Rod Dreher

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A Lame American Presidency

Every crisis in his much-diminished presidency has been Donald Trump’s own fault, a self-inflicted wound. His enemies haven’t landed a serious punch yet, but they haven’t really had to. He’s doing a great job cold-cocking himself with regularity. Eight months in, it’s clear that the one thing President Trump is good at is making trouble for himself. Otherwise, he’s incompetent.

Chris Hayes told Ezra Klein:

I don’t think the president wants to be in charge. I think he wants to sit on his couch and yell at his TV screen and tweet things, but he’s almost happy to be able to kind of get it out of his system and not have anyone listen to him. I think his optimal equilibrium is hectoring Jeff Sessions but Jeff Sessions not quitting, or tweeting out the thing about transgender service members and the military ignoring him, or tweeting out threats to North Korea and not actually changing American posture.

I think that that we have arrived at a new equilibrium in which both the interior members of his staff, the actual federal bureaucracy, the US Congress, the US public, the global public, and global leaders all basically understand the president is fundamentally a bullshit artist and you just shouldn’t listen to what he says.

Klein went on to say that Steve Bannon’s firing is part of a definite trend with this presidency. Whatever else might be said of him, Bannon really believed in Trumpism. And now he’s gone. Klein:

American politics is hurtling toward a very strange place. The president of the United States is clearly unfit for the job, but the good news, to the extent that there is good news, is that everyone around him knows it, and he is willing to be sidelined as long as no one takes away his phone. Whether he is being marginalized by his own administration or choosing to marginalize himself I don’t know, but Bannon’s ouster is another piece of evidence that Trump is interested in Twitter, not Trumpism.

So, who’s left in the White House? Jared and Ivanka. Gen. Kelly. Gen McMaster. Anybody doubt that with Bannon out and the generals having his ear, Trump’s decision on Afghanistan strategy, which he will announce in a few days, will mean sending more American soldiers to fight and die in this 16-year war? Reuters today:

One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Trump’s top national security aides are backing adding between 3,000 and 5,000 troops and allowing them to embed with Afghan forces closer to combat.

Michael Kugelman, with the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank in Washington, said an extended strategy review was somewhat positive because it showed that all options were being considered. However, recent gains by Taliban militants made it imperative that a strategy be announced soon.

According to U.S. estimates, government forces control less than 60 percent of Afghanistan, with almost half the country either contested or under the control of the insurgents.

“The Taliban insurgency has never been stronger… We need a strategy to address all this, and fast,” Kugelman said.

After 16 years of Americans fighting in Afghanistan, this is where we are. But unless Trump has a surprise in store, we’re sending more soldiers in. That would be a conventional Republican presidential move. According to the Weekly Standard, Bannon was the sole voice around the president who opposed sending more troops. 

New York magazine writes:

What happens inside of the Trump White House now is not yet as clear as what will happen outside of it. In just a few weeks, Trump has isolated himself by purging his inner circle of figureheads of the Establishment and the nationalist right. What’s left are his family members, some Republicans, and a curiously substantial number of Democrats. “You do have people who were with him throughout the campaign and they understand what the base wants, but I don’t see any senior decision-makers around the president besides the vice-president who are real conservatives,” a source close to the White House told me on Friday afternoon.

“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” Bannon told the Standard on his way out the door. But Trump is still the president. I wonder if anybody still believes that he is capable of doing good things for the country, and leaving it in better shape than he found it. I’m serious about that. Me, I look forward to his appointments of federal judges, but politically, he has made himself so toxic that it’s hard to imagine that he has the political wherewithal to get an agenda through Congress. If he had an agenda, I mean.

Can he recover? And if so, how? Or is the best we can hope for a caretaker presidency that can do as little harm as possible before the next one takes over?

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Legitimizing Left-Wing Violence

Antifa: the real Social Justice Warriors (Geoff Livingston/Shutterstock)

In an effort to show that Donald Trump was wrong to denounce violent antifa left-wingers in Charlottesville, Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick asks left-wingers in Charlottesville if the antifa were violent. Surprise! The verdict is: no way!

Take a look at the response of the Rev. Seth Wispelwey of a United Church of Christ congregation in C’ville. Before you read, understand that he was with a group of people trying to block the right-wing extremists from gaining access to the park, where they had a legal permit to gather:

I am a pastor in Charlottesville, and antifa saved my life twice on Saturday. Indeed, they saved many lives from psychological and physical violence—I believe the body count could have been much worse, as hard as that is to believe. Thankfully, we had robust community defense standing up to white supremacist violence this past weekend. Incredibly brave students held space at the University of Virginia and stared down a torch-lit mob that vastly outnumbered them on Friday night. On Saturday, battalions of anti-fascist protesters came together on my city’s streets to thwart the tide of men carrying weapons, shields, and Trump flags and sporting MAGA hats and Hitler salutes and waving Nazi flags and the pro-slavery “stars and bars.”

Out of my faith calling, I feel led to pursue disciplined, nonviolent direct action and witness. I helped lead a group of clergy who were trained and committed to the same work: to hold space on the frontline of the park where the rally was to be held. And then some of us tried to take the steps to one of the entrances. God is not OK with white supremacy, and God is on the side of all those it tries to dehumanize. We feel a responsibility to visibly, bodily show our solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized.

A phalanx of neo-Nazis shoved right through our human wall with 3-foot-wide wooden shields, screaming and spitting homophobic slurs and obscenities at us. It was then that antifa stepped in to thwart them. They have their tools to achieve their purposes, and they are not ones I will personally use, but let me stress that our purposes were the same: block this violent tide and do not let it take the pedestal.

The white supremacists did not blink at violently plowing right through clergy, all of us dressed in full clerical garb. White supremacy is violence. I didn’t see any racial justice protesters with weapons; as for antifa, anything they brought I would only categorize as community defense tools and nothing more. Pretty much everyone I talk to agrees—including most clergy. My strong stance is that the weapon is and was white supremacy, and the white supremacists intentionally brought weapons to instigate violence.

Stunning. “White supremacy is violence.” So, simply holding an opinion that the Left deems white supremacist is the same as physically assaulting someone — and therefore, the holder of that opinion deserves to be beaten up. Though the Rev. Wispelwey refuses on principle to use violence to oppose white supremacists, he’s not going to judge those who do. History will absolve them, or something.

The reader who passed that article along to me comments:

That is how this is going to play out. And has played out. The Nazis need do nothing, other than exist. Their EXISTENCE is violence. In this version, it does not matter what they do. Their VIEWS are violence, and deserve retribution. There is no need to even claim that they were worse, or that they acted out first. Any Antifa reaction is justified, and is not characterized as instigation. This is the exact logic used to defend the assault on idiot Richard Spencer: He deserved it! There was a bit of debate at that time, about whether it’s OK to “punch a Nazi.” That debate is over. Anything that Antifa does is “community defense.”

Uh oh. This is bad. It’s mainstream. And it’s taking over.

At conservative rallies, any tolerance of any bigot is seen as complicity. On the left, we don’t even have people hiding behind the claim that “we were all peaceful protestors,” or that “there were just a few bad apples.” At Berkeley, they tried to say that, but reports indicated that the Black Bloc was hiding among them, using them as cover, and the fact is that the “non radical” folks cheered them on.

But no, that claim is not even needed. Now it’s, “Peaceful people from my church were trying to block the path of the Nazis. The Nazis came near us and the heroic Antifas came to our rescue by clobbering them.”

“The Nazis marched past our church. Who knows what they might have done? Fortunately, the heroic Antifa clobbered them.”

Mind you, all this in an article about how heroic they were.

Hey, did you hear about the journalists covering the events in Charlottesville who were beaten by antifa? Probably not, because it hasn’t been much talked about. CNN’s Jake Tapper is a welcome exception.

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‘Be The Lighthouse’

My TAC colleague Scott McConnell tipped me off to this extraordinary tweetstorm by someone whose name I don’t know, but who appears to be a conservative who is now going offline. I’m going to post the whole thing here for you who don’t use, or know how to use, Twitter:

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He says he spent all summer thinking about how in the hell we might solve this. More:

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RetiredSocialCritic says in a much more powerful way what I tried to say to Christian readers in my book The Benedict Option:

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time.

If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.

This book does not offer a political agenda. Nor is it a spiritual how-to manual, nor a standard decline-and- fall lament. True, it offers a critique of modern culture from a traditional Christian point of view, but more importantly, it tells the stories of conservative Christians who are pioneering creative ways to live out the faith joyfully and counterculturally in these darkening days. My hope is that you will be inspired by them and collaborate with like-minded Christians in your local area to construct responses to the real-world challenges faced by the church. If the salt is not to lose its savor, we have to act. The hour is late. This is not a drill.

And this:

The way of Saint Benedict is not an escape from the real world but a way to see that world and dwell in it as it truly is. Benedictine spirituality teaches us to bear with the world in love and to transform it as the Holy Spirit transforms us. The Benedict Option draws on the virtues in the Rule to change the way Christians approach politics, church, family, community, education, our jobs, sexuality, and technology.

And it does so with urgency. When I first told Father Cassian about the Benedict Option, he mulled my words and replied gravely, “Those who don’t do some form of what you’re talking about, they’re not going to make it through what’s coming.”

If you think politics is going to turn around the spiritual, moral, and social dying that RetiredSocialCritic sees, you are delusional. Nobody is coming to save us from ourselves. Be the lighthouse. The storm is here, and it will only get worse. 

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The Permanent Crisis

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Conservative writer Erick Erickson:

This is not sustainable. Something is going to have to give. I do not know what, but something will give. The nation cannot sustain this constant state of chaos and crisis drift for three and a half more years. We will either see external or internal forces applied that will hurt the nation.

This is not sustainable and if the President cannot figure out how to operate, he needs to step aside. Instead, he thrives on the chaos, the punch back, and media yes men telling him nothing is wrong and his poop does not stink. But while the President thrives, every day a piece of our national unity dies. And I don’t care whether you blame the left for refusing to acknowledge the President’s presidency or you blame the President for refusing to behave as you think a President should — this situation is not sustainable regardless of where blame lies.

And:

The white supremacists are actually small in number and hated by everyone (except possibly the President and Steve Bannon). But Antifa is as violent and loved by the left, or at least tolerated. The President and Antifa both on the national stage is a toxic combination and as neither will be departing any time soon, the nation itself will atrophy in prestige and ability.

Personally, I’m thinking of expanding my garden, filling my freezer, and stockpiling ammo. Something wicked this way comes and it is almost here.

When I started writing The Benedict Option, I did so expecting a Hillary Clinton victory. As my longtime readers know, I’ve been writing about the Benedict Option for over a decade, starting in the George W. Bush presidency. Like just about everybody else, I anticipated that our next president would be Mrs. Clinton, and that the rollback of religious liberty would continue.

Well, you know what happened next. I had to do some quick rewriting. In the book, I said that orthodox Christians should not assume that because Donald Trump won, everything would be fine. For one thing, he is very far from thinking and behaving like a Christian. But more importantly, even if Trump were a saint, he could not hold back the forces that have been building for a long time, and that are fast unraveling our culture and civilization. At best, a Trump presidency gives us a few more years to prepare for the inevitable.

There’s some dark chaos in the air. Trump is accelerating it, for sure, but he is by no means the only one. Read John Michael Greer’s short essay on how “hate is the new sex,” and you’ll see what I mean.

Matthew Continetti has a good piece about the dynamics tearing the country apart politically. He begins by talking about how Trump is dividing is own party, as well as factions within the nation at large. And:

Making things more complicated is the fact that there are more than these two parties. Drutman also found divisions within the Democrats. “To the extent that the Democratic Party is divided, these divisions are more about faith in the political system and general disaffection than they are about issue positions.” The Democratic Party of Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton is satisfied with the status quo, and uses identity politics as a veneer for economic policies that benefit Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and multinational corporations. What we might call the party of Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is both more radical on questions of political correctness and identity and hostile to the established order. The party of Sanders wants radical change. Beginning with Medicare for all.

Recent events have brought to light the distinction between the party of Trump and the GOP. But it would be foolish for Democrats to believe that they are out of the woods, that America has settled, for the moment, on a three-party system. What we have are four parties: The mainstream Republicans, the party of Trump, the mainstream Democrats, and the party of Sanders. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s bizarre call to the editor of the liberal American Prospect magazine can be seen as a clumsy attempt to forge a new majority by rejecting the mainstream Republicans and aligning with the party of Sanders on trade, entitlements, and infrastructure spending. But the effort is doomed to fail. In twenty-first century America culture and identity take precedence over economics, and it is in regards to culture and identity that the true break between left and right is found.

President Trump’s isolation from the party whose nomination he wrested from insiders and scions is just part of a larger trend in American society and politics. The widening divisions within and between parties are symptoms of our fractured republic, of the unbundling, disaggregation, and dissociation of our communal lives. Mounting political violence, too, is a consequence of the polarization that estranges Americans from one another and turns every disagreement into an apocalyptic battle royal. Trump, McConnell, Pelosi, and Sanders are pulling the mystic cords of memory in four different directions. And they won’t quit doing so. Until the cords snap.

It is striking how so many people are eager to exacerbate our divisions for political gain. As Continetti indicates, Steve Bannon has a theory that if he can get culture-war Democrats distracted by race, he can forge a new coalition. He told the liberal editor Robert Kuttner that it makes him happy to see all the fighting over statues, because in theory, it makes it possible for him to get done what he wants to get done. The best spin you can put on that is that it’s breathtakingly cynical. But now we have this from the other side:

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You do know, I trust, that in all the years that Nancy Pelosi was House speaker, she never said a peep about those abominable Confederate statues. But now she can energize her base with it, so here we are.

 

Trump will say or do something outrageous today that will ratchet up the tension. And then his enemies will respond in kind. It’s all starting to bring to mind this passage from the contemporary German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, describing the Weimar Republic:

Theatricality appeared to be the common denominator of all manifestations of life – from Expressionism to Marlene Dietrich’s spectacular legs in Blue Angel; from the bloody comedy of Hitler’s 1923 putsch to Brecht’s Threepenny Opera; from the impressive funeral of Rathenau to the calculated banditry of the Reichstag fire of 1933. The permanent crisis proved to be an excellent metteur en scene, one who knew how to direct quite a few memorable effects.

Another Sloterdijk passage, which to me suggests Trump and what he stands for:

Fatally, the term “barbarian” is the password that opens up the archives of the twentieth century. It refers to the despiser of achievement, the vandal, the status denier, the iconoclast, who refuses to acknowledge any ranking rules or hierarchy. Whoever wishes to understand the twentieth century must always keep the barbaric factor in view. Precisely in more recent modernity, it was and still is typical to allow an alliance between barbarism and success before a large audience, initially more in the form of insensitive imperialism, and today in the costumes of that invasive vulgarity which advances into virtually all areas through the vehicle of popular culture. That the barbaric position in twentieth-century Europe was even considered the way forward among the purveyors of high culture for a time, extending to a messianism of uneducatedness, indeed the utopia of a new beginning on the clean slate of ignorance, illustrates the extent of the civilizatory crisis this continent has gone through in the last century and a half – including the cultural revolution downwards, which runs through the twentieth century in our climes and casts its shadow ahead onto the twenty-first.

We have not yet seen a left-wing Trump, but we will. That’s because Trump is far less a producer of this decadent culture than a product of the decadent culture. That’s why I write in The Benedict Option that he is no cure for the disease, but rather a symptom of it.

For quite some time now we have had the performative malice of right-wing talk radio hosts, manipulating the emotions of their listeners for the sake of ratings and political success. (John Derbyshire wrote well about this a few years ago, for TAC.) Today we have Milo’s campus cabaret. On the Left, we have had for years to deal with the operatic rituals of political correctness, which entered into a new, more hysterical stage in 2015. People on both sides are enjoying this hate. With shared standards abandoned, people are reverting to tribalism, one aspect of which is finding unity and purpose in rallying against a common enemy.

I suppose this is to be expected in a culture of emotivism, in which people come to think of truth as what feels good to them. We didn’t become emotivists the day before yesterday. This has been building in our culture for decades, and it is a natural extension of a core quality of the American character: individualism. On both the Left and the Right, we exalt the individual and his preferences. We do this in our different ways, with emphases on different aspects of the individual. But we all do it. Identity politics is what you get when people cease to try to get outside of their heads, and strive to live by ideals of the common good, and instead limit their politics solely to what’s good for them and their tribe. It is perfectly ordinary politics to contend for one’s own interests, but what makes identity politics so toxic is that it distorts political reality by decontextualizing the individual. That is to say, we stop thinking about how we, and our kind, relate to the whole, and focus entirely on ourselves and our desires.

In fact, we have come to think of our desires as defining our own identities. The Left pushes this farthest, of course, as we can see with its dogmatic insistence that if someone claims to be a woman or a man, then they are, despite biology. We see this in the Left’s obsession with race, sex, and gender categories. Sometimes it seems that the only people in this country as obsessed with whiteness as white nationalists is the campus Left.

But I think the identity politics curse affects all of us. To be an identitarian is to start statements with formulations like, “Speaking as a Latinx lesbian…,” and to believe that assertion is the same thing as argument. To dispute them, they believe, is to deny their personhood. If that is true, then democracy is impossible.

I have never heard people on the Right talk in precisely those terms, but I have heard the same manner of thinking — or rather, not thinking, emotion — manifested often on the Right. It’s as if we (whoever constitutes “we”) are the only real people, and everybody else is an abstraction that keeps us from getting what we want. And make no mistake: for identitarians of the Left and the Right, what we want is what we deserve.

The center cannot hold, I fear. The forces tearing us apart are greater than the forces holding us together. Both Left and Right are going to snap the cords.

And now Steve Bannon is gone. Don’t think for a moment that is going to make any difference.

I’m with Erick Erickson. One reason I promote the Benedict Option concept is so faithful Christians can keep their heads in what we’re living through now, and in what’s to come.

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Buchanan’s Shameful Defense Of White Supremacy

I was stunned just now to read the disgusting, racist, indefensible thing that Pat Buchanan has written in his syndicated column in response to the Confederate statue controversy:

Looking back over the history of a Western Civilization, which we call great, were not the explorers who came out of Spain, Portugal, France, Holland and England all white supremacists?

They conquered in the name of the mother countries all the lands they discovered, imposed their rule upon the indigenous peoples, and vanquished and eradicated the native-born who stood in their way.

Who, during the centuries-long discovery and conquest of the New World, really believed that the lives of the indigenous peoples were of equal worth with those of the colonizers?

More:

“All men are created equal” is an ideological statement. Where is the scientific or historic proof for it? Are we building our utopia on a sandpile of ideology and hope?

With that, Buchanan repudiates not only the founding principle of our Constitutional order, but also a core teaching of the Christian faith, which holds that all men are created in the image of God. It is fine to disbelieve in egalitarianism as an ideology and as a basis for policy. Most conservatives do, and most conservatives rightly reject the idea that all cultures are equally good. And it is reasonable to argue against the puritan iconoclasts who would destroy monuments and historical memory in the name of a mindless, ideological dogmatism.

But that’s not what this is. Buchanan is not meditating on the tragic nature of history, as any conservative worth the name must do. No, in this column, Buchanan is defending white supremacy, straight up.

It is abhorrent, and must be rejected in the strongest terms by conservatives. If this is where the Right is going, it can go right off that racist cliff without me. This is what white supremacists did to black people in the American South.  And this is the terrorism white supremacists inflicted on black citizens in my own town a few years before I was born. This was really inflicted by white people on black people made, like them, in the image of God. It is a blood-red stain on this country, and in particular on my ancestors.

It grieves me to see a conservative writer and thinker I have long admired, even if I did not always agree with him, descend to the gutter like this. But it has happened, and it is shameful. It is intolerable. He has crossed a bright red line. No, no, no! Conservatives, this is not us. It cannot be us. We cannot put up with this.

UPDATE: Link to Buchanan column fixed.

UPDATE.2: Mona Charen says of the column:

Jefferson’s words were not a statement of human sameness. Obviously some people are smarter, handsomer, taller, and more athletic than others. It was a philosophical and ethical commitment to the idea that all human beings are morally and politically equal — that they are entitled to respect and to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” just because they are members of the human family. Buchanan asks for evidence, as if this were an empirical question. It’s not. It’s a moral one. A belief in human equality arose out of the Enlightenment and before that from the Judeo-Christian tradition. That tradition teaches that each human is made in the image and likeness of God. This is the foundation of equality. Jefferson, for all his personal shortcomings, understood that, which is why his words have inspired people around the world and particularly in our land for centuries. Buchanan dissents. Just underline this: He is rejecting the American idea.

I’m more radical about this stuff than Mona Charen is. If Buchanan wanted to reject the American idea of a polity based on universal moral and political equality, I wouldn’t necessarily condemn him for that. It would depend on his reasons. Because whites deserve to rule over others by nature of their racial superiority is not a good reason, to put it mildly. I, too, hate the radical egalitarianism of the contemporary Left, but by no means because I believe in racial superiority.

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Barcelona In Agony

Barcelona’s famed Las Ramblas, during normal times (mikecphoto/Shutterstock)

It has happened again:

The driver of a van plowed into a crowd enjoying a peaceful, sunny afternoon on a pedestrianized stretch of Barcelona’s most famous street on Thursday, killing at least 12 people and leaving 80 others lying bloodied on the pavement amid wrecked kiosks, in what Spanish authorities said was a terrorist attack. Two men have been arrested.

Within hours, the Islamic State claimed that the perpetrators were its “soldiers,” adding Spain to the list of European countries — including France and Britain — where vehicles have been used in attacks on civilians.

Until Thursday, Spain had been spared from the recent wave of terrorist attacks in Europe — many involving vehicles plowing into crowds — claimed by extremists in France, Germany, Britain and elsewhere.

That changed in an instant, with witnesses describing people screaming and running for their lives as the driver of the van weaved back and forth just before 6 p.m., apparently trying to hit as many people as he could. Police officers swept through the area near Las Ramblas, a wide boulevard with a large pedestrianized section, telling people to get out of the area.

“I heard a crowd screaming,” Tom Markwell, a tourist from New Orleans, told the BBC. “It sounded like they were screaming for a movie star.”

There were families out for a walk there.

I have been on Las Ramblas. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, you probably have too. It’s a beautiful street, in a beautiful city. And now it has been turned into a site of mass murder. The driver of the van is in custody. Surprise! He’s a Muslim.

From the Telegraph:

It left victims sprawled out in the street, spattered with blood or crippled by broken limbs. Others fled in panic, screaming or carrying young children in their arms. As witnesses and emergency workers tried to help the wounded, police brandishing hand guns launched a search of side streets looking for suspects.

How can these things be prevented? Seriously, how? Banning vans? Confiscating automobiles from Muslim drivers and refusing to let Muslims rent them? I’m not serious; I’m trying to make the point that the public will always be vulnerable to the weaponization of automobiles.

Sooner or later, though, the European public is going to crack, and God knows what’s going to happen. The Visegrad Group nations will one day be seen to have been prophetic. 

 

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Trump Is More In Touch Than You Think

Gen. Robert E. Lee. Most Americans favor leaving Confederate statues in place — and Trump is riding higher than you might think (K.L. Kohn/Shutterstock)

Results of the new NPR/PBS Marist poll are pretty surprising for we who have relied on the media to accurately report on the mindset of the country. It’s not that the numbers are good for Trump; they’re not. It’s that it hasn’t been nearly the disaster you would have expected. Here are the complete results. Highlights:

  • Trump’s overall disapproval rate is 51 percent, but he’s still holding strong among Republicans. His disapproval rate has not substantially changed all year. Charlottesville didn’t affect it
  • His white Evangelical support remains strong (58 percent approval), but much less than the 80 percent who voted for him
  • A strong majority (62 percent) of Americans favor leaving the Confederate statues standing as historical markers
  • Overwhelming numbers of Republicans (86 percent) favor this, as do 61 percent of Independents
  • The only group with a majority favoring removal (57 percent) are “Strong Democrats” — as opposed to “Soft Democrats,” who slightly favor keeping them (52 percent)
  • When defined by political ideology, only Liberal/Very Liberal people muster a majority for taking statues down (57 percent). Among self-described Moderates, 67 percent favor leaving the statues standing. A whopping 81 percent of Conservative/Very Conservative people favor the statues staying in place
  • Unsurprisingly, the Northeast is the region of the country most in favor of removing the statues — but even there, a majority (53 percent) backs leaving the statues standing
  • Here’s a stunner: 44 percent of African-Americans polled believe in keeping the statues standing. Of Latinos, 65 percent believe the statues should remain
  • Comfortable majorities — no less than 60 percent — in each age cohort support the statues
  • This is barely an issue with white Evangelicals, 85 percent of whom back the statues. Only nine percent favor removal, with the rest unsure
  • On Trump’s response to Charlottesville, 52 percent believe it hasn’t been strong enough
  • Of that number, 52 percent of Independents believe Trump has fallen short; only 30 percent are satisfied
  • A comfortable majority (59 percent) of Republicans are satisfied with Trump’s handling of the issue
  • Most Trump supporters (62 percent) think he’s done a good job with Charlottesville. Only 15 percent think he should have done more. The rest are unsure
  • The younger you are, the more likely you are to disapprove of Trump’s handling of Charlottesville. Twice as many 60-or-olders (37 percent) approve of Trump’s actions, versus 18 percent of 18-to-29ers
  • Americans overwhelmingly disapprove (over 90 percent across the board) of white supremacists, white nationalists, the KKK, and the alt-right
  • Though eight times as many disapprove of the alt-right (48 percent) as approve of it (six percent), about half of Americans (46 percent) don’t have an opinion or are unsure
  • The only categories who approve of the alt-right in double digits are Latinos (13 percent) and 18-to-29 year olds (10 percent). Six percent of Latinos approve of the KKK
  • Black Lives Matter has a 50 percent overall approval rating, and a 33 percent disapproval rating, with the rest either unsure or having no opinion.
  • Of Liberals, 83 percent back Black Lives Matter; 51 percent of Moderates do; but only 26 percent of Conservatives do
  • On Antifa, five times as many people oppose it (24 percent) as back it (five percent), but the overwhelming majority of Americans (71 percent) are either unsure or have no opinion
  • An unsettling 61 percent have little or no confidence in Donald Trump’s leadership of the nation in an international crisis
  • Conservatives and Republicans are the only ones with a majority who trust Trump’s leadership in an international crisis. A very strong majority of Moderates and Independents do not trust Trump, nor do overwhelming majorities of Liberals and Democrats
  • A massive majority (73 percent) of Americans favor a non-military means of dealing with the North Korea nuclear standoff
  • Less than 10 percent favor a nuclear first strike. The demographic group most in favor of starting a nuclear war with North Korea? White Evangelicals, at seven percent

