Clippings and Comment, 2/6/19

1

Ms. Devi publicly defended Mr. Fryer. Since then, she says she’s struggled to find research collaborators and has lost nearly every female friend at Harvard: “Suddenly, I would find that my emails were going unanswered. People would avert their gaze from me walking down the hall. There was this culture of guilty until proven innocent and, if you’re defending him, guilt by association.”

Ms. Devi adds that every one of her remaining friends has advised her not to defend Mr. Fryer. One told her that “at a place like this, which is extremely progressive, it will only have a cost—it will have no benefit.” Ms. Devi says she knows of others who also wanted to defend Mr. Fryer but “don’t want to go against the social-media mob.”

An immigrant from India, Ms. Devi fears her outspokenness will limit her job prospects in the U.S. “It’s very, very high-risk to identify myself and defend an accused person,” Ms. Devi says. “Everyone protects the identity of the accuser. She gets to hide under the mask of anonymity, and we have to destroy our futures.”

Jillian Kay Melchior, Title IX’s Witness Intimidation, Wall Street Journal.

This is the kind of toxic culture against which Betsy DeVos’s regulatory legal changes are powerless.

2

It’s nice to be Trump. His bragging is unencumbered by his past. His self-satisfaction crowds out any self-examination. What he needs isn’t a fact check. It’s a reality check, because his worst fictions aren’t statistical. They’re spiritual.

The State of the Union address was a herky-jerky testament to that. I say herky-jerky because it was six or eight or maybe 10 speeches in one, caroming without warning from a plea for unity to a tirade about the border; from some boast about American glory under Trump to some reverie about American glory before Trump (yes, it existed!); from a hurried legislative wish list to a final stretch of ersatz poetry that read like lines from a batch of defective or remaindered Hallmark cards. As much as Trump needed modesty, his paragraphs needed transitions.

“Don’t sit yet,” he told them when he feared that they would end their celebration too soon, before his next great pronouncement. “You’re going to like this.”

Even the newly, briefly, falsely sensitive version of Trump couldn’t lose his bossy streak — or stop hungering for, and predicting, the next round of applause.

Frank Bruni.

3

I’m tempted to write “Democrats are reduced to pointless obstructionism,” but “obstructionism” implies the ability to obstruct. Senate Democrats lack that ability, having done away with the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominations when they were in control. Thus they are reduced even further, to “pointless mudslinging.”

Yet “pointless” doesn’t mean “harmless.” The Democratic senators’ juvenile tactics will not stop Rao’s confirmation, but they are lowering the already debased national discourse.

Rao is now 45 years old, solidly middle-aged. To reach middle age, one must first pass through an earlier stage of simultaneously knowing very little about the world while believing oneself to understand it completely. Youthful folly is particularly unfortunate in budding writers, who inevitably commit their stupidity to the page. If they write for publication — rather than privately composing the worst novel ever written in the English language, as I did at that age — their silliness will linger for posterity to sample.

… [F]rankly, Rao’s college writing wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. It wasn’t even as bad as I expected from early media coverage.

Megan McArdle

4

[F]rom the moment he announced his run for the presidency, I believed that Trump was intellectually, temperamentally, and psychologically unfit to be president. Indeed, I warned the GOP about Trump back in 2011, when I wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal decrying his claim that Barack Obama was not born in America. From time to time, people emerge who are peddlers of paranoia and who violate unwritten codes that are vital to a self-governing society, I wrote, adding, “They delight in making our public discourse more childish and freakish, focusing attention on absurdities rather than substantive issues, and stirring up mistrust among citizens. When they do, those they claim to represent should speak out forcefully against them.”

Today I see the Republican Party through the clarifying prism of Donald Trump, who consistently appealed to the ugliest instincts and attitudes of the GOP base—in 2011, when he entered the political stage by promoting a racist conspiracy theory, and in 2016, when he won the GOP nomination. He’s done the same time and time again during his presidency—his attacks on the intelligence of black politicians, black journalists, and black athletes; his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; and his closing argument during the midterm elections, when he retweeted a racist ad that even Fox News would not run.

