Why Religion Gets A Bad Name…

Polls suggest that the younger generation is far less religious than its predecessors, and it isn’t hard to see why. Religious double-standards are hard to miss; every day, I come across articles with titles like “Why Evangelicals Still Support Trump” and “Is Evangelical Christianity becoming a Cult?”

In all fairness, the (entirely appropriate) accusations of hypocrisy contained in these articles don’t apply to all Evangelicals, or to adherents of other religions, but the mismatch between what these “Christians” preach and what they practice is so obvious, so “in your face,” that it manages to besmirch the entire religious enterprise.

Case in point: Scott Pruitt. As Ed Brayton writes at Dispatches from the Culture Wars,

So far, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Scott Pruitt, considering that the EPA Administrator has been lurching from one scandal to the next. Pruitt had already distinguished himself with his preference for opulent, non-secure hotels while on official travel; with his predilection for first-class flights on taxpayers’ dime; with his insistence that he receive a 24-hour security detail fit for a king, comprising up to 20 bodyguards; and with the plush DC condominium he’s reportedly been renting, for a veryattractive $50 a night, from the wife of a Beltway oil and gas lobbyist.

The embattled Donald Trump appointee is currently the subject of at least two ethics investigations.

Today’s Pruitt controversy concerns a commemorative coin that the wanted the EPA to order.

Pruitt’s preferred design would delete the logo of the EPA he is trying to dismantle, and would instead feature some combination of symbols “more reflective of himself and the Trump administration.” ( I will ignore my impulse to suggest that a jackass might serve as such a symbol…) Among his suggestions were a buffalo, to represent  Pruitt’s state of Oklahoma, and an unspecified Bible verse to “reflect his faith.”

Perhaps the verse that reads “Thou shalt allow thy donors to pollute the air and water”?

I am not religious, but I have several friends who are members of the clergy. Their approach to their various theologies have a number of common elements.  My Christian friends believe they should love their neighbors as themselves; my Jewish friends are obliged to refrain from treating others as they would not wish to be treated. Other traditions teach variations of this Golden Rule.

There is an old adage along the lines of “show me how you treat other people and I’ll judge the value of your religion.” To which I would add, “show me your moral code, and how closely you follow it, and I’ll evaluate the sincerity of your professed beliefs.”

There has long been a clash in America between the “live and let live” morality embedded in the Bill of Rights–the Enlightenment belief that government power must not be used to impose obedience to religious commandments–and the Puritans’ insistence that everyone needs to live by their particular interpretation of their particular holy book, that “religious liberty” means “freedom to do the right thing, and government must insist you live in accordance with what (our religion says) the right thing is.”

The Puritans may originally have tried to live in accordance with the rules they were trying to impose on everyone else, but these days, they don’t bother. Today, they just want to be the ones making the rules. What began as theology has morphed into a fight for political dominance.

For these theocrats and posturers, “love thy neighbor” doesn’t require respect for the rights of others, or for the planet. It requires fealty.

No wonder the kids are turned off.

Will Children Save The Planet?

Every day, it seems, there is more news about this administration’s attack on climate science, its roll-back of efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that are causing the planet to warm–not to mention regulations intended to ensure that the nation’s water supply is potable and its air breathable.

The Trump Administration’s efforts to protect the bottom lines of fossil-fuel companies are in defiance of mounting evidence about the dangers posed by our changing climate.

Serious disruption to the Gulf Stream ocean currents that are crucial in controlling global climate must be avoided “at all costs”, senior scientists have warned. The alert follows the revelation this week that the system is at its weakest ever recorded.

Past collapses of the giant network have seen some of the most extreme impacts in climate history, with western Europe particularly vulnerable to a descent into freezing winters. A significantly weakened system is also likely to cause more severe storms in Europe, faster sea level rise on the east coast of the US and increasing drought in the Sahel in Africa.

The new research worries scientists because of the huge impact global warming has already had on the currents and the unpredictability of a future “tipping point”.

