Where nonconformists go to write

Substack

A recent column by David Brooks discusses public intellectuals who cannot seem to find an ideological home. Many of them, including Andrew Sullivan (on the Right) and Matt Taibbi (on the Left) have found a place to write at SubStack.

Here is a taste:

After being pushed out from New York magazine, Sullivan established his own newsletter, The Weekly Dish, on Substack, a platform that makes it easy for readers to pay writers for their work. He now has 60,000 subscribers, instantly making his venture financially viable.

Other heterodox writers are already on Substack. Matt Taibbi and Judd Legum are iconoclastic left-wing writers with large subscriber bases. The Dispatch is a conservative publication featuring Jonah Goldberg, David French and Stephen F. Hayes, superb writers but too critical of Trump for the orthodox right. The Dispatch is reportedly making about $2 million a year on Substack.

The first good thing about Substack is there’s no canceling. A young, talented heterodox thinker doesn’t have to worry that less talented conformists in his or her organization will use ideology as an outlet for their resentments. The next good thing is there are no ads, just subscription revenue. Online writers don’t have to chase clicks by writing about whatever Trump tweeted 15 seconds ago. They can build deep relationships with the few rather than trying to affirm or titillate the many.

It’s possible that the debate now going on stupidly on Twitter can migrate to newsletters. It’s possible that writers will bundle, with established writers promoting promising ones. It’s possible that those of us at the great remaining mainstream outlets will be enmeshed in conversations that are more freewheeling and thoughtful.

Mostly I’m hopeful that the long history of intellectual exclusion and segregation will seem disgraceful. It will seem disgraceful if you’re at a university and only 1.5 percent of the faculty members are conservative. (I’m looking at you, Harvard). A person who ideologically self-segregates will seem pathetic. I’m hoping the definition of a pundit changes — not a foot soldier out for power, but a person who argues in order to come closer to understanding.

Read the entire piece here. I also recommend the video attached to the column. Brooks openly questions his own conservatism.

Alan Jacobs on the return of Andrew Sullivan’s blog The Dish

Daily Dish

Baylor University’s Alan Jacobs raises some good points about Andrew Sullivan’s return to blogging (if you can all it that). Here is a taste of his post at Snakes and Ladders:

I’m really glad to learn that The Dish is returning — especially in a form that will allow Andrew to write fewer but longer pieces than he did in the old days, and, I trust, by such means to retain his sanity. The former Dish was pedal-to-the-metal every single day, and even Andrew, the hack than whom no sharper can be conceived, couldn’t over the long term flourish at that pace, either emotionally or intellectually.

A slower-paced Dish of his own is surely the best venue for Andrew, who is the most independent of thinkers and therefore a constant threat to the “safety” of any colleagues whose mental cabinets have just two pigeonholes, Correct people and Evil people. (Apparently at New York most of his colleagues were two-pigeonholers.) I subscribed instantly, and I know I won’t regret it.

But Andrew is not the only thoughtful and unclubbable journalist who’s going indie these days, and that poses a problem for me. In that introductory message I linked to above, Andrew mentions the similar Substack-based endeavors of Jesse Singal and Matt Taibbi, and while I think both of those guy as are superb journalists, if I were to subscribe to their work as well as Andrew’s that would cost me 150 bucks a year. I still might do it — but that’s a lot of coin for three voices.

Read the rest here.

Andrew Sullivan is bringing back “The Dish” in a weekly format

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We covered Andrew Sullivan’s departure from New York Magazine here.

In his final column at the magazine, Sullivan announced that he will be returning to independent writing through a new version of his popular blog The Dish.

Here is Sullivan on why he was ousted at New York Magazine:

What has happened, I think, is relatively simple: A critical mass of the staff and management at New York Magazine and Vox Media no longer want to associate with me, and, in a time of ever tightening budgets, I’m a luxury item they don’t want to afford. And that’s entirely their prerogative. They seem to believe, and this is increasingly the orthodoxy in mainstream media, that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space. Actually attacking, and even mocking, critical theory’s ideas and methods, as I have done continually in this space, is therefore out of sync with the values of Vox Media. That, to the best of my understanding, is why I’m out of here.

Two years ago, I wrote that we all live on campus now. That is an understatement. In academia, a tiny fraction of professors and administrators have not yet bent the knee to the woke program — and those few left are being purged. The latest study of Harvard University faculty, for example, finds that only 1.46 percent call themselves conservative. But that’s probably higher than the proportion of journalists who call themselves conservative at the New York Times or CNN or New York Magazine. And maybe it’s worth pointing out that “conservative” in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November. 

And here is the announcement:

So, yeah, after being prodded for years by Dishheads, I’m going to bring back the Dish.

