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Politics and Pretty Boy Floyd

As through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men
Some will rob you with a six-gun
And some with a fountain pen

I've found myself thinking of that verse from Woody Guthrie's song "Pretty Boy Floyd" off and on for the past few days, since the Trump-inspired debacle of the 6th. (How sickening that it occurred on Epiphany.) Obviously there's a great deal to say about that, and many are having their say, but I don't have much interest in doing so, except to note that my gloomy view of where the country is headed is now significantly gloomier.

I've done a certain amount of retrospection about How We Got Here, and I keep coming back to that verse. Which is worse, the outlaw or the banker? Pretty Boy Floyd was an outlaw: a Robin Hood sort, according to the song; not exactly, according to Wikipedia. And Trump is a sort of outlaw (setting aside the question of whether he has actually broken any laws). He doesn't care much about the principles of the Constitution and pretty clearly would, to say the very least, be willing to disregard them in some situations.

The Democrats, on the other hand, don't really care much about those principles, either, but are extremely good at working within the structures of the system to do things that undermine or contradict the principles. Which is worse? At the moment Trump is spectacularly worse, but looking at the larger picture and the longer term, he may not be. 

In any case, as Michael Brendan Dougherty says today in National Review, "Anything that was good in Trump or Trumpism will be overshadowed by this disgrace." And if there is any national renewal, any regaining of some degree of unity, in our future I sure don't see it.

Anyway, here's the song. 




From The Hedgehog Review

Several years ago someone recommended Hedgehog here. I had seen ads for it and bits of essays and thought it was worth a try, so I subscribed. It's a little expensive, and I probably wouldn't have ventured if I hadn't gotten some kind of promotional discount offer.
 
I was somewhat disappointed, not because the work wasn't good but because most of it just wasn't that relevant or interesting to me. Issues accumulated without my doing more than glancing at them. One, for instance, was devoted to our relationship to animals, another to our relationship to food ("our" being, I think, Americans). The Summer 2020 edition is called "Monsters" and seems to be concerned with the presence of same in popular culture, although I'm not sure because I haven't read it. These things are certainly worth studying, and the writing and research seem to be of very high quality, as is the physical production. But I myself am not interested enough in them to spend much time reading about them.
 
I wouldn't have renewed for a second year, but they offered it to me at a steep discount, so I gave it another year, with more or less the same result. I had decided definitely not to renew for a third year, until the most recent issue arrived. It's called "America On the Brink," and it concerns, as you would suppose, our political and cultural situation. I've only read the first essay, "Dissent and Solidarity," by James Davison Hunter. It alone has me thinking of renewing my subscription after all. He includes this quotation from Martin Luther King:
The question, What is man? is one of the most important questions confronting any generation. The whole political, social, and economic structure of society is largely determined by its answer to this pressing question. Indeed, the conflict which we witness in the world today between totalitarianism and democracy is at bottom a conflict over the question, What is man?
That question, I submit, is at the root of the division. I don't think I'll try, in a blog post, to summarize the answers given by the two factions, especially as they are not as a rule clearly articulated, except in the case of orthodox Christians. Neither does Hunter, but he makes this observation:
Fault lines already well established between elites and the general public and between the left and the right became open cleavages through the 1970s and 1980s. Those cleavages deepened even more after 1989. With the end of the Cold War, there was no longer a common enemy against which to define shared national identity. With no external enemy, collective identities were formed against the enemy within America itself.
The emphasis is mine. This is the state of things: the factions regard each other not as fellow citizens with whom they disagree, but as enemies. For the most part they offer different answers for King's question. And that is another way of saying that the conflict is a religious one. You can read the whole essay here. It's faintly hopeful. 

Trump: Yes, No, Maybe

Three writers at National Review give their opinions on voting for him, or not. I hope these links work. They may be subscriber-only.

Yes: Andrew McCarthy

No: Ramesh Ponnuru

Maybe: Charles Cooke

Of the three, I'm most nearly in agreement with Cooke. However, unless something dramatic happens between now and November 3--and I can't imagine what that could be--I'm going to "vote for Trump." That is, I'm going to vote against Biden/Harris. 

It's a Scylla and Charybdis choice. As I may have said here in a comment a while back, I had been thinking of that analogy, but in a mistaken way. I was thinking that Ulysses somehow steered between them, and that our position is worse because we have to choose one or the other. But I was misremembering. Ulysses chose to steer closer to Scylla (monster), who would inevitably eat some of his sailors, rather than to Charybdis (whirlpool), which would result in the loss of the entire ship. 

So the analogy is actually precise. I think the damage that will almost inevitably be done by Trump is less than that which the Democrats actively intend.

It's not that I think Trump is a better man than Biden (I think they're both pretty sorry, actually). My great-grandfather was active in Pennsylvania politics as a Democrat, and his daughter, my great-aunt Ann, once told me that he advised her to forget the conventional counsel that one should vote for the man and not the party. On the contrary, he said, voting for (or against) the party is more important, because individual politicians come and go but the party persists and, at least in theory, shares your political principles, at least the most important ones. Here again it's a question of voting against: I don't want the Republican Party's principles, such as they are (whatever they are), to prevail, but I believe the Democrats as a party no longer believe in our form of government, but want to "fundamentally transform" it. I don't. That's a bigger problem and a deeper disagreement than anything involving specific policies. 

