Rod Dreher

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The Horrible New Normal

I was busy all day Saturday in a wonderful Dallas bubble. I gave a talk about the Benedict Option this morning at Providence Christian School, then went to lunch with some folks who are doing amazing work serving the poor, then hung out with new friends and old ones at the Old Monk pub, my old hangout, and then went to a nice long dinner with more Providence folks. It was a great day.

I came back to the hotel room late, and got caught up on the big events of the day: the women’s march, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s bizarre performance.

First the march. What an appalling spectacle. The women marched in part to protest President Trump’s vulgar and disrespectful attitude toward women. But in so doing … well, look:

The Secret Service has reportedly said it will open an investigation into Madonna after the singer told the Women’s March on Washington that she had thought about ‘blowing up the White House’.

Donning a black p***yhat, the music icon caused controversy by dropping the F-bomb four times, sparking a slew of apologies from broadcasters airing the protest live.

She went on to speak of her rage at the election result, telling the crowd she had thought a lot about ‘blowing up the White House’ but knew that it ‘wouldn’t change anything’.

More:

Tempers ran high as marchers took to Washington D.C.  to oppose Donald Trump’s new presidency – with Ashley Judd joining Madonna in spewing lewd rants against the new President.

The Hollywood actress and the pop star departed from the general spirit of inclusivity and calls for mutual respect with personal attacks not only on Trump but also his family, including daughter Ivanka.

They say well-behaved women rarely make history, and Judd clearly took that quote to heart as she recited a poem written by a 19-year-old from Tennessee.

‘I feel Hitler in these streets, a mustache traded for a toupee,’ she said.

‘I am a nasty woman,’ she continued – referencing Donald’s famous attack on Hillary Clinton. ‘I’m not as nasty as a man who looks like he bathes in Cheeto dust.

‘I’m not as nasty as your own daughter being your favorite sex symbol, your wet dreams infused with your own genes’.

Still more:

Judd continued to proudly repeat the phrase ‘I’m a nasty woman’ as the crowd of thousands continued to cheer.

‘And our p***ies ain’t for grabbing, they’re for reminding you that our walls are stronger than America’s ever will be,’ she concluded.

‘Our p*****s are for our pleasure, for birthing new generations of filthy, vulgar, nasty, proud, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, generations of nasty women.

‘So what today means is that we are far from the end, today marks the beginning, the beginning of our story.’

‘The revolution starts here, the fight for the right to be free, to be who we are, to be equal, lets march together through this darkness and with each step know that we are not afraid.’

‘That we are not alone, that we will not back down, that there is power in our unity, and that no opposing force stands a chance in the face of true solidarity.’

‘And to our detractors that insist that this march will never add up to anything, “f*** you”,’ she proclaimed.

Madonna also performed two of her classic hits, Express Yourself and Human Nature, changing one of the lyrics in the latter song to ‘Donald Trump suck a d***’.

Read the whole thing.  Disgusting. As a reader e-mailed:

Trump is the vulgar one?

They are making him look like Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

But look, it cannot be denied that the march, and sister marches around the country, drew formidable numbers. This is not going away anytime soon. The divisions are deep, and real, and the passions are hot.

And then the Sean Spicer episode. The White House press secretary called a Saturday press conference, and then, in front of reporters, delivered a blistering statement complaining about an unfair tweet, and about reports that the Trump inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama’s first inauguration crowd. In the statement he lied, or at least abused the truth, then stormed off the stage without taking questions.

I watched the clip, and thought, “This is the United States of America?!” It beggars belief. A friend texted:

That press briefing is such a pathetic embarrassment. Honestly. Four more years of thin-skinned lackeys carrying the water of a thin-skinned, self-absorbed narcissist. They didn’t have to say anything. How small they look already. How much they have already diminished the prestige of the office with their petty headcounts.

It’s true. Are we really going to have to endure idiocy like this every time Trump gets wound up about some penny-ante tweet from a reporter? Is it going to be nothing but chaos and outrage? Jonathan V. Last writes:

Rule #1 for press relations is that you can obfuscate, you can misrepresent, you can shade the truth to a ridiculous degree, or play dumb and pretend not to know things you absolutely do know. But you can’t peddle affirmative, provable falsehoods. And it’s not because there’s some code of honor among press secretaries, but because once you’re a proven liar in public, you can’t adequately serve your principal. Every principal needs a spokesman who has the ability, in a crunch, to tell the press something important and know that they’ll be believed 100 percent, without reservation.

But like I said, this isn’t about Spicer.

