Toxic Trump’s Toxic Traces

On the day Trump leaves office, we’ll still have a younger generation with worse life prospects than their parents had faced. We’ll still have a cultural elite that knows little about people in red America and daily sends the message that they are illegitimate. We’ll still have yawning inequalities, residential segregation, crumbling social capital, a crisis in family formation.

Trump’s rise in 2016 was a symptom of all these crises, long before he had a chance to become an additional cause of them.

What’s the core problem? Damon Linker is on to a piece of it: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole — of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.”

I’d add that this individualism, atomism and selfishness is downstream from a deeper crisis of legitimacy. In 1970, in a moment like our own, Irving Kristol wrote, “In the same way as men cannot for long tolerate a sense of spiritual meaninglessness in their individual lives, so they cannot for long accept a society in which power, privilege, and property are not distributed according to some morally meaningful criteria.”

A lot of people look around at the conditions of this country — how Black Americans are treated, how communities are collapsing, how Washington doesn’t work — and none of it makes sense. None of it inspires faith, confidence. In none of it do they feel a part.

If you don’t breathe the spirit of the nation, if you don’t have a fierce sense of belonging to each other, you’re not going to sacrifice for the common good. We’re confronted with a succession of wicked problems and it turns out we’re not even capable of putting on a friggin’ mask.

David Brooks, The Coronavirus and America’s Humiliation

American leadership has politicized the pandemic instead of trying to fight it. I see no preparedness, no coordinated top-down leadership of the sort we’ve enjoyed in Europe. I see only empty posturing, the sad spectacle of the president refusing to wear a mask, just to own the libs. What an astonishing self-inflicted wound.

On June 26, a day when the U.S. notched some 45,000 new cases—how’s that for “American carnage”?—the European Union announced that it would loosen some travel restrictions but extend its ban on visitors from the United States and other hot-spot nations. On Tuesday, it[confirmed][4] that remarkable and deeply humiliating decision, a clear message that in pandemic management, the EU believes that the United States is no better than Russia and Brazil—autocrat-run public-health disasters—and that American tourists would pose a dire threat to the hard-won stability our lockdown has earned us. So much for the myth that the American political system and way of life are a model for the world.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, Americans Don’t Get How Badly They’re Handling COVID-19

President Trump on Thursday morning appeared before reporters in the White House briefing room to rattle off a bunch of numbers — unemployment numbers, stock-market numbers, consumer-confidence numbers. For much of the presentation, he was reading off of prepared materials. But this is a fellow who can’t resist ad-libbing.

And so at one point, he added, “It’s coming back faster, bigger and better than we ever thought possible,” said Trump of a bounce-back in economic indicators. “These are not numbers made up by me. These are numbers.

… Someone who lies as much as Trump needs a way to signal when he’s not lying.

Eric Wemple, Trump drops bombshell: ‘These are numbers’ (emphasis in original)

The American experiment has always been messy. In fact, that’s part of the appeal. But this is not America at its best. America, at its best, is not banned from traveling to Europe because it has so badly failed to contain a disease that a mere tourist is considered a public health risk. At its best, America does not get so swept up in the mob mentality that it indiscriminately tears down monuments of abolitionists and patriots, nor does it shrug its collective shoulders when it learns a foreign adversary placed bounties on the heads of our servicemen and women.

Here’s hoping the country feels more like celebrating next year.

The Morning Dispatch: American Pride Hits Record Low

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Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

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

Organized Chaos

 

L’affaire Reno

My friend Damon Linker has posted a column that denounces me as a toady for Randian libertarianism. But Linker’s reasoning (which is widespread these days) fails to recognize the distinction between killing and letting die. A woman choosing an abortion and the doctor performing it directly intend the death of the child, and they adopt lethal means to realize that intention. The same is true for euthanasia, when the doctor intends and causes the death of the ill or suffering person. As the literature in medical ethics makes clear, killing is very different from refraining from heroic interventions to save a life.

In the Catholic tradition of medical ethics, heroic efforts to save lives must meet two tests. They must have a good probability of success, and they must not be excessively burdensome. In my estimation, we have embarked on a society-wide, heroic effort that fails not just the second test, but the first as well.

At the present moment, we are compelling millions of hourly wage earners to give up their livelihoods. And we are on a trajectory that may have unknown political, social, and spiritual costs. Where will our political system end up? I’m anguished by the fear that so many feel, most unnecessarily.

This is not an argument against the present “shelter in place” policies. Perhaps they are the wisest course of action. But it is not morally serious to suggest that our present policies are obligatory—and that if one dissents, one is a moral monster.

R.R. Reno (emphasis added)

The more I read, the more I think Linker was right. Reno’s treatment of heroic efforts is shockingly superficial — mere hand-waving.


Rod Dreher, like many of my friends, has adopted the view that pro-life Christians are obligated to preserve life at any cost. This requires one to hold, as a matter of principle, that physical death is the greatest evil, since preventing death is the highest good. No ancient philosophers held such a view. Nor did the Old Testament prophets. Jesus certainly didn’t.

R.R. Reno, who has no answer for his critics and thus is reduced to lying about them.

Rod is not impeccable, but this simply wasn’t and isn’t his position.

In his own rejoinder to Reno, Dreher pointedly skewers Reno:

Look at what’s happening to New York City’s hospitals now, and try to maintain with a straight face that being told you can’t have a small dinner party amounts to the state making geldings of magazine editors. It’s just perverse.

But he still calls Reno a friend and professes fondness for contrarians.


When the facts get in the way of the narrative, print the narrative.

Alan Jacobs, criticizing, not exhorting.


Some will protest that there won’t be hundreds of thousands of deaths, and anyone who says so is a fear-monger. My hope too is that the death toll will be relatively low, but if so, it will only be because we listened to the so-called “fear-mongers” or because we got incredibly lucky. The vast majority of the epidemiological data points to a grim scenario in the absence of dramatic intervention. To be sure, models are sometimes wrong and experts are not omniscient, but we rarely hesitate to cut our beach vacations short when a major hurricane—something far less predictable than an epidemic curve—is on its way, so it’s hard to see the rational ground for blithely ignoring the threats of this other force of nature—infinitesimally smaller, perhaps, but far more deadly.

Traditionally, Christians have taught that the sixth commandment imposes on us not merely an obligation not to kill but to do whatever we reasonably can to preserve life: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others…” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 135)

Among … non-negotiables, it seems to me, should be honor and respect for the aged. Utilitarianism says that these people have the least time left to live anyway, so they are the most expendable. The Judeo-Christian heritage says that the aged are priceless repositories of wisdom, that they gave us life and wealth and left us forever in their debt, that they demand our honor and respect. They do not deserve to die alone at home or in an overflowing hospital hallway, gasping for breath.

At the root of our protest that “the cure is worse than the disease,” I suspect, is a fear that our own way of life may have to change. Comforts that we once took for granted might turn out to be luxuries. Luxuries that we once aspired to may have to be shelved for another decade or two. Freedoms that we thought were our birthright, we will be forced to realize, were in fact simply the lucky blessing of having been born at the right time. For every generation in human history before those now living, “the economy” lived in a state of constant fragility, subject to forces of nature large and small. Epidemics and quarantines were facts of life. The freedom to live under your own vine and fig tree without interference was an eschatological hope rather than a political given.

Bradford Littlejohn, “No Wealth but Life”: Moral Reasoning in a Pandemic at Mere Orthodoxy (which, be it remembered, is Reformed, not Orthodox; that’s why he cites Westminster).

I’m very glad for that last paragraph, which gives voice to something I’ve been thinking. Yeah, it’s fairly easy for me to think that way, which is part of why I hadn’t said it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it with a wave of the hand or a derisive snort.

This is the best thing I’ve read yet about some of the rash, performative “faith” or “hard-headedness” I’ve been seeing.

Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2269, interjected by me because Reno is conspicuously Roman Catholic.


Coronavirus

Trump is not making an argument that the DPA would be counterproductive. Tonight on Hannity, Trump said that he doesn’t believe there’s a need for all those ventilators!

Rod Dreher

And Donald “No Quid Pro Quo” Trump demands a quid pro quo for saving, e.g., New Yorkers’ lives.


To be sacrilegious requires some recognition of what is actually sacred — a type of knowledge Trump has never displayed. To him, choosing Easter must have been like selecting Independence Day or Arbor Day or Groundhog Day — a useful date on which to hang a ploy.

… At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period. Trump is not only proposing a celebration of the Resurrection that would fill graves. He is implying that one way to “own the libs” is by further exposing the elderly to a cruel illness. He is urging his “pro-life” followers to increase their tolerance for death.

This represents a different kind of sickness — a moral sickness that took hold in Trump long ago. His immediate, selfish interest is the cause — the only cause — to which he has dedicated his life.

Michael Gerson. Gerson, a Protestant (for so I consider Anglicans), does not share a very Orthodox view of Easter, but this is mostly very solid.


I guess one of the reasons I’m so furious about Donald Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic (and it’s still bungled; many who get tested don’t get timely test results, like both Ross Douthat and Peggy Noonan) is that I first learned of the virus from Rod Dreher morre than two months ago and he had the gist of its rapid spread and mortality rates, which both bode pandemic.

Rod freakin’ Dreher, of Baton Rouge, LA. Blogger and author on social matters, not scientific. But the Trump administration couldn’t figure out that we needed to get ready?!

This is not Fauci’s faullt. It’s not the fault of our “intelligence community” in their national security work.

It’s pig-headed Donald Trump’s fault, and history will not judge him kindly.


This particular plague hits us at exactly the spots where we are weakest and exposes exactly those ills we had lazily come to tolerate. We’re already a divided nation, and the plague makes us distance from one another. We define ourselves too much by our careers, and the plague threatens to sweep them away. We’re a morally inarticulate culture, and now the fundamental moral questions apply.

In this way the plague demands that we address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. The plague brings forth our creativity. It’s during economic and social depressions that the great organizations of the future are spawned.

David Brooks


Eight days in I entered the living hell of attempting to find my results through websites and patient portals. I downloaded unnavigable apps, was pressed for passwords I’d not been given, followed dead-end prompts. The whole system is built to winnow out the weak, to make you stop bothering them. This is what it’s like, in a robot voice: “How to get out of the forest: There will be trees. If you aren’t rescued in three to seven days, please try screaming into the void.”

Peggy Noonan, who still doesn’t have her March 17 coronavirus test results. Her fever, though, seems to have broken after 21 days.


One reason many people are deeply skeptical of climate change is that a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway. And often, the stuff they want to do in the name of fighting climate change has nothing to do with climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s original proposal for a Green New Deal includes trillions in funding for Medicare for All but nothing for nuclear power. The former would do zilch to reduce CO2 emissions; the latter would do a lot.

During the debate over the economic-rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instances of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

If you want to persuade normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously, too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a sure-fire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

Jonah Goldberg


Mistaken identities

Katherine Stewart apparently has decided that the term “evangelical” should be usd indiscriminately, as “fundamentalist” has been used for decades. Most of the people she names in The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, insofar as I recognized them or tracked them down, are dubious candidates for the Evangelical label. They’re Presbyterians, Reformed, Charismatic, Seventh Day Adventist — not unequivocally evangelical.

It’s not my fight to fight. Evangelicals can mount their own defense if and as they like. But if they say “these guys aren’t ours,” I’ll be inclined to believe them.


Max Boot angrily left the GOP during the Trump era, and it’s easy for me to understand why he did. He’s taken a lot of shots at the party since then.

But today’s column takes a counterproductive shot at “the ‘pro-life’ movement” which, in Boot’s evil eye, is too willing to sacrifice born lives to the virus to spare the economy.

There’s just one problem: few of the examples he cites are plausibly from the pro-life movement. They are conservative officials, pundits, celebrities and provocateurs:

  • Ann Coulter
  • Laura Ingraham
  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
  • Brit Hume
  • Dennis Prager
  • Glenn Beck
  • R.R. Reno
  • The Federalist

Of that list, I think Reno and probably Prager have been reliably pro-life, though franky I so rarely read Prager that I’m not sure.

The others have used abortion as a wedge issue, and to secure an important part of the Republican base, but they have never exhibited the seamless-web tendencies of actual movement pro-lifers.

Instead of preaching to the liberal choir, Boot should have said “Dear Movement Pro-Lifers: Look at the creeps you’ve idolized and elected. Care to reconsider your knee-jerk fealty to the GOP?”


Inessentials  & Miscellany

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich has decreed that priests may not perform emergency baptisms without permission, despite the fact that canon law gives every Catholic—even a layman—the right to baptize in case of emergency.

Because of coronavirus, my wife and I baptized our infant son with only the godparents and the clergyman present. The parish at which it would have been logical to baptize him turned us away. But another said it would accommodate us. Hand sanitizer had been placed at the entrance. We refrained from shaking the cleric’s hand. The only audience for the ceremony was a man at the far end of the church, kneeling alone in a pew. I was grateful that the church showed concern for us physically. And more grateful still that it did not abandon us spiritually.

Matthew Schmitz


We have to learn to love our crooked neighbors, with our crooked hearts. What else is there?