I’ve long tried to figure out a way to have this kind of lively community without endangering my health and sanity. Which is why the Weekly Dish, which launches now, is where I’ve landed. The Weekly Dish will be hosted by Substack, a fantastic company that hosts an increasingly impressive number of individual free thinkers, like Jesse Singal and Matt Taibbi. There is a growing federation of independent thinkers and writers not subject to mainstream media’s increasingly narrow range of acceptable thought.

The initial basic formula — which, as with all things Dish, will no doubt evolve — is the following: this three-part column, with perhaps a couple of added short posts or features (I probably won’t be able to resist); a serious dissent section, where I can air real disagreement with my column, and engage with it constructively and civilly; a podcast, which I’ve long wanted to do, but never found a way to fit in; and yes, reader window views again, and the return of The View From Your Window contest. I’m able to do all this because Chris Bodenner, the guru of the Dish in-box and master of the Window View contest, is coming back to join me. He’ll select the dissents, as he long did, in ways that will put me on the spot.

Read the entire piece here.

Andrew Sullivan is out at *New York Magazine*

Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan, one of the greatest bloggers to ever live, will no longer be writing his regular column at New York Magazine.

Here is CNN:

Columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan is leaving New York magazine, his professional home since 2016, he announced Tuesday.

“This will be my last week at New York Magazine,” Sullivan tweeted. “I’m sad because the editors I worked with there are among the finest in the country, and I am immensely grateful to them for vastly improving my work. I’m also proud of the essays and columns I wrote at NYM – some of which will be published in a collection of my writing scheduled for next year.”

Sullivan did not directly state his reason for leaving but said on Twitter that it was “pretty self-evident” and the “broader questions involved” would be discussed in his last column on Friday.

Read the rest here.

This is a “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” moment

Whitmer help

Jeff Kowalsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Above is a picture of some of the men protesting at the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing.  Yes, you do see machine guns.

Michigan mayor Gretchen Whitmer will not open the state to business yet and continues to stand behind her stay-at-home order in the midst of the protesters call to “lock her up.” Whitmer is trying to save lives. But some people in Michigan believe that their rights are more important. They seem to be defending their “right” to die from the coronavirus.

I am guessing many of these protesters would say that they are Christians. But Christian faith teaches that we must submit our own interests–as a mark of our kindness and love of neighbor–with the needs and suffering of others. Jesus is our model here.

As I have written before, there is also a secular political tradition–it is called civic humanism–which calls the citizens of a republic to occasionally sacrifice self-interest for the public good. The founding fathers of the United States, many of whom wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, called this “virtue.”

It does not look like the protesting crowds are very large. Most residents of Michigan appear to be obeying Whitmer’s order. But what if such protests degenerate into a riot? What if these men with guns stormed the Capitol building or tried to depose the governor by force? It would seem at a moment like this, Whitmer (or any governor for that matter) might need military help from the federal government to protect her. Would she get such help from a U.S. president who is encouraging the protesters?:

Trump is not just encouraging protests in Michigan. In Virginia, he is connecting his call to protest with guns:

And let’s not forget the political angle here. Whitmer is a Democrat. Michigan is a battleground state that Trump desperately needs to win in November.

There is also an anti-intellectual/anti-science dimension to these protests. Andrew Sullivan’s captures this well in a tweet covering protests in Texas:

Yes, you heard them correctly. They are chanting “Fire Fauci”–a reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the lead scientist on the White House coronavirus task force.

Whitmer deserves our support and prayers right now. So do all of the governors–Democrat and Republican– trying to lead their states in this time of crisis. Most of them are trying to save lives.

As for the protesters, they also need our prayers.  Father forgive them.

And where are all of Trump’s evangelical supporters? Trump has announced he will be watching the church service tomorrow at Rev. Jack Graham‘s Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas:

I am not a fan of politics in the pulpit. But sometimes the church must speak out–either directly or indirectly–against a President who is fomenting armed rebellion. (These court evangelicals seem to love Romans 13. Does it apply to governors as well?). Jack Graham has the ear and eyes of the president tomorrow morning. How will he respond?

ADDENDUM (Sunday, April 19, 2020 at 1:15pm):  Apparently some folks are upset because I have said that these men are carrying machine guns.  I apologize for the confusion.  They look like machine guns to me, but I don’t know anything about guns.  But those who are criticizing me for getting the model of gun wrong are missing the point.

Is the *Christianity Today* Editorial a Joseph Welch Moment?

A good friend recently suggested that Mark Galli’s editorial may be an evangelical “Joseph Welch” moment in the Trump presidency.

Joseph Welch was the lawyer for the U.S. Army during the McCarthy hearings. Get some more context here.

