Thursday, November 17, 2016

Politics as Religion: The Real Reason for the Anti-Trump Rallies

My most recent post at Intellectual Takeout:
The anti-Trump demonstrations we now see in the streets are not just examples of the immaturity of many modern secular liberals, who seem to think that everyone else is somehow obligated to agree with them. They’re also a symptom of the distorted influence politics now exercises over our culture. 
But in addition to being a symptom of our culture, the dominance of politics in every aspect of life is also a consequence of liberalism itself.
Read the rest here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

How an Ancient Philosopher Predicted the Outcome of the #2016Election

My newest post at Intellectual Takeout: 

Many people depend upon polls to predict the outcome of elections. What pollsters do appeals to all the prejudices of the post-Enlightenment modern mind: They employ a distinctive technique (thank you Rene Descartes), they focus on empirical evidence (thank you Francis Bacon), and they invoke the mathematical forms of statistics (thank you John Graunt and William Petty).  
But the responsibility for making an accurate prediction of this year's election might better have been put into the hands, not of a pollster, but a philosopher.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

You want racial politics? I'll give you racial politics

My newest post at Intellectual Takeout:

Get out the Doritos. Pop the top on your Bud Light. Go down to your man cave, plop down on your La-Z-Boy, invite your friends over and turn on the Packers game.

Here come the White people.

CNN commentator Van Jones, clearly upset by the results coming in last night, claimed that Democrats got “White-lashed.” In a way, he was right. But he has only himself to blame.

Read the rest here.

Tim Kaine compares the Democrat's plight to that of the defeated Confederacy

Tim Kaine compared the Democrat's political situation after Trump's win to the situation of the South after the Civil War in his introduction to Hillary Clinton's concession speech. He quoted William Faulkner's character Wash (from a short story by the same name), who tries to cheer up Thomas Sutpen, decorated by General Lee and released from the defeated Confederate army, telling him, "They kilt us, but they ain't whupped us yet." (the quote Kaine used)

Kaine repeated those words in describing the condition in which Democrats find themselves after Donald Trump's unprecedented victory, apparently unaware of its source and context. Better talk to that speechwriter.

The remark was lauded by David Gergen on CNN, apparently unaware if its source, who said it expressed the "spirit of her speech."

Pretty soon they'll be waving the Confederate flag. That'll help things.

Kentucky voters "have cleaned out the Augean stables"

The Family Foundation's press release tonight on the Republican's wholesale slaughter of House Democrats:

LEXINGTON, KY--"Kentucky voters have cleaned out the Augean stables tonight and sent a hundred years of cronyism, back room deals, and abuse of legislative procedure down the river of history," said a spokesman for The Family Foundation, a social conservative group which a has been a presence in Frankfort for over 25 years.

"Kentucky is a conservative state that has suffered under liberal rule for decades," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for the group. "A liberal House leadership has stifled important conservative legislation at every turn. Now that the Iron Curtain of liberal rule has come crashing down, the challenge for the new conservative leadership will be to conduct a process that treats legislation that reflects Kentucky values with respect. We are confident that the new conservative House leadership will do this, and it will have a great model for how to do it in our State Senate, which is one of this nation's premier conservative legislative bodies. It will also benefit from the excellent leadership of our new governor."

Cothran pointed to the killing of popular pro-life, education, and religious freedom legislation he said would have easily passed on the floors of both chambers as examples of how many good laws never saw the light of day because of a rigged process.

"We now have a state government that is reflective of the conservative values of this state."


Monday, November 07, 2016

The question is not whether Trump, will accept tomorrow's election results, but whether the rest of us will

Amid all the absurdities of this year's election, one of the more inane issues the took up hours of media time was the fear that Donald Trump would not accept the results of the election if it didn't go his way. 

Apparently Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon were under the impression that an intransigent Trump could just bring the whole election to a grinding halt and they would have to park their cameras outside Trump Force One waiting in unrelieved suspense until he relented and agreed to sign off on the vote.

I mean, we all know about that section in the Constitution that says that a presidential election cannot be certified until billionaire reality televisions stars running for president agree to it. Right?


The correct answer is "Yes."

In fact, it had to be rather gratifying to Trump's ego (which was rather substantial already) that leaders of the liberal media were running around like frightened chickens worrying that Donald Trump might dislike the election results. Fortunately the media—every bit as ADHD as Trump himself—flitted to some other Trump outrage and spared us another week of the ridiculous discussion.

The more important question is whether most Americans are going to accept the election results. 

I don't know how most people feel (we'll find out tomorrow), but I'm less disturbed by a Trump win than a Hillary win, since the decision tomorrow is between bufoonishness and evil. Faced with that alternative (although, as I suggest in my last post, those are not the only alternatives), I guess buffoonishness is less scary. Trump is merely silly and inept, but Hillary represents a positively malignant political force.

Trump represents America at its most trivial and fatuous. It's fitting that he is a reality TV star. If elected, he will need full time political care. Forget the warnings that a Trump presidency will result in a nuclear war. The man will be too busy insulting people on Twitter in the wee hours of the morning to even think about wars. 

Storage Wars, maybe. But not nuclear ones. 

In fact, has anyone ever asked Hillary how she cay say that Donald Trump is cozy with Putin AND that he might start a nuclear war with Russia at the same time?

We won't have to worry about government interference in much of anything under a Trump administration, since that takes a lot of thought and a lot of knowledge of how the government works. He is incapable of the former and devoid of the latter. He is more likely to spend his time watching The View than thinking of ways to bother average Americans.

Hillary, on the other hand, is the Nanny from Hell who will make sure you eat according to government dietary guidelines, get the proper government-approved amount of daily exercise, and make sure no one ever questions what gender you decide to be when you get up in the morning. She's against the government in your bedroom, but will have government bureaucrats stationed in every other room in your house.

She's the quintessential representative of modern secular liberalism who wakes up every morning thinking of new ways in which she can bring about a society efficiently administered by secular elites. She thinks in talking points and talks in jargon. She's got a 4-point plan for putting on her pants suits in the morning and wants to require you to have one too (It will be dresses for men).

Hillary is not incompetent. She knows what she wants and how to bring it about. It would be far better if she were incompetent. Trump doesn't have the competence or the inclination to do bad things. He will only do bad things by accident--because he doesn't know any better. Hillary will have the bad things planned out months in advance, and will speak about why they are good for us in speeches paid for by questionable foreign governments who donated to her foundation.

The choice in this election is between stupidity and corruption. I don't think Americans will accept either of these. Our culture will continue to come apart no matter who wins.

If the founders could only see what we've made of their noble republic.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Why I am not voting for Donald Trump

I had an old friend pull me aside recently and ask me what I was going to do in regard to the presidential election. In other words, was I going to vote for Donald Trump? A number of people have asked me this question. And when I tell them I am not going to vote for him, they want to know why.

Here's why.

First, if, before this election, we were to describe to a religious conservative a generic candidate with all the qualities of Trump--one who is knee deep in celebrity culture, who has been married multiple times, who jokes privately about groping women, who has had almost as many women accusing him of sexually predatory behavior as Bill Clinton, who until very recently has been on the extreme liberal end on social issues, who has no expertise in foreign policy, who despite running a real estate empire clearly doesn't understand basic economic issues,  and who (as his ghostwriter for Art of the Deal told the New Yorker) doesn't appear to have read a book in years because of his short attention span--what would they have said?

And then there is his fundamental dishonesty. Go ahead and believe those women now accusing him of sexually harassing them are really lying--just don't ask yourself why you don't believe them but do believe Clinton's accusers.

And do you really believe that the Bible is his "favorite book"? How many times do you think he has read it? How many times do you think a person needs to read it in order to know that you actually do have to ask God for forgiveness?
I can't imagine that the vast majority of the religious conservatives now supporting him wouldn't have said that they would never, ever, support such a candidate.

I do not believe all the nonsense produced by Trump detractors about the dangers of Trump's finger being near the nuclear button. Starting a nuclear war is actually very complicated. It requires that the person starting it have a long attention span.

Trump is not a devil, he is something which in the political world is far worse: He is a buffoon. He has little ability to punish his enemies, he is competent only to embarrass his friends. And embarrass them he has--and will.

If conservatives think (as most of them do) that the Republican brand was ruined by George W. Bush, just wait until they see what Trump does to it. I think most of them are sincere in thinking that Trump will help with issues like Supreme Court appointments (the only truly compelling argument for voting for him), but I think they simply have not thought this through.

What we have is two candidates who will spend four years embarrassing the people who voted for them. So the question is, do we want liberal Democrats to be embarrassed by Hillary or do we want to be embarrassed by Trump? I guarantee that the conservatives now supporting Trump will all--to a man--one day regret their decision to support Trump--if he wins.

But there is something more important here than our own embarrassment. Conservatives willing to lower their standards to a level that would allow them to vote for Trump are sacrificing the long term to the short term, since along with this embarrassment will likely come a subsequent time in the political wilderness. Neither one of these candidates, given their considerable baggage, is likely to be an effective leader, and consequently will have a hard time being elected to a second term. Because of her legal problems, Hillary may not even make it that far. In either case the winning party now will be the party likely losing in the next midterm congressional elections and losing the next presidential race.

I can think of several Republicans who, had they been nominated, would have destroyed Hillary in this year's election. And I can think of a couple of Democratic politicians who could have beat Trump more easily than Hillary. Whichever candidate gets elected this year will not have been elected because so many people like them: They will be elected because they are hated less than the alternative. This is not a recipe for a successful administration.

With two candidates with such high negatives in the polls, we know one thing: Whoever gets elected will not be popular. If we're going to elect an unpopular president, let it be a liberal Democrat. That way, they pay the cost, not us.

I had a state senator call me a while back to ask my advice on how he should vote on a particular bill (a not very good one). He was beset by all the standard utilitarian arguments for doing so--in other words, all the short term benefits to voting for a bill--from his fellow legislators. I told him that he should ask himself one question: "Five, ten, fifteen years from now, when you look back on what you did, will you be happy you did it." There was a long silence on the other end of the line. The next day he messaged me, and said, "Thank you for talking with me yesterday. I've decided not to vote for the bill."

Let's dispense with the big numbers. In just two years, will we as conservatives be happy we voted for Trump? 

Forget all the campaign rhetoric. Wake up from your "Make America great again" trance. Just think for a moment about the utterly juvenile words that come out of the unscripted mouth of Donald Trump. Think about having to own every crass expression emanating from the Oval Office. Consider how you will feel every time a headline appears about some 3 a.m. tweet--not about foreign policy or health care or economics--but about Rosie O'Donnell's looks or something even more trite.

Remember: The handlers now telling him to stay on script will be gone. The restraints preventing him from adolescent crudities will have disappeared. You'll get Trump truly unplugged. And it's not a pretty sight.

The Don Lemons and the Rachal Maddows and Chris Matthews and Stephen Coberts and John Olivers will have a field day every day. And you will have to own it again, and again, and again. After all, you, as a Trump voter, will have provided them their material.

If you want to remind yourself what an unscripted Donald looks like, just go back (if you can stomach it) and listen to Trump's appearances on the Howard Stern show. If you haven't had the misfortune of listening to Stern, then just know that he is the King of Crass--a lower radio life-form who is everything wrong with our culture. When you hear him and Trump commiserating, you will realize very quickly that they are the same kind of people.

Would you vote for Howard Stern for president? If not, then list your reasons why not and ask yourself why you are not applying these to Trump. And, if not, what it says about how much of your judgment you are willing to sacrifice to vote for the man.

Either Trump comes through on his promises to conservatives or he doesn't. If he doesn't then he will have betrayed them. If he does, then those positions will be forever identified with Trump, and will suffer the same ultimate infamy.

Allying yourself with the wrong friends can be more dangerous than fighting the right enemies.

