Category Archives: Random Blogging

I Never Thought I’d Agree with the Federalist….

The Federalist Society is an organization composed of politically conservative lawyers; Supreme Court Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito have been members, reflecting the legal orientation of the membership.

I have found myself disagreeing with the positions of the Society far more frequently than I have agreed, but I completely agree with a recent essay by Paul David Miller, titled “The Moral Collapse of the Republican Party,” published in its magazine, The Federalist.

Miller calls the party’s embrace of Trump “an obvious, avoidable, epic blunder.”

Embracing Trump, as almost all the party’s leaders have done, is a colossal, world-historical, vast mistake; an inexplicable failure of moral courage; and a repugnant act of institutional suicide. It is shocking to see such rampant self-destruction sweep through the ranks of a once-great party.

After providing a “roll call” of sorts, in which he identified political figures who have obediently endorsed Trump, Miller notes that most of the holdouts–Romney, the President Bushes–have ended their political careers and have nothing to lose.

By embracing Trump, the Republican Party embraces the man, the ideas, and his fate. Whatever legitimate grievances underlie Trump’s appeal—such as frustration with the pace of globalization, or with the culture of political correctness—have been tarnished by Trump’s overt hostility to basic norms of republican government. The party has given away all the high ground it had against the increasingly illiberal and autocratic progressive left by nominating the only person in America who embodies an equally clear disregard for equality under law.

If Trump loses—which he probably will—the Republican Party will lose with him, and it will deserve its loss. The down-ticket damage will be all of Trump’s doing, with the party’s open complicity, and much of the gains at the state and local level in recent years will be undone.

If Trump does lose, and if he takes a significant number of down-ticket Republicans with him, many Americans (including this one) will breathe a sigh of relief. But that outcome is by no means assured–and that’s what keeps me up at night.

It is worse if Trump wins (and I think he has a higher chance of winning than most polls say): a Trump victory vindicates Trumpism—already dangerously on the rise—and permanently transforms the Republican Party into the party of white grievance, nativism, and belligerent nationalism. America will no longer have a party of limited government and classical liberalism. Losing the presidency but recovering a party dedicated to the ideals of ordered liberty is far preferable…

[W]hat surprises me is that they want the Republican Party to win no matter what the party stands for, even if the party flirts with white supremacy and proto-fascism. I held out the hope—now, I see, hopelessly deluded and naïve—that politicians understood that there is a line you don’t cross; there comes a point at which principle really does come before party; that the good of the nation should come before partisanship; and that when your party starts to go off the deep end, you jump ship.

Many of us have done just that–we “jumped ship.” Some earlier, some later, depending upon when we saw the party becoming something very different from the responsible center-right party America still needs. We can only hope that–faced with the reality of Trumpism–many more follow. Before November.

It Might Have Been Written Yesterday

An old friend recently pointed me to “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King many years ago that–as he noted–could have been written yesterday.

Evidently, there are aspects of the human condition that change slowly, if at all.

King’s opening thesis is that we need to synthesize our opposing characteristics:

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites…..  And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

King described that “tough mind” as one characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment, one having the ability to sift the true from the false.

Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of man’s greatest needs? Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

Soft-mindedness, on the other hand, can be seen in the effectiveness of manipulative advertising, responsiveness to slogans, and unquestioning acceptance of facts provided by the media.

Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.

And this was written before the advent of the internet and the explosion of propaganda outlets that the web has fostered.

After watching much of the just-concluded GOP convention in Cleveland, these two passages particularly struck me:

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. An elderly segregationist in the South is reported to have said, “I have come to see now that desegregation is inevitable. But I pray God that it will not take place until after I die.” The soft-minded person always wants to freeze the moment and hold life in the gripping yoke of sameness….

There may be a conflict between soft-minded religionists and tough-minded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge that is power; religion gives man wisdom that is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.