Now watch:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir!”

Here is conservative writer Andrew Sullivan at New York Magazine:

The two core lessons of the past few years are therefore: (1) Trumpism has a real base of support in the country with needs that must be addressed, and (2) Donald Trump is incapable of doing it and is such an unstable, malignant, destructive narcissist that he threatens our entire system of government. The reason this impeachment feels so awful is that it requires removing a figure to whom so many are so deeply bonded because he was the first politician to hear them in decades. It feels to them like impeachment is another insult from the political elite, added to the injury of the 21st century. They take it personally, which is why their emotions have flooded their brains. And this is understandable.

But when you think of what might have been and reflect on what has happened, it is crystal clear that this impeachment is not about the Trump agenda or a more coherent version of it. It is about the character of one man: his decision to forgo any outreach, poison domestic politics, marinate it in deranged invective, betray his followers by enriching the plutocracy, destroy the dignity of the office of president, and turn his position into a means of self-enrichment. It’s about the personal abuse of public office: using the presidency’s powers to blackmail a foreign entity into interfering in a domestic election on his behalf, turning the Department of Justice into an instrument of personal vengeance and political defense, openly obstructing investigations into his own campaign, and treating the grave matter of impeachment as a “hoax” while barring any testimony from his own people.

Character matters. This has always been a conservative principle but one that, like so many others, has been tossed aside in the convulsions of a cult. And it is Trump’s character alone that has brought us to this point. That’s why the editorial in the Evangelical journal Christianity Today is so clarifying. Finally — finally — an Evangelical outlet telling the truth in simple language:

[President Trump] has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused … To the many Evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve.

It is this profound immorality that made this week inevitable. Yes, inevitable. Put a man of this sort — utterly unprepared, utterly corrupt, and with no political or governing experience at all — into the Oval Office, and impeachment, if there is any life left in our democracy, is inevitable.

Read the rest here.

Is There Such a Thing as an Ordinary Impeachment?

Trump on mall

Andrew Sullivan’s recent piece at New York Magazine is titled “This is No Ordinary Impeachment.”  I actually like the piece, but I wonder if there was ever an “ordinary” impeachment in American history. After all, it has only happened twice (almost three times if you consider Nixon).

While you are thinking about that, here is a taste of Sullivan’s piece:

This is not just an impeachment. It’s the endgame for Trump’s relentless assault on the institutions, norms, and practices of America’s liberal democracy for the past three years. It’s also a deeper reckoning. It’s about whether the legitimacy of our entire system can last much longer without this man being removed from office.

I’m talking about what political scientists call “regime cleavage” — a decline in democratic life so severe the country’s very institutions could lose legitimacy as a result of it. It is described by one political scientist as follows: “a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself — in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions, and laws may be ignored, subverted, or replaced.” A full-on regime cleavage is, indeed, an extinction-level event for our liberal democratic system. And it is one precipitated by the man who is supposed to be the guardian of that system, the president.

Let us count the ways in which Trump has attacked and undermined the core legitimacy of our democracy. He is the only candidate in American history who refused to say that he would abide by the results of the vote. Even after winning the 2016 election, he still claimed that “millions” of voters — undocumented aliens — perpetrated massive electoral fraud in the last election, and voted for his opponent. He has repeatedly and publicly toyed with the idea that he could violate the 22nd Amendment, and get elected for three terms, or more.

Read the rest here.

Andrew Sullivan: Can Any Democrat Win?

DemDebate

Writer Andrew Sullivan is not optimistic.  Here is a taste of his recent post at New York Magazine:

Joe Biden’s strength in the polls remains impressive, but his candidacy is crippled. In the last debate, he was easily the worst performer: confused, addled, over-briefed, and clearly past his expiration date as a pol…His crowds are anemic, his speeches lame, his self-defense as Trump lunged biliously at him and his family a case study in ineffectiveness….

Sanders…had a heart attack at the age of 78. What happens if he has another one at any point before the election? Why should a party risk that? He’s also an actual socialist, and he hasn’t entertained — let alone engaged with — a new idea in decades….

Warren is surging, but she is, I fear — yes, I’ll say it — unelectable. I may be wrong, but by pledging to rip everyone off their current private health insurance, it certainly seems like she has thrown away the core advantage of her side — health security. By floating the notion in the CNN forum that her future Secretary of Education would have to be approved by a transgender 9-year-old boy, she’s placing herself firmly inside a cultural revolution most Americans are deeply uncomfortable with….

