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Sunday Night Journal, January 22, 2017

So now Trump really is the president. I was astonished and appalled when he got the nomination, and thought it only guaranteed that Hillary would win. I was more astonished when he won the election, and was only pleased by the result because it meant that Hillary would not be president. Since then, I've heard or read a number of people saying things like "I no longer recognize my country." I don't think they really mean it. It's the striking of a pose, a way of saying "I'm very upset." But to one who did really mean it I could only say "You never knew your country." 

Donald Trump is thoroughly American, as American as...well, apple pie doesn't really do anymore, does it? I believe the phrase at one time was "Mom's apple pie." The average American mother has no time and probably little inclination to bake an apple pie, and very likely doesn't know how. So let's say Donald Trump is as American as...as P.T. Barnum. As Hollywood. As reality TV. As Disneyland. As SUVs. As professional sports. Mega-churches. Yellow journalism. Buzzfeed and the Drudge Report. Talk radio and the New York Times. Al Sharpton. Al Gore. Starbucks. Google and Netflix. Rock-and-roll. A 10-million-word tax code

Any useful discussion of this country has to take into account the fact that we're crazy.

But admittedly, it is extraordinary that someone like Trump is president. I don't expect him to be a good president; in fact I expect him to make a mess. But I hope he surprises me again.

Something that struck me in his inaugural address was the extent to which much of it reminded me of Obama. Not in its specifics, of course, and not in its tone, but in its assertion that this is an unprecedented and almost mystical moment, and that from this point on all our problems will begin to be resolved by the sheer personal power of the speaker. Take this sentence, for instance:

That all changes -- starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.

Very Obama-like. And he goes on to promise changes which are not in the power of the president to make. From that broad perspective, both presidencies appear to be symptoms of a general movement toward a belief that government, and specifically the presidency, is the most important reality in society, the one that has the power both to cause and to solve our biggest problems, to save us from ourselves (or rather, in the minds of all too many people, the enemies in the other party). There's a longing for a king-messiah that exists on both sides of the political divide. It is far from what our founders intended, in fact is something they feared, and apart from that it is unwise, and apart from that it is unworkable. It will lead to more disappointment, anger, and polarization--the same things that helped make Trump's victory possible. We are flung out into the extremes: unbalanced nationalism on the one hand, unbalanced anti-nationalism on the other. And so on.


Show me a citizen of the world and I'll show you someone who probably doesn't like his own people very much.


As American as Star Wars. I saw Rogue One last week. It's enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, and especially if you like the original Star Wars--I mean not just the original trilogy but the first of the three in particular (which is still my favorite)--because it tells the story of how the plans for the Death Star got into the hands of Princess Leia. Thus it brings the action up very close to the point where the original film begins. It's also somewhat in the spirit of the original, and for that matter even resembles it in plot, beginning with evil descending on an isolated farm on an out-of-the-way planet. 

A few things that struck me:

Seems like most of the episodes at some point have a scene that takes place within a wretched hive of scum and villainy which has a pronounced middle-eastern feel, or perhaps I should say a Hollywood notion of a middle-eastern feel. This seems a bit odd. Why would planets in a civilization that can travel among the stars always have dusty marketplaces thronged with people in robes jostling and haggling? Is this not culturally insensitive? 

And why are those fully-armored storm troopers so very easy to kill? Or to disable with one blow from the fist or foot of a slender young woman who probably weighs 110 pounds at most?

This episode has a battle scene which is apparently meant to recall the final scenes of the original, when the Death Star is attacked. I was struck in 1977 and still am by how much the spaceship combat scenes resemble WWII air combat scenes in old movies. And in fact the whole structure of the Empire and the rebellion against it is very much a reprise of the fight against the Nazis as rendered in post-war movies, only with space-opera trappings. This is not the only movie (or movies) for which that holds. And it occurs to me that that struggle has become fixed in our minds as a sort of archetype of noble war. But the totalitarianism which is the enemy in that archetype did not exist until a few decades into the 20th century. Sure, there were always tyrants, and noble struggles against them. But this idea of the enemy as one giant inhuman machine, with its anonymous and absolutely obedient hordes of troops, and the cold, haughty, and ruthless commanders who are also absolutely obedient (and in fear of) some equally cold and haughty and ruthless superior--I think that's something new, at least in degree. More realistic films don't do it so thoroughly as Star Wars, but the flavor is there in almost any drama that pits some hero or heroine against a government (or big corporation).

Princess Leia appears briefly at the end, and the filmmakers somehow gave her the face of the young Carrie Fisher. I was oddly and surprisingly touched by that, as I had been by her recent death. In trying to figure out why, I concluded that it was partly because the original movie had seemed such a breath of fresh air to me. I remember very well the night my wife and I had gone to see some other movie--I have no idea what it was now--and saw the Star Wars preview. We looked at each other and said "We have to see that." And we did, and it was delightful.

The '70s had been a fairly dark time in some ways, a come-down from the crisis of the '60s and at the same time a sort of consolidation and solidification of some of the more negative things, and movies especially had grown considerably darker: the Dirty Harry movies, for instance, and more artsy works like Taxi Driver. And for me personally it had been a difficult period. Star Wars was a complete departure from all that, with its young and brave heroes and heroine and its simple (or simplistic) war of good and evil. It was also witty and imaginative, which may be hard to remember now that it's become such a part of our culture. It was simple fun, but it also celebrated virtue with no irony at all. 


This picture was taken in our local independent bookstore. It's not very clear, because I was trying not to be noticed and took it hastily.  In case you can't read the names, the ones in the top row are Darwin, Einstein, and Austen. I think I see John Lennon and Poe in the second row. 


These struck me initially as slightly annoying, and then as rather pathetic, like those Darwin-fish stickers that put Darwin in the place of Jesus. I always want to ask what sort of salvation Darwin is supposed to offer us. Deliverance from superstition, I suppose? But then what? 

Sunday Night Journal, January 8, 2017

On Monday my wife and I watched the last episode of the second series of Man In the High Castle, the TV series (if that's the right term for a multi-segment drama released all at once for Internet streaming) based loosely on Philip K. Dick's alternate-history novel in which the Germans and Japanese win World War II. I can't say anything about the show's relationship to the book, which I haven't read, but I get the impression that there isn't a great deal of connection apart from the basic idea.

I thought Series 1 did an excellent job of portraying that might-have-been scenario, in which the Nazis rule the eastern half of the country, the Japanese rule roughly a third on the western side, and the rest, called the Neutral Zone, is independent and somewhat anarchic. The plot is complex and didn't seem entirely coherent, but that could be my fault. It revolves around a film or films that depict an alternate reality (alternate to the story's world, that is) in which the Allies win. For reasons that were never clear to me these films are very important, and they have some connection with the mysterious Man in the High Castle. Various people get involved with them and various things happen, many involving a resistance force that operates in both the German and Japanese sectors. There are a lot of subplots, and they make sense, but I was left unsure what the story as a whole was all about. The second series is better in that the bigger picture seems clearer and the whole thing more coherent (again, maybe that's just me).

In both, the portrayal of what life in the U.S. might be like under Nazi or Japanese rule is very convincing. One major character is Obergruppenführer John Smith, a former U.S. Army officer who has managed to do quite well for himself as a Nazi. The story takes place around 1960-'62, I think--and the everyday fabric of American society is not too dissimilar from what it actually was, which is to say that it's very 1950s-ish. (There is no rock-and-roll, however--"Negro" music is entirely forbidden.) Nazi evil is very domesticated: it's generally accepted, for instance, that racial hygiene requires that defective persons be eliminated, and the insertion of that sort of thing into a middle-American setting is disconcerting, to say the least. Smith is married with three children and has a nice home in a nice neighborhood and leads a life that looks in most ways normal for its time. But he goes off to work every day to help advance the Reich. And one supposes that such a world really could have come to seem normal.

Anyway: what I actually started out to mention is a little speech given by a very-high-up Nazi to a younger one who is having misgivings about the whole world-conquest thing. What he says is striking because he describes the goals of the Reich not in terms of the sort of grandiloquent and apocalyptic rage for domination that we associate with Hitler, but in a way that sounds more like John Lennon. "We are trying to build a better world. Don't you want to be a part of that? Imagine a world at peace, unified at last under one global government." It's easy if you try! 

In those sentences he sounds much like an ordinary progressive. And that brings me to a book I've been meaning to mention for some months now: Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. You may have heard of it. It was published ten years or so ago. I read a few excerpts at the time, and they didn't seem especially good, so I didn't read the book. But a couple of years ago my friend Robert talked me into giving it another look. Also, in the intervening years I'd become more aware of and interested in the tendency in progressivism to want to exercise very tight control over many aspects of life as part of the march toward that better world, to compel participation in the vision. So I gave the book another try, and on the whole I found it impressive.

It's flawed in some ways, and the biggest flaws are visible here:


I mean the title and the cover. They give the impression that the purpose of the book is to call liberals fascists, and that its contents would be about as superficial as any book on contemporary politics with the word "fascism" in the title. And that's exactly the way it was treated by many. But the title actually comes from H.G. Wells, and it was a prescription. Here is the abstract of a paper discussing the concept in Wells. The use of the phrase is, therefore, justifiable intellectually. But as a matter of marketing it seems a bad choice for the title (not that I can think of a better one).

Aside from the bad impression given by the title and the cover, the book also seems somewhat unfocused to me. There is an awful lot of detail, but I was often unsure exactly what it all added up to, apart from demonstrating the historical connections between fascism and progressivism. That may have been my fault, but then the ten-year-anniversary edition, which is the one I read, has a new afterword in which Goldberg states his purposes explicitly, so apparently I wasn't the only one.

In spite of any reservations, though, I found it fascinating and instructive in part because for a long time I've thought that the political taxonomy which has fascism on the extreme "right" and communism on the extreme "left" is wrong, that those two things are much more alike than they are different. My pat one-sentence summary is that fascism is national socialism and communism is international socialism. Those on the left seem to think that the word "socialism" in "National Socialism" is some kind of accident, but it is not.

From my point of view then, the most important aspect of the book is that it shows historically that the two ideologies are members of the same family, siblings or first cousins, and that what we now call liberalism or progressivism has roots in both. All are responses to the decline of religion in Western culture, and involve a quasi-religious attempt to find meaning and hope in secular politics, which inevitably means in the state, to some degree. 

It also--and this is one of the theses stated in the new edition--refutes--refudiates, to use Sarah Palin's wonderful accident--the association of American conservatism with fascism, detailing the left-progressive roots of characters and movements now ignorantly spoken of as conservative: for instance, Fr. Coughlin. American conservatism may be a good thing or a bad thing, it may be fundamentally confused in its attempt to mate classical liberalism and traditionalism, but it is not fascist, or generally sympathetic to fascism and linked to it in the way that progressivism is sympathetic to totalitarianism, whether described as "left" or "right."


I can't remember the context, but I'm pretty sure that somewhere along the line here we've discussed the interesting quasi-English accent of upper-class Americans in movies prior to 1950 or so. A few days ago I ran across a page at Vintage News that claims to explain it: that it was not exactly a natural phenomenon, but something deliberately cultivated. Having read that, I resorted to Wikipedia, which gives considerably more detail. 


I'm afraid I've become one of those people who tends to get a little depressed during the "holiday season." This has been growing little by little for some time. It's not the sort of misery that apparently afflicts some people, and that seems to drive them to therapists and such--just a certain degree of melancholy. My medication for this, which I providentially discovered around the time the syndrome began to manifest itself, is to read P. G. Wodehouse, whose writing tends to make me feel for a little while the way champagne looks. This year it was Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. I read a chapter or two most evenings over a couple of weeks, and the effect was salutary, as usual. 

One evening, along about page 83, Bertie described his Aunt Dahlia (she's the one he likes, if you recall) as speaking with "the explosive heat which had once made fellow-members of the Quorn and Pytchley leap convulsively in their saddles." Usually when reading Wodehouse and coming across some obscure reference like Q and P, I just move along. The name is amusing, and it apparently has something to do with hunting, and I figured that was enough to know. And besides, how would one ever track it down? But my iPhone was handy, and I decided to ask Google about it. Not surprisingly, it turns out that they--two different things--are the most well-known hunts in England (see Pytchley Hunt and Quorn Hunt in Wikipedia). 

So what? So I found the meaning of those at a very wonderful web site, Madame Eulalie's Rare Plums. If you've read The Code of the Woosters, you know the reason for "Eulalie" (to explain it would spoil the plot), and "Plum" was Wodehouse's nickname, derived from a childish pronunciation of "Pelham" (the "P" in "P.G."). At Madame Eulalie's you can find annotations for several Wodehouse novels, including The Code of the Woosters, which also contains a reference to Quorn and Pytchley. This is a great service. For instance, perhaps in reading Code you wonder what exactly Anatole, Aunt Dahlia's treasured chef, has done when he prepares nonettes de poulet Agnès Sorel. Well, now you can consult Madame Eulalie's plums and learn that

Nonettes are small honey cakes, filled with marmelade or another preserve. They are not made from chicken (poulet).

Agnès Sorel (1421-50), was the mistress of King Charles VII of France. She also has no connection with chickens.

If Anatole's dishes are as creative as the names he bestows on them, it's easy to see why Aunt Dahlia is reluctant to lose his services.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit also takes place partly at Aunt Dahlia's, and half a dozen or so of Anatole's dishes are mentioned. It had never occurred to me that the names are meant to be funny.


I guess many of us have had the experience of becoming estranged from friends and family over differences of religion and politics. The traditional counsel says not to discuss them on social occasions, and I've always resisted that, because those things are among the most interesting topics available, and I don't like small talk and am not good at it. It is, unfortunately, wise counsel if you want to continue to have good relations with the people involved.

I've never intentionally and directly cut someone off because of those differences, and it's hard to imagine something that would make me do so. (Since the election I've seen a number of Facebook posts and other online statements from liberals saying they want nothing further to do with Trump supporters, on the grounds that support for Trump is not just a political disagreement but an embrace of real evil. I can imagine applying the same logic though I can't think of any present issue that would provoke me to do so.) But in many instances there has been a slow drifting apart, for which I accept at least half the responsibility. Both parties cease making the effort to maintain contact, because it's just awkward. Or at least that's how it's looked from my side. This post from Neo-neocon describes the process very well. Social encounters that exist for enjoyment become strained, and not enjoyable, and so lose their reason for existing, and dwindle away. It's unfortunate and it only increases the polarization. But one tires of being in the position she was in at that party, and begins to avoid it.

Sunday Night Journal: January 1, 2017

The election is now seven weeks or so in the past, the inauguration three weeks away, and I think I'm in a position to say that my one feeble effort in the political debate of the past year or so has been a complete failure. I refer to the attempt to persuade Democrats that the habit of denouncing as bigots everyone who disagrees with them is partly responsible for the Trump phenomenon. Judging by the reactions of people I know, and from what I see on the Internet, they're having none of it. Asked to consider the possibility that telling people how much you despise them is not a good way to get them on your side, many don't seem able to see that they are perceived that way. The reaction has tended to be "Obviously those bad people didn't get the message that they are bad, so we need to say it more loudly and frequently." 

The accusation that their enemies are driven by hate and fear, whereas they themselves are driven by love and tolerance, is so integral a part of the left's self-conception that most of them seem to be truly incapable of seeing that what those enemies see directed toward them is, precisely, hate and fear. One of the first things I wrote on this site, back in 2004, was an attempt to analyze liberal bigotry. The phenomenon has only grown more intense and more common since then. I've been struck over and over again in recent weeks by the degree to which the psychological mechanism of bigotry is operative among those for whom opposition to bigotry is an important part of their self-conception. "See the ugly thing that a Trump supporter said; Trump supporters are evil." It's exactly the same mental operation as that of a racist commenting on a crime committed by a black person. It seems to me that they are, you might say, self-inoculated against the capacity to see what they're doing: "I am not a bigot, therefore what I do is not bigotry." 

So the polarization seems likely to continue and intensify, the diagnosis of undeclared civil war more frequently heard, the two sides less and less able to see the possibility of coexistence, more likely to see the seizing of federal power as the only way of avoiding subjugation by the other side.

