Things to think about after exhaling

Things to think about after exhaling

[Wendell] Berry often quotes Wes Jackson’s book Becoming Native to This Place in this regard. “The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility,” Jackson writes. “Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a ‘homecoming’ major.

Mark T. Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Human Vision of Wendell Berry


The tomb of Ignatius

Here I am not that Cleon celebrated
in Alexandria (where it is hard to astonish them)
for my magnificent houses, for the gardens,
for my horses and for my chariot,
for the jewels and silk that I wore.
God forbid; here I am not that Cleon;
let his 28 years be erased.
I am Ignatius, a reader, who came to my self
quite late; but I lived so for 10 months
happy in the serenity and security of Christ.

(C.P.) Cavafy


Over the years, I’ve bounced around the political spectrum. I was liberal in Texas, more conservative in college, and now I’m somewhere in the middle. Through it all, I saw politics as a fight between left and right. I don’t see it that way anymore. Donald Trump’s presidency has exposed a bigger threat: an all-out attack on the principle that facts must be respected. We used to take that principle for granted; now we must defend it. Politics has become a fight between those who are willing to respect evidence and those who aren’t.

Progressives and conservatives have always quarreled about what’s true. But to make those debates productive, and to correct our country’s mistakes—failed projects, naïve policies, bad wars—we need a common standard for judging truth. That standard can’t be the Bible or identity politics. It has to be the standard we apply in daily life: evidence. If you say the election was stolen, you have to prove it in court. If you accuse a police officer of murder, your story has to withstand investigation.

… Science has a culture of falsification.

Politics doesn’t. When political promises don’t pan out—wars turn into quagmires, public schools underperform, or tax cuts fail to pay for themselves—politicians invent excuses. This has always been a problem, but it’s getting worse. Trump and his acolytes don’t just spin facts; they completely disregard them. They repeat fantastic lies about election fraud, and when they’re confronted with contrary evidence, they’re not even embarrassed.
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If we don’t get control of this—if we don’t reestablish an ethic of respect for facts—nothing else will be solved. We can’t extinguish the virus if tens of millions of Americans insist it’s a hoax and refuse to be vaccinated or wear masks. We can’t restore public faith in election results and put down insurrectionism if half the population refuses to believe anything the media report. Repairing the consensus that facts must be respected won’t settle our debates on spending, education, or criminal justice. But without that consensus, the crisis we’re in will get much worse.

Will Saletan, The Enemy Isn’t Republicans


Nevertheless, behind its variegated forms, each attuned to different challenges, are the timeless truths and principles at the heart of conservative ideology: (1) Humans are flawed creatures; (2) Reason is powerful but limited and prone to error; (3) Utopian thinking is dangerous, especially when combined with ideologies that promote concentrated political power; (4) Humans should respect tradition and custom; and (5) Intuition is an important guide to social policy. Modern Republicans, standing among the ruins of the Trump presidency, should turn to these principles, elaborated below, to rebuild a robust and unified coalition that can appeal to all ages and ethnicities.

Bo Wingard, A Return to Tradition: Creating a Post-Trump Conservatism – Quillette. It’s good to be reminded what conservatism is after four years of the term’s gross misuse.


Robby [George] pulled out his phone, then, and asked what I knew about Heinrich Heine. I knew the Nazis had burned his books, that he was a Jew who had converted to Christianity. That was about it.

In 1834, Robby told me, Heine wrote a prose poem that prophesied the evil that would swallow Europe a century later. He read it to the table:

> “Christianity — and that is its greatest merit — has somewhat mitigated that brutal Germanic love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals.”

Tears rolled down my face as he spoke these lines, as they do now as I re-read them:

> “Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.”

The Great Unraveling – Common Sense with Bari Weiss.

Yes, Bari Weiss has started a Substack blog (how soon until we just call them “substacks”? Maybe it’s here already?)

Did you eat popcorn?

(I want to stop thinking about 45. I also want nothing like him ever to happen to my country again, so I do “go on a bit.”)