What’s worrisome is that Spicer wouldn’t have blown his credibility with the national press on Day 2 of the administration unless it was vitally important to Trump.

And if media reports about crowd size are so important to Trump that he’d push Spicer out there to lie for him, then it means that all the tinpot-dictator, authoritarian, characterological tics that people worried about during the campaign are still very much active.

You know who obsessed about crowd size? Fidel Castro. You know who did not? George Washington, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, and every other man to ever serve as president of these United States of America.

#NeverTrumpster Erick Erickson has a fascinating take on it all:

People are idiots. Donald Trump will keeping winning because people are idiots. And no, I am not talking about Trump supporters. I am mostly talking about the press corps.

Let’s review Saturday shall we?

The press decided to give massive coverage to the Women’s March in Washington with members of the press gleefully reporting every insult against Trump, but patently ignoring that one of the key speakers opposed the collapse of the Berlin Wall because she thought the communists were better than us. Another speaker, Ashley Judd, suggested Trump supporters were Nazis.

Consider the reaction of the press had this been said of Barack Obama. Well, we do not have to ponder it. We know. The press was outraged. Remember how a congressional staffer got fired for tweeting something about the Obama kids? On Friday, multiple people with blue checkmarks on Twitter were attacking Baron Trump and the press said nothing. We also know how the press responded when anyone called Obama a muslim, Nazi, commie, etc.

All this reinforces in many people’s minds that there is a double standard. And that double standard went into full force on Saturday. Supposedly objective reporters spent the day as activists and you all know it.

True. More Erickson:

Now, here we are at the close of Saturday, and the press has been fixated on a President of the United States daring to fight them. They have never had a President push back against them before like this. So now they’re screaming “First Amendment” and offended that Trump is doing all this.

They are screaming and moaning over treatment from a man who won a national election after video revealed he thought he could grab women by, well, you know where. And somehow the press thinks that voters who voted for Trump after that will care about this.

Mind you, the press can claim Trump has a low approval rating, but they have a lower approval rating than him.

The simple fact is that everyone knows the media only focuses on crowd sizes when it works to the Democrats’ advantage; everyone knows the press plays up tea party aggressiveness while downplaying leftwing aggressiveness; and everybody except the press knows that Trump is moving fast on a host of issues and he has them brilliantly focused on themselves.

People are idiots. Trump clearly knows this. And he is exploiting it to his advantage. As long as the press keeps playing up grievances against themselves and focusing on issues that really do not matter, Trump and his Administration can keep flying fast under the radar.

Read the whole thing.  I think Erickson is probably right. Still, a few conclusions from Saturday:

  1. President Trump was a chaos candidate and apparently intends to be a chaos president. Stability, it would seem, is out the window. The White House will lie without hesitation when it serves its perceived interest.
  2. Trump is weaponizing the news media’s biases. Even when the media tell the truth, millions of Trump supporters will not believe them. This is a dangerous situation in a democracy. Consciously or not, Trump is exploiting the American people’s new habit of believing that truth is whatever serves the narrative they wish to believe, including whatever serves the cause of their side gaining or holding power.
  3. The elite media will not understand that it does this too, and has been doing this for years, to conservatives.
  4. Conservatives will be so glad that a Republican president is finally fighting back that they won’t care that it’s insane for a US president to behave this way, and that it undermines the gravity of the office.
  5. The cultural left, convinced of the justice of its own wrathfulness, is not going to protest with dignity or behave with any kind of decency or restraint. It’s going to overreach, again and again and again. It and Trump are going to feed off of each other’s negative energy, and it’s going to drive more and more Americans apart, and not only apart, but towards real enmity. Each side will blame the other 100 percent for the trouble.

One reason that the Benedict Option is going to become more and more appealing in the Trump years is as a shelter and source of resilience during the days of rage to come. In Dallas this weekend, my conversations included one with a college professor and one with a couple of lawyers. The professor talked about the spitefulness against Christians in the academy (even here in Dallas), and how one had to lay low and watch one’s back. The Trump years, I believe, are going to ramp that up. The lawyers talked about how politicized, in terms of progressive cultural dogmas, the professional culture within law has become. I am certain that the Trump years are going to see activists within the law profession push harder on these points as a form of resistance. This is going to fall very hard on the heads of orthodox Christians in law, academia, and other fields prone to left-wing cultural dominance.

Mostly, though, we are going to need a place of shelter within which we can keep our peace amid the chaos. I think of the Monks of Norcia, sheltering in tents just outside the town, observing the rubble of their earthquake-ravaged basilica and monastery. They left for the hills after the first of the series of deadly earthquakes, and made a safe place for themselves to ride out what was coming. In American life, the earth is starting to shake, symbolically. Now is the time to prepare for difficult days ahead.

