Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

Magazine kills two pieces that criticized Dolan for flattering Trump

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We live in a time when major institutions are failing us left and right. And as you know, with my communitarian leanings, that concerns me greatly.

But at the moment, I’m concerned about the Roman Catholic Church in America. I don’t write about that all that much for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to be misunderstood, and so much that I might comment on is apparently very difficult for nonCatholics to fully understand, for a lot of reasons. (And no, I’m not saying nonCatholics are dumb. I’m saying the way these things get framed by nonCatholic media make conversations difficult and often counterproductive.) So my concerns could be seen as meaning something they do not.

Secondly, I just don’t feel educated enough myself to comment coherently and intelligently. I just don’t know enough about the clash of ideas in and around the Church. I lack the expertise — or at least, the confidence — of, say, a Ross Douthat. I think I disagree with Douthat about a lot of things, but I don’t feel equal to contesting him. (His columns about Church matters start in a place where people who have read a lot of books I haven’t read dwell, and take off into real esoterica from that point.)

I think I agree far more often with my friend Steven Millies. I know Steven from having served with him for years on the committee that has run the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lectureship at USC. We got to be friends, serving on some panels together, and usually sat together during the dinners the committee had on lecture nights, so we could catch up. Steven is an academic, and is now the director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Anyway, awhile back Steven started writing regularly for U.S. Catholic. I signed up for the magazine’s regular email alerts, which caused me to read some of their content, although I was mostly looking for stuff by Steven. I never really formed a full impression of the journal itself, and I only learned in the last couple of days that it was published by the Claretians — something that means little to me, but might mean a good deal to Douthat and Steven.

This past week, Steven wrote a piece that National Catholic Reporter has since characterized as “critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.” I didn’t know about Dolan’s comments, so when I saw the link to the piece in an email from U.S. Catholic, and then saw it was by Steven, I read the column with particular interest.

I noticed that the magazine was also promoting a piece by another writer addressing the same comments by Dolan (and others), headlined, “President Trump cannot have the Catholic endorsement,” followed by the blurb, “Politics is the duty of the laity—not the clergy.” I didn’t read that, I now regret — just Steven’s piece, headlined “Cardinal Dolan’s public flattery of Trump forgets a few things.” An excerpt:

I wonder whether the U.S. Catholic bishops have crossed a sort of Rubicon recently.

When their Roman predecessor, the general Julius Caesar, brought his army illegally over the Rubicon River, he set in motion the events that ended the Republic and saw him presented with a crown. “The die is cast,” he is reputed to have said as he marched his army toward Rome: there was no going back. What he had done could not be undone and it would change the shape of history.

I do not think that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan is in any danger of being crowned emperor (or, anything else). But I do believe that his public flattery of President Donald Trump from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on Fox News may prove to be a moment from which American Catholicism cannot turn back….

When I finished, I wrote to Steven to compliment the piece, but also (I confess as an unreconstructed editor) to quibble about something he said in passing about Caesar — something irrelevant to his point. But mostly, I wrote to praise him. As I told him at the time:

I had not heard about what Dolan did until I read this. It is highly disturbing. It really should not be this easy to buy the political influence of our church. Of course, Democrats have done all they can to help this happen. It’s a failure of all sorts of institutions. But of them all, I care about the failure in the Church most…

Steven acknowledged the minor Caesar problem. I looked later (in part checking to see how he had changed it), and… the piece was gone. I clicked on my original link, and all I got was what you see in the image below.

I checked with Steven, and that’s when I learned that his piece had been, as National Catholic Reporter would later say, “unpublished.” So had the other piece by political scientist Stephen Schneck.

At first, Steven asked me to hold off on writing about it, hoping that U.S. Catholic would simply change its mind. That didn’t happen, and when the story broke in National Catholic Reporter, he told me “the lid is off.” An excerpt from NCR:

U.S. Catholic magazine, a storied national outlet published by the Claretian Missionaries, has quietly unpublished from its website two recent articles that were critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.

Users who click the separate links to the articles, originally published around April 29 and April 30, are now greeted with a note that reads “You are not authorized to access this page.”…

Now, I should say this before someone else does: I’ve looked at what Dolan said publicly, and on its own, I don’t find it that shocking. What he said during Mass, with the president watching, was mostly relatively neutral. If you want to give the cardinal a break, you might say it was the usual thing you might offer an elected leader: Hey, we are encouraged to pray for our leaders, and we do, and that includes you, and we thank you for being with us.

You know, the kind of thing a smart religious leader might say when he’d like to see some stimulus money go to Catholic schools.

But it’s more cringe-inducing to see him schmoozing with “Fox and Friends” about his awesome interactions with the president, and to hear him tell them, “I’m in admiration of his leadership.”

It’s bad enough that Trump got as many Catholic votes as he did in 2016. The last thing we need is to see a cardinal even imply that Trump being elected was a good thing. We should expect more from our faith leaders than craftiness with regard to school funding. We have a right to expect something higher than Trumpian transactionalism.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that our leaders will point to the obvious: That nominating certain judges does not make you pro-life — at least, not according to any definition that native Columbian Cardinal Bernardin would have recognized.

As Steven noted:

Dolan forgot other things, too. He forgot children separated from their parents at our border, being kept in cages and sleeping on cold, concrete floors. He forgot the physical and sexual abuse that many of those children have suffered because of the Administration’s disinterest in policing the foster care system they made necessary. He forgot the racist and xenophobic language that Trump deploys routinely to do the other thing that Dolan forgot: Trump’s main preoccupation is not to build up the political community toward the common good, but to divide us so he can conquer.

What’s regrettable is that those of us who attended the same Catholic schools that Dolan may have been trying to save do remember those things. And, we see why it is problematic for a Catholic bishop to forget them. Being formed in our faith, we see the ugly transaction at work here….

Yes, we do. And we have every reason to be disturbed when someone in a lofty position in our church admires that sort of leadership.

And it’s further disturbing to see anyone who points that out silenced — especially in a way that gives us no reasoning. If I had done something like that as editorial page editor, you’d have seen a public airing of all the issues involved. It would have been the subject of, at least, a column in the paper, and plenty of public discussion on my blog.

To see those pieces “disappeared” without explanation is very unsettling.

The good news is that NCR has not only reported on this, but published the two pieces. So everyone can read them and decide what they think about them. Here’s Steven’s, and here is the piece by Schneck.

That much I’m glad to see.

U.S. Catholic

‘That’s it! I vote we continue to be hunter-gatherers…’

That tiny square of ground is what inspired these musings.

That tiny square of ground under the shovel is what inspired these musings.

My wife is the gardener. Always has been. She’s had an organic garden going since the first time we were in a house rather than an apartment. At our current location, which is cursed with hard clay, she grows vegetables in small, raised beds.

Consequently, she just goes out to pick our food daily. Depending on what’s in season — and almost any time of the year, there are various greens going that she can go trim from and make a salad.

Which is nice.

So this year, as I have done in previous years but not followed up on it, I voiced a wish to grow something myself: okra. With me, it’s always okra.

I’ve grown other things in the past during my own brief forays into agriculture. But whenever I think, what vegetable do I want more of?, it’s pretty much always okra. Also, it’s not that hard to grow, and you don’t have insane stuff happening like smut growing on your corn.

Anyway, this year my wife took me up on my idle assertion, and — using the authority vested in her as agriculture commissioner of our household — granted me the use of one of her boxes. But I’d have to dig a new bed for it. That is, before purchasing and filling the box with bagged soil from the store (the only place to get serious dirt when you live on “land” like ours), I would have to use one of our mattocks to bust up a section of lawn.