Booker lacks a connection with anyone, and still seems to be campaigning for a Rhodes Scholarship. On paper, he’s perfect. In reality, he comes off as an earnest cyborg from outer space. Harris has revealed herself as a feckless, authoritarian, lying opportunist who treats the Constitution as cavalierly as Trump, but without his excuse of total ignorance. Tulsi is despised by too many Dems to have a hope (I can’t quite figure out the reason for their hatred, but it’s a fact). Klobuchar is a ball of nerves and insecurity who seems to shrink upon exposure. Buttigieg is easily the best debater, and most appealing to independents and a few wavering Republicans, but the big question still hangs over his candidacy: Will more culturally conservative minority voters — not to mention white working-class ones — show up for a gay man in the numbers that Democrats need? The cause for concern is real.

O’Rourke is a woke, moronic bigot, who believes we live in a white-supremacist country, and would happily remove tax exemptions from most traditional churches, synagogues, and mosques, because they still believe in the literal teachings of the Bible or the Koran. Of all the candidates, he’s the only one I actively loathe. Castro is an open-borders globalist panderer dedicated to the vital cause of free abortions for transgender male illegal immigrants. All of them have staked out “left Twitter” positions on immigration, race, and “social justice” that make Obama seem like Steve Bannon in comparison.

The only true bright spot is Andrew Yang — fresh, real, future-oriented, sane, offering actual analyses of automation, trade, and technology that distinguish him from the crowd. Like Buttigieg, I suspect he’d be a superb foil for Trump and could flummox the dictatorial dotard into incoherence and open bigotry. He’s a fascinating character to me. When he’s asked a question, his nearly expressionless, wrinkle-free face, which seems to spring directly from his chest, seems about to offer some canned pabulum, and then almost always responds with a flawless, thoughtful, and entirely relevant, even insightful answer. I’m rooting for him (and Pete), but I’m not delusional….

This is a field that has largely wilted upon inspection. For what it’s worth, I suspect Warren will win the nomination and dutifully lose the election just like Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and the second Clinton. She has that quintessential perfume of smug, well-meaning, mediocre doom that Democrats simply cannot resist.

Ouch!  But I love Sullivan’s honesty.

Read the entire piece here.

Conservatives, Reactionaries, Liberals and the Left

Andrew Sullivan‘s recent piece at New York Magazine is helpful and worth your time.  Here is a taste:

But there is a place where conservatives and reactionaries find common cause — and that is when the change occurring is drastic, ideological, imposed by an elite, and without any limiting principle. This is not always easy to distinguish from more organic change — but there is a distinction. On immigration, for example, has the demographic transformation of the U.S. been too swift, too revolutionary, and too indifferent to human nature and history? Or is it simply a new, if challenging, turn in a long, American story of waves of immigrants creating a country that’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope? If you answer “yes” to the first, you’re a reactionary. If “yes” to the second, you’re a liberal. If you say yes to both, you’re a conservative. If you say it’s outrageous and racist even to consider these questions, you’re a card-carrying member of the left.

In a new essay, Anton explains his view of the world: “What happens when transformative efforts bump up against permanent and natural limits? Nature tends to bump back. The Leftist response is always to blame nature; or, to be more specific, to blame men; or to be even more specific, to blame certain men.” To be even more specific, cis white straight men.

But what are “permanent and natural limits” to transformation? Here are a couple: humanity’s deep-seated tribalism and the natural differences between men and women. It seems to me that you can push against these basic features of human nature, you can do all you can to counter the human preference for an in-group over an out-group, you can create a structure where women can have fully equal opportunities — but you will never eradicate these deeper realities.

The left is correct that Americans are racist and sexist; but so are all humans. The question is whether, at this point in time, America has adequately managed to contain, ameliorate, and discourage these deeply human traits. I’d say that by any reasonable standards in history or the contemporary world, America is a miracle of multiracial and multicultural harmony. There’s more to do and accomplish, but the standard should be what’s doable within the framework of human nature, not perfection.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump is Holding Us Hostage

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Check out Andrew Sullivan recent post at Daily Intelligencer:

Sometimes I think it’s useful to think of this presidency as a hostage-taking situation. We have a president holding liberal democracy hostage, empowered by a cult following. The goal is to get through this without killing any hostages, i.e., without irreparable breaches in our democratic system. Come at him too directly and you might provoke the very thing you are trying to avoid. Somehow, we have to get the nut job to put the gun down and let the hostages go, without giving in to any of his demands. From the moment Trump took office, we were in this emergency. All that we now know, in a way we didn’t, say, a year ago, is that the chances of a successful resolution are close to zero.

Read the entire piece here.

HT

Is the United States a Tribal Society?

