Clippings, 12/3/18

1

[T]he whole Trump operation, now lying exposed on Mueller’s table — the shady business empire, the constant practice of deceit, the dim-bulb hangers-on — screams corruption in a way that few politicians’ circles do. With Trump there is no pretense of respectability or rectitude. There is only the open, shrugging grift.

This shrug makes it hard for his critics to fathom how the Trump campaign ever persuaded anyone that its candidate would actually “drain the swamp.” Some of the liberal fixation with fake news reflects an attempt to explain Trump’s anti-corruption pitch as just a fraud that voters swallowed (or were force-fed by the Russians). And indeed, a portion of Trump’s supporters choose to live the fantasy worlds of Pizzagate and QAnon, where the most impeachable of presidents is as a white knight taking on a fictive ring of pedophiles.

… [T]here is one odd way in which Trump’s supporters have gotten what they wanted. Trump isn’t draining the swamp himself, but the shock of his ascent has created swamp-draining conditions — in which other corruptions have suddenly been exposed, and there have been many deserved falls from grace.

… [I]n many cases the newly-exposed scandals were open secrets, known to those in the know, and in some cases they were as baroquely grotesque as any Reddit fantasy. (Like, what if Harvey Weinstein’s whole movie empire was just a procurement agency, and what if he hired ex-Mossad agents to stalk one of the stars of “Charmed” … ?)

The story of rich-guy pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, just written up in exhaustive detail by The Miami Herald, is a perfect example — a pedophilia scandal hidden in plain sight, in which a wealthy abuser got off with a slap on the wrist because he had a bipartisan group of allies and there was an incentive not to embarrass the powerful people who might have frequented his parties or taken rides on his plane. A crucial player, the prosecutor who let Epstein slide, is now the Trump administration’s labor secretary — but instead of being a seedy Trumpworld figure, Alexander Acosta is an eminently respectable, big-law figure. Not a grifter; just an exemplar of the American elite.

As, of course, is Epstein’s pal Bill Clinton, who hasn’t been exposed in the Trump era so much as finally acknowledged, by a growing number of liberals, as a sexual predator who survived impeachment because the establishment went into a panic about the specter of puritanism and either smeared or ignored the women credibly accusing him. Not a grifter, the ex-president; just a pillar of the establishment who happened to have a plausible rape accusation lying there in plain sight all the time.

In fact our elite is rotten and deserves judgment, yet Trump’s mix of kleptocracy and kakistocracy is worse. So the question of how you replace a bad elite with a better one, not just with something more corrupt, is what both left and right should be pondering while this particular purgation runs its course.

Ross Douthat

2

“What scares me the most is Hillary’s smug certainty of her own virtue as she has become greedy and how typical that is of so many chic liberals who seem unaware of their own greed,” Charlie Peters, the legendary liberal former editor of The Washington Monthly, told me. “They don’t really face the complicity of what’s happened to the world, how selfish we’ve become and the horrible damage of screwing the workers and causing this resentment that the Republicans found a way of tapping into.” He ruefully worries about the Obamas in this regard, too.

Indeed, in the era of Trump, greed is not only good. It’s grand. The stock market is our highest value. Mammonism rules.

But watching the Clintons hash over their well-worn tale of falling in love at Yale Law School, I realize that it’s not only about the money.

Some in Clintonworld say Hillary fully intends to be the nominee ….

Maureen Dowd. Hillary and Bill can’t fill an auditorium any more. They’re toast.

3

In talking about the death of Christianity in Europe, Murray — an atheist who calls himself a “cultural Christian” — says that Christianity was Europe’s “founding myth,” and that without it, Europe doesn’t know what it believes or what it’s for. “Human rights” is weak tea without some sort of transcendent source. Murray also talks about how difficult it is for Europeans to believe in anything, having lost their religion and made a ruin of themselves with political substitutes. And, on the immigration question — which is truly an existential one for Europe — the continent’s elites have across the board lied for decades to the people. I was somewhat aware of this prior to coming to Murray’s book, but to read the details gathered in one place like this was genuinely shocking. The startling thing is not that there are riots in the streets of Paris, but that it took them so long.

Rod Dreher, What Happens When Trump Falls?. I had read the Douthat and Dowd columns nearly 12 hours before I saw this blog commenting on them, but I was unaware of Douglas Murray or his book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.

Dreher suggests that “America is not (yet) Europe in terms of losing our religion,” but just yesterday he aptly noted that the residuum of Christianity in Europe tends to be far more thoughtful than that of the U.S.:

Lilla talks about the meaning of the massive La Manif pour Tousmovement to block same-sex marriage, on the grounds that every child needs a father and a mother. Though we American Christians are supposed to be so much more religious than Europeans, nothing remotely like La Manif happened in America.

Maybe you can understand why I feel so much more at home when I’m in Europe with Christian intellectuals like these people than I do anywhere among American conservatives ….

See this, too.

I, too, think I’d prefer French-style Christian Nationalism over naïve “America is a Christian nation” chest-thumping, thank you, in part because the chest-thumpers are disconnected from authentic, historic (versus notional, post-enlightenment) Christian roots.

Dreher concludes:

What I’m getting at is asking what comes politically when most Americans lose faith in the ability of our elites to make things better? I fear that on the Right, we’re going to have to deal with the myth that Trump would have succeeded had the swamp not stabbed him in the back.

Oh, dear! That sounds all too plausible!

Do you see a path to expanding the subjects on which there’s a working majority about the common good when we split over stuff like this?

4

Writing in the New York Times, Parker Malloy offers the pristinely Orwellian argument that the prohibition of speech is a necessary condition for free speech: “Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.” I am not quite sure those sentences mean what Malloy means (reject the legitimacy, I think), and things get worse from there. Deadnaming and misgendering, Malloy writes, are a way to force the trans advocate into “a debate over my own existence. I know many trans people who feel the same. If this isn’t harassment, I don’t know what is. Aside from the harm it does to trans people, it also impedes the free flow of ideas and debate, in the same way that conservatives often accuse student protesters of shutting down speech on college campuses.”

If we could for a moment tighten up and focus on the question of what words actually mean, this is a group of common English words put into an order that doesn’t add up to anything sensible: Nobody is denying that Parker Malloy exists. Nobody, to my knowledge, is denying that trans people exist. We are once again ill served by an excess of metaphor and a refusal to look at the thing itself.

“I’d like to henceforth be known as Chelsea rather than Bradley, and to be socially accepted as a woman,” is a sentiment that demands universal tolerance; “I’m not so sure about that,” is a crime against humanity. That is not a sentiment that deserves to be taken seriously. It is not, I suspect, one that is taken seriously: But people can be terrorized into accepting it as a matter of social self-defense.

Kevin D. Williamson (hyperlink and boldface added).

A wretched “excess of metaphor” is at work every single time a person with gender dysphoria poisons the well with an accusation that “looking at the thing itself” denies their existence. My immediate reaction to that sort if thing is that I’m dealing with an hysteric and had best walk away (but not capitulate).

5

On a recent episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, sci-fi author Andrew Duncan argued that the depiction of the orcs in Lord of the Rings is racist and will have “dire consequences . . . for society.”

“It’s hard to miss the repeated notion in Tolkien that some races are just worse than others, or that some peoples are just worse than others,” Duncan said. “And this seems to me — in the long term, if you embrace this too much — it has dire consequences for yourself and for society.”

First of all, I think that it is important to point out that orcs are A) not people and B) not real, so starting some sort of social-justice movement over their treatment is probably the biggest, most idiotic waste of time that I’ve ever seen — and this is coming from an adult woman who spends time playing a game called “Pet Shop” on her phone.

Katherine Timpf. You can’t make this stuff up.

