Trumpist alternative facts don’t lead me where they want me to go

Let’s take Trump’s claims seriously, just for the sake of argument. I don’t think my conclusion is his conclusion.

As I understand it, in this alternate world, Team Biden:

  • secretly organized a huge, multi-state conspiracy,
  • consisting of Republicans, Democrats, virtually every pollster and presumably a few Libertarians and independents,
  • including Governors, Secretaries of State, County and City officials, volunteers who help with elections, and
  • including federal and state judges at trial and appellate levels,
  • including Trump appointees, both trial and appellate (who Trump boasted would reliably do his will),
  • without any leaks or defections, and
  • without leaving a trace of articulable evidence (other than statistical sophistry that competent authorities demolish).

Whew!

Team Trump, in contrast, succeeded in four years at:

  • picking names off a list of prime judicial nominees handed to him by the Federalist Society and then letting Cocaine Mitch work his bright magic
  • mis-managing a pandemic response at the cost of scores- or hundreds-of-thousands of lives
  • implementing a “no good deed goes unpunished” policy for officials who take too seriously their oaths to uphold the law and Constitution
  • mean-Tweeting one or two gross of power-hungry Republican dipwads at the federal level into repeatedly and vigorously humping Trump’s leg.

I don’t want to minimize the feral cunning it takes to reduce a lot of ambitious manicured and razor-cut Republican hotshots to abject sycophancy, but apparently all that takes is demonically tireless mean-Tweeting (or threatening to mean-Tweet).

Team Biden’s exploit, in contrast, ipso facto proves that they are prepared to unite and govern a diverse and complicated country, including things that must be done without fanfare or even in secrecy.

It also proves that peaceful resistance to election of Biden is futile, and I’ll be damned (literally) if I’m stupid and evil enough to take up arms for the Orange Toxin.

He’s not known for coherence, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Team Trump wants me to conclude.

(Reminder: This was an exercise in the eventuality of “alternate facts.” And remember that Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism.)

Miscellany

From the official U.S. Department of Justice account:

During this sacred week for many Americans, AG Barr is monitoring govt regulation of religious services. While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs. Expect action from DOJ next week!

— KerriKupecDOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) April 12, 2020

Donald Trump has led by example. The example is to announce trivia by Tweet and to put exclamation points at the end.

This is why we can’t have nice things!


Wall Street Journal story headline:

Your Favorite Celebrity Will See You Now

If I cannot think of a “favorite celebrity,” does that make me a bad person?


Cyrus Habib had a good chance of becoming Governor of Washington before age 40, with higher offices likely to come. But he glimpsed his his metastasizing ego and is taking the cure.


Memo to Max Boot:

“President Trump and his loudmouth media enablers” ≠ conservatives.


There has never been an American president as spiritually impoverished as Donald Trump …

Trump is a spiritual black hole. He has no ability to transcend himself by so much as an emotional nanometer. Even narcissists, we are told by psychologists, have the occasional dark night of the soul. They can recognize how they are perceived by others, and they will at least pretend to seek forgiveness and show contrition as a way of gaining the affection they need. They are capable of infrequent moments of reflection, even if only to adjust strategies for survival.

Trump’s spiritual poverty is beyond all this. He represents the ultimate triumph of a materialist mindset. He has no ability to understand anything that is not an immediate tactile or visual experience, no sense of continuity with other human beings, and no imperatives more important than soothing the barrage of signals emanating from his constantly panicked and confused autonomic system.

The humorist Alexandra Petri once likened Trump to a goldfish, a purely reactive animal lost in a “pastless, futureless, contextless void.” This is an apt comparison, with one major flaw: Goldfish are not malevolent …

… With cable news constantly covering the pandemic, he seems to be going through withdrawal. He needs an outlet for his political glossolalia, or his constantly replenishing reservoir of grievance and insecurity will burst its seams.

… Trump begins every one of these disastrous briefings by hypnotically reading high-minded phrases to which he shows no connection. These texts are exercises in futility, but they at least show some sense of what a typical person with friends and a family might want to sound like during a national crisis. Once he finishes stumbling through these robotic recitations, he’s back to his grievances.

… Each of these presidential therapy sessions corrodes us until the moment when the president finally shambles away in a fog of muttered slogans and paranoid sentence fragments.

Daily, Trump’s opponents are enraged by yet another assault on the truth and basic human decency. His followers are delighted by yet more vulgar attacks on the media and the Democrats. And all of us, angry or pleased, become more like Trump, because just like the president, we end up thinking about only Trump, instead of our families, our fellow citizens, our health-care workers, or the future of our country. We are all forced to take sides every day, and those two sides are always “Trump” and “everyone else.”

… As Jennifer Melfi, the psychotherapist for HBO’s fictional mob boss Tony Soprano, realized at the end of the series, when she finally threw him out of her office, counseling someone incapable of reflection or remorse is pointless; it makes the counselor into a worse person for enduring such long exposure to the patient.

Likewise, Trump’s spiritual poverty is making all of us into worse people.

Tom Nichols

And you can repeat such insights only at the cost of still further making it all about Trump.


When I was young, I confess that I didn’t care much about Easter. I mean, I appreciated it. In the semi-abstract way that many young people who’ve been brought up in the church appreciate the resurrection. You believe in it. You don’t really comprehend it. Belief in the resurrection is one of those boxes you check. Virgin birth? Yup. Sinless in life? Sure. Blameless in death? Absolutely. Resurrection? Of course. I’m a Christian, and that’s what Christians believe.

David French

This is exactly where I was when on the cusp of my 20th birthday. How I came out of it is so different than how French came out of it that I can barely relate to his version.

Part of it is intramural: Orthodox Christians versus Reformed Christians (though in musical tastes, French is much more like a mainstream Evangelical than like the Reformed I knew) who used to be Charismatic Christians.On the other hand, my initial “how I came out of it” was into Evangelicalism, and I remember it pretty well. It wasn’t like what French describes.