Parties

Yes, says Andrew Sullivan. And it is destroying our democracy.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at New York Magazine:

One of the great attractions of tribalism is that you don’t actually have to think very much. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on. You pick up signals from everyone around you, you slowly winnow your acquaintances to those who will reinforce your worldview, a tribal leader calls the shots, and everything slips into place. After a while, your immersion in tribal loyalty makes the activities of another tribe not just alien but close to incomprehensible. It has been noticed, for example, that primitive tribes can sometimes call their members simply “people” while describing others as some kind of alien. So the word Inuit means people, but a rival indigenous people, the Ojibwe, call them Eskimos, which, according to lore, means “eaters of raw meat.”

When criticized by a member of a rival tribe, a tribalist will not reflect on his own actions or assumptions but instantly point to the same flaw in his enemy. The most powerful tribalist among us, Trump, does this constantly. When confronted with his own history of sexual assault, for example, he gave the tiniest of apologies and immediately accused his opponent’s husband of worse, inviting several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to a press conference. But in this, he was only reflecting the now near-ubiquitous trend of “whataboutism,” as any glance at a comments section or a cable slugfest will reveal. The Soviets perfected this in the Cold War, deflecting from their horrific Gulags by pointing, for example, to racial strife in the U.S. It tells you a lot about our time that a tactic once honed in a global power struggle between two nations now occurs within one. What the Soviets used against us we now use against one another.

In America, the intellectual elites, far from being a key rational bloc resisting this, have succumbed. The intellectual right and the academic left have long since dispensed with the idea of a mutual exchange of ideas. In a new study of the voting habits of professors, Democrats outnumber Republicans 12 to 1, and the imbalance is growing. Among professors under 36, the ratio is almost 23 to 1. It’s not a surprise, then, that once-esoteric neo-Marxist ideologies — such as critical race and gender theory and postmodernism, the bastard children of Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault — have become the premises of higher education, the orthodoxy of a new and mandatory religion. Their practical implications — such as “safe spaces,” speech regarded as violence, racially segregated graduation ceremonies, the policing of “micro-aggressions,” the checking of “white privilege” — are now embedded in the institutions themselves.

Conservative dissent therefore becomes tribal blasphemy. Free speech can quickly become “hate speech,” “hate speech” becomes indistinguishable from a “hate crime,” and a crime needs to be punished. Many members of the academic elite regard opposing views as threats to others’ existences, and conservative speakers often can only get a hearing on campus under lockdown. This seeps into the broader culture. It leads directly to a tech entrepreneur like Brendan Eich being hounded out of a company, Mozilla, he created because he once opposed marriage equality, or a brilliant coder, James Damore, being fired from Google for airing civil, empirical arguments against the left-feminist assumptions behind the company’s employment practices.

Read the entire piece here.

Andrew Sullivan Pulls No Punches: “The Pope and the Pagan”

Pope

Andrew Sullivan has been one of the leading anti-Trump voices among the American punditry.  His recent piece at New York Magazine, “The Pope and the Pagan,” is scathing.

Here is a taste:

The contrast between a grim-faced pope and the grinning president at the Vatican this past week was not lost on the press or late-night TV. But they missed the mark, it seems to me. They noted merely that the two leaders profoundly disagree on, say, the dignity of immigrants, the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, or the urgency of tackling climate change. While these disagreements exist, they are, it seems to me, merely symptoms of a deeper chasm — the vast, empty, and dark space that lies between Donald Trump and anything resembling Christianity.

I don’t believe that there is a Christian politics as such — there is plenty of scope for disagreement about how to translate a Christian worldview into secular politics, or whether to translate it at all. But I do believe there is a Christian set of core human virtues and values, rooted in what we Catholics still think of as the truth, and that those virtues are rooted in the Gospels. We all fail the virtue test, of course, including yours truly, perhaps more than most. But Trump is a special case — because when you think about those virtues, it is very hard to see Donald Trump as anything but a living, breathing, shameless refutation of every single one.

Trump is not an atheist, confident yet humble in the search for a God-free morality. He is not an agnostic, genuinely doubtful as to the meaning of existence but always open to revelation should it arrive. He is not even a wayward Christian, as he sometimes claims to be, beset by doubt and failing to live up to ideals he nonetheless holds. The ideals he holds are, in fact, the antithesis of Christianity — and his life proves it. He is neither religious nor irreligious. He is pre-religious. He is a pagan. He makes much more sense as a character in Game of Thrones, a medieval world bereft of the legacy of Jesus of Nazareth, than as a president of a modern, Western country.

