Tagpolitics

conservatives and health care

In his influential “The Road to Serfdom,” the economist Friedrich Hayek argued that the state should “assist the individual in providing for those common hazards of life” — among them poor health and unexpected accidents. And in his illuminating analysis of Ronald Reagan’s legacy, “The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism,the political scientist Henry Olsen uncovered some timely insights. “Any person in the United States,” Reagan said in 1961, “who requires medical attention and cannot provide it for himself should have it provided for him.”

These sentiments conflict with recent iterations of Republican health care reform. The “full repeal” bill is nothing of the sort — it preserves the regulatory structure of Obamacare, but withdraws its supports for the poor. The House version of replacement would transfer many from Medicaid to the private market, but it doesn’t ensure that those transferred can meaningfully purchase care in that market. The Senate bill offers a bit more to the needy, but still leaves many unable to pay for basic services. In the rosiest projections of each version, millions will be unable to pay for basic health care. This wasn’t acceptable to Reagan in 1961, and it shouldn’t be acceptable to his political heirs.

J. D. Vance

two minutes

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

civility rethought

What contemporary theorists of civility can and should take away from [Roger] Williams is his recognition of the inevitable disagreeableness of disagreement…. Faced with a heated disagreement, both participants and observers find it difficult to separate the condemnation of another’s position and contempt for her person. It’s precisely this difficulty that we call upon the virtue of “civility” to alleviate.

If we think all of the ethical work remains to be done by others, that our opponents alone are the uncivil ones, we are mistaken. As long as we are determined to trace every difference of opinion to some aspect of identity or perspectival privilege, we will continue to win arguments by proclaiming our own epistemic authority and to refute our opponents by impugning theirs. In the face of this politics of purity and the resultant proliferation of ad hominem, Williams reminds us that responses other than ostracism and outrage are possible, while providing a model of how coexistence and cooperation might work.

Teresa Bejan

universities under threat?

Meanwhile, in my very large network of professional academics, almost no one recognizes any threat at all. Many, I can say with great confidence, would reply to the poll above with glee. They would tell you that they don’t want the support of Republicans. There’s little attempt to grapple with the simple, pragmatic realities of political power and how it threatens vulnerable institutions whose funding is in doubt. That’s because there is no professional or social incentive in the academy to think strategically or to understand that there is a world beyond campus. Instead, all of the incentives point towards constantly affirming one’s position in the moral aristocracy that the academy has imagined itself as. The less one spends on concerns about how the university and its subsidiary departments function in our broader society, the greater one’s performed fealty to the presumed righteousness of the communal values. I cannot imagine a professional culture less equipped to deal with a crisis than that of academics in the humanities and social sciences and the current threats of today. The Iron Law of Institutions defines the modern university, and what moves someone up the professional ranks within a given field is precisely the type of studied indifference to any concerns that originate outside of the campus walls.

the mass defunding of higher education that’s yet to come – the ANOVA. I think Freddie is clearly right about this, and it’s interesting to think about why so many in the academic left are so oblivious to the disaster they’re courting, so convinced that a right-wing smackdown of public (and, as Freddie explains, also private) universities can’t happen. To some extent this is a sunk-costs phenomenon: people who have invested their careers in a particular narrative, and in a particular set of rhetorical strategies associated with that narrative, have a great deal of difficulty accepting the failure of that narrative. In this sense leftish academics are just like the True Believers in free enterprise who simply can’t accept that climate change is both real and dangerous: after all, such acceptance would require them to change their ways! Dramatically!

But I think the left has an additional trait that makes adjusting to reality even harder for them: the belief, deeply embedded in the whole progressive Weltanschauung, that social and moral progress is inevitable and irresistible. Every defeat, then, is a mere blip on the screen, or a bit of static  that momentarily disrupts the elegant music of enlightenment. The whole national government in the hands of Republicans? The great majority of state governments also in the hands of Republicans? No worries! This too will pass, and soon.

Well, we’ll see.

sandwiches

You learn a lot about people by noting what trivial things they obsess over, and today’s David Brooks column is a perfect example. Let me be really clear about this: people are freaking out about The Sandwich Bar Anecdote for one major reason, which is that they know the rest of the column is dead-on accurate and they’d prefer not to think about what it tells us about our social order.

But even The Sandwich Bar Anecdote itself isn’t bad — it makes a valid and important point, one that finds an analogue in the experience of many of us. Look at this post by Rod Dreher for some good examples, from his own experience and from some of his readers as well.

One Christmas I bought my parents the most expensive gift I had ever given them: a big basket of fruit and cheese and pastries and various other goodies from Harry & David. It arrived several days before I could get home myself, and when I arrived at their house I saw the basket sitting in a corner of the living room, removed from its box but unopened. They never did open it. They were pissed. They didn’t want to talk about it, but eventually it became clear to me that the basket was “fancy” in a way they thought totally inappropriate. “But it’s just fruit and cheese!” I said. “I can buy fruit and cheese at Kroger,” my dad growled. I started to explain that it was exceptionally good fruit and cheese, but then realized that that wouldn’t work: for one thing, it was the opposite of what I had just said (“It’s just fruit and cheese”), and for another, I knew that my parents would take any praise of the food in the basket as a criticism of the food they bought at Kroger. There was no way for me to win this one, so I just shut up. I expect they eventually threw the whole basket away without ever opening it.

It didn’t have to be food: I could have bought them clothes they also thought “fancy” and they probably would have been equally disdainful. But I think food is generally perceived as sending especially strong signals — perhaps because it involves “consumption” in a completely literal sense. It is what you take into yourself, and while Jesus may have said that it is what comes out of a man that defiles him, not what goes in, for most people that’s an unnatural point of view. I will always remember in this regard Rod’s story about how disgusted his family were when he and Julie made bouillabaisse for them — even though pretty much everybody in Louisiana has eaten fish stew.

I didn’t buy my parents any more food for Christmas, and from then on when I shopped for them I shopped at Wal-Mart.

Brooks writes, “Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else.” This is true, and true in very important ways; and the intuition that such rules are always in play can make people uneasy or angry when they think such rules are being enforced against them. If you can’t acknowledge this you’re just being willfully blind.

on not being excluded from a stupid narrative

I wrote recently about not writing about politics, but I have been reminded this morning that such avoidance is more easily vowed than accomplished — and not because I’m tempted to crawl back into those fetid waters, but rather because the waters keep rising and contaminating the previously safe, dry ground.

Example: yesterday President Trump gave a bland, vacuous speech about Western values, the achievements of the West, blah blah blah — the kind of speech that politicians give all the time and that could have been given (with very few modifications) by Barack Obama — and now, as Rod Dreher points out, leftish people are freaking out over the secret alt-right dog-whistly meanings of the speech. Which means that if I want to comment here about the book I am currently reading, those comments — and probably the book itself — will be understood within the context of this ever-spreading and increasingly idiotic partisan wrangling.

Near the end of the post, Rod writes, “If standing against this kind of liberal insanity means I have to stand with Donald Trump, well, okay, I’ll stand with Donald Trump. I won’t like it, but at least Donald Trump doesn’t hate his own civilization.” Y’all know I love Rod, but I’m going to part company with him on this one. Donald Trump indeed does hate his civilization — or, more accurately, he despises it. He just doesn’t say he does. Like pitch, he defiles what he touches, and people obsessed by his every word, people whose hatred of him controls their minds, simply spread the defilement. It does not seem to occur to Trump’s most vocal denouncers that they are aiding and abetting his lust to own the world’s mindspace — and so helping him clinch his biggest real estate deal ever. His haters are his unpaid apprentices.