UPDATE:

“Alternative facts”? I think I threw up a little bit in my mouth.

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Failed Education Reform

Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan (Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock)

Surprise, surprise. From the Washington Post:

One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.

Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.

The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door.

“We’re talking about millions of kids who are assigned to these failing schools, and we just spent several billion dollars promising them things were going to get better,” said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has long been skeptical that the Obama administration’s strategy would work. “Think of what all that money could have been spent on instead.”

They spent $7 billion, in fact. One of the most enduring shibboleths of education reform is that throwing money at the problem will fix it. A closely related shibboleth is that it can be fixed by fiddling with the method. While these might produce improvements at the margins, no serious reform can happen if kids are raised in chaotic families that do not value education. We can’t fix families, so we pretend that’s not the problem.

Lots of people are angry at the incoming Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, saying that her past advocacy of school choice and voucher programs will destroy the public school system if she tries to implement them nationally. Well, what we’ve been doing is not working. Why not try something different?

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What We Heard At The Trump Inaugural

I apologize for these dashed-off thoughts below. I’ve been traveling all day and unable to get online. I’ve got a dinner to get to shortly, and I want to get something up. I heard the Inaugural Address on the radio while driving. Here’s what I think.

TAC founder Pat Buchanan didn’t get to give a Presidential inaugural address, but he lived to hear a new US president say what he would have said had he been given the chance. I was roadtripping when I heard Trump’s speech, and thought it was remarkable in a number of ways – some good, some bad.

First, the good.

I was astonished, really astonished, by how forthrightly anti-Washington and anti-Establishment it was. I imagine all the Republican Congressional members were almost as uncomfortable with it as the Democrats (to say nothing about the former US presidents attending the ceremony). He basically read them the riot act. I liked this part, to be honest. Somebody on NPR commented on this, saying in effect, “He remembered who sent him to Washington.” Yes, he did.

I was also pleasantly surprised by his economic nationalism, and shocked to think that a Republican president was speaking those words. We haven’t heard language like that at the executive level since … well, have we ever? It was a blistering repudiation of Reaganism and globalism. Did you ever imagine that a GOP president would say words like these? For that matter, a Democratic president? I may end up regretting this, but as a paleocon wet, I liked hearing those words.

Now, the bad.

His hyperbole was awful. “Carnage”? Really? You would think that we had been living out a long national nightmare of Mordorian intensity. It rang false, as did Trump’s grandiose promises to bring all the factories back, eliminate Islamic terrorism, heal the planet, and so forth. He’s raising expectations unrealistically high. When this stuff fails to materialize, is he going to blame “Washington”?

Also, I agree with him that it’s time to draw down American troops around the world, and I suppose I don’t mind him saying that other nations have bled out military dry if that rhetoric is how he manages to sell it to the American people. But there is no sense in which our military has been bled dry. We spend vastly more on our military than anybody else in the world. Trump given the impression that foreign welfare queens have looted the Pentagon is a con man’s line.

Overall, though, this tweet from Michael Brendan Dougherty resonated with me:

… and here’s why: because that was not the speech of a man who is capable of leading a government that he does not command. Many people have faulted its dark quality, but for a pessimist like me, that’s not necessarily a fault. The country really does have big problems, with no easy solutions, if they can be solved at all. That said, he really does seem to be a menacing figure, chiefly (to me) because he has a hot temper, no self-control and no fixed principles. And it is unnerving to watch a US president deploy rhetoric to ramp up fear and manipulate his listeners into thinking that only he can save us.

I’m a lot more disposed towards Trump than David Brooks, but he really gets it right in this passage from his column:

The very thing that made him right electorally for this moment will probably make him an incompetent president. He is the ultimate anti-institutional man, but the president sits at the nerve center of a routinized, regularized four-million-person institution. If the figure at the center can’t give consistent, clear and informed direction, the whole system goes haywire, with vicious infighting and creeping anarchy.

Some on the left worry that we are seeing the rise of fascism, a new authoritarian age. That gets things exactly backward. The real fear in the Trump era should be that everything will become disorganized, chaotic, degenerate, clownish and incompetent.

The real fear should be that Trump is Captain Chaos, the ignorant dauphin of disorder. All the standard practices, norms, ways of speaking and interacting will be degraded and shredded. The political system and the economy will grind to a battered crawl.