With Republicans in control of Congress (at least until next January, and beyond if the predicted “blue wave” fails to materialize), political intervention to protect the environment is unlikely.  Just as the NRA’s iron grip on GOP lawmakers has prevented passage of sensible gun legislation, campaign donations by the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests ensure a lack of meaningful Congressional action any time soon.

Enter the children.

A trial date of Oct. 29 has been set for a landmark climate change lawsuit brought by a group of young Americans despite the Trump administration’s efforts to halt the case.

Juliana v. United States was filed in 2015 on behalf of 21 plaintiffs who ranged between 8 to 19 years old at the time. They allege their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government’s creation of a national energy system that causes dangerous climate change.

The trial will be heard before U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon, according to Our Children’s Trust, the non-profit group supporting the plaintiffs. Aiken joined the court in 1998 after being nominated by President Bill Clinton.

 

The lawsuit was filed when Obama was still President, and a few days before the Trump administration took it over, Obama’s Justice Department lawyers admitted the accuracy of several of the plaintiff’s scientific claims– including the claim that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations are now greater than 400 parts per million. They also admitted that fossil fuel “extraction, development and consumption” causes those emissions.

The children’s suit asserts that government’s failure to adequately address climate change imperils their future. The Trump Administration has tried–and failed–to get the case dismissed, or the trial postponed.

“It is a relief to see that the Court understands how imperative it is to get this trial underway as soon as possible, despite all of the delay tactics the U.S. government continues to try to use,” Sophie Kivlehan, 19-year-old plaintiff from Allentown, Pennsylvania said. “I am so excited to have an official trial date on the calendar again so that we can finally bring our voices and our evidence into the courtroom!”

These youngsters–like the teenagers who survived Parkland–aren’t waiting for adults to take action to protect them. (They have evidently weighed the prospects of adults acting like adults, and concluded–reasonably enough–that those prospects are dim.)

The emergence of these young activists lends weight to the hotly debated arguments of researchers who posit that about every eight decades “a new positive, accomplished and group-oriented” civic generation appears, sometimes dubbed the “we generation” in contrast to the “me generations” that preceded it. The “we generation” is “non-cynical and civic minded” and its members believe in the value of political engagement.

These amazing kids may save us all.

 

 

 

Truth And Consequences

What do you do when research consistently comes up with a result that is explanatory but politically incendiary–data that enrages the very people who need to be calmed down?

Anyone who followed the trajectory of the Trump campaign recognized the degree to which racial animus suffused it. That animus wasn’t a surprise; it had been stoked by the behavior of Republicans during Obama’s Presidency–the intransigence of the Congressional GOP, and the eruption of “birthers” and conspiracy theorists and garden-variety racists among the base.

As my youngest son says, there were only two kinds of voters who cast ballots for Trump:  unapologetic racists and voters for whom Trump’s bigotry wasn’t considered disqualifying.

The degree to which racial resentment influenced Trump voters has been confirmed in study after study.  Vox recently reported on a survey of the minority of millennials who voted for Trump.

Even when controlling for partisanship, ideology, region and a host of other factors, white millennials fit Michael Tesler’s analysis, explored here. As he put it, economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. We found, as he has in a larger population, that racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income and employment made a negligible difference.

To anyone who’s been following the research on this, the findings should come as little surprise. There have now been numerous studies that found support for Trump is closely linked to racial resentment, defined by Fowler, Medenica, and Cohen as “a moral feeling that blacks violate such traditional American values as individualism and self-reliance.”

The article reviewed a number of previous studies that have come to a similar conclusion. (I’m aware of several others) The author argued that it is important to understand the increased role racism plays in today’s politics in order to counter it–that those of us who are less threatened by the waning of white privilege should have “empathetic discussions” with Trump supporters in order to reduce their levels of fear and resentment.

Somehow, I doubt that a frank-but-“empathetic” discussion that begins with one person saying “I know your vote was racially motivated” is going to end well.

That is the dilemma. It really didn’t take a multitude of studies to see where Trump’s appeal lay. All it took was a look at his rhetoric and the composition of his rally crowds. The question is: what do we do about it?

