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.

* * * * *

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Not without friction

This afternoon, Migranyan was lecturing on Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy, a speech that seems to be Russia’s sole post-Soviet ideological document—and key to understanding how the relationship between Russia and the U.S. reached today’s nadir. Putin, still a painfully awkward speaker at the time, was seven years into his now nearly two-decade reign. Eighteen years prior, in 1989, he had been a KGB officer stationed in Dresden, East Germany, shoveling sensitive documents into a furnace as protesters gathered outside and the Berlin Wall crumbled. Not long after that, the Soviet Union was dead and buried, and the world seemed to have come to a consensus: The Soviet approach to politics—violent, undemocratic—was wrong, even evil. The Western liberal order was a better and more moral form of government.

For a while, Putin had tried to find a role for Russia within that Western order. When Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet president, named him his successor in 1999, Russia was waging war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya. On 9/11, Putin was the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush, hoping to impress on him that they were now allies in the struggle against terrorism. He tried to be helpful in Afghanistan. But in 2003, Bush ignored his objections to the invasion of Iraq, going around the United Nations Security Council, where Russia has veto power. It was a humiliating reminder that in the eyes of the West, Russia was irrelevant, that “Russian objections carried no weight,” as Migranyan told his students. But to Putin, it was something more: Under the guise of promoting democracy and human rights, Washington had returned to its Cold War–era policy of deposing and installing foreign leaders. Even the open use of military force was now fair game.

In 2007, speaking to the representatives and defenders of the Western order, Putin officially registered his dissent. “Only two decades ago, the world was ideologically and economically split, and its security was provided by the massive strategic potential of two superpowers,” Putin declaimed sullenly. But that order had been replaced by a “unipolar world” dominated only by America. “It is the world of one master, one sovereign.”

A world order controlled by a single country “has nothing in common with democracy,” he noted pointedly. The current order was both “unacceptable” and ineffective. “Unilateral, illegitimate action” only created “new human tragedies and centers of conflict.” He was referring to Iraq, which by that point had descended into sectarian warfare. The time had come, he said, “to rethink the entire architecture of global security.”

This was the protest of a losing side that wanted to renegotiate the terms of surrender, 16 years after the fact. Nonetheless, Putin has spent the decade since that speech making sure that the United States can never again unilaterally maneuver without encountering friction—and, most important, that it can never, ever depose him.

“You should have seen the faces of [John] McCain and [Joe] Lieberman,” a delighted Migranyan told his students, who appeared to be barely listening. The hawkish American senators who attended Putin’s speech “were gobsmacked. Russia had been written off! And Putin committed a mortal sin in Munich: He told the truth.”

The year that followed, Migranyan said, “was the year of deed and action.” Russia went to war with neighboring Georgia in 2008, a move that Migranyan described as a sort of comeuppance for NATO, which had expanded to include other former Soviet republics. But Western encroachment on Russia’s periphery was not the Kremlin’s central grievance.

The U.S., Migranyan complained, had also been meddling directly in Russian politics. American consultants had engineered painful post-Soviet market reforms, enriching themselves all the while, and had helped elect the enfeebled and unpopular Yeltsin to a second term in 1996. The U.S. government directly funded both Russian and American nongovernmental organizations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, to promote democracy and civil society in Russia. Some of those same NGOs had ties to the so-called color revolutions, which toppled governments in former Soviet republics and replaced them with democratic regimes friendly to the West.

Putin’s Munich doctrine has a corollary: Americans may think they’re promoting democracy, but they’re really spreading chaos. “Look at what happened in Egypt,” Migranyan said, beginning a litany of failed American-backed revolutions. In 2011, the Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak stepped down following protests the U.S. had supported, Migranyan contended. But after “radical Islamists” won power democratically, the U.S. turned a blind eye to a military coup that deposed the new leaders. Then there was Libya. “You toppled the most successful government in North Africa,” Migranyan said, looking in my direction. “In the end, we got a ruined government, a brutally murdered American ambassador, chaos, and Islamic radicals.”

“If we count all the American failures, maybe it’s time you start listening to Russia?,” Migranyan said, growing increasingly agitated. “If [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] has to go, then who comes in, in place of Assad? … Don’t destroy regimes if you don’t know what comes after!”

(Julia Ioffe, What Putin Really Wants, Atlantic)

This is a very long article, in which I was watching for what Putin really wants according to Ioffe. I have a somewhat biased eye, but this was the best I could come up with (although there are echoes of it as well):

Putin has spent the decade since that speech making sure that the United States can never again unilaterally maneuver without encountering friction—and, most important, that it can never, ever depose him.