“You have to show strength,” you said,
“and you have to be strong.”
You promised to go with them
but chose instead to view the destruction on TV.
I wondered if you understood
that the violence that unfolded was real,
and not something made for television.
Did you order Cokes as you watched?
Did you eat popcorn?

Michael D’Antonio, A Goodbye Letter for the Anti-President, reformatted by Tipsy as poetry.


I’m not a big fan of Nina Totenberg (she is incapable of balanced coverage on some issues), but her Biden’s Solicitor General Faces Tough Choices On Trump Supreme Court Positions was a genuinely interesting account of what happens to a successor when a POTUS shatters norms and suborns frivolous arguments from his Justice Department.


For Trump supporters, I would recommend reading the entire post-January 6 debriefing of four Trump biographers by Michael Kruse in Politico, and internalizing that Trump is a con man who conned you big time:

Kruse: … I’m curious: Do you think November 8, 2016, will in the end be the best thing that ever happen to Donald Trump, or the worst?

Tim O’Brien: Both. It’s both the best and the worst. He’s such an egomaniac and so needy for the spotlight that he got the biggest platform in the world in the presidency to fill his need for attention, constant attention, and the media spotlight. And because he’s that damaged and needy he courts these things but then he gets exposed for who he is. And I think he’s permanently sullied his family’s name with at least half the population of the United States, if not more, and it’s historically dark things that they’re going to be associated with—an insurrection, programmatic racism, thuggery, and a real, I think, defaming of the presidency, unlike any other president. And I don’t think he foresaw that … He’s just Mr. Id. And he’s constantly trying to get gratification. He doesn’t care about the consequences. And then they blow up all around him. And so his election as president was both, I think, the best and the worst thing that ever happened to him.

Kruse: Is he capable of some sort of honest personal reckoning …?

[Harry] Hurt: No.

[Gwenda] Blair: No.

[Michael] D’Antonio: No.

[Tim] O’Brien: No way.

Kruse: So there is no …

Hurt: No.

O’Brien: No.

Blair: No.

Hurt: Next question.

‘He Was the Ringmaster in the Demise of His Own Circus’ – POLITICO Subtitle: On the eve of Donald Trump’s exit from power, four biographers who studied him up close reflect on what he wrought on the country. And what he’ll do next.


Phil Vischer, creator of the Christian cartoon series “VeggieTales,” once employed Metaxas as a writer and has known him for years.

“At some point,” he told Religion News Service in an email, “Eric went from idolizing people like Os Guinness to idolizing Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson — right wing political firebrands who live to ‘own the libs.’ I think there’s an adrenaline rush or dopamine hit from engaging in full-fledged culture wars that otherwise thoughtful souls on both sides of the political spectrum can find intoxicating. For some, life is worth living only when ‘the soul of America’ is at stake. So the soul of America is ALWAYS at stake.”

Belmont University professor David Dark, who has appeared on Metaxas’ radio show in the past, said that Metaxas may be influenced by the financial opportunity of the Trump cause. You can make a living appealing to an evangelical Christian audience, Dark said, but only if you give them what they want — in this case, support for Trump.

“I think that the market he has appealed to has gotten narrower and narrower,” he said.

A Greek Orthodox in his youth, he became an evangelical in his 20s and has since believed in personal revelation and signs from God. In a conversion story he recounted in Christianity Today magazine and in “Fish Out of Water,” an autobiography about faith due out in February, he tells of seeing a golden Jesus fish in a dream.

In the autobiography, Metaxas also lists a whole series of miracles and messages from God — including one from a turtle in Central Park — on topics from 9/11 to his rise from obscurity to fame.

How Eric Metaxas went from Trump despiser to true believer (emphasis added)

So did the “golden Jesus fish” tell apostate Metaxas that Trump was his man?

