“America” Magazine on Anti-Catholicism and the Treatment of Amy Coney Barrett

Barrett

Over at America, Bill McCormack, a Jesuit and political philosopher at Saint Louis University, is the latest to speak out against what he believes to be the inappropriate line of questioning that Amy Coney Barrett received during her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Unlike other critiques, McCormack also criticizes the anti-Catholic rhetoric of former Trump adviser and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon.  It is worth noting that McCormack’s critique of both Bannon and the Democrats are less constitutional and more religious in nature.

Here is a taste of the section on the Senate hearings:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, recently questioned a prospective federal judge’s fitness for office. It turns out the nominee, Amy Barrett, is just a little too Catholic for the Democratic senator’s taste:

Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.

This is sad coming from Senator Feinstein. I doubt she has any problem with the Gospel call to serve the poor, and she is known for the strength of her own convictions, convictions that she is generally happy to force on others. But the minute a truth comes up that she dislikes, in this case, arguments against abortion, then suddenly conviction becomes “dogma” and the truth loses its right to a public voice.

As if working in tandem, Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and himself Catholic, asked Ms. Barrett directly, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” When did the Democrats start requiring religious tests for public office?

Again, you can argue that these senators’ views do not represent their party. But at its worst, the Democratic Party is deeply skeptical of any claims to truth or authority. That is bad for Catholics who recognize the salvific truth of the authority of Jesus Christ and want to assert it on behalf of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, including the unborn.

Read the entire piece here.

Does Steve Bannon Have His Facts Straight About “The American System?”

Bannon

Sunday on 60 Minutes, Charlie Rose asked former Trump adviser and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon the following question:

America was in the eyes of so many people. and its what people respect America for, [a place where people] can come…, find a place, contribute to the economy–that’s what immigration had been in America.  And you seem to want to turn it around, and stop it.

And here is how Bannon answered:

You couldn’t be more dead wrong. America was built on her citizens. … Look at the 19th century. What built America’s called the American system, from Hamilton to Polk to Henry Clay to Lincoln to the Roosevelts. [It was] a system of protection of our manufacturing, financial system that lends to manufacturers, OK, and the control of our borders. Economic nationalism is what this country was built on. The American system.

So was Bannon use of history correct here?  NPR’s Steven Inskeep sets him straight. Here is a taste:

First: Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant. He was born in the West Indies. In the 18th century he fought for his adopted country in war (as immigrants often have) and then, as treasury secretary, he contributed immensely to his adopted country’s economy (as immigrants often have). He argued for the government to pay Revolutionary War debts, dreamed up a sophisticated financial system, and ended up on the $10 bill. Even in the 21st century, he continues to generate economic activity as the subject of a Broadway musical.

Bannon is close enough in calling Hamilton a citizen, since he was present at the founding of the country — although all Founding Fathers were immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, who arrived in the territory of native nations. This illustrates the essential problem in claiming the country was built by citizens and not immigrants: Immigrants often contributed and also became citizens.

It’s meaningful that Bannon cites Abraham Lincoln, too, in his argument about immigrants. In 1862, Lincoln signed legislation supporting construction of a transcontinental railroad, which began a few years later. It was difficult to find laborers willing to work in harsh conditions, so railroad executives hired immigrants. Chinese workers were among those who laid tracks over the mountains from the west, until they met crews of Irish laborers coming from the east. Their meeting in Utah was an iconic American moment.

Read the entire piece here.

History.  It matters.

Coming to Terms With Our History

Columbus

Recently on Facebook I saw a picture of a statue of Christopher Columbus in Buffalo covered in red paint.  It is pictured above.  The person who posted the photo wrote “When good things happen to bad people.”  The responses to the post were similar.

I have also seen a variety of Facebook posts by folks who demand that monuments of Confederate soldiers and anyone who owned slaves be torn down immediately.  These folks reject the idea of contextualizing the monuments or deliberating about how they should be handled.  Sadly, many of these folks identify themselves in their Facebook bios as history and social studies teachers.

Perhaps the time for civil conversation is over. Maybe the monuments should come down–Lee, Stonewall, Washington, Jefferson, Columbus, etc….  Maybe as one teacher put it, the “erasing history” mantra is getting old.  Frankly, it scares me that these history and social studies teachers might be bringing such views into their classrooms.  And let me be clear–this is not about white supremacy.  This is about a civil debate how to handle these monuments that bring good history to bear on their meaning and purpose.

I thought about these Facebook posts again after I read Robert Kuttner‘s recent piece at Huffington Post.  Kuttner is the co-editor of the progressive magazine American Prospect, but he is also the guy who landed the last interview with Alt-right policy wonk Steve Bannon before the Trump senior adviser was fired.  Kuttner worries that we are playing directly into Bannon’s hands on this whole monument debate.