Trump is very good at demolishing things. He smashed the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. But can he build anything other than resorts, casinos, and towers? Megan McArdle nails it here:

We are at a fragile moment in the history of our republic. Our political order is weaker than it has been at any time in living memory, and possibly weaker than it has been at any time since 1860. There may be those who welcome the decline of the political order, because they consider it corrupt, ineffective and hostage to special interests. And, well … it sort of is all those things. But I don’t welcome its decline, when no one is offering a better alternative to take its place. It is very easy to identify the flaws with an existing order, but much harder to put something better in its place, as the communists found out to the sorrow of millions of people.

Liberal democracy is an uneasy truce worked out after centuries of vicious religious wars in Europe, a compromise in which we all agreed to commit to a peaceful process for resolving our most fundamental disputes, even if we hated the normative propositions that process ended up endorsing. Why did we do this? Because the alternative to living with sin is shooting the sinners. And being labeled a sinner. And being shot.

Hey, I’m a guy whose cultural vision is so gloomy that he promotes a limited withdrawal from the mainstream for the sake of building institutions and practices capable of pulling Christianity and the Western tradition through a new Dark Age. So who am I to be somewhat unnerved by Trump’s darkness? The answer is because Trump does not bear the light, or hope. At least he hasn’t convinced me that he does. He’s not the solution to our civilizational crisis, but a symptom of it.

I hope I’m wrong, and I really will pray for him, as I have prayed for all presidents. I did not vote in the presidential race last year, but Donald Trump is my president, just as Barack Obama and George W. Bush were my president, and all those who came before them in my lifetime. Even though I cheered for some of Trump’s lines, and I’m eager to see him dismantle the postwar globalist consensus, the tone of today’s Inaugural Address did not sound like the words of a strong man. They sounded like the words of a strongman. I have a bad feeling about this.

 

Finally, a word for Hillary Clinton. It must have been extremely difficult for her to show up today, but there she was, and they say she was smiling the whole time. If Hemingway was right, and courage is grace under pressure, Hillary Clinton was the bravest person in Washington today. That needs saying.

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Weirder Than The Trumpening?

Even stranger than the Trumpening! (Refat/Shutterstock

This is a fun game. Can you think of more historically implausible events? It’s pretty amazing that a tiny Palestinian Jewish cult based on the claim that a man murdered by the state rose from the dead, and was God, had, within three centuries, displaced ancient cults that had the support of the all-powerful Empire. Even accounting for three hundred years of ferment, that’s still pretty amazing. Then again, it’s also phenomenal that a tribal religion of the Arabian desert founded by a man who claimed he had a divine vision had, within only a hundred years of his death, conquered all of the Near East, North Africa, the Iberian peninsula, and part of France before being stopped. Still, I recognize that the timeline might make it less amazing than Napoleon’s ascent.

What do you think? Put on your thinking caps.

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The Trump Years: What We May Hope For

Welcome to Inauguration Day, everybody. As it happens, I will be on the road with my family for most of today, so I won’t be able to blog according to my logorrheic custom. I’ll be following Inauguration events on the car radio, though, and pulling over to post updates when I can. Please be patient with my approving comments.

The other day, I blogged on conservative writer Michael Brendan Dougherty’s fears going into the Trump presidency. Today I want to blog on the column he’s written setting out his hopes. Here’s one of them:

The post-Cold War commitment to increasing free movement of people and capital has coincided with incredible gains for those who are already successful, and stagnating wages or disappearing jobs for everyone else. It has coincided with the hollowing out of the middle class, and it goes together with the economic and cultural secession of America’s elite into a global clerical class. The left has responded with a renewed interest in socialism. The right has latched onto the nationalist populism of Trump.

It is in this nationalist populism where the Janus-faced nature of the Trump administration’s potential is apparent. Many critics want to see Trumpian populists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller sidelined. And I have no doubt that in these men you find some of the worst of Trumpism, like a willingness to enflame racial antagonism for a political kick, and an authoritarian attitude about law and order. But these men also push most aggressively for putting “the forgotten man” at the heart of our political imagination — the men and families and entire regions that have gotten kicked in the teeth by globalization.

These populists recognize that so much of the claimed devotion to markets, private property, and entrepreneurship among Republican policymakers is a thin ideological veil covering the naked self-interest of the rich. Right-wing populists know that a government isn’t just here to protect the operating of the market, but also that it guards the social fabric. If Trumpism turns into an authoritarian nightmare domestically, it is Steve Bannon and Co. who will be to blame. But if Trumpism really will contain a substantive economic and social nationalism that reaches to all citizens, these will be the men responsible for that too.

MBD says he also has hope that Trump will institute a more sane immigration policy, and hope too (though thin) that Trump will be more dovish in foreign policy. To sum:

But in the end, after reviewing my fears (rather grave) and hopes (somewhat tentative) for the Trump administration, I have to conclude that I am pessimistic about Trump’s presidency. I lean toward my fears because I believe Trump has low character. No one who grew up in the tri-state area could think otherwise. I believe his party is undisciplined and fat. And I am pessimistic about a nation that would elect a man like this. I am pessimistic about a nation that would make Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, and then Hillary Clinton his only serious obstacles to power.

That’s my view too. Read the whole thing. I would add a couple more things.

For one, I have some hope that Trump’s court appointments will protect religious liberty; they cannot be worse than those judges who would have been appointed by Hillary Clinton. I have full confidence that his Justice Department, under Jeff Sessions, will cease and desist harassing the faithful. But the best I believe that social and religious conservatives can hope for is to be left alone. I don’t believe that the currents of late modernity that have carried our civilization to this place can be turned back. At best, we can ride them until they play themselves out, and keep ourselves from being dragged under by them. The best Trump can possibly do — and I believe this is true even if he were a saint of God — is protect our institutions for a while longer, and give us time to prepare for what’s coming.

For another, I hope that Trump will break the power of political correctness over public discourse. He’s a crude man who has violated speech norms in contemporary American life. As a conservative, I find that troubling, mostly, but he has also torn down taboos built around topics that really ought to be more discussed, if not for liberals setting the bounds of discourse. The problem with this is that Trump doesn’t understand the difference between straight talk and rudeness — and neither, increasingly, do the American people. I’m all for standing up to PC and not being intimidated by its shrill dogmatism, but if that means a cruder, nastier society, that’s a steep price to pay. This vicious little liberal brat who burned a Trump poster at a DC protest last night is the face of America today, I fear.

Still, these are my hopes. Though I’m pessimistic about nearly all of it, I may be surprised. Tell us what your hopes are. Even if you hate Trump and voted against him, is there any promise in him that you can see? What might change for the better?

UPDATE: Folks, only post if you have genuine hope that something, anything, might change for the better. I know a lot of you believe it’s going to be nothing but misery for the next four years. I respect that view, but I don’t want it on this thread.

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Hollywood Vs. A Foreign Country (America)

Donald Trump’s star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame (Dreamframers/Shutterstock)

You might want to read Todd Purdum’s long, well-reported story from Politico, about how Hollywood is freaking out over Trump, just for the big fat gob of Schadenfreude at the top. Here’s a glistening, savory morsel:

There has also been denial and cocooning, More than a few liberals report that they have faced the rise of the alt-right movement by just retreating and binge-watching the idealistic alt-reality of all seven seasons of “The West Wing.”

“My sense, in psychiatric terms, is that everybody is still ‘splitting,’” says a longtime political consultant to major entertainment figures, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to offend clients. “They’re putting the election result on the shelf and are in some kind of denial, so they can just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It came as such a huge shock. People believed, understandably enough, that everything that could be done was being done and it was being done well.”

But read on, because there’s some genuinely interesting stuff here about why the entertainment industry is the way it is — that is, why the same junk gets made over and over again. Excerpt:

A prominent network executive summed up the sense of shock in the industry to me. “One thing interesting is that people in L.A. and Hollywood, we supposedly have our finger on the pulse of the American people,” he said. “And one of the things that people feel truly rocked by now—truly rocked—is that those of us who spend our lives anticipating and understanding the tastes and the preferences of the American people suddenly have to wonder whether what we’re feeling is causing us to make, for a large part of the audience, the wrong thing. And that the agenda a lot of our creators have is a reinforcing loop of a lot of things that people have just rejected.

“Because,” the executive added, “people here exist in a closed feedback loop and writers’ rooms that are similarly liberal, where nobody voted for Donald Trump. So their feedback is completely distorted on the meaning of this, and what to do about it.”

Hollywood is always a bit surprised when a Christian-themed movie or a red-meat patriotic film like “American Sniper” becomes a hit, because such works embody a basic conservative value set that most of the industry doesn’t share.

“Everyone sits around the writers’ rooms or on a notes call and nods in agreement and that’s how we get shows like ‘Transparent’ and ‘American Crime Story,’” says Quinton Peeples, a writer and the producer of shows like Hulu’s recent Stephen King adaptation “11-22-63” and TNT’s “The Last Ship,” who also happens to be that rarity in Hollywood, a practicing Christian. “Now, I’m not arguing that’s a bad thing. I’m just pointing out how it works. Then we have a bunch of awards shows to pat each other on the back and talk about what a challenge it has been to bring the ‘truth’ to television.”

