One year

On the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Washington Post opinion page featured Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, half of a journalism power couple, announcing that, and why, she now supports him.

That was interesting enough in its own right, but at the bottom of the story, some further links appeared:

  1. The 10 best things Trump has done in his first year in office
  2. The 10 worst things Trump has done in his first year in office
  3. Erik Wemple: New York Times crowdsources the case for Trump, embarrasses pundit class

That last one links to here and makes a telling observation about why ordinary people and Never Trumpers can articulate what good Trump may have done more effectively than his closest confidants can:

Such individuals have an advantage over the professional class of Trump supporters, in that anyone in Trump’s orbit knows better than to cede any ground, to admit any fault, in defense of Trump. Should they do so, they’ll lose critical Trump-sycophancy points.

Then he gives an example of how the sycophants come off as dissembling geldings.

Yesterday, I called Trump a train wreck of a human being, and I stand by that. What profiteth it a man if he gain the world but lose his soul? I would not trade places with him. Not for $3 billion (if that’s a real assessment of his wealth); not for Melania, Stormy Daniels or all the other women; not for the Presidency of the United States.

(Yes, I know: “Judge not lest ye be judged.” But II Thessalonians 3:13-15 and Ezekiel 33:8 too.)

But his failure at the most important thing doesn’t mean he’s failed at everything. Read and judge for yourself.

UPDATES:

I wonder if Pastor Robert Jeffress, who described himself to The Atlantic on 10/28/17 as the president’s “most vocal and visible evangelical spokesman,” would still stand by this remark he made in that same interview:

“I do think President Trump is a positive role model for children.  Specifically, I would be happy for my children (and now, my coming grandchildren) to emulate his work ethic, leadership skills, and patriotism.”

(Rod Dreher) It is hard for me to imagine that the man who considered Trump a positive role model is practicing the same religion I try to practice.

Second change was adding the Ezekiel citation, above — which I wasn’t going to mention by itself.

* * * * *

“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Blessing or Curse?

I almost didn’t click the New York Times Opinion headline “Is Trump a Blessing or Curse for Religious Conservatives?” But since it was by “OpEd Contributors” rather than the Editorial Board (from which I would have expected disingenuous concern trolling had they adopted such a headline), I clicked, and found Ross Douthat, a Never-Trumper, interviewing Never-Trumper David French (Evangelical/Calvinist) and Trump Supporter John Zmirak (a Crisis Magazine type Catholic). It is outstanding and well worth using one of your free looks at New York Times pieces should you not be a subscriber.

The views of French and Zmirak are starkly opposed to one another, but the disagreement remains polite. Zmirak (whose articles at Crisis were sometimes off-putting when I followed Crisis) skillfully and unexpectedly pushes some of my buttons:

Were Christians scandalized by the spectacle of George W. Bush leaving Iraqi Christians to face jihadi violence? They should have been. It was far worse than anything Trump has done. I must confess that I am deeply embittered by the callousness that George W. Bush displayed toward the lives and liberties of religious minorities in Iraq — when as U.S. commander in chief, he had essentially absolute power over that occupied country. Of about one million Christians, some 900,000 were ethnically cleansed, most of them while our troops still occupied the country. I can put up with Donald Trump’s old Howard Stern tapes all day long, compared with that.

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I was scandalized. And embittered. That is closely related to why I declared my break with the GOP, and why Ted Cruz turned my stomach and earned my hostility with his calculated provocation of folks at an In Defense of Christians conference.

Zmirak almost had me with the seductive “skeptical prudence” until French weighed back in:

Douthat: So when we see polls showing a wild swing between the 1990s and the present in the share of evangelicals who think character matters in a politician, John, you think evangelicals are actually coming around to a more sensible view than they held in the Clinton era?

Zmirak: Yes. Just as evangelicals are coming around to using Natural Law (philosophical) arguments — rather than biblical proof-texts for their political positions, I think they are moving closer to the skeptical prudence that always marked Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican political thinking. Read what the Family Research Council, or National Organization for Marriage, publish on social issues. They’re not thumping the Bible. They’re citing Cicero and Aristotle.

French: I’m sorry, but the transformation of the evangelical public from the American segment most willing to hold leaders to a high moral standard to the segment now least likely smacks of pure, primitive partisanship, not high theological principle. Evangelicals aren’t coming around to using Natural Law at all. It’s pure instrumentalism. They’ve made an alliance of convenience. They haven’t made some sort of thoughtful intellectual shift.

The interview goes beyond political ramifications and also discusses such things as how Trump relates to the surge of “nones.” There, too, there’s a point-counterpoint that is skillful and make some sorting out and critical analysis necessary to decide.

Here’s my sorting: Zmirak is riding an a wave of kept promises by Trump. I consider that wave welcome, but entirely unexpected.

Before November 8, 2016, I had no reason to expect Trump, a man of extraordinarily base character and a world-class bullshitter, to keep a single promise to Christian supporters. All I felt fairly confident of was that on religious freedom, his fickleness would be preferable to Hillary’s hostility to orthodox Christians who want to live openly as such. But that one issue was not sufficient to outweigh what has proven to be epic narcissism (I knew it was severe narcissism, possibly sociopathy, but events have proven it worse than I feared) that drives him to irrational and counter-productive behavior.

Zmirak has at least one more notable comment:

I have this from pastors who met with Trump for many hours: He genuinely listens to them. They’re the kind of people most playboys from Queens never encounter. He connected with some of them personally. He saw their concern for his soul. And he took and takes their concerns seriously.

Trump sees that the church is a big part of what made America great, and he sees that the state persecution that President Obama began hurts the country. I hope that he sees more, sees Christ as his savior. But in his role as Caesar, protecting our rights is quite enough.

If I had known this from credible sources before the election, it would have impressed me somewhat that narcissist Trump is actually capable of listening for longer than it takes to compose a Tweet. But such was the sycophancy on display from Trump-friendly pastors that it would have been hard to persuade me that such a report was credible.

So in the end, though I’m closer kin to Zmirak religiously than to French, I’m with the latter, for reasons this can serve to summarize:

I belong to the camp of Christians who are grateful when Trump makes good decisions but also quite mindful that our political witness is inseparable from our Christian witness. Thus, we have no option but to condemn his worst impulses and work to counteract his toxic influence on our larger culture. While policy positions are important (though Trump’s real impact is often vastly overblown), a nation is ultimately shaped far more by its culture than its policies, and we can never forsake the greater power for the lesser win.

Where Christians once demanded honesty, they rationalized lies. Where Christians once sought evidence of ideological consistency, they accepted incoherence.

Many of us, however, looked at these accommodations and asked a simple question. Where is your faith? Christians were acting as if not just the nation — but the church itself — was in peril based on the outcome of a single election. Yet is God not sovereign over all the nations, including our own? Doesn’t scripture repeatedly condemn the exact kinds of moral compromises that so many Christians made? Don’t we believe those scriptures?

There is nothing more dangerous to the church than a lack of faith. I don’t at all mind it when Christians cheer the good things that Donald Trump has done. I join them. I do mind when they rationalize and excuse bad acts out of a completely misguided and faithless sense of cultural and political necessity.

(Emphasis added)

It is possible that in 20 years, I’ll say “God in his providence used this most improbable Caesar to good end,” but I don’t think I’ll ever regret my write-in vote, which was based on what I knew then. That God can use evil men, or turn evil to good, never justifies voting for evil men or evil policies.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Shorts

Shorts:

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

 

Pervs, Predators, Rapists

I’m going to wade into the weeds here in a separate blog rather than sully another one.

If you read the original Washington Post story, you know it was rigorously reported, with great care and professionalism. Four women who did not seek out the press, who did not know each other, and who surely guessed going public would bring them nothing but grief, came forward and provided first-person details that established a pattern. Thirty people corroborated details. This is not attack journalism. It is great journalism.

If Roy Moore had a long and demonstrated history of randomly attacking children with a baseball bat, or if the FBI announced it had found in his possession a stash of child porn, Moore supporters would never back him. But that, in a way, figuratively, is what he stands accused of doing. His “porn,” his addiction, was cruising malls for young women, often teenagers. His “attacking children” was moving sexually on those young women and leaving them damaged.

Who were the girls he targeted? Interestingly, this tribune of the common folk and their earnest, believing ways allegedly preyed mostly on the unprotected. He chose young women he could push around …

A thing about predators, from the men of the Catholic Church sex scandals to the man cruising the mall, is that they never prey on the protected. They don’t prey on the daughter of the biggest family in town, the child of the man who owns the factory or the local newspaper. They tend to prey on kids with no father in the home.

