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The First Resort of the Scoundrel

I've been going through scattered notes that exist as loose scraps of paper, disconnected sentences and paragraphs and whole pages in at least half a dozen notebooks, and text files on my computer, trying to get rid of the junk and put anything worth keeping in some place where I can find it again. The blog seems as good a place as any, better than most in fact, since I can search it.

I have occasionally thought about writing an essay on the whole topic of race and racism, and I think these two paragraphs were notes toward that. 

*

From the point of view of the character assassin the charge of racism is a wonderful thing. No evidence is required, much less proof. All that's needed is that the charge be repeated by enough of the right people.

It is a crime without degree--as if the law were to hold that to express dislike of a person's manners is the same as murdering him. The charge can be brought on some trivial basis, but the accused is guilty of everything. If the label sticks, you are morally indistinguishable from slave owners and segregationists.

*

Everybody knows the famous remark, which I think originated with Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." That was more true decades ago than it is now, as patriotism is a highly "problematic" thing among the enlightened of our time. More to the point now, demonstrated every day, is that the charge of racism has become the first resort of many scoundrels, many of them in high places--and their last resort as well. 

I abandoned the idea of that essay, by the way. It would be a lot of unpleasant work and in the end useless. There's no point in addressing madness with reason--or at any rate I no longer have the heart for it.

 


Two Smart People Discuss the Disintegration of Culture

I'm trying very hard, and so far successfully, to stifle my impulse to talk about the political crisis of the United States. The crisis is far from abating. It's quieter now that the frenzy surrounding Trump has ceased, but the basic situation hasn't changed, and I'm trying not to spend too much time fretting about the likely outcomes, which seem to me to range from not good to very bad. (All right, I'll go this far: I think the most likely is a continued decline toward a situation like that which has often existed in Latin American countries: a corrupt pseudo-republican government, a small class of very wealthy and powerful people, and a great many poor and almost-poor people.)

The civilizational crisis that underlies the political crisis, though, still engages my attention and still seems worth commenting on as part of my effort to grasp it. A British novelist named Paul Kingsnorth has emerged as an articulate and perceptive voice on that subject. This video is an hour of his conversation with a Canadian artist/thinker name Jonathan Pageau, previously unknown to me. It's very much worth watching as a sort of overview. The most interesting part to me begins a little less than halfway through; the first 25 minutes or so are introductory. I don't entirely agree with him about the importance of climate change, but that's relatively unimportant--I certainly agree that our culture's relationship to the created order is pretty sick. 

Rod Dreher has quoted and written about Kingsnorth frequently, and today is another instance. I have not yet read the First Things and other links in that piece, but as this post has been sitting half-finished for over a week and I'm ready to be done with it, I'm going to go ahead and say that they're most likely very much worth reading. 


How Biden Plans to Unify the Country

Many years ago I was sitting in a restaurant with a four-year-old boy. Like many or most four-year-old boys, he was intensely interested in vehicles of all sorts, especially the larger and louder ones. So when I heard a siren and saw something with flashing red lights go by, I said, "Look, there goes an ambulance."

He was already looking, naturally, and said "That's not an ambulance, it's a rescue truck."

In retrospect, I realized that it was stupid of me to argue with a four-year-old, but I was young and naive, and I persisted.

"No, it's an ambulance."

"No, it's a rescue truck."

"Are you sure? It looked like an ambulance to me."

He gave me a dark look and said "You have to compromise."

Surprised that he was using such a big and abstract word, I said "What does that mean?"

He gave me an even darker look.

"That means it was a rescue truck."


Election Comment (2)

Andrew McCarthy is an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer, and also a Trump supporter. He was the "yes" in that "yes-no-maybe" note about voting for Trump that I posted a few weeks ago. Like a lot of reasonable people, he thinks there are good grounds for believing that there was some cheating by the Democrats in this election. He thinks, for instance, that there could be as many as 10,000 questionable votes in Pennsylvania. But yet:

See, the president trails by 55,000 in Pennsylvania. It is anything but clear that all 10,000 late-arriving ballots are Biden votes — a goodly chunk of them could be Trump votes that the president would be knocking out. But even if we suspend disbelief and assume that they’re all Biden votes, the president would still be 45,000 short of flipping the state into his win column.

This is the president’s fatal problem. No matter which battleground state we analyze, there is always a mismatch between the impropriety alleged and the remedy that it could yield. Where Trump is strongest, as in the Supreme Court case, the yield in votes is a relative pittance. Where Trump’s claims are weaker and hotly disputed, the president is asking for mass disfranchisement, which no court is ever going to order.