“I can’t count the times I have gone out with pitches that represent the point of view I grew up with in small-town Texas, only to find there is no appetite for something that is derisively referred to as a red state show,” Peeples adds. “Because no one can go to a kids’ birthday party over the weekend and brag about the great numbers they are getting with their ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ reboot. And at the end of the day, that’s what they want on a personal level: to have someone whisper as they pass, ‘That’s the “Black Mirror” guy.’ ”

Some people like to say that money rules the creative industry, that Hollywood will cold-bloodedly make what sells. That’s just not true. There’s a lot of status involved. I remember seeing a trailer last year for “Miss Sloane,” the political thriller starring Jessica Chastain as a heroic Washington lobbyist who advocates for universal background checks on gun buyers. Along with her scrappy band of diverse helpers, she outsmarts the wicked gun industry lobbyists. Honestly, who the heck wants to see that kind of movie? Needless to say, it bombed. But Jessica Chastain got a Golden Globe nomination, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists nominated her for, ahem, “bravest performance.” (As opposed to all those cowardly performances?)

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Media: ‘Dear America, Please Hate Us’

NYT international edition announcing Trump victory (Hadrian/Shutterstock)

screen shot

That’s the headline of a Washington Post story, which begins:

Computer scientist David Gelernter, a Yale University professor who has decried the influence of liberal intellectuals on college campuses, is being considered for the role of the Donald Trump’s science adviser. Gelernter met with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York City on Tuesday, according to press secretary Sean Spicer.

Gelernter is a pioneer in the field of parallel computation, a type of computing in which many calculations are carried out simultaneously. The programming language he developed in the 1980s, Linda, made it possible to link together several small computers into a supercomputer, significantly increasing the amount and complexity of data that computers can process. Since then he has written extensively about artificial intelligence, critiquing the field’s slow progress and warning of AI’s potential dangers.

In 1993, Gelernter was seriously injured by a letter bomb sent by Ted Kaczynski, the anti-technology terrorist known as the Unabomber.

Beyond computer science circles, Gelernter has made a name for himself as a vehement critic of modern academia. In his 2013 book, “America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats),” he condemned “belligerent leftists” and blamed intellectualism for the disintegration of patriotism and traditional family values.

So wait: this guy is a computer scientist at Yale University, a leader in his field, author of a number of books, including one on consciousness, others on computing, and one on Judaism … and he’s “fiercely anti-intellectual” because he has criticized the liberal intelligentsia? Good grief. They don’t even know what they don’t know.

Mollie Hemingway cites that and three other very recent examples in this broadside against the media. Conclusion:

If the media would like to understand why they’re not viewed as the innocent victims they believe themselves to be in their war against Trump, this tiny little sample is a good place to start.

If the media can’t be trusted to fairly report on successful governors, genius Yale professors, or Martin Luther King III, they can’t be trusted to have the emotional distance, objective aims, respect, tolerance, journalistic skills, or sanity to cover Trump himself.

A strong media is required to hold politicians accountable and help preserve a functioning republic. Our media, who are swinging wildly from eight years of sycophancy into an era of cartoonish hostility, are in no position to hold anyone accountable. This is a crisis, and one that nearly everyone except those in the media establishment and the political movement they support seems to recognize.

True, true, true. They’re making it so, so easy for Trump.

 

 

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The Mathematics Of Mottramism

Over a decade ago, I Mark Cameron wrote:

I would like to propose a name for this phenomenon of inveterate support for any and all Papal actions, imputing to him wisdom and spiritual insight beyond all the Saints and Popes of past ages: Mottramism.

This takes its name, of course, from Rex Mottram, Julia Flyte’s husband in Brideshead Revisited. At one point, Rex decides to convert to Catholicism in order to have a proper Church wedding with Julia. But the sincerity of his conversion becomes suspect when he is willing to agree with any absurdity proposed in the name of Catholic authority, and shows no intellectual curiosity into its truth or falsehood. As his Jesuit instructor, Father Mowbray describes his catechetical progress:

“Yesterday I asked him whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: ‘Just as many as you say, Father.’ Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ‘It’s going to rain’, would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father.’ ‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, “I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’”

He doesn’t use the word, but our friend Carlo Lancellotti, a mathematics professor who comments on this blog, and who has translated the work of Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce, writes today about Mottramism in the current papal court — specifically, in the public statements of Father Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest who is in Pope Francis’s inner circle. Earlier this month, Fr. Spadaro tweeted:

Which is true in a certain sense. God is not a divine watchmaker, after all, nor is God the sum total of a vast number of syllogisms. God is a Person (three Persons, actually). There is always a temptation among Christian intellectuals to confine God to a rationalist box. When Father Spadaro, in a previous tweet, quoted Benedict XVI saying, “God is not just mathematical reason,” this is what he’s talking about. There’s nothing objectionable about that.