Roy Moore targeted the deplorables. They were people with no sway, no pull. Some of them, in the presidential election, voted for Donald Trump.

There are better conservatives in Alabama than Roy Moore. Republican women, rise up and raise hell. That would be real loyalty, and to those who are really your own.

(Peggy Noonan, Alabama Women. Say No to Moore)

* * *

Power without character looks like [several examples omitted] … And it looks like the Christian defense of Moore, which has ceased to be recognizably Christian.

This may be the greatest shame of a shameful time. What institution, of all institutions, should be providing the leaven of principle to political life? What institution is specifically called on to oppose the oppression of children, women and minorities, to engage the world with civility and kindness, to prepare its members for honorable service to the common good?

A hint: It is the institution that is currently — in some visible expressions — overlooking, for political reasons, credible accusations of child molestation. Some religious leaders are willing to call good evil, and evil good, in service to a different faith — a faith defined by their political identity. This is heresy at best; idolatry at worst.

Most Christians, of course, are not actively supporting Moore. But how many Americans would identify evangelical Christianity as a prophetic voice for human dignity and moral character on the political right? Very few. And they would be wrong.

Many of the people who should be supplying the moral values required by self-government have corrupted themselves. The Trump administration will be remembered for many things. The widespread, infectious corruption of institutions and individuals may be its most damning legacy.

(Michael Gerson)

Apart from some vagueness about just who the defendant is, I’m on board with Gerson’s indictment.

Silver lining: this marks the moment that the defendant “evangelical Christianity” [in North America] has irrevocably forfeited the right to kvetch about compromises some Orthodox Clergy in Russia made to preserve the Church through the reign of Communism.

* * *

The religious right’s embrace of Trump … is not some kind of aberration in the transformation of a faith into a worldly and political cause, it is its logical consequence. The Christian right’s support for a sociopathic, cruel, and vulgar pagan was inevitable, in other words, from the moment the Moral Majority was born. If politics is fused with religion, and if your opponents are deemed evil, then almost anything can be justified to defeat them. Sooner or later, you’l find yourself defending the molestation of a minor. Which is why I have long refused to call this political movement Christian, but Christianist. It is not about faith; it is about power.

But evangelical Republicans are not, of course, the only group susceptible to such corruption. Democrats are human as well, as we have so abundantly discovered. Many of them have also made their political struggle into a secular form of religion, and found myriad ways to defend the indefensible because the cause demanded it. I vividly remember Gloria Steinem’s op-ed defending Bill Clinton’s sex abuse at the time (she still refuses to disown it). I remember how many wanted to conflate sexual abuse with private consensual sex. I also recall a bizarre very-Washington lunch in that period when, for some reason, I was seated next to Barbra Streisand (my first and thankfully last encounter with the singer). I mentioned Paula Jones’s lawsuit — which I’d just defended in the pages of The New Republic — just to see what she’d say. Streisand’s lip curled. “Ugh,” she scoffed. “She’s a little kurva.” I later discovered that this means “whore,” “bitch,” or “slut.” And that was by no means an unusual Democratic response of the time.

(Andrew Sullivan, The Danger of Knowing You’re on the ‘Right Side of History’)

Have we at last reached the end of whataboutism?

Sullivan then turns to admiring “Michelle Goldberg’s beginning of a reckoning with the toxic legacy of the Clintons.” Having dropped the New York Times a month or two ago, I have not used any of my free articles on Goldberg’s piece. I’m cynical about people “discovering” the evil of people who have passed from any real power.

I will not judge Goldberg—or Caitlyn Flanagan, or Chelsea Handler, or the rest of the growing throng—guilty of opportunism, though, because life’s too messy for that. Maybe Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and especially Roy Moore (who, like Bill Clinton, preyed on low-status women who could be dismissed as “little kurva”) actually opened their eyes.

If so, may their epiphany spread even further, multiply, and bear greater fruit than just a belated condemnation of the country’s most powerful power couple.

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Like a spider monkey with a lit stick of dynamite

I didn’t mean to do it, but in short order this morning I had collected three worthy snippets on how Donald Trump manipulates us. (The third is my favorite, sublimely succinct and almost poetic.)

Every president has his own strategy for dealing with periods of acute difficulty. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan worked to disarm their opponents with charm, grace and humor. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton moved to the center. George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama tried to get down to business and to do something significant and concrete.

By contrast, Donald Trump heightens the contradictions. He tries to provoke unrest and discontent, with a clear intuition that they are his best friends. He creates demons and scapegoats. That’s also Stephen Bannon’s approach, and it captures what drew the two men together.

That might be smart politics. But more fundamentally, it appears to be Trump’s gut instinct, his go-to approach when cornered or in trouble. In some cases, his statements look uncomfortably like Russia’s Facebook ads.

While Trump’s characteristic strategy is to intensify social divisions, and to make what divides Americans as salient and visible as possible, that approach is more often associated with the left than the right (true to its Marxist origins).

(Cass R. Sunstein, Russia Is Using Marxist Strategies, and So Is Trump:
Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. election was aimed at stoking social tensions. Sound familiar?
)

In the year since Donald Trump was elected president, the national news media has congratulated itself on a new golden age of accountability journalism.

And it’s true in many ways. The scoops have been relentless, the digging intense, the results important.

But in another crucial way, the reality-based press has failed.

Too often, it has succumbed to the chaos of covering Trump, who lies and blusters and distracts at every turn.

Of course, given the differences among news organizations, generalizing is a fraught exercise. Nonetheless, each news cycle is an exhausting, confusing blast of conflicting claims, fact-checking, reactions and outrage.

Trump drives the news, all day and every day, a human fire hose of hyperbolic tweets, insults, oversimplification and bragging.

And then there’s the huge influence of Fox News, which early last week was discussing hamburger emoji as the rest of the national media was reporting the indictments of Trump associates.

The president has been sowing those seeds of mistrust for many months, and cultivates them daily with extra-strength fertilizer.

Reporters “have so-called sources that, in my opinion, don’t exist,” Trump told Lou Dobbs of Fox Business recently. “They just ― they make it up. It is so dishonest. It is so fake.”

Of course, that’s not true. Reporters for legitimate news organizations do not make things up. Those few reporters who fabricate sources get fired and are driven out of the business.

(Margaret Sullivan, Media Columnist for the Washington Post, in Trump’s message of mistrust is sinking in, even in journalism’s new ‘golden age’)

[T]he president grabs the public’s attention like a spider monkey running through a church with a lit stick of dynamite.

(Jonah Goldberg)

* * * * *

“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.

Trigger-warned

“Natural disasters and their man-made counterparts (mass shootings, terrorist attacks) pose an obvious challenge for those living the Me-Driven Life. These events are frustrating, and inconvenient, because they tend to cause those people to think about their own problems: their injuries, the loss of loved ones, their hunger, thirst, discomfort, life-threatening cholera, what have you.

This is a common character flaw, and it is harmful because it distracts them from their more pressing obligation to think about you ….”

(Dana Milbank, A Narcissist’s Guide to Helping Others Understand It Is All About You)

President Trump is the author of many of the most successful business books of all time, from The Art of the Deal to … um … those other ones. And with his presidency spooling out before us like an endless rainbow of winning, there’s much that leaders of any organization, company, or family can learn about how to make their enterprise function like the “fine-tuned machine” that is the Trump administration.

Perhaps someday Trump will sit down to write a book detailing his leadership secrets, offering up another trove of penetrating insight and inspiring prose. Until then, here are some tips we can glean from watching Trump’s unrivaled performance as president.

1. Force your underlings to praise you in public. This will make them feel like honored parts of the team! It’s a technique Trump often employs, whether it’s a Cabinet meeting or a get-together with a group of religious leaders. He’ll call on them one at a time, knowing that they’ll all feel compelled to give him the hosannas he’s looking for …

(Paul Waldman, Leadership tips from Donald J. Trump)

Why? Why can’t just one religious leader, of all people, have the cojones to say “It’s always an honor to be invited to meet with the President of our nation” and leave it at that?

UPDATE:

The thing I got most wrong is that I did not anticipate the sheer chaos and dysfunction and slovenliness of the Trump operation. I didn’t sufficiently anticipate how distracted Trump could be by things that are not essential. My model was that he was greedy first and authoritarian second. What I did not see was that he was needy first, greedy second, and authoritarian third. We’d be in a lot worse shape if he were a more meticulous, serious-minded person.