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Election Comment

An angel came to me and said, "Ok, here's our best offer: Biden wins the presidency, and the Republicans keep the Senate."

I didn't have to think for very long. No more Trump craziness, from Trump himself, from his enemies, from his supporters. And the damage the Democrats can do will be severely limited.

"I'll take it," I said. 

"That's good," said the angel. "Because we weren't actually going to listen to you anyway.

 


You're Gonna Miss Your Constitutional Liberalism When It's Gone

Somewhere or other, sometime or other, I read that G.K. Chesterton, asked whether he was a liberal, answered that he was "the only liberal." I sometimes feel that way. I long ago acquiesced to the fact that in the American political context I'm more or less correctly classified as a conservative. But as the so-common-as-to-be-hackneyed followup to any such statement goes, what American conservatism seeks to conserve is in large part classical liberalism.

It probably doesn't need saying to people who read this blog, but in case it does: "classical liberalism" refers not to what we currently refer to as the liberal faction in contemporary politics, but to a political philosophy which is, in a nutshell, that of the United States of America. Most discussions of it emphasize its economic aspects, which I'm sure is accurate, but I'm not a political philosopher or economist and am not very interested in wrangling over the definition. For my purposes it's the political system described by the Constitution, and a corresponding culture which values self-government, liberty, the rule of law, reason, the free exchange of ideas, religious tolerance, and so on--the whole list of things which until recently were generally agreed upon, all based on what were considered in the 18th century self-evident truths about human nature. The American constitution puts that basic worldview into a system of government, and so I prefer the term "constitutional liberalism." (Also "classical liberalism" has other associations, with capitalism for instance, which I want to avoid--but that's another topic.)

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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.


A 9/11 Note

Southerners in general are not known for their warm affection toward those they consider to be "Yankees," which for some can be anyone born or living outside of the southeast quadrant of the country. In particular they do not tend to hold residents of New York City in the greatest esteem. I admit to having a stereotype along those lines: the native New Yorker who taught (journalism, I think) at the University of Alabama when I was working in a bookstore just off campus, and fixed my impression of him by standing at one end of the counter while I was dealing with a customer at the other end, banging on the counter with the newspaper he wanted to buy and braying "Hey! ya wanna take care a this?!?" *

Even before that I had taken as my own the title of a Buck Owens song: "I Wouldn't Live In New York City (If They Gave Me the Whole Dang Town)".

No, not really. I mean, sort of. It's true that I would not at all like to live in New York City, but that has more to do with my general dislike of big cities than with any particular defects of New York. I wouldn't want to live in Atlanta, either. I spent a memorable week or so in New York when I was a teenager--I actually saw folk singers in Greenwich Village--and there was a time when I wanted to go back. But the only time I ever have was an overnight work-related trip sometime in the 1980s. 

And of course it is well known that many New Yorkers hold the South in great contempt, which of course only makes the Southerner more resentful. Yet when 9/11 happened, Southerners were as outraged as anybody, volunteered to go and help, volunteered to join the military to help avenge the attacks and prevent future ones (which is not to say that the wars that followed were wise or just). 

I remember thinking at the time that in spite of all the regional animosity, which was partly in jest anyway, people here in the South, and elsewhere, nevertheless viewed the city as in some sense America's city, and were as outraged by the crime as they would have been if it had happened to them or to some place much closer to them, both geographically and culturally. 

I'm not sure that it would be the same if something similar happened now. The country was bitterly divided during the '80s and '90s, but not so much that we didn't come together in the face of the 9/11 attack. Now the division is more intense, with genuine bitter hatred and contempt boiling on both sides. America's major cities now are seen as the chief source of hostility and disdain for much of the rest of the country, for what is still called Middle America, though somewhat implausibly. If a major attack or some other disaster happened to New York City now, would the rest of the country rally around as it did 19 years ago? Or would most people say "Gosh, that's awful, glad it wasn't us" and go about their business? I hope there wouldn't be many who would say "They had it coming," but there would be some. 

And of course it goes the other way, too. There are no specific major symbolic locations that define "red America," so a single huge event like 9/11 directed at it is hard to imagine. But I've seen plenty of more petty reactions to bad things happening in the South or other less enlightened parts of the country: "They voted for Trump; they deserve whatever they get." 

It's hard to imagine the return of that brief post-9/11 unity. Almost every presidential election since 1980 has aggravated our divisions, and it gets worse every time. We can be sure that it will after this next one. 

* Note added a couple of days after this post: I've been thinking about this incident and am pretty sure I've exaggerated it. He was a bit rude, and that's why it stuck in my memory. But when I replay it in my mind I feel a bit sheepish: it wasn't that bad.