Peter Wehner, on why he left the GOP and what he has gained thereby.

Apart from my having left the party earlier than Wehner, he captures my feelings very well.

5

What is the statute of limitations for being a jerk-goofball-hellraiser? asks Kathleen Parker of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam:

In 1983, just before winning a third term as Louisiana’s governor, Edwin Edwards famously said that the only way he could lose the race was “if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

Presumably, no one checked his yearbook.

Parker must have tenure, a large 401k, and a looming retirement, because it is now forbidden, on pain of professional death, to forgive youth and foolishness.

6

Had you heard about Liam Neeson making terrible, racist comments? Did your source bother quoting what he actually said, in context, or was your source someone like the preening Peacock Piers Morgan (“so full of shit his breath makes acid rain,” as Bruce Cockburn sang of someone else), who tells you what to think before he tells you what Neeson said?

We have created a culture that despises repentance, and condemns grace.

If you can’t multiply examples of that during the past week, you weren’t paying attention.

7

Of late, I’ve found a term for my political temperament: “trimmer” (second listed meaning). So I am today declaring myself a centrist non-candidate for POTUS. The toxicity of Left and Right, sampled above, have become intolerable.

8

My Church is the best Church because it never interferes with a man’s politics or his religion.

Uncle Toby in Tristram Shandy, via John Senior, The Death of Christian Culture, page 136.

Uncle Toby is Andrew Cuomo’s patron saint.

9

Because I find his droning, vulgar cadences intolerable, I did not listen to even to that portion of the President’s State of the Union address that may have been continuing as I left a musical rehearsal.

But it sounds as if I may have missed something even worse than the usual vulgarity: I may have missed a scripted approximation of normalcy, which would make the return to vulgar reality even more agonizing.

I’m too old for roller coasters, even if they’re just emotional.

10

A Canadian cryptocurrency exchange says about $140 million worth of customers’ holdings are stuck in an electronic vault because the company’s founder, and sole employee, died without sharing the password.

But two independent researchers say publicly available transaction records associated with QuadrigaCX suggest the money may be gone, not trapped.

They say it appears Quadriga transferred customer funds to other cryptocurrency exchanges, although it isn’t clear what might have happened to the money from there.

Paul Vigna, Wall Street Journal.

My avoidance of cryptocurrencies is vindicated.

11

In a reflection on the Nashville Statement written a few years ago, I wrote:

Like me, Justin grew up Southern Baptist. Sometimes, someone will ask me why I think Justin “changed his theology” to support gay marriage, while I stuck with conservative theology. However, the question actually rests on a misunderstanding. I did not “hold onto” the theology of marriage I learned in Southern Baptist Churches growing up. If I had, I would support same-sex marriage.

When I listen to Justin’s presentations, what I hear in his arguments for same-sex marriage is simply the logical outworking of the theology of marriage we both grew up with. Many of his arguments are modified versions of the arguments which I heard to rationalize divorce and contraception in the Southern Baptist congregation I grew up in.

And because of the obvious prejudice of so many conservative Christians toward gay people, it’s easy for him to dismiss conservative exegesis as Pharisaical legalism.

You might say that I “backed” my way into the Catholic Church,first by recognizing the link between accepting contraception and accepting same-sex marriage, and only later recognizing the flaws of the “slow motion sexual revolutionaries” I grew up with in the Southern Baptist Church.

Ron Belgau. This “alternate universe” argument, where one says “If I believed X, I would eventually come to believe Y,” is one that I have made, if only when arguing with myself about what I would believe today had I remained in the Christian Reformed Church.

12

Oh, how we miss the trolley problem .

There’s a runaway trolley plunging toward a widow and five orphans, but if you pull the lever to divert it, you’ll hit Elon Musk. Which do you choose?

This is a problem?!. Quick! Where’s that lever?!

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Counter-hegemony

A fine Saturday WSJ profile of Heather MacDonald, who was only halfway onto my radar previously. She has some very plausible explanations of phenomena that swim against both progressive and conservative streams on snowflakes, Title IX Due Process, patriarchy and more.