I, of course, being a thoroughly modern fellow, suggested borrowing our older son’s tiller that he bought last year (he’s a pretty serious gardener himself, blessed with sandy soil — recently, he even started keeping chickens). My wife said all the rocks in our clay would probably break his tiller, and I agreed that she probably had a point.

So I spent a fairly lengthy amount of time Saturday bent over almost completely (the mattock has a short handle), chopping and chopping and chopping up the clay, and then grabbing handfuls of loosening grass and trying to shake the clay loose from it.

And I kept thinking… well, you member recently I told you about reading Guns, Germs and Steel? It deals at great length with what caused different human populations to develop differently, and why when the nations of Europe started spreading around the world in the 16th century, they ran into a lot of cultures that were still hunter-gatherers. The book did a lot of explanation — and speculation — about how and why those cultures developed the way they did when they did.

One of the main themes of author Jared Diamond is refuting the racist assumptions that had such currency in the 19th century about why European cultures “advanced” so far beyond those of more “primitive” people. Basically, he demonstrates that it was mostly a matter of luck of the draw — having the right, domesticable plant and animal species in a given area being one of the greatest determinants. Because everything that came later — writing, technology, complex political structures, etc. — depended on how early and how successfully you adopted agriculture.

I was convinced of the rightness of his propositions, with a caveat: I suspect there are some people who just didn’t want to give up hunter-gathering.

And as my mattock rose and fell, and as I fought off dizziness every time I straightened up for a moment while tilling the soil in a manner not far removed from the techniques of the Stone Age, I kept thinking that were I a member of a pre-agricultural band or tribe or whatever, I would be that guy.

I’d be the guy saying, Yes, you make excellent points about the advantages of settling down and growing our own food and forming more complex social arrangements and initiating a technological process that will ultimately lead to HD televisions. And I particularly like the point made by Ogg over here that if we start growing crops, we can then make beer. A good supply of beer would be nice to have while watching our HD televisions. Especially if we have developed the refrigerator. It’s an appealing vision of the future, I’ll admit.

And as you know — I mention it often enough — I’m a communitarian kind of guy. I like the idea that we would have to work together to build such infrastructure as elaborate irrigation systems for our crops — and that to do that, we’d have to have structures for cooperating such as governments. That’s very much in my wheelhouse.

But think about it: Don’t we have cooperation now, in a truly meaningful way? I mean, come on, guys — we all know that no one of us can bring down a mastodon alone! We have to work together — Ogg in front of the mastodon distracting him, Thrag and his brothers on the flanks to drive their spears into its sides, and me standing on a nearby hill offering helpful suggestions. You know, as Karl over here keeps saying, “from each according to his ability”…

And what about when those yahoos from across the valley attack our camp, trying to take some of our women so they can diversity their feeble, stagnant gene pool? We need all the spears and clubs that can come running. That’s way communal.

But if we settle down and start farming, next thing you know we’ll have villages, then towns, then cities. And we’ll have ever more elaborate institutions to direct and organize our affairs. And you know what that means:

  • First think you know, libertarians will start cropping up, absurdly claiming that they can make it on their own without collective effort.
  • Then before you know it, there’ll be a Tea Party.
  • Then, as sure as can be, Trumpism will arrive, and you’ll know the whole thing has grown decadent, possibly beyond saving.
  • Finally, some jackass like this guy will arise.

None of us wants that. So let’s put down these stone implements before we get a blister, and go out on a hunt, how about it? Who’s with me? (I go running off like Bluto in “Animal House”…)

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking while I was digging out that raised bed. And it was only about four or five feet square. Imagine if it had been an acre. It would have inspired me to write War and Peace, if I survived it…

Finally, Michelle Goldberg gets it! For a moment…

argument

For close to a year, I’ve been listening regularly to the NYT’s podcast “The Argument,” starring three of the paper’s op-ed writers.

There are two people on the left — David Leonhardt and Michelle Goldberg — and one on the right, Ross Douthat.

That may sound a bit lopsided, and for me it is, but not in the way you think. Week after week, I agree to varying degrees with liberal Leonhardt and conservative Douthat, and get really frustrated and turned off by the views of Michelle Goldberg.

One reason for that is that she’s always dissing my man Joe. It started before he got into the race last year, with her strongly expressing her wish that he NOT get in the race. After that, she continued to be a prominent voice among the nattering nabobs of the left competing to see who could be more dismissive of the former VP.

It’s not that she hated him. It’s just that she, you know… dismissed him. She was all like, Oh, good old Uncle Joe; he’s a sweet guy and I can put up with him at the family gatherings, but we all know he’s past it, and he has no business getting back in the game — the poor guy’s going to break a hip or something. And he just doesn’t get the world of today…

And as I walk about downtown listening to these podcasts, I’m like, No, YOU don’t get it…

But today, I finally got around to listening to yesterday’s podcast, which was about Joe’s triumphs of the last few days, and finally, she got it! She was awesome in the degree to which she got it, and how well she expressed it. I had to go back and listen again to write down some of the great things she was saying, starting with…

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg

So much of what we’ve been talking about the last few months, especially in the debates, has been irrelevant.

People… care less about the details of, you know, how we’re going to pay for universal healthcare, or Medicare for all vs. Medicare for all who want it.

There are people who really care about that stuff. But what most people care about is, you know, the house is on fire; how are you going to put it out, not how are you going to rebuild afterwards….

Yes! Absolutely! I’ve been so impatient with all the idiots out there talking about this process in terms of who got off the greatest zingers in last night’s debate, or how Elizabeth “I’ve got a plan for that” Warren was going to pay for those plans, or whatever…

Who cared? I didn’t. Because the house is on fire! Stop talking about rearranging the furniture!

Also, too many people fail to get that the problem isn’t this plan or that plan of Bernie Sanders. The problem is Bernie Sanders, and the way he and too many of his followers conduct themselves. And a moment later, Ms. Goldberg said some awesome things about that:

I don’t think the Sanders movement understands how alienating it is to people who aren’t already on board with it, or maybe to people who are on board with maybe 85 percent or 90 percent of what they believe.

There’s a sort of paranoid style in that movement…

I’ve been around the left long enough to know that the left has always attracted a certain number of people who, um… you know, who are sort of just in it for the reeducation camps, right?…

Left-wing movements kind of succeed or fail to the degree that they can, you know, marginalize or quarantine those figures…

Yes! Absolutely! You get it! Paranoid style!

When she made that crack about the re-education camps, I laughed out loud, right there in the middle of the household goods department in Belk. (On rainy days, I tend to go do my afternoon walk in the nearly empty Richland Mall, rather than walking across the USC campus and around the Statehouse.)

And one of the guys on the show — I think it was Leonhardt — laughed, too. It was so perfect, so dead-on.

You go, Michelle!

But then, later in the show, she said she was going to vote for Bernie instead of Joe.

And suddenly the member of the trio I love to boo was back. I’m just briskly walking into Barnes and Noble shaking my head. I can’t believe it…

It’s alright, I guess. Most of the world came around and backed Joe this past week. Some people just take a little longer. No way to speed it up without, you know, re-education camps…

Friedman idea no. 2: The GOP died last week

Here’s the less pleasant item from that Friedman column I liked this morning.

I mentioned in my last post his idea that the Democrats should band together in a Team of Rivals that would defeat Trump in a landslide, and I think they would — if they could put aside their differences and do it.

Friedman even spelled out who should play what position on that team. When he was done, he set out another idea. He cited something John Boehner said back in 2018: “There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Taking off on that, Friedman wrote:

Friedman

Friedman

It’s actually not napping anymore. It’s dead.

And I will tell you the day it died. It was just last week, when Trump sacked [Acting Director of National Intelligence Joe] Maguire for advancing the truth and replaced him with a loyalist, an incompetent political hack, Richard Grenell. Grenell is the widely disliked U.S. ambassador to Germany, a post for which he is also unfit. Grenell is now purging the intelligence service of Trump critics. How are we going to get unvarnished, nonpolitical intelligence analysis when the message goes out that if your expert conclusions disagree with Trump’s wishes, you’re gone?