Oh, and I suppose I should mention the continuing failure of another favored effort of mine: to persuade people, mainly those on the left to whom it seems most applicable, that the attempt to enforce national uniformity on controversial matters is a mistake, and that a path to peaceful coexistence is to allow the federal system to operate, leaving many things in the hands of the states. The response is always to point to slavery, segregation, and the civil rights laws: the resolution at the national level of great injustice. The well of federalism has been poisoned. I suspect that hundreds of years from now it will be generally seen that slavery and its related evils were the fundamental source of the forces that destroyed the United States. The lesson that might be drawn from the current situation is that we have invested too much power in the central government, and too much power and symbolic importance in the person of the president. The fact that he matters so much is not healthy, and was not intended by the founders. But the reaction seems rather to be a renewed sense of urgent necessity for seizing control of the national government. We do not elect a monarch, but some large portion of our citizenry seems to believe that we do, and that Trump could, if he chose, simply give the order to start rounding up everyone he (and/or his supporters) dislikes and putting them into concentration camps. (I'm not exaggerating.) And that the only defense against him is to seize the power attributed to him for their own side.


There's been a lot of talk about the effect of this election on the position of the media. I'm certainly not a student of the matter, but it seems to me that maybe we've reached some sort of recognition of the situation that's been developing for decades: the existence of openly partisan news media, along the lines of the newspapers ca. 1900. That's not altogether a bad thing. Anyone on the rightward side of the political spectrum is very well aware of bias on the part of the media establishment, bias which operates most powerfully not in the specific slanting of news stories but  in the assumption by the media of the right and power to set the boundaries of acceptable discourse, in  fact of truth itself. The Trump phenomenon seems to be evidence that that power has been reduced if not destroyed. James Bowman, whose media column in The New Criterion generally contains some useful insights, described what has happened this way--the context is of the Brexit vote, and the media coverage of the presidential debates:

...the job of reporting the news has in recent years too often taken a back seat to the reinforcement, with the help of media-identified experts, of an elite, bipartisan consensus on everything from trade to global warming to how to stimulate the economy to gay marriage. This consensus is also seen in both countries as being under threat from an incipient revolt by social and intellectual undesirables....

The media themselves, in other words, are the real experts in their own conceit. What they see as their unassailable moral authority gives them the right to identify the right experts, as it does to report the right facts, and so to decide in advance all those questions that were once supposed by non-experts to be debatable....

The consensus, and the right of the media to define it, have been severely damaged, though I think not destroyed. Even people like me who did not support Trump think that's a good thing. The next few years will be...interesting. 


Back in November I saw several films at the Fairhope Film Festival which I wanted to recommend. We already had a full slate of 52 Movies entries, so I haven't yet mentioned them. One of them is a Swedish film, A Man Called Ove. (The name is pronounced "oo-veh", by the way.) I'm a little suspicious of my reaction to it, a little suspicious that I've allowed myself to fall victim to something sentimental. A brief summary of the plot reinforces the suspicion: a bitter and misanthropic old man is restored to humanity by engagement with the people around him. Although I can't think of a specific example, it seems a cliched plot.  

It's both funny and moving, and even putting it that way arouses the suspicion that I was tricked by sentimentality into thinking it's a better movie than it is (the tear and the smile!). Well, so be it, I still recommend it. I argue that it's done so well that it succeeds in spite of the obvious pitfalls of the subject. 

The film is based on a best-selling book (best-selling in Sweden, at least).  I haven't read it, but my wife has, and liked it, which is a big part of the reason why we saw it.


Yesterday I went to a funeral. The deceased was not someone I knew at all well; it was the mother of a friend, and I went as an act of respect for him and his family, not because of any personal sense of loss. As is often the case when I attend a funeral, especially in a circumstance like this where I was not close to the person who died, I feel that there is something a little appalling about the way life goes on for the rest of us. Here is this enormously important event, and my wife and I are wondering if we can work it into a day of which the focus is going down to my sister-in-law's house in Josephine, Alabama, and watching the Alabama vs. Washington playoff game. I'm reminded of a story about a country preacher admonishing his flock to keep in mind the transitory nature of this life: "One day they'll lower you into the ground, and then everybody will go back to the church and eat chicken and potato salad."


For some reason--well, for definite reasons both cosmic and personal--Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush" has been on my mind for some weeks now. Here's a link to someone reading the poem, which includes the text and a rather nice graphic. It's the closing lines of the poem I keep hearing:

Some blessed hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware

Trump and Christians

I feel like I ought to preface any remarks about the election with the statement that I did not support Trump, and thought he was entirely unfit for the presidency. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that, but here it is again for anyone who didn't know it.

But I admit that I was a little relieved when he won. It was a "too bad they can't both lose" situation, but I ended up wanting Hillary to lose more than I wanted Trump to lose. If I thought he was unfit, why? Obviously I thought Hillary would be worse, even though she was in a narrow sense more "fit" to be president, in the sense that she has a lot more experience and knowledge applicable to the job. So in what respect was she worse?

Well, I think the Christians who voted against her (whether or not they saw themselves as actively supporting Trump) know the answer to that: the experiences of the past ten or fifteen years have made it clear that Hillary's party (meaning not just the Democrats but most people on the left-liberal side of our political gauge) wishes to see those with conservative social views expelled from polite society and tolerated only to the extent that they refrain from public expression of certain views and abide by laws that force them to act against their consciences. This piece by Megan McArdle, "The Left's Doomed Effort to Coerce the Right" sums up the situation pretty clearly:

I’ve heard from a number of evangelicals who, despite their reservations about the man, ended up voting for Donald Trump because they fear that the left is out to build a world where it will not be possible to hold any prominent job while holding onto their church’s beliefs about sexuality. Discussions I’ve had in recent days with nice, well-meaning progressives suggest that this is not a paranoid fantasy. [my emphasis] An online publisher's witch hunt against two television personalities -- because of the church they attend -- validates the fears of these Christians.

When you think that you may shortly see your church’s schools and your religious hospitals closed, and your job or business threatened in the private sphere by the economic equivalent of “convert or die,” you will side with whoever does not seem to set its sights on your conservative beliefs. If that side is led by an intemperate man who more than occasionally says awful things … well, at least he doesn’t want to destroy you.

Yep. Some Christians are being hysterical about all this and abusing the word "persecution," but that doesn't mean the problem isn't real.

Consider what I look like when viewed in terms of the attributes of greatest interest to the left: White. Male. Heterosexual. Christian. Conservative. And to top it all off, Southern. I might as well change my name to Beelzebub. Or Hitler. The only thing I could possibly to do to dispel the aura of evil produced by those words would be to change my politics, preferably my religion also, and start loudly advocating for leftist causes and denouncing my own cultural background. 

I'm not going to do that, of course. In theory I could be persuaded to embrace leftist politics, but I certainly can't be insulted into it. When I look at the face of the left what my eyes actually show me is not the tolerance, understanding, and openness which they insist I should see, but hate, fear, and the explicit hope that my kind will soon disappear from history.

Why in the world would I vote for that party? Why would I not see almost any opposition as preferable? 

I think the left made a serious miscalculation. The victories of the Obama administration made it over-confident. They thought that all they had to do was get control at the federal level and pass laws, and meaningful opposition would wither away. Well, perhaps that will happen in time, but clearly there was a lot more life left in the beast than they thought. Hillary had the lowest share of the evangelical Christian vote--16%--of the last five presidential elections. I can imagine that continuing to sink until it gets down to the blacks-for-Republicans level. Trump even carried a majority of Catholic votes--52%, 60% for white Catholics. 

It need not have been this way, and need not be this way in the future, though the signs are that it will be. The Obama administration did not have to take the extra steps it did to alarm Christians. It did not have to sue the Little Sisters of the Poor. It did not have to bathe the White House in rainbow lights after the Obergefell decision. It did not have to try to force every school in the country to comply with the latest demands from the sexual revolutionaries in regard to toilets and locker rooms. The state of Oregon did not have to try to destroy a harmless little bakery. Mozilla did not have to force out Brendan Eich. The state of California does not have to try to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. And so on.

The headline of Megan McArdle's column refers to a "doomed" effort at coercion. I don't know whether it's doomed or not in the long run, but I don't see any indication that it's going to stop. That means we are doomed to keep fighting the culture wars, which are at bottom religious wars, until one side completely subjugates the other. The left thought this victory had been achieved under the Obama administration, but the declaration of victory was premature. And war sometimes produces alliances that would not and even should not exist under normal conditions.