He loves the exercise of domination, where Christianity practices subservience. He thrills to the use of force, while Jesus preached nonviolence, even in the face of overwhelming coercion. He is tribal, where Jesus was resolutely universal. He is a serial fantasist, whereas Jesus came to reveal the Truth. He is proud, where Jesus was humble. He lives off the attention of the crowd, whereas Jesus fled the throngs that followed him. He is unimaginably wealthy, while Jesus preached the virtue of extreme poverty. He despises the weak, whom Jesus always sided with. He lies to gain an advantage, while Jesus told the truth and was executed for it. He loathes the “other,” when Jesus’ radical embrace of the outsider lay at the heart of his teaching. He campaigns on fear, which Jesus repeatedly told us to abandon. He clings to his privileged bubble, while Jesus walked the streets, with nothing to his name. His only true loyalty is to his family, while Jesus abandoned his. He believes in torture, while Jesus endured it silently. He sees women as objects of possession and abuse, while Jesus — at odds with his time and place — saw women as fully equal, indeed as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. He is in love with power, while Jesus — possessed of greater power, his followers believe, than any other human being — chose to surrender all of it. If Trump were to issue his own set of beatitudes, they would have to be something like this:

Blessed are the winners: for theirs is the kingdom of Earth.

Blessed are the healthy: for they will pay lower premiums.

Blessed are the rich: for they will inherit what’s left of the earth, tax-free.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for oil and coal: for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciless: for they are so, so strong.

Blessed are the liars: for they will get away with it.

Blessed are the war-makers: for they will be called very, very smart.

Blessed are those who support you regardless: for theirs is the Electoral College.

Blessed are you when others revile you and investigate you and utter all kinds of fake news about you. Rejoice and be glad, for the failing press is dying.

Read the entire piece here.

We are all sinners. We are all flawed.  But I am still in the camp of people who want my leaders to act with some degree of moral integrity in this broken world.  Anyone who thinks that morality is unimportant for a President is fooling themselves.  United States presidents must make moral statements and judgments all the time. It is part of the job description. Think about Trump condemning the terrorist attacks in Manchester or, God-forbid, having to comfort Americans experiencing the next major tragedy on American soil. Where does he find the resources to fulfill the moral responsibilities required of this office?

We want our presidents to do what is right for the country.  We will not always agree with our president about the nature of what is right, but we want him to articulate a moral vision that is rooted in something.  Perhaps it is religious faith.  Maybe it is moral philosophy or ethics.  Maybe it is something else.  But I am still of the belief that leaders must have a moral core that informs his or her trade deals, Supreme Court appointments, and the defenses of religious liberty.

Without character, Trump’s appeal to the court evangelicals looks like little more than political manipulation.

ADDENDUM:  As pointed out by many of you on Twitter, “moral integrity” is technically not part of the “job description” of the President of the United States.  Fair enough.  I should have chosen another word or phrase other than “job description.”  Heck, I am just glad people have read this far in the post and read carefully enough to notice this error! 🙂

Andrew Sullivan Tries to Explain Stephen Miller

miller

You may recall Stephen Miller from last Sunday morning when he appeared on all the news shows.  He is apparently one of Trump’s closest advisers.  We wrote about this here.

Over at New York Magazine writer Andrew Sullivan tries to explain this guy:

I feel like I know Stephen Miller, the youthful Montgomery Burns who lectured the lügenpresse last Sunday morning in his charm-free Stakhanovite baritone. I feel like I know him because I used to be a little like him. He’s a classic type: a rather dour right-of-center kid whose conservatism was radicalized by lefties in the educational system. No, I’m not blaming liberals for Miller’s grim fanaticism. I am noting merely that right-of-center students are often mocked, isolated, and anathematized on campus, and their response is often, sadly, a doubling down on whatever it is that progressives hate. Before too long, they start adopting brattish and obnoxious positions — just to tick off their SJW peers and teachers. After a while, you’re not so much arguing for conservatism as against leftism, and eventually the issues fade and only the hate remains.

Read it the rest here.  Sullivan’s take makes sense.

Obama’s Legacy

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In case you have not seen it, The New Republic is running a fascinating discussion about the legacy of Barack Obama.  The participants in the discussion include historian Annette Gordon-Reed and Nell Painter and journalist/writers John Judis, Sarah Jaffee, and Andrew Sullivan.  The piece also includes insights from Bill McKibbon, Rafia Zakaria, Nikhil Pal Singh, Kim Phillips-Fein, Elizabeth Bruenig, and Thomas Frank.

Here is an interest exchange on identity politics:

SULLIVAN: I want to bring up something about quote-unquote “identity politics.” Because there was an area of extraordinary success Obama had in the advancement of civil rights. Namely, the achievement of marriage equality and openly gay people in the military, which no one believed could happen. And the lesson of that to me was exactly what Sarah said earlier: that yes, we didn’t wait for him, we did it ourselves. But we did it by eschewing identity politics, by saying we have got to stress what we have in common with heterosexual people, by embracing our responsibilities rather than finding constant excuses for failure, by persuading a large number of people in the middle and taking their concerns seriously, instead of screaming “racist” and all this other claptrap we hear from the left.