Rod Dreher

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

Miscellany

I’ve been reading and clipping less news because it’s all coronavirus and I got reasonably up to speed on that early. By reading less news, I have less to pop off about. But here’s (most of) what a wrote in my Common Place book today:


Both of my choirs have cancelled concerts and rehearsals. But since you’ll not hear us this Spring, here’s some second best:


If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.

Halting Virus Will Require Harsh Steps, Experts Say


I’m not positive of this, but I believe the media have been treating “it’s going to disappear; one day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear” as a lie. I think it’s scarier than that, and that it (conveniently) “confirms my priors.”

Of course Trump was wrong. Of course he was spinning a fantasy. But what if he believed it?

I think it’s very likely that he did because, as I’ve been saying for rather a long time now (years, not weeks or months) his narcissism is so profound that he cannot perceive the world accurately. That presents us with greater danger than him being an habitual liar (though I think he’s that, too; the two are not mutually exclusive.)


It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Rand Paul, “libertarian,” is just an arrogant, selfish a**hole.


[T]he mortality rate suffered by Americans in World War II is modest when compared to their enemies (including those of all ages who died under the rain of bombs dropped on Tokyo and Dresden) and most of their allies. Two thirds of males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 were dead by 1945, with a 7.2 percent death rate for Soviet soldiers of all nationalities. And it wasn’t just the Germans who killed Soviets: the Red Army executed 217,000 of its own men for desertion, over half the number of total U.S. combat deaths throughout the entire war. (“It takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army,” Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov observed.)

So while no one is underestimating the potential human tragedy we are facing with the coronavirus (in which, by some estimates, many more Americans will die than in all of our wars combined), it seems unlikely to come anywhere close to the 26 million dead (counting civilians) of the Soviet Union in the four years from 1941 to 1945, or the approximately 75 million dead of all nationalities, as grim a reaping as any in human history.

Mark Perry


There are a thousand coronavirus-related things you can legitimately fault Donald Trump for, but two people in Arizona eating fish tank cleaner because the president said that a legitimate drug that sounds like the active agent in the aquarium powder might show promise against coronavirus — that’s not one of them.

Rod Dreher


One acquaintance, in a position to know, once said of another “Watch out. He’s not as he pretends.”

I’ve never been able to shake that, though I’ve seen no sign that it’s true.

True or toxic? If toxic, the toxins are still nasty years later. Watch what you say.


His well-known shortcomings — his disdain for expert advice and evidence, his penchant for grievance, his narcissism and self-congratulation— are problematic in the best of times. During this pandemic, those characteristics are positively dangerous to the country he leads.

A growing number of journalists are calling on news and broadcast networks to quit showing Trump’s briefings live — arguing that public safety is best-served by fact-checking the president’s statements before reporting them out to the broader public.

“Even this far into his term, it is still a bit of a shock to be reminded that the single most potent force for misinforming the American public is the current president of the United States,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote over the weekend. “On everything that involves the coronavirus Donald Trump’s public statements have been unreliable.”

Joel Mathis, The worst possible president for this crisis


I’m not sure I can bear to renew First Things after Reno’s latest screed. And I’d bet a modest amount that David French’s sensible Sunday column is what set him off (remember: Reno is the guy who published Sohrab Ahmari’s unprovoked attack on French).

It is, for me, the equivalent of The End of Democracy: Our Judicial Oligarchy, which led to resignations from the First Things Board.


David Warren’s (On living dangerously) is subversive in a gentle, irenic way — sharp contrast to R.R. Reno’s rage-monkey:

… The most restless society since the invention of restlessness cannot cope with “downtime.” … Without the “events” which help to distinguish one day from another, we will need to start a war.

Had we books, and to have developed the habit of using them, we might read history instead; and even a bit of poetry on the side. But now, at loose ends, we are inspired to do something. Also, please note, the doctrine of original sin. I’m a big fan.

My political dogma has surely been established by now. I am against “doing” anything. Fight for a world in which nothing exciting happens, other than the pursuit of beauty, goodness, and truth. Fight relentlessly — by example.

The victory of Body over Spirit is confirmed in the Church. A correspondent forwarded a particularly obnoxious, but catatonically glib, remark by one influential ecclesiastical hierarch. He and others say that “keeping people safe” is their “highest priority.”

As another priest explained — this one a believing Catholic, unlikely ever to suffer advancement — the hierarch in question probably didn’t think he was uttering Catholic doctrine, just mindlessly repeating what he had learnt by rote. If quizzed meticulously, he would probably realize that Christ was not a gym instructor; and that the salvation of souls is in many ways unlike a public health operation. He was just going with the flow, as the trivial consequence of being an idiot.

For the record: Catholicism does not keep people safe. Verily, Christianity is dangerous …

By all means follow their pandemic instructions, until you get bored and have to start a war. But the most dangerous life is not licking doorknobs. It is trying to become a saint.

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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.

Democrat face-plant

[I]n the area of historical consciousness [Donald Trump] is, truly, a hopeless cause. But this week Democrats joined him in the pit.

Do they understand what a disaster this was for them? If Mr. Trump wins re-election, if in fact it isn’t close, it will be traceable to this first week in February.

Iowa made them look the one way a great party cannot afford to look: unserious …

And what happened a day later in the House was just as bad.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi shattered tradition, making faces, muttering, shaking her head as the president delivered his State of the Union address. At the end she famously stood, tore the speech up and threw down the pieces.

“But he didn’t shake her hand.” So what? Her great calling card is she’s the sane one.

Some progressive members refused to attend, or walked out during the speech—one said, without irony, that she was “triggered.” …

The speech itself was shrewd and its political targeting astute …

More than ever, more showily, this was an aligning of the GOP, in persons and symbols, with “outsiders”—with those without officially sanctioned cultural cachet, with the minority, the regular, the working class. It was plain people versus fancy people—that is, versus snooty liberals and progressives who talk a good game about the little guy but don’t seem to like him much; who in their anger and sarcasm, in their constant censoriousness and characterological lack of courtesy, have managed to both punch above their political weight and make a poor impression on the national mind.

This was the president putting the Republican Party on the side of the nobodies of all colors as opposed to the somebodies. (Van Jones on CNN had it exactly right: Trump is going for black and Hispanic men, and the Democrats are foolish not to see it.) This is a realignment I have supported and a repositioning I have called for and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t please me to see it represented so effectively, and I very much regret that the president is a bad man and half mad because if he weren’t I’d be cheering.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added) Note that this is her blog, with no paywall (unlike the Wall Street Journal version).

I quote at length because this is the rare occasion when I was uncomfortable with her column. Apart from

  • the snooty liberals and progressives talking a far, far better “common man” game than they’ve played in decades,
  • that there is a realignment of parties still going on, and
  • that Trump is a bad man and half mad.

we were not seeing things alike.

But put those three bullet points together and subtract the Republican loyalty she retains but I’ve abandoned, and we are seeing things substantially alike! I just had to read more carefully and mull it a bit.

I try to avoid watching that man because I don’t enjoy feeling enraged. So I might conceivably have noticed “shrewd” or “astute” had I been watching. She is paid to watch things like that and to call them to others’ attention.

I thought it meet and right to share the impressions of someone shrewder and of cooler head than my own. You may enjoy the entirety, of course, by clicking the link, which I recommend.

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Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

Notable, quotable

Yes, the Wall Street Journal got “Notable & Quotable,” but they’re still regular English descriptive words.

[W]hat still escapes most of us who “opt out” of Facebook and the like: making a loud declaration of our deletion of social media is still letting the very norms we desire to disrupt set the terms of the debate.

Amanda Patchin, recommending Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, which presents as a self-help, digital detox type book but, they say, turns subversively into much more.


Promoting his new podcast, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted, “Last week we had Lev Parnas on Maddow & ‘secret tapes’; this week, the ‘Bolton revelations.’ It’s the same approach Dems & media followed during the Kavanaugh hearing.”

Except it’s not at all. The only thing similar about the two controversies is that new allegations kept inconveniencing politicians who wanted to move on. By that standard, nearly every unfolding Washington scandal is like the Kavanaugh hearings.

Jonah Goldberg

Some things never really change. Ted Cruz’s creepy manipulativeness is just one of those things.


I did not expect to laugh out loud at Kyle Smith’s Inside the Hillary Bubble, but then he opened with a pitch-perfect simile:

Imagine a socially maladept but extremely wealthy friend of yours was told, “People like tap dancing. You should tap-dance more.” You would cringe when the person was telling you about a major career setback and suddenly lurched into a little tap-dancing interlude. “Did I ever tell you about the time the world turned to ashes for me?” Tap-tap, tappity-tap. You’d feel sorry for your friend but mainly you’d feel that this person is deeply weird.

At some point in recent years, one or more of Hillary Clinton’s many handlers, advisers, or consultants told her, “You should laugh more. People like laughter.” Except she is sour, dour, and without a humorous molecule in her body. Her laughter is always feigned, hence always a non sequitur. When she reminds herself it’s laughing time, it comes across as a tic. It’s as bizarre as sudden-onset tap dancing.