Wonder If We'll Ever See This Kind of Thing Again


The sign says "Not my choice, but now my president." I posted this picture in 2008 with this explanation:

There’s a guy up the road in Spanish Fort, a veteran who’s very active in veterans’ affairs, who had a series of “Veterans for McCain” signs on this building (which I think he owns) during the campaign. This appeared the day after the election and I stopped and took a picture of it.

This kind of sentiment was not unusual at the time. It seems to be forgotten (if it was ever acknowledged) that Obama actually entered office with a fair amount of good will from those who had opposed him. "If nothing else, maybe he'll be good for race relations" was a fairly common sentiment. But his presidency proved to be so divisive that all that was gone by 2012. Well, we're certainly not seeing anything like this now, and I wonder if we ever will again. 

After the Election

What a surprise. Not an entirely unwelcome one for me. As my wife said, there was going to be trouble if somebody won the election. But I think I prefer this trouble to the alternative.

Some of those on the losing side have gone rather around the bend. I'm not sure whether they really believe that Trumpian storm troopers are going to drag them from their beds in the middle of the night, or it's just that odd thrill, similar to that of watching a horror movie, that some people seem to get out of imagining such things while in their hearts knowing that they aren't going to happen. I wonder about this person, for instance:

So I am in my reality and they are in theirs and still we live in the same world; and there are others, who have been legitimized and mobilized by Trump’s win, whose reality includes my extinction and my families’ extinction, and the extinction of anyone who is not white in America.

Extinction? Really?

One of the oddest things about that piece is that she is a young (I assume) Chinese-American woman whose own family members were victims of Mao's Cultural Revolution. But she blames, not the communist government that actually perpetrated it, but "fascism." Well, that unfortunately is fairly indicative of the continuing unwillingness of the left to face the historical truth about communism. 

I guess there is no reason, other than a combination of bewilderment and alarm, to multiply examples of such sentiments. I'm sure everyone has seen plenty of them. There are a lot of hysterical predictions, and a lot of reports about various acts of bigotry. No doubt there have been some, but I think there is a lot of exaggeration and outright fabrication, as this piece at Reason (the libertarian site) shows.

I had hoped that having Donald Trump as president might make some on the left reconsider the wisdom of consolidating more and more power in the central government and in the presidency in particular. I'm not seeing any indication of that, though. The effect seems to be rather to inflame their desire to take control and keep it. Screams of hate and fear seem to be the predominant mode of expression. A few liberals have tried to make the point that the obvious contempt of their fellows for everyone who disagrees with them played a role in Hillary's defeat, but I don't get the feeling that very many are listening. 

The racial climate may have changed permanently for the worse. Whatever Trump's own views may be, it can't be denied that genuine racists have hitched themselves to his wagon. What seems more significant to me, though, is that he has catalyzed something that I've been predicting for a long time: that whites would decide that they should do what other groups are doing and openly look to their own interests as a group. As someone said the other day, identity politics for me but not for thee was never going to work as a permanent state of affairs. It seemed to be taken for granted by many on the left that the role of whites in our racial politics was to stand still and be beaten while apologizing. 

At The Federalist there's an excellent analysis, by a writer named David Marcus, of what's happened: "This Election Marks the End of America's Racial Détente". He describes the situation from the passage of the civil rights laws until quite recently as a period of détente in which

The rules of the deal were pretty straightforward. For whites, they stated that outright racist statements and explicit appeals to white racial identity were essentially banned. Along with this, whites accepted a double standard about the appropriateness of cultural and political tribalism. For obvious and reasonable historical and economic reasons, black and brown people explicitly pursuing their own interests was viewed differently than whites doing the same thing.

The other side of the deal was that so long as white people were sufficiently punished for acts of outright racism, minority leaders and communities would be cautious with accusations of racism....

Privilege theory and the concept of systemic racism dealt the death blow to the détente. In embracing these theories, minorities and progressives broke their essential rule, which was to not run around calling everyone a racist. As these theories took hold, every white person became a racist who must confess that racism and actively make amends...

Within the past few years, as privilege theory took hold, many whites began to think that no matter what they did they would be called racist, because, in fact, that was happening....

 The unfortunate place where we now find ourselves is one in which blatant attacks on white people, often from white people, are driving them further into a tribal cocoon. Samantha Bee’s awful and irresponsible berating of white women as the evil force behind Trump’s victory, while condescendingly describing magical people of color as the only ones who can save us, is a clear example of where white defensiveness and victimization are coming from.

Furthermore, the ever-present drumbeat from the Left that every conservative victory is the death throes of bad, old white people who are about to be swept away by waves of brown immigration is making many whites dig in. On a certain level, how can you blame them? They are explicitly being told that their values and way of life are under the sword. How do we expect them to react?

How indeed? As I've said more than once here: sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

(I think Samantha Bee is a comedian. Not sure. Maybe one of those "comedians" who are 50% jokes and 50% left-wing blather.)

Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)

A few days ago, apropos of Dylan's receiving the Nobel, I asked my Facebook acquaintances to name a Dylan song that they considered neglected and/or underrated. Artur Sebastian Rosman (link is to his Patheos blog) nominated this song. I had only heard it a few times and not given it much attention, but I listened to it again and was very impressed. It's definitely a gem, and at least as far as I know merits the "neglected and/or underrated" classification. It seems especially appropriate to what's going on in this country now. 

Señor, señor, let’s disconnect these cables
Overturn these tables
This place don’t make sense to me no more
Can you tell me what we’re waiting for, señor? 

The full lyric can be read here. The song appears on the Street Legal album, which overall is definitely one of Dylan's lesser efforts, though it also has at least one other great song, "Changing of the Guard." Dylan's original did not show up when I looked on YouTube, but I like this version by Willie Nelson and Calexico better anyway. 

Calexico is a great band in its own right, by the way. 

Also by the way, regarding the question with which the song opens--"Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?"--it seems likely that Dylan intended an association with the Lincoln County War

Thirty Minutes of "Debate"

I hadn't intended to watch any of the so-called "debates" between the two grotesques running for president. But my wife was curious, so we watched it until she said she couldn't stand anymore, which was about thirty minutes.

If there is any justification for these weird performances, it's that the viewer may get some sense of what sort of person a candidate is. One is not going to learn anything substantive about their views and what they might do if elected. Anyone paying the least bit of attention already knows what they will say on those points, and what they will actually do is generally predictable within broad limits. Trump might be an exception to that last rule: who knows what he might do? 

Anyway, looking at the debates only from that point of view--an appraisal of personality--Trump came across as he always does, as a fairly ignorant and unstable blowhard. Hillary...well, I certainly had a well-formed and very low opinion of her before the debate, and I have to keep that in mind. But she struck me as sinister. Certainly more clever than Trump, but creepy, especially at moments when Trump was saying something which played into her hands: like the witch welcoming Hansel and Gretel. Yes, I know it's a cliche, and I know I would be convicted of gross sexism for saying it, but that's what I thought (and I'm certainly not alone). It may not be fair. She was probably smiling to avoid looking grim and/or bitchy, which is what people often say about her. But: live by the image and sound bite, die by the image and sound bite.

And that, I guess, is pretty consistent with the view I've had all along, and that makes me glad I don't live in a swing state, so I won't feel responsible for helping to elect one or the other. Ignorant and crazy vs. clever and malicious. What a choice.

A Note on the Circus

A month or so ago, in this post, I said of the election campaign that I had begun to feel as if everyone else had gone to see a movie and I had decided to stay home. In the comments, Art Deco objected to the analogy, saying that unlike a movie the election will have serious consequences. Art was misconstruing me, but I'm not sure I really explained what I meant. What I meant was not that the election is just a form of entertainment, but that the campaign itself had become little more than a spectacle, having little to do with the very serious matter involved. Even the pretense of reasoned discussion and persuasion has been abandoned; it's all just furious slashing with dull blades.

That's even more true now. If the campaign was a movie before, it has now devolved into a demented circus of rage. Trump does not seem to be entirely sane, and I mean that quite literally, and is getting crazier as a Hillary win seems more likely. And the evidence of Hillary's dishonesty, and the corruption involved in the entire Democratic apparatus, continues to pile up, only to be ignored and dismissed by the news and opinion shapers outside the right. Jim Geraghty of National Review summed up the situation: "This year requires partisans to defend the indefensible, day after day." And they're working hard at it.

One of these people will be president next year, and will come into office bearing the bitter hatred of millions of opponents, as well as the desire of many of his or her supporters to suppress the losers. I can't imagine what that's going to be like. 

I keep reminding myself that I'm naturally pessimistic and things may not be as bad as they seem, but it seems that the country just keeps getting crazier. I posted this on Facebook a week or so ago, right after the frenzy produced by Trump's remarks about groping women had erupted:

I regret to inform you that in the struggle between American political culture and sanity, the latter has clearly lost. 

Many Democrats who circled the wagons around Bill Clinton, against whom there were multiple credible allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and possibly rape (not to mention obstruction of justice and perjury), and now want us to choose as president the wife who publicly lied for him and helped him intimidate the women involved, expect everyone to be deeply shocked by Trump's words.

Many Republicans who supported Trump in spite of being warned over and over again that he is exactly who he has always appeared to be, and would most likely not only lose the election but drag the whole party down with him, want to "distance themselves" now that they sense the ominous tug of the millstone to which they willing chained themselves and which is, as stones will do, sinking.

Many Christians who justifiably considered Clinton to be despicable shrug off Trump's loutishness and immorality, which has been perfectly obvious for years and was advertised by him long before this latest scoop, and desperately ignore his equally obvious lack of interest in the things they care about.

All this is taking place in a media and entertainment culture which has been praising and encouraging formerly outrageous sexual talk and behaviour for, literally, decades, but is now lying, faint with shock, on its couch, with a wet towel on its forehead, calling weakly for a restorative brandy-and-water.

I only wish Ambrose Bierce were alive to do verbal justice to the situation.

"...a republic, if they can keep it." Well....

Scholars and Writers For Trump

This is the thing I mentioned in the comments on an earlier post: a list of 125 or so people, active in either academia or punditry, who support Trump. I recognize maybe a quarter of the names. Of those, a fair number are people I respect--R.R. Reno of First Things, for instance. And I'm a little shocked by their presence. Not because they say they will vote for Trump, but because the list, and the fact that it's on a web site called American Greatness, suggest something beyond the Hillary-must-be-stopped reasoning which I think is a perfectly legitimate reason for voting for Trump.

Here is a sort of symposium in which some of the signers explain their reasons for supporting Trump. Some are basically just Hillary-must-be-stopped, others express a degree of enthusiasm which I find hard to understand, especially if I start thinking about specific things Trump has said over the past few weeks, and indeed the past year.

And here is "Our Declaration of Independence from the Conservative Movement", a summary of the principles of the American Greatness project. It comes pretty close to the hope that politics can, as we were saying on that earlier post, "turn this thing around," i.e., save the country. I don't think restoring American greatness is the purpose toward which we should be working now. But it does make sense that people who think it is should be supporting the candidate who has made that his slogan.  

Voting Republican as Rebellion?

Interesting commentary by Ross Douthat on the effects of liberalism's increasingly tight grip on pop culture.

...outside the liberal tent, the feeling of being suffocated by the left’s cultural dominance is turning voting Republican into an act of cultural rebellion — which may be one reason the Obama years, so good for liberalism in the culture, have seen sharp G.O.P. gains at every level of the country’s government.



One personal silver lining in the dark cloud that is the Trump candidacy is that I no longer have to try to defend the Republicans, or at least those who don't really deserve it. I've been voting almost exclusively for Republicans for a long time despite never having had the slightest inclination to register myself as one, and knowing that their principles are not entirely mine. To quote myself (again--I'm sure I've done it before), the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans for me has been the difference between an enemy and an unreliable ally. It's not possible to see Trump himself as any sort of an ally, and it's only common sense to assume the same about the segment of the party hierarchy that supports him. 

Now when some Republican politician says or does something stupid or offensive, or that can be made to seem that way by the ever-vigilant media, I don't have to cringe, or try to explain that he didn't really mean that, or put it in context, or be angered by the media bias and distortion. 

So go ahead, Democratic media. If you want to twist or exaggerate something Donald Trump says, have at it. If you want to shout for three days about some trivial remark from him, while going easy on Hillary Clinton, well, you will still have disgraced yourselves, but I won't much care. You can even make stuff up if you want to, because it probably won't be any worse than something he really said. You'll only have the constraint of limiting yourself to what people will believe he said, and that's not much of a constraint at all.

I'm like, whatever. I'll just shrug, and it's quite a relief. 

My sister is obnoxious so you're wrong.

That was the gist of someone's response to me in an online discussion a week or so ago. It seems worth preserving. I think it's my favorite internet argument ever.

The topic was the election. Someone I know had written a Facebook post saying that while Democrats are voting based on ideas, policies, etc., Republicans are driven by one thing only: a deranged personal hatred of Hillary Clinton.

I argued against that, saying that while Hillary's opponents on the right do certainly dislike her, it's fundamentally because of her politics, and that if she had right-wing views people on the right would vote for her whether they liked her or not. The person I'm referring to here (not the author of the post) disagreed, giving as "part of his reasoning"--the only part he actually stated--that his sister, with whom he was formerly able to converse, now only rants. And that therefore I was wrong, deceived by my "bias." 

I replied that I could only withdraw in the face of that argument, though probably not for the reason he might wish.

A Slightly Hopeful Note on the Racial Situation

Never let it be said that I'm all doom and gloom. This is from a review in the March New Criterion of a book called Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, a rather interesting-sounding book about an English journalist who went to live in the Mississippi Delta. As will come as no surprise at all to anyone who knows the South, the reality of what he found there did not match the standard caricature. The reviewer, Richard Tillinghast, says:

The observations made by Bill Luckett, Mayor of Clarksdale and Morgan Freeman’s business partner, ring true from my own experience: “You’ve got five to ten percent on either side who hate. Most folks get along now, treat each other with politeness, courtesy, and respect, and that’s really all you can ask for. We don’t all have to be best friends.”

That rings true to my own experience, too. I just got back from the post office, where I listened to the friendly banter between the black man ahead of me in the line and the white woman behind the counter. "Have a blessed day," said the man as he left. "Thank you, and happy Monday," said the clerk. This is in my experience by far the most typical sort of encounter between the races. It would be foolish to pretend that racism, mild and severe, does not still exist. But every day I see--well, I used to see, before I stopped going in to work every day--people of all races working together and generally going about their business with, as the mayor says, politeness, courtesy, and respect to each other. The question for us now is whether this quiet movement will be stronger than the efforts to exacerbate the divisions. And let's not pretend that there are not parties on both sides who are doing that, for reasons which are mostly obscure to me.

I'm also reminded of something from several years ago which made me want to jump up and cheer. Artur Davis, at the time a Congressman from Alabama, was running for governor. In an interview, asked about racial opposition to him, he said (I paraphrase from memory), "There are a certain number of people who will vote against me just because of my race. There are a certain number who will vote for me just because of my race. I can't worry much about either of those groups. I just have to make my case to the others."

That's the attitude we need: not an absurd and contradictory demand that race be emphasized at all time so as to eliminate awareness of race...or something...but an acceptance of difference, and realism about the intractable nature of racial prejudice combined with a determination to remain above it. A tendency toward hostility among social groups (ethnic as well as any other, including allegiance to an football team) is as much a part of human nature as the very existence of social groups. It will never disappear completely. But we don't have to feed it. 

Unfortunately Davis did not make it out of the Democratic primary. Having voted against Obamacare, he was all but expelled from the party. I'm not sure what he's doing now.

Here's a link to that book review, though the full text may not be available to non-subscribers.

Nicholas Kristoff on the Liberal Blind Spot

I'm really glad to hear this from a liberal. I've been saying for years (as you know if you read this blog regularly), that liberals in general are now engaged in the grossest sort of bigotry toward conservatives, and I often think I ought to Just Get Over It, since it doesn't seem likely to change. But it still drives me crazy, because they still congratulate themselves on their open-mindedness, and just don't see the contradiction. Kristof says:

As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

And that reminds me: one old-time liberal for whom I have great regard is Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone. Somehow or other a few days ago I ran across this very interesting commentary on his life and work in The New Atlantis. Yes, The Twilight Zone was preachy, but in a more healthy and thoughtful way than most current liberal preaching.