Here is a taste:

Last week in Baltimore, some far-lefties took a sledgehammer to a statue of Christopher Columbus. A video uploaded to YouTube declared:

“Christopher Columbus symbolizes the initial invasion of European capitalism into the Western Hemisphere. Columbus initiated a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas. That Columbian wave of destruction continues on the backs of Indigenous, African-American and brown people.

“What kind of a culture clings to those monuments in 2017? Part of our evolution as humans requires tearing down monuments to destructive forces and tearing down systems that maintain them.”

Now, this requires some careful thought. The speaker is not entirely wrong, but he manages to sound like central casting’s parody of a lefty. Unless we all want to “return” to Europe or wherever our ancestors came from, America is our home and Columbus was among the first European explorers.

What’s required is a long-overdue process of truth, reconciliation and healing. Even before the latest outburst of virulent racial hate encouraged by our president, Confederate statues were coming down all over the former Confederacy. That’s a good start.

But do we really want to tear down statues of Washington, Jefferson and Columbus? In some ideal, utopian world, that may feel overdue. But in the real world of politics, will it contribute to healing―or serve as raw meat to the Bannons?

For better or worse, there is no central committee of American progressivism. Most of us may conclude that the right place to draw a bright line is at statutes commemorating the Confederacy and slavery. But that doesn’t stop people acting on their own behalf.

The bitter truth is that half the founding fathers held slaves. And the other half assented to the continuation of slavery under the Constitution. That’s why we had to fight a civil war almost a hundred years later.

We can’t undo that history. But we need to come to terms with it. And we need to  rectify the shameful parts of the legacy that live on in the present. I can’t believe that taking sledgehammers to statues of Washington, Jefferson, and Columbus will help.

Read the entire piece here.

Thucydides and the Trump White House

Thucydides

He wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War and is considered one of the first historians in the Western world.  He also seems to be a favorite of some members of the Trump administration.

Over at Politico, Michael Crowley tells the story of how Thucydides made it to the White House.

Here is a taste:

Thucydides is especially beloved by the two most influential figures on Trump’s foreign policy team. National security adviser H.R. McMaster has called Thucydides’ work an “essential” military text, taught it to students and quoted from it in speeches and op-eds. Defense Secretary James Mattis is also fluent in Thucydides’ work: “If you say to him, ‘OK, how about the Melian Dialogue?’ he could tell you exactly what it is,” Allison says—referring to one particularly famous passage. When former Defense Secretary William Cohen introduced him at his confirmation hearing, Cohen said Mattis was likely the only person present “who can hear the words ‘Thucydides Trap’ and not have to go to Wikipedia to find out what it means.”

That’s not true in the Trump White House, where another Peloponnesian War aficionado can be found in the office of chief strategist Steve Bannon. A history buff fascinated with grand conflict, Bannon once even used “Sparta”—one of the most militarized societies history has known—as a computer password. (“He talked a lot about Sparta,” his former Hollywood writing partner, Julia Jones, told The Daily Beast. An unnamed former colleague recalled for the New Yorker Bannon’s “long diatribes” about the Peloponnesian War.)

In an August 2016 article for his former employer, Breitbart News, Bannon likened the conservative media rivalry between Breitbart and Fox News to the Peloponnesian War, casting Breitbart as the disciplined warrior state of Sparta challenging a decadently Athenian Fox. There’s also NSC spokesman Michael Anton, a student of the classics who owns two copies of Thucydides’ fabled work. (“The acid test for me is: Do you read the Hobbes translation?” he says. “If you’ve read that translation, you’ve got my respect.”)

Read the entire piece here.

Thanks to Sam Smith for bringing this piece to my attention.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson on Trump’s Muslim Ban: “It’s a Shock Event”

bannon

Heather Cox Richardson of Boston College is one of my favorite historians.  I highly recommend her most recent book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Today Richardson gave me permission to publish a piece she recently posted to her Facebook page.

Richardson is probably right in assuming that Steve Bannon is behind Trump’s recent Executive Order on Muslim refugees.  She describes what Bannon is doing as a “shock event.” This is an attempt to throw the country into confusion and chaos so that the administration can present itself as the only entity capable of restoring order.

Richardson explains:

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries– is creating what is known as a “shock event.” Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order. When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like. I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is. If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.richardson

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event. A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union. If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power. Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.

Steve Bannon on Those Exciting 1930s

bowery-bread-line

Steve Bannon, future White House adviser, on his plans for the Trump administration:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

HT: John Haas