Part of it is that French seems to have decided to call “resurrection power” any life that changes suddenly and dramatically for the better. Such changes are wonderful, of course, but that’s turning resurrection into something way too metaphoric for my tastes.


75 years ago, FDR died and a nobody became President of the United States. He had no Twitter followers. He’d never even heard of Reality TV. But he was a nobody who understood politics, and took responsibility:

[C]ompare Roosevelt and Truman, hailing, it seems, from different planets. Roosevelt was a New York aristocrat whose forebears owned a chunk of an island called Manhattan, land on which the Empire State Building rose. Reared in mansions, educated at Groton and Harvard, Roosevelt married a favorite niece of a U.S. president, who gave her away at the altar. And here was Truman, a Missouri farm boy, schooled mainly by the stacks of a small-town library. He moved into the White House having never even owned his own home. Mrs. Roosevelt required 20 trucks to vacate the premises; the Truman family just one to move in their belongings.

What the men shared was politics. It’s a dirty word today, as we look for leaders on social media and reality television. Politics isn’t perfect; it smells of swamps and tycoons, elites and establishments, corruption and compromise. Roosevelt and Truman had both inhaled these odors on the way up (for human nature never loses its distinctive scents). They navigated a world dominated by urban political bosses, teaching them that special interests, inside traders, patronage hunters, double-dealers, hypocrites, weaklings and bullies all feature regularly in the public’s business. A leader says no to most but yes to some — enough to make measurable progress for the community.

Politics taught, above all, accountability. Bosses and their candidates made promises before Election Day, then tried to keep enough to be reelected. They sought and embraced responsibility, whether it was Roosevelt saying, during hisfirst inaugural address, that he would shoulder extraordinary risks to confront the Great Depression, or Truman promising that all the world’s buck-passing would end at his desk. Responsibility created a record; a record made for a future.

Not everyone knew it on that stunning April day, but Truman’s leadership had been tested repeatedly during the decades before “the moon, the stars, and all the planets” fell on him, as the new president described his sudden responsibilities. His entry to politics had come thanks to his performance as a captain in World War I; an admiring junior officer was the nephew of the Kansas City boss. Truman’s record of delivering roads on time and below budget boosted him to the Senate. His case to be vice president was helped by his senatorial reputation as the scourge of war profiteers.

Full disclosure: I am a volunteer board member of the foundation that supports Truman’s presidential library. I concur with history’s high opinion of him. But marking this date when his record was yet to be written, I emphasize his pragmatic preparation. Look around: The world is reminding us that politics have consequences and results genuinely matter. A nation run by people without records, who take no responsibility, who claim to be better than politics, is destined to be in a world of trouble.

David Von Drehle


Maritain believed that these challenges needed to be faced with moral clarity and intellectual energy because, at the moment when he was speaking, and on all political sides, education was assuming what he believed to be an unnaturally and inappropriately central role:

As a result of the present disintegration of family life, of a crisis in morality and the break between religion and life, and finally of a crisis in the political state and the civic conscience, and the necessity for democratic states to rebuild themselves according to new patterns, there is a tendency, everywhere, to burden education with remedying all these deficiencies.

In a properly functioning society, those other institutions (family, church, politics broadly conceived) play a role in forming persons for service to the community and for their own inner flourishing. But those institutions had been gravely damaged by those anarchic and despotic forces that he sees as enemies to true personhood. It is surely unfair to expect education to heal such vast and complex afflictions, especially since the very attempt “involves a risk of warping educational work”; moreover, as we have seen, Maritain believed that “the saints and martyrs are the true educators of mankind.” But in these exceptional circumstances “extraneous burdens superadded to the normal task of education must be accepted for the sake of the general welfare.”

It is, however, vital not to accept these “extraneous burdens” on behalf of the state and its interests: “the state would summon education to make up for all that is lacking in the surrounding order in the matter of common political inspiration, stable customs and traditions, common inherited standards, moral unity and unanimity.” But if education is recruited by the state “to compensate for all the deficiencies in civil society,” then “education would become . . . uniquely dependent on the management of the state,” and as a direct consequence “both the essence and the freedom of education would be ruined.” The well-educated person will always and necessarily, in an age afflicted by both anarchic and despotic tendencies, be in tension with the surrounding society: “The freedom enjoyed by education . . . will not be a quiet and easygoing, peacefully expanding freedom, but a tense and fighting one.” There will be, especially in the years following the war, a danger of shaping people not in a “truly human” way, but rather making them merely into “the organ of a technocratic society.” …

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis pp. 129-30


Why am I soooo loving The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis?

Partly because I don’t know enough about Maritain, Eliot, Auden and Weil as Christian humanists.

But it surely is partly, as well, because the fundamental issues that we’re dealing with are not all that different, and their insights matter.

Finally, it’s because that era was unlike ours in that there were still Christian Public Intellectuals who were respected. Would that it were still so! (And that, gentle reader, is an appropriate use of an exclamation point.)

* * * * *

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.

On not freeloading

I’m at a point in life where I don’t have to be a freeloader, and I don’t want to be. Someone must pay for good writing or the only good writers left will be compulsives like me — those poor souls who write because they can’t not write.

And since I tend unduly to fixate on matters political, most of the great writers I can think of are commentators. I realized this morning that National Review, much of which is bleak and tired conservative hawkishness (and even a little trolling), and which I was considering dropping as a result, actually hosts some mighty fine writers, or at least some interesting thinkers who write well enough. Some of them are prominent enough to find at the website readily — David French, for instance — but others are more obscure.

But get this: National Review provides RSS feeds for its regular writers. That means I can get them in Feedly without having to rummage through the detritus of hacks on the website! I signed up for five or six of them.