Emphasis added.

1

Heather Mac Donald may be best known for braving angry collegiate mobs, determined to prevent her from speaking last year in defense of law enforcement. But she finds herself oddly in agreement with her would-be suppressors: “To be honest,” she tells me, “I would not even invite me to a college campus.”

No, she doesn’t yearn for a safe space from her own triggering views. “My ideal of the university is a pure ivory tower,” she says. “I think that these are four precious years to encounter human creations that you’re otherwise—unless you’re very diligent and insightful—really never going to encounter again. There is time enough for things of the moment once you graduate.”

2

Her views are heterodox. She would seem a natural ally of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” They argue that college “snowflakes” are the products of overprotective childrearing, which creates oversensitive young adults.

Ms. Mac Donald doesn’t buy it. Minority students disproportionately come from single-parent homes, so “it’s not clear to me that those students are being helicopter-parented.” To the contrary, “they are not getting, arguably, as much parenting as they need.” If anyone is coddled, it’s upper-middle- class whites, but “I don’t know yet of a movement to create safe spaces for white males.”

The snowflake argument, Ms. Mac Donald says, “misses the ideological component of this.” The dominant victim narrative teaches students that “to be female, black, Hispanic, trans, gay on a college campus is to be the target of unrelenting bigotry.” Students increasingly believe that studying the Western canon puts “their health, mental safety, and security at risk” and can be “a source of—literally—life threat.”

3

She similarly thinks conservatives miss the point when they focus on the due-process infirmities of campus sexual- misconduct tribunals. She doesn’t believe there’s a campus “rape epidemic,” only a lot of messy, regrettable and mutually degrading hookups. “To say the solution to all of this is simply more lawyering up is ridiculous because this is really, fundamentally, about sexual norms.”

Society once assumed “no” was women’s default response to sexual propositions. “That put power in the hands of females,” …

Young women … are learning “to redefine their experience as a result of the patriarchy, whereas, in fact, it’s a result of sexual liberation.”

4

What about the idea of actively enforcing viewpoint diversity? “I’m reluctant to have affirmative action for conservatives, just because it always ends up stigmatizing its beneficiaries,” Ms. Mac Donald says. Still, she’s concerned that as campuses grow increasingly hostile to conservatives, some of the best candidates may decide, as she did, that there’s no space left for them.

5

What worries Ms. Mac Donald more than the mob is the destructive power of its animating ideas. If the university continues its decline, how will knowledge be passed on to the next generation, or new knowledge created? Ms. Mac Donald also warns of a rising white identity politics—“an absolutely logical next step in the metastasizing of identity politics.”

6

I turn now to Andrew Sullivan, as I often do on Friday or Saturday.

His Friday column, The Danger of Trump’s Accomplishments, is almost perfect, but “Put a spoonful of sewage in a barrel of wine and you get sewage”:

The Republican senators likely to be elected this fall will, if anything, be even more pro-Trump than their predecessors. Corker, Flake, McCain: all gone. The House GOP will have been transformed more thoroughly into Trump’s own personal party, as the primary campaigns revealed only too brutally. And if by some twist of fate, a constitutional battle between Congress and president breaks out over impeachment proceedings, Justice Kavanaugh will be there to make sure the president gets his way.

(Emphasis added)

That ipse dixit about Brett Kavanaugh defending Trump from impeachment is vile, far beneath Sully’s usual level and, I’d wager, wrong. Moreover, it undermines the judiciary and, thus, the rule of law as surely as Democrats do when they talk as if Kavanaugh is some kind of Manchurian Associate Justice.

And — set me straight if I’m missing something — I think it’s stupid. The House impeaches; the Senate tries the impeachment. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has nothing to do with this process which, as we’ve been reminded much of late, is political despite the allusion to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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Political Potpourri, 9/10/18

The Good

1

Heather Mac Donald, in “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture,” notes that, “as of early 2018, 79 judges had issued rulings against schools’ rape trial procedures” adopted in conformity with the Obama administration’s dictates.