Now the argument on the other side is that, if Hillary gets elected, things will be worse. She's pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, pro everything we're against. But the argument that uses this as an excuse to support a candidate we would not otherwise support is the worst kind of moral reasoning. It is consequentialism, a secular form of moral reasoning that a Christian should be very wary of--if not outright repulsed by (See Catherine Nolan's excellent article on this here)

I am a Catholic, but even Protestants should question the idea that the right action is the one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number. It's no accident that that kind of reasoning was most famously championed by a thoroughly secular thinker: John Stuart Mill. The right action is not the one with the best consequences. It is the one that best perfects our nature as beings created in the image of God. Rules and consequences are fine such as they are and should be taken into account, but they are secondary to simply doing the right thing.

If we are faced with the decision of whether to do the right thing even if it might (we can never know) lead to bad consequences, or doing the wrong thing because it might lead to the right consequences (we can't know than any better), which should we choose? And the answer is that the consequences are not in our hands. They are in God's hands. They are His responsibility, not ours.

The reasoning now being used by conservative supporters of Trump--that the consequences of electing Trump, as unacceptable as he is--are better than the consequences of electing Hillary--is the worst kind of consequentialism. And it is the same kind of consequentialist argument that I seem to be faced with every Republican primary season: Vote for the moderate because he is the most electable candidate. In other words, the consequences for voting for the candidate who I would never otherwise vote for is better than the consequences of voting for the person I really should vote for because the right candidate can never be elected. Votes are taken away from good candidates because of this time and time again.

If everyone simply voted for the candidate who agreed with them most and would make a good occupant of whatever office he was running for, we would all be better off. This is the irony: that consequentialist reasoning like this leads to poorer consequences! Doing the thing that we think will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number does not lead to the greatest good for the greatest number. But instead we give in to every consequentialist political serpent who tempts us.

Will the consequences of a Clinton presidency be bad? Of course they will. But that's on the head of those who vote for her. But that doesn't change the fact that the consequences of a Trump presidency will be on the heads of those who vote for him.

But what about the Supreme Court?
I would love to believe that if we elected Trump, we could turn the Court. The problem is, even if he did nominate good people, they would never make it even through a Republican Senate. Go look at how supposedly conservative Republicans have voted on judicial nominees. Go look at all the Republicans who voted for Stephen Breyer's nomination. Look what happened when Robert Bork got shot down. When the going gets tough, Republican senators run for the hills.

The Court is gone. We lost the fight. Now we have a rogue Court and the only way to deal with it is to repudiate it. It is violating the Constitution. It has unconstitutionally claimed the unilateral right to rewrite the Constitution and is violating the separation of powers by legislating instead of interpreting. It has done this on abortion and on same-sex marriage. It will soon do the same thing on a host of gender issues. The only way to deal with it is for the leader of the executive branch to openly defy it. He would have every right to do so. He swore an oath to the Constitution too, and if he sees that the Court is violating it, he has, not only a right, but an obligation to do something about it. Its rulings should be ignored by conservative executives until it starts interpreting the Constitution again rather than rewriting it.

Of course, Trump will not do this. He doesn't know enough to be able to even contemplate the idea. It is open to question whether he has the power to contemplate anything. That is another thing that someone with a short attention span can't do.

And one more thing. 

Remember when conservatives used to say that "character matters"? We said that when Bill Clinton was found to have been preying on anything in a skirt. But now we have conservatives saying almost exactly the opposite now that it is clear that Trump has done pretty much the same thing (believe his denials of the multitude of charges from women if you want. No one can can stop you from inconsistency). 

It's just one more principle social conservatives who are supporting Trump have been willing to abandon in order to justify voting for the man. How many of our principles are we willing to sacrifice to a man who does not deserve such a sacrifice?

I have plenty of friends who are willing to do this. But I'm not. For what it's worth, I'm voting for the candidate I voted for in the primary: Carly Fiorina. It's the right thing to do.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why We Like Monsters: A Halloween Meditation

Get a link to my newest post on why our popular culture is so fascinated with the dark and the demonic here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Scientific American takes some STEM advocates to task for hating on the Humanities

My most recent post at Intellectual Takeout:
There’s been a lot of rhetoric in recent years from conservative leaders about the importance of giving students a STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 
That our students should have a better education in math and science is not controversial. What is controversial is when a math and science emphasis is pitted against the liberal arts and humanities.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It Was a Bright Cold Day in April, and the Clocks Were Striking Patriarchy: A Parable on Political Correctness

If you have not read George Orwell's 1984, then go read it. If you have read it, then read this.

Let us go back to that time (or is it now?) in order to understand our time. Winston Smith has been having incorrect thoughts, and he has been found out by the Thought Police and taken to the Ministry of Love for correction and rehabilitation. His Interrogator (and torturer) is O'Brien:

“Humans are like cockroaches.  But if we get in their minds and make them believe us, then we have them. You can make them believe anything. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not make you believe. Invisibility, levitation—anything. That despite biological, obvious differences, and other differences in musculature, in brain formation, despite hormones and how they shape everything about a human before he’s even born, we can make humans believe there are no differences between the sexes.  And alternately we can make them believe all males are natural oppressors and must be punished simply for existing, and all women, no matter how powerful or rich are natural victims and must be appeased.  We can make them believe there are no differences, and at the same time that there are six genders, or ten, or twelve, or a hundred, all of them natural from birth.’ 
“But that’s mad,” Winston shouted.  “Utterly mad.  You can’t make anyone deny the truth of their own eyes, forever.” 
He knew the lever would be pulled. 
“How many genders does humanity have, Winston?” 
The lever was pulled. 
“How many?” 
The lever was pulled. 
“How many?” 
“A hundred” 
The lever was pulled. 
“How many?” 
“As many as the enlightened say.” 
“That is right, Winston, you are almost well.  And what is PIV.” 
“Violation.  Always violation.”
“Can’t a woman consent to sex with a man?” 
“There is no true consent, since even in Utopia cis het males are programmed to institute patriarchy.  You must always be vigilant against your own thoughts and your own unconscious privilege, even if you can’t be fully aware of it.  All penetration is violation.  A baby is an invader in a woman’s body.  Utopia is forever and only the enlightened can tell us when we’re wrong. Because the individual is not able to balance the forces of retribution and oppression and greed by himself, or not even within himself. Society is always imbalanced, and there will be oppression till all of humanity is gone, so the enlightened ones must teach us and correct us until that time. 
Winston gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken zeem to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the androgynous, unreadable face. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of zees nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. Zee had won the victory over Zeeself. Zee loved Big Gender Indeterminate Sibling.
Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

#Trump would have it so much easier if his lewd comments had been discovered by the Russians

Just sayin'.

When Conservatives Could Talk Intelligently: Where is William F. Buckley when you need him?

Compound Sentences. Subordinate clauses. Conclusions with supporting premises. Eloquence. They were all once a part of conservative rhetoric, a rhetoric now become imbecile and associated with the nominee of this nation's nominally conservative party, the extent of whose wit is embodied in insults and thoughts that (perhaps fortunately) do not extend beyond 140 characters.

Instead of advocacy and criticism informed by a knowledge and understanding of the long tradition of American and European political philosophy, we get lengthy disquisitions on the optimal tonnage of beauty contestants. Comments once strewn with quotations from Edmund Burke, Alexis de Toqueville, Lord Acton, and Russell Kirk are now more likely to make reference to the words and actions of people whose chief public exposure is in People magazine. 

There are a few relics left. Charles Krauthammer, Brett Stephens, and, to some extent, Jonah Goldberg and Russ Douthat at least speak grammatically and prosecute a good argument, but they have proven themselves (to use the British term) wets when the going gets tough on social issues like marriage.

Today's conservatives breath with only one lung. They are all economics and no culture. Yes, you can find frequent and justified ridicule of the latest PC outrage on Fox News, but once the liberal tide rises, they just position themselves higher on the beach. And as the waters rise, the retreats pile up and the conservative territory diminishes. And no one wants to do the hard work of dealing with the more enduring problem of the rising sea of ideology.

Where once we had spokesmen who were Burkeans because they had read and agreed with Burke, we now have Machiavellians who not only have not read Machiavelli, but don't even know who he was.