So I guess I’ll continue my paid subscription, provided I don’t have to actually read the darn thing. (It kind of brings to mind the joke about the contest where first prize was a week in Philadelphia, second prize two weeks.)

Now give yourself a two-minute treat by reading Kevin Williamson’s White Cats and Black Swans, which isn’t political at all.

* * * * *

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).

Clippings and Comments, 2/19/19

1

In the Ralph Northram controversy (medical school yearbook, blackface and Klan costume, just in case you’ve already forgotten), I heard an interesting tidbit on a little-explored backwater of the controversy: who leaked the information about the med school yearbook page?

The answer, apparently, is unnamed, but presumably pro-life, medical school classmates outraged by his defense of what some evocatively call “4th trimester abortion.”

2

[T]he Communist Party and many other outlets feel free to publish strong criticisms of Putin. He is criticized here on a number of other topics, especially what some see as his passive responses to Western aggression. That does not happen in a totalitarian society. If I did not see the news here in Russia, I would judge from Western sources I live in a closed society where no one feels free to criticize the leader. Putin is a strong leader to be sure, but he is no dictator. Dictators silence public criticisms. I would also wrongly conclude Putin enjoys a close relationship with the Communist Party in Russia—or is secretly sympathetic to a return to Communism. A leader wanting to return to Communism does not repeatedly say, as has Putin, that whoever wants Communism restored has no brain. Western publications claiming Putin does not allow dissent in Russia or is a “closet Communist” are not based on actual research of what is written and said here. They ignore or distort both what Putin has written and said and imply contrary views are not allowed …

On a related point, overall I think the news shows here present different sides of most issues more fairly than their U.S. counterparts. I admit surpassing the fairness and objectivity of the American MSM is a very low bar to hurdle. In news talk shows here a number of perspectives are heard. They even have an American journalist, Michael Bohm, who usually takes the pro-American perspective on major international stories on one of the main news programs. Can you imagine a major news talk show in America allowing a knowledgeable Russian to explain freely the Russian “side” of the news?

Hal Freeman, an American expatriate in Russia. You might want to do a reality check on your Russia fears.

3

Data points:

  • As of 2017, acceptance of gay marriage is now stronger among American Muslims than among white evangelical Christians.
  • Two new Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, are conspicuously pro-L.G.B.T.Q.

You might want to reality-check your “creeping Sharia” fears, too.

The Economist had a major series on Islam in the West February 16. From what I’ve read so far, it’s consistent with this.

4

More from American expatriate Hal Freeman:

When I was 18 years old I joined the U.S. Marines … John Bolton wasn’t willing to do what I and thousands of young men were willing to do, but he and others in leadership are still sending young men and women to such places. I detest both the hypocrisy and the casual way leaders and politicians are eager to send Americans to risk their lives for what turns out to be political posturing and arms sales. Dying in Afghanistan or Syria will not ensure the security of the American borders or the American way of life. In my youthful naivete, I was willing to risk my life for my country. Knowing what I know now, I’m not willing to risk my children.

5

First, the issue of human sexuality has become the most pressing issue for the church of our generation. This is not to say that it can be divorced from other crucial issues, say, of mission, ecclesial identity, ministerial orders, executive authority, epistemology, and the like. Nor it is to say that everyone would agree that it is the most important issue facing the church. We can all provide our own list of items on this score; for me, it would not be at or even near the top of my concerns. However, the crowbar of civil and church history in the West has sidelined ecclesial debates about ancillary matters. Human sexuality has become the issue of our time and anyone who cares about the future of the church cannot ignore it.

William J. Abraham, In Defense of Mexit, on the impending rending of United Methodism.

6

There’s something touching about a widow of the Aurora, Illinois factory shooting being too emotional to talk to the press about her husband, and about her Facebook postings to which the press thus must resort.

I’m probably on shaky ground here, but I find it faintly creepy when people similarly bereaved are eager to share it with with total strangers through media ghouls. And, of course, their loss gives them no special expertise with which to browbeat the rest of us.

7

This Day in History: Former Vice President Aaron Burr is arrested for treason. Quite good.

8

Don’t assume that events in Venezuela are spontaneous.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items. Frankly, it’s kind of becoming my main blog. If you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly.

Clippings, 2/16/19

1

If you subscribe to First Things, don’t miss Baptism of Blood in the March edition. If you don’t, save the link for 30 days or so and the paywall will drop:

[W]hen they saw the video and knew with certainty what had happened, their confidence returned: “We now have a holy martyr in heaven, so must rejoice—nothing can harm us anymore.”

Which explains why the families handled the video with a complete sense of ease. There was an iPad in every household on which one could watch the full-length, uncut, unedited video. Malak’s mother was the only one who refused to look at the screen, while all her family’s young men, cousins, and brothers stared at it, apparently undisturbed, pointing out the men they recognized, as they had often done. There could have been no better place to watch the video—surrounded by the men’s families and runny-­nosed children, in rooms adorned with images of the crowned Twenty-One …

What would the murderers say about their video being shown like this? Would it surprise them to see how unflappable these simple-minded, poor folk were? Would they be able to see that their cruelty had failed to achieve the intended goal, and that their attempt to intimidate and disturb hadn’t succeeded?

Written of the families of the 21 Coptic Martys, beheaded by Muslim terrorists on a beach in Libya, and referring to a terrorist propaganda video of the rehearsed slaying. I immediately acquired an Icon of these Holy Martys and made it a point to join Copts in Matins and Liturgy two years ago.

(First published in micro.blog)

2

America Is Torn Between Trump’s Fibs and Progressives’ Fantasies.
The president is a master of little lies, but the left rejects the big truths that sustain politics and culture.

The problem with such a headline is that one may merely shake one’s head in vigorous affirmation without reading it:

My father … served for many years as an aide to Gov. and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. One night in 1979, he announced Rockefeller’s death before the television cameras. He thought it his duty as a gentleman to lie about the circumstances, and he never got over the shame of that lie.

