Out of the Zoo: Time Travel

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Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie writes about a recent George Will lecture on campus. –JF

Especially among my history major friends, time travel is a popular subject of conversation. Many of us raised on books like The Magic Treehouse, movies like Back to the Future or shows like Doctor Who, we can easily entertain ourselves by talking about what it might’ve been like to live in another time. While I have yet to meet a real-life Marty McFly who can actually travel back in time, my friends and I still have fun imagining what our lives might have have looked like if we lived 10, 100, or 1000 years ago.

This past Thursday Pulitzer Prize winning columnist George Will visited Messiah’s campus. After attending a dinner President Kim Phipps held in his honor that afternoon, I made my way down to the High Center where Mr. Will gave his lecture. After “depressing” us with dismal statistics about the nation’s growing debt, the faltering social security system, and the staggering price of modern medicine, George Will sought to end his lecture on a high note. In an attempt to lift our spirits, Will brought his own inquiry about time travel to the table. 

Will asked his South-Central Pennsylvania audience this question: If you could be as rich as John D. Rockefeller (the world’s first billionaire) was in 1916, but had to live in 1916, would you take the money or would you stay put on 21st century soil? He took a quick poll of his audience before launching into his argument.

Sure, Will said, if you had a billion dollars in 1916, you would be the richest man (or woman) in the world. Yet, even if you were the richest woman in the world in 1916, you still wouldn’t be able to vote in most states. Sure, you could live in a mansion and buy the most expensive watch on the market, but as Will emphasized, 1916’s most expensive watch wouldn’t keep time nearly as well as the cheap timepiece you can purchase from Walmart nowadays. If you filled the shoes of the world’s first billionaire you would surely be able to afford the best doctors 1916 had to offer, but there was still a one in 10 chance you would suffer from a perpetual toothache.

Progress. That’s what rested at the center of Will’s point. While the United States may have its flaws–flaws which Mr. Will was not ashamed to point out–advances in science, technology, and industry over the past century have greatly improved the American way of life. Essentially, Will argued Thursday that despite the problems our nation faces in the present, our lives are much better now than they would have been a hundred years ago. 

I agreed with Will’s argument in some respects. I can not deny that our nation has made steady, if not exponential progress in the areas of medicine and technology since 1916. And, as a white female, I know full well that the life I live now is much more comfortable than the one I would have lived a century ago. But I don’t think it’s quite that simple. It is our natural tendency to view the chronology of time as a journey from destitution to prosperity. When we look back on the past we like to see progress, and sometimes even go out of our way to find it and to blow it out of proportion. Full of prideful optimism, we like to point out the inefficiencies of the past rather than focusing on our flaws in the present. As historians, though, we need to keep our eyes on the past, the present, and the future. That’s when real progress is made.

Why Christians Should Be Concerned About Climate Change

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Last night I went to a George Will lecture on campus and listened to him question whether climate change was man-made.  (This was not the focus of his lecture, but the subject came-up during the Q&A period).

When it comes to climate change, I think I will stick with the climate scientists who actually know something about the subject.  One of these scientists is Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who co-directs the Climate Center at Texas Tech University.  Yesterday Hayhoe published a piece on Christians and climate change in The New York Times.  Here is a taste:

I’m not a glutton for punishment and I don’t thrive on conflict. So why do I keep talking about climate change to people who are disengaged or doubtful? Because I believe that evangelicals who take the Bible seriously already care about climate change (although they might not realize it). Climate change will strike hard against the very people we’re told to care for and love, amplifying hunger and poverty, and increasing risks of resource scarcity that can exacerbate political instability, and even create or worsen refugee crises.

Then there’s pollution, biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation, species extinction: climate change makes all those worse, too. In fact, if we truly believe we’ve been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet (including each other) as it says in Genesis 1, then it isn’t only a matter of caring about climate change: We should be at the front of the line demanding action.

But if caring about climate change is such a profoundly Christian value, then why do surveys in the United States consistently show white evangelicals and white Catholics at the bottom of those Americans concerned about the changing climate?

Read the entire piece here.