Oh, and speaking of that: last night I watched a sci-fi film called Elysium, which is about as heavy-handed in its political preaching as you can get. The premise is that in the year 2154 rich evil white people have abandoned the earth that they've plundered and almost destroyed, moving to an enormous space station where they live in comfort and pleasure. The earth is left to noble brown people who live in desperate poverty and are trying to get to the space station, Elysium.

To say that it's an anti-anti-illegal-immigration message film doesn't really do justice to its heavy-handedness. Apart from that, it's a fairly dumb action movie. Usually I can get interested in that sort of thing at least to the extent of wanting to find out what happens, but either I've become jaded or this one was especially dumb. Looking online for reviews afterward, I was surprised to find that it got positive notices from respectable reviewers like Roger Ebert. Anyway, I dis-recommend it. Maybe the only very remarkable thing about it is its stereotyping of white people as evil, really really evil. As I was saying....


Evil White Person played by Jodie Foster plans evil deed.

Amusingly, though, the hero is still a white guy, maybe only because Matt Damon's presence probably guarantees a certain level of ticket sales.

"The Murray project is dead"

I saw that remark on Facebook not long ago, and it struck me as true. The reference is to John Courtney Murray, S.J. I have not read Murray, but my understanding is that he articulated the idea that American institutions, particularly religious freedom, and Catholicism are fundamentally compatible. He is said to have been influential in Vatican II's declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae. He seems to have been a big influence on First Things magazine and the whole attempt of politically conservative Catholics to influence American politics. The basic idea, as I understand it, was that a common foundation on "truths [held] to be self-evident," amounting to what Catholic theology understands as natural law, was sufficient to allow church and state to co-exist in reasonable harmony.

Well, it's not working out. It seemed to be for a while, but it's collapsing before our eyes. Whether it's intellectually and historically justifiable or not, the grounding of the American constitution in something like natural law--the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" so admired by the Founders--has been discarded by the authorities whose understanding of the Constitution is law. The situation we have now is not of religion and the secular authority coexisting in mutual respect, but of a conflict between two incompatible religions--a loose collection of various forms of Christianity, on the one hand, and materialist progressivism on the other. The latter is also the faith of the secular authority, which is seeking to impose it in every situation where the two come into conflict in the realm of practice.

Set aside the theoretical arguments for a moment, it is, I'm afraid, simply a practical effect of human nature that societies require some sort of commonly-held metaphysic. The rationalism of the 18th century, implicitly including some Christian axioms, left something of a vacuum there, a gentleman's agreement not to press the issue too far, and its more vigorous and militant descendant, having cast off the remaining Christian elements, is now filling the vacuum. 

I've never been able to get enthusiastic about the idea of a Catholic (or any sort of Christian) confessional state, the main reason being that the inevitable corruption that goes along with political power ends up discrediting the Gospel itself. But I'm wondering now if that's the only alternative to a political order in which Christianity is at best marginalized and at worst persecuted. Maybe the modern conception of more or less unlimited religious freedom within a single polity was never realistic. At any rate it seems workable only within certain limits, limits which the Murray project perhaps thought reliable, but which have proved not to be.

Perhaps Archbishop Lefebvre was right all along about Dignitatis Humanae.

"The wages of smug is Trump."

That line comes from a piece in Vox which you may have read already. If not, it's worth the trouble: "The smug style in American liberalism." It's the work of a liberal worried about the fact that liberalism now despises so many of the people it claims to want to help. As the author notes, this is a tendency that's been growing for some time, with the domination of liberalism by feminists and others far more interested in cultural revolution than, say, the economic situation of the working class. That faction pays some degree of lip service to those questions, but what really fires them up are things like abortion and same-sex marriage. The economic complaints seem to be of interest mainly as a club with which to beat conservatives and Republicans.

The rubes noticed that liberal Democrats, distressed by the notion that Indiana would allow bakeries to practice open discrimination against LGBTQ couples, threatened boycotts against the state, mobilizing the considerable economic power that comes with an alliance of New York and Hollywood and Silicon Valley to punish retrograde Gov. Mike Pence, but had no such passion when the same governor of the same state joined 21 others in refusing the Medicaid expansion. No doubt good liberals objected to that move too. But I've yet to see a boycott threat about it.

The piece is fairly long but worth reading in its entirety. There's much in it that I disagree with, beginning of course with a substantial difference in basic political views. But it's good to hear one member of that club telling it what it needs to hear, which is that it's never going to win over people whom it openly despises. 

Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Financial incentive compounded this tendency — there is money, after all, in reassuring the bitter. Over 20 years, an industry arose to cater to the smug style. It began in humor, and culminated for a time in The Daily Show, a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that its opponents were, before anything else, stupid. The smug liberal found relief in ridiculing them.

I was glad to hear that criticism of The Daily Show. I haven't seen it very often, so it's possible that I got the wrong impression, but pretty much everything I've ever heard anyone say about it has supported that impression, the positives even more than the negatives. As I couldn't help noticing when Jon Stewart left the show, he was regarded as a brilliant political commentator by his fans, which seemed to include most liberals, notwithstanding the fact that he was in principle just a comedian. But it looked to me like his routine was based on taking some conservative point of view, reducing it to a caricature, and smirking at it. 

Sowing the Wind

We're told regularly, usually with ill-concealed pleasure, that white people will soon be a minority in this country. As the legal oppression of blacks fades further into the past, younger white people will less and less agree to accept their stigmatized position as historical oppressor...

That was me, writing in 2012 (can it really be four years ago?). It may seem otherwise, but I'm actually not very happy when my pessimistic predictions come true. But it has seemed inevitable to me that white people, especially young ones, would begin to push back against the idea that they are now and forever historically guilty, and that other ethnic groups are to be encouraged to band together to advance the interests of their group as such, while they are forbidden to do so.

This was obviously not going to hold up indefinitely, and I've long thought that the reaction might include an element of open racism. It's a predictable reaction to being blamed, denounced, and ridiculed for one's race. Well, here comes the "alt-right":

Known collectively as the “alternative right,” this amalgam includes neo-reactionaries, monarchists, nativists, populists, and even a few self-declared fascists.

The above description comes from The Weekly Standard, quoted by Neo-neocon in a post called, "Who Are the Alt-Right and What Do They Want?"

And here is Victor Davis Hanson analyzing the white-versus-white dynamic: affluent whites treating poor and lower-middle-class whites with contempt, precisely as poor and lower-middle-class whites. He postulates a connection between this and the success of Trump, and I think he's right:

In sum, the white lower and middle classes are angry, and they are tired of being blamed for the unhappiness of other tribes. In our world, in which uncouth tribal leaders can say almost anything, these whites wanted their own Sharpton or Ramos, and finally got him with Donald J. Trump. 

 They have sown the wind, and they will reap the whirlwind.

Donald Trump Is Not Right in the Head

It's not just that he has a long history of being a jerk, continues to be a jerk, and often seems proud to be a jerk. After all, we've had a number of presidents who were jerks.  It's not just that he is not now and never has been any sort of conservative, and that he is sabotaging what a year ago looked like a promising opportunity for a conservative swing back from the Obama years, and is very likely to complete the destruction of conservatism as a force in American politics. It's not just that he dealt a body blow to the pro-life movement yesterday. 

It's not even, God help us, that he seems to have little or no idea how the government works, and apparently thinks that he is running for monarch (well, he wouldn't be that unusual there). 

It's that his mental processes appear to be utterly incoherent, except insofar as megalomania imparts a certain overall thematic unity. I thought so when I listened to the speech he made here back last summer, and I was only incorrect in that I didn't realize just how bad it is. And, again, as with every other defect in his qualifications, he appears not to care, and to trust that he will always be able to beat down any opposition by any means he can muster. At the level of rhetoric, that means he doesn't really much care what comes out of his mouth as long as it asserts his will and his delusions of grandeur. At the level of practice--well, who knows what he might do with the power of the presidency in his hands? 

I guess you already know all this. And I'm certainly not going to try to muster all the available evidence. But I want to point out just one example: this transcript of a CNN "town hall meeting" hosted by Anderson Cooper

The first topic is the accusation by a journalist named Michelle Fields who claimed to have been physically jerked around by Trump's campaign manager. Notice the way Trump denies what Cooper says about Fields's statement and demands that Cooper read the transcript, then denies that the words say what they say. Then suggests that the reporter's pen could have been a bomb or a knife.