I don’t accept, but can vaguely understand, Republicans’ rallying around Trump on impeachment. But when Republicans, the self-proclaimed national security party — folks like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton — don’t lift a finger to stop Trump’s politicization of our first line of defense — the national intelligence directorate set up after 9/11 — then the Republican Party is not asleep. It’s dead and buried.

He’s right. If the party of principled men from Lincoln to John McCain hadn’t died already — when Trump became its standard-bearer, or when the Republican Senate rolled over for him on impeachment — this latest outraged surely would have marked the end.

As we mourn it, I’d like to raise another alarm: If the Democratic Party allows the same thing to happen to it that happened to the GOP in 2016 — letting an extremist with minority support gain its nomination because the majority couldn’t line up behind a single more moderate candidate — it’s going to be on its last legs, too.

If our nation is faced with the horrific choice “between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath,” as Friedman describes it, both parties will have failed the country.

At that point, instead of having two near-center parties that have the potential to govern with something approaching consensus — or at least acceptance by the people — we’ll have zero.

Friedman idea no. 1: the Team of Rivals

It worked for Lincoln.

It worked for Lincoln.

Earlier today I mentioned that Tom Friedman had a really good column today in The New York Times.

I noted that he said that if we are forced to choose “between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath, we will be in a terrible, terrible place as a country.”

Very true. The nice thing is, he offered a way out of that.

It’s far-fetched — it would require a very diverse groups egos to set aside their personal ambitions for the good of the country — but at least it’s an idea that would work if they did. And I think Friedman’s not exaggerating when he says, “Dems, You Can Defeat Trump in a Landslide.

Basically, it’s this: form a Team of Rivals, as Lincoln did in a previous time of national crisis. Put all those Democratic candidates, those still running and some of those who have dropped out, on the team. Bring all their strengths together and let them compensate for each others’ weaknesses.

It’s a great idea now as it was in Lincoln’s day (although when I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, I kept wishing for a time machine so I could go back in time and slap Salmon Chase upside the head — that guy was a major pain).

Friedman got one thing wrong: He supposes the head guy would be either Sanders or Bloomberg. I’m still holding out for Joe. But he also assigned Cabinet positions to Sanders and Bloomberg, since he hadn’t made his mind up on which is president.

And he made a call that supports my position: He picked Joe for secretary of state, because “No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe.” Absolutely, which is why he needs to be president — because nothing in the POTUS job description is more important than dealing with the rest of the world.

This is a variation, and elaboration, on an idea I put forward several months ago: I suggested that Joe persuade Barack Obama to be his secretary of state, and tell the country that right away. It would clarify things in Democrats’ minds — and in other people’s as well.

But yeah — if you couldn’t have Joe as president, then secstate would be the job for him.

Anyway, the overall idea is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

That’s one idea from the Friedman column. The other is less uplifting, but must be faced. And it’s important enough that I’m writing a separate post about it.

Worst headline of the day (but not a bad column, actually)

David Brooks almost ruined my day this morning:

But then I read the column, and it was pretty good.

That’s because in setting out why he thinks this is so, he makes it clear why we must do all we can to keep the headline from coming true.

Let me see if I can excerpt enough of the argument without the Fair Use police coming after me (and I urge you to do what I do, and subscribe to the NYT — it’s worth it for the podcasts alone, not to mention the excellent op-ed stuff):

Successful presidential candidates are mythmakers. They don’t just tell a story. They tell a story that helps people make meaning out of the current moment; that divides people into heroes and villains; that names a central challenge and explains why they are the perfect person to meet it.Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

In 2016 Donald Trump told a successful myth: The coastal elites are greedy, stupid people who have mismanaged the country, undermined our values and changed the face of our society. This was not an original myth; it’s been around since at least the populist revolts of the 1890s. But it’s a powerful us vs. them worldview, which resonates with a lot of people.

Trump’s followers don’t merely believe that myth. They inhabit it. It shapes how they see the world, how they put people into this category or that category. Trump can get his facts wrong as long as he gets his myth right. He can commit a million scandals, but his followers don’t see them as long as they stay embedded within that myth.

Bernie Sanders is also telling a successful myth: The corporate and Wall Street elites are rapacious monsters who hoard the nation’s wealth and oppress working families. This is not an original myth, either. It’s been around since the class-conflict agitators of 1848. It is also a very compelling us vs. them worldview that resonates with a lot of people….

A couple of my interlocutors here tried to say earlier that in my support of Biden makes me the same as a Bernie Bros — other side of the same coin.

Nope. Bad use of a metaphor. The type who dwells in that plane, serving as the other side of the same thing, wears a MAGA hat. Biden is nowhere near that coin. Us-vs.-them is not his way. He doesn’t want to divide us; he wants to pull us all together — or at least give us all a hug. And let me stick up for the rest of the candidates on that score as well. Except for Elizabeth Warren, who essentially is pushing the Bernie myth, sans Bernie.

Why do more moderate, less divisive candidates struggle to get past Bernie? Because they “haven’t organized their worldview into a simple compelling myth.” With the emphasis on “simple.” Joe and Pete and Amy see nuance, and they don’t pretend otherwise. They want to lead us out of this morass of division, not further into it.

Brooks has been spending his time lately away from the rallies, observing actual people where they live, and he has seen people coming together to try to solve the problems they see in their communities. He sees people gathering, or trying to in the face of currents that pull us apart.

Meanwhile:

These gathering efforts are hampered by rippers at the national level who stoke rage and fear and tell friend/enemy stories. These efforts are hampered by men like Sanders and Trump who have never worked within a party or subordinated themselves to a team — men who are one trick ponies. All they do is stand on a podium and bellow….

And that must be defeated, wherever it crops up on the ideological spectrum.

This is yet another column where Brooks proves himself to be our most communitarian prominent public intellectual. And I believe as he does that the way forward involves pulling together around the things that unite us — whether they are our problems or our blessings.

The best political speeches try to do the same thing. See Bill Clinton’s 2012 convention speech, or … well, there was an Obama speech that I thought did many of the same things, and I’m having trouble finding it. But I appreciated that in that campaign, he offered us a clear choice between being pulled apart and coming together.

Those are the drummers we should listen to. And I’m for Joe because he marches to that beat.

 

For what little NH is worth, Bernie got CRUSHED by the moderates

Bern

My NYT app this morning.

One can sometimes see why there are so many people in this country who can’t stand the news media.

I can get pretty peeved with them myself these days.

There are two phenomena that particularly irritating. Or maybe they’re just one:

  1. They have the attention span of goldfish.
  2. They have a mental block that keeps them from seeing the larger picture.

The last two weeks, it has been astounding the degree to which the media — both straight news and opinion — have been trapped in what’s happening right this second. It has always been thus, but the pace of reporting and the orientation toward social media has made the problem far, far worse.

Instead of a considered, consistent narrative over time, the picture we get of what’s happening is so immediate, it has no value beyond a few moments:

  • There are no results from Iowa!
  • There are still no results from Iowa!
  • Iowa is a disaster! This is the death of the Iowa caucuses!
  • No one should ever see results from Iowa as meaning anything again!
  • Wait! There are results from Iowa! Pete won!
  • No! Maybe Bernie won! This is hugely significant!
  • One thing’s for sure: Biden is toast!
  • Iowa didn’t settle anything, but New Hampshire will!
  • Oh, look, Bernie won! Bernie is triumphant! It’s settled! This is over!
  • No, wait! Klobuchar came in third! This is the big news!
  • One thing’s for sure: Since New Hampshire settles everything, Biden is toast!