But that’s not what Father Spadaro is getting at. Here’s Carlo:

Fr. Spadaro’s constant concern seems to be to fend off “rigid thought,” of which mathematics is apparently the paradigm. We must deal instead with “the real concrete historical man, each man, not the abstract one,” because the work of pastors “is not just to apply norms as something like mathematics.” We could venture that for Fr. Spadaro, mathematics symbolizes what Hegel called “Verstand”: “reason that stands,” static reason, reason that does not move with history and experience. Famously, Hegel opposed Verstand to “Vernunft”: reason that flows, reason that moves, “reasonable reason.” Indeed, Fr. Spadaro repeatedly tweets about “processes,” about “subverting conventional perceptions to bring new ones to birth,” and “delight in creative disruptions that open new possibilities.”

The Italian Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce described modernity as the victory of the “metaphysics of the primacy of becoming” over the “metaphysics of the primacy of being,” which had been first developed by the Greeks and remained prevalent during the Middle Ages. “Primacy of being” implies that human reason can perceive an uncreated, eternal order of being (just like it can contemplate mathematical truths!). Humans find their freedom by participating in this order, which delivers them from the influence of worldly powers. Conversely, under a “primacy of becoming,” truth is always historical, and human beings reach for the divine by swimming with the flow of history, which is literally the self-revelation of the spirit. In this view, the transcendent reveals itself as historical transcendence.

Carlo says that Father Spadaro (and Pope Francis, it would seem) are saying, to put it crudely, that the Church needs to change with the times for pastoral reasons. If what the Church proposes today contradicts what the Church said yesterday, then we don’t really have to worry, because God doesn’t expect mathematical precision. Thus does an unproblematic theological statement — that God is not mathematical reason — become an excuse for doing whatever we want today. The Holy Spirit is the same thing as the Zeitgeist.

Here is a powerful interview with Cardinal Caffara, one of the four signatories of the dubia, asking Pope Francis for clarification on the interpretation of his encyclical Amoris laetitia — the part concerning communion for divorced Catholics who have not received an annulment. The cardinal says “there is great confusion in the Church” over Amoris. More:

The foreword to the letter [from the four cardinals to the Pope] notes, “a grave disorientation and great confusion of many faithful regarding extremely important matters for the life of the Church.” In what do the disorientation and confusion consist, specifically? Caffarra answers:

“I received a letter from a parish priest which is a perfect snapshot of what is happening. He wrote me, ‘In spiritual direction and in confession I do not know what to say anymore. To the penitent who says to me, ‘I live in every respect as a husband with a woman who is divorced, and now I approach the Eucharist,’ I propose a path, in order to correct this situation.

But the penitent stops me and responds immediately, ‘Listen, Father, the Pope said that I can receive the Eucharist, without the resolution to live in continence.’ I cannot bear this kind of situation any longer.  The Church can ask me anything, but not to betray my conscience. And my conscience objects to a supposed papal teaching to admit to the Eucharist, under certain circumstances, those who live more uxorio [as husband and wife] without being married.’

“Thus wrote a parish priest. The situation of many pastors of souls, and I mean above all parish priests ” — observes the cardinal — “is this: they find themselves carrying a load on their shoulders that they cannot bear. This is what I am thinking of when I talk about a great disorientation.

“And I am speaking of parish priests, but many [lay] faithful are even more confused. We are talking about questions that are not secondary. It is not being discussed whether [eating] fish violates or does not violate [the law of] abstinence. These are most serious questions for the life of the Church and for the eternal salvation of the faithful. Never forget, this is the supreme law of the Church: the eternal salvation of the faithful, not other concerns. Jesus founded His Church so that the faithful would have eternal life and have it in abundance.”

The division to which Cardinal Carlo Caffarra refers originated primarily from the interpretation of the paragraphs of Amoris laetitia ranging from numbers 300 to 305. For many, including several bishops, here is found the confirmation of a change that is not only pastoral but also doctrinal. Others, however, [claim] that everything is perfectly integrated and in continuity with the previous magisterium. How does one escape from such disorientation?

[Said Caffara:] “I would specify two very important postulates. To think up a pastoral practice that is not founded and rooted in doctrine means to establish and to root pastoral practice in arbitrariness. A Church with little attention to the doctrine is not a more pastoral Church, but a more ignorant Church. The Truth of which we speak is not a formal truth, but a Truth that gives eternal salvation: Veritas salutaris [the Truth of salvation], in theological terms.