George Will: The GOP is “a party of slow-learning careerists” who have tethered their “careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw”

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I am glad that conservative columnist George Will is coming to Messiah College on October 31, 2019.  In yesterday’s column, Will rips into the Republican Party and its “canine loyalty” to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

In Federalist 51, James Madison anticipated a wholesome rivalry and constructive tension between the government’s two political branches: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected to the constitutional rights of the place.” Equilibrium between the branches depends on “supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.” But equilibrium has vanished as members of Congress think entirely as party operatives and not at all as institutionalists.

Trump is not just aggressively but lawlessly exercising the interests of his place, counting on Congress, after decades of lassitude regarding its interests, being an ineffective combatant. Trump’s argument, injected into him by subordinates who understand that absurdity is his vocation, is essentially that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions are unconstitutional.

The canine loyalty of Senate Republicans will keep Trump in office. But until he complies with House committee subpoenas, the House must not limply hope federal judges will enforce their oversight powers. Instead, the House should wield its fundamental power, that of the purse, to impose excruciating costs on executive branch noncompliance. This can be done.

In 13 months, all congressional Republicans who have not defended Congress by exercising “the constitutional rights of the place” should be defeated. If congressional Republicans continue their genuflections at Trump’s altar, the appropriate 2020 outcome will be a Republican thrashing so severe — losing the House, the Senate and the electoral votes of, say, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and even Texas — that even this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.

Read the entire piece here.

Hey George Will, Why Don’t You Tell Us What You REALLY Think About Donald Trump?

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Conservative columnist George Will has already told conservatives to vote for Democratic candidates in 2018.  In today’s column he calls Trump a “sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”  Here is a taste:

Like the purloined letter in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story with that title, collusion with Russia is hiding in plain sight. We shall learn from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation whether in 2016 there was collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign. The world, however, saw in Helsinki something more grave — ongoing collusion between Trump, now in power, and Russia. The collusion is in what Trump says (refusing to back the United States’ intelligence agencies) and in what evidently went unsaid (such as: You ought to stop disrupting Ukrainedowning civilian airlinersattempting to assassinate people abroad using poisons, and so on, and on).

Americans elected a president who — this is a safe surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained — his compliance — is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Read the rest here.

George Will: Mike Pence is “Horrifying”

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Hey George Will, why don’t you tell us what you REALLY think about Vice President Mike Pence?

Will pulls no punches in his recent column at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

Last June, a Trump Cabinet meeting featured testimonials offered to Dear Leader by his forelock-tugging colleagues. His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, caught the spirit of the worship service by thanking Trump for the “blessing” of being allowed to serve him. The hosannas poured forth from around the table, unredeemed by even a scintilla of insincerity. Priebus was soon deprived of his blessing, as was Tom Price. Before Price’s ecstasy of public service was truncated because of his incontinent enthusiasm for charter flights, he was the secretary of health and human services who at the Cabinet meeting said, “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me.” The vice president chimed in but saved his best riff for a December Cabinet meeting when, as The Post’s Aaron Blake calculated, Pence praised Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes: “I’m deeply humbled. . . . ” Judging by the number of times Pence announces himself “humbled,” he might seem proud of his humility, but that is impossible because he is conspicuously devout and pride is a sin.

Between those two Cabinet meetings, Pence and his retinue flew to Indiana for the purpose of walking out of an Indianapolis Colts football game, thereby demonstrating that football players kneeling during the national anthem are intolerable to someone of Pence’s refined sense of right and wrong. Which brings us to his Arizona salute last week to Joe Arpaio, who was sheriff of Maricopa County until in 2016 voters wearied of his act.

Noting that Arpaio was in his Tempe audience, Pence, oozing unctuousness from every pore, called Arpaio “another favorite,” professed himself “honored” by Arpaio’s presence, and praised him as “a tireless champion of . . . the rule of law.” Arpaio, a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right, is also a criminal, convicted of contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to desist from certain illegal law enforcement practices. Pence’s performance occurred eight miles from the home of Sen. John McCain, who could teach Pence — or perhaps not — something about honor.

Henry Adams said that “practical politics consists in ignoring facts,” but what was the practicality in Pence’s disregard of the facts about Arpaio? His pandering had no purpose beyond serving Pence’s vocation, which is to ingratiate himself with his audience of the moment. The audience for his praise of Arpaio was given to chanting “Build that wall!” and applauded Arpaio, who wears Trump’s pardon like a boutonniere.

Read the entire piece here.  Ouch! We could probably write a similar piece about Pence as a spokesperson for evangelicalism.

George Will: Trump is Disabled

 

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Conservative columnist George Will believes that Donald Trump is incapable of speaking and thinking clearly. “This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability,” he writes, “it is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.”

Here is a taste.  Wills pulls no punches:

What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something…

Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.

Read the entire column at The Washington Post.

 

George Will Hits Bill O’Reilly Again…Hard

In his book Killing Reagan, Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly argues that when Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981 his presidency was, for all intents and purposes, “killed.”  In other words, Reagan was never the same after the shooting and several of his aides wanted to remove him from office because he was mentally incompetent.


Last week columnist George Will challenged O’Reilly’s interpretation of Reagan  Then the two conservatives went head to head on O”Reilly’s show. 

Today Will went after O’Reilly again.  Here is a taste:

O’Reilly “reports” that the trauma of the assassination attempt was somehow causally related to the “fact” that Reagan was frequently so mentally incompetent that senior aides contemplated using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove him from office. But neither O’Reilly nor Dugard spoke with any of those aides — not with Ed Meese, Jim Baker, George Shultz or any of the scores of others who could, and would, have demolished O’Reilly’s theory. O’Reilly now airily dismisses them because they “have skin in the game.” His is an interesting approach to writing history: Never talk to anyone with firsthand knowledge of your subject.

Instead, O’Reilly made the book’s “centerpiece” a memo he has never seen and never tried to see until 27 days after the book was published. Then Dugard asked the Reagan Presidential Library to find it.

Recently on Fox News, O’Reilly put this on the screen from Sue Janzen of Yorba Linda, Calif.: “We went to the Reagan Library, and were told they do not sell Killing Reagan because it’s not factual.” Then O’Reilly said: “You were deceived, Sue. The Reagan Library is angry at Martin Dugard and me because we’re seeking” the Cannon memo. He added: “The memo’s disappeared. But Dugard and I are on the case and the library is not happy about it.”
“Disappeared”? His crude intimation was that the allegedly deceptive library is hiding the memo. The library, however, has never had it because when James Cannon wrote it, he was not a member of the White House staff, hence the memo was not a “presidential record.”
Read Will’s entire column here.

Conservatives Fighting Over Ronald Reagan

George Will vs. Bill O’Reilly.

I am not really sure I understand what they are arguing about.  Something about a meeting and a memo.  O’Reilly is in classic form here.  He does not let Will finish a sentence.  Then he calls one of the most prominent conservative columnists in the United States “a hack.”

Why George Will Needs a Lesson in American Religious History

A recent speech by George Will has been getting a lot of attention of late.  Last December the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis hosted Will for a public lecture titled “Religion and Politics in the First Modern Nation.”  Watch it here:

Over at Religion in American History, Jonathan Den Hartog exposes Will’s flawed interpretation of religion and the founding fathers and gives Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction a nice plug in the process.  Here is a taste of Den Hartog’s post:

As a religious historian, though, I specifically wanted to counter Will’s treatment of the attitude of the “Big 5 Founders” he cites toward religion. Will is at pains to describe each of them as publicly respectful of religion while not being very religious themselves. 

Not only is this territory a minefield, but it’s also been an area of much academic study. With better reading, Will might have gotten a more nuanced view.

For instance, he could have started with John Fea’s Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Then, he might have added David Holmes’s The Faiths of the Founding Fathers.


For a different take, he could have delved into Gregg Frazer’s The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders.


Finally, for analysis from a political scientist, he could have looked at Vincent Philip Munoz’s God and the Founders.

And those are just four titles off the top of my head. What this scholarship has argued is that there was a lot of religious diversity in the Revolutionary era. Some of those involved were very orthodox, others much less so. 

This is decidedly not to argue that the most of the founders were devout Christians. However, even those who weren’t orthodox still held strong religious beliefs. They did, and they practiced them.

So, Will dismisses Franklin as a Deist–he did claim to be one as a young man–even though his actions during the Revolutionary Era belied that claim. Or, Will claims Adams’s religious beliefs disappeared during his life, whereas Adams thought and wrote quite a lot about religion. Will misses that Unitarianism was a robust religious system in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that retained many Protestant forms.