I will not choose between Trump and his haters. There are better ways to live, and the vital questions raised by the complex history (and even more complex inheritance) of the Western world extend far beyond this moment in electoral politics. Therefore “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one I have never asked to be a part of.” But exclusion from the narrative is much more easily wished-for than achieved.

against epistocracy 

Only those narrow few who benefit from today’s system of elite rule could possibly see such rule as a good thing, or contemplate its further entrenchment. For the rest of us, the old cliché about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the others remains as true as ever. It is certainly preferable to epistocracy and oligarchy, which empower the most arrogant and least self-aware segment of society to make decisions about the lives of those whom they do not understand or care about. However dysfunctional our democracies may get, it will remain true that the people least qualified for power are those who are most convinced that they should have it.

— Nathan J. Robinson

enough already

I’m trying to make myself stop talking about politics, for the most part — I will make the very occasional exception for the two issues I am, personally and professionally, deeply invested in: religious freedom and higher-education policy. And even then I want to speak only after a waiting period in which others may be able to state my position more knowledgeably and wisely than I can.

As I explained to a friend earlier today, I’m taking this path (or hoping to) because I worry about the health of many of the good things that politics, properly speaking, exists in order to protect and nurture. I thus find myself remembering this famous letter from John Adams to Abigail, written from Paris:

I could fill Volumes with Descriptions of Temples and Palaces, Paintings, Sculptures, Tapestry, Porcelain, &c. &c. &c. — if I could have time. But I could not do this without neglecting my duty. The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Sciences: the Art of Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts. I must study Politics and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematics and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematics and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Music, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelain.

We can be thankful that John Adams made that decision. But it is not a decision to which we should apply a categorical imperative, because if every person of his time had made the same choice, then several generations could have gone by without the production of Painting, Poetry, Music, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelain (and most of these are not the sorts of arts that are readily learned from the mere observation of existing examples). I worry about a society that has so lost the taste for such things that it will no longer know what it’s missing when they’re gone. I worry about a politics that has become an all-encompassing end in itself — an endless series of victories and losses and more victories and more losses — rather than a means by which, as Adams understood, room is to be made for pursuits far better than partisan disputation and maneuvering.

The best of the human order is damaged by these political obsessions. The artist who neglects his craft in order to agitate full-time will soon have no craft to exercise — or to pass down to younger artists. The scholar who abandons the archive for the protest march may return — if she ever does return — to find the archive abolished, its contents destroyed, because when the time of decision came there was no one present with the knowledge and love necessary to protect it. Auden once wrote in praise of those who forget “the appetitive goddesses” in order to take the momentous step of pursuing their own weird private obsessions:

There should be monuments, there should be odes,
to the nameless heroes who took it first,

to the first flaker of flints
who forgot his dinner,

the first collector of sea-shells
to remain celibate.

Likewise, there should be some people in our land unsure who the President is, wholly unaware of the latest legislative wrangle — even when such matters directly affect them — because they are absorbed in something else that they love, that they can’t help focusing on, that they can’t manage to turn aside from. I don’t know how many such people there should be, or whether you should join their company. But I strongly suspect that there ought to be more of them than Facebook and Twitter currently allow. And I want to be one too.

how not to headline a story on religious freedom

Earlier today I tweeted this:

Emma Green, the fine reporter who wrote the story (though not the headline), asked me to clarify, so here goes:

  1. That the story lede (the first sentence) is accurate will be seen from what follows.
  2. I called the dek (the description below the headline) “misleading,” but that is generous: it’s simply wrong. And Emma Green — who, again, is a superb reporter and rarely makes errors like this — gets it wrong in her story when she writes the source of the dek: “It is also the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that governments must provide money directly to a house of worship.” No: it is not true government “must” provide money to a house of worship or to any other organization. The ruling, rather, is that if a state or local government says that it will provide money to organizations in return for providing certain services — in this case, the maintaining of a playground available to children throughout the community — then it cannot withhold that money from churches simply because they are churches. (The New York Times get it wrong in its headline too, and in the same way: “States Must Aid Some Church Programs, Justices Rule.”) I understand that you can’t squeeze everything into a headline, but the distinction between “governments must give money to churches” and “governments cannot exclude churches qua churches from projects for civic improvement” is not an especially subtle one.
  3. The idea expressed in the hed that this decision “Strikes Down a Major Church-State Barrier” is simply absurd. What is the “barrier” that existed before this ruling and if now gone? What does this ruling do to establish a state church? After all, the ruling applies equally to churches, mosques, synagogues, and atheist community centers: by what torturing of logic could such a ruling be said to establish a state religion? Just as the Civil Rights Act helped to enfranchise people of color without disenfranchising white people, so this ruling excludes prejudice against churches qua churches (in this one minor matter) without infringing on anyone else’s rights.

It is of course possible — Green goes into this possibility in her article — that people who do want to break down the barrier between church and state will be emboldened by this ruling to … I don’t know, do something secularists don’t like, I guess. But that has no bearing whatsoever on whether the ruling is a good one.  Nor do fears on that score eliminate that part of the First Amendment decreeing not only that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” but also that it can’t make ones “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Trump and Constitutional Law

This is a great idea for a podcast: What the Trump presidency, with its manifold eccentricities, can teach us about Constitutional law. After all, on almost a daily basis the words and actions of the President raise some question about the powers and limits of the office.

The first episode takes off from Trump’s comment about Judge James Robart,  who blocked his first attempt at an executive order banning travel to the U.S. from six mostly-Muslim countries: Trump tweeted that Robart is a “so-called judge.” According to Elizabeth Joh, the con-law professor who co-hosts the show with Roman Mars, that tweet raises the question of judicial legitimacy, which leads her to describe the famous Supreme Court case Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, in which the Court ruled that President Truman did not have the authority to commandeer the nation’s steel mills to serve the needs of the military during the Korean conflict. For Joh, the really important point here is that Truman, though angered by the ruling, did not question it — he acknowledged and deferred to the legitimacy of SCOTUS.

But that’s where the podcast ends, which I think is just the wrong place. The vital question that arises is: What if Truman hadn’t so deferred? What if he had said “I do too have this authority, and I’m sending in my people to take over and run the steel mills”? People talk loosely about Trump’s actions producing a “Constitutional crisis,” but that would be a Constitutional crisis. For law enforcement officials, and maybe even the Army, would have to decide whether to back the Court or the President.

Given the current President’s history of demanding that he get his way in all things, and his oft-expressed frustration (even in these first few months of his presidency) at having his will thwarted, something like that could eventually happen: that is, the Executive branch simply refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of one of the other branches and doing what it wants to do regardless of protests. So what, within the boundaries of Constitutional law, would happen then? I’d like to see the podcast play out some of those scenarios.

Hypocrisy? 

Darryl Hart says I have accused my fellow evangelicals of “hypocrisy” in voting for Trump. Well, no. I noted a major shift, from the 1990s to now, in the standards that most evangelical leaders use to evaluate the role of character in Presidential candidates: then it mattered a lot, and now it doesn’t matter at all. I think I document that pretty thoroughly.