Welcoming 46 with open — ummmm — adulation

Spin is ubiquitous in modern politics. There is nothing new or shocking about it. Yet it is both noteworthy and troubling just how quickly CNN flipped from treating the previous president like a hostile occupying power to uncritically publicizing the brand-new administration’s efforts to cut itself maximal slack. If the media has any hope at all of improving on its image and reversing the collapsing trust of readers and viewers, it will have to do better than this.

The point is not to try and convince the most hostile Republicans to tune back into mainstream media outlets. Many of them are unreachable by this point, showing less interest in doing or seeking out better reporting than in using accusations of double standards and hypocrisy to help build support for the right and attempt to tear down liberal institutions. Some go even further, to use the failings of professional journalism as a justification for pedaling deliberate distortions on alternative platforms. Those who take this position view all so-called news as a form of propaganda or information warfare and defend the deliberate promulgation of lies as a tit-for-tat response to the actions of their enemies: “If the left does it, then so should we, and with even less restraint.”

But there are plenty of Americans situated between the burn-it-all-down hyper-cynical right and the journalists and Democratic Party politicos who naively or enthusiastically passed around the CNN story last week. Whether the right succeeds in persuading more and more people to join them in tuning out mainstream journalism will depend in large part on whether its accusations of dishonesty and bad faith look accurate to observers. Does the media seem fair-minded and scrupulous in what it labels news? Or does it seem highly invested in enhancing the power of one side in our country’s deep political divide?

Damon Linker, The media has to do better than this


Kamala Harris literally swore on a stack of Bibles to uphold the Constitution. I think that means it will be doubleplusbad when she discards the Constitution for partisan purposes, as every administration seems to do eventually.

The usual postscript

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

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Adult fiction

I used to say that an “adult movie” was one where the lights went out after the kiss because adults knew what would happen next. I wish I had thought it up on my own, but its source, forgotten, was not my own creativity.

Wendell Berry is similarly discreet:

Billy perches himself in the branches of a box elder that stands above the car’s mysterious hideout. When the car arrives this time, Billy watches as the man takes the back seat out of the car and sits on it with his lady friend. The only way to describe what happens next is by quoting the narrator: “What followed Billy had seen enacted by cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, housecats, chickens, and, by great good fortune he was sure, a pair of snakes. And so he was not surprised but only astonished to be confirmed in his suspicion that the same ceremony could be performed by humans.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, of Wendell Berry’s new short story The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased to be Told.

There’s much more to the story than that, of course, this being Wendell Berry after all. The “more” is hinted at by the part of the title after the colon.

The good folks at Front Porch Republic, of which Bilbro is a part, also have a new Journal, Local Culture,  the premier issue of which I began last night. It’s very good, providing if nothing else a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent, our current “urgent” exercising all-too-tyrannical a hold over my attention most of the time.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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.

Thank goodness it’s over

I have no idea why we should think that the dropping of a ball in Times’ Square should mark the end of the troubles, but I’ll wink at any ritual assurance I can get.

  1. Rest for Your Soul
  2. Lay aside all earthly cares
  3. Freedom of Fiction
  4. Straight-Edged Ruler in a Fractal Universe
  5. Our Archduke Franz Ferdinand
  6. The Power of Language
  7. Wendell Berry supplement
  8. Immigrants, State-by-State

Continue reading “Thank goodness it’s over”

Confessions

  1. My hope sometimes trumps my experience.
  2. I really don’t care for sports any more.
  3. When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.
  4. I weep at concerts.
  5. I am, relatively speaking, a real blue nose these days.
  6. I do not believe that all religions are equally ridiculous to the nonbeliever.
  7. Wendell Berry has disappointed me.

Continue reading “Confessions”

Lord’s Day, September 16, 2012

  1. When the solution’s a problem.
  2. Exploiting the valuable, defending the beloved.
  3. Need prophets know about the electromagnetic spectrum?
  4. Hillbillies, yokels and perceptions.
  5. The lab versus the Cross.
  6. Incommensurable art.
  7. Boomers and Stickers.
  8. Perfectly assimilated, perfectly forgotten.

Continue reading “Lord’s Day, September 16, 2012”