There is a great lesson in that—which is that if the left thinks that it didn’t stress identity politics enough, they are gravely mistaken. The only progress that will come on these issues is by getting rid of that poison and concentrating on what we have in common as citizens, irrespective of our race and our gender and our sexual orientation.

NEW REPUBLIC: I know other people in the room will disagree with a lot of what you just said, Andrew. But in a way, you captured the core of Obama’s own take on race. He has been very clear and very conscious that his larger goal was essentially a civic one: to try and get people to see themselves in each other. Was that the right approach? Or did it limit what he could achieve, by appealing to our commonality rather than more forcefully confronting the policies and prejudices that divide us?

GORDON-REED: That’s always been the philosophy of people who have been arguing for black rights. That’s what we’ve been doing: We’re people. All men are created equal. We’ve used the Declaration of Independence, we’ve used all those kinds of things. I don’t know who this “left” is that Andrew’s talking about. Black people have always been trying to assert our equal humanity. That’s what we’ve led with. Obama’s approach is not that different than what other people are doing.

JAFFE: Keep in mind that the Tea Party came first. It wasn’t Black Lives Matter. The Tea Party was ready to be angry at Obama on day one, explicitly because he was a black president. It’s just chronologically backwards to say that thousands and thousands of Americans who finally got fed up with racial injustice and took part in protest movements were somehow responsible for polarizing the conversation or rejecting common ground.

PAINTER: We’ve been talking about what Obama might have done or what Obama didn’t do or what Obama should have done. But when we’re talking about a lot of American politics, it goes on at the state and local level. That’s where we need to focus as progressives. Maybe the Democratic Party didn’t do enough on that front. But American citizens have certainly shirked their responsibility to be involved in our public life.

One quick thought about Gordon-Reed’s statement that blacks have always appealed to a common civic life in their efforts at arguing for Civil Rights.  I wonder if this is actually the case.  I can think of several well-respected historians who have argued that African-American public engagement changed considerably in the late 1960s.  If I read scholars like David Chappell, David Burner (who I took a course with in graduate school) or Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn (or even her father Christopher Lasch, especially in The True and Only Heaven) correctly, there was a move away from an appeal to civic culture and towards identity politics and Black nationalism.  I think Sullivan is correct in another part of the interview when he says that Obama represents an older Civil Rights tradition more associated with King in the 1950s and early 1960s.  This approach appealed more to universal, civic ideals than particular identities.  I think we see Obama’s approach on this front very clearly in his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma and even in his speech in the wake of the Charleston shootings.

Read the entire conversation here.  In the end, most of the participants, especially the historians, suggest that it is far too early to talk about Obama’s legacy.

Andrew Sullivan on Being Human

enjoy_the_silence

The fact that Andrew Sullivan, perhaps the most prolific blogger in human history, is now writing long-form essays speaks volumes about his recent spiritual and mental journey. In his recent piece at New York Magazine, “I Used to Be a Human Being,” Sullivan talks about the toll that full-time political blogging had on his mental and physical condition and how he tried to break his addiction to information. There is a lot here.

A taste:

The English Reformation began, one recalls, with an assault on the monasteries, and what silence the Protestants didn’t banish the philosophers of the Enlightenment mocked. Gibbon and Voltaire defined the Enlightenment’s posture toward the monkish: from condescension to outright contempt. The roar and disruption of the Industrial Revolution violated what quiet still remained until modern capitalism made business central to our culture and the ever-more efficient meeting of needs and wants our primary collective goal. We became a civilization of getting things done — with the development of America, in some ways, as its crowning achievement. Silence in modernity became, over the centuries, an anachronism, even a symbol of the useless superstitions we had left behind. The smartphone revolution of the past decade can be seen in some ways simply as the final twist of this ratchet, in which those few remaining redoubts of quiet — the tiny cracks of inactivity in our lives — are being methodically filled with more stimulus and noise.

And yet our need for quiet has never fully gone away, because our practical achievements, however spectacular, never quite fulfill us. They are always giving way to new wants and needs, always requiring updating or repairing, always falling short. The mania of our online lives reveals this: We keep swiping and swiping because we are never fully satisfied. The late British philosopher Michael Oakeshott starkly called this truth “the deadliness of doing.” There seems no end to this paradox of practical life, and no way out, just an infinite succession of efforts, all doomed ultimately to fail.