Meanwhile, Biden was having a very nice rally here in Columbia before an enthusiastic crowd. And as a Biden support, I would prefer that he had done better among those uber-white people in Iowa and New Hampshire, but as far as I’m concerned, the race is just getting started.

Of course, when Joe wins here, we’ll be seeing:

  • A miracle! Biden’s not toast at all! He won one!
  • But he’s still damaged! Some black voters voted for other people!
  • Also, South Carolina means nothing because it’s TOO black!

And so forth.

And then, Super Tuesday will roll around, and South Carolina will be forgotten and it will be all about Bloomberg or something.

That’s the goldfish part.

The other thing is that so many people out there seem incapable of seeing what happens in this brief moments within any sort of larger context.

My favorite example of that today is a headline that trumpets, “Bernie Sanders Has Already Won,” followed by the subhead, “Whether he captures the White House or not, he has transformed the Democratic Party.”

Uh… no, he hasn’t. First, he didn’t do nearly as well as he did four years ago. I think it’s early to completely dismiss him, but if you go by that one bit of info, his time may have passed.

Second, and most importantly, if we’re going to draw conclusions based on something as thin as the New Hampshire vote, consider: The three candidates appealing to the moderates who utterly reject Bernie’s revolution got a total of 52.6 percent of the vote, compared to Bernie’s 25.7 percent.

They crushed him. They demolished him. They utterly rejected him. Even if you give him Elizabeth Warren’s 9 percent on the assumption that her voters might switch to Bernie, he got massacred.

The real story here is that the moderates just can’t make up their minds. If and when they do, we won’t be hearing any more about the triumph of Bernie.

I — and a lot of voters here in South Carolina — still believe that they would be wisest to line up behind Biden because he’s the one most likely to beat Trump. And nothing is more important than that.

They just haven’t wanted to accept that yet. I get it. I like Pete and Amy, too. But I’m going with the guy most likely to win. And I still remain hopeful that other moderates — sensible folk that they are — will reach that conclusion, too.

Not up to Congress to decide Trump’s fate? What utter nonsense

Removing the president is not the job Congress? This guy would beg to differ.

Removing a president is not properly the job of Congress? This guy would beg to differ.

I’ve been meaning to comment on a Frank Bruni column from last week, headlined “Of All Trump’s Defenses, This Is the Lamest,” with the subhed, “Only the voters can send the president packing? That’s a joke.”

Actually, that subhed is probably the best part, but the rest is pretty good, too. An excerpt:

Once the Senate concludes its trial of President Trump, it should go into recess. Until next January. The House, too. Lawmakers shouldn’t pass legislation, consider nominations or make any important decisions whatsoever: This is an election year, and the voters will soon weigh in on the direction of America. The nation’s business should await that judgment, lest members of Congress contradict it.

A ludicrous proposal? Indeed. But it’s in line with — and an extrapolation of — a favorite argument against Trump’s conviction and removal from office. His Republican supporters say that lawmakers shouldn’t speak for voters on such a crucial issue. To pre-empt the verdict at the ballot box, they say, is to subvert the people’s will.

Nice try. Lawmakers are elected specifically to speak for voters on crucial issues. That’s the system. That’s their job….

Absolutely, it’s their job. And it’s no one else’s, including the vaunted electorate’s.

From the start, Republicans have complained that the impeachment process is somehow illegitimate — either because it seeks to undo the 2016 election, or pre-empt the one this year, or both.

But we have this Constitution, you see, and it was written by some very, very smart people (smarter than the average modern voter, dare I say), who wanted the voters to have input into who ran things, but not necessarily the final say. So they created a finely balanced tension between governmental elements that were each chosen by differently formed constituencies that should check each other:

  • The House would be elected the way far too many people today think the rest of the government should be elected — directly by the people, and extremely often. House members would represent equal-sized chunks of the population.
  • The Senate would represent states, and would be chosen by those states’ legislatures. It was an excellent idea, although we threw away half of it with the 17th Amendment. The only part we kept was that they still represent the people of entire states. And… they’re elected for six years to shield them from political passions of the moment.
  • The president would be chosen by the Electoral College, but we’ve pretty much altered that beyond recognition. But we kept enough of its anti-democratic essence to allow Donald Trump to be elected despite Hillary Clinton having the majority of votes. So yay, elitism, right, my Republican friends?
  • The president and the Senate would choose justices together.

But to hear certain people talk, everything should be decided by the people, acting directly through their smartphones.

(Shudder.)

I’ve gotten to where I can’t bear to listen to the Republicans when they speak during the impeachment proceedings, because despite all the pernicious nonsense I’ve been subjected to in covering politics over the last few decades, I’ve never had my intelligence insulted to this degree.

I forced myself to listen to one idiot the other day who was ranting about how the Democrats wanted to tear up every ballot cast in the country in 2016. Really. He said that, despite the fact that MOST ballots were for Hillary Clinton. Presumably, those nasty Dems wouldn’t want to tear those up, if they’re as single-minded in pursuing partisan advantage as he seemed to assume.

Anyway, the Senate needs to go on and conduct a trial and do its job — even if that means acquitting Trump, as it almost certainly will.

And in the meantime, hand me no lies about how this is NOT the job of Congress. It is, precisely. And it’s no one else’s.

There’s plenty of time to hear from the voters between now and November.

Is originality dead? For that matter, did it ever exist?

all the tees

This morning there was this huge Google Adsense ad spread across the top of my blog, right under the header (this one), for something called “Chummy Tees.”

There was no picture, so, wondering what was being promoted on my blog, I Googled the company (I didn’t dare click on the ad, as Google forbids me to do that). And I saw, among the rather plain, gray tee shirts being promoted, one that said “SURELY NOT EVERYONE WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING.”

And that cracked me up. I might be meaningless to people too young to remember the song, but I loved it. A perfect low-key joke for, say, an editor — someone who has spent most of his adult life keeping reporters from making extravagant statements that can’t be backed up. (Which is another way of saying you might not find it funny, but I do.)

I kind of liked this one, too.

I kind of liked this one, too.

I wasn’t going to shell out $23.95 for the shirt, of course. I’m neither crazy nor made of money. But… maybe I’d like to put it on my Amazon list. So I go to Amazon — I didn’t have to hunt for it because I already had a pop-up window from Amazon begging me to go there for such shirts — and it seems that while everyone may not be kung fu fighting, everyone seems to make a sure with that line (although all these used “everybody” instead of “everyone,” which is truer to the song).

And it got me to thinking, and not for the first time, that in the Internet age, we are no longer allowed to delude ourselves into thinking we have had an original thought. You think of something clever — something that in eras past you would have congratulated yourself for coming up with, convinced that you were quite the wag — and then for whatever reason you Google it, and you find out an army of people got there before you.

And this is frustrating. It fosters fatalism — why even TRY to come up with something good?, you ask yourself.

Yesterday on a podcast I was listening to, there was a discussion of the many ways that the internet casts a pall on our lives, bringing ills previously unimagined, and making us dread the future.

Add this to the list. It takes any small attempt to be original, and slams it to the ground.

And it makes you doubt there was ever anything such as originality. We may have thought we were clever, but that’s because we didn’t have the Web to set us straight. Each time you patted yourself on the back for a happy thought back in, say, 1975, there were a million other people out there having the same thought and thinking they were clever, too.

And we were all happier…

chummy

State Chamber takes on Act 388. I wish it luck and success

A chart the Chamber shared in context of the issue. Source: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence 2019

A chart the Chamber shared in context of the issue. Source: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence 2019

I’m kind of busy at the moment, so I’m not going to rehash all the reasons why Act 388 was an execrable piece of legislation that distorted our state’s system of taxation and made it both unfair and ineffective.