In historic footage going back many years in the new documentary Hillary, Clinton presents as an inveterate scold and crusader. In more than a quarter of a century as a public figure she has never, as far as I know, said anything funny that wasn’t written for her. Yet in a fresh new batch of interviews taken for Hillary, the title figure becomes the second major movie anti-hero of recent months to exhibit a problem with bursting into unexplained, mirthless, and (hence) deeply disquieting laughter.


[A]llowing Bolton to testify about what’s apparently in his forthcoming book … would force Republicans to clearly reveal where they stand on the most important issue dividing the party.

That issue is, of course, Donald Trump himself.

Senators may not be willing to convict and remove Trump from office, but that’s where the unanimity stops. There is a spectrum of relative Trumpification in the GOP — and Bolton’s testimony would compel Republican senators to make a definitive choice about where to place themselves on it, and then oblige them to defend it in public ….

Damon Linker


There are … great problems with shame as a means of governing. For one thing, opposition does not disappear but only becomes unspeakable, making the public even less knowable to its rulers. For another, shame as a government weapon works only on people capable of feeling shame. It thus purges high-minded people from the opposition and ensures that, when the now-mysterious public does throw up an opposition, it will be led by shameless people and take a shameless form.

Christopher Caldwell via Rod Dreher, with Rod rejoicing at this CNN clip (which the GOP is already exploiting).


The Pentagon announced Friday that 34 American service members suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of Iranian airstrikes earlier this month. Prior to the Defense Department’s announcement, President Trump had described the injuries as “not very serious.”

Via The Morning Dispatch.

Am I the only one to notice that Donald Trump sometimes — how shall I put this? — lies? Will this lie prove his Benghazi? Nah! He’s a member of the right tribe.


Brian Burch’s CatholicVote.org has identified 199,241 Wisconsin Catholics “who’ve been to church at least 3 times in the last 90 days” but of whom “91,373 … are not even registered to vote!”

He’s not kidding. He’s not making up numbers like Joseph McCarthy did.

If you attend an evangelical or a Catholic Church, a women’s rights march or a political rally of any kind, especially in a seriously contested state, the odds are that your cellphone ID number, home address, partisan affiliation and the identifying information of the people around you will be provided by geofencing marketers to campaigns, lobbyists and other interest groups.

And Democrats are scared. Worth reading, though there’s a New York Times paywall, to get the skinny on how microtargeting does politics.


One really should read, if possible, Robert P. George’s fond remembrance of Roger Scruton, by way of summarizing key themes in his conservative philosophy.

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Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

Cokie Roberts

Cokie Roberts died today. That’s a bigger deal to me than any of the recent Rock’n’Roll deaths.

NPR did a long feature on it, of course. One bit of it  (her remark on how hugely politics has changed) prompted this thought: maybe today’s news is so stultifying because events themselves, especially in government, keep getting stupider and stupider. Just how does one cover Donald Trump intelligently?

Combined with the theory that we get the government we deserve, that’s a bit depressing, no?

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I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

My preferential option

There was a time in my childhood when I just assumed that there was a nameless “they” who somehow would “not let you print” dirty words. I don’t recall what words I thought were dirty enough to fall under the ban, but judging from the podcast on the fight to publish Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, which battle was fought during that phase of my childhood (1957), I wasn’t far off the mark.

The prosecutor had a slam-dunk case, since Howl not only included the f-word, but associated it with a human anatomical feature more commonly associated with scat than with eros, and to complete the trifecta celebrated repeated explorations that and another orifice with a series of men. Oh: the poet was a man, too, in case you didn’t know.

Remarkably, despite a disconcerting Judge assignment for the bench trial, the criminal defendants were able to capitalize on a recent Supreme Court precedent to get a ringing acquittal. That summary leaves out a ton of fun, colorful and diverting details.

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Things have changed somewhat in the last 62 years. There has not been even one prosecution of a poem, successful or unsuccessful, during that interval. There’s almost nothing, poetic or not, that “they” don’t let you print, in a prior-restraint sense, and there’s not even that much they can punish you for publishing after you’ve done the dastardly deed.

But that’s not the end of the story. We now have NGOs to serve as censors. The 800 pound gorilla, Amazon.com, may refuse to sell it after you’ve printed it.

The “it” here is not “dirty words,” but the entire written œuvre of one Joseph Nicolosi, one of whose theories aggrieved our  most potent interest group — the group given to alternate uses of bodily orifices. I know he aggrieved them, and I assume that their ire had something to do with Amazon’s decision to make Nicolosi an un-person.