Now, I do believe that people like William Bennett and James Dobson ought to explain what led them to change their minds so dramatically — a 180-degree reversal ought to be accounted for. But many of the people who voted for Trump in the past election didn’t vote in the 1990s, and if they did vote then may well have voted for Bill Clinton. So the question of changing standards doesn’t apply to them. My essay is concerned with one simple question: If character no longer counts, what does? And having explored that, I tried to make a defense of the value of bringing specifically Christian ideas into the general political conversation (a move that Rusty Reno thinks imprudent).

To Darryl’s claim that I “completely ignore” Hillary Clinton’s moral failings: I did indeed, because my essay is about how Christians who supported Trump evaluated his character. Those are not people who were ever going to vote for Hillary, any more than I would have.

goonery

It’s dismaying to see some conservatives defending or making excuses for Gianforte’s assault — I guess they haven’t been paying attention to the debate on campus, where conservatives have been trying to make the case that hearing speech you don’t like doesn’t justify violence.

Rich Lowry. Conservatives who make excuses for, or simply celebrate, what Gianforte did are merely playing the most common game in American politics today: The Rules Are Different For Us. I often wonder whether American respect for the rule of law, equally applied to all, is at a low-water mark. And not just the rule of law as such: for instance, people cheer the expansion of executive power when their party holds the Presidency, denounce it as the ultimate political evil when the other party is in the White House. At the rate things are going, the idea that there might be political and moral principles that transcend partisan affiliation will simply be dead in another decade.

the smell of strawmen burning

I enjoy talking with Rusty Reno — as I did just yesterday, here in Waco! — but he is, I have learned over the years, a frustrating person to argue with in print, because he doesn’t respond to what you write, but rather what he thinks you must have meant, or, worse, what he thinks someone of your type must inevitably mean.

Case in point: writing here in response to this article of mine, he writes:

Jacobs exemplifies the all-or-nothing approach to politics characteristic of Evangelicals. Seeking a theological voice in the public square, Evangelicals are tempted to discern direct divine warrants for their political judgments. This can lead someone to speak of God anointing Donald Trump to save our nation, and thus implying that no Christian in good conscience could have voted for anyone other than Trump. Alan Jacobs and other Evangelicals (Peter Wehner is a notable instance) are mirror images, describing Trump in ways approaching divine condemnation, implying that no Christian in good conscience could have voted for Trump.

In fact, more than half of my essay is devoted to a critique of the very “all-or-nothing approach” that Rusty says I exemplify. (Maybe he only read the parts of it that concerned him.) And here’s what I write in the conclusion to that essay:

What is required of serious religious believers in a pluralistic society is the ability to code-switch: never to forget or neglect their own native religious tongue, but also never to forget that they live in a society of people for whom that language is gibberish. To speak only in the language of pragmatism is to bring nothing distinctive to the table; to speak only a private language of revelation and self-proclaimed authority is to leave the table altogether. For their own good, but also for the common good, religious believers need to be always bilingually present.

Does that sound like an “all-or-nothing approach” to politics? You could only say so if you weren’t paying attention — perhaps because you think you know what “Evangelicals” are like. (Rusty typically says “Evangelicals” the way Victorian civil servants said “Hottentots.” The first thing Rusty ever said to me, many years ago, was that a talk I gave — on a subject that did not touch on evangelicalism at any point — reminded him why he’s not an Evangelical. One of the chief themes of his essay seems to be that, while he supported Trump — vigorously — he didn’t do it for the reasons that Evangelicals did.)

On another matter: Rusty writes, “Christians have theological reasons for not theologizing their political judgments.” Whether that’s true or not depends on what Rusty means by the odd word “theologizing.” If he means that Christians have theological reasons for not making their public arguments in explicitly theological language, then he’s simply restating my claim that “religious believers in a pluralistic society” should remember “that they live in a society of people for whom that language is gibberish.”

But I think he means by not-theologizing something like “not seeking a theocracy,” because from that point he goes on to denounce Christians who “expect the laws of our country to accord with the Sermon on the Mount” — though that is not a position I have ever held. Maybe he’s not even talking about me there, but if not, I don’t know who he is talking about. Does he think that’s the typical view of Hottentots? — I mean, Evangelicals? Hell if I know. All this is just orthogonal to the issues I raise, and the issues that matter. The whole essay, I’m tempted to say, consists of a smokescreen made from burning strawmen.

The sine qua non of this rhetorical strategy comes when Rusty sententiously declares that a post in which I said that I would vote for “the reanimated corpse of Adlai Stevenson” in preference to Donald Trump is deficient in “analytic sobriety.” Can Rusty really be that completely humorless? I would ask him to take a post like that a little more seriously and a little less literally, but I think someone may have used that line before.

So I’ve written a few hundred words here and I still haven’t gotten to any of the really significant issues we could be debating, such as the difference between prudence and pragmatism, or Rusty’s rather astonishing claim that “Trump’s campaign came as close to the platform of European post–World War II Christian democracy as any American candidate for president has come in two generations.” This is what happens when someone ignores what has actually been argued in favor of a fantastical caricature, presumably because the caricature is so much easier to refute. I’ve got a list of seven other ideas Rusty attributes to me that I did not state and do not hold, but it’s too depressing even to contemplate going over those. Whenever Rusty takes the trouble to represent my views accurately, and respond to what I actually argued, I’m ready for a conversation. Until then: as William Blake said, “Enough! Or, Too much.”

“a benevolent green nationalism”

This, by Paul Kingsnorth from his new book, speaks for my politics about as completely as anything I’ve read in a long time:

Some of the new populists may hope they can sound the death knell of the green movement, but perhaps they can instead teach it a necessary lesson. What Haidt calls nationalism is really a new name for a much older impulse: the need to belong. Specifically, the need to belong to a place in which you can feel at home. The fact that this impulse can be exploited by demagogues doesn’t mean that the impulse itself is wrong. Stalin built gulags on the back of a notional quest for equality, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to make things fair.

The anti-globalist attack on the greens is a wake-up call. It points to the fact that green ideas have too often become a virtue signal for the carbon-heavy bourgeoisie, drinking their Fairtrade organic coffee as they wait for their transatlantic flight. Green globalism has become part of the growth machine; a comfortable notion for those who don’t really want much to change.

What would happen if environmentalism remade itself – or was remade by the times? What might a benevolent green nationalism sound like? You want to protect and nurture your homeland – well, then, you’ll want to nurture its forests and its streams too. You want to protect its badgers and its mountain lions. What could be more patriotic? This is not the kind of nationalism of which Trump would approve, but that’s the point. Why should those who want to protect a besieged natural world allow billionaire property developers to represent them as the elitists? Why not fight back – on what they think is their territory?

comprehension

The conviction that everything that happens on earth must be comprehensible to man can lead to interpreting history by commonplaces. Comprehension does not mean denying the outrageous, deducing the unprecedented from precedents, or explaining phenomena by such analogies and generalities that the impact of reality and the shock of experience are no longer felt. It means, rather, examining and bearing consciously the burden which our century has placed on us — neither denying its existence nor submitting meekly to its weight. Comprehension, in short, means the unpremeditated, attentive facing up to, and resisting of, reality — whatever it may be.

— Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

“If the president continues to act in this way, we shall rapidly descend into a terrifying state of social dissolution. The rule of law will disintegrate,” says Robert Post, of Yale Law School. My question is: What does he mean by this? Society dissolved, the rule of law disintegrated — that sounds like Walking Dead stuff to me. Is what what he expects? Armed bands of criminals and vigilantes ruling the streets? And if not, then what does he expect? I genuinely have no idea what he means.