When King turned his attention to hard and soft-heartedness, his reflections were equally pertinent to today. He was especially critical of hardhearted people who lack genuine compassion and engage in a “crass utilitarianism that values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him.”

At the end of his sermon, King calls on us to avoid both the complacency and do-nothingness of the soft-minded and the violence and bitterness of the hardhearted.

The sermon was written in 1959. It is as if he foresaw 2016.

 

A Summary of the Situation….

Okay….Yesterday was the last day of the Republican convention. It was without a doubt the weirdest national conclave in my lifetime.

If Trump did not pose such a threat to national security and American values, the spectacle might have been entertaining; as it is, I can’t help worrying that there might be enough anti-Other, angry, civicly-illiterate voters to put this dangerous ignoramus in office.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has one of the better summaries of the spectacle. (Marshall has also memorably defined what he calls Trump’s Razor: “Ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts.”) The entire article is well worth reading, but here are a few of his most trenchant observations.

The Republican party nominated a man because of his ability to dominate and denigrate opponents and summon up a plethora of demons already rumbling under the seas of Republican revanchism. The man was and is a charlatan and a grifter, the master of a Potemkin Village world rooted in narcissism and aggression which creaks and staggers under even the most measured scrutiny….

Indeed, while this conflagration was erupting in Cleveland another bomb, which Trump himself had lit earlier in the day, was going off on the pages of The New York Times. One can debate whether it is wise or sensible for the United States to guarantee the independence of small states on the periphery of Russia which had for centuries been either within the Russian domain or inside its sphere of influence. But we have. In his comments to the Times, Trump treated the matter like a real estate goon shaking down a distressed landlord to make an easy buck.

Trump’s mix of cocky ambiguity and predation could scarcely be better primed to trigger the kind of great power confrontation that could push the world from smoldering to fire. It is no exaggeration to say that were it not for the relative confidence that Trump will be defeated in November that interview alone could trigger a genuine international crisis….

On his own Trump is simply a bracing case study in abnormal psychology. But he didn’t shoot to within reach of the most powerful office in the world by happenstance. He is the product of a political and cultural breakdown on the American right, a swaggering reductio ad absurdum of every breach and breakdown and violation of extra-statutory norms we’ve seen over the last two or three decades.

Even more chilling–if possible– is the response of the Trump campaign to a supporter’s call to murder Hillary Clinton. It has gone beyond the rabid chants to “lock her up,” as staggering a deviation from democratic norms as that sentiment represents; a Trump advisor who said Clinton should be “shot for treason” is now being investigated by the Secret Service for threatening the former First Lady and Secretary of State’s life.

Any responsible campaign would immediately disavow a person making such a statement. Not this one.

In response to Baldasaro’s attack, Trump Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said: “We’re incredibly grateful for his support, but we don’t agree with his comments.”

Again, Josh Marshall summarizes the import and context of that “wink wink” statement:

Do I think people on the Trump campaign really want to see Clinton injured or killed? No, I do not. But I do think they believe that exciting a climate of agitated grievance, militant anger and aggression helps them galvanize, gain and intensify support. On one and three they’re likely right. Just as importantly, they clearly believe that any clear denunciation of the growing chorus of angry and occasionally violent threats would demoralize and dishearten a key part of their base. Trump’s brand is dominance and submission. Provocation is his calling card. Calling a pause on their more febrile supporters would simply be off brand and would be hard to clearly differentiate in kind from the campaign-endorsed demand for her incarceration.

Just this week, David Duke reaffirmed his strong support for Trump, and once again, there has been no disavowal of that support from the campaign. Meanwhile, the ghostwriter of “Art of the Deal” described Trump as a nine-year-old with ADHD, and predicted disaster should he be elected.

My ulcer has been acting up ever since this Presidential campaign began, and I think I know why.

The Party of Cultural Resentment

Among all of the thousands of words being penned and posted by observers of the GOP’s convention, the phrase that may have most aptly summed up the current character of the Grand Old Party was an observation that it had devolved into the “party of cultural resentment.” (I wish I remembered where I read that, so that I could properly recognize the author.)