Poof! Gone! (Well, maybe they sell your book if you vilify him, but none of his books.)

For all I know they’ve banned other heretics, damn them.

And that’s why I now have a preferential option for Barnes & Noble, which I visited this afternoon to acquire my “deluxe hardcover commemorative facsimile edition of” Howl, including the City Lights branding (along with a larger volume of poetry and an earlier-in-the-day ebook).

You, too, can make Barnes & Noble your preferential option. There’s even a free Nook app for your smartphone or pad, and a list of ebooks that’s nothing to snort at. There’s nothing wrong with other online options or with making your local indie bookstore your preferential option for tangible books, either.

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

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

An open letter to Josh Harris, seeker

Dear Josh:

I hope I can call you Josh, though we’ve never met and I was way too old in the 90s to get caught up in “purity culture.” (Heck, even my son was a bit too old.)

What I have to offer, despite that, is the different way to practice Christian faith that you reportedly are looking for and most certainly need. I was discovering that different way when purity culture was turning into a big deal, and I’ve been following it for more than twenty years now.

I thought of your recent announcements as a kind of “apostasy,” though I hadn’t focused on what you actually said. Still, since I was no longer in the Evangelical world, I wasn’t threatened by it. I had no “horse in that race” so to speak. I’ve known for a long time now that “Christian” doesn’t have a very clear, agreed meaning in the U.S., and leaving some kinds of “Christianity” may be a very good move (especially if you move toward the right kind).

I felt kindly toward you for honesty: not reinterpreting scripture so you could go on being a megachurch pastor and Christian celebrity. From the way I see you telling your story now, that may not even have been existentially possible for you.

In fact, I’m dropping the label “apostasy.” “Rehab.” “Recovery from PTSD.” Those seem more apt.

Not all those who wander are lost, J.R.R. Tolkien observed. The corollary is that not all who lead know where they’re going. Both these statements are true of Joshua Harris, the former pastor and author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (1997), who acknowledged on Instagram last week that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

[*I Kissed Dating Goodbye]’s message became “a big part of my identity, and almost my own sense of self-worth,” Mr. Harris told me last December. “So to even open the door to think that maybe it was, on the whole, unhelpful, and hurt people—it was just hard to go there.”

Jillian Kay Melchior, Wall Street Journal (emphasis added).

Apparently you did open the door and go there, and got an earful that would shake up any conscientious person. I’ve read some of them, and my godson is one of those who got poisoned (he’s recovering well).

Thus:

In July, Mr. Harris made two personal announcements on Instagram: He and his wife were separating, and he had “undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus,” he wrote. “Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.

Many Christians responded with mourning, but I’m hopeful. Abandoning untrue beliefs is progress ….

(Emphasis added again)

I can whole-heartedly recommend “a different way to practice faith” than you’ve ever known, and of which you may even have no clue (having a clue and knowing something are not the same).

Ignore any “different way to practice faith” that baptizes the sexual revolution. Doing that would harm people as much or more than anything you’ve done before.

Ignore (I’m sure you will) any way that permanently anathematizes all who’ve ever sinned sexually. Ignore them if the first sexual sin gets you kicked out or branded with a scarlet letter of some sort.

Get thee to an Orthodox Church, with a capital-O, and just observe for a few months.

The Orthodox Church is probably a mystery to you because you grew up in the West, where the only visible claimant to the title The Church was Roman Catholicism. We Orthodox know that body well, because a thousand years ago, Roman Catholicism was Orthodox (and, to be fair, Orthodoxy more freely used the moniker “catholic”). We were one big family, with a few minor quarrels and personality differences. But then the Bishop of Rome, one of five Patriarchs of the Church, got too big for his britches (a crude shorthand, I know, but I’m not writing a theological treatise or Church history here) and eventually split — went into schism — from the other four Patriarchs and the Churches they represented.

That schism has never been healed. The Bishop of Rome increasingly took his church off the rails, adding doctrines that didn’t belong and tying down things that needed to remain freer.

The other four Patriarchs (Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch) never closed up shop, but they’ve been concentrated mostly east of Rome’s turf. They have preserved the ancient Christian faith without innovations and defining everything to death.

So Orthodoxy will probably look a lot like Roman Catholicism to you. (They’ve screwed up the Mass, bless their hearts, but it’s still recognizable.)