Except, of course, there is the option of a spiritual reconciliation to this futility, an attempt to transcend the unending cycle of impermanent human achievement. There is a recognition that beyond mere doing, there is also being; that at the end of life, there is also the great silence of death with which we must eventually make our peace. From the moment I entered a church in my childhood, I understood that this place was different becauseit was so quiet. The Mass itself was full of silences — those liturgical pauses that would never do in a theater, those minutes of quiet after communion when we were encouraged to get lost in prayer, those liturgical spaces that seemed to insist that we are in no hurry here. And this silence demarcated what we once understood as the sacred, marking a space beyond the secular world of noise and business and shopping.

The only place like it was the library, and the silence there also pointed to something beyond it — to the learning that required time and patience, to the pursuit of truth that left practical life behind. Like the moment of silence we sometimes honor in the wake of a tragedy, the act of not speaking signals that we are responding to something deeper than the quotidian, something more profound than words can fully express. I vividly recall when the AIDS Memorial Quilt was first laid out on the Mall in Washington in 1987. A huge crowd had gathered, drifts of hundreds of chattering, animated people walking in waves onto the scene. But the closer they got, and the more they absorbed the landscape of unimaginably raw grief, their voices petered out, and a great emptiness filled the air. This is different, the silence seemed to say. This is not our ordinary life.

Most civilizations, including our own, have understood this in the past. Millennia ago, as the historian Diarmaid MacCulloch has argued, the unnameable, often inscrutably silent God of the Jewish Scriptures intersected with Plato’s concept of a divinity so beyond human understanding and imperfection that no words could accurately describe it. The hidden God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures spoke often by not speaking. And Jesus, like the Buddha, revealed as much by his silences as by his words. He was a preacher who yet wandered for 40 days in the desert; a prisoner who refused to defend himself at his trial. At the converted novitiate at the retreat, they had left two stained-glass windows depicting Jesus. In one, he is in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood in terror, alone before his execution. In the other, he is seated at the Last Supper, with the disciple John the Beloved resting his head on Jesus’s chest. He is speaking in neither.

That Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.

This changes us. It slowly removes — without our even noticing it — the very spaces where we can gain a footing in our minds and souls that is not captive to constant pressures or desires or duties. And the smartphone has all but banished them. Thoreau issued his jeremiad against those pressures more than a century ago: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.”

Read it all here.

Andrew Sullivan on David Kuo and the Passion and Joy of Evangelicalism

I did not know David Kuo, but I have read his book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.  I have also followed Kuo’s video posts at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish.  I was thus saddened to hear that Kuo died of cancer last week at the age of 44.

Kuo was best known as the evangelical Christian who served as the deputy director of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.  After he quit the organization he wrote Tempting Faith to expose how the Bush administration was using the office as a political prop.

Over at the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic, describes what it was like attending Kuo’s funeral at an evangelical mega-church.  His post reminds me of why I remain an Evangelical.  Thanks, Andrew.

Here is a taste:

I have never been to a mega-church service – which is something to be ashamed of, since I have written so often about evangelicalism’s political wing. And it was revealing. The theater was called a sanctuary – but it felt like a conference stage. There were no pews, no altar (of course), just movie-theater seats, a big complicated stage with a set, and four huge screens. It looked like a toned-down version of American Idol. I was most impressed by the lighting, its subtlety and professionalism (I’ve often wondered why the Catholic church cannot add lighting effects to choreograph the Mass). The lyrics of the religious pop songs – “hymns” doesn’t capture their Disney channel infectiousness – were displayed on the screens as well, allowing you to sing without looking down at a hymnal. Great idea. And the choir was a Christian pop band, young, hip-looking, bearded, unpretentious and excellent. Before long, I was singing and swaying and smiling with the best of them. The only thing I couldn’t do was raise my hands up in the air.

This was not, in other words, a Catholic experience. But it was clearly, unambiguously, a Christian one…

…What I guess I’m trying to say is that so many of us have come to view evangelical Christianity as threatening, and in its political incarnation, it is at times. But freed from politics, evangelical Christianity has a passion and joy and Scriptural mastery we could all learn from. The pastors were clearly of a higher caliber than most of the priests I have known – in terms of intellect and command. The work they do for the poor, the starving, and the marginalized in their own communities and across the world remains a testimony to the enduring power of Christ’s resurrection. 

In some way, this was David’s last gift to me. His own unvarnished, embarrassingly frank belief helped me get over my prejudices against evangelicalism as a lived faith. His faith strengthened mine immeasurably, especially when we were among the first two to bail on the Bush administration in its first term. It was not a shock that his last day above the ground opened up more windows and doors in my mind. He doubtless hoped it would.

I feel no grief. I remain, as someone once said, surprised by joy.