“Let me explain. There exists formal truth. For example, I want to know whether the longest river in the world is the Amazon or the Nile. It turns out that it is the Amazon River. This is a formal truth. Formal means that this knowledge does not have any relationship with the way that I can be free. Also, if the answer was the contrary, it would not change anything about the way that I can be free.

“But there are truths which I call ‘existential.’ If it is true — as Socrates had already taught — that it is better to suffer injustice than to do it, I state a truth that brings about my freedom to act in very different way than if the contrary were true.

“When the Church speaks of truth” – adds Caffara –” she speaks of truth of the second type, that which, if obeyed in freedom, produces true life. When I hear it said that it is only a pastoral change, and not doctrinal, or it is thought that that the commandment which forbids adultery is a purely positive law which can be changed (and I think that no righteous person can believe this), instead, it means to admit that yes, generally a triangle has three sides, but there is the possibility of constructing one of them with four sides. This is, I say, an absurdity. After all, as the medievals once used to say, theoria sine praxi, currus sine axi; praxis sine theoria, caecus in via [theory without practice is a chariot with no axle; practice without theory is a blind man on the road].”

A triangle with four sides. 2+2 = 5. What is at stake here? Cardinal Caffara again:

We ask Cardinal Caffarra if a certain confusion does not also arise from the conviction, deeply-rooted even among so many pastors, that conscience is a faculty to decide autonomously regarding what is good and what is evil, and that in the end, the final word belongs to the conscience of the individual.

“I retain that this is the most important point of all,” he responds. “It is where we meet and clash with the central pillar of modernity.”

That is the core of the matter here. As the cardinal says,

“These are matters of a disturbing gravity. It would elevate private judgment to the ultimate criterion of moral truth. Never say to a person: ‘Always follow your conscience’, without adding immediately and always: ‘Love and seek the truth about the good.’ You would be putting into his hands the weapon most destructive of his own humanity.”

UPDATE: Now you’ll be able to buy Vatican-issued Martin Luther stamps for mailing postcards back home from St. Peter’s Square. Wow. Just, wow.

UPDATE.1: Former blogger Mark Cameron alerts me that I was not quoting myself from all those years ago, but him. I’ve corrected the mistake above, and want to apologize unreservedly to him. It was an honest mistake.

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‘Daddy Pence, Come Dance!’

Above, scenes from the gay dance party protest outside Mike Pence’s house last night in suburban Maryland. At the 17:00 mark, see the protest’s leader twerk while standing atop a truck, and lead the crowd in a chant, “Daddy Pence, come dance!”

It’s going to be a long four years.

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Run, Trump! Fiona Apple Is Coming!

This’ll fix the Trump problem, surely:

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to march in Washington after Donald J. Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. This past Tuesday, the singer-songwriter Fiona Apple gave those preparing to protest a signature chant.

The chant is on a new one-minute track called “Tiny Hands,” which repeats 10 words recorded by Ms. Apple on a phone:

“We don’t want your tiny hands/anywhere near our underpants.”

They’ll be chanting that while wearing their Pussyhats, I reckon. Wow. Just, wow. Could these irritated ladies possibly make themselves more trivial? Why yes, they can. Here in south Louisiana:

A panty-painting event is planned for Saturday at Moncus Park at the Horse Farm.

The event, Femme Puissance: Painting Panties for Protection, will be held from 8 a.m. until noon.

To see the event’s Facebook page, click here.

Lafayette artists came together to organize the event, “in solidarity with the Women’s March on D.C.,” organizers wrote.

“We will be promoting women’s equality as well as addressing other vitally important issues facing women today. We invite the public to join us in this “artistic happening” by painting on our larger-than-life pair of ladies undergarments,” organizers wrote. ” We also encourage women to showcase their undergarments in any (legal) way they like! Bring your voice, your instrument, and your creativity to stand with us for women everywhere!”

If Fiona Apple and the rest of that lot think that these forms of protest are going to do anything other than make themselves look ridiculous and harden the views of Trump supporters, they are quite deluded. It’s weird how so much left-liberal protest doesn’t seem at all aimed at changing the minds of the public, but rather in pleasing themselves and people who already agree with them.

Let me ask the room: if you were trying to come up with protest gestures and routines for the Women’s March that would stand a chance of being taken seriously, and winning the sympathies of people who are not attending the march, and not sure where they stand on the issues at stake, what would you do?

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