Like I say: Don’t commit. Just go and observe for a while. Russian, Greek, Romanian, Antiochian, even my own obscure Carpatho-Rusyn — Orthodox is Orthodox, and we’re working on shedding those ethnic labels in the U.S., since they don’t really belong.

That reminds me: If you stumble onto an Orthodox Church that doesn’t worship in English, keep moving. They’re not “wrong,” but you probably won’t get much out of it. There are plenty that use English now.

When you get there, open your heart and your mind. Those icons that may trouble you are stand-ins (and more) for the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews.

Talk to the Priest with your questions. The people around you may be less knowledgeable, in a Protestant doctrinal sense, than you’re used to, because the center of the worship is Christ and His Eucharist, not the sermon. But the Priest almost certainly has formal education and has some idea where a Protestant inquirer is coming from. Odds are, he was once a Protestant, too, if you’re in the U.S.

Then settle in for the long haul. There will be some formal catechism and then a formal reception service if you decide to stay.  They may even conclude that you should be baptized again (though we don’t re-baptize if a prior baptism was done more or less as we baptize, as mine was, for instance).

Don’t count on being a leader again. Maybe, maybe not. But do expect that some well-meaning someone-or-other will make a big deal of it if you officially become Orthodox. We are in America, after all, and we’re sadly susceptible to celebrity culture. I wish it weren’t so. People can be destroyed by getting elevated too fast, as the Apostle Paul knew.

My advice: Say something like “I’m still healing from my past life and I don’t think it would be helpful for me to get into the limelight again.” Because that’s probably true, and I think you know it now.

Don’t let any elation about entering Orthodoxy make you think you’ve arrived. It means you’ve started in earnest. There’s going to be some serious interior remodeling, not just rearranging some furniture.

This is, after all, a really different way of practicing faith.

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

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

The Left Coasts’ answer to the Electoral College

Because of the forces first unleashed by [the] liberal project vested in the nation, we can’t simply rely on laissez-faire as a secret recipe for strengthening our families and communities.

I mean, do we really think today that leaving the field more open to Google and Facebook and Amazon and Pornhub is going to lead to a revival of the homely virtues portrayed in a Normal Rockwell painting?

I live in the state of Indiana, and I can tell you: our government tried to protect our religious liberty, and it was the corporations that came in and threatened our economic destruction. And that should be fought ….

Patrick Deneen at the National Conservatism Conference (starting at 15:34).

It occurred to me  few days ago, before I listened to Deneen’s talk, that preening progressive corporate bullies are the Left Coasts’ answer to the Electoral College.

Granted: flyover country has, by the Founders’ design, disproportionate political power, via the Electoral College and the United States Senate.

But the coasts have disproportionate economic power by draining young brains from the rest of the country.

And what sorts of things do they do with their disproportionate economic power, including the opinion-molding power of Hollywood?

They build single-party states like California (with the nation’s highest poverty rate despite huge economic output) and cities like San Francisco, “‘entertainment machines’ for the young, rich, and mostly childless,” designed (in effect) by Richard Florida, where normal families can’t afford to live (“the median home value is at least six times the national average”), procreation has largely ceased, and homeless addicts litter the sidewalks with their paraphernalia, their bodily wastes, and themselves — collateral damage of our economic hubris.

Not that there’s no collateral damage elsewhere, of course. A lesson of 2016, I think, is that there’s lots of it, and it’s electorally consequential. If Donald Trump is the answer, we’re asking the wrong question, but he’s at least partly a consequence of collateral damage in the economy, which almost no other candidate in either party even noticed.

They also sell cultural fads that, to borrow a tired liberal trope, are “on the wrong side of history” because they’re the fruits of insane ideologies that humanity will not long endure.

For instance, transexual “girls” shattering athletic records, walking away with gold medals, and at least in microcosm making mockery of the goals of Title IX.

Or take “from ‘Bake my cake! to ‘Wax my balls!‘” Yeah, it’s British Columbia, but the legal regime down here is all ready to accommodate a monster like “Jessica,” thanks to creative re-purposing of laws against sex discrimination, sold to courts and regulators by the best lawyers and lobbyists money can buy.

In this light, I’m particularly disinclined to apologize for the Electoral College and Senate to progressives who want all the power, economic and electoral.

Indeed, I’m flat-out grateful that we prole breeders can keep the progressives from undue dominion, forcing the nation to think a bit longer before rushing over a cliff, by going to the polls.

I can even, for a moment, understand the “paybacks are hell” thrill of “owning the libs.”

Somebody, though, really, really needs to come up with a better approach than tit-for-tat.

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

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).