If you want to understand better the low estate into which the conservative mind has fallen, you need to see PBS' new documentary, "Best of Enemies." It is about the public confrontations between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal, the two intellectual leaders, respectively, of the conservatism and liberalism of the 60s and 70s. They spoke at a level which would be incomprehensible to today's generation of voters, educated as they were in public schools where the traditional content of history and literature have been set aside in order to make space for test preparation, fun projects, environmentalism, and political indoctrination.

But in their time, Buckley and Vidal were a huge television draw. They were rock stars before rock stars were, well, rock stars.

"Best of Enemies" focuses on the television debates on ABC during the Republican and Democratic national conventions of 1968. It was a time when CBS and NBC ruled the ratings, with ABC a distant third. While the two more popular networks focused exclusively on the 1968 convention, ABC decided to throw the dice, and put Buckley and Vidal on the same set to see what would happen.

It was a tremendous hit filled with tremendous hits.

Buckley, editor of National Review, the magazine that put conservatism on the American political map and the host of PBS' weekly "Firing Line," and Vidal, the brilliant writer of lurid but popular novels like Myra Breckenridge, squared off in a series of televised flame wars that put to shame the sallow political discourse of today. They didn't like each other, but, with the exception of one now famous incident (which the documentary spends most of its time building up to), Buckley and Vidal engaged in informed political argument only peppered with insults, not, as today, insults peppered with ill-informed political argument. 

This is public television, of course, and so they can't keep their ideological fingers off the facts. Between the mostly accurate historical narrative, we are treated to a litany of disinformation on Buckley's conservatism.

We have Andrew Sullivan, for example, remarking on how elitist and anti-democratic Buckley was. Mind you, this was the Buckley famous for saying that he would rather be ruled by the last three hundred names in the Boston phone book than the entire faculty of Harvard University, and Sullivan and his fellow liberals the ones who applaud every time unelected elite liberal judges take issues out of the democratic process and decide them for the rest of us. 

And then there is the customary civil rights rhetoric, where conservatives in general and Republicans in particular are cast as the ones in favor of discrimination and segregation despite the fact that it was the Democratic Party who supported segregation in the South, that housed Lester Maddox, George Wallace and (to this day) Lyndon LaRouche, and that offered the greatest opposition to the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, voting against them in much higher numbers--and percentages--than Republicans.

Then we have Sullivan speculating that Buckley's opposition to homosexuality was the results of Buckley's fear of his own homosexuality. Thoughts like this are, of course, a great comfort to gays like Sullivan, whose insecurity not only demands that everyone else agree with him (by force if necessary), but that everyone else must be like him deep down. And so we say unsubstantiated and--let's face it--stupid things like this.

And we are also given the impression that Buckley lived in the shadow of his emotional outburst when, after Vidal called Buckley a "crypto-Nazi," Buckley called him a "queer" and threatened to punch him in the face. In fact the whole program works up to this moment. And when it comes, it cuts to 5-second shots of the liberal commentators, silent, thinking apparently, how terribly, terribly sad it was.

Tsk, tsk. Such a shame.

That Buckley would regret losing his temper and calling Vidal a homosexual (he was, although he consistently refused the "gay" label) using a term that gays themselves use (check out the "Queer Studies" discipline at your local state university) was something Buckley regretted doing. Conservatives have, not only standards, but consciences. But Vidal's charge that Buckley was a "crypto-Nazi," a term no conservative uses of himself, goes unlamented on the show.

No five-second camera pauses focused on the pained faces of moralistic liberals pondering the tragedy of it all. No moralistic lectures from Andrew Sullivan. No grim voice narrating how Terribly. Unfortunate. It was (queue the footage of the face of the perpetrator, in slow motion).

Maybe that was because Vidal, apparently lacking an operative conscience, never regretted hurling his own epithets, and had no journalists to feel guilty for him.

But despite all of the obligatory liberal finger-wagging and head shaking, the glory that was Buckley comes through. In fact, maybe it was good that Buckley called Vidal what he in fact was on live national television and created such a legendary moment. If he hadn't, PBS might never have done such a show, and we couldn't have seen these great old clips of Buckley practicing the art of polemic, an art increasingly falling into disuse, and one which, if conservatives fail to revive it, will be their undoing.