Mr. Trump works with huckster falsehoods—the flashy superlatives of a car salesman. The progressive left works with conceptual falsities. Voters in 2020 will decide which style of lies they prefer.

Mr. Trump composes his reality after the manner of a Renaissance painter’s pentimento, except that he works at the speed of Twitter , making adjustments as circumstances shift. He slaps new paint over old facts when they become inconvenient. Mr. Trump’s abuses, he and his followers believe, somehow come right by coalescing in a larger truth—the mythic America that radiated from my father’s old Saturday Evening Post and came to its apotheosis in the Neverland of Dwight Eisenhower’s 1950s.

The progressive left embraces new visions of perfection—tamer in its methods than its 1930s predecessors, but sometimes outdistancing them in the fusion of dogmatic correctness with a fairly advanced decadence. Progressives are busy reinventing the Kingdom of God on Earth, trying to make their version as different as possible from his. They contrive elaborate new genders, for example—ones the deity didn’t think of. They invent vocabularies, terms ecstatic and bristling—“cisgendered,” “heteronormative,” “intersectionality”—designed to bully reality into compliance.

Their version of the kingdom mixes hopes of social justice with sexual nullifications and revenge fantasies. In my mother’s time, the far left in its dreams crushed capitalism and ushered the workers into paradise. Today they sweep white civilization and toxic males into the dustbin of history.

3

It was also exhilarating to see a congresswoman confront a figure who has pleaded guilty to misleading Congress before, and who helped cover up and minimize the slaughter of more than 800 civilians, including children, in El Mozote, El Salvador … [T]hat Abrams would go before the House and not be called to account for his past record would be an outrage. Making the powerful uncomfortable is what the Congress is supposed to do.

Now look at [Congresswoman Ilhan] Omar. She didn’t just push back on AIPAC’s distortion of American foreign policy, she reiterated a classic anti-Semitic trope that American Jews buy influence, period. She didn’t just confront Elliott Abrams, she refused to let him answer anything but loaded “yes” or “no” responses. And last week, for good measure, she demanded an investigation into the decision by USA Powerlifting to ban transgender women from competing in women’s powerlifting contests, because of the unfair advantage that developing a male body for most of your life will give you in lifting weights. The organization instituted the ban after a young trans woman, JayCee Cooper, smashed the state record for women’s bench press in Minnesota, beating her nearest female rival by a mile, only a year after joining the sport.

If the Democrats want to fight the next election on the need for a radical rebalancing of the economy in favor of the middle and working class, for massive investment in new green technology, for higher taxes on the superrich, and for health-care security for all Americans, they can win. If they conflate those goals with extremist rhetoric about abolishing everyone’s current health insurance, and starting from scratch, as the Green New Deal advises, not so much. If they insist that men and women are indistinguishable, that girls can have penises and boys can have periods, as transgender ideology now demands, they’ll seem nuts to most fair-minded people.

Are they really capable of fucking this up once again? The answer that is emerging in the first months of the new Democratic House is: of course they can.

Do not miss Andrew Sullivan’s Friday offering, on a single topic for a change. He had me howling in laughter at the hapless progressives, but then brought me crashing back to earth.

I won’t spoil it for you.

4

Socialism is … more frequently praised than defined because it has become a classification that no longer classifies. So, a president who promiscuously wields government power to influence the allocation of capital (e.g., bossing around Carrier even before he was inaugurated; using protectionism to pick industrial winners and losers) can preen as capitalism’s defender against socialists who, like the Bolsheviks, would storm America’s Winter Palace if the United States had one.

Time was, socialism meant thorough collectivism: state ownership of the means of production (including arable land), distribution and exchange. When this did not go swimmingly where it was first tried, Lenin said (in 1922) that socialism meant government ownership of the economy’s “commanding heights” — big entities. After many subsequent dilutions, today’s watery conceptions of socialism amount to this: Almost everyone will be nice to almost everyone, using money taken from a few. This means having government distribute, according to its conception of equity, the wealth produced by capitalism …

The “boldness” of today’s explicit and implicit socialists — taxing the “rich” — is a perennial temptation of democracy: inciting the majority to attack an unpopular minority. This is socialism now: From each faction according to its vulnerability, to each faction according to its ability to confiscate.

George Will. I hope Rod Dreher will take to heart this equivocation before he actually names his forthcoming book “Cultural Socialism” — a title so wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to start.

5

Former representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas is experiencing a … sudden star turn. It’s easy to see why so many are attracted to him. He’s young (46), charismatic, has a beautiful family and appeals to a cross-section of Americans. But something about him seems manufactured. A leaner, lankier version of two likely role models, Bobby Kennedy and Barack Obama, his practiced performances tend to make one wish for the real McCoys. With unmistakable echoes of Obama’s cadences and Kennedy’s mannerisms, O’Rourke seems to have been created by an artificial intelligence that was informed by polls and demographic projections.

Kathleen Parker

6

Yes, Moscow Boosts Western Anti-Imperialist Voices. So What?

As we discussed recently, there will necessarily be inadvertent agreement between Russia and westerners who oppose western interventionism, because Russia, like so many other sovereign nations, opposes western interventionism. If you discover that an American who opposes US warmongering and establishment politics is saying the same things as RT, that doesn’t mean you’ve discovered a shocking conspiracy between western dissidents and the Russian government, it means people who oppose the same things oppose the same things.

If you really listen to what the CNNs and Ben Nimmos and Washington Timeses are actually trying to tell you, what they’re saying is that it’s not okay for anyone to oppose any part of the unipolar world order or the establishment which runs it. Never ever, under any circumstances. Don’t work for a media outlet that’s funded by the Russian government even though no mainstream outlets will ever platform you. Don’t even subscribe to an anti-establishment subreddit. Those things are all Russian. Listen to Big Brother instead. Big Brother will protect you from their filthy Russian lies.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items. Frankly, it’s kind of becoming my main blog. If you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly.

Potpourri, 12/22/18

1

Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Making Lynching a Federal Crime” says the headline. A photo caption describes the pressing need:

“More than 4,700 people were lynched in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968, according to one estimate, and over 70 percent of the victims were black.”

Am I wrong to think “A day late, a dollar short”? Tell me more:

“For over a century, members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror,” Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”

Okay. I had been lying awake at night worried that people weren’t recognizing that lynching is a stain on our country’s history. But then I’m WEIRD.

That addition is largely symbolic, said Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Yeah, I had kind of figured that out.

Frank Pezzella, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the bill’s passage also carries a message of deterrence …

So, while they’re at it, could they please pass a law deterring elephants from invading my living room?

“It was taken for granted in the South that whites could use force against any African-Americans who became overbearing,” he said. “How do we connect that with hate crimes in the present? Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place.”

“Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place”? Seriously? That‘s how we connect an evil history to this present virtue signalling? Well, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, I guess. Will we pass a law against the Senate’s own progressive McCarthyism in 2068?

Just about the only thing they got right was a definition of “lynching” that limits it to killing someone because of their race or religion, which at least arguably brings it into the legitimate constitutional powers of the national government.

But note that it was unanimous. I must be missing something about the pressing need for banning lynching as a government shutdown loomed.

2

Jerry Taylor, of the relatively new Niskanen Center:

Reason, as David Hume famously noted, is a slave of the passions, and libertarian passions point in one direction and one direction only: hostility to government. This passion is a powerful engine of motivated cognition, which invariably leads to weak policy analysis and dogmatism.

That was not at the top of my list of reasons for keeping libertarianism at arms’ length, but it’s a valid point. More:

  • Wherever we look around the world, when we see inconsequential governments with limited power, as libertarians would prefer, we see “failed states.” How much liberty and human dignity can be found there? Very little.
  • [A]ll libertarians agree that there are exceptions to their ethically-driven opposition to the use of government coercion and force. If there were not, there would be no libertarians; there would only be anarchists. But what are the scale and scope of those exceptions?
  • Factionalism within the libertarian world is rife and irresolvable because the principles themselves say less than you might think about what public policy ought to be (a point made with great force by my colleague Will Wilkinson).
  • Without some means of sorting through the reams of information coming at us every day, we would be overwhelmed and incapable of considered thought or action … Yet any set of beliefs, if they are coherent, are the wet clay of ideology. Hence, the best we can do is to police our inner ideologue with a studied, skeptical outlook, a mindful appreciation of our own fallibility, and an open, inquisitive mind.

3

Unable to make the case for his own virtues, Trump must aver that his vices are commonplace and inconsequential … When all this evidence is stitched together in a narrative — as Mueller’s report will certainly do — the sum will be greater than the sleaze of its parts. Russian intelligence officials invested in an innovative strategy to support the election of a corrupt U.S. businessman with suspicious ties to Russian oligarchs. The candidate and his campaign welcomed that intervention in public and private. And the whole scheme seems to have paid off for both sides … The United States seems to have gone from zero to banana republic in no seconds flat. But whether this transformation has been illegal, it must be impeachable — or else impeachment has no meaning.

Michael Gerson

4

In fact, over the years, as the locations for duels became more picturesque and the pistols more finely manufactured, the best-bred men proved willing to defend their honor over lesser and lesser offenses. So while dueling may have begun as a response to high crimes—to treachery, treason, and adultery—by 1900 it had tiptoed down the stairs of reason, until they were being fought over the tilt of a hat, the duration of a glance, or the placement of a comma.

In the old and well-established code of dueling, it is understood that the number of paces the offender and offended take before shooting should be in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the insult. That is, the most reprehensible affront should be resolved by a duel of the fewest paces, to ensure that one of the two men will not leave the field of honor alive. Well, if that was the case, concluded the Count, then in the new era, the duels should have been fought at no less than ten thousand paces. In fact, having thrown down the gauntlet, appointed seconds, and chosen weapons, the offender should board a steamer bound for America as the offended boards another for Japan where, upon arrival, the two men could don their finest coats, descend their gangplanks, turn on the docks, and fire.

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Kindle locations 750-53.

5

Planned Parenthood Is Accused of Mistreating Pregnant Employees, says the headline.

In interviews and legal documents, women at Planned Parenthood and other organizations with a feminist bent described discrimination that violated federal or state laws — managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, for example, or denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor.

In other cases, the bias was more subtle. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues.

Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.

At Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm suing Walmart for pregnancy discrimination, three lawyers have accused a founding partner, Cyrus Mehri, of mistreatment. Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired. Taryn Wilgus Null said Mr. Mehri questioned her child care arrangements in a performance review after she returned from leave.

And at Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive services, managers in some locations declined to hire pregnant job candidates, refused requests by expecting mothers to take breaks and in some cases pushed them out of their jobs after they gave birth, according to current and former employees in California, Texas, North Carolina and New York.

My antipathy toward Planned Parenthood is probably in the middle of the pro-life pack, but I’ll just let the story speak for itself, pausing only to congratulate the New York Times, which has zero antipathy toward PP, for reporting it.

6

In an even marginally sane world, the fact that a nation’s armed forces are engaged in daily military violence would be cause for shock and alarm, and pulling those forces out of that situation would be viewed as a return to normalcy. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite. In an even marginally sane world, congressional oversight would be required to send the US military to invade countries and commit acts of war, because that act, not withdrawing them, is what’s abnormal. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite.

Caitlin Johnstone

7

 

Though I’m now a retired attorney, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever serve on a jury, partly because one of the two contending attorneys won’t want someone highly skeptical of bloodstain analysis and other pseudo-scientific tricks of the sophists’ trade.