6

It used to be that people would marry across party lines – people with very different political views – but would almost always marry someone who shared their faith. Now, almost 40 percent of marriages are to someone of a different faith tradition, but only around 23 percent of people who are getting married, or even cohabiting with someone, are doing so with someone of a different political party. In many ways, political affiliation is now seen as somehow more intrinsic to our identities than our faith commitments.

Baker, Harder, & Wear, The New Morality Dilemma (H/T Alan Jacobs). This insanity is becoming common knowledge.

7

For what it’s worth. My confirmation bias is so strong that I dasn’t say a word more.

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Things that frustrate me about the 2016 election

Here begins a collection of “things that frustrate me about the 2016 election.” It may continue for the next 12.5 weeks.

One is that one of my usual litmus tests for sanity has gone haywire. The New York Times Editorial Board is against Trump, but that’s a pretty obviously sane position for a change, because of the unprecedentedly abysmal character of the Republic nominee.

A second is that you cannot really nail down the contemptible meaning of a Trump incitement. I thank the often-scatological lawblogger Popehat for this insight, which came from his single use of the adjective “Joycean” to describe Trump’s language:

Trump’s staff quickly issued a press release saying that this comment was merely a reference to the vigorous political activism of Second Amendment fans, not to violence. I express no opinion about what Trump “meant”: I think trying to parse his Joycean ramblings is usually pointless.

An academic thinks he’s nailed it down, but ….

A third is that Trumpistas revel in the second, failing to realize that they, too, cannot rely on their interpretation of his Joycean ramblings to say “he stands for this-or-that.” The case for Trump remains, unbroken in my critical reading of innumerable apologias, that (a) he’s not Hillary and (b) he is a man, love him or loathe him, of great accomplishments based on toughness. Which leads to …

Fourth: the growing conviction that the entire Trump persona is a fraud. From the billions to the satyriasis to the magnificent contribution to the economy by employing tens of thousands to the whole sneering “what did your candidate ever do to compare with His Awesomeness?,” I increasingly think Trump is a myth of his own making — a man who is perfect for reality TV (and that’s no compliment).

As Mary McCarty said of Lillian Hellman, “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.” Yet here I sit worrying about the political meaning of this or that Joycean utterance of a Potemkin Candidate of whom nothing can be said to be real, true or reliable except (a) not Hillary and (b) the self-promotion.

Take a gander at this story about his deposition in a lawsuit:

It was a mid-December morning in 2007 — the start of an interrogation unlike anything else in the public record of Trump’s life.

Trump had brought it on himself. He had sued a reporter, accusing him of being reckless and dishonest in a book that raised questions about Trump’s net worth. The reporter’s attorneys turned the tables and brought Trump in for a deposition.

For two straight days, they asked Trump question after question that touched on the same theme: Trump’s honesty.

The lawyers confronted the mogul with his past statements — and with his company’s internal documents, which often showed those statements had been incorrect or invented. The lawyers were relentless. Trump, the bigger-than-life mogul, was vulnerable — cornered, out-prepared and under oath.

Thirty times, they caught him.

Trump had misstated sales at his condo buildings. Inflated the price of membership at one of his golf clubs. Overstated the depth of his past debts and the number of his employees.

That deposition — 170 transcribed pages — offers extraordinary insights into Trump’s relationship with the truth. Trump’s falsehoods were unstrategic — needless, highly specific, easy to disprove ….

Fifth, the fourth may make him the apotheosis of the United States, 2016.

Sixth, is that I might have to reconsider voting for Hillary (“She’s Less Abnormal!”) Clinton if the perfect storm arises:

  • Indiana’s vote is in play. I fear that this may happen. Obama took the state in 2008. We’re pretty reliably red, but with Trump, all bets are off.
  • The nation is in play to the extent that Indiana’s electors may matter to the outcome. This may be where I escape the feared fate.

I’m not sure, even then, that I could bring myself to vote for her, not because of her persona, or her dishonesty, or her grifting, but because she actually has coherent positions to which she is credibly committed but which are variously perverse (“free college!”) or even evil (“abortion, publicly funded, now and forever!”).

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.