15 hours

Russell Berman tweets: “15 hours later, not one of the top 4 House Republican leaders have issued a statement on the president’s firing of the FBI director.” This expresses a commonly-held view — just as I write these words I see a post by Pete Wehner asking “Where is the Republican Leadership?” — but I wonder: When did we get on this schedule? That is, when did an overnight wait before commenting on a political decision become an unconscionable delay? I’m old enough to remember when people used to counsel their agitated friends to “sleep on it,” and maybe even seek the opinions of others, before making public statements or highly consequential decisions. Now anything but instantaneous response is morally suspect — at best. 

For the record: I harbor not the tiniest suspicion that the President is acting in good faith and with the best interests of the nation in mind. I am as sure as I can be that he made this decision the way he makes all of his decisions: on the basis of what he perceives to be his own self-interest. And I seriously doubt that anyone in Washington differs from me in this regard, whatever they might end up saying to the public. But I’m not making a point here about how we judge the President’s motives; I’m making a point about what seems to have become the standard expectation, at least among journalists and other people who are on Twitter all the time, for how quickly judgment should be expressed. And I’m not confident that it’s good for the body politic for politicians to be under pressure to make instantaneous statements. I’d rather that they take some time, seek counsel, sleep on it, and think it over

the absolutizing of fright

Farhad Manjoo:

In Silicon Valley, current events tend to fade into the background. The Sept. 11 attacks, the Iraq war, the financial crisis and every recent presidential election occurred, for the tech industry, on some parallel but distant timeline divorced from the everyday business of digitizing the world. Then Donald Trump won. In the 17 years I’ve spent covering Silicon Valley, I’ve never seen anything shake the place like his victory. In the span of a few months, the Valley has been transformed from a politically disengaged company town into a center of anti-Trump resistance and fear. A week after the election, one start-up founder sent me a private message on Twitter: “I think it’s worse than I thought,” he wrote. “Originally I thought 18 months. I’ve cut that in half.” Until what? “Apocalypse. End of the world.”

So by the end of 2017 the Earth will be a dead ball of rock spinning through space? Is that the idea? You reply, Obviously not. But if not that, then what?

I have the same questions about the notorious “Flight 93 Election” essay, which says “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die.” And also says, “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto.” And also says, “we are headed off a cliff.” Later our pseudonymous author says that conservatives will be “persecuted,” will be “crushed,” and under a Hillary presidency America will be “doomed.” But what precisely is he talking about? It’s absolutely impossible to tell. He doesn’t give even a hint.

Under a Clinton presidency, would socially-conservative evangelical Christians like me have been fired from our jobs, driven from our homes, and sent to re-education camps? Would we have been forced to sign some sort of Pledge of Allegiance to the Sexual Revolution, under threat of imprisonment? What?

And if, now that we have a Trumpery presidency, the world won’t literally end, what exactly is it that Manjoo’s texter fears? A nuclear war that renders most of the planet uninhabitable? A further acceleration of global warming? Or a Handmaid’s Tale-style Republic of Gilead? What? Those are very different scenarios, and it would be nice to know just what we’re supposed to be terrified of.

(This absolutizing of fright reminds me of the expanding scope of disasters in superhero comics and movies: People will die! — no wait, a whole city will be destroyed! — A city? Small stuff. The planet will be vaporized! — A mere planet? The universe will disappear in a puff of smoke! — Just this universe? No: all the universes there are or ever were or ever will be! All gone! Save us, O mighty ones!)

Such escalation of rhetoric means the deflation of care. All this pearl-clutching disguised as apocalyptic prophecy is not only intellectually vacuous, it’s counterproductive. You scream long enough and people stop hearing you, you become just another element of the background noise. If you are concerned and want others to share your concern, tell us precisely what you think will happen, why you think it will happen, and how you think it will happen. Otherwise you are merely darkening counsel by words without knowledge.

on narcissism

Allen Frances writes:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

This is surely a good cautionary word, but I have some questions, and the primary one is: How does Dr. Frances, who has not examined Trump and has probably never met him, know that Trump “does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder”? What empirical knowledge does he have about Trump’s distress or lack thereof? Frances claims that “Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it,” but surely it is possible for a person to cause and experience distress? It seems to me that if you can violate the Goldwater Rule by claiming that someone you have not examined definitely has a disorder, you can also violate it by claiming that someone you have not examined definitely does not have that disorder. Dr. Frances seems just as overconfident as the people whose letter he’s responding to.

What We’re Fighting For

If we choose to believe in a morally diminished America, an America that pursues its narrow selfish interests and no more, we can take that course and see how far it gets us. But if we choose to believe that America is not just a set of borders, but a set of principles, we need to act accordingly. That is the only way we ensure that our founding document, and the principles embedded within, are alive enough, and honorable enough, to be worth fighting for.

Phil Klay

dealing with lies

Here is what we are supposed to do: rebut every single lie. Insist moreover that each lie is retracted — and journalists in press conferences should back up their colleagues with repeated follow-ups if Spicer tries to duck the plain truth. Do not allow them to move on to another question. Interviews with the president himself should not leave a lie alone; the interviewer should press and press and press until the lie is conceded. The press must not be afraid of even calling the president a liar to his face if he persists. This requires no particular courage. I think, in contrast, of those dissidents whose critical insistence on simple truth in plain language kept reality alive in the Kafkaesque world of totalitarianism. As the Polish dissident Adam Michnik once said: “In the life of every honorable man comes a difficult moment … when the simple statement that this is black and that is white requires paying a high price.” The price Michnik paid was years in prison. American journalists cannot risk a little access or a nasty tweet for the same essential civic duty?

— Andrew Sullivan: The Madness of King Donald. If this admirable and wholly proper strategy were to be widely followed, I predict that President Trump and his advisors and advocates will simply stop speaking to the press. Which would make somewhat more urgent the suggestion I moot in this little thought experiment.

judging judges

It has long been frustrating to me that the only criterion by which Americans — almost without exception — evaluate judges is: Did he or she make decisions that produce results I’d like to see? Virtually no one asks whether the judge has rightly interpreted existing law, which is of course what the judge is formally required to do. Americans — again, almost without exception — want judges to be politicians and advocates. The idea that a judge should strive to interpret existing law regardless of whether it does or doesn’t promote politically desirable ends never crosses anyone’s mind, and if by some strange chance it did, the person whose mind was so crossed would reject the proposal indignantly. Americans in this respect resemble toddlers and their own President: they evaluate everything in terms of whether it helps or hinders them in getting what they want.

This devaluation of interpretation amounts to a dismissal of the task of understanding: everything that matters is already understood, so the person who would strive to understand is not only useless, but an impediment to the realization of my political vision. To the partisan, the absence of partisanship is always a sin, and perhaps the gravest of sins.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall here

The Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park

a dialogue on punching

Frankly, I’m glad Richard Spencer got punched in the face, and I hope that happens to people like him every. single. day.

Seriously? You’re okay with Americans using violence against their political opponents?

Absolutely not! But Spencer isn’t just a “political opponent,” he’s a guy spreading a message of hatred and exclusion.

But don’t you believe that freedom of speech should be allowed even for people who hold repulsive opinions?

The Constitution doesn’t protect hate speech!

Actually, it does.