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Edifying and unedifying

1

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

Such empty gestures are dangerous, and need to stop …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

Everyone knows we have lost and will be leaving soon …

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

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

3

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

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

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

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

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

Church Music: Congregational and God-Centered

The Environment and the Extent of Man’s Moral Obligation

Love: How Objective and Subjective is it?

Individualism and Atomism: The Destruction of Family and Society

Discoveries in Genetics and the Flaws of Evolution

Medical Ethics: Treating Both Body and Soul

Technology: When Seeking Freedom Enslaves Man

Pretty impressive for high schoolers.

4

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

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

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

E.J. Dionne.

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

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

Marc Thiessen

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Clippings, 11/24/18

1

This first item is more than just a clipping. So sue me.

  • The U.S. Government’s own list of terrorist attacks since 2001 shows a dramatic drop in the violence carried out by Iran and an accompanying surge in horrific acts by radical Sunni Muslims who are not aligned with Iran.
  • The last major terrorist attack causing casualties that is linked to Iran was the July 2012 bombing of a bus with Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, retaliation for what Iran perceived to be Israel’s role in assassinating five Iranian scientists involved with Iran’s Nuclear program, between January 2010 and January 2012.
  • The U.S.-led 2003 war in Iraq played a critical role in Iran’s resurgence as a regional power.

Intel Vets Tell Trump Iran Is Not Top Terror Sponsor.

[A]s I have observed before, the red hazard light that continues to be blinking most brightly relates to Washington’s relationship with Iran, which has unnecessarily deteriorated dramatically over the past year and which brings with it collateral problems with Russia and Turkey that could trigger a much wider conflict. I say unnecessarily because all the steps taken to poison the relationship have come out of Washington, not Tehran. The Trump administration refused to certify that the Iranians had been in compliance with the nuclear agreement negotiated in 2015 and has since escalated its verbal attacks, mostly at the United Nations, claiming that the regime in Tehran is the major source of terrorism in the world and that it is seeking hegemony over a broad arc of countries running westward from its borders to the Mediterranean Sea.

Philip Giraldi, Who Are the Leading State Sponsors of Terrorism?

John Bolton is bound and determined to wage war on Iran. I’d bet a bundle on it happening.

2

To secular and leftist Europeans, Hungary’s Fundamental Law came as a shock. The preamble set the tone—it is the opening line of the Hungarian National Hymn (anthem): “God, bless the Hungarians.” That was already too much for The Guardian. A writer for that left-wing British newspaper noted that the new constitution’s “preamble is heavily influenced by the Christian faith and commits Hungary to a whole new set of values, such as family, nation, fidelity, faith, love and labour.” It was enough to point this out: further criticism would apparently have been superfluous.

Equally against the European grain were provisions of the Fundamental Law such as these: “We avow that the family and the nation constitute the most important framework of our coexistence”; “The life of the offspring shall be protected from the moment of conception”; “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.” This last, in particular, was subjected to almost universal condemnation, expressed in the language of hatred and rage.

Lee Congdon, Viktor Orbán and the Hungarian Resistance (Modern Age, Fall 2018)

I am mindful of this every time I read the New York Times writing of Orban being “far-right.”

3

[W]riting off an ocean of rural and Rust Belt red is a terrible strategy in the long term. If the Democrats want to win and keep winning, with a mandate to put their policies into effect, they need to face four hard truths.

1 Demography Is Not Destiny
“Why not just wait for the white working class to die off?” asked an audience member at last year’s Berkeley Festival of Ideas. I get this question a lot, and I always reply: “Do you understand now why they voted for Trump? Your attitude is offensive, and Trump is their middle finger.

Joan C. Williams, The Democrats’ White-People Problem (Atlantic, December 2018) (Italics added).

4

We may be witnessing another voter realignment. When I was young, the Republicans were the party of the elite, and the Democrats were the party of the working class. It seems that now the Republicans are the party of the white working class, and the Democrats are the party of the wealthy and educated. Democrats have decided to go after those elite voters and have done so in ways that have made them less attractive to working class whites. It remains to be seen if this realignment is temporary, or whether we are at the beginning of a larger migration of elite whites to the Democrats and working class whites to the Republicans. But the recent midterm elections seem to have strengthened this switch.

… [M]oney is not everything. After all how would you feel about a political party that offers you higher wages but talks about you as a “deplorable?” You probably would not see that party as looking out for your best interest. But this sort of attitude plays well among the educated elite. So to become palatable to white elites Democrats have acted in ways that have made their party more alienating to the white middle class.

… I remember watching a Beto/Cruz debate a few weeks ago. The debate moved to the topic of gun control. And right on cue, Beto whipped out one of the favorite talking points of highly educated whites that we need to do more than give gun victims “thoughts and prayers.” At that point I knew that Beto did not have what it took to cut into the hold Cruz had on the lower class white voter and in a state with a lot of small towns filled with such voters that Cruz was likely to win.

… The real irony of that was Beto was trying to run a campaign of inclusiveness across racial, economic and even political lines. Yet, he could not quite leave out this little bit of snark.

George Yancey

5

Washington think tanks are undergoing a fundamental evolution. A lot of them, like the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, were built to advise parties that no longer exist. They were built for a style of public debate — based on social science evidence and congressional hearings that are more than just show trials — that no longer exists. Many people at these places have discovered that they have more in common with one another than they do with the extremists on their own sides.

So suddenly there is a flurry of working together across ideological lines. Next week, for example, the group Opportunity America, with Brookings and A.E.I., will release a bipartisan agenda called “Work, Skills, Community: Restoring Opportunity for the Working Class.”

One of the core questions before us is this: Who is going to lead this country? Is it perpetual outsiders like Trump, with no governing or policy competence, who say the establishments have forfeited all credibility? Or are there enough chastened members of establishments, who have governing experience, who acknowledge past mistakes, who take the time to reconnect with the country and apply their expertise in new ways?