You can go back and read where I’ve done it before.

But while I’m thinking about it, I wanted to make sure you read Ted Pitts’ op-ed on the subject in The Post and Courier. Ted — my former House member — is the head of the state Chamber, so naturally he’s against something that shifted so much of our tax burden from owner-occupied homes to businesses.

I particularly appreciate that in this piece, he emphasizes the extreme regressivity of the Act, causing renters to pay as much as three times as much in property taxes as homeowners do.

Anyway, just go read the whole piece. His column refers in the lede to a recent column on the subject by Cindi. Read that, too.

Both of them, being astute and fair-minded observers, see Act 388 as one of the worst things our Legislature has done so far this century.

They’re right. That doesn’t mean anything’s going to happen. It should, and Ted is right to point to the current discussions about how we fund schools as a great opportunity. But it’s a tall order. Act 388 is the kind of dumb, irresponsible legislation that makes lawmakers popular with some of their loudest constituents. The voice of reason seldom shouts that loud.

So, where do you stand on carrying the bat to first base?

bregman

Here’s a little thought experiment…

Earlier, some of you expressed disapproval of the crowd booing Trump at the World Series Sunday night, while others defended it.

Contemplating another Series controversy from last night’s game (and not the disagreement that led to the Nationals’ manager being ejected — it was quite a game), it occurs to me that it might be a sort of related issue.

I’d like to see y’all’s positions on the booing thing alongside your positions on whether it was OK for Alex Bregman and Juan Soto to carry their bats to first base after hitting home runs.

I have this theory that people who were disturbed by the booing would also disapprove of the bat-carrying, both being violations of certain standards of behavior. Likewise, anyone likely to approve of the “Lock him up” chant would be more inclined to let those young ballplayers strut a bit.

Me, I disapprove of both. I see both within a context of society fraying, becoming less civilized.

You?

soto

Is Donald Trump our ‘most honest president?’

"Believe me..."

“Believe me…”

Frank Bruni reminds me of this point I’ve been thinking about making for two or three years now, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.

We know that no one who has ever held the office of president — in our lifetimes, at the least — utters more falsehoods that this guy. Certainly, no one can boast more “Four Pinocchio” scores (OK, I tried to back that up with a link, and Google failed me. Oh, I saw that the Post had to come up with a new “Bottomless Pinocchio” just for him, and that in 2018 they broke his falsehoods into two categories to keep him from dominating the standings, but I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I think what I’m running into is the ancient horror journalists have of saying someone or something is the most anything ever — because someone might always come up with a worse example.).

He seems the personification of the old gag, “How can I tell when he’s lying? His mouth’s moving.”

The thing is, though, what if he’s not lying, technically? What if he actually believes all of these laughably false things that he asserts with such vehemence? The guy’s not terribly bright, and he’s such a narcissist that it’s possible that he convinces himself that any assertion that is helpful, or that he perceives as helpful, to Donald Trump is automatically true.

There’s plenty we can point to that supports this position on the matter. How else do you explain, just to grab a recent example, his repeated assertion that his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect?” Or that the whistleblower (remember the whisteblower, that guy whose role in all this long ago became redundant in light of subsequent revelations, a fact that has not yet penetrated the Donald’s skull?) is peddling untruths. He continues to assert both of these things even though the rough transcript the White House itself released shows him to be obviously wrong on both counts. Not to mention all of the subsequent revelations that show that phone call to be just one piece of a large, consistent pattern.

Maybe you want to say he’s crazy rather than dumb. Either way, you can say his ability to discern the truth is severely limited.

So in that case, is he a liar? Don’t you have to mean to lie for it to count?

Anyway, I’m thinking about this again after reading the recent Frank Bruni column headlined “‘Human Scum,’ ‘Lynching’ and Trump’s Tortured English.” (Subhed: “The president needs a thesaurus and a therapist, though not necessarily in that order.”)

It’s another piece addressing a thing that probably explains as well as anything why people who work with words tend to see Trump as dumb, while it is less obvious to certain other people:

The other day he turned to the bounteous trove of the English language for a pejorative worthy of his critics’ awfulness, at least as he sees it. He decided on “human scum.”

He sought to capture the horror and injustice befalling him. What he came up with was “lynching.”

There’s being crude with language, there’s being loose with it, and then there’s being Trump, who uses words the way a toddler does marbles, grabbing the ones that are most bluntly colorful and tossing them into the air just because he can.

Trump is as inept at English as he is at governing. He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue….

And so on. But the passage that prompts this post is this:

I’ve written before that Trump, “in terms of the transparency with which he shows us the most eccentric and ugliest parts of himself,” may inadvertently be “the most honest president in my lifetime.” His language is obviously central to that. It’s a glimpse into his fury and fears…

Which is slightly different from what I said above. Basically, Bruni is saying that no matter how untrue and badly chosen his words are, the emotion behind them reveals the true Trump.

My point is that maybe we can’t label Trump’s perpetual flow of falsehoods as lies, because he really doesn’t know any better.

Either way, Trump comes across as less dishonest than a mere examination of facts would suggest.

What do y’all think?

 

The greater wonder is that there are people who don’t see it, or don’t care, or both

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Just this morning I got around to reading Frank Bruni’s Sunday column, which begins:

The wonder of the Trump administration — the jaw-dropping, brain-exploding phantasmagoria of it — is that it doesn’t bury its rottenness under layers of counterfeit virtue or use a honeyed voice to mask the vinegar inside. The rottenness is out in the open. The sourness is right there on the surface for all to see.

It’s at the president’s rallies, where he plays a bigot for laughs, a bully for applause.

It’s in the ballrooms and beds at Mar-a-Loco, where he mingles official government business with free marketing for his gilded club.

It’s in the transcript of his phone call with the president of Ukraine, for whom the quid, the pro and the Biden-ravaging quo couldn’t have been clearer.

It’s at the microphone in the White House briefing room, where his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, showed up on Thursday, announced that President Trump would host the next G7 meeting at one of his own golf resorts, and conceded that, yes, aid to Ukraine had been tied to that country’s indulgence of the president’s political obsessions….

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, all right — in that we’ve never in American history seen anything like this.

But you know what is a greater wonder? The fact that there are all these people out there — Republican officeholders, and the “base” that terrifies them — who don’t see it, or claim not to see it, no matter how many times Trump slaps them in the face with it, compelling him to look.

People still defend him, in spite of all.

That’s the wonder of it…

Doesn't it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?...

Doesn’t it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?…

Top Five History-Based Holiday Ideas

big shoe

The controversy over Columbus Day got me to thinking of history-based holidays we could have, if only we thought a little harder. They’re not in order of preference, but in calendar order:

  1. Rubicon Day — OK, so this didn’t happen in America. But Julius Caesar’s decision to cross that creek with his troops had a huge effect on something that matters to Americans. It ended the last republic we would see for 1,000 years. But I’m also thinking we could have some fun with it. We could have toga parties each Jan. 10, and go around saying “iacta alea est” to each other. Maybe not your idea of a good time, but maybe we could make a drinking game out of it.
  2. British Invasion Day — No, it’s not about 1814. It’s about 1964, and this holiday would be pure fun. We’d celebrate it on February 9, the day the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We’d all play music by the Beatles, the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and so forth. We’d have theme parties in which we’d all dress like the invaders, and go around saying “gear” and “fab.” And if you said bad things about the holiday, we’d all say you were “dead grotty.”
  3. Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12 — Yes, bring it back, and repeal this “President’s Day” nonsense, in order to drive home the fact that he was our greatest president, and is largely responsible for America being America, having thrown off its original sin via that war that we fight on until the slave states’ unconditional surrender — and making sure it didn’t end until the 13th Amendment was passed, so that all that bloodshed served a purpose. Sorry about the run-on sentence…
  4. Smallpox Day — This is sort of related to the idea of “Indigenous People’s Day,” but I actually have three reasons to mark the day. First, it seems to me that the most horrific public health disaster in human history (way bigger than the Black Death) was back in the 16th century when 95 percent of the native population was wiped out by European diseases for which they had no resistance — usually before the victims had even encountered the Europeans. Something so awful should be remembered. My second reason is celebratory — celebrating the fact that we’ve been so successful at wiping out the disease that a rite of passage of my childhood, the “vaccination” (that’s what we called it; we didn’t know what it was for), is unknown to today’s children. Third, as a warning — that it could come back some day, and we need to fully prepared to wipe it out again if it does. This would be on May 17, the birthday of Edward Jenner.
  5. Independence Day, July 2 — So that we’d be celebrating the actual day that Congress voted to declare independence, not the day that the document’s final edits were approved. This is personal, because John Adams is my fave Founder, and this was day that HE thought should be celebrated, after his weeks of hard work arguing the Congress into taking this momentous step — debate during which Thomas Jefferson, who gets the glory, sat there like a bump on a log. Harrumph…
One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

Temple Ligon still pushing The Bridge

It’s really something when someone has a idea he really believes in, and never, ever gives up.

Remember Temple Ligon’s plan to build a convention center on a bridge across the Congaree? He’ll be talking about The Bridge again tonight, more than 30 years after he first proposed it:

Tomorrow night, Friday, beginning at 6:00 pm at the Columbia Empowerment Center on Lady Street, we’ll have a lecture on The Bridge. What began as a response to the city’s request for proposals in the spring of 1987 is now part of a major real estate development proposal that includes a five-star hotel, a Jasper Johns museum, a performing arts compound inspired by Washington’s Kennedy Center, a suggested home for the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, and other features. Property taxes taken from the private development, mostly condominiums, out of what is now thin air over the Congaree River, can be collected as part of a tax increment bond financing development district to help build the cultural amenities. Low culture, you might say, can be exercised to support high culture. The Koger Center, an awful ballet theater and a terrible opera house – I was on the board of the Palmetto Opera for six years – stays where it is as a perfectly adequate symphony hall with a band shell that works. Still, renovation of the Koger Center is in the budget.Temple Ligon

Back in 1987, while the city was wondering what to do with a homeboy proposal of world’s first triumphal bridge in the modern era, the major hotel developer, Belz Hotels of Memphis, saw Columbia as an opportunity to build a Peabody and parade it’s ducks in the same class as the Peabody in Memphis and the Peabody in Orlando, both high-end properties. Belz committed in writing to Columbia City Council, Richland County Council, Lexington County Council, and West Columbia City Council. Copies of the Belz commitment will be available. Also available will be the blue ribbon committee report from the managing partner of South Carolina’s largest law firm, Nelson Mullins, which essentially said, “Build the Bridge.

In other words, The Bridge was wildly popular and eminently practical and thoroughly doable. It just didn’t have the initial support of the Honorable T. Patton Adams and later the support of the Honorable Robert D. Coble.

Even the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce was firmly on board. The membership was invited to vote their preference, which was reported as 65% for The Bridge, although the chamber director confided in me it was actually 75%.

So we almost had a done deal. As it turned out, we got a satisfactory convention center with good attendance and plans for expansion.

Fine. But who cares?

Now let’s get on with making a city. But who cares?

Everybody cares.

Brooks lists reasons why impeachment means trouble

David Brooks has a column today headlined “Yes, Trump Is Guilty, but Impeachment Is a Mistake,” with the subhed “This political brawl will leave Trump victorious.”

Yep. That’s quite likely. That’s why this is a bad place to be, if you want to get rid of Donald Trump.

Here’s the list of reasons Brooks offers:

  • “This will probably achieve nothing.” If you mean, he won’t be removed from office, you’re almost certain right. Two presidents in our history have been impeached, and neither was removed from office. There is no reason to think this time will be different — especially if you listen to the alternative-reality nonsense coming from the mouths of Senate Republicans.

    Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

    David Brooks

  • “This is completely elitist.” Brooks means inherently, in that you put Trump’s fate in the hands of 100 senators instead of the voters. But elitism comes into this another way: Some of the people out there saying Trump hasn’t done anything wrong actually think that. They are low-information people who subscribe to the “They all do it” school. You sort of have to have above-average understanding of the norms of diplomacy, politics, and presidential behavior to understand how stunningly unprecedented this is, and understand that if this isn’t impeachable, it becomes hard to imagine what would be.
  • “This is not what the country wants to talk about.” Well, no, it’s not what I want to talk about, either. I want to talk about why Joe Biden must be the Democratic nominee, and must be elected. Of course, if you mean the country wants to talk about football and reality TV, you lose me. I don’t feel obliged to respect apathy.
  • “Democrats are playing Trump’s game.” Oh, yeah. Indeed. The more divided the country is, the more this parasite thrives.
  • “This process will increase public cynicism.” Yeah, maybe, among the uninformed. And that’s a lot of people.
  • “This could embed Trumpism within the G.O.P.” This is an interesting argument, and it makes some sense. It goes this way: Electoral defeat will discredit Trumpism among Republicans (if it doesn’t just crush the GOP permanently). This will harden Trump’s position as being at the heart of the party, with all the loyalists gathered ’round him.
  • “This could distort the Democratic primary process.” Yep, and in unpredictable ways.

Of course, in the end, if I were a House member — of either party, or (my preference) no party — I don’t think I would feel like I had an alternative. Sure, you know he’s not going to be removed from office, and given that we’ve seen over and over that his supporters are impervious to reason, it will greatly increase his chances of being re-elected.

But the Constitution charges the House with a responsibility. And it’s hard for me to see how the House walks away from that responsibility, in light of what Trump has done. You can’t just act like, yeah, it’s OK to do that and still be president. You have to say, “No!”

This is a terrible moment to be a House member. And a worse moment for the country….

If you don’t like ‘The West Wing,’ who cares what you think?

If you don't like 'The West Wing,' you don't like America.

If you don’t like ‘The West Wing,’ you don’t like America.

Saw this in the Post this morning. The headline grabbed me: “A modest defense of ‘The West Wing’.”

First, it grabbed me because I’ll read anything about “The West Wing.” Ask Google; it knows this, based on the items it keeps showing me. Second, it grabbed me because someone thought it necessary to defend “The West Wing.” Finally, my mind was boggled by the idea that someone who thought it needed defending would would do so only modestly.

As I said on Twitter:

So anyway, I read the piece, and was not mollified. You can tell why from the subhed: “The show was not perfect, but it’s way better than 2019 Democrats remember it.”

Not perfect? Say, whaaaat?

First, my scorn was engaged because the people who criticize the show are apparently the kids who think AOC is cool, and conventional postwar liberalism sucks. They’re the ones who have no tolerance of anyone who disagrees with them about anything. They look forward to getting 50 percent plus 1 so they can cram their policy proposals down the world’s throat, and they blame their elders for having thus far failed to do that. They’re the ones who, laughably, think they discovered social justice and are qualified to lecture people who were alive in the ’60s about it.

They’re the ones who…

… minor digression here…

I’ve been watching the new Ken Burns series about country music, and thinking about writing about it, pondering what I like and don’t like about it (for instance, it concerns me that it only seems interested in Country as an economic phenomenon, starting with the first practitioners to have success with radio and recording, largely ignoring the centuries of folkways that went before). But before writing about it, I was curious what others were thinking. So when I saw there was a review on Slate, I eagerly read it.

The reviewer also has a problem with it. The problem is that it’s made by Ken Burns, “and his compulsion to transform conflict and difficulty into visions of reconciliation and unity is vintage white baby boomer liberalism.”