Okay, fine. But even if such speech is Constitutionally protected, that doesn’t mean that we have to accept it. If we have to practice civil disobedience, as protestors did during the Civil Rights era, then we’ll do that and pay the legal price.

Well, the protestors who followed Dr. King practiced passive resistance. It was the followers of Malcolm X who pursued the “by any means necessary” strategy.

We need to think pretty seriously about what Malcolm had to say.

You realize, I hope, that many people, especially on the alt-right, will see acts like the punching of Spencer as justification for their taking the same kind of actions against people you like?

I don’t care what those freaks do.

Maybe you ought to care.

They would be totally unjustified in using violence against those of us who are just standing up for the rights of the marginalized. That ought to be obvious.

Okay. On a different topic, what do you think about Trump’s trade war? His push for protectionist laws and policies, like tariffs on foreign imports?

It’s absurd! Doesn’t he realize that if he does that those other nations will retaliate against us?

Exactly.

fighting

Kruse: Michael, in your book, and other places, too, he has talked about how much he enjoys fighting. And he certainly fought a lot of people throughout the campaign, and he hasn’t stopped fighting. From Meryl Streep to the intelligence community, he’s still picking fights. Do you think he is going to pick fights with leaders of other countries? In other words, is there any indication that he would be able to separate the interests of the country now from his own personal pique?

Blair: Zero.

O’Brien: Absolutely not. There will be no divide there.

— From an interview with Trump biographers in Politico. This seems incontestably true to me, and the most worrisome of the hundred or so worrisome things about Trump. As with toddlers — and Trump is emotionally a toddler — it’s difficult to know in advance what will trigger his rage. And as Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote recently, this temperament in Trump comes accompanied by a fascination with nuclear weapons.

Of all the American Presidents so far, Donald Trump is, beyond question, the least qualified to hold the office. Indeed, he possesses not one single qualifying trait. But it is his inability to control his temper when personally affronted that most clearly marks his utter unfitness.

Most of the people I hear from who are as hostile to the Trump presidency as I am want to make frontal attacks on him, and want their political representatives and other leaders to do so as well. I think that’s a bit like poking a sleeping skunk with a stick. (A skunk with access to nuclear codes.) I am hoping that Trump’s more powerful enemies and critics will show more emotional discipline than he does, and will realize the futility of playing his game by his rules. I am hoping for the creation of fences and funnels, relatively soft nudges of the new President away from danger and temptation.

But I don’t know who’s going to create those fences and funnels. My sense is that the GOP leaders like being in power so much that they’re more likely to imitate Trump than resist him — witness Rance Priebus not-so-subtly threatening a government ethics official for doing his job. That’s a page right out of the Donald’s book. Meanwhile, the left is continuing with its old traditions of preferring symbolic gestures and ideological purity tests to meaningful action. Together the left and right are doing their best to ensure that we’ll have eight years of Trump rather than four.

So where can I place my hope? I actually think there’s a good chance that Trump won’t want more than four years of the straitjacket of the Presidency. I can see — I am even tempted to predict — that three years into his term Trump will declare that he has set America firmly on the path to renewed greatness and is ready to turn the reins over to his trusty sidekick Mike Pence.

what Twitter does to journalism

Earlier today I tweeted: “Gap that needs to be filled: the journalism that journalists ignore while spending all day every day insulting each other on Twitter.”

I’m serious about this. I only follow one account on public Twitter (a truly vital one), but I had for some time a Twitter list called “Politics” that contained the accounts of some of the reporters I have the most respect for. I just deleted that list because all these people do is snark at each other and at commenters. They call each other names, they trade insults with random people who criticize them, they RT most such insults — basically, America’s political reporters think and act like sixth-graders. And they’re on Twitter all the time. You can’t learn a damned thing by following any of them — or any of the ones I know of, anyway.

Journalists are always saying that they have to be on Twitter because that’s where the information is. I think that’s bullshit. Twitter is where the childish bickering is, and that’s what seems to make journalists happy. I’m now going to begin my search for journalists who aren’t on Twitter, or are rarely there: those are the ones who are more likely to be doing some actual research and reporting.

fences and funnels

I haven’t said anything about American politics since the election, largely because I don’t think there’s much to say. I am simply waiting to see what a Trump administration will actually do, and how Congress and the judiciary will respond. Now that our President is a narcissistic ignoramus whose leadership team is comprised largely of people who share his belligerence and ignorance, plus a leaven of the most reflexively hawkish leftovers of the Bush era, I am hoping for fences and funnels: that is, the exercise by other branches of the government of their legal powers in ways that will limit Trump’s extravagances, and the gentle and subtle guidance of his administration towards constructive action. The creation and maintenance of such fences and funnels will require intelligence and subtlety on the part of the Republican Congressional leadership, which is why I am not hopeful.

Essentially, I am praying that people in our government who hold some power power and possess at least a little intelligence will impede Trump, will place enough obstacles in his way that he will be able to do minimal damage to the body politic, the national economy, and the international order during his time in office. Impede, delay, fence, funnel — these are the imperatives. And, please God, may this situation last no more than four years.

But I can’t imagine a situation in which political commentary could be less useful or relevant.

Brother Bill and those who scorned him

Annie Karni in Politico:

But in general, Bill Clinton’s viewpoint of fighting for the working class white voters was often dismissed with a hand wave by senior members of the team as a personal vendetta to win back the voters who elected him, from a talented but aging politician who simply refused to accept the new Democratic map. At a meeting ahead of the convention at which aides presented to both Clintons the “Stronger Together” framework for the general election, senior strategist Joel Benenson told the former president bluntly that the voters from West Virginia were never coming back to his party.

There are many things, good and bad, one might say about Bill Clinton, but the first thing should always be this: He is the smartest politician of our era — the most gifted one of my lifetime, so far, and the race isn’t even close. And the people running Hillary’s campaign thought they were so much smarter than him that they could dismiss his arguments “with a hand wave.”

It’s always hubris, isn’t it? The story of disasters like the Hillary Clinton campaign is always hubris. And the people at the heart of the story never know. That’s why the title of the article is “Clinton aides blame loss on everything but themselves.” Well of course they do.

The Bush/Clinton era in American political history is definitively over.

Reaganism is over.

It is easier to shame people out of admitting how they’ll vote than to shame them out of voting how they want to.

Clinton had no clear vision, no clear program, nothing positive to offer except a claim to competence — and yet the evidence suggested that she isn’t very competent.

If in the next four years a younger politician can take up the mantle of Bernie Sanders, we’ll have a barn-burner of an election in 2020.

I am not at all confident that Trump will want more than four years of being President, no matter how well or badly his term goes.

Nothing succeeds like success, so anyone hoping that the GOP leadership will act to restrain Trump is whistling past the graveyard. They’ll fall in line.

But I also suspect that Trump is too lazy and disorganized to bring about major change.

Therefore the changes that do come will surely be generated by the GOP leadership in Congress, not by the executive branch.

In the next four years we’ll find out just how powerful the Deep State really is.

There’s a lot of talk about Trump dominating the evangelical vote, but most of the enthusiasm for him came from people who call themselves evangelicals but don’t go to church. Church-going evangelicals stayed home in large numbers. However: people who call themselves evangelicals but don’t go to church are the future of American evangelicalism.

To people saying this election is “the last stand of white supremacy”: if y’all don’t get your act together, it may well be the third-from-the-last stand. A great many of those Trump voters are still going to be voting in 2028, and if they’re producing more children than you are….

looking ahead

If the political and media establishments were merely out of touch with much of the country, that would be one thing. But it’s worse than that. They presume to know, they presume to judge, and most astonishingly, they presume that this will work out at the voting booth.