Trump began this political cycle with his embrace of birtherism–a stance firmly grounded in the conviction that an African-American could not possibly be a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office.

Trump’s Presidential campaign has been upfront and unembarrassed about its anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim positions; it has been somewhat more covert in its appeal to white supremacists and anti-Semites, but not much. David Duke remains positively euphoric about Trump’s candidacy, as are a number of other avowed racists. The campaign has regularly tweeted out quotations and symbols first posted to white supremacist websites.

At the Convention, on day one, the party had to close down its online chat feature after it was swamped with what was characterized as an “anti-Jewish hatefest.”

You can live stream the Republican National Convention on the RNC’s official YouTube page, but you can’t chat about it live anymore.

Why, you ask? Because the Republicans have now disabled the live chat window on the page after it got overrun by anti-Semitic Trump supporters.

It is hard to avoid the impression that the major source of Trump’s support is cultural grievance–resentment at the perceived displacement of WASP Americans from their formerly privileged social status. That sense of displacement hits particularly hard in people who are otherwise dissatisfied with their lives or economic prospects; it is noteworthy that Trump currently trails Clinton in polls of college-educated whites, a demographic that has previously been a reliably Republican voting bloc.

Trump’s campaign has drawn comparisons to Nixon’s southern strategy, but his appeal to the dark side has actually been far more blatant. The question is: how will the American public respond?

The frightening possibility is that, win or lose, this campaign will normalize an ugly underside of American culture, an underside that “political correctness”–aka civility and humanity–had kept mostly contained.

The hopeful possibility is that voters will reject Trump et al by a margin crushing enough to send the clear message that he, his campaign, and increasingly, his party, are the antithesis of what America stands for.

At the end of the day, the Republican “team players”– the ones who Rick Wilson (a longtime GOP operative) calls “Vichy Republicans”–  will have been responsible for one of two results: furthering national division and tribalism, making the country even more ungovernable; or the destruction of the current iteration of the Republican party.

 

Good Without God

It has been an article of faith (pun intended) among politicians and pundits that Americans will not vote for non-religious candidates. President Eisenhower famously said that “Americans need religion, and I don’t care which religion it is,” nicely capturing the conviction of most Americans that only believers can be trusted to do the nation’s business.

Our preference for piety has led–among other things– to the ludicrous spectacle of thrice-married, biblically-ignorant Donald Trump courting Evangelicals and tweeting out “questions” about Hillary Clinton’s religious bona fides.

The public is evidently willing to overlook the history of religious warfare and the long list of injustices perpetrated in the name of religion–at least, when those wars have been waged and those injustices perpetrated by adherents of their own religion.

Americans who remain firmly convinced that religious belief is an unalloyed good will find a recent study reported by the L.A. Times disconcerting.

The article began by noting the growth of what have been called the “nones.”

The number of American children raised without religion has grown significantly since the 1950s, when fewer than 4% of Americans reported growing up in a nonreligious household, according to several recent national studies. That figure entered the double digits when a 2012 study showed that 11% of people born after 1970 said they had been raised in secular homes. This may help explain why 23% of adults in the U.S. claim to have no religion, and more than 30% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say the same.

The obvious question raised by these statistics is the ultimate fate of the children raised by nonbelievers. Can they possibly turn out to be upstanding, moral citizens without experiencing prayers at mealtimes and morality lessons at Sunday school? Without being warned that God is watching them?

Evidently, they can.

Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology.

When Bengston noticed the growth of nonreligious Americans becoming increasingly pronounced, he decided in 2013 to add secular families to his study in an attempt to understand how family life and intergenerational influences play out among the religionless.

He was surprised by what he found: High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

“Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study,” Bengston told me. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

As the writer of the article noted, nonreligious family life has its own sustaining moral and ethical values, including “rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of ‘questioning everything’ and, far above all, empathy.”

The article concludes with a summary of social science research: