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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


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.

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(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:

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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.

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Impermissible Ideas

As it always had the potential to do, the philosophical and religious neutrality which is the ostensible framework of the American system is collapsing. See this post by Rod Dreher, one of many in which he describes the movement in big-time journalism to full-on advocacy for various left-wing causes. Here's an anecdote:

All this put me in mind of a conversation I had maybe 15 years ago, when I was a columnist and editorial writer at The Dallas Morning News, with a Millennial writer there. He knew that I was a conservative, and I knew that he wasn’t, but none of that mattered. I mentioned to him one day that I thought the paper’s coverage of the gay marriage issue was one-sided, and had become a matter of pro-LGBT advocacy journalism. He agreed that it was one-sided, but told me that he didn’t think there was a legitimate other side. I pointed out that we lived in a rather conservative part of the country, and that most of our readers took the opposite position on gay marriage (this was around 2005, I think). Were they all bigots who didn’t deserve to be consulted in our reporting? Yes, he said. If the paper was reporting on the Civil Rights movement, he said, would we feel morally and professionally obligated to seek the views of local KKK leaders?

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The Dangers of Being a Player

Perhaps you've heard of a little controversy involving First Things. It seems that the editor, R.R. Reno, issued a quarrelsome Twitter post or two in which he called people who wear the masks prescribed as COVID-19 preventatives "cowards." I was aware that he has been skeptical and even scornful about the way the pandemic has been handled, and that some people were pretty annoyed with him on that score. But there was apparently quite an outcry about the "cowards" business, resulting in a lot of discussion about the magazine, its history and future. 

Here's Rod Dreher on the matter. (And here is his account of the initial explosion, if you aren't already aware of it and want to know.) 

When First Things appeared in the '90s I read it occasionally and liked it. But I didn't subscribe because (1) many of its articles were too academic for me, by which I mean they assumed a level of education that I don't have, and (2) it seemed to have a sort of program which I did not entirely buy into. That program was generally identified as neoconservatism. And I had many points of agreement with it. After all, I was and am in some literal sense a neoconservative in the strict sense of being one who was on the political left and moved to the right. But of course the term in practice encompassed and implied much more than that, so I didn't apply it to myself.

But I was bothered by something deeper than that, something I was only vaguely aware of and never gave much thought to. A sentence in Dreher's post (the first one linked above) gave me an abrupt realization:

Neuhaus’s great triumph with First Things came from his aspiration to make it a political player. He succeeded.

Yes, and that was the problem. When you want to be a player, you have to cultivate alliances, flatter this one and shun that one, calculate your position, keep a close eye on what people are saying about you and whether or not they are people who matter...on and on. I don't say that it's an indefensible thing. Maybe you can advance good causes that way. Maybe you can't accomplish anything much in the world without doing at least some of that. But it's not for me, and I think the scent of it--the impression that Neuhaus and company enjoyed that game, took pleasure in hobnobbing with the high and mighty--always bothered me.

Well, it's easy for me to criticize; I couldn't do that stuff even if I wanted to. I'm just not made that way. But, my personal qualities or lack thereof aside, the effort to become a "player" as a means of advancing the Gospel, or, more mundanely, of advancing political causes that you see as advancing the Gospel, poses obvious dangers. Dreher points out (the first post I linked to above is very much worth reading), and I think he's probably right, that the identification of First Things and neoconservatism in general with the Republican party has really damaged the effectiveness of the magazine even within the scope of Christian politics. The identification of so many prominent "public" Christians, including many of those at First Things, with Donald Trump has done even more. 

I don't mean the simple act of voting for Trump. In 2016 you had a choice between Trump and Clinton. In 2020 you will probably have a choice between Trump and Biden. (Let's ignore the third-party option; anyone who takes that road understands that his candidate has no chance of winning.) Given that choice, there are plenty of good reasons to vote for Trump. What I mean, what's doing the damage, is not that, but the fanatical embrace of Trump as righteous prophet-savior ordained by God to lead his nation, and Christians in particular, out of the wilderness. This is just the right-wing counterpart of the left's Obama-worship. And both, as I keep saying, are symptoms of a very bad development in American politics: the elevation of the presidency into the role of god-king incarnating the soul and will of the nation. You can hardly get more un-American than that.

More significantly for the fortunes of Christianity in America, though: when idols fall, those who have embraced them fall with them.

Trump Didn't Say That

The title would be applicable at least once a week. In a comment on some current-event-related post a while back, Janet said "Don't make me defend Trump." I find myself in that position a lot. So do enough people, I guess, that the Babylon Bee did a post about it

It's maddening. I really haven't changed my negative view of Trump. But the unrelenting effort by Democrats to destroy him by, apparently, any means necessary, makes me at least a little sympathetic toward him. Or at least toward the truth which is such a frequent casualty in this war.

I'm thinking right now of the insane bit of controversy that's happened over the past few days. Trump wondered out loud whether disinfectants should be studied as possible measures against COVID-19. That was immediately turned into "Crazy Trump Tells People to Drink Disinfectant." And then they warned people not to do it. As if the idea would ever have occurred to anyone without the help of the press.

If you want to read a careful account of what Trump actually said and the way it was handled, read this piece by Andrew McCarthy: The Times Inflates Trump's Foolishness Into Monstrousness

How depressing is the erosion of the principle that when the president of the United States speaks, it means something, that it’s not just stream-of-consciousness that willy-nilly gets revised or reversed or treated like he never really said it. Just as depressing, though, is the media’s abandonment of straightforward fact reporting, in favor of unabashed alliance with Trump’s political opposition.

Why do blind partisans and demagogues have such sway these days? Because no one can trust the reporting of institutions we used to expect would give us an accurate rendition of the facts being debated....

When the president speaks publicly, he should stick to what he is in a position to convey factually, not hypothetically. Especially when it comes to scientific and medical information, as to which he is quickly out of his depth.

At the same time, no matter how much the press abhors Trump, no matter how sincerely believed its conviction that he is a dangerous man who will induce people to do dangerous things, reporters worthy of the name do not have license to portray Trump as living down to their worst fears when he has not. If he says dumb things, they should report that he said dumb things. That’s bad enough (and since they’re clearly hoping to hurt him politically, nothing stings like the truth). The press destroys its own credibility, however, by reporting the president’s ill-advised remarks as if they were culpably, recklessly irresponsible remarks.

I don't care much about Trump's political fortunes for Trump's sake, but I do care about the transformation of most of the national press into a weapon for his enemies, because it means that the institutions which are supposed to inform us, and are always eager to preen themselves upon their own importance, have more or less abandoned that duty where domestic politics is concerned. When I said "Democrats" earlier, I meant the word to include most of the media. As McCarthy says, "No one can trust the reporting." And as a journalist of another time used to say, "That's the way it is." 

TrumpSaysEatYourGrassAnd by the way Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet.