Rod Dreher

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View From Your Table

Domodossola, Italy

Our man James C. reaches a milestone in his Piemonte lair, in the Italian Alps:

I made a risotto from scratch for the first time, ever.

It’s funny to be in a country where people get excited about rice. Funny, yes, but completamente giusto e comprensibile

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This Crisis? It’s Nothing

No matter how bad you think we have it today, it’s not this (Adam Parent/Shutterstock)

Mark Bauerlein, writing about Camille Paglia:

She announced it a few months back in an interview with the New York Observer. The very first question asked her about comparisons between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, to which she replied: “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”

This is a point that deserves repeated amplification. It explains, for instance, much of the indignation we see and hear on college campuses, wherein twenty-year-olds decry twenty-first-century American racism and sexism. The first response to their charges should not be to debate present conditions. It should be to ask them about actual conditions of the past—Jim Crow, the franchise for women and blacks, poverty rates and public health in former times . . . The answers will demonstrate that the only way to believe that America 2017 is a particularly vicious time for certain identities is to know nothing about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And we know, of course, how little history young Americans actually possess.

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.”

Nothing in my recent experience has brought this home to me like watching The Vietnam War, the epic documentary film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, which is airing this week on PBS. (I was able to watch the entire thing in advance.) The years 1968 to 1973 were surely among the five worst in American history, second only to the Civil War, and perhaps — perhaps — the worst of the Great Depression. I was a small child then, blissfully unaware of what was happening around me in my country. Watching this film, I wonder what on earth my parents must have been thinking, day in and day out, as the country tore itself apart.

Most of us of a certain age have at least a general idea of what happened back then. The Vietnam War raged on, the antiwar movement spread, Woodstock, MLK and RFK murdered, radicalization, domestic bombings as routine, Richard Nixon and all his pomps and works, etc. But until watching this film, for some reason, I had not quite realized the depth and intensity of the coming-apart. I thought I had, but no.

I’m going to write more broadly about the film in a separate post, but I want to focus on this one aspect of it to underscore Paglia’s point. For me, giving myself over to The Vietnam War was to be sucked into a whirlpool, and to be forced to answer, over and over, “What would I have done back then?” In that context, the absurdity of people today acting like the Trump era and its polarization is some kind of short-fingered Götterdammerung is made vividly manifest. “Well, Mama, this is hell indeed. Donald Trump’s America is the Ninth Circle,” recently shrieked New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who was born in 1970.

For my readers who, like me, didn’t live through that era, do this quick thought experiment, inspired by the film.

Imagine that the US was involved in a major overseas war in which over 11,000 American soldiers died in one year alone (1967). For a point of comparison, fewer than 7,000 US troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 14 years of combat there.

Imagine that 17,000 US soldiers would die in 1968, and 12,000 in 1969 fighting that war

Imagine that you might be drafted to go fight there.

Imagine what it would be like if you were convinced the war was profoundly immoral, and you had to choose between deserting the country and bearing arms in that war.

Imagine that many college campuses had become hotbeds not of snowflakey sit-ins, but of serious violence.

Imagine that domestic bombings by left-wing radicals had become a routine part of American life (e.g., five per day in an 18-month period in the early 1970s).

Imagine that two of the nation’s most prominent political leaders (MLK and RFK) Bobby were gunned down three months apart.

Imagine that your government and military were lying to Congress and to the American people about the war, and had been for years (as was revealed with the 1972 publication of the Pentagon Papers).

Imagine that major American cities were burning in race riots.

Imagine that cops in a major American city staged what was later called “a police riot” outside a political party’s national convention, and beat the hell out of protesters.

What’s harder to imagine is the historical context in which these shocking events were taking place. The distance between 1958 and 1968 is only ten years, but it surely felt like a lifetime. The country in 1958 was relatively stable, settled, and buttoned-up. A decade later, it was ripping itself apart, and would continue to do so for years to come.

Americans at the start of that period trusted our institutions, including our government. To watch protesters in the street demolishing universities (figuratively, mostly, but not always) and in some cases carrying communist flags into protest — that had to have been a terrible shock to the system. The template for US involvement in war was still World War II, a “good” war; most people could not grasp that Vietnam was not that kind of war. (Indeed, the film keeps pointing out, importantly, that for most of the war, the American people were solidly behind it and the president; this was Nixon’s “silent majority”). Families were falling apart as the divorce rate soared skyward, beginning a steep rise that would not peak until the early 1980s. The churches were also crumbling. Drug use was going mainstream. Watching The Vietnam War, even as I felt within myself a growing revulsion to the war, and even rage at the US government officials prosecuting it, and sending those young men into that meat grinder, I also felt total disgust at the images of the blissed-out college student freaks. I can only imagine what ordinary conservative people like my folks must have thought from 1968-73, watching this play out on American streets.

Actually, one of my most vivid memories of my early childhood was my father’s accounts of the disastrous “Celebration of Life” festival in 1971. It was an attempt to re-create Woodstock on the Atchafalaya River in rural south Louisiana. My dad was a state public health official, and was assigned to inspect the food being sold at the festival. He had to get police protection when he condemned a large amount of fried chicken, and concertgoers threatened him. He said that if those idiot kids had eaten that spoiled chicken, they would have gotten very sick, and some might have died. But all they could see was that the Man was denying them something they wanted. I recall my dad telling my mom about the things he saw at what he called “the hippie festival,” day after day: the widespread nudity and the drugs. Much later, when I was older, he said he had seen a lot of sex there; it seemed that a decade or so later, he was still trying to comprehend it.

I’ll never forget a story I heard him tell my mom. He was near tears of pity and rage, recalling how hippies with children were stoned or tripping, and paying no attention to their kids. He saw one couple with their naked baby lying exposed to the intense sun, turning red. I wish my dad were still alive today so I could ask him for more details. What I can remember was his anguish and total disgust at the doped-up dereliction of that young couple. Seems like an apt symbol of the times.

My dad had taken our Super 8 film camera to the hippie festival. When he had the films developed, he invited neighbors over to watch them in our living room, as an anthropologist might have done bringing back film of some savage tribe in the heart of the jungle. Here’s the trailer for a recent documentary film about that festival.

My point is that these radical changes were all taking place very quickly, in a society that was in no way prepared for them. In one of the film’s episodes, a TV news reporter interviews one of the NYC hardhats who beat antiwar protesters. The man, with his outer borough ethnic accent, was so angry at those protesters, with their communist flags, that he could hardly contain himself. Listening to him talk, I thought: “That construction worker doesn’t know it yet, but in nine years, he’s going to vote for Ronald Reagan.”

So, me, I’m watching this film and imagining what I would have done back then. What if I hated the war, but also hated what the cultural left was doing to the country? What if I hated what the cultural left was doing to the country, but was furious at the fact that squares like me were still behind Nixon, and demonized all anti-war protesters. Would I have been able to be merciful to the returning soldiers, but still despised the war? It turned out that a man from my hometown served under Lt. William Calley, and was charged in the My Lai massacre, though not convicted. How would that have affected the way I saw the war?

I know how I would have liked to have thought and behaved. But would I have done so, in that maelstrom? Doubtful. Given my temperament, I probably would have been either a knotheaded reactionary, or an anti-war radical. In either case, it would have been a profound reaction to the disorder all around me — either the disorder in the streets, or the moral disorder within the government and the military, for what it was doing with the war.

And Watergate was yet to come, as was stagflation.

The point is this: compared to 1968-73, today is a total cakewalk. This is not to minimize the very serious problems we face, politically and otherwise. In fact, some of the moral breakdown that seemed so traumatizing back then has been normalized by our society, such that we don’t feel the pain of fracture as Americans did back then. Still, you want to talk about an American hell? It was then. Watching The Vietnam War is like seeing the history of some other country, not our own. Yet it happened within my own lifetime. When my children are middle-aged, as I am today, they won’t have any films like this to watch about our own period of American life, because for all the corruption and decadence and foolishness afoot, it’s not like those horrible, horrible days.

This is why we should study history.

UPDATE: A reader asks if, in light of this post, I will stop referring to “Weimar America.” It’s a good question, and here’s why I will not stop using that term.

It’s important to note that America today only looks like Weimar (= that the center is not holding, and the nation is dangerously unmoored from its foundations) to religious and social conservatives. If I were not one, I would be a lot calmer about our situation, though plainly there’s still a lot to worry about. It cannot be denied that Christianity is dying out in the West. It is possible that we may turn that around, but not probable at this point. For people who believe that Christianity is the truth, this is catastrophic. We literally believe that the eternal fate of souls is at stake. Besides which the withering of Christianity will likely result in greatly restricted religious liberties for future generations. Tied to the decline of religion is the breakdown of the natural family, the ubiquity of hardcore pornography, and coming biotechnologies that put on the table the question of what it means to be human. If you took people from 1967 and transported them to 2017, and showed them what kinds of behaviors and ideas were totally mainstream and accepted today, they would no doubt be deeply shocked. We aren’t because all of us 50 and under grew up with the legacy of the Sixties and Seventies, which included the shattering of beliefs, practices, and ideals that were once widely shared in American society. Imagine telling someone in 1967 than in 2017, public schools would be teaching elementary school children that there is no such thing as male and female. Someone back then would have thought America would have gone mad. And they would have been right.

To return to the main point: the crisis is only alarming, it seems to me, from the perspective of a religious conservative who understands what’s at stake today. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was anarchy in the streets in places, and thank God we don’t have that today, at least not yet. But behind the façade of establishment control in the White House, in the Pentagon, and elsewhere, there was significant decadence, which was no less significant for being concealed by outward order and decorum. In the same way, a perfectly pleasant suburban house in which the parents and kids are secretly immersing themselves in hardcore porn on their wired devices is not a symbol in which one should have confidence.

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Baton Rouge Racist Serial Killer?

If these charges are proved, Baton Rouge might have escaped a horrific killing spree:

A 23-year-old white man arrested Tuesday was accused of killing two black men and firing on a black family in a string of attacks that police say may have been racially motivated.

A law enforcement official said they had found a copy of an Adolf Hitler speech at the home of Kenneth James Gleason, and investigators said DNA on shell casings and other evidence link him to the crimes.

Gleason was led away from the police department in handcuffs just before authorities there held a news conference to announce that he would be charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths last week of a homeless man and a dishwasher who was walking to work.

“I feel confident that this killer would have killed again,” interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam said.

It’s too late for the men Gleason is alleged to have killed, but if he is, in fact, the murderer, then the city has quite literally dodged a bullet.

Note well that this Gleason is not some sort of redneck, but is an honors graduate of Baton Rouge High, a magnet school that is one of the most prestigious in the city. He lives in a good neighborhood. Cops searching his room also found pot and human growth hormone.

He also has been charged with stealing a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy from a Books-a-Million last week.

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The Sex Lives Of Pre-Post-Christians

In his new book Cheap Sex, sociologist Mark Regnerus examines changing mores around mating and marriage, especially in the Internet age. He finds that the church is declining as a haven from the profound disruption of long-settled patterns. While religious Americans are more inclined to favor marriage than others, and are generally more conservative than others on pre- and extramarital sexual behavior, “there are clear cracks beginning to show in the foundation.”

Regnerus says the data show that

secularization and sexual permissiveness go hand in hand. It is not just that religiously proscribed sexual activity promotes religious guilt. (I am sure it does.) Rather, it is often an expression of religious distancing. Cheap sex has a way of deadening religious impulses. We overestimate how effective scientific arguments are at secularizing people. Narratives about science don’t secularize. Technology secularizes. And sex-related technology does so particularly efficiently.

Regnerus reproduces a graph from one study showing that weekly church attenders in the 24-to-35 age group are much more likely to hold conservative opinions about things like marriage, cohabitation, casual sex, porn, extramarital sex, and polyamory. What’s telling, he says, is how far from 100 percent regular churchgoers in that age bracket are on agreeing that these things are morally wrong. The only one of these categories that at least 80 percent of the most religious Americans agree is wrong is extramarital sex (that is, cheating on your spouse).

When one out of five churchgoing Millennials isn’t sure if no-strings-attached sex is morally wrong; and when one out of four don’t know if watching porn is wrong; and when nearly one in five aren’t sure if polyamory is okay — then the church has a big, big problem.

Get this: drawing on the work of Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin, Regnerus says that “American religion as it is practiced” tends to push fence-sitters towards permissiveness. Why? Because in both its Protestant and Catholic forms, it’s Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. That is, it valorizes “expressive individualism,” and encourages people to find their own religious style. This is how Americans are simultaneously more religious than Europeans, but less traditional.

We are  starting to see that the sexual and marital trends in the broader society are affecting life within the church. “Sociologist Justin Farrell assessed the sexual and marital attitudes of evangelicals and found consistent age differences — younger evangelicals (below age 30) were notably more permissive on nearly all outcomes (especially on pornography),” Regnerus writes. This is not simply a matter of younger people being more liberal about sexual matters than older people. Under-30 married evangelicals are “notably less permissive” than unmarrieds. The thing is, evangelicals are putting off marriage almost as late as other Americans.

This is a big deal to churches, the author says, because it shows that “the predictable ‘return’ to organized religious life of late twenty-somethings after they marry and begin having children is receding” — and, according to some predictions, may not occur at all.

What’s more,

long-standing Christian sexual ethics are making less and less sense to the unchurched — a key niche market for evangelicals — giving church leadership fits over just how “orthodox” they can be or should be on matters of sex and sexuality. “Meeting people where they’re at” becomes more challenging when where they’re at has become the population norm rather than the exception. Congregations are coming face to face with questions of just how central sexual ethics are to their religious life and message.

Regnerus, who is Catholic, points out that the Roman Catholic church has a more developed theology of sex and marriage, but it makes little difference in the lives of most young American Catholics, who are even more permissive in their beliefs and actions than their Evangelical counterparts. The sociologist blames it on both poor catechesis and the determination of most American Catholics to follow their own desires, rather than the authoritative teachings of their church.

All of this underscores points I make in The Benedict Option about the urgent need for churches and individual Christians both to double down on teaching the Christian vision for sex and marriage, and to establish a thick community of practice.

The role of technology in reshaping sexual and mating practices (mostly through Internet pornography, and technology-driven mating practices such as dating through Tinder) is an enormous challenge to the church. Yes, it’s a matter of keeping Christians on the path toward holiness, but beyond that, this has to do with making it possible for Christian young people to find worthy mates and form families. Given the key role families play in passing the faith on to the next generation, and given how sexual permissiveness leads to secularization, this is an existential matter for the church. 

More broadly, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism portends the death of real Christianity in more than a theological way. As Regnerus observes, MTD churches inadvertently grease the skids for their young to decline into permissiveness and ultimately into unbelief (or a Christianity so nominal it might as well be unbelief). Call me alarmist all you like, but you’re just whistling past the graveyard. This slow-moving catastrophe is happening, and it’s speeding up.

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Liberal Women Are Lustier

Photo changed because some of y’all said the previous one was too darn hot (Mr. Exen/Shutterstock)

So observes University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus in his great and deeply unsettling new book Cheap Sex, which is about changing practices of mating and marriage. He doesn’t really phrase it like that, but he does point out sociological data showing that “more politically liberal young-adult women report wanting more sex than they have been having.” Regnerus says the percentage of women who said they would prefer to have more sex is as follows:

  • 16 percent of “very conservative” women
  • 30 percent of “conservative” women
  • 38 percent of moderate women
  • 44 percent of “liberal” women
  • 53 percent of “very liberal” women

Why is this? Regnerus writes:

[P]olitical identity today likely captures embeddedness in distinctive worldviews, sets of meanings, and ideas about the self and relationships. With regard to sex and sexuality in America, being politically liberal tends to mean valuing sexual expression as a good-in-itself, not only as a means to an end or contingent on the context (such as being in a relationship or being married). Talk of “sexual health” is also more common among them and typically takes acts of sexual expression for granted. In this perspective, it is a moral good to express one’s sexuality in actions of one’s own free choosing. Pleasure is reached for and should be. In keeping with this, liberal women are more than twice as likely as conservative women to report past-week and past-day masturbation.

More (I photographed this passage from the book):

That was Regnerus’s hypothesis. So,  he crunched the numbers to account for religious service attendance, importance of religion, “and a unique measure of having become less religious in the past decade” to see if the hypothesis could be grounded in data. What he found was that among young adult women, it’s not really political liberalism that correlates with wanting more sex (no matter how much one is having), but rather one’s loss of religious belief. 

Regnerus continues:

In a world increasingly bereft of transcendence, sexual expression is emerging as an intrinsic value. Sex is the new opium of the masses, [social psychologists Roy] Baumeister and [Kathleen] Vohs claim, a temporary heart in a heartless world. Unfortunately, something so immanent as sex will not — and cannot — function in the manner in which religion can, has, and does. (To be sure, some replace it with an appreciation and devotion to nature.) Sex does not explain the world. It is not a master narrative. It has little to offer by way of convincing theodicy But in a world increasingly missing transcendence, longing for sexual expression makes sense. It should not surprised us, however, that those who (unconsciously) demand sex function like religion will come up short. Maybe that is why very liberal women are also twice as likely to report being depressed or currently in psychotherapy than very conservative women.

You’ll have to buy Cheap Sex to read the whole thing, but I strongly recommend it.

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Updating The Benedict Option

I have a question for you readers of this blog who have also read The Benedict Option. I’m working right now on an introduction for the paperback edition, which will be out in the spring. What I’m trying to do with this chapter, which won’t be long, is to discuss the book’s reception, especially how it affected the discussion among small-o orthodox Christians. I will also be talking about events since its publication in March (e.g., the Trump presidency so far and the church’s relationship to it), and how they move the Ben Op conversation along.

Do you have any suggestions for points I should make, or should address? What do you think the book has accomplished? Other thoughts are welcome too.

I’m not fishing for compliments here. I really want to know what you think (provided you aren’t simply trolling). Have there been things that have happened since March that have convinced you we need the Ben Op more than ever? Have there been things that convinced you that the book’s diagnosis is wrong in some specific ways? Let me know in the comments, please.

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Catholic Signs Nashville Statement

This is something: Jennifer Roback Morse, a conservative Catholic writer and activist, has given her full-throated endorsement to the Nashville Statement, which was drafted by conservative Evangelicals. In this essay, she explains why the Nashville Statement ought to matter to Catholics. Excerpts:

We Catholics can sometimes indulge ourselves in some triumphalism about our magisterium. We have authority structures, guided by the Holy Spirit. Jesus made promises to us that he did not make to Martin Luther or Henry VIII. Protestants are on their own. “Me and Jesus.” “Every man his own interpreter of Scripture.” And so on.

Now that so many of our Catholic authority structures have become corrupted, we are getting a taste of what our Evangelical brothers and sisters must put up with. Now is not the time for triumphalism. Now is the time for comradeship, cooperation, and collaboration wherever possible.

More:

There can be no doubt: The sexual revolutionaries have infiltrated the churches. They are using the resources of Christianity to promote their views. The revolutionaries occupy the same buildings, wear the same vestments, and use the same labels. But they have invented a new religion, without ever admitting it. The sexual apostates, both Catholic and Protestant, are counting on no one noticing that their newly invented religion bears no relationship to historic Christianity.

Now in a literal war, what does the general order the soldiers to do when the enemy is about to cross the bridge and take over the town? Or, when the enemy is about to take possession of an armaments factory? Blow up the bridge. Blow up the factory. Blow up your own stuff, so the enemy cannot use it against you.

Obviously, we are not going to literally blow up anything. But we have an obligation to figuratively explode ideas. With the Nashville Statement, especially Article X, our Evangelical brothers and sisters have drawn a line in the sand.

Someone had to say it: The sexual revolutionaries have invented a new religion. It is NOT Christianity. I am grateful that our Evangelical brothers and sisters have said it. I support them in saying it. Making this point loudly and clearly is an absolute strategic necessity. Not to mention an obligation of Truth and Justice.

Morse goes on to argue that it is imprudent for Catholics to complain about the Nashville Statement for “not being Catholic enough,” re: contraception and divorce. As a Catholic who has long spoken out publicly against divorce and contraception, she has the credentials to do it. Read the whole thing. It’s important.

Morse no doubt has in mind the increasingly prominent ministry of Father James Martin, SJ, who has a book out that attempts to build a bridge of dialogue between the institutional Roman Catholic Church and LGBT Catholics. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle, but it seems abundantly clear that this “dialogue,” for Father Martin, needs to end with the normalization and affirmation of homosexuality within the Catholic Church. He has been very careful not to deny outright the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality, but as R.J. Snell points out in this must-read essay, Father Martin, in his book, presents truths so selectively as to amount to presenting falsehood. Excerpt:

It is certainly true that LGBT Catholics ought to be treated with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, just as LGBT Catholics ought to treat the hierarchy similarly, but leaving it at that is such a partial truth as to turn out false, and Martin does leave it at that, utterly bypassing the central claims at stake, namely, whether homosexual acts are morally permissible or not.

In fact, bypassing the central claims is essential to Martin’s vision of the bridge. Responding to a review of his book in Commonweal by the theologian David Cloutier, Martin notes that Building a Bridge intentionally “never mentions sex, specifically the church’s ban on homosexual activity” since the Church’s “stance on the matter is clear,” as is the LGBT community’s rejection of that teaching. So, Martin continues, “I intentionally decided not to discuss that question, since it was an area on which the two sides are too far apart.”

Despite skirting the point, Martin maintains the importance of encounter, which is “not something to dismiss as out of date, tired or stale. . . . And fundamentally, since the desire for ‘encounter’ is a work motivated by the desire for truth and culminating in the desire for welcome, it must be seen as a work of the Holy Spirit.” Yet genuine encounter, rooted in the desire for truth, could hardly occur in the absence of substantive discussion of the claims made by the Church and those who dissent. Martin’s vision of the bridge turns out to be remarkably facile. It’s a call for civility, but the sort ignoring the substance of the issues and asking both sides to affirm what they believe to be false. I have no doubt the book is well-intentioned, but it is startling in its shallowness.

Fr. Martin avoids all discussion of what the Church teaches regarding sexuality, and of the arguments of those who dissent from that teaching, replacing actual encounter with flaccid and abstract interpretations of respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

Snell says that the late Orthodox rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik has a much deeper and more meaningful take on “confrontation” — in between adherents of different religions, or, in Snell’s usage, between the orthodox and dissenters within a religion. Belief in the authoritative teachings of one’s religion, says Soloveitchik, “is indispensable to the survival of the community—that its system of dogmas, doctrines and values is best fitted for the attainment of the ultimate good.” Here’s Snell:

In other words, one cannot understand a faith community—Jewish or otherwise—if the imperatives and commitments of that community are redacted, bracketed away in favor of thin and generic commitments to civility. Such civility produces a false encounter, an encounter of ghostlike abstractions rather than between the flesh and blood of real persons and their commitments. The same would be true between disputants within a community, such as the orthodox and the dissenters on sexual morality.

Read the whole thing.

With that in mind, what are orthodox Catholics to make of Father Martin’s counsel that gays and lesbians should be allowed to kiss at mass? The Jesuit said, “So I hope in ten years you will be able to kiss your partner or soon to be your husband. Why not? What’s the terrible thing?”

Who is closer to Catholic truth: the mediagenic Jesuit, or the Evangelicals who signed the Nashville Statement. That is Jennifer Roback Morse’s point, I take it.

Over the past few days, I re-read, for the first time in six months, The Benedict Option to prepare a study guide that will be printed in the paperback version out next spring. People think an author has all that material near to hand, in his head, but it’s not true. One of the things that struck me this time is how vitally important close collaboration and support is between and among small-o orthodox Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians. We have to be careful not to diminish what our distinct confessions proclaim as true, but there is no reason why we cannot work together to support each other when we can. This fundagelical theologian more or less liked my book, except for the part where I fail to point out that Catholicism and Orthodoxy are the spiritual equivalent of “rat poison”. Bless his heart. I much prefer the practical ecumenism of Jennifer Roback Morse, as well as my Evangelical friends who signed the Nashville Statement. In wartime, you cannot be finicky about your alliances.

UPDATE: Reader Josh Bishop comments:

You may be interested in Albert Mohler’s latest episode of The Briefing, in which he addresses James Martin’s book. Here’s an excerpt:

“But here you have James Martin suggesting in this book and in interviews that ‘intrinsically disordered’ should be changed to ‘differently ordered.’ Now what’s the significance? It means overthrowing the entire tradition of the Christian church over 2,000 years in understanding how sexual orientation is to be rightly ordered. If you say that LGBT sexual orientation is merely differently ordered, you have actually not only changed the catechism in this specific case of the Roman Catholic Church, you have changed the Catholic Church’s understanding of the doctrines of creation, of humanity, of sin, of redemption, of the church. It is an entire re-orientation of the Catholic faith.”

Not Christianity, indeed. Mohler, a Southern Baptist and an initial signatory of the Nashville Statement, has put his finger on what so many Christians (Catholic and Protestant) can’t seem to see.

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Hazing At Wheaton

For Christ, His Kingdom, and almighty football, it appears (rchdj10/Shutterstock)

This happened at Wheaton College. Let me repeat: this happened at Wheaton College, the nation’s top Evangelical school:

Five Wheaton College football players face felony charges after being accused of a 2016 hazing incident in which a freshman teammate was restrained with duct tape, beaten and left half-naked with two torn shoulders on a baseball field.

DuPage County Judge Joseph Bugos signed arrest warrants and set $50,000 bonds against the players — James Cooksey, Kyler Kregel, Benjamin Pettway, Noah Spielman and Samuel TeBos — late Monday afternoon. Prosecutors charged the athletes with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint.

They are expected to turn themselves in to authorities this week.

Three of the accused played in Wheaton College’s victory over Carthage College Saturday, and all were listed on the team roster as of Monday afternoon. The Division III program is ranked fourth in the country. 

The victim, who the Tribune is not naming, left the conservative Christian school shortly after the incident and now attends college in Indiana.

According to the unnamed victim’s statement to police, here’s what they did to him:

The student told investigators that he was watching the NCAA basketball tournament in a dorm room on March 19, 2016, when several teammates entered the room and tackled him, according to the documents. The freshman kicked his legs and yelled at them to stop, only to be punched and have his bare legs and wrists wrapped in duct tape, the victim said.

The players put a pillow case over the 19-year-old freshman’s head and took him from the residence hall. Though there was a “root beer kegger” taking place in the dorm that night, no students or college employees intervened as the freshman was carried out of the building, according to the records.

The freshman told investigators that he was placed in the back seat of a teammate’s vehicle and held down by at least two players while others piled into the vehicle. After the vehicle began moving, the players played Middle Eastern music and made offensive comments about Muslims, according to the victim’s account.

At one point, the players suggested to the freshman that he had been kidnapped by Muslims who wanted to fornicate with goats, the teen told investigators. They patted his foot and suggested he would be their “goat” for the evening, the records said.

The freshman told investigators that his teammates restrained him with more duct tape during the drive, pulled down his shorts and underwear, then repeatedly tried to insert an object into his rectum. After the freshman yelled at them to stop, he was beaten, he said.

The players drove to a park located off campus and carried the freshman onto a baseball diamond, according to his account. The players threw dirt on the teen, took his cell phone and left him half-naked on the field, he said.

The freshman, who had just transferred to the college, did not know where he was or how to get back to campus. The temperature that night was about 45 degrees, according to National Weather Service records.

About 10 minutes later, a second player was dumped on the field, he told investigators. The two were eventually driven back to campus by classmates who came looking for the second player.

The freshman returned to his dorm room, called his mother and then drove himself to the hospital. He suffered muscle tears in both shoulders, in addition to various bruises and scratches, the records said.

Know what the college did to punish these young men, ccording to the Chicago Tribune? Gave them 50 hours of community service and ordered them to “write an eight-page essay reflecting on their behavior.”

Read the whole thing. If the Tribune‘s sources are correct, Wheaton College — freaking Wheaton! — let its football players skate, basically, after torturing at least one, probably two, freshmen as part of a hazing ritual.

Some administrator needs to lose his or her job over this. And what about the football coach? He let these scumbags stay on his team.

I know how this works, and why it happens, in all kinds of organizations. Religious ones are the worst, though. I saw the US Catholic Church preside over the widespread rape and molestation of children, and in so doing destroy its own credibility, rather than hold evildoers accountable. Baylor University, another Christian school, covered up for some of its own football players raping and assaulting others in recent years. I will never, ever understand fully why religious institutions let this happen. I hope the requisite governing bodies, as well as faculty, parents and alumni, let the hammer down on Wheaton.

Here in Baton Rouge, the LSU chapter of a fraternity has been closed by its national office after a freshman died there last week, apparently of alcohol poisoning. Authorities are still investigating, and have yet to determine if the kid ingested all that booze voluntarily, or had been subjected to hazing.

Here’s what I don’t get: 1) why haze? and 2) why would anybody want to be part of an organization that hazes them?

UPDATE: A friend I trust who is close to Wheaton strongly cautions against jumping to conclusions. He is hearing that the facts do not match what has been reported so far. Good advice. Remember Haven Monahan.

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Cotton, That Evil, Evil Plant

This Nashville college is apparently led by a quivering marshmallow:

And then this Facebook post went viral out of Texas. This nut photographed it in a Hobby Lobby store:

Are we really going to have to deal with the demonization of cotton now? Really? 

If the presence of cotton triggers you, guess what? You are a pluperfect idiot. And if you allow yourself to be intimidated into begging forgiveness for having displayed a cotton stalk, you make the ‘Leave Britney Alone’ Guy look like Otto von Bismarck.

via GIPHY

Honestly, people. Honestly. This country is having a nervous breakdown.

Or maybe it’s a plot by the American Wool Council…

UPDATE: As a reader said in the comments, there’s more to the Lipscomb story:

Lowry said he would make “special efforts” to talk to students who were offended by cotton stalk centerpieces that were set out last week for the dinner he hosted for black students enrolled at Lipscomb.

“We’ll invest a lot of time this week talking with students and trying to understand at deeper levels,” he said. “Rather than running away from something, I’ll lean into those kinds of conversations and relationships.”

Some students took to social media to criticize the centerpieces, which they considered a callous symbol of slavery. Students also took issue with the menu, which featured collard greens and corn bread a day after Latino students had come to Lowry’s house for fajitas.

On social media, students described Lowry’s initial reaction to their concerns as flippant. They said he brushed aside their concerns and suggested cotton was not offensive.

OK, I take back what I said above. That really is insulting. I thought it was merely a decoration, like at Hobby Lobby, and that it happened to have been present in Lowry’s house, not intentionally put there for the black students. Who were served collards and corn bread. By a university president. In 2017. Turns out that Lowry did owe them an apology, and that he is a dunderhead, but not for the reason I thought.

UPDATE.2: I agree with this reader:

When did it become impossible to say that something was in bad taste and probably a poor call, without either going full-on “white supremacy” or defending something dumb because there are supposedly bigger issues at play?

It was tone deaf. It could be read as passive-aggressive. There’s just as little reason to defend this particular faux-pas as there is to attack it as part of some master plan to bring back Jim Crow.

Everyone can learn from it, apologize and don’t do it next time. But we probably won’t.

Strikes me as a hopelessly lame attempt by the president to be woke, like someone’s hapless dad trying to “relate” to the youth. It makes me laugh. I think laughter and mockery is probably the best way to handle it. Alternatively, this could be an opportunity for offended students to respond to the president’s apology with charity and grace. But no, we’ll have World War III over it.

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Find This Reader A Church Family

The other day I posted Tish Harrison Warren’s deeply moving reflection on how her church community has helped her grieve the passing of her father and two miscarriages in the past six months. A reader who identified himself as ATL said that he is in a lot of emotional pain now, but doesn’t have a church home. I asked him to e-mail me with his details, and I would turn to you all to see if you could help find him a church family.

He writes:

Thanks for offering to help me find a church. I’ve been too overwhelmed with things to make any progress and my last attempt a few years ago was not a success.

I live in East Cobb, a suburb of Atlanta. I grew in a moderate Southern Baptist church and though I have respect for my friends and family who remain in the church, I’ve never felt 100% comfortable there. To be perfectly frank, big evangelical churches with massive video screens and praise bands are not my thing. However, I have conservative orientation and I not comfortable in liberal churches either. For example, I like the liturgical style of the Episcopal Church but that won’t work for obvious reasons.

In an ideal world I’d like a smallish church where members take care of one another and folks aren’t highly political (right or left). I recognize that one cannot totally avoid politics, but I don’t want to be hectored on Sunday mornings. I’ve often thought that I need to start a Church of the Depressed where basic spiritual needs are met. Getting up Sunday morning, putting on nice clothes, getting the kids ready and presenting a happy. I-love-Jesus-face is beyond me right now.

ATL listed (for my eyes only) the burdens he is carrying now. They’re heavy, really heavy. Is there a place for him at your church in suburban Atlanta? Please explain why in the comments section, and tell him where he can find you.

And please, nobody chastise this guy for having church preferences. I totally understand where he’s coming from. For example, I’m not built for megachurch worship, though I don’t begrudge people who are what they get out of it.

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Forget The Alamo? In Dallas, Maybe

The Alamo, where white Texan males got their comeuppance, or something (Dean Fikar/Shutterstock)

Oh, here we go:

Dallas ISD [Independent School District — that is, the public school system — RD] is researching the histories of Ben Franklin, Sam Houston, Thomas Jefferson and 17 other historical figures, looking into whether their connections with slavery or the Confederacy should prompt reconsideration of their names on DISD campuses.

Last Thursday, DISD administration recommended changing the names of four schools honoring Confederate generals: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and William L. Cabell elementary schools. During that discussion, it was mentioned that there is a much broader list of at least 21 names that bear further investigation, if trustees were compelled to do so.

They’ll be compelled, all right. More:

The Dallas Morning News has obtained a copy of that list, which includes Texas revolutionaries and founders such as Sam Houston, James Bowie and William Travis, U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and Dallas pioneers James Gaston and William Brown Miller.

Elizalde acknowledged to trustees the difficulty in drawing a line on where to proceed. Some of the schools’ namesakes were involved with the Confederacy, but in lesser army ranks or non-combat roles. As examples, Elizalde mentioned John H. Reagan, the Confederacy’s postmaster, and Nancy Cochran, who according to Elizalde’s research, “encouraged her sons” to fight for the Confederacy.

So let me get this straight: in Dallas, Texas — Dallas, Texas! — the school board is thinking about expunging the names of Sam Houston, as well as Alamo heroes Jim Bowie and William Travis? That is even more shocking than Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin. If you’re not from Texas, or never lived there, it is impossible to overstate the reverence with which Texans hold men involved in the Texas Revolution. Except in 2017, I guess it actually is possible.

The demographics of the DISD student body tells the story:

That graphic is from DISD data, which also reveal that whites make up only five percent of DISD students. What is troubling is that racial identity is so strong that black and brown Texans may not see the state’s history as their history — and indeed, may not see American history as their history, owing to the impure thoughts and deeds of 18th and 19th century men with regard to race.

Imagine the impoverishment of the minds who believe the most significant thing to know about Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, is that they were in some way tainted by slavery. Imagine the ignorance of school leaders who are going to investigate whether William Travis and Jim Bowie — both of whom died in 1836 at the Alamo — could have been involved with the Confederacy, which came into existence in 1861.

And imagine the spiritual decrepitude of those who would scrub the names of Travis and Bowie from Texas schools if they were found to have had anything at all to do with the Confederacy.

It’s disgusting, this iconoclasm. In 2015, 40 percent of DISD’s schools received a failing grade from the state. To be fair, over 90 percent of DISD’s students come from low income homes, meaning that the school system has tremendous barriers to overcome in educating them. Still, the fact that the DISD trustees are even considering a cosmetic, p.c. gesture like this is a farce.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Dreherbait, no big whoop. But here’s the thing: this knee-jerk iconoclasm tells us something important about where we are headed as a country. When the Founding Fathers, as well as regional figures like Travis and Bowie, are held up to contempt, and “banished” because they do not fit contemporary standards — well, we are destroying the kinds of historical narratives that all nations need to cohere. We certainly should not overlook grave flaws in these men (e.g., that Jefferson, architect of liberty, owned slaves), but it’s madness to regard them as if these tragic flaws made them mere villains. I mean, look: Martin Luther King Jr. was unfaithful to his wife, but it takes an ideological pinhead to believe that this ugly fact diminishes King’s extraordinary accomplishments, takes away from what he gave to America, or in any way threatens his place in American history.

Very few great men and women are saints. I wish the knotheads pushing this iconoclasm would reflect seriously on where this is all headed, or likely to lead.

By the way, it’s starting in France now. There’s a movement to rename schools, etc., that were named after Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s finance minister who, in that post, had a lot to do with French involvement in the slave trade. The man leading the campaign is head of the French equivalent of Black Lives Matter, and writes in Le Monde: “How can we teach living together and republican values ​​in the shadow of Colbert?”

Right, because the name of a 17th-century French minister of state on the school prevents students from learning about republican values. What a crock. In Dallas, those public school students may graduate knowing next to nothing, but at least they will not have suffered the indignity of having studied in a school named for someone their progressive elders told them to hate.

The French reader who sent me the link said:

French republicanism has it good that culture wars and identity politics are virtually non-existent – until now. The local equivalent of BLM is trying to ban the name and effigies of Colbert from the public square because of his ties with the slave trade. First reactions are perplexed and even frankly hostile but it also started that way in America and now…

UPDATE: Reader Devinicus says:

Symbols are fundamentally statements about who/whom (or as Lenin said, кто кого?). This movement to rename schools in Dallas is just as Rod says — a statement by non-white residents that Texas history is white history and therefore is an affront to them.

Whether they are correct to feel this way is neither here nor there in my view. What interests me is the (I would say necessary) effect which Diversity has upon history.

As America becomes less and less white, the history of America becomes less and less valuable and interesting to Americans. And why wouldn’t that be the case? After all, white Americans are not especially interested in 17th, 18th, and 19th century American Indian history because “that’s not us”.

Before the era of Diversity was the era of assimilation and the “melting pot”. The effort was to convince (and force, let’s be honest) all that American history belonged to them and theirs even if they were not white, not Anglo, not Protestant, not even Christian. And to a significant degree, it worked.

But that is not the project of Diversity, which instead values difference for the sake of difference and either objects to solidarity in principle or has absolutely no program to produce it beyond “Hey, let’s listen to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine‘ again …”.

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Con Of The Century

Salena Zito has a moving NYPost piece about the day that began the destruction of Youngstown, Ohio, and “sowed the seeds of Trump.” Excerpts:

From then on, this date in 1977 would be known as Black Monday in the Steel Valley, which stretches from Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Ohio eastward toward Pittsburgh. It is the date when Youngstown Sheet and Tube abruptly furloughed 5,000 workers all in one day.

The bleeding never stopped.

Within the next 18 months, US Steel announced that the nation’s largest steel producer was also shutting down 16 plants across the nation including their Ohio Works in Youngstown, a move that eliminated an additional 4,000 workers here. That announcement came one day before Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp. said they were cutting thousands of jobs at their facilities in the Mahoning Valley, too.

Within a decade 40,000 jobs were gone. Within that same decade, 50,000 people had left the region, and by the next decade that number was up to 100,000. Today the 22 miles of booming steel mills and the support industries that once lined the Mahoning River have mostly disappeared — either blown up, dismantled or reclaimed by nature.

If a bomb had hit this region, the scar would be no less severe on its landscape.

More:

The events of Black Monday forever changed not only the Steel Valley, but her people and eventually American culture and politics. Just last year the reverberations were felt in the presidential election when many hard-core Democrats from this area broke from their party to vote for Donald Trump, a Republican who promised to bring jobs back to the Heartland.

Even today, after the election, the Washington establishment still hasn’t processed or properly dissected its effects. Economic experts predicted that the service industry would be the employment of the future. Steel workers were retrained to fill jobs in that sector, which was expected to sustain the middle class in the same way that manufacturing did.

It did not. According to a study done by the Midwest Center for Research the average salary of a steel worker in the late 1970s was $24,772.80. Today, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor statistics, the medium household income in the Mahoning Valley is $24,133.

Now that they have the working man’s champion in the White House, what’s he doing for them? Here are Gary Rivlin and Michael Hudson, writing in The Intercept, about how Goldman Sachs more or less runs the Trump administration. Excerpts:

Trump raged against “offshoring” by American companies during the 2016 campaign. He even threatened “retribution,”­ a 35 percent tariff on any goods imported into the United States by a company that had moved jobs overseas. But [Gary] Cohn laid out Goldman’s very different view of offshoring at an investor conference in Naples, Florida, in November. There, Cohn explained unapologetically that Goldman had offshored its back-office staff, including payroll and IT, to Bangalore, India, now home to the firm’s largest office outside New York City: “We hire people there because they work for cents on the dollar versus what people work for in the United States.”

Candidate Trump promised to create millions of new jobs, vowing to be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” Cohn, as Goldman Sachs’s president and COO, oversaw the firm’s mergers and acquisitions business that had, over the previous three years, led to the loss of at least 22,000 U.S. jobs, according to a study by two advocacy groups. Early in his candidacy, Trump described as “disgusting” Pfizer’s decision to buy a smaller Irish competitor in order to execute a “corporate inversion,” a maneuver in which a U.S. company moves its headquarters overseas to reduce its tax burden. The Pfizer deal ultimately fell through. But in 2016, in the heat of the campaign, Goldman advised on a megadeal that saw Johnson Controls, a Fortune 500 company based in Milwaukee, buy the Ireland-based Tyco International with the same goal. A few months later, with Goldman’s help, Johnson Controls had executed its inversion.

With Cohn’s appointment [as his economic adviser], Trump now had three Goldman Sachs alums in top positions inside his administration: Steve Bannon, who was a vice president at Goldman when he left the firm in 1990, as chief strategist, and Steve Mnuchin, who had spent 17 years at Goldman, as Treasury secretary. And there were more to come. A few weeks later, another Goldman partner, Dina Powell, joined the White House as a senior counselor for economic initiatives. Goldman was a longtime client of Jay Clayton, Trump’s choice to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission; Clayton had represented Goldman after the 2008 financial crisis, and his wife Gretchen worked there as a wealth management adviser. And there was the brief, colorful tenure of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director: Scaramucci had been a vice president at Goldman Sachs before leaving to co-found his own investment company.

Even before Scaramucci, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., had joked that enough Goldman alum were working for the Trump administration to open a branch office in the White House.

“There was a devastating financial crisis just over eight years ago,” Warren said. “Goldman Sachs was at the heart of that crisis. The idea that the president is now going to turn over the country’s economic policy to a senior Goldman executive turns my stomach.” Prior administrations often had one or two people from Goldman serving in top positions. George W. Bush at one point had three. At its peak, the Trump administration effectively had six.

Ex-Goldmanista Steve Bannon’s White House agenda was not in Goldman’s interest, though. But now he’s gone. More:

The Trump economic agenda, it turns out, is largely the Goldman agenda, one with the potential to deliver any number of gifts to the firm that made Cohn colossally rich. If Cohn stays, it will be to pursue an agenda of aggressive financial deregulation and massive corporate tax cuts — he seeks to slash rates by 57 percent — that would dramatically increase profits for large financial players like Goldman. It is an agenda as radical in its scope and impact as Bannon’s was.

The story tracks Gary Cohn’s impressive rise from an aluminum siding salesman to a Goldman Sachs top leader. In the mid-2000s, Goldman saw that the housing market was a bubble waiting to pop, and arranged its position to take advantage of the coming collapse. The Intercept continues:

Cohn was a member of Goldman’s board of directors during this critical time and second in command of the bank. At that point, Cohn and Blankfein, along with the board and other top executives, had several options. They might have shared their concerns about the mortgage market in a filing with the SEC, which requires publicly traded companies to reveal “triggering events that accelerate or increase a direct financial obligation” or might cause “impairments” to the bottom line. They might have warned clients who had invested in mortgage-backed securities to consider extracting themselves before they suffered too much financial damage. At the very least, Goldman could have stopped peddling mortgage-backed securities that its own mortgage trading desk suspected might soon collapse in value.

Instead, Cohn and his colleagues decided to take care of Goldman Sachs.

Goldman would not have suffered the reputational damage that it did — or paid multiple billions in federal fines — if the firm, anticipating the impending crisis, had merely shorted the housing market in the hopes of making billions. That is what investment banks do: spot ways to make money that others don’t see. The money managers and traders featured in the film “The Big Short” did the same — and they were cast as brave contrarians. Yet unlike the investors featured in the film, Goldman had itself helped inflate the housing bubble — buying tens of billions of dollars in subprime mortgages over the previous several years for bundling into bonds they sold to investors. And unlike these investors, Goldman’s people were not warning anyone who would listen about the disaster about to hit. As federal investigations found, the firm, which still claims “our clients’ interests always come first” as a core principle, failed to disclose that its top people saw disaster in the very products its salespeople were continuing to hawk.

What follows is an amazing, very detailed story about how Goldman maneuvered successfully through the rubble of the economic collapse, and came out on top. And then, get this:

Politically, 2016 would prove a strange year for Goldman. Bernie Sanders clobbered Hillary Clinton for pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Goldman, while Trump attacked Ted Cruz for being “in bed with” Goldman Sachs. (Cruz’s wife Heidi was a managing director in Goldman’s Houston office until she took leave to work on her husband’s presidential campaign.) Goldman would have “total control” over Clinton, Trump said at a February 2016 rally, a point his campaign reinforced in a two-minute ad that ran the weekend before Election Day. An image of Blankfein flashed across the screen as Trump warned about the global forces that “robbed our working class.”

So Trump won — and staffed up with Goldman machers — Gary Cohn most important of all:

There’s ultimately no great mystery why Donald Trump selected Gary Cohn for a top post in his administration, despite his angry rhetoric about Goldman Sachs. There’s the high regard the president holds for anyone who is rich — and the instant legitimacy Cohn conferred upon the administration within business circles. Cohn’s appointment reassured bond markets about the unpredictable new president and lent his administration credibility it lacked among Fortune 100 CEOs, none of whom had donated to his campaign. Ego may also have played a role. Goldman Sachs would never do business with Trump, the developer who resorted to foreign banks and second-tier lenders to bankroll his projects. Now Goldman’s president would be among those serving in his royal court.

Finally:

It’s Cohn’s influence over the country’s regulators that worries Dennis Kelleher, the financial reform lobbyist. “To him, what’s good for Wall Street is good for the economy,” Kelleher said of Cohn. “Maybe that makes sense when a guy has spent 26 years at Goldman, a company who has repaid his loyalties and sweat with a net worth in the hundreds of millions.” Kelleher recalls those who lost a home or a chunk of their retirement savings during a financial crisis that Cohn helped precipitate. “They’re still suffering,” he said. “Yet now Cohn’s in charge of the economy and talking about eliminating financial reform and basically putting the country back to where it was in 2005, as if 2008 didn’t happen. I’ve started the countdown clock to the next financial crash, which will make the last one look mild.”

Read the whole thing. Please, do. It is staggering to think that here we are, a decade after the crash, and … here we are.

Tonight (Sunday), PBS begins airing Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s long Vietnam War documentary. I’ll write more about it this week. I’ve watched it, and to call it landmark television is to vastly undersell it. It comes to mind reading the Goldman-Trump piece because it revealed, however inadvertently, how little we Americans learned from the Vietnam experience when it came time to invade Iraq.

Twenty, thirty years from now, don’t be surprised if some American president proposes a “this time, it’s different” invasion of another foreign country. And don’t be surprised if we the people cheer for him. We’re suckers for this kind of thing. Here’s Kevin Williamson, on Trump’s epic flip-flop on immigration and DACA:

What did they expect? Trump is a serial bankrupt who has betrayed at least two-thirds of the wives he’s had and who lies compulsively — who invented an imaginary friend to lie to the press on his behalf. He has screwed over practically everyone who has ever trusted him or done business with him, and his voters were just another in a long series of marks. They gave him that 280ZX with no down payment — and no prospect of repossessing it until 2020 at the earliest. Poor Ann Coulter is somewhere weeping into her gin: “I bet on a loser,” she explains.

It was a dumb bet.

With no market-oriented health-care reform and no hawkish immigration reform and the prospects of far-reaching tax reform looking shaky — even though Republicans exist for no obvious purpose other than cutting taxes — Trump is still looking for his big win. Even those who were willing to suspend the fully formed adult parts of their brains and give him the benefit of the doubt are coming around to the realization that he has no beliefs and no principles, and that he will sell out any ally, cause, or national interest if doing so suits his one and only true master in this life: his vanity. He didn’t get rolled by Pelosi and Schumer: His voters got rolled by him. That’s the real deal.

Cheers to you, Youngstown!

When Youngstown (so to speak) figures out what’s been done to it, politics in this country is going to get very, very interesting. In the meantime:

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What’s Right With Church

Most of us complain about church life at some point. Some of us complain a lot. All of us need to read this stunning short essay by Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican (ACNA) pastor, about what she has endured over these last six months … and how her church has helped her through it. Excerpts:

In six months, I had lost my home, my father, a terrifying amount of blood, and two babies. I am grieving. I know mine is not the worst sorrow or loss in the world. It’s not even the worst trial of my friends this year. Still, here I am. In a difficult season of pain and loss.

But:

I am learning something in a new and deeper way: Grief does indeed get everywhere, but so does mercy. I am seeing that there is no place of suffering to which God might send us where beauty, grace, and blessing can’t reach. With each new sorrow, moments of beauty still turn up. They seep in. They find me. The hope of the resurrection persists. And so does the goodness of God in the small moments of my day. Even today, even here, even now, grace surprises and abounds. I feel lost and in the dark, but mercy finds me, again and again and again. Sometimes slowly. But nevertheless.

This mercy has often come through my church. There are a thousand ways that the church, global and local, fails, and it’s easy — especially for those of us who spend a lot of time online or on the news — to only hear of problems in the church. People have built careers on pointing out her deficiencies and sins.

What doesn’t make headlines is the quiet work that imperfect but good churches do, week in and week out.

Tish Harrison Warren

When I found out I was pregnant, I was afraid the head pastor — my boss — would be mad or disappointed since I had started work less than a month before. Instead, he hugged me and said, “We will do whatever we can to support your family.” How many women in the secular world would love that response from their bosses when they found out they were pregnant? When we miscarried the second time, our Director of Ministry said to me, “We were planning on giving you maternity leave, so we will now give you miscarriage leave.” After six crushing months, they generously hung in there with us and gave us extra time off to cry, to pray, to rest, to heal.People have prayed for us. People dropped off food and more food. Our doctor, a fellow church member, constantly poured over medical records and research, showed up at the ER, and prayed with me. Two college students dropped off a giant box of art supplies for my kids. My church has constantly showed hospitality and grace to a clergy family who were hired to come lead and, almost immediately, were weak, in need, and in crisis.

It doesn’t trend on twitter when a middle-age church member drops off a casserole or when people gathered around us to pray or when friends sat with us in a memorial service for our lost child. The most persistent and gracious goodness in the church will never be widely noticed, much less hashtagged. But nevertheless mercy has come to us through her.

Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. Share it. Print it out, put it on the bulletin board at your church. People need to read this, to be encouraged in their struggles, and also to have a vision of what the little way of ordinary church life can mean to those who are hurting.

Tish, by the way, is a personal friend of mine, a great writer, and an even better human being. Please check out her book Liturgy Of The Ordinary.

UPDATE: Links fixed; sorry.

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Yoda Vs. The Seagulls

There is really nothing better than this on the Internet right now. You’re welcome.

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Bulverism In Boise

Herd of independent left-wing minds at Boise State mass to protest thought criminal professor (Balefire/Shutterstock)

Scott Yenor, a political scientist at Boise State University in Idaho, published a report with the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, tracing the history of the culture wars through ideas about sex and gender. And then everything blew up. Excerpts:

When Boise State’s School of Public Service posted Yenor’s article on its Facebook page, offended readers, including some students, demanded that it be taken down. The school’s dean, Corey Cook, then took to Facebook to defend Yenor’s academic freedom but also to criticize him personally.

Our core values as a School include the statement that “collegiality, caring, tolerance, civility and respect of faculty, staff, students and our external partners are ways of embracing diverse backgrounds, traditions, ideas and experiences.” As has been pointed out by several people in their communications with me, the particular language employed in the piece is inconsistent with that value.

Just how Yenor’s article violated the school’s core values is not made clear. The Daily Signal piece was the work of a scholar writing in a popular venue and making an argument about an important contemporary public-policy issue. That is a legitimate scholarly activity.

Francisco Salinas, the campus diversity czar, denounced Yenor as a fellow traveler of neo-Nazis. True, he said, there’s no evidence that Yenor is a neo-Nazi, but neo-Nazis would probably agree with his argument about the culture war. Ergo, there’s a witch Nazi in our midst! More:

Salinas’s non sequitur provides the perfect illustration of a troubling trend: the effort by some students, administrators, and faculty to shut dissenting voices up through intimidation and name-calling. As of this writing, more than 2,000 have signed an online petition calling for Boise State to fire Yenor for his scholarship and related work as a public intellectual. Students have penned opinion pieces calling for his ouster, and a flyer headed “Fire Scott Yenor” is a circulating on campus. It includes an absurd bill of particulars and toward the bottom declares, in solid caps, “YOU HAVE BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS SCOTT YENOR.” The rhetoric is over the top, but what Yenor’s detractors fail to do is even more troubling. They make no attempt to refute Yenor’s argument, wrestle with or consider the primary sources he is explicating, or otherwise engage in an intellectual back and forth. Denunciation now takes the place of discussion.

Read the whole thing to know what this has to do with “Bulverism”.

What the hell is wrong with Boise State University? What is wrong with American universities? The perfectly mainstream conservative commentator Ben Shapiro had to be protected as if he were a head of state when he delivered a speech this week at UC Berkeley. Cost to the school for security? $600,000. To its credit, UC Berkeley paid the money and defended free speech, but good grief, it is insane to think that any American university has to be under that kind of siege by left-wing berserkers.

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Father Martin, SJ, Is Disinvited

Yesterday, you might have seen my “Dangers Of Dialogue” post, in which I mentioned the invitation the Theological College seminary at Catholic University extended to the pro-LGBT priest James Martin, SJ. TC had a scandalous reputation as a “pink palace” back in the day before the sex abuse scandal.

This just released:

UPDATE: Catholic U., issued this statement today:

Yesterday, Theological College, the seminary under the auspices of The Catholic University of America, announced a decision made independently of the University to rescind an invitation to Fr. James Martin, SJ, editor-at-large of America and consultor to the Vatican Secretariat for Communications to speak at their Alumni Days celebration. This decision does not reflect the University’s policy on inviting speakers to campus, nor does it reflect the specific counsel received from the University and leadership. Last year, the University welcomed Fr. Martin to speak to students about friendship with Jesus. We regret the implication that Catholic University supported yesterday’s decision.

“The campaigns by various groups to paint Fr. Martin’s talk as controversial reflect the same pressure being applied by the left for universities to withdraw speaker invitations,” said John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America. “Universities and their related entities should be places for the free, civil exchange of ideas. Our culture is increasingly hostile to this idea. It is problematic that individuals and groups within our Church demonstrate this same inability to make distinctions and to exercise charity.”

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J.D. Vance Will Not Run For Office

I knew this was coming, but now he’s made it public:

J.D. Vance, author of the bestselling memoir Hillbilly Elegy, strongly considered seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Ohio next year, but has decided against a run, he said Thurdsay.

Vance, whose book describes his drug-addicted mother and absentee father in unsparing detail, concluded a run for office would put too much strain on his young family. His wife, Usha, a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, recently gave birth to their first child.

“I felt like I had to take a serious look at it because I care about the direction of the party, and people I respect encouraged me to run,” Vance told me. “But it would have been an objectively bad call for my family.”

He adds:

“You can’t sacrifice your family’s happiness to run for political office,” Vance told me. “If you’re willing to do that, you don’t belong in elected office and you don’t deserve your family.”

I can tell you that this is 100 percent genuine. This is not a smokescreen or a euphemism. He means it. J.D. and I talked about it during his decision-making process. He really, really wanted to do it, because he deeply believes he can make a difference, especially for the poor and the working class, from which he comes. But he is crazy about his wife and their baby boy, and did not want to make them suffer. I told him at the time that I hope he runs, because the GOP needs fresh new blood (““I’m a conservative, but I think the party has really lost touch with working- and middle-class Americans,” he told Molly Ball), but that family has to come first. That was also J.D.’s view, he told me then. He was praying a lot about what he should do, and talking a lot with Usha. We agreed that if she wasn’t 100 percent behind it, it was not a good idea. When a man is married, he no longer has the right to make big decisions for himself. He’s making them for, and with, his wife and kids.

When J.D. told me earlier this week about his decision against running, I told him that I was disappointed — oh man, was I disappointed! — but even more than that, that I was so proud of him for the decision he had made. The fact that the well being of his wife and son meant more to him than seeking political office means the world, especially in a cynical time like this. Having passed that test, when the day comes when he decides the time is right to make a Congressional run, he can be sure that he wants it for the right reasons. I don’t know about you, but I think that be they Republican or Democrat, the country would do well to be led by men and women who are devoted to God and family above their careers. If the day comes that we see J.D. Vance’s name on the ballot, we can have confidence that he’s a man who has his priorities in right order.

One more bit from Molly Ball’s Atlantic piece:

Though Vance decided the time wasn’t ripe, [GOP political consultant Jai] Chabria is convinced he has a future in politics. “I have never seen someone that has as much upside as he does,” Chabria told me. “I know he’s going to be relevant in a lot of different ways, because the party needs people like him.”

Absolutely. The guy is only 33, and he lives part time in Washington. If the Republican Party and the conservative movement doesn’t know that J.D. Vance and what he represents is its future — whether or not he ever seeks elected office — it ought to be put out of its misery right now.

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The Shabbiness Of Untruth

Pope St. John Paul II (<a href="Photo illustration by JD Warrick/Flickr)

Father Thomas Petri, OP, nails a theological lapse in his fellow Catholic priest James Martin, SJ — a lapse that is widely shared today, whether those who do realize it or not. Excerpt:

Could Jesus be ignorant and need to learn from others? The question comes up whenever Catholics go to Sunday Mass and hear Matthew 15:21-28 (as they did a few weeks ago). It’s the scene where a Canaanite woman approaches the Lord and begs him to cure her daughter of a demon. Initially not answering her, Jesus delivers a seemingly striking rebuke: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel … It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Of course, he eventually accedes to her request and heals her daughter, but only after she demonstrates her faith in his divinity by calling him “Lord”.

Some claim that this shows Jesus being taught a lesson. Fr James Martin tweeted: “Today we see Jesus’ human and divine natures: he learns from the woman that his ministry extends to all, and he heals her daughter.” Even more audaciously, the official Twitter account for the Maryknoll Missioners actually declared: “Jesus was part of his culture: prejudiced against Canaanites. But he allowed a foreign woman to expand his views. Do we?”

Sadly, many Catholics will have heard similar claims from the pulpit. To claim that Jesus was part of his culture, and limited in his understanding, is a favourite argument of those who want women to be admitted to the priesthood. Jesus’s culture was sexist, they say, so it’s understandable that he would not ordain women.

But the idea that Jesus did not understand his mission in its fullness contradicts both the Catholic understanding of Jesus’s divinity and humanity, and the way the Church’s tradition has understood the Gospels.

Father Petri goes on to explain why this is simply bad theology. He continues later:

How, then, are we to understand this particular Gospel passage? Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, is instructive. We interpret the Sacred Scriptures attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture, within the living tradition of the whole Church, and in harmony with the whole of the faith.

We simply cannot take a single verse or a single passage of the Gospel, read it, interpret it and preach it in isolation from the rest of the Scriptures, from the faith we hold to be true, and outside the living tradition of the whole Church. To do so is to reduce the richness of Divine Revelation to isolated allocutions unconnected to the larger narrative of salvation history. In short, it is to become fundamentalists of a modern variety along the lines of the liberal Protestants who emerged in the late 19th century.

Which, one suspects, is the unstated goal of those Catholics who do wish to re-interpret Scripture to make it more friendly to the 21st-century post-Christian West. Read the whole thing.

Father Petri is a Catholic speaking to other Catholics, but it’s an important point for all Christians to bear in mind, within their own tradition. Along those lines, by all means read this long First Things reflection by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, pondering the meaning of the Pope St. John Paul II’s encylical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) as we near its 25th anniversary. The Archbishop writes:

Written to encourage a renewal in Catholic moral theology and a return to its classical Catholic roots, Veritatis Splendor grounds itself in a few simple convictions. Briefly put: Truth exists, whether we like it or not. We don’t create truth; we find it, and we have no power to change it to our tastes. The truth may not make us comfortable, but it does make us free. And knowing and living the truth ennoble our lives. It is the only path to lasting happiness.

In the years that have passed, the crisis of truth has only seemed to grow. Our age is one of cleverness and irony, not real intellect and character. Today the wisdom of Veritatis Splendor is more urgently needed than ever.

It’s common, even among people who identify as Catholics, to assume that the Church’s moral guidance is essentially about imposing rules, rules that breed a kind of pharisaism. But this is exactly wrong. It’s an error that radically misunderstands the substance of Catholic teaching. It’s also one of the worst obstacles to spreading the faith.

John Paul II knew this. Thus the first chapter of his encyclical is a meditation on the encounter of Jesus with the rich young man (Matt. 19:16–26). The rich young man seeks to enter into eternal life, and this, John Paul writes, is the starting point for Jesus’s teaching on how to live as a Christian. In other words, Christian morality is about seeking fellowship with God, which is our true happiness, the goal of our human existence. Yes, moral rules, laws, and commandments do exist. But they have value because they point to something far more profound: how to live in order to grow in virtue and attain fullness of life.

Abp Chaput says that after the end of the High Middle Ages, Catholic theology began to drift towards a rigorous legalism. “Rather than a quest for happiness, the moral life came to be portrayed as a difficult navigation of detailed rules,” he writes. And:

Against this backdrop, Vatican II (1962–1965) called for a broad reform of Catholic moral theology, one that reconnected moral truth with our desire for happiness. But many moral theologians remained trapped by the preconciliar theories that had formed them. They continued to presume a framework of divine commandments and obligations that bind and restrict man’s liberty.

Instead of reading the council as a call to deepen the life-giving power of moral truth, they believed—incorrectly—that Vatican II marked a break from the “oppressive” moral commandments of the past. They assumed that Catholic moral theology can be more life-affirming to the degree that it cedes territory to our unfettered freedom. But in practice, they only managed to exchange the rigorist legalism of their teachers for a new legalism with a laxist, progressive bent.

Abp Chaput says that the encyclical’s text

reminds us forcefully that truth, including moral truth (what we owe our neighbor; what leads us to or away from God), has an objective dimension. It’s not purely a function of cultural and personal circumstances. Of course, throughout history, and throughout our individual lives, many things do change. But some truths do not change.

More:

Thus a pastor is not acting mercifully if he says, out of a misguided desire to help someone struggling with a difficult choice, “Don’t worry, as long as your heart is in the right place, God will understand.” Or even worse: “I dispense you from the law in this case.” The pastor has no power to launder a sinful choice into a morally acceptable one. In trying to do so, he commits a serious injustice. He also sins against charity, because he makes the problem worse by stealing the truth from the person he seeks to help.

To put it another way: Accompaniment, properly understood, is always a wise pastoral strategy. But the destination of a journey—a journey shared by pastor and penitent—does matter, especially if the route takes them over a cliff. Intrinsically evil actions always involve a turning away from God. This is the teaching of Jesus himself: “Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).

The spiritual problems that arise in morally difficult cases do not stem from the “cruel” nature of a seemingly merciless law. The problems come from the fact that we fallen creatures have a hard time choosing the good when it costs us something. The right path to happiness isn’t to relax the law, but to give ourselves over to God’s power and the promise of his grace.

Read the whole thing. There’s so much more in it that I would like to quote, but I think you should encounter the entire essay yourself.

Why do I cite it here, along with Father Petri’s column? Because there’s a subtle but enormously important shift present in the claim made by Father Martin and the Maryknollers. If Jesus Christ, the God-man, was in any way ignorant and had to learn from others, then we 21st century mortals may feel justified in presuming that Jesus has something to learn from us. That is, we set ourselves in judgment over Him, reading Scripture with an eye toward seeing His judgment as culture-bound and flawed. If Jesus was wrong about the Canaanite woman, what else might he (and those who speak in his name today) be wrong about, because their understanding was and is limited by their culture?

If that’s the case, then we can’t really speak of truth as if it were something objective, to which we must submit. We can make it up as we go along, telling ourselves and others that we are growing into a new truth, just as Jesus of Nazareth did when He met the Canaanite woman. There’s really no limit to what we can justify with that understanding of Jesus, and of Truth.

Thus does liberal Christianity turn the splendor of truth into a drab and shopworn thing, a shabby garment fit for slaves serving what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger termed the “dictatorship of relativism”:

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceipt from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.

 

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AfD: Germany’s ‘False Messiah’

A German reader — an Evangelical physician and father of four children — e-mails in response to my blog post about the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the populist political party of the German Right. I post this with his permission:

When comparing [AfD leader] Frauke Petry to Merkel and emphasizing that Petry is the mother of five white kids you ought to keep in mind that

Petry left her husband and four kids what? two years ago and began a relationship with Marcus Pretzell, leader of the AfD in the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia – who because of that left his wife and four kids.

So yes, Petry is the mother of five kids; number five though is from Pretzell. Eight kids left behind in broken homes.

Also I’d like to point out that on my way to work I find the following ads beautifying our highways during election season:

On the left it says: “Burkas/Hijabs? We’re turned on by bikinis.”

I guess the left ad says it all.

The sexual morals of the AfD differ not much from the general populace.

My dad keeps on trying to convince me to vote for AfD because – so he thinks – at least we have some opposition in parliament. I disagree.

Germany has much more severed itself from God and Christian tradition than the US. The culture is deeply anti-Christian. AfD and PEGIDA [German nationalist, anti-Islam movement] for example long for a return to the days of a thoroughly Christian culture only in as far as “personal peace and prosperity” is concerned as Schaeffer put it way back when. Those adherents for the largest part aren’t Christian in any orthodox sense, whatsoever.

Unless there is a bottom up moral cultural renewal in this country/on this continent, parties such as AfD or movements such as PEGIDA will be hapless, romantic attempts to impose some well-meant principles/policies on a people that have given up on God.

On the other hand, the Evangelical/charismatic landscape here is deeply anti-intellectual/anti-worldview. Within that part of the church over here, Angela Merkel’s policies concerning the refugee crisis, for instance, are considered the only possible Christian perspective. If you’d argue (as I did once and never tried again) that yes, there is at least another possible/viable Christian perspective debatable, you’ll be relegated as pariah into the far right/Nazi shelf. The same with EU policy, or Brexit for example, and the list goes on and on. I am talking about large parts of the Evangelical church in particular the younger generation. So with a church devoted to God but in large parts caught up in a secular/leftist worldview — how can we bring change to a nation?

This is why I am entirely pessimistic about the forthcoming election. In the US you had two bad choices whith one choice though the possibility of at least doing something good for the courts, there ain’t nothing like that here.The CDU is entirely like the SPD (social democrats) and more or less like the Greens or the Free Liberals (although the latter one is good on econimcs, enthusiastically supporting the new family dogma). The AfD will probably score 10% of the vote with all parties having plausibly promised to not form a government with that party.

As an orthodox Christian you’re left to choose between pestilence and cholera — or abstain from voting altogether. Unless there is revival in the land, our land and continent is lost. The AfD is a false messiah.

This reader’s e-mail reminds me of what the non-Christian commenter here who blogs under the handle “German Reader” says about the churches in Germany: that on immigration, they are among the worst open-borders offenders.

UPDATE: A reader posts David P. Goldman’s column from January about AfD. Er, wow. I learned some things about that party that I did not know. The plain facts Goldman discusses in the piece are disgusting enough to make you understand why believing Christians Iand others) would turn their backs on AfD.

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The Last Straw For Trump Backers?

‘I promise you with all my heart…’ (Evan Al-Amin/Shutterstock)

TAC’s Scott McConnell, writing in the National Interest, says that Donald Trump’s flip-flop on DACA is only the latest in a series of betrayals of paleocon supporters — and says it’s probably the last straw. Excerpt:

There have always been some voices some on the anti-war, globalism-skeptic right who warned that Trump—because of his character flaws—would do more damage to their causes by winning than by losing. I didn’t agree with this, having long ago accepted that in politics, the best can be the enemy of the good. But the danger Trump poses to the tripartite and—six months ago at least—increasingly ascendant positions of restrained foreign policy, more regulated immigration and renegotiated trade, can’t really be denied. Quite the contrary.

On Thursday morning the polemical writer Ann Coulter, author of a widely read pro-Trump work and many pro-Trump columns, tweeted, “If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence.” She essentially rescinded her backing of Trump. Coulter is a bellwether, as important on the outside as Bannon was on the inside, the most famous of many who submerged their doubts about Trump’s preparation and character because, simply, he said so many things during the campaign which were courageous, perceptive, and in their view and mine, simply correct. I’ve heard (from a left-wing journalist) Trump described as the perfector of a kind of an idiot savant version of paleoconservatism—he could say the right phases, with excellent cadence and timing, without understanding or believing any of it. It’s a joke of course, but it would be more funny if it wasn’t on us.

Read the whole thing. McConnell also suspects that Trump is willing to sell out his base in a desperate attempt to keep the Robert Mueller wolf at bay. Quite a drama playing out in Washington now.

Donald Trump has only been president for nine months.

Don’t miss this amazing account of how Trump humiliated AG Jeff Sessions in the Oval Office after the Mueller appointment. Excerpts:

Shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said the attorney general should resign, according to current and former administration officials and others briefed on the matter.

The president blamed the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, on Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation — a move Mr. Trump believes was the moment his administration effectively lost control over the inquiry. Accusing Mr. Sessions of “disloyalty,” Mr. Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general.

Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House, according to four people who were told details of the meeting. Mr. Sessions would later tell associates that the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.

More:

Administration officials and some of Mr. Trump’s outside advisers have puzzled at Mr. Sessions’s decision to stay on. But people close to Mr. Sessions said that he did not leave because he had a chance to have an impact on what he sees as an issue of his career: curtailing legal and illegal immigration.

In recent weeks, he has spearheaded the effort to undo what he believed to be the Obama administration’s dangerously lenient immigration policies, including the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program.

Mr. Sessions had no illusions about converting Mr. Trump to his side of the argument — Mr. Trump remains deeply ambivalent — and he had no illusions about repairing a damaged relationship he had once regarded as a friendship. But he told people he felt he had successfully pushed the president toward ending the Obama immigration policy, and thought it had given him increased leverage in the West Wing.

And Trump said, “Ha!”

At this point, is there any faction or significant figure left to betray?

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