I don’t know about you, I’ll take a chastened establishment any day.

David Brooks, The Return of the Chastened Establishment (The Opportunity America link is a 136-page PDF download.)

6

But politics isn’t just a seething cauldron of unmanageable and frightening shifts and realignments. There’s also the tacit requirement that politicians prattle on demand about anything and everything. F’rinstance:

“He shot from the hip with a sledgehammer instead of using a scalpel.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, on … oh, what does it matter anyway? She was prattling about something. (via George Will).

7

My periodic reminder that “more conservative than other major newspapers” does not mean that it gets religion:

Deep down, however, beneath the trappings of food, family and often-forgettable football games, Thanksgiving is really a management story. It’s a case study in how extraordinary leaders build happy, productive teams.

Sam Walker, Wall Street Journal

8

Wealth, she said in a 1983 interview with Parade magazine, was “sort of like having good looks: It’s not something you’ve earned, but you don’t go out and scar your face, either.”

Carolyn Rose Hunt via the Wall Street Journal (which does more or less “get” money).

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Guilty of being accused (and more)

1

I’m obliged to the Wall Street Journal for its pointer to a very powerful Christopher Caldwell piece at The Weekly Standard.

Here’s what WSJ thought “Notable and Quotable“:

The grounds for rejecting Kavanaugh have shifted steadily. … Finally, it was whether his outburst at the committee showed a partisanship that was evidence he lacked the “judicial temperament” to serve on the Court. … The question is not “whether he’s innocent or guilty,” said Cory Booker. … This amounted to saying that Brett Kavanaugh lacks a “judicial temperament” because he objected to being summarily executed following a show trial. If you permit the criteria of culpability to shift, then you have the circular logic typical of totalitarian regimes. Just as there are people famous-for-being-famous, now there are people guilty-of-being-accused.

But in a column almost every word of which was notable and quotable, my selection would be this (because I’m less beholden to polite opinion than the Journal is):

[T]he Kavanaugh nomination shows what American politics is, at heart, about. It is about “rights” and the entire system that arose in our lifetimes to confer them not through legislation but through court decisions: Roe v. Wade in 1973 (abortion), Regents v. Bakke in 1979 (affirmative action), Plyler v. Doe in 1982 (immigrant rights), and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 (gay marriage). The Democrats are the party of rights. As such, they are the party of the Supreme Court. You can see why Ted Kennedy claimed in a 1987 diatribe that the Yale law professor Robert Bork would turn the United States into a police state. For Democrats, an unfriendly Supreme Court is a threat to everything.

That means the country itself. The general Democratic view that has hardened since the 1960s is the one expressed on many occasions by Barack Obama. The United States is not a country bound by a common history or a common ethnicity—it is a set of values. That is an open, welcoming thing to build a country around. But it has a dark side, and we have seen the dark side during the hearings. If a country is only a set of values, then the person who does not share what elites “know” to be the country’s values is not really a member of the national community and is not deserving of its basic protections, nice guy though he might otherwise be. Such people “belong” to the country in the way some think illegal immigrants do—provisionally.

(Emphasis added)

I’m one of those who questions the idea of a nation being a set of values. It would be futile to say “there’s no precedent for that” because those who hold that view are a step ahead by acknowledging that this feature is what’s unprecedented and precious about America. (But there’s no precedent for that anyway.)

The insight that people like me are “not really … member[s] of the national community” explains why I and others feel alienated: we are alienated, and that’s an active verb, not passive, in this context. It’s not something we did to ourselves.

I guess I could undo it by “believing” (or at least vehemently professing) what I do not believe, but that way lies madness.

Those of us who don’t “share what elites ‘know’ to be the country’s values” are not homogeneous, and there’s very little I find appealing in America’s anti-liberalism, alt-right and white nationalism. So again I’m alienated, this time from the other alienated folks.

The elites from which I’m alienated are doubtless alienated by Donald Trump, perhaps even more than I am (at least in the active-verb sense; Trump, as I say, doesn’t hate me and mine). They are not accustomed to being alienated. That’s why we call them “elites,” and that’s why we hear anguished howls from places like the New York Times Editorial Board, which weekly seems to plunge to new nadirs.

(I’m prescinding the question of whether all of us are under then thumb of the Rothschilds or something, so that all this distinction is trivial.)

Fortunately, there’s more to life than ideologies, because my life would be pretty wretched if I isolated myself from everyone who doesn’t share my views of good public policy. But I do keep my mouth shut about politics around people whose company I enjoy for non-political reasons, and that’s truer today than ever.

2

Consider two recent stories in the New York Times. The first was a more-than-13,000-word dissection of Donald Trump’s financial history that revealed long-standing habits of deception and corruption. It was newspaper journalism at its best — a serious investment of talent and resources to expand the sum of public knowledge.

Compare this with the Times’s exposé on a bar fight 33 years ago , in which Brett M. Kavanaugh allegedly threw ice at another patron. Apparently there was no editor willing to say, “What you have turned up is trivial. Try harder.” And there was no editor who was sufficiently bothered that one name on the byline, Emily Bazelon, was a partisan who had argued on Twitter that Kavanaugh would “harm the democratic process & prevent a more equal society.”

Let me state this as clearly as I can. It is President Trump’s fondest goal to make his supporters conflate the first sort of story with the second sort of story

… Some argue that all journalism involves bias, either hidden or revealed. But it is one thing to say that objectivity and fairness are ultimately unreachable. It is another to cease grasping for them. That would be a world of purely private truths, in which the boldest liars and demagogues would thrive.

Michael Gerson (emphasis added)

 

3

Peter Beinart dissents from the view that America or the Senate “hit rock bottom” last week. As usual, Beinart is worth reading.