Damon Linker is right. Right now my friends on the left are angry, bitter, disbelieving, and I don’t blame them. I’m shocked and awed myself, and believe the we have just elected the least qualified person ever put forth by a leading American political party.

But after a few days, or weeks, I hope self-reflection will kick in, and my friends on the left will get beyond simplistic denunciations — they hate women, they’re racists — and start to own some of their own responsibility, not just for Trump, but for a government that’s now entirely run by the GOP. They mocked people they didn’t have to mock; they supported policies that ran roughshod over people’s most deeply held beliefs; many of them treated everyone who disagreed with them with undisguised contempt. And they did all this because they felt that they stood for #Reason and #Data and #History — they were “on the right side of history” — they thought hashtags and cheap slogans were tools sufficient for the job of transforming America. Their smugness was titanic.

This morning my internet friend Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who is a supremely decent person, remembers how troubled she was by George Bush’s election in 2004 — and, interestingly, shared that with her students, who I suppose all (all?) shared her politics — and reflects on how different this election feels: “In 2004, I felt that I might have a lot that I could teach. Today, I cannot help but feel like I have much, much more to learn.” If the majority of the people on the left take this attitude, then there will be a good chance for the renewal of their hopes, and for them to win over politically complicated people like me … should they want to.

And we are about to commence the season of recriminations. The election won’t end anything except a certain form of speculation; all the hatreds will simply find new points of focus. It’s pointless to talk about the election being “over.” Weren’t you listening to Rust Cohle? “Nothing’s ever fulfilled, not until the very end. And closure – no, no no, nothing is ever over.”

the bigger killer: Joseph Stalin or George W. Bush?

the invisible regime

Ross Douthat is trying this morning to bring some perspective to American liberals:

But the “open society” isn’t merely “experienced as” a regime; nor is it genuinely open. It is open to some ideas and some people that its predecessors were closed to, but newly closed to others. (In precisely the same way, people who talk about the value of “inclusion” are always including some formerly excluded groups while simultaneously excluding some formerly included groups. When you move the Overton window, the left and right sides of the frame shift together.)

Stanley Fish explained this long ago, in an essay I recommend to liberals willing to dispense with some of their illusions. The essay focuses on public education but is equally relevant to all public institutions. Read and heed:

The idea, then, is that the right kind of education, faithful to the First Amendment, gives you practice in making up your own mind about values and agendas, while the wrong kind of education captures your mind and binds it to values and agendas that go unexamined. The problem with this idea is that it is itself an agenda informed by values that are themselves unexamined and insulated from challenge. The name of the agenda is “free and open inquiry”; and despite that honorific self-description, it is neither free nor open because it is closed to any line of thinking that would shut inquiry down or route it in a particular direction. It is closed, for example, to most forms of religious thought (which it will stigmatize as dogmatic) or to any form of thought that rules some point of view — for instance, that the Holocaust did not occur — beyond the pale and out of court. To put it in a way that may seem paradoxical: openness is an ideology, in that, like any other ideology, it is slanted in some directions and blind (if not downright hostile) to others.

Now, to say that openness is an ideology is not necessarily to criticize it, much less reject it, but merely to deprive it of one of its claims. Openness (or free inquiry) may still be the ideology we choose, but if my analysis is right, we cannot choose it as an alternative to ideology. What, after all, is the difference between a sectarian school which disallows challenges to the divinity of Christ and a so-called nonideological school which disallows serious discussion of that same question? In both contexts something goes without saying and something else cannot be said (Christ is not God or he is). There is of course a difference, not however between a closed environment and an open one but between environments that are differently closed.

“the wisdom of repugnance”: a test case

In this post I want to connect my earlier post about what needs to be done to reclaim the term “evangelical” with my frequently-asserted hostility to the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

In a well-known passage from The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis writes,

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.’

If one side of this proper training is the delighted recognition of, and attraction to, the good, the other and equally necessary side is the instinctive recoiling from “the disgusting and hateful.” That second kind of response is what Leon Kass appealed to in his famous essay on “The Wisdom of Repugnance.”

I believe that the proper response of the well-former mind and heart to the very idea of Donald Trump as President of the United States is, to put it bluntly, revulsion.

It is possible, of course, to feel that revulsion and then decide that it needs to be mastered. That is what has happened to many Republican politicians who have supported Trump: they let their political ambitions (in the worst case) or political loyalties (in the best) overcome their revulsion. Consider the former governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, who as I write has just withdrawn his support for Trump, saying, “He is unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit to be President of the United States.” That formulation is so perfectly accurate that I can’t help thinking that Pawlenty has been saying it in his head for quite some time now but has only today been driven to say it out loud.

I have little respect for politicians who ever, at any point, endorsed Trump, and none whatsoever for those who have not denounced him by this stage of the game, but I understand why they might have careerist reasons for doing what they do. We will set them aside, reflecting that verily, they have their reward — or their punishment, as the case may be.

What concerns me far more deeply is the ordinary, everyday Christian — the person who claims to be an evangelical Christian — who is not revolted by Trump, who lacks the requisite “wisdom of repugnance.” I think, for instance, of the people who have compared Trump to King David, presumably because both are guilty of sexual sin. But those who make this comparison have failed to recognize the difference between one who says “For I know my transgressions, / And my sin is ever before me” and one who says that he doesn’t “bring God into that picture” when he does something wrong and follows up by saying “I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad.” And if you don’t understand that distinction — and equally if you understand it but for political reasons pretend not to — there is very little about the Christian message that you truly grasp.

By the way, I’m not talking about Hillary Clinton here because there is so little evangelical support for Hillary Clinton. She also offers much for us to be appalled by.

And I’m not even making the argument that an evangelical Christian should never in any circumstances vote for Trump. (Not today, anyway.) I am simply saying this: the fact that so many American Christians feel no revulsion at the thought of electing Donald Trump — this man so palpably “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit” — as the leader of this or for that matter any other nation, but rather express great enthusiasm at the prospect, indicates not just a lack of knowledge but also, and more important, a lack of moral training. The immediate responses are missing or wrong.

There are many criteria we might apply to judge whether a given congregation (or for that matter denomination) is genuinely evangelical, here’s one of them: Is it raising up its people in such a way that they feel repugnance when confronted by truly repugnant ideas — like the idea of Donald Trump as leader of a nation?

What does a healthy response to the current controversy look like? We might turn to the editorial page of the Deseret News for an example. After incisively quoting Proverbs 29 (“when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn”) they state quite straightforwardly their response to Trump’s sexual boasting: “What oozes from this audio is evil.”

My fellow evangelicals: listen and heed. Your very future depends on your ability to do so.

Trump and incommensurability

Dismayed by the recently announced list of “scholars and writers” supporting Trump for President, I sat down this morning to write a brief post explaining why I think supporting Trump is a very bad decision. But where to begin?

And then I thought: You all know who Trump is. You know that he’s a preening, vaunting, compulsively dishonest ignoramus with a mean streak a mile wide, whose only criterion for evaluating other human beings is: Do they like me? You are intelligent and well-informed. You can be under no illusions in these matters. And yet you not only will vote for Trump, you are warmly encouraging others to do the same.

