Impressions of COVID-19

It makes me a little crazy to hear, for example, opinion panelists asking each other “Do you think the President is doing enough about Coronavirus?” Same for columnists who say he’s doing it incompetently (or superbly).

Nobody knows exactly what to do and nothing we do is going to stop COVID-19 dead. This predicted pandemic will be, even if it gives aid and comfort to Rush Limbaugh to say it, weaponized in every way anything can be weaponized, and Monday-morning quaterbacked ad nauseum.

My sympathy for Trump in the face of unfair attacks is all-but-nonexistent, though. He has taken undue credit for good things and now he’ll take undue blame for a pandemic. Welcome to the demagogic way we play politics. But the demagoguery in a time of desperate need for calm and focus is like kids in the back seat fighting and carping as daddy tries to navigate extremely treacherous road conditions: it doesn’t help daddy drive, and daddy’s many shortcomings are irrelevant at the moment.

Hypotheticals and bad similes aside, I saw an opinion piece yesterday that “weaponized” Coronavirus/COVID-19, not directly against Trump but pointedly noting that people with high-deductible private health insurance are going to hesitate to go the Emergency Room with symptoms. They may go to their private physicians, who lack the high-tech paraphernalia of a hospital. Waiting rooms will become virus exchanges. So the argument went.

So: was that “weaponizing,” or was it just bona fide commentary? I’m going with “bona fide but flawed by omitting half the story.”

I’m inclined to think that medical waiting rooms will become virus exchanges in any event, even with Medicare for All zero-cost care. Hospitals are not intended for primary care. They’re not going to put everyone who’s coughing into a private isolation room pending “rule-out” tests. They aren’t God or even Superman and they aren’t staffed by insta-clones of adult Nobel Laureates in Medicine and Infection Control.

What our current healthcare system will do, surely, is increase mortality of a pandemic as people avoid care or delay it past the point where their lives could have been saved. If it hurts Trump and boosts Bernie to say that, so be it. I’ve thought for decades that, for good or ill, universal healthcare of some sort was inevitable (and I think I had single-payer in mind). I’m surprised it has been delayed this long.

If you think I’m weaponizing, do me the courtesy of saying “bona fide but flawed,” and tell me the rest of the story.

We may still do better than countries without sophisticated health care, by the way, however costly our care is.

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Speaking of Bernie, the press needs to be looking hard — not at the unmanageable Bernie Bros, but at the unsavory retinue he has built over decades of political extremism. People like Linda Sarsour. These people will be in the White House and our agencies if he wins. They may or may not be as felonious as Trump’s sycophants, but they’ll probably be, ironically, more anti-Semitic (among other things). It won’t be any golden age.

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And if Trump loses over this pandemic, look for an epic pout and deranged accusations that will make Hillary Clinton look like Sweet Suzy Sunshine.

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Finally, I heard David French of The Dispatch say something last night on its podcast that made a lot of sense of disturbing things I’ve been noticing: some pundits view punditry as a purely mercenary team sport rather than as an iterative search for the truth. (That’s a paraphrase.)

Well, duh. Why didn’t I do that synthesis myself?

So you have formerly sane-looking conservative/Republican pundits saying indefensible things about indefensible actions of our indefensible President because the fans like it that way. Period. I call that “prostitution,” which is why I stay away from places like Townhall.com and Breitbart. I’ll take my occasional field trip into crazy opinions in places I never respected in the first place, like Jacobin or In These Times.

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I’ll no doubt be reading more stuff soon that could have improved this blog, but for now, that’s all.

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

Psalm 98/99:1

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

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

Enduring legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Weiner, The Trump Fallacy.

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

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

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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).

Europe, Political Parties

1

Some European luminaries have signed a letter calling all to defense of Europe against the destroyers. The Guardian printed it and linked commentary with caricatures of Jarosław Kaczyński and Viktor Orbán, the destroyers. Alan Jacobs reminds the luminaries that “The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith.”

I’ll take “The Faith is Europe” as a bit of heart-warming Christian European hyperbole, but I choke on “Europe is the Faith” as prima facie heretical. That Hillaire Belloc, John Senior and Alan Jacobs can affirm it with a straight face suggests that I get off my high horse and try to apprehend why the latter is a proposition to be entertained by serious people. I am acquiring a copy of Europe and the Faith.

Be it acknowledged that the luminaries are speaking in more-or-less good faith, invoking what happened in the 1930s (and 40s by implication).

