “the men and women of the West Wing, for all that the media was ridiculing them, actually felt they had a responsibility to the country,” and for some figures (perhaps especially in the press office) the laughter will be justified. But for others the work has been necessary and important, and the achievement of relative stability a genuine service to the United States.

(Ross Douthat) I for one do not laugh at the West Wingers who have allowed themselves to be slimed for love of country. I think particularly of the military people, whose foreign policy views I probably don’t share, but who at least have views and a somewhat coherent policy.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Hatchet-Job History

[I]nexcusably sloppy editorializing posing as scholarship has becoming increasingly characteristic of the conservative movement as a media phenomenon. Editorial opinions dressed up as as scholarship and then placed in book form and mass-marketed have become part of the new highbrow conservatism …

Perhaps one of the most ludicrous examples of the conservative movement’s recent attempt at being sophisticated was an exchange of equally uninformed views by talk show host Dennis Prager and Dinesh D’Souza, on the subject of the fascist worldview. The question was whether one could prove that fascism was a leftist ideology by examining the thought of Mussolini’s court philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). Gentile defined the “fascist idea” in his political writings while serving as minister of education in fascist Italy. He was also not incidentally one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century; and in works like General Theory of the Spirit as Pure Act, adapts the thought of Hegel to his own theory of evolving national identity. It would be hard to summarize Gentile’s thought in a few pithy sentences; and, not surprisingly, the Canadian historian of philosophy H.S. Harris devotes a book of many hundreds of pages trying to explain his complex philosophical speculation.

Hey, but that’s no big deal for such priests of the GOP church as Prager and D’Souza. They zoom to the heart of Gentile’s neo-Hegelian worldview in thirty seconds and state with absolute certainty that he was a “leftist.” …

I still recall a column by [Jonah] Goldberg in which he exiled to the far left ultraconservative opponents of the French Revolution, because they didn’t believe in human rights. He then went on to compare the Catholic counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre to a black feminist advocate of affirmative action, because both associated human beings with the national identities into which they were born. Apparently anyone who views others in terms of their ethnic origin, no matter at what point in history, is a certified leftist. At that time I was puzzled (but am no longer) that Goldberg had no idea that political camps in 1800 were different from what they are now.

Let me close these observations by noting the obvious. There are still many respectable historical works that are produced by scholars identified, however loosely, with the American right. But there is also a plague of genuinely ridiculous writings on historical subjects coming from conservative media celebrities that surpass in their arrogant stupidity almost anything I’ve encountered in professional journals. As for people who yap about the ideologically tainted work that originate in our universities, one might hope they’d be somewhat better than those they declaim against. That’s not always the case.

(Paul Gottfried, Right-wing Celebrities Play Fast and Loose With History) I’m disappointed that Dennis Prager collaborated so recently with Dinesh D’Souza. I guess someone needs to be his friend if he’s ever to be rehabilitated, but that shouldn’t include joining him in the hucksterism to which his tragic flaws have presently consigned him.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

No true conservative …

I was pondering this quote, probably just going to put it in my personal journal with a pithy remark or two:

Conservatism is what conservatives think, say, and do. As conservatives change—as much through the harsh fact of death and birth as by the fluctuations of opinion—so does what it means to be a conservative.

(David Frum) But then Rod Dreher weighed in with a more elaborate set of remarks, reflecting his wider reading:

Here are Russell Kirk’s Six Canons of Conservatism:

  1. A belief in a transcendent order, which Kirk described variously as based in tradition, divine revelation, or natural law;
  2. An affection for the “variety and mystery” of human existence;
  3. A conviction that society requires orders and classes that emphasize “natural” distinctions;
  4. A belief that property and freedom are closely linked;
  5. A faith in custom, convention, and prescription, and
  6. A recognition that innovation must be tied to existing traditions and customs, which entails a respect for the political value of prudence.

Which of these general principles describes popular American conservatism today? Maybe No. 4, with smidge of No. 1, most of them people who take the Jeffress Option. I subscribe to Kirk’s Canons, but I can’t pretend that they are much in evidence outside of the religious, literary, and philosophical circles I frequent.

The truth is, they probably haven’t been for a long time, because the world that produced Kirkian traditionalism has been largely obliterated by mass culture, consumerism, media, and technology. The fact that so many conservatives responded to my 2002 cover story in National Review describing “crunchy cons” (my name for 21st-century conservatives who are more or less Kirkians) by treating it as if I were trying to smuggle liberalism in through the back door revealed how little influence Kirk’s ideas have on the contemporary conservative mind. (Alas for the contemporary conservative mind!)

What do you call Kirkian conservatives in the age of Trump? Reactionaries? What? All I can tell you is that I identify less and less with what people mean today when they use the word “conservative.” Then again, it’s been like that for me for about a decade, so I’m used to it. It’s kind of vain to say that we are the true conservatives. At least orthodox Catholics who affirm the Church’s doctrinal teachings can appeal to an authoritative standard. Political parties — unless, like the Communist parties, they are run like religious cults — don’t have authoritative standards.

Although more erudite (I don’t have Kirk’s Six Canons in mind, but they’re in my heart), Rod captures my feelings exactly. But don’t miss one key sentence: “It’s kind of vain to say that we are the true conservatives.” That’s the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, which I learned from my friend Doug Masson. Kirk is venerable, but he’s no “authoritative standard” if he ever was.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

American “leadership”

I thought I might fail to blog today, but a kerfuffle between the President and Senator John McCain got the juices running.

When I read stories about “far right” European parties or candidates, I keep encountering the same feelings.

  • First, there’s appreciation that immigration can change a society, destroying much of what current citizens value.
  • Second, the appreciation that many of the immigrants in issue are refugees, and that American actions (with varying complicity by Western European nations) arguably have created the refugee crisis.
  • Third, and weakest, a suspicion that if we hadn’t broken the Middle East, something else would have. How long can strongmen like Sadaam Hussein and Bashir Al Assad keep power and order in their lands, U.S. support or opposition notwithstanding?

Which brings me to the kerfuffle:

Mr. McCain condemned “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats” than solve problems.

“You know, I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice,” the president said. “But at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.”

“It’s fine with me,” Mr. McCain responded on Tuesday to Mr. Trump’s remark. “I’ve faced some fairly significant adversaries in the past.”

The verbal sparring was the latest round of animosity between Mr. Trump and the Republican senator, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. The president has criticized and taunted Mr. McCain, most recently for his vote dooming a Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act; early in the presidential campaign he said Mr. McCain was “not a war hero” and that “I like people who weren’t captured.”

In Philadelphia on Monday night, Mr. McCain spoke after the National Constitution Center bestowed on him an award honoring his fight for liberty. He emphasized the benefits that arise from America’s willingness to engage with the world.

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” the Arizona Republican told hundreds who gathered and applauded outside the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

“We live in a land made of ideals,” he said, “not blood and soil. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

(Siobhan Hughes, Wall Street Journal) The money line in this, of course, is “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

But another line gave me, and others, pause.

John McCain is being applauded for delivering a fiery speech denouncing “half-baked, spurious nationalism” as he accepted the National Constitution Center Liberty Medal in Philadelphia on Monday.

The cheers are understandable. Whatever your views of his Senate voting record, McCain is an American hero who is justly celebrated for his sacrifices in Vietnam. He is showing grace and resilience in fighting a terrible illness. And yes, his targets are clearly the likes of President Trump and former White House strategist Stephen Bannon.

Nevertheless, there is much about McCain’s remarks that is wrong or at least incomplete. And his errors are precisely what is fanning the flames of the populist and nationalist backlash he now denounces to such great fanfare.

”We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil,” McCain declared. This is something the man who beat McCain in the 2008 presidential race might describe as as “false choice.”

James W. Antle III McCain’s Abstract America. The editor’s sub headline was that “McCain appeals to abstractions as much to avoid debate as to engage in it.” “A land made of ideals” surely was in mind.

Peter Beinart at the Atlantic almost perfectly captures my ambivalence about John McCain and confirms my wisdom in subscribing:

[Y]ou can’t help but notice that many of the conservatives who condemn Trump most passionately—Bill Kristol, Bret Stephens, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin—remain wedded to the foreign policy legacy of George W. Bush. And in criticizing Trump’s amoral “isolationism,” they backhandedly defend the disastrous interventionism that helped produce his presidency in the first place.

The godfather of this brand of hawkish, anti-Trump conservatism is John McCain …. Sure, McCain—being a Republican Senator—doesn’t condemn Trump as forthrightly as his “neoconservative” allies in the press. But the terms of his critique are similar.

Look at his speech on Tuesday after being awarded the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal …

As a man, McCain is as honorable as Trump is dishonorable. But this narrative is false. The last seventy-five years of American foreign policy are not the story of a country consistently pursuing democratic ideals, only to see them undermined now by a fearful “blood and soil” isolationism.

[A]nti-communism … justified America’s overthrow of elected governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. It justified Ronald Reagan’s decision to label Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress a terrorist organization and America’s longtime assistance to the kleptocratic Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. And far from keeping the peace, it led the United States to drop more bombs on Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War than it had during World War II.

Since 1989 … [t]he United States has sought to extend its global preeminence while battling a range of enemies—from “rogue states” seeking “weapons of mass destruction” to hyper-nationalists murdering ethnic minorities to jihadist terrorist groups—that challenge the American-led order. During the Gulf War, this imperative led the United States to strengthen the United Nations and defend international law. But during the Iraq War, it led the United States to defy international law and obliterate the Iraqi state, thus creating the conditions for ISIS. In Bosnia and Kosovo, American power helped stop genocide. In Libya, it helped create chaos.

All of that narrative brings me back to my “we broke it so we bought it” suspicions that we must not turn our backs on the human beings whose “refugee” status our policies helped create.

Beinart continues:

The point is that American “leadership” sometimes furthers the ideals that Americans revere and sometimes it desecrates them. Sometimes it makes America stronger; sometimes it doesn’t. McCain’s implication is that it’s only when American “abandon[s]” and “refuse[s]” its leadership role that it fails its people and the world. But that’s not true. Over the last fifteen years, in a spasm of military hyperactivity, the United States has toppled governments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, in wars that have cost America dearly, and bred more conflict in their wake. Trump won the Republican nomination, in part, because—facing establishment candidates who would not criticize George W. Bush’s foreign policy—he condemned such adventures and pledged to avoid new ones.

McCain is right to (obliquely) condemn Trump’s hostility to refugees, his indifference to human rights and obsession with ensuring that America’s allies don’t rip it off. But that’s not the same as foreign policy restraint. Sometimes America best serves its people and its ideals by not trying to bend the world to its will …

John McCain once understood that. As a young congressman in 1985, he told the Los Angeles Times that America was neither “omniscient nor omnipotent. If we do become involved in combat, that involvement must be of relatively short duration and must be readily explained to the man in the street in one or two sentences.” In violating that principle, George W. Bush—with the support of an older John McCain—helped discredit the Republican foreign policy establishment, and lay the groundwork for Trump’s nationalist insurgency.

Now McCain and many of his hawkish allies are criticizing Trump’s amoral nationalism, which is good. But until they question the disastrous overstretch that helped create it, they will remain his useful ideological foils.

So take the refugees but stop trying to bend the world to our will.

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.