Long ago Thomas Kuhn introduced into the history of science the concept of incommensurability: theories whose premises are so radically divergent that adherents of one theory simply cannot speak coherently and usefully with adherents of another. Alasdair MacIntyre would later, in After Virtue, apply this concept to debates in moral philosophy: “Every one of the arguments is logically valid or can be easily expanded so as to be made so; the conclusions do indeed follow from the premises. But the rival premises are such that we possess no rational way of weighing the claims of one as against another…. It is precisely because there is in our society no established way of deciding between these claims that moral argument appears to be necessarily interminable.”

If an intelligent and well-informed person is not only voting for Trump but also advocating for him as someone who can “restore the promise of America,” then it is clear that our premises about politics — about what politics does, what politics is for — are so radically different as to be incommensurable. (Ditto our notions  of what “the promise of America” is.) It was MacIntyre’s hope in After Virtue and the books that succeeded it to find a way around or through the impasse of incommensurability in moral philosophy. Until someone can do the same for the politics of this current election, there is no possibility of my even having a meaningful conversation with the people who signed that document. And as another philosopher has sagely counseled, What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

The right to vote should be restricted to those with knowledge – Jason Brennan | Aeon Ideas

The right to vote should be restricted to those with knowledge – Jason Brennan | Aeon Ideas

Scholars & Writers for Trump – American Greatness

Scholars & Writers for Trump – American Greatness

I would have things as they were in all the days of my life, as in the days of my longfathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated.

Denethor, Steward of Gondor, the voice of esoteric Trumpism.

patriotism true and false

On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night. The conviction must come to him at last that these men do not realize what the word ‘love’ means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam. To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word ‘love’ is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

My own kind of incrementalism draws on a different attitude than a lot of what you hear on the right and the left for the past few years. I am not of the view that we are at an abyss and that if we don’t take drastic action immediately everything will fall apart. I’m of the view that we’re failing to thrive and that we’re allowing too many people to live lives that don’t enable them to flourish. That’s different. That means we could be doing a lot better. To me, the great tragedy is that we just allow this to happen. There are a lot of people on both sides of our politics who think in much more drastic, cataclysmic ways about this situation. They’ll say, ‘This election, if this doesn’t go our way, there’s no turning back.’ It seems to me that what it means to be a Burkean conservative is just not to believe that.

The Flight 93 Election

The Flight 93 Election

a question for David Gushee

My favorite moment in this column by David Gushee comes when he says, “I have been a participant in the effort to encourage Protestant religious conservatives, generally known as fundamentalists and evangelicals, to reconsider their position voluntarily.” Voluntarily, or …? He sounds like a sheriff in an old Western: Are you gonna come along nice and quiet, or am I gonna hafta rough ya up?

But let’s assume that, contrary to certain appearances, Gushee doesn’t think of himself as an enforcer dispatched by the Powers That Be to bring recalcitrant bigots into line. Let’s set aside his insistence that none of the people on the wrong side of history are honest when they say they genuinely hold theological positions he himself held just a few years ago. (“They are organizing legal defense efforts under the guise of religious liberty.”) Let’s assume that he’s just quite neutrally letting us know what’s coming.

It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.

Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.

And, in case we didn’t get the point the first time around, he returns to it later:

Openly discriminatory religious schools and parachurch organizations will feel the pinch first. Any entity that requires government accreditation or touches government dollars will be in the immediate line of fire. Some organizations will face the choice either to abandon discriminatory policies or risk potential closure. Others will simply face increasing social marginalization.

A vast host of neutralist, avoidist or de facto discriminatory institutions and individuals will also find that they can no longer finesse the LGBT issue. Space for neutrality or “mild” discrimination will close up as well.

So in light of these warnings about what is to come, I have one question for David Gushee: So what?

That is: What, in his view, follows from this state of affairs — for Christians, that is? Odd that he doesn’t say. It has been my understanding that Christians consider it a virtue to hold to their convictions in the face of unpopularity and even persecution. (“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another.… But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”)

Of course, you can also be persecuted for holding false views; being persecuted doesn’t confer legitimacy. But it certainly isn’t a sign of error, or those who have “endured to the end” are of all people most to be pitied. So how is it relevant, in Christian terms, that those who hold certain views will suffer for holding them — that those who hold the view that Gushee has publicly held for around twenty months are powerful enough to punish those who haven’t quite caught up with him? 

The Hugh Hewitt argument

Vote for Trump because

IF he nominates to the Supreme Court one of the judges that he has put on his shortlist and

IF that judge is confirmed and

IF certain cases happen to come before the Court and

IF the the specific issues that the Court is asked to pass judgment on are the specific issues that conservatives care about and

IF that justice votes in the the way Hewitt expects and

IF at least four other justices agree

THEN certain unpleasantly liberal policies will be averted.

And it is on the grounds of his complete and unshakable faith in the stability of this astonishingly fragile house of cards that he ignores, and wants us all to ignore, everything we know about Trump’s ignorant and belligerent narcissism.

You can barely get a hearing anymore unless you plan to burn everything to the ground (as long as Twitter and Snapchat are left unscathed so the revolution can be broadcast). From presidential campaigns to campus politics to the entrepreneurial penchant for “creative destruction,” an almost flippant craving for revolution mobilizes voters, consumers, and even slacktivists who rarely consider just who pays the price for their revolution or that their revolutionary energy feeds on stability.

Those whites who have a strict father personal worldview and who are religious tend toward Evangelical Christianity, since God, in Evangelical Christianity, is the Ultimate Strict Father: You follow His commandments and you go to heaven; you defy His commandments and you burn in hell for all eternity. If you are a sinner and want to go to heaven, you can be ‘born again” by declaring your fealty by choosing His son, Jesus Christ, as your personal Savior.

Understanding Trump « George Lakoff. One of the most frustrating things about being an evangelical Christian is the frequency with which you have to hear yourself described by people who don’t have the first idea what they are talking about.

Lakoff’s post is noteworthy because it’s wrong about evangelicals at their best and equally wrong about evangelicals at their worst. As everyone with even the slightest understanding of the history of Christianity knows, evangelicalism has never in any of its forms taught that if you follow God’s commandments you go to heaven. It has traditionally held that no one follows God’s commandments, that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” that “by grace are you saved through faith, not works, lest any man should boast.” These are among the most famous verses in the Bible, but clearly Lakoff is completely ignorant both of them and of the role they played in forming and perpetuating evangelicalism.

But do those verses characterize the foundational beliefs of most American evangelicals today? By no means. As Christian Smith and his colleagues have so exhaustively documented in multiple books — see especially Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, and Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers —Americans who describe themselves as evangelicals increasingly practice a religion that Smith calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. And while the researchers’ focus is on younger people, “emerging adults,” MTD is not a position they have arrived at in spite of what they learned in church, it is the very model of how human beings relate to God that their churches taught them (whether explicitly or implicitly). The God of MTD and its twin, the Prosperity Gospel, isn’t interested in commandments and doesn’t send people to Hell, except maybe Hitler and a few others. He wants us to be happy and prosperous, according to our own definitions of happiness and prosperity.

In short, Lakoff’s imaginary Strict Father Religion, concocted in blithe indifference to the demonstrated facts on the ground — I think of C. S. Lewis’s old tutor Kirk: “You can have enlightenment for ninepence, but you prefer ignorance” — is characteristic of evangelicalism neither in its strongest (most historically and biblically grounded) forms nor in its desiccated Prosperity Deist forms. And, given that Lakoff wants to explain the popularity of Trump among evangelicals … well, the Donald isn’t exactly a Strict Father, is he? More like a sugar daddy, promising to use his unmatched personal charisma to make all the good white people safe and rich — the perfect Mortal God (to borrow a phrase from Hobbes) for Prosperity Deists.