She says a 2006 University of Virginia survey found “that only 23 percent of the subjects whom the survey characterized as rape victims felt that they had been raped” …

Mac Donald notes that campus sexual-assault policies often assign “wildly asymmetrical responsibilities and liabilities.” In campuses’ alcohol-saturated hookup culture, men are assigned the Victorian role as guardians of frail females’ virtue: If he and she are drunk, she typically is absolved of agency and he is accountable for both of their behaviors. Yet, contradictorily, a core tenet of academic progressivism is that the differences between men and women are not innate, they are “socially constructed,” having nothing to do with biology. Never mind various cultures’ centuries of experience with laws and courtship rituals developed to tame the male libido.

George Will, defending Besty DeVos’s revision of Department of Education rules on handling of campus sexual assault complaints — which have been widely mischaracterized so egregiously that “bad faith” is almost the only explanation.

 

2

I asked the senator from Kentucky if his record on judicial appointments, including the decision to hold open the seat vacated after Scalia’s untimely death in February 2016 until after the presidential election was the most important part of his legacy as a senator. “I think it’s the most consequential series of things that I’ve done that have the longest impact on the country,” he answered. “In the legislative process,” he continued, “there’s not much you can do all by yourself. The one thing the majority leader can do that no one else can do is the schedule, what you will do or what you will not do. I think the decision not to fill the Scalia vacancy was the most consequential decision of my career. And I think the follow-up on that, to not only fill the Supreme Court vacancies, but put in place men and women [on the federal courts of appeals] who believe that the job is to interpret the law into as many places as we can, particularly at the circuit court level, for as long as we’re in the majority is the most important thing I will have been involved in in my career.”

Hugh Hewitt, Mitch McConnell has saved the Constitution.

For the record:

  1. I’m deeply ambivalent about the precedent of sitting on a SCOTUS nominee without hearings. It doesn’t pass a smell test even if it’s not unlawful.
  2. But I’m grateful for the quality of Trump’s judicial nominees and that their judicial philosophies* are more congruent with my own than Merrick Garland’s presumably** is.
  3. “Saved the Constitution” is hyperbole, but the stakes were high, and the tendency to see SCOTUS nominees as having “an agenda” is a sad symptom of the how the court is perceived, with some justification.

 

3

The truth is that “settled law” is just a euphemism that jurists and legal scholars use to refer to Supreme Court precedent that is indeed binding – but only until a majority of the justices decide that it should be overruled. In the 2003 e-mail, Kavanaugh was largely right to say that the Supreme Court “can always overrule its precedent.” And that’s a good thing. The Supreme Court needs to have the power to overturn flawed constitutional precedent, as this is usually the only way to correct wrong constitutional decisions, short of using the extraordinarily difficult amendment process.

Few people, particularly on the left, pine for the return of Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 case in which a narrow majority upheld the constitutionality of anti-sodomy laws. The Court eventually overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which has since become something of an iconic decision.

Ilya Somin (emphasis added). Somin doesn’t mention boring but binding precedent upholding anti-sodomy laws years before Bowers v. Hardwick:

The first challenge to a sodomy law to reach the U.S. Supreme court was Doe v. Commonwealth Attorney of Richmond in 1976. That case challenged Virginia’s sodomy law as a violation of the right to privacy. For technical reasons, the Supreme Court was required to consider the appeal of this decision upholding the law (in most circumstances, the Court only hears cases it selects). Although the Court accepted neither written nor oral arguments, its memorandum upholding the law is its first decision in a sodomy challenge.

ACLU, Getting Rid of Sodomy Laws. The one sentence summary affirmation was binding authority, and it meant in effect that there wasn’t enough merit to the case against sodomy laws to waste any time explaining why.

My own position long was that all jurisdictions should repeal sodomy laws, but I couldn’t find an acceptable constitutional rationale (a free-floating right of privacy just doesn’t cut it for me) for striking them down.