But be it also acknowledged that the “destroyers” just might be bona fide, too, as the EU could not be bothered to acknowledge Europe’s Christian roots in its 2004 Constitution, is allowing a flood (I don’t think that’s too strong) of third-world, disproportionately non-Christian migrants and refugees to settle, and believes in gigantism over subsidiarity, let alone orthodox Christianity. My sympathies are on their side, but with fear and trembling.

Perils to the Left, perils to the Right. I chose my new blog subtitle, “Chronicling the death of the West,” because it so often seems that’s what I’m doing.

2

Like one of the surprising number of atheists who unreservedly (wistfully?) recognize the social utility of religion, I recognize the social utility of political parties, though I cannot believe in any of them sufficiently to throw myself into partisan activism. That includes my party of preference, the American Solidarity Party; a fortiori, the two major parties.

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The most radical guy in the race

I’m going to take the liberty (you can’t stop me) of pulling some quotes from David Brooks but re-arranging them.

  • Only 18 percent of Americans say the federal government does the right thing most or nearly all of the time. In July 2016, as Ronald Brownstein has pointed out, only 29 percent of Trump supporters and 23 percent of Clinton supporters thought that electing their candidate would actually lead to progress.
  • According to a 2015 Heartland Monitor poll, 66 percent of Americans believe that their local area is moving in the right direction.
  • To have a chance, [a] third-party candidate would have to emerge as the most radical person in the race. That person would have to argue that the Republicans and Democrats are just two sides of a Washington-centric power structure that has ground to a halt. That person would have to promise to radically redistribute power across American society.
  • All recent presidential candidates have run against Washington, but on the premise that they could change Washington. Today, a third-party candidate would have to run on creating different kinds of power structures at different levels.

David Brooks, who may have written a great column because of having read a great book (which I haven’t read yet).

When I look at the great New York Times 2016 electoral map, and ponder the eventuality of the populous cities being thwarted in Presidential elections by millions of square miles of geography in the heartland, lowering the stakes by making Washington, DC just one power structure among many, limited to things like national defense, is very attractive.

Caveat: Washington cannot directly devolve power to, say, Tippecanoe County, but it can devolve power to Indiana (sorry, Illinois, Connecticut and other states that have been mis-governed), and can jawbone for further devolution.

What’s not to like? Federalism vindicated and subsidiarity as national policy. Pretty soon, we might have a full-blown modus vivendi.

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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Living by lies

Donald Trump isn’t the only person in the public square asking his minions to believe absurd, damnable lies:

I was very struck by [Rod] Dreher’s saying that the Czechs are too quick to dismiss the danger that their own country could adopt transgender insanity with terrifying swiftness (they assume that their fellow Czechs are too sensible to do this) but that, at the same time, we Americans are too quick to dismiss the danger that we could lose our religious liberty with terrifying swiftness. I would also add that there is a distinct link between the Communism that forcibly de-Christianized Eastern Europe and current transgender ideology. Both, as in the book 1984, show their power by forcing people to “live by lies,” blatant, obvious lies, and both glory in their power to do so.

(Lydia McGrew at What’s Wrong with the World? Hyperlink and bold added.)

Could it be that the foremost obligation of all sane people today (which should, but sadly does not, include all putative Christians) is to resist all lies, loudly and unabashedly?

UPDATE:

Eric Mader calls this “getting red-pilled.”

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It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

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.

Gun Control

I began this blog many weeks ago, forgot it, but now finish in pared-down form.

I wonder to what extent the visceral anger at “thoughts and prayers” is a way of expressing fear and anger at our inability to control irruptions of evil into our ordered lives.

(Rod Dreher)

***

When a tragedy occurs — particularly one that involves gun violence, like Sunday’s mass shooting in Texas — two things are quite predictable in the aftermath: First, lots of people, including politicians, will offer their “thoughts and prayers.” And second, an increasingly large cadre of critics will react to these offerings of “thoughts and prayers” with outrage.

Why? It seems people think “thoughts and prayers” are a lazy substitute for embarking on some real political action that might help prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future …

Contrary to the enraged certainties of many anti-gun liberals, there are actually few policies we know of that could serve as easy remedies to things like gun massacres …

The urgency and vigor of those who despise the notion of “thoughts and prayers” would only be justified in their reaction if there were indeed a magic button we could push to fix the problem tomorrow. And there isn’t.