Liberty! except for, you know…

The good news is that both libertarianism and the LP have roughly arrived at places where that kind of two-way tolerance is the rule, not the exception. America is a weird place. It’s filled with weird people who increasingly don’t fit into the traditionally dominant political cultures. Those people should know that there’s a big tent around the corner, waiting to welcome them in all their glorious individuality.

Matt Welch. Unless you’re religious, in which case Gary Johnson is happy to bring the whole force of the regulative state down upon you.

Alton Sterling and “thoughts and prayers”

Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A great many things will happen on social media in the next few days, almost all of them predictable, few of them encouraging.

One of the predictable things is that Christians will offer “thoughts and prayers”; another is that atheists will rage at them for doing so. We’ll hear a lot about the uselessness of thoughts and prayers, mainly from people who think deploying Twitter hashtags counts as genuine activism.

Christians are commanded to pray. We are told to pray without ceasing; we are told to pray for our enemies; we are told to pray even when we do not know what to pray for, because in such cases the Holy Spirit will intercede for us. I would ask my fellow Christians to offer prayer in the aftermath of Alton Sterling’s killing; but I would also ask them to remember that typing the words “sending thoughts and prayers” is not praying.

We can and should do better than that. For starters, we could say what we are praying for. We pray for God to receive Alton Sterling into His presence and comfort him and wipe away every tear. We pray that God will comfort the friends and family of Alton Sterling — and all the people of Baton Rouge, and all the people of color in this land who live every day in fear — and give them peace in their spirits and hope for better days in this world as well as that eternal hope that transcends all others.

We pray, Lord, that you will turn the hearts of those who kill to peaceableness; that you will lead them to repentance; that you will make justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Further: May we remember that prayer ought to be the fuel of the spirit, the fuel that gives us the strength and the hope that alone can sustain work for justice and peace. “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace” — make me an instrument. Set me to work. In these dark days let me at least light a candle.

Hear my prayer, O Lord; and let my cry come unto thee.

capitulation (2) 

Evangelical leaders: If you back Trump, for the rest of your days, you will be forced to live with having had a hand in fracturing our nation on the basis of race, discarding the sanctity of marriage, and scorning honesty itself — all for the chance, the remote chance, that Trump will make one or two decent Supreme Court picks. You will be selling your integrity for the most meager of returns.

Otherwise, you can fight all the way to Cleveland, and beyond if a strong independent candidate emerges. If the choice does come down to Trump or Hillary Clinton, you can instead reserve your vote only for those down-ballot candidates with the integrity to resist corruption from either presidential nominee. Faced with the choice between further debasing our politics and refusing to do so, you’ll emerge with your integrity intact.

Christians have had to take tougher stands in darker times before. They do so in other nations today. This decision, by contrast, should be easy. Trump is not worth your consideration or even one moment of your time. Let others bend the knee.

David French

on moderation in consistency

My liberal friends complain about my conservative views, my conservative friends about my liberal ones. Some of them seem equally puzzled about where I am coming from and where I am going.

The fact of that matter is that I find myself moving largely against the prevailing winds, which means that I cannot make intellectual progress except by tacking back and forth, back and forth. This is why my friends see me moving in one direction and and then another. But it also means that whatever direction I am headed at the moment does not indicate the general path I’m following.

The one trait that can never emerge from this method is consistency, and it is difficult to convince people that certain forms of inconsistency are features, not bugs. Twenty-five years ago Leszek Kolakowski pointed out the “unpleasant and insoluble dilemmas that loom up every time we try to be perfectly consistent when we try to think about our culture, our politics, and our religious life. More often than not we want to have the best from incompatible worlds and, as a result, we get nothing; when we instead pawn our mental resources on one side, we cannot buy them out again and we are trapped in a kind of dogmatic immobility.”

Kolakowski’s pawnshop metaphor is a brilliant one, but if I were to stick to my own, I’d say that it is the epitome of foolishness to decide, when trying to move against the prevailing winds, to pick a direction and stick with it. Either you become lodged in “dogmatic immobility,” or you drift insensibly backwards, or, worst of all, you pretend that a starboard tack is an established course and sooner or later run aground on the rocks.

Kolakowski calls his essays “appeals for moderation in consistency” and concludes that there are therefore “not edifying.” But surely this is to take too narrow a view of what is edifying. I can be edified by the awareness that I am homo viator, a wayfarer, one on the journey — one who knows my destination but has not yet arrived.

To change the metaphor once more: “Thinking too has a time for ploughing and a time for gathering the harvest,” says Wittgenstein. But there are also long periods in between, waiting for what one has so carefully planted to come to maturity.

liberalism as normcore

Attempts to demean the conservative temperament — even assuming that there is such a thing as the conservative temperament — bother me less than the attempt to insist that such demeaning is merely neutral analysis. And I’m not only referring to the popular press: this Vox post by David Roberts takes its chief talking points from recent scholarship, for instance this article from Current Biology.

Let’s consider a key passage from that article, one that Roberts quotes. It goes like this (footnotes deleted for clarity):

Conservatives respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions. This heightened sensitivity to emotional faces suggests that individuals with conservative orientation might exhibit differences in brain structures associated with emotional processing such as the amygdala. Indeed, voting behavior is reflected in amygdala responses across cultures. We therefore further investigated our structural MRI data to evaluate whether there was any relationship between gray matter volume of the amygdala and political attitudes. We found that increased gray matter volume in the right amygdala was significantly associated with conservatism (Figure 1B) (R = 0.23, T(88) = 22.22, p < 0.029 corrected).

Interesting, no? But what if the research had been presented in this way?

Liberals respond to threatening situations with less aggression than do conservatives and are less sensitive to threatening facial expressions. This lowered sensitivity to emotional faces suggests that individuals with liberal orientation might exhibit differences in brain structures associated with emotional processing such as the amygdala. Indeed, voting behavior is reflected in amygdala responses across cultures. We therefore further investigated our structural MRI data to evaluate whether there was any relationship between gray matter volume of the amygdala and political attitudes. We found that decreased gray matter volume in the right amygdala was significantly associated with liberalism (Figure 1B) (R = 0.23, T(88) = 22.22, p < 0.029 corrected).

Precisely the same conclusions — but notice how differently the argument reads when it treats liberalism as a deviation from conservativism rather than the other way around. Note that the article says that the conservative response “might exhibit differences” — but from what? From the norm, of course. The assumption that liberalism is the default (and presumably rational) position, and that any deviation from that position is what requires scientific explanation, not that position itself, is deeply embedded in the article, and indeed in the ideological framework of American social science tout court.

So David Roberts thinks that in writing his article he and the research he draws on are totally neutral — “Whichever of these personality traits, or clusters of traits, you might prefer, the research itself does not characterize any as better or worse” — so when conservatives get annoyed by posts like his, it surely must be tempting for him and his liberal readers to attribute that to more of that good ol’ conservative “heightened sensitivity.” (You people can’t even tolerate neutral description!) And so the liberal ideological bandwagon rolls on, and on, and on, serenely confident in its neutrality, its clarity in seeing things just as they are, its normalcy.

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