 

The Bad

4

Jay Sekulow, tried to argue to Robert Mueller that Trump could not be asked to give an interview because he is a compulsive liar. They literally explained to Mueller how they conducted a mock interview with Trump, and he was so unable to tell the truth that they considered him mentally disqualified from testifying:

Jay Sekulow went to Mueller’s office and re-enacted the mock interview. Their goal: to argue that Trump couldn’t possibly testify because he was incapable of telling the truth.

“He just made something up. That’s his nature,” Dowd said to Mueller.

It seems somehow unfair to let somebody remain on the job as president because he’s such a compulsive liar he can’t be allowed to testify under oath.

Jonathan Chait

 

5

Publicity is bad when it attracts the dogged scrutiny of a special counsel along the lines of Robert S. Mueller III. The man isn’t perfect. But he is deeply experienced and impervious to distractions. Trump has loosed a rabid and foaming Rudolph W. Giuliani on Mueller, to no more effect than a Pekingese yipping at a Greyhound bus. With his patrician wealth, his Bronze Star and his sterling résumé, Mueller neither wants nor fears anything Trump can bring.

On the other hand, Mueller has obtained certain things that, I’d wager, lie at or near the root of Trump’s mania. No, not the sordid details of a porn-star payoff. Trump has been known to spill dirt on himself to the tabloids just to stroke his own ego. He could be the emoji for shamelessness.

I’m talking about Trump’s bank records , turned over last year by Deutsche Bank, which also coughed up $630 million in fines in 2017 to settle charges of participating in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme. And I’m talking about the immunized testimony of Trump’s longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg . If anyone knows the details of money (Russian or otherwise, licit or not) moving through Trump’s privately held businesses, it’s this guy. And I’m talking about Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, the ones he has been so determined to keep private, which Mueller almost certainly possesses .

This is the forest, I’ll bet, from which the president’s increasingly nutty behavior is being shaken.

David Von Drehle. Von Drehle also speculates that Jared Kushiner wrote The Anonymous Op-Ed, as even Jared and Ivanka need an exit strategy.

 

6

In nations that have known the horror of dictatorship or foreign occupation, there are often long traditions of what Poland’s national poet once called “patriotic treason” …

In occupied countries, large public events can spontaneously take on political overtones, too …

I am listing all these distant foreign events because at the moment they have strange echoes in Washington. Sen. John McCain’s funeral felt like one of those spontaneous political events. As in a dictatorship, people spoke in code: President Trump’s name was not mentioned, yet everybody understood that praise for McCain, a symbol of the dying values of the old Republican Party, was also criticism of the authoritarian populist in the White House …

There can be only one explanation for this kind of behavior: White House officials, and many others in Washington, really do not feel they are living in a fully legal state ….

Leading members of Congress might resist invoking the 25th Amendment, which would of course be described by Trump’s supporters as a “Cabinet coup.” The mob — not the literal, physical street mob, but the online mob that has replaced it — would seek revenge. There may not be any presidential goons, but any senior official who signs his or her name to a call for impeachment or removal will certainly be subjected to waves of hatred on social media, starting with a denunciation from the president. Recriminations will follow on Fox News, along with a smear campaign, a doxing campaign, attacks on the target’s family and perhaps worse. It is possible we have underestimated the degree to which our political culture has already become more authoritarian.

Anne Applebaum, Washington feels like the capital of an occupied country. This rang very true to me.

 

Elsewhere

7

In the wake of reports about his predecessor’s systematically harassing seminarians in a beach house, Cardinal Wuerl suggested that it was nothing that couldn’t be solved with more vacation time.

… Wuerl has announced a six-week “season of healing.” No penitence, no accountability. Just an announcement that in six weeks, he expects his image to be rehabbed, and everyone else will have to move on. You weren’t healed during my season of healing? That’s on you, bub. As for me, it’s time for another retreat with the lads.

Michael Brendan Dougherty

Footnote

* I say “philosophies” in the plural because Brett Kavanaugh says he is an “originalist” while others insist he’s a “textualist.”

** I say “presumably” because we never got the hearings that would have identified his reportedly moderate philosophy.

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