(David Frum, The Atlantic, October 2017)

* * * * *

“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.

Trump (and his supporters)

 

1

Orthodox Philosopher/Theologian/Renaissance Man David Bentley Hart wrote something in May of 2011 that I excerpt below.  Given the date, nobody who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid could think it’s a political hit job (unless David Bentley Hart is also an honest-to-gosh prophet, in which case you’d better heed that hit job):

[T]hinking about all of these things reminded me of a conversation I had, not long ago, with my friend the inimitable Ambrose d’Arcangeli (what a marvelous name that man has) about literary depictions of Satan, and how attractive, witty, glamorous, or appealing they often make the devil seem.

“I doubt he’s even very interesting,” Ambrose observed. “I mean, to the extent that the devil has any personality to speak of at all—even if the story is true and he was once an archangel or something of that sort—he must by now be a pretty sordid, unimaginative, and dreary little fellow. He would have to be so monstrously self-absorbed: not a brilliant conversationalist, not a philosopher and wit, not a bon-vivant or perverted aesthete, but just some tedious little troll, full of spite and resentment. He’s probably a monomaniac who talks about nothing but his personal grievances and aims, and in the bluntest, most unrefined language imaginable—the sort of person you try your best to get away from at a party.”

“But even the post-Promethean, post-Romantic Satan is too engaging a character, too debonair” Ambrose continued. “Dostoevsky’s devil in The Brother’s Karamazov, for example, the one who appears to the fever-ridden Vanya, is a bit of an invertebrate and a sponge, who goes about in the threadbare guise of a member of the impoverished petty nobility; but he’s still an enchanting talker, with a sense of humor, and considerable urbanity. If nothing else, writers always imagine the devil as well-read and something of a cosmopolitan, who’s able to explain himself in terms of one or another perfectly coherent moral philosophy. But, of course, the devil is really just a thug.”

… How then, I asked Ambrose, should one portray the prince of darkness?

After a pensive moment, Ambrose replied, “A merciless real estate developer whose largest projects are all casinos.”

And recalling this exchange brought Donald Trump to mind. You know the fellow: developer, speculator, television personality, hotelier, political dilettante, conspiracy theorist, and grand croupier—the one with that canopy of hennaed hair jutting out over his eyes like a shelf of limestone.

How obvious it seems to me now. Cold, grasping, bleak, graceless, and dull; unctuous, sleek, pitiless, and crass; a pallid vulgarian floating through life on clouds of acrid cologne and trailed by a vanguard of fawning divorce lawyers, the devil is probably eerily similar to Donald Trump—though perhaps just a little nicer.

(David Bentley Hart, May 2011) If you think the devil being nicer than Donald Trump is not just a hyperbole but a sacrilege, see Hart’s story of how Mr. Trump abused eminent domain against one Vera Coking to Make Atlantic City Great Again.

2

I suppose one could dismiss David French’s observations on the “they’re all in bed together” theory, but wouldn’t it be better to explain how he’s like, y’know, wrong or something?

* * * * *

“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.

Thursday, 9/21/17

I try not to let my adversity toward Trump to cloud my vision and make me credulous. Bad as he is, there are some things he hasn’t done. Which brings us to this.

The problem with the word “collusion” is that when Russia stirs up U.S. politics in its own interest, its actions can be convenient for different parties. That includes a U.S. intelligence community with its own ideas about what needs to happen. More than ever, the story line that Kremlin efforts were aimed with winsome simplicity at helping Mr. Trump seems largely a fabrication of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

If so, the moment of true political corruption may have come with Mr. Trump’s improbable, unexpected victory, when the agencies suddenly switched their diagnosis of Vladimir Putin’s motives. On Oct. 31, voters hadn’t yet gone to the polls. The New York Times summarized the Obama administration view that Russia’s effort “was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”

Then came Mr. Trump’s unanticipated triumph, and the administration quickly revised its judgment from “Putin meddled” to “Putin meddled to elect Trump.” …

Now ask yourself: Were the evolving claims about Russia’s motives based on any more solid intelligence than were the Trump dossier or Russia’s fake Loretta Lynch email? Or is the picture here of our intelligence officials serially grabbing after whatever flotsam serves their immediate needs?

(Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.)

* * * * *

“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.