Oh, give it a rest, kids. That constitutes an argument?

Anyway, it’s people like that with whom the writer in the Post is remonstrating, oh, so gently.

And again, it needs no defense. The only question is, is “West Wing” the greatest TV show ever, or does something else edge it out?

I come down on the side of “greatest ever.” Or at least, greatest drama. Or at least, greatest drama ever in the last 20 years, this Golden Age.

As I said before, the Top Five are:

  1. “The West Wing”
  2. “Band of Brothers”
  3. “The Sopranos”
  4. “The Wire”
  5. “Breaking Bad”

At least, those were the Top Five, back in June. Since then, Bryan got me to start watching “Friday Night Lights,” and I’m really enjoying it (in spite of the, you know, football theme) during my morning workouts on the elliptical. In fact, I’m now in the middle of the 5th season, and sorry that it will be ending soon.

When it does, I’ll report back on whether it makes the Top Five. But I’ll tell you, “Breaking Bad” may be in trouble…

But will it make the Top Five?

It’s great, and I’m really digging it, but will it make the Top Five?

Further proof, in case you needed it, that Trump supporters are anything but ‘conservative’

Donald_Trump_rally_in_Cedar_Rapids_(June_2017)_09

Warning: This piece contains the word, “nihilism.” That’s for Doug, who hates it when I use that word in this context. But it’s the right word.

That’s why it was included in the subhed to this Thomas Edsall story, as follows: “Political nihilism is one of the president’s strongest weapons.”

Bottom line is, while you might call Trump voters many things, no one with a respect for the English language would call them “conservative.”

The Edsall piece is about a paper presented last week at the American Political Science Association. Guessing that y’all probably did not attend (while this sort of thing is Tom Edsall’s bag, baby), I thought I’d bring the paper to y’all’s attention. The title was “A ‘Need for Chaos’ and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies.”

We’ve all read elsewhere the assertion that people voted for Trump out of a deep-seated urge to blow up the system, but these two Danish political scientists, Michael Bang Petersen and Mathias Osmundsen, dug into the phenomenon more deeply that most. In short, they argue “that a segment of the American electorate that was once peripheral is drawn to ‘chaos incitement’ and that this segment has gained decisive influence through the rise of social media.”

Here’s the core of the piece:

How do Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux measure this “need for chaos”? They conducted six surveys, four in the United States, in which they interviewed 5157 participants, and two in Denmark, with 1336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.

  • I think society should be burned to the ground.

  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”

  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.

  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

Disturbing stuff. Like, “Helter-Skelter” disturbing. The piece continues:

In an email, Petersen wrote that preliminary examination of the data shows “that the ‘need for chaos’ correlates positively with sympathy for Trump but also — although less strongly — with sympathy for Sanders. It correlates negatively with sympathy for Hillary Clinton.”

In their paper, Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux contend that “the extreme discontent expressed in the ‘Need for Chaos’ scale is a minority view but it is a minority view with incredible amounts of support.”

The responses to three of the statements in particular were “staggering,” the paper says: 24 percent agreed that society should be burned to the ground; 40 percent concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn’ ”; and 40 percent also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we’re on about when we use the word “nihilism.”

Note the bit about Bernie. Most of us sensed that his 2016 campaign was driven by some of the same destructive energy that drove Trump’s, but this provides some further evidence on that point.

Anyway, it’s an interesting piece, and you might want to read the whole thing

Yep, young people think differently. And they’re wrong.

Reading Nicholas Kristof’s latest column this morning, “Stop the Knee-Jerk Liberalism That Hurts Its Own Cause,” I was reminded of several things. Such as, for instance, Bret Stephens’ column after the Democratic debates last week, “A Wretched Start for Democrats:”

In this week’s Democratic debates, it wasn’t just individual candidates who presented themselves to the public. It was also the party itself. What conclusions should ordinary people draw about what Democrats stand for, other than a thunderous repudiation of Donald Trump, and how they see America, other than as a land of unscrupulous profiteers and hapless victims?

Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country….

For liberals out there who want to dismiss whatever Stephens says because he’s a conservative, allow me to tell you why you’re wrong (I’m in that kind of mood): You should listen to Bret Stephens because he is the kind of person who will decide whether Donald Trump is re-elected. Stephens voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to try to stop Trump. (Several months later, he left The Wall Street Journal, where he was deputy editorial page editor, for The New York Times.)

Stephens has been begging Democrats to nominate someone he — and other conservatives, and independents — can vote for next year. Which is why his column before the one referenced above defended Joe Biden from the criticism he was getting over having worked with segregationists. Joe is a candidate, if not the candidate, non-Democrats can embrace. (The other candidates fell over each other trying to demonstrate that in the debates last week.) Which is an essential prerequisite to turning Donald Trump out of office.

But the association with the Stephens piece was based just on Kristof’s headline. As I got into the piece, I realize it had far more in common with a column written by David Brooks — another of the NYT’s in-house conservatives — two months ago. It was headlined “Understanding Student Mobbists.” I wanted to write about that one at the time, but it was hard to explain without quoting practically the whole thing, and I don’t want the NYT’s lawyers coming down on me for copyright infringement.

So before you read what I have to say about it, I urge you to go read the whole thing.

Then, I urge to go read all of Kristof’s latest piece.

Done? OK, then you probably see what I mean about them having a lot in common.

They’re both about how very, very differently “woke” young people in 2019 think about practically everything, but especially social justice issues. And when I say “think differently,” I don’t just mean holding different opinions, arriving at different conclusions. I’m saying the way they think is different — their brains operate in an entirely different fashion. The little cogs and gears turn in different directions, or whatever metaphor you prefer.

Both Brooks and Kristof bent over backwards to give the kids’ thought processes great deference (something the kinds of people they’re writing about would almost certainly not do with regard to the way these elders think), but neither quite succeeds in hiding how appalled he is.

That’s because the youthful phenomenon they’re discussing is a rejection, by the most fashionable current “progressives,” of fundamental principles of liberalism, principles upon which all the progress that Western civilization has yet achieved depend.

Some key excerpts from the Brooks piece:

I would begin my stab at understanding by acknowledging that I grew up in one era and they grew up in another. I came of age in the 1980s. In that time, there was an assumption that though the roots of human society were deep in tribalism, over the past 3,000 years we have developed a system of liberal democracy that gloriously transcended it, that put reason, compassion and compromise atop violence and brute force….

But certain things happened to cause the young to reject that worldview. The first was a reshaping of the way we talk about race. Then:

The second thing that happened was that reason, apparently, ceased to matter. Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivism — what perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.david-brooks-thumbLarge-v2

These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity….

If you were born after 1990, it’s not totally shocking that you would see public life as an inevitable war of tribe versus tribe…

A war being fought not within the moderating institutions of a liberal democracy, but in a Hobbesian state of nature, one assumes.

Anyway, let’s turn to the Kristof piece…

No, wait. First, I want to refer you to a podcast I heard not long after the Brooks piece ran, which provides a nice bridge. It was an episode of “Invisibilia” called, “The End Of Empathy.”

The role of Brooks and Kristof is played in this podcast by co-host Hannah Rosin. Again, if you have time (like, 52 minutes of time), you might want to listen to the whole thing. But to try to encapsulate it for you… A young contributor researched and presented a story for the podcast about a member of the “incel” movement who presents himself as having outgrown that, and is trying to move forward as something other than a woman-hater. But in the end, she — the contributor — can’t bring herself to see things his way and accept his version of himself.

“And why?” she asks. “Like, why should we see ourselves in him?”

Rosen’s partial response (the podcast goes on and on):

Why? Where did I get this idea that my job is to get you to empathize with a guy like Jack Peterson? When I was growing up, empathy was a kind of unquestioned thing. Like, of course, it was good. It was like puppies or sunshine….