A normally dishonest politician (think of Bill Clinton) would have evaded the whole question (which Trump also does, trying to change the subject to Ted Cruz). Trump's babbling is not normal dishonesty. It sounds more like the voice of a man who literally does not know what is true or false, or doesn't think it matters.

And the whole transcript goes on like that. In case you don't want to wade through the whole thing, I'll give you a couple of other examples. You may have heard about the bizarre claim that "I alone can solve" the problem of terrorism.Here's how he supports that claim:

COOPER: You talked about the death toll [of the Easter bombings in Lahore]. And then you said, I alone can solve. What do you mean by that?

TRUMP: I think I alone because I know my competition. Look, I know my competition.

COOPER: You, alone, among the Republican candidates.

TRUMP: I see Hillary with Benghazi, you know the famous ad, 3:00 in the morning, guess what, the phone rang, she wasn't there. Unless Sidney called, if Sidney called she was there.

COOPER: But you're the only one who can solve terror problems in Pakistan? I mean, Pakistan…

TRUMP: Yes, of the ones that are running, I'm the only one. I know what I'm running. I know the competition. And believe me, I know, I watched Ted Cruz.

COOPER: How though? I mean, what…

TRUMP: So phony. I mean, you know, I know you have couple people out there because he put them in the audience. But it's so false. You know, the whole thing with the five-second intermissions between sentences. No.

Yes, I think I am the one to be able to solve the problem.

COOPER: But, I mean, there's problems in a lot of different countries, problems in the United States. How can you solve the problems all the way over in Pakistan when the Pakistanis, themselves, are struggling with it?

TRUMP: Look, look, Pakistan is a very, very vital problem and really vital country for us because they have a thing called nuclear weapons. They have to get a hold of their situation.

When I see that and when I see it put in a park because it was mostly Christians, although many others were killed other than Christians, I think it's just absolutely a horrible story.

But I'm talking about radical Islamic terrorism. I will solve it far better than anybody else running.

I can't decide whether this next item is the most off-the-wall part of the discussion, or if that award should go to the part where he suggests that Japan and South Korea should obtain nuclear weapons while he insists that nuclear proliferation must be stopped, and refuses to acknowledge that he is contradicting himself--not contradicting something he said in the days of yore a week ago, but in that moment.  I'll go with this one, since it involves fundamental concepts. This is a question from the audience.

QUESTION:  Good evening, Mr. Trump.  In your opinion, what are the top three functions of the United States government?

TRUMP:  Say it again?

QUESTION:  In your opinion, what are the top three functions of the United States government?

TRUMP:  Well, the greatest function of all by far is security for our nation.  I would also say health care, I would also say education.  I mean, there are many, many things, but I would say the top three are security, security, security.

We have to have security for our country so that we can continue to exist as a country.  We are in danger.  Thousands and thousands of people are infiltrating our country.  We don't know who they are.

There's a very vicious world.  We're living in a very vicious world and we're doing something that is against a lot of very smart people's wishes.  I can tell you, it's totally against my wishes.

COOPER:  So top three, you're saying, security.

TRUMP:  Security.  I say all top three are security, but health care, education, would be probably three that would be top.  And then you can go on from there.

But the military and the secure country, so that we have a country.  Believe me, we've never been in a position, in my opinion, where our country is so vulnerable.  Our military is being eaten away.

When General Odierno left recently, a year ago, I was watching him on maybe your show, one of the shows, and he said that the United States Army, the United States military forces have never been so - and I think he used the word depleted.  But basically he said they're exhausted.

COOPER:  So just to follow-up, though…

TRUMP:  And that's a pretty - that's a pretty sad commentary.  And honestly, even though he was retiring at the time - and I had a lot of respect for him, good man, but even though he was leaving at the time, people shouldn't say that because you're giving the enemy ideas.

But if I get in, our military will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before.  It's the cheapest thing we can do.

COOPER:  So in terms of federal government role, you're saying security, but you also say health care and education should be provided by the federal government?

TRUMP:  Well, those are two of the things.  Yes, sure.  I mean, there are obviously many things, housing, providing great neighborhoods...


COOPER:  Aren't you against the federal government's involvement in education?  don't you want it to devolve to states?

TRUMP:  I want it to go to state, yes.  Absolutely.  I want - right now...

COOPER:  So that's not part of what the federal government's...


TRUMP:  The federal government, but the concept of the country is the concept that we have to have education within the country, and we have to get rid of common core and it should be brought to the state level.

COOPER:  And federal health care run by the federal government?

TRUMP:  Health care - we need health care for our people.  We need a good - Obamacare is a disaster.  It's proven to be...

COOPER:  But is that something the federal government should be doing?

TRUMP:  The government can lead it, but it should be privately done.  It should be privately done.  So that health care - in my opinion, we should probably have - we have to have private health care.  We don't have competition in health care.

The problem that we have in our country is we don't have competition.  It's made because the politicians - by the way, I'm self-funding.  I am self-funding.  So the health care companies aren't taking care of me.  But they're taking care of everyone else.

Wait one second.  We don't have - we don't have bidding.  We don't have competition in health care.  And it's a disaster.  Obamacare, if you take a look at your premiums, they're going up 35 percent, 45 percent, 55 percent, and the deductibles are so high, you'll never get to use it.

Granted, it's not a very good question: did the questioner really mean something like "current top three priorities"? But it's still an incoherent answer. And by the way, if you're a citizen of this country and are wondering what's wrong with listing education and health care as two of the top three functions of the constitutionally-defined government of the United States of America, I hope you'll consider renouncing your citizenship. 


Give Up On the Republican Party?

About ten years ago Rod Dreher interviewed me by email for his book Crunchy Cons. On the subject of politics, I said something I'd said before and have said since: that the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is the difference between an enemy and an unreliable ally. The Republican party has never been a great friend of what for lack of a better term I'll call social conservatives, while the Democratic party is an enemy, out and out.

But recent developments involving same-sex marriage and religious freedom have me wondering whether both parties are now, in practice, enemies. The Republicans aren't openly hostile the way the Democrats are, but they seem to be quietly siding with the Democrats. This piece by Maggie Gallagher ponders the question at length. What's most alarming to me is her description of several incidents of which I had been unaware, in which Republicans including Mitt Romney and John McCain actively intervened to stop legislation intended to protect the freedom of Christian businesses to refuse to participate in same-sex weddings etc.

We've always known that economic questions took precedence over social ones in the Republican Party, and that "economic questions" often meant in practice dominance by business interests. Corporate America is now firmly behind the movement to marginalize objection to same-sex marriage and related matters, and Republicans are falling into line. Yes, the presidential candidates continue to say that they will support protections for religious freedom, but how much can they do, and can they even be trusted?

It doesn't help, of course, that there are approximately zero prominent voices in the non-conservative media who are willing and able to articulate the difference between refusing all service to someone (because one "disagrees with their lifestyle", an obviously trivializing way and inaccurate way of describing it), and refusing to perform a specific service that involves a conflict with one's faith. As far as I know none of the cases of this sort that have been in the news over the past couple of years have been of the first kind. It is a crucial distinction, which the Democrats refuse to see, and the Republicans increasingly don't seem able to see.

Off to Vote

For Marco Rubio in the Republican primary, because polls show him second behind Trump in this state, and I want the Trump alternative to get as many votes as possible. 

The Trump phenomenon is like a metastasizing cancer. As the evidence mounts that he is a bad man who will very likely do bad things, he gains more and more votes. I'm not on Twitter, and have an immediate reaction of irritation to any string of letters following a pound sign (except as a construct in a programming language like C). But I'm with the people who are saying #NeverTrump.

My casual distinction between right-wing and conservative seems to be applicable here. This is pretty much separating the right-wingers from the conservatives.

Before going to vote, I have to go to the dentist and get a couple of cavities filled. Seems appropriate for this election.

Addendum: thanks to Marianne for pointing me to this piece by Megan McArdle: "The Die-Hard Republicans Who Say #NeverTrump".

Perspective on Politics

"Well, and so everything's falling apart.... Everybody sees that it can't go on like this. It's all too strained and bound to snap," Pierre said (as people have been saying as long as governments have existed, once they look attentively at any government whatsoever).