Racial bias has always been there (Southern Strategy anyone?), but the studies indicate that it has spiked–leading to the election of a man who constantly feeds it.

The election of a black President was a shock to many people who held negative racial attitudes but had felt it prudent to suppress their expression. The prospect of a majority-minority country by 2040 or so, the sudden ubiquity of “uppity” women, same-sex marriage…all these things destroyed their complacent belief that straight white Christian men would always be in charge.

All the empathy in the world isn’t going to make African-Americans “know their place,” return women to the kitchen and nursery, and put gays back in the closet. The pace of social and technological change isn’t suddenly going to abate. The progress that terrifies Trump voters may slow, but it is unlikely to reverse.

An older lawyer with whom I practiced many years ago used to say that there is only one legal question: what do we do?

“What do we do?” is the question Americans of good will face now, and I doubt that “empathy” –no matter how appropriate–is the answer.

The good news is that there are many more Americans who don’t vote their fears and resentments than there are those who do. While we wait for the hate and fear to subside–and they eventually will– we need to redouble our efforts to get those voters to the polls.

It Just Goes On And On

This time, it’s Rick Perry. (Mr. “Oops”)

Watching the Trump Administration cabinet reminds me of going to the three-ring circus when I was a girl: it was impossible to watch what was happening in all three of the rings at the same time. And there were lots of clowns.

The New Yorker has turned its attention to Rick Perry, who has always struck me as one of the clowns. 

On March 29, 2017, Robert Murray, the founder and owner of one of the country’s largest coal companies, was ushered into a conference room at the Department of Energy’s headquarters, in Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Secretary Rick Perry. When Perry arrived, a few moments later, he immediately gave Murray a hug. To Simon Edelman, the Department’s chief creative officer, who was on hand to photograph the event, the greeting came as a surprise. At the time, Edelman did not know that Murray’s political-action committee and employees had donated more than a hundred thousand dollars to Perry’s Presidential campaign, in 2012, and almost as much to Donald Trump’s, in 2016.

At one point in the meeting, as Edelman recalls, Murray handed Perry a document titled  “Action Plan for reliable and low cost electricity in America and to assist in the survival of our Country’s coal industry.” Edelman snapped a closeup.

According to the article, it was barely six months later that Perry sent a letter directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a new rule. The ostensible reason for the rule was “to protect the resiliency of the electric grid” from what he described as vulnerability to power disruptions. (Interestingly, barely a month before Perry sent the letter,  Perry’s own staff had issued a report concluding that “reliability is adequate today.”)

Perry’s letter instructed the Commission to emphasize “traditional baseload generation”—in other words, coal and nuclear.

Perry proposed that all coal plants in certain areas, including many that do business with Murray Energy, be required to keep a ninety-day supply of coal onsite to provide “fuel-secure” power. Edelman was alarmed: the language in Perry’s letter clearly echoed Murray’s “action plan.” ..Edelman shared his photos of the March meeting with reporters from the progressive magazine In These Times and, later, the Washington Post. The photographs were published on December 6th. The next day, Edelman was placed on leave.

Edelman has since sued Perry and the Department of Energy, and the remainder of the article analyzes the evidence and the federal laws that would seem to have been violated both by Perry’s issuance of the letter and his dismissal of Edelman. Not surprisingly, it concludes that both were wrongful.

The degree of corruption that characterizes this administration is breathtaking. Trump and his “best people” seem utterly oblivious to ethical principles, let alone the legal constraints that govern their operations. I suppose we should be grateful for their overwhelming incompetence–the bumbling that opens windows into their ethical and legal transgressions and mercifully undercuts the efficacy of their efforts to roll back regulations and initiate policies to enrich their benefactors. (Last Sunday, the New York Times had an article about Scott Pruitt’s rush to undo EPA regulations, and quoted  environmental lawyers to the effect that persistent, sloppy legal work and inattention to detail has made it much easier to challenge his efforts in court–and win.)