But there’s something more fundamental at play. This isn’t just about guns. It’s about how we see political action. The implicit, maybe unconscious, but clear premise of the anti-“thoughts and prayers” line is that the only proper response to bad things happening is always political action. But turning everything into a political battle ensures that every single issue will become a conflictual one, leading to the progressive fraying away of social norms and of the belief in shared American values — which is what allows for political debate to begin with.

(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, In defense of ‘thoughts and prayers’)

Derision of prayer and demands (tacit or explicit) for legislative magic are extensions, it seems to me, of our broadly modern notion that the public square is full of “problems” that need scientific or political “solutions.” I believe a ban on semi-automatic weapons would lower mass murder rates very slowly at best, with the interim full of demands for banning private gun ownership entirely—or so I expect gun owner suspicions run. They’d rather endure the evil of occasional mass murder than face that prospect.

No solution

Insofar as the gun control cause is “liberal,” and liberalism is most famously instantiated in the Democrat party, this seems like a very bad issue for Democrats serious about regaining some political power:

  • We have no answers, and perhaps no real concern, for the economic and social pain of you Trump voters.
  • We despise your prayers.
  • We want to take away the guns you so bitterly cling to.

Were I still a Republican, I’d be thrilled at such folly.

***

What do the perpetrators of the massacres at Sandy Hook, at Aurora, at Orlando, and at Sutherland Springs have in common? They were all men under 30 and they all used versions of the same kind of firearm, the AR-15, the semi-automatic version of the military’s M-16 and the bestselling gun in America.

It might be difficult to make this connection because as I write this, the section on the use of AR-15s in mass killings has been deleted from Wikipedia by a user called Niteshift36, who claimed that including such a section at all was inherently biased. According to his user profile, this no-doubt scrupulous and disinterested editor of the world’s most widely used work of reference is “proud to be an American,” “a native speaker of the English language,” “skeptical of anthropogenic global warming,” and “supports concealed carry laws.” He is also a veteran, a Tom Clancy and 24 fan, someone who thinks we should “say NO to political correctness,” and a self-professed “Jedi.”

With all apologies to Jedi Master Niteshift36, this is ridiculous. If the killers had all worn Mickey Mouse sunglasses or been found with Metallica tattoos, it would be considered noteworthy. It’s not biased except in the sense that reality itself is biased against childish gun enthusiasts. But whether he wins his edit war or nay, he has done a great service by reminding us what we’re dealing with whenever we try to argue. He fits a profile, of revoltingly adolescent, video game-addicted LARPers who think that their hobby of playing dress-up with murder weapons is a constitutional right.

The AR-15 is not just a gun. It is a hobby, a lifestyle, an adolescent cult …

(Matthew Walther, The adolescent cult of the AR-15)

Lest you think Walther’s mocking approach nearly as useless as prayer, be assured that this is aimed right at the source of the problem:

Lewis does not apologize for the fact that The Screwtape Letters is an entertaining and amusing read. Indeed in the opening pages he quotes Martin Luther and St. Thomas More on the need to take Lucifer lightly. Luther says, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” For his part, St. Thomas More writes, “The devil…that proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.”

(Dwight Longnecker, Laughing at Lucifer with Lewis) Walther:

Which is why I am not optimistic about our ability to pass any kind of meaningful legislation. The Republican Party owes too much of its support to people whose economic well-being it gleefully neglects but whose ill-considered attachments to dangerous toys it has safeguarded as a kind of poisoned consolation prize. Nor do I think that if we were somehow able to ban the manufacture, sale, and possession of all such weapons and carry out a more or less successful confiscation scheme we would never see anything like what happened in Sutherland Springs again. The real causes are chthonic; AR-15s are only the accidents that have in many cases enabled them.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Hurricane Havey Tweets of note

Sadly, that is not even the worst thing the misnamed “CharitableHuman” tweeted about Texas hurricane victims.

My purpose is not to let you hate on them (it purports to be a group), though.

It is to say to all sides “Enough, dammit!” But since the Alt-Right is not your father’s Religious Right, it feels no more impulse of Christian charity than does the hard left.

On the other hand:

The Cajun Navy is activating, too.

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Gosh! Did you see what President Donald Trump is up to today? How utterly fascinating he is! I weep with envy when I look upon Melania. He fills my every thought! He surely doesn’t need to start any more stupid wars to get my undivided attention! No siree!

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.