 

4

Astonishing to normal people:

The 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury report—which Fr. Bochanski, a Philadelphia priest, should have read—offers this example of how the Archdiocese rationalized keeping an abusive priest in ministry:

According to one of Fr. [Stanley] Gana’s victims, who had been forced to have oral and anal sex with the priest beginning when he was 13 years old, Secretary for Clergy [Msgr. William] Lynn asked him to understand that the Archdiocese would have taken steps to remove Fr. Gana from the priesthood had he been diagnosed as a pedophile. But Fr. Gana was not only having sex with children and teenage minors, Msgr. Lynn explained; he had also slept with women, abused alcohol, and stolen money from parish churches. That is why he remained, with Cardinal Bevilacqua’s blessing, a priest in active ministry. “You see . . .” said Msgr. Lynn, “he’s not a pure pedophile.” (pp. 45-46)

Ron Belgau, explaining to Rod Dreher part of how a Priest/child molester kept getting returned to ministry.

 

5

Did Cold War II break out last week while no one was watching? As the Kavanaugh confirmation battle raged, many Americans missed what looks like the biggest shift in U.S.-China relations since Henry Kissinger’s 1971 visit to Beijing.

The Trump administration’s China policy swam into view, and it’s a humdinger. Vice President Mike Pence … denounced China’s suppression of the Tibetans and Uighurs, its “Made in China 2025” plan for tech dominance, and its “debt diplomacy” through the Belt and Road initiative. … Mr. Pence also detailed an integrated, cross-government strategy to counter what the administration considers Chinese military, economic, political and ideological aggression.

In the same week as the vice president’s speech, Navy plans for greatly intensified patrols in and around Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea were leaked to the press. Moreover, the recently-entered trilateral U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement was revealed to have a clause discouraging trade agreements between member countries and China. The administration indicated it would seek similar clauses in other trade agreements. Also last week, Congress approved the Build Act, a $60 billion development-financing program designed to counter China’s Belt and Road strategy in Africa and Asia. Finally, the White House issued a report highlighting the danger that foreign-based supply chains pose to U.S. military capabilities in the event they are cut off during a conflict.

Any one of these steps would have rated banner headlines in normal times; in the Age of Trump, all of them together barely registered. But this is a major shift in American foreign policy ….

Walter Russell Mead. Maybe the biggest threat from Trump is that his antics draw attention away from stuff like this and like his personal enrichment via the new dark money of booking Trump hotels and resorts to win his favor.

 

6

The Wall Street Journal coverage of the dog-and-pony-show “ceremonial swearing in” (a narcissistic Trump innovation, I think) of Justice Kavanaugh Monday night refers to the expectation that he will “provide a consistent vote to implement the conservative movement’s legal agenda in a range of areas where the Supreme Court has failed to produce ideologically consistent results.”

I dislike the phrase “implement the conservative movement’s legal agenda,” both hoping and believing that it is substantially misleading to impute an ideological “agenda” to top conservative jurists. Their judicial philosophy presumably will produce different results from that of, say, Charles Blow (who openly contemns the written constitution), and that’s why SCOTUS vacancies are contentious.

But since the Supreme Court gets to pick many or most of its cases through granting or denying writs of certiorari (there are a few cases it cannot avoid taking, but nothing makes them say more than “affirmed” or “reversed”), there’s grain of truth to the notion of an agenda in the sense of “what cases do these guys think are important enough to hear?” — just as the most important media bias and opportunity for pot-stirring is in the selection of what is “newsworthy.”

 

7

In 2015 I came out strongly against the candidacy of Donald Trump on facebook and in several articles at the conservative website – The Stream. It was not a political decision as no one at that time knew what his true political values were (I think we still don’t). But his willingness to ridicule others and his calls for violence against protesters concerned me. Yes his sexism and race-baiting was disturbing as well. But it was the overall package of playing to the worst instincts of ethnocentrism and fear in Americans that drove much of my hostility towards him.

I decided that Clinton would probably be a better president, but she has her own issues. So I could not support her. Eventually I decided to, for the first time in my life, vote third party and supported the American Solidarity Party. I think for the first time in my life I did not vote for the “lesser of two evils” and it felt good.

Yes, George Yancey, it did feel good. (Yancey goes on to explain why he won’t be voting this year, but if he explained why he won’t even go cast protest votes for third-party candidates, it eluded me.)

 

8

I see that Janet Jackson is nominated to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. I was never a fan, and the once or twice per year I hear of her, I think only of this song by perhaps the world’s only Anglophone British Muslim Natural Law folk singer.

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Trivializing the weightiest things

After illustrating how carefully JFK and Ronald Reagan spoke about nuclear weapons, Peggy Noonan draws the inevitable contrast:

President Donald Trump’s tweet, 7:49 p.m., Jan. 2, 2018: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

We’re not going in the right direction, are we?

Here are the reasons Mr. Trump’s tweet is destructive and dangerous.

Because it is cavalier about a subject that could not be graver. Because the language and venue reflect an immature mind, the grammar and usage a cluttered and undisciplined one. By raising the possibility of nuclear exchange on social media, the president diminishes the taboo against nuclear use. Anything you can joke about on Twitter has lost its negative mystique. Destigmatizing the idea of nuclear use makes it more acceptable, more possible—more likely. Bragging about your arsenal makes it sound as if nuclear weapons are like other weapons, when they’re not.

Using a taunting public tone toward an adversary such as Mr. Kim, who may be mad, heightens the chance of nuclear miscalculation. The president’s tweet is an attempt to get under the skin of a sociopath. Is it a good idea to get under the skin of a sociopath who enjoys shooting missiles?

Blithe carelessness on an issue with such high stakes lowers world respect for American leadership. It undermines our standing as a serious and moral player, which is the only kind of player you would trust, and follow, in a crisis.

This illustrates one instance of why, even if I thought there were any substance to President Trump, I believe that his style is itself a grave danger and a mark of national decadence.

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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.