American citizens need to use the next two and a half years to demand a great cleansing of federal agencies. If the predicted “blue wave” materializes in November, Congress will need to initiate a thorough and bipartisan audit of compliance with government’s settled ethical obligations.

Donald Trump didn’t appear out of nowhere. This corrupt, unhinged ignoramus and his “best people” circus are the result of several decades during which plutocracy grew and voters were apathetic. It will take a sustained and determined effort to right the ship of state.

If that blue wave doesn’t materialize, the U.S. will join a list of failed democracies that is getting longer every year.

Trump’s GOP

Ever since the 2016 election, liberal publications have been bending over backwards to include more diversity of opinion, a project that isn’t going so well. As we saw with the Atlantic‘s recent effort, there is considerable conflict over what sorts of “conservative” opinions should be given a respectful hearing–which opinions deserve to be part of a reasoned and civil argument–and which are so beyond the pale that including them would simply legitimize abhorrent positions.

Vox weighed in on that issue awhile back.

The article considered–and criticized–recent efforts by the New York Times to broaden the perspectives represented by its columnists.

The newspaper’s defense, articulated repeatedly by Bennet, news editor Dean Baquet, and onetime ombudsman Liz Spayd, is that the paper is pursuing diversity of opinion, attempting to challenge its readers. “Didn’t we learn from this past election that our goal should be to understand different views?” asked Baquet.

That defense doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. As I said in a column on Stephens last year, “it takes a particular sort of insularity to hire a pro-war, anti-Trump white guy as a contribution to diversity on the NYT editorial page.”

As the article acknowledged, Donald Trump’s victory was seen by a number of  people in “elite political circles” as evidence that they had been living in a bubble of their own–that they had utterly failed to understand a supposed “heartland” filled with Trump voters, and that they needed to understand the perspectives of those voters. (I have yet to run across Trump voters who want to understand the perspective of the “elitists” who were unwilling to hand the nuclear codes to a four-times-bankrupt reality star with no government experience.)

David Roberts, who wrote the Vox column, is particularly critical of the conservatives who write for the Times.

Consider, oh, David Brooks. His conservatism, of Sam’s Club affectation, fiscal conservatism, tepid social liberalism, and genial trolling of center-leftists at Davos — whom does it speak for in today’s politics, beyond Brooks?

Or Ross Douthat. He is sporadically interesting, often infuriating, but above all, pretty idiosyncratic. His socially conservative “reformicon” thing — whom does it speak for in today’s politics, beyond Douthat?

Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss are a familiar type of glib contrarian. Their opposition to Trump has given them undue credibility among Washington lefties, whom they relentlessly (and boringly) troll. But whom are they speaking for? What has the Never Trump movement amounted to?

Roberts argues that, although these writers might serve the purpose of challenging liberal thinking, they don’t expose Times readers to the people who voted for Trump–the people from whom they are allegedly alienated.

The signal feature of the 2016 election is that it settled the question of whether US conservatism — the actual movement, I mean, not the people in Washington think tanks who claim to be its spokespeople — is animated by a set of shared ideals and policies. It is not.

For many years, many people have convinced themselves otherwise. A lot of people believe to this day that the Tea Party uprising and the subsequent eight years of hysterical, unremitting, norm-violating opposition to Barack Obama was about small-government philosophy and a devotion to low taxes and less regulation, and had nothing to do with social backlash against a black, cosmopolitan, urban law professor and his diverse, rising coalition.

And therein lies the dilemma. An effort to understand conservative philosophy is irrelevant to the reality of today’s GOP. Whatever one thinks of Paul Ryan, he represents the  “small government, low taxes, anti-social welfare” conservatism with which well-meaning (albeit naive) liberals want to engage. Whatever else his departure may mean, it is a signal that the GOP is now the party of White Nationalism, not conservatism, and it has no coherent or remotely respectable philosophy with which to engage.

At this point, though many people on all sides still refuse to acknowledge it, the evidence is overwhelming: It was cultural backlash, against immigrants, minorities, uppity women, liberals, and all the other forces seen as dislodging traditional white men from their centrality in American culture.

It’s Trump’s party now.