--Tolstoy, War and Peace

I finished War and Peace a couple of days ago, by the way. It's truly a great novel in every sense of the word. If you haven't read it and figured that you probably never would, reconsider. It's not a difficult read except in sheer length.

On the Passing of Justice Scalia

It is a great loss. Everybody has heard about Scalia's dissent in Obergefell vs. Hodges, in which the court discovered that marriage has nothing to do with sex. I had read a few quotes from the dissent, but not the whole thing until today. It's very much worth reading. Here is one powerful excerpt.

This is a naked judicial claim to legislative—indeed, super-legislative—power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government. Except as limited by a constitutional prohibition agreed to by the People, the States are free to adopt whatever laws they like, even those that offend the esteemed Justices’ “reasoned judgment.” A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.

And as someone who cares about writing I applauded this:

The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the Court to do so.[22] Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.

I have to note that I saw this happening twenty-plus years ago and described it in an essay called "Nothing at the Center," which appeared in Caelum et Terra.

It is in many circles somewhere between bad manners and villainy to admit to having fixed beliefs on most moral and philosophical questions. Yet it is clear that the human mind requires such points of fixity, and so we find the most skeptical intellectuals placing the most naive trust in the judgment of the Supreme Court. It is not just that they acknowledge the fact that the Court has the last word; there is almost a sense that they believe that the Court’s decisions constitute what is right and true, at least for the moment.

To place such trust in these nine popes without a God would obviously be a mistake at any time, but now it is ridiculous. We find ourselves in the position of expecting to have the most serious moral questions answered by a group of lawyers selected by politicians, and we are getting the sort of answers that might be expected.

There is some irony in the fact that Scalia, a Catholic, did not argue for the normal and reasonable understanding of marriage, but only for the constitutional question of who is entitled to decide. I argued in my essay that the absence of any recognition of an agreed-upon moral framework may be the fatal weakness of the American system. As far as his work as a judge was concerned, Scalia accepted that. He makes no attempt to appeal to any higher law. It is in fact the justices who declared same-sex marriage a fundamental right who ignored the Constitution in favor of what they clearly believe, though they didn't use the term, to be a higher law, an unwritten law which can be invoked at the will of any five Supreme Court judges to nullify whatever laws happen to be written down, including the Constitution itself. Unwittingly they testify to the impossibility of escaping the necessity of fundamental moral judgments.

Here is Kevin Williamson at National Review making an argument similar to mine, even using similar language, but rather more forcefully:

The alternative [to Scalia's approach] is to make the Supreme Court a nine-person mob in a mob-rule society. We already are dangerously close to that point. No thinking person doubts that Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer will find a way to produce the outcome that the Left desires in any important case. Kagan lied to the Senate about her thinking on the question of gay marriage in order to have the opportunity to enact that thinking from the highest court. Never mind that the Constitution does not actually say what they wish it said about gay marriage, abortion, gun ownership, or the fact that First Amendment protections go well beyond the editorial board of the New York Times: If the Left demands a constitutional right to late-term abortion manufactured out of whole cloth, or that the words “the right of the people” be magically transformed into “the National Guard” in the case of the Second Amendment, these so-called justices will deliver.

Actually I'd quibble a bit with that. It isn't mob rule that progressives want, it's the establishment of their own system of absolutes.

Well, I keep saying that American democracy is in decay, and that self-rule by the governed is becoming a hollow concept. The replacement of Scalia by someone of President Obama's choosing will certainly further the decay, though there is some hope that Republicans will make good on their currently stated intention not to confirm an Obama appointee. The efficacy of that, if it happens, will of course hold for only a year if the Republicans lose the presidential election, and quite possibly if they win.

 And the opposition should not let the Democrats intimidate them into believing there is something wrong with refusing to confirm Obama's choice.


Trump Vs. Conservatives (and Conservatism)

Sometimes, in an effort to distinguish myself from the likes of Sean Hannity, I describe myself as "conservative but not right-wing." It's not a hard and fast distinction, of course, and it's not easy to articulate, but it's being pretty clearly illustrated by reactions to the Trump campaign. It's been a week or so now, so I'm late in commenting on this, but, as you may have heard, National Review published a cover story making the argument against Trump which includes contributions by a number of fairly well-known names on the right, both the religious (Russell Moore, R.R. Reno) and non-religious (libertarian David Boaz). There is an editorial summary of the case, "Against Trump", which is probably all you need to read unless you're extremely interested. But the whole story is online, too: "Conservatives Against Trump".

My favorite political blogger, Neo-neocon, has also had a lot to say about Trump; here's just one post. One reason she's my favorite is that she's very careful about researching everything she writes about, and, not surprisingly, the more she's learned about Trump, the more alarmed she is. (She was alarmed about Obama in 2008, too, and she was right about him.)

I think I'm like a lot of conservatives in that I just can't quite believe this is happening. I can't believe he's gotten this far. I can't believe he'll get the nomination. I can't believe he could win. Most of all, I can't believe that people who consider themselves conservative are supporting him. Whatever he may be, he is not a conservative in any remotely plausible sense of the word. We all know that "conservative" is in many ways inaccurate as a description of American conservatism. But I can't see that it has any application at all to Trump. 

Why, then, do so many people on the right support him? There is generally at least some connection between "right-wing" and "conservative". It's a species of populism, yes, but much more a rightist than a leftist sort. It's apparently driven by anger. The conventional, i.e. the liberal, response to this is to sneer at the angry people--they're just racists whose evil grip on society has been loosened, etc. etc. ad nauseam. Where non-white anger is concerned, liberals insist on looking for root causes. To do so in this case doesn't require a lot of digging. As someone put it a while back, in a quotation I haven't been able to find again, the American people are governed by an elite which despises them. The anger tends to focus on immigration, and with some reason, because it is here that the ruling class has shown again and again that it is indifferent to the effects of immigration on working-class and poor Americans. The best analysis I've seen of the syndrome is by William Voegeli at the Claremont Review of Books: "The Reason I'm Anti-Anti-Trump." 

Demagoguery flourishes when democracy falters. A disreputable, irresponsible figure like Donald Trump gets a hearing when the reputable, responsible people in charge of things turn out to be self-satisfied and self-deluded. The best way to fortify Trump’s presidential campaign is to insist his followers’ grievances are simply illegitimate, bigoted, and ignorant. The best way to defeat it is to argue that their justified demands for competent, serious governance deserve a statesman, not a showman.

On a deeper level, I think there's something more happening. The American republic is in decline in many ways, including in its character as a republic. I've often thought that monarchy is the most natural form of government, and there's certainly some warrant in history for believing that any form of self-government by the governed is a fragile business. Among other things Trump's candidacy is a personality cult. His supporters don't apparently care that much about what he actually believes; they just think he is a tough guy who will stand up to their enemies. There is certainly no sense that he cares about the constitutional order as such, and this doesn't seem to bother his supporters. He wants power, and they want him to have it, because they think he will exercise it in the way they want. It doesn't take much imagination to see how that could go wrong. You don't even have to be a pessimist.

This is easy for people on the left to see. What is not so easy for them is to see is that much the same could be said of them and President Obama, as with Clinton before him. The left in fact seems more susceptible to adulation of a president or a presidential candidate as a personality than the right--Kennedy, Clinton, and Obama (and arguably Carter), and currently Bernie Sanders, for the former, only Reagan for the latter, as far as I can recall. The difference in personality between Obama and Trump is great, but both they and their followers have in common an impatience with democratic processes: "We can't wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won't act, I will." The linked story is only one of a number of instances in which Obama has said something similar. Never mind that the Constitution prescribes a system in which the legislature makes laws and the executive implements them. That doesn't matter when the progressive cause is being thwarted. It will matter when an anti-progressive autocrat proceeds in similar fashion, but it may already be too late to stop the trend.


Actually I'm still not 100% convinced that Trump is not part of a scheme to elect a Democrat. 

The State of American Politics

It was soon discovered, that the forms of a free, and the ends of an arbitrary Government, were things not altogether incompatible.


I think that remark sums up the current direction of things pretty nicely. It serves as an epigraph to a set of articles in the most recent New Criterion titled "The corruption of our political institutions." I've only read the introduction (click here to read it) and one of the articles, and am not sure yet to what extent I agree with the diagnoses offered by the various contributors, but I certainly agree that the corruption is deep and advancing in exactly the direction described by Burke.