I never thought of empathy as an ideology or creed, but I’ve since learned it was. Empathy was this obscure, psychobabble-y term up until the ’60s and ’70s. Social scientists and psychologists started to push it into the culture, basically, out of fear. Their idea was we were either headed for World War III or empathy. We were all going to kill each other or we were going to learn to see the world through each other’s eyes….

That’s what I learned about how you make the world better. Encounter a person you’re unfamiliar with or afraid of or even repulsed by. Don’t duck. Move closer. Figure out what they’re all about….

Starting 10 or 15 years ago, students just stopped buying the automatic logic of empathy. Like, why should they put themselves in the shoes of someone who is not them, much less someone they thought was harmful?

There’ve been surveys given to cross sections of high school and college students starting in the late ’60s….

And starting around 2000, the line starts to dip for all dimensions of empathy – either just understanding someone’s position, which is called perspective taking, and empathic concern, the one about tender feelings. More students start saying it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective….

Because if you do lose your conviction, you might not have the energy to march in the streets or get better laws to protect women from dangerous exes.

So the new rule is reserve it – not for your, quote, unquote, “enemies” but for the people you believe are hurt or you have decided need it the most – for the victims, for your own damn team. That’s how you make things better….

“Your own damn’ team.” That puts it pretty starkly. Lot of that going around… Now to the Kristof column. He writes of an argument that he had with his daughter while they were tossing around a football (I include that detail for those of you who thing we don’t have enough sports on this blog):

We were discussing a Harvard law professor, Ronald Sullivan. He had been pushed out of his secondary job as head of Harvard College’s Winthrop House after he helped give Harvey Weinstein, accused of sexual assault, the legal representation every defendant is entitled to.nicholas-kristof-thumbLarge-v2

To me, as a progressive baby boomer, this was a violation of hard-won liberal values, a troubling example of a university monoculture nurturing liberal intolerance. Of course no professor should be penalized for accepting an unpopular client.

To my daughter, of course a house dean should not defend a notorious alleged rapist. As she saw it, any professor is welcome to represent any felon, but not while caring for undergraduates: How can a house leader support students traumatized by sexual assault when he is also defending someone accused of rape?…

Progressives of my era often revere the adage misattributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” For young progressives, the priority is more about standing up to perceived racism, misogyny, Islamophobia and bigotry….

Kristof concludes:

As we head toward elections with monumental consequences, polarization will increase and mutual fear will surge. The challenge will be to stand up for our values — without betraying them.

I’ll do like Brooks and Kristof (who at least tried not to judge the young folks) to the extent of saying, of course you defend sexual assault victims, with all your might. But in doing so, you don’t throw out such liberal values as the right of the accused to counsel, or making the effort to see another person’s perspective, or trying to find common ground that you can build on.

If you reject those liberal values, and call yourself “progressive,” your brain isn’t working right. Which is why, in the end, I have to conclude that you’re wrong

OK, I have now heard the word ‘progressive’ used too many times. You can stop saying it now. Please…

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For many years, the word was “conservative.” It was said so often — generally by a politician seeking to ingratiate himself with people who don’t think much about words but for some reason love clinging to that one — that it was like fingernails on a blackboard for me.

It still is. It’s still hugely popular here in S.C., waved as a proud banner by people who have no business associating with the word — people who identify with Donald Trump or the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus or some other phenomenon that bears no relationship to the sobriety of actual conservatism.

It gets used as a password. It is brandished to say, “I am an acceptable person, like you.” It performs a function like that of the word “Christian” in the early 19th century — referring not to a set of religious beliefs, but to a state of being a normal, acceptable person of reasonable breeding and education, someone who knows the ropes of life in Western civilization. Patrick O’Brian used it to mild comic effect in his Aubrey/Maturin novels. The sailors in that world would lament the fact that the perpetual landlubber Stephen Maturin never could learn to board a ship “like a Christian,” which was to say, like a normal person of basic good sense. He was always contriving to fall into the water instead.

Anyway, “conservative” gets used kind of like that, only it’s more obnoxious.

I’ve tried dealing with it with humor, but sometimes it’s just not funny. Sometimes it’s downright nasty, used to try to separate the world into people who are acceptable and those who are not. In any case, it continues to occupy a lofty position on my list of peeves.

And now, another word is laboring mightily to catch up to it: “progressive.”

Again, it’s a slippery word. It’s meant many things, sometimes apparently contradictory things. It’s been attached to muckraking authors in the early 1900s, and Teddy Roosevelt. I also associate it with a sort of early- to mid-20th century form of pro-business boosterism, connecting capitalism with human “progress.” Then, 30 years or so ago (did it predate Reagan, or follow him?), it became something liberals called themselves because the rise of “conservative” came with a denigration of the otherwise innocent word “liberal.”

At that point, it seemed to be trying to suggest a particularly mild, moderate, nonthreatening form of liberalism, as in, “Don’t be scared! We’re not liberals; we’re just progressive!”

Now, it’s gone in another direction. Now, it’s used to refer to people for whom liberalism — certainly the beleaguered postwar liberal consensus — is not enough. It attaches to socialists, and socialist wannabes. It suggests a fierce, uncompromising leftward march. (And ominously, it suggests the element in the Democratic Party that seems determined to blow the nation’s chance of turning Donald Trump out of office in 2020.)

And it’s reached its saturation point with me.

This happened suddenly, while I was listening to a podcast while on a walk yesterday.

I was listening to an episode of “The Argument,” the NYT podcast featuring opinion writers David Leonhardt, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg. It was one that I’d missed a couple of weeks ago, featuring an extensive conversation with Pete Buttigieg.Buttigieg

I recommend you go listen to it. I learned some things about Buttigieg and formed a fuller opinion of him. In short, here’s what I’ve decided thus far: I like the guy, but when he talks specifics about policy, I disagree with him on one thing after another. (Which is bad from his point of view, since he likes to project himself as a substance-over-style guy.) And not just the wacky stuff, like expanding the Supreme Court, or (the horror!) the size of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Did I hear that last one right? I’m finding proposals to do that on Google, but not associated with Mayor Pete…)

Also — and I’d heard this before about him — while he talks a good game on getting past the Culture War, time and again it sounds like he believes the way to end the conflict is for everyone to accept that his side has won the arguments. He does this on a number of issues, but one that sticks in my mind is his bland assertion that the nation, and even folks in Alabama, are closer to his doctrinaire pro-choice position on abortion than they are to the recent anti-abortion measure passed there.

That one sticks in my mind because just that morning before hearing this, I had conincidentally read something by one of the hosts of The Argument, David Leonhardt. It was about the fact that polls show we are as divided as ever on abortion, that “Public opinion isn’t where either side wants it to be.” Look at the numbers. Clearly, no one — neither Buttigieg nor someone with a diametrically opposed position on the issue — should be congratulating himself or herself on having won that national argument.

But let’s get back to my point. Time and again, whenever the mayor wanted to speak of ideas or proposals or attitudes or people that were agreeable to him, he used that word: “progressive.” It seemed to sum up rightness and goodness for him, very neatly.

And at some point — I don’t know know exactly how many times he’d said it when this happened — I reached my saturation point. I’d heard the word too many times.

So, everyone do me a favor: If you want to propose an idea, argue the idea on its merits. Tell me why it’s a good idea. Telling me it’s “progressive” or “conservative” gets you nowhere with me, and in fact will dig you down into a hole you’ll have to work to climb out of.

Words should encourage people to think. But these two are used too often now as a substitute for thought, as a signal to members of a tribe that they shouldn’t bother straining their brains, because this idea has the official seal of approval.

I just thought I’d let y’all know where I am on this now…