Judge for yourself whether his fears are realistic. I’ve made my judgment.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Wednesday, 12/13/17

    1. Angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house
    2. Evangelical domestic violence?
    3. What’s Wrong with Radicalism
    4. 90 Theses Short of a Full Deck
    5. Self-help Guru limitations

 

1

Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. For we are sick at heart. Our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children and for thinking of that other Child of whom the poet Luke speaks. The infant was taken up in the arms of an old man whose tongue grew resonant and vatic at the touch of that beauty.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan, writing of the destruction of draft records as part of the Catonsville Nine. Quoted by Jim Forest, a friend and now biographer and memoirist of the late Priest. Be it remembered that Fr. Berrigan was a published poet.

More:

Is our morality in any sense superior to that of those ancient peoples who commonly exposed the newborn to death, as unwelcome aspirants to the sweet air of life? Can we help everyone walk into the full spectrum and rainbow of life, from womb to old age, so that no one is expendable? Especially in the religious pacifist community, we who believe no political idolatry can excuse the taking of life, can we help remind and symbolize the splendid range of nonviolence, from before birth to the aged? What is a human vocation anyway? Was not our first political act just getting born?

2

The good news, from Brad Wilcox‘s perspective, is that “churchgoing evangelical Protestant husbands were the least likely to be engaged in abusive behavior.”

His bad news, congruent with a surmise I published Sunday:

Although the empirical story of religion and domestic violence looks good for practicing believers, it’s much less rosy for others. My research suggests that the most violent husbands in America are nominal evangelical Protestants who attend church infrequently or not at all. The reasons are not entirely clear. It’s possible they believe Christian teaching about male headship gives them a hitting license. Or perhaps their class or culture—many of these men hail from parts of the South and Appalachia populated by working-class Scots-Irish descendants with a greater propensity for violent behavior —explains these results. Religiously mixed couples may also have a greater risk for domestic violence, especially theologically conservative men married to women who do not share their religious views. In these cases, religion is not protective against abuse.

3

David Brooks reflects on What’s Wrong with Radicalism of both left and right.

Most of our actual social and economic problems are the bad byproducts of fundamentally good trends.

Technological innovation has created wonders but displaced millions of workers. The meritocracy has unleashed talent but widened inequality. Immigration has made America more dynamic but weakened national cohesion. Globalization has lifted billions out of poverty but pummeled the working classes in advanced nations.

What’s needed is reform of our core institutions to address the bad byproducts, not fundamental dismantling.

That sort of renewal means doing the opposite of everything the left/right radicals do. It means believing that life can be more like a conversation than a war if you open by starting a conversation. It means collectively focusing on problems and not divisively destroying people. It means believing that love is a genuine force in human affairs and that you can be effective by appealing to the better angels of human nature.

4

Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy published Five Theses on Voting and the Alabama Senate Election early on Tuesday, but it’s really intended for political thought in days and years to come, not to influence the Alabama vote.

Meador admits that he’s relatively unfriendly to the American Right—a bias he offsets by publishing friends who don’t share it. That said, here’s some of his indictments of the American Right as instantiated in the GOP:

2. The GOP as a party is not actually interested in governing.

There are any number of examples you could furnish here to make the point . We might begin by the years of cynical obstruction the party engaged in under President Obama, to the point of torpedoing a healthcare agenda whose signature element was an idea taken from the Heritage Foundation! … Since the late 80s or early 90s, the GOP has been hardening and hardening, such that today the party’s agenda is divorced almost entirely from coherent governing policy.

The most recent example is the tax reform bill. First, they took steps with the tax reform bill that will, according to almost all third party organizations, increase the deficit …

That said, almost immediately after they passed this bill, … Paul Ryan turned around and said that the House agenda in 2018 is going to be cutting Medicaid and Medicare, specifically citing fear about the deficit as a reason for that agenda. … You either care about the deficit… or you don’t.

The GOP, as others have noted, has become a drunken caricatured version of Zombie Reaganism. And whatever else we might say about it, it does not have a coherent approach to governing.

3. We should not glide easily over the substantive problems with the GOP’s policies.

One of the unfortunate side effects of the Democratic support for abortion has been that many evangelicals essentially give the GOP a pass on policy issues. For many evangelicals in the past 30 years, voting Republican is a kind of natural default that is often done without taking the time to soberly reckon with the consequences of Republican policy. But because the GOP is, increasingly, unconcerned with character and unconcerned with actually governing, it is more important than ever that we learn again to understand and care about policy and factor it into our political choices.

I cannot find anything to disagree with in that because I excised what I didn’t necessarily believe.

The widely expected passage of the tax reform bill will almost undoubtedly cause significant harm to Medicare. And provocative statements by President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan declaring that “entitlement reform” will be next threatens Medicaid. Put these two together and, I think, one thing is clear: big Medicare and Medicaid cuts are coming.

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit, Ryan said in a radio interview last week. And, he said, “I think the president is understanding choice and competition works everywhere, especially in Medicare.” Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said: “We have to do two things. We have to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.”

(Bob Blancato, Why Big Medicare and Medicaid Cuts Are Likely)

But for an orthodox Evangelical like Meador, that’s not the whole story:

4. We should not pass over the abortion question as “a policy issue.”

That said, the larger moral emergency amongst the Democrats is their increasingly strident support for abortion. The Jones candidacy is, in fact, the perfect symbol of that emergency: According to Pew, 58% of Alabamians think that abortion should be illegal in all or most situations. Mississippi and Arkansas are the only states that top them on that metric. If there is any state where the Democrats would be incentivized to tolerate a pro-life candidate, it’d be Alabama. Yet even there, the Democrats have nominated an unapologetically pro-choice candidate of the sort that you simply did not see regularly in the mainstream Democratic party until Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy in 2008. Now this view is normal in the party, even in a state as staunchly pro-life as Alabama.

Abortion in America is a national plague and one that, alone, would be sufficient to merit severe divine judgment. Indeed, for Christians it should not seem intuitively crazy to suggest that the decline we are experiencing now may well be a product of God’s judgment on our country for the death of nearly 60 million people since 1973. To support abortion as dogmatically as the contemporary Democratic party has is not simply taking a stand on “a policy issue.”

Again, no dissent from me.

I’ve said that I think a epochal political shakeup is in the works. Beyond the possibility of the GOP becoming dominated by populist bomb-throwers and Democrats becoming a bit tent for everyone who benefits somewhat from the status quo, the I cannot imagine its contours. But my car now sports a bumper sticker for the American Solidarity Party, with some of whose policies I’m not thrilled but which avoids the abortion extremism of the Democrats and the Zombie Reaganism of the Republicans.

5

If you are one of those people in a big city who is feeling lonely or disconnected, I’ve got a nearly sure-fire way to change things. Go look for someone who is even lonelier and more hurting than you, and go be that person’s friend.

I’m always astonished that there could be so many lonely people in the city. This would seem to be an easy problem to solve; just go be each other’s friends. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. I think in part that’s because we’re always looking for relationships that are going to deliver value to us, instead of us looking for how we’re going to deliver value to others. We always want to network up. We seldom want to network down. (Though we often stay in our lanes on social media, as I noted above).

This is an area where I part ways with a lot of the secular self-help gurus. Most of those guys tend to recommend pruning the deadweight relationships out of your life, and purging the losers, energy drainers, etc. There’s a place for that if you’re in unhealthy relationships. But Christians simply can’t apply that as a rule for life. We are called to be there for those who have nothing to offer us (or at least that we think don’t have anything to offer).

(Aaron Renn in The Masculinist #16) I greatly admire Renn’s work as the Urbanophile and now on urban issues with the Manhattan Institute. I’m taking his The Masculinist newsletter with several grains of salt, but that third paragraph is right on (first two are there mostly for context).

* * * * *

As I schedule this for publication, the Alabama vote outcome is unknown, but there’s a margin that I, sitting many states to the north, have trouble imagining Jones closing. Let the festivities begin as the Senate GOP says “the 2016 vote is the verdict on Trump but the Alabama vote is not the verdict on Moore.”

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

American “leadership”

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

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

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

Which brings me to the kerfuffle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But another line gave me, and others, pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beinart continues:

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

The return of Debbie Downer

I was kind of a “Debbie Downer” yesterday, wasn’t I? Well hold on. It may get worse.

Writing of Amazon killing Big Box which killed Mom & Pop, and what peril that leaves us in, made me reflect once again not only on our ugly places but on how readily we chase after attractive things — sex, lower prices, extreme convenience, etc. — oblivious of consequences.

I’d already been ruminating on such things after listening to the latest Kunstlercast, which made me aware of how fragile our whole existence has become because it’s all mediated electronically now.

I’ll be chatting with Rocky Rawlins who is the man behind The SurvivorLibrary.com, a phenomenal website that contains scans in pdf-file form of hundreds of books on basic technology and the skills for applying them, mostly dating from the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s hard to overstate the scope of this vast trove of practical knowledge — everything from bee-keeping to wagon and coach-building. In other words, what you need to meet The Long Emergency. The scientific elegance of these books and monographs is something to behold, the clarity of the language and precision of the instructions is breathtaking. I think you’ll like Rocky very much.

Why should we care? Three letters: EMP.

Electro-magnetic pulse damage was a topic of conversation in both of the Republican debates on Thursday night. Rick Santorum, one-third of the warm-up debate, warned of the possibility of an EMP being used as a weapon, a “devastating explosion” that would “fry out” anything with a circuit board. “Everything is gone,” he said. “Cars stop. Planes fall out of the sky.” If Iran got a nuclear bomb, he warned, they could explode one in the atmosphere over the United States and break every phone, car, computer and anything else electronic underneath.

During the main debate, Ben Carson raised the same issue. “[W]e have enemies who are obtaining nuclear weapons that they can explode in our exoatmosphere and destroy our electric grid,” he said, adding, “Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at that point?”

(Washington Post) It doesn’t even have to be nuclear.

Or if you don’t like that, try Kunstler’s Long Emergency. If I had read Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I think I’d have something from him about now.

Then, for me, the piece de resistance: Rod Dreher reflecting on the painful accuracy of a New Yorker profile (he justifiably trusted the author, and let him tag along for a week as Rod promoted The Benedict Option). This stretch and what followed is very self-revealing:

OK, I have to share this passage about Andrew Sullivan:

The writer Andrew Sullivan, who is gay and Catholic, is one of Dreher’s good friends. Their friendship began in earnest in 2010, when Ruthie got sick and Dreher, moved by a spirit of generalized repentance, e-mailed Sullivan to apologize for anything “hard-hearted” he might have said in their various online arguments. Sullivan has a long-standing disagreement with Dreher over same-sex marriage, but he believes that the religiously devout should be permitted their dissent. “There is simply no way for an orthodox Catholic to embrace same-sex marriage,” he said. “The attempt to conflate that with homophobia is a sign of the unthinking nature of some liberal responses to religion. I really don’t think that florists who don’t want to contaminate themselves with a gay wedding should in any way be compelled to do so. I think any gay person that wants them to do that is being an asshole, to be honest—an intolerant asshole. Rod forces you to understand what real pluralism is: actually accepting people with completely different world views than your own.”

In “The Benedict Option,” Dreher writes that “the angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity” is the understandable result of a history of “rejection and hatred by the church.” Orthodox Christians need to acknowledge this history, he continues, and “repent of it.” He has assured his children that, if they are gay, he will still love them; he is almost—but not quite—apologetic about his views, which he presents as a theological obligation. He sees orthodox Christians as powerless against the forces of liquidly modern progressivism; on his blog, he argues that “the question is not really ‘What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?’ but actually ‘What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?’ ” He wants them to be magnanimous in victory; to refrain from pressing their advantage. Essentially, he says to progressives: You’ve won. You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims. Please don’t sue us, either.

“What I really love about Rod is that, even as he’s insisting upon certain truths, he’s obviously completely conflicted,” Sullivan said. “And he’s a mess! I don’t think he’d disagree with that. But he’s a mess in the best possible way, because he hasn’t anesthetized himself. He’s honest about a lot of the questions that many liberal and conservative Christians aren’t really addressing.” Talking to Sullivan about Dreher, I was reminded of Father Matthew’s law: “You’ve got to love your dad even if he doesn’t love you back in the way that you want him to.”

Andrew is right: I’m a mess, but I hope I’m a mess in the best possible way.

I can’t let go of the story of my family and its fate …

We now live in a world that was made for somebody like me, with my aspirations and talents. It is a world in which people like Daddy and Ruthie, and what they stood for, can scarcely thrive. (I read Chris Caldwell’s piece on the situation in France, and it resonates with regard to the small places like West Feliciana.) The values and the customs and the way of seeing the world that meant everything to them is very hard to sustain. The great tragedy of my family is that my father and my sister held onto their vision so tightly that they made all those around them whom they catechized far too rigid to survive the shocks of their passing. And now the family that they revered above all else is shattered. What will happen to the land that my father acquired, cultivated, and revered, after my mom is gone? Ruthie loved the land as much as he did, and planned to live on it till the day she died. And she did — but she did not count on dying at 42. Everything that seemed so solid, so unbreakable, has dissolved, and is broken.

I’ve been thinking about how things might have gone differently had I been able to return to St. Francisville when Ruthie was first diagnosed. What if I had been there during the 19 months she lived, and had discovered the awful truth while there was still time to resolve things. Might everything been different? Maybe, maybe not ….

What the confluence of these thread brings to mind is a famous man’s famous aphorism:

Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote that the doctrine of original sin is “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” The evidence of ingrained sinfulness, he thought, is apparent everywhere in acts of violence, in the mistreatment of the vulnerable, and in the greed built into economic systems. Even human beings’ greatest accomplishments are inevitably tainted by sins of pride and self-interest, he argued. The problem is not just that humans commit sinful acts but that they are by nature sinful.

Yup. Individually and collectively, we’re a hot steaming mess. Lemmings. Pleasure-seekers. Idiots. Bundles of complexes and compulsions. If you think you’re an exception, you’re probably just uncommonly oblivious.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

* * * * *

Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.