As Cooke says:

If the Democrats were sensible, I would likely sit this one out. But the Democrats are not sensible. The Democrats are threatening to blow up the American constitutional order in ways that would make President Trump’s execrable excesses seem quaint. 


This Is Why I Keep Warning People

And part of the reason why the press is doing so much harm by making Trump seem even worse than he is, which is bad enough. (Not that anybody much is listening to me. This blog has an audience numbered in the dozens at best.) But I'll say it again: sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Anyone who doesn't believe that serious left-vs-right violence can't happen here understands neither human nature nor this country nor the real-world effects of spiritual evils such as hatred. And anyone who thinks the evil is all or even mostly on the other side is willfully blind.

Americans Increasingly Believe Violence is Justified If the Other Side Wins.


Remarkable Insight On My Part

A quick post from Fairhope Brewing, where they are actually encouraging people to come in and use their Wi-Fi, even opening in the mornings just for that purpose. Thank you, FBC.

I have a new computer, and have taken the occasion to go through a lot of old files and discard, organize, etc. In the process I ran across a draft of this post from ten years ago, "Firemen and the Gnostic Economy." The last few paragraphs seem, if I may say so, somewhat prescient about the conditions which could produce a phenomenon like Donald Trump.

There is a practical disdain in the upper reaches of our society for anybody so slow-witted and naïve as to make a living with the actual work of his hands, a disdain that is independent of political categories. (If anything the active disdain is stronger in the “liberal” camp, which may give more lip service to the lower-class laborer but doesn’t actually think very highly of him—but that’s a topic for another day.)


Christopher Lasch: The Revolt of the Elites

RevoltOfTheElites

Having finally read this well-known and so-often-recommended book, I'm sorry to say that I was a little disappointed in it. It's not that there is anything wrong with its actual contents--it's a good book, and I recommend it--but that the contents aren't quite what I was expecting. I assumed that the topic named in the title would be the entire subject of the book. But "The Revolt of the Elites" is really the title essay in a collection whose subjects range somewhat afield from that of the one. They are certainly related, describing other components of the general "betrayal of democracy" which is the book's subtitle, but they don't deal specifically with the revolt.

Continue reading "Christopher Lasch: The Revolt of the Elites" »


(One of) The Deepest Root(s) of Our Political Disaster

I didn't at first include the stuff in parentheses. I added it because of course there is no single explanation for what's gone wrong, and it is going very, very wrong. But this is one important factor.

I'm sure I've remarked on it before, though it would be difficult for me to search out any single post in which I said it: that there is serious reason now to doubt whether a majority of Americans actually want the form of government laid out in our constitution. So I was glad--no, not glad exactly, but interested, and somewhat pleased to see that Trump's recent executive orders caused some to ask the disturbing question:

Do Americans Even Care If There's A Constitution?

The first paragraph in that piece contains a link to a more extensive discussion of Trump's orders in particular, and the fact that they are essentially the same sort of thing that Obama did. And that Trump's orders are fine with Trump supporters, and Obama's orders are fine with Obama supporters. It becomes more clear all the time that a great many people, both partisans who just want their side to win by any means necessary, and simpler folk who think the president should rule as a sort of philosopher-king, have no real interest in the whole idea of rule by impersonal law, of a government of laws and not of men, of checks and balances intended to distribute and restrain power.

Benjamin Franklin's famous remark that the Constitutional Convention gave Americans "a republic, if they can keep it" is frequently cited by partisans as a warning against whatever evil they think their enemies are up to. But at this point it's applicable to the people at large. It's questionable whether they even want a republic.


Did Trump Actually...oh, never mind

Every few days, at least once a week, I see headlines about something outrageous Trump has said. Until recently my reaction tended to go like this:

1) Gosh, that sounds bad.

2) I wonder if he actually said it.

3) I will look for the transcript or the tweet and learn the truth.

Two months ago, I wrote a post condemning the way journalists distort Trump's words. At least one commenter (who hasn't been heard from since) seemed to take this as a defense of Trump, but it wasn't. It was an objection to the press making a bad situation worse by making Trump look even worse than he actually is: pouring gasoline on an already dangerous fire. From that post:

Continue reading "Did Trump Actually...oh, never mind" »


A Bit More On Impermissible Ideas

This piece by Stanley Kurtz at National Review is a commentary on the very rapid growth of the belief, and subsequent practice, of left-wing journalists that views which they despise should not be heard. It's worth reading in its entirety, but here's how Kurtz ends it:

Classical liberalism arose to prevent murderous civil strife between those who could not agree on ultimate things—and who questioned each other’s good faith as a consequence. Throw aside the marketplace of ideas, throw aside even the aspiration to neutral reporting, and throw aside, on this account, the basic rights of those with whom we disagree, and we are back in the soup, back to the wars, back to the days before liberty and civil peace, the crowning achievements of our history, the history we’ve stopped celebrating—or even remembering. Is that what we want? Because that is where we are headed.

Continue reading "A Bit More On Impermissible Ideas" »