 

So, what are the lessons here? I can think of a few:

  1. The news media have been seriously distorting public reaction to Trump’s handling of Charlottesville. Whether this is a matter of only seeing what they want to see, or a matter of the talking heads being concentrated among coastal elites of both parties, is a matter of conjecture. True, a slight majority of Americans think Trump didn’t go far enough, but judging from the coverage and commentary, you would have thought at Charlottesville, Trump met his Waterloo. It didn’t happen. Charlottesville is not nearly a big a deal to Americans as it is to the media and coastal elites.
  2. Trump’s disapproval rating is very high, but Charlottesville didn’t really move the needle. And he’s kept his base.
  3. Continuing to attack Confederate statues is a big loser for Democrats and liberals. A strong majority of Americans favors keeping them standing. Only liberals want to see them go. When even 44 percent of African-Americans favor leaving the statues alone, the take-them-down faction of the Left has a serious echo chamber problem.
  4. This is likely to cause them to seriously overreach. If Democrats and liberals only pay attention to the media and to each other on the statue debate, they are going to alienate a lot of people. The hostile media environment has made it very difficult for anybody to speak up for keeping the statues, even though that is a majority opinion in America. So people will keep that opinion to themselves.
  5. In turn, they may very well stew on it, angry at the liberal gatekeepers of respectable opinion either not caring about their opinion, or shutting them down as racists.
  6. Do not underestimate the power of cultural symbols to drive voter behavior.
  7. Americans have no trouble condemning white supremacists and the far right, while at the same time supporting the statues. Americans probably do not believe they are racist for wanting the statues to remain in place.
  8. Charlottesville was the first time most Americans will have been introduced to both Antifa and the Alt-Right.
  9. Trump remains an extremely divisive figure. For any Commander in Chief, the idea that six out of 10 Americans do not trust your leadership in an international crisis is potentially destabilizing.
  10. And, it’s telling that younger voters are half as likely to back Trump’s handling of Charlottesville than older voters. This is not terribly surprising, but it points to long-term problems the GOP faces reaching the young after Trump departs the scene. One way or another, Trump will leave a strong legacy when his presidency ends — one that the Republican Party will be dealing with for a long time.

UPDATE: Oh wow. A black CNN commentator, Angela Rye, said this today on the air:

“The heart of the problem is the way many of us were taught American history. American history is not all glorious. I love John to death, I couldn’t disagree more about George Washington. George Washington was a slave owner. We need to call slave owners out for what they are. Whether we think they were protecting American freedom or not. He wasn’t protecting my freedom. I wasn’t someone – my ancestors weren’t deemed human beings to him. To me, I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or a Thomas Jefferson statue or a Robert E. Lee statue, they all need to come down…I’m calling out white supremacy for what it is. And sometimes, what it is, John, are blind spots. Sometimes what it is, is not acknowledging this country was built upon a very violent past that resulted in the death and the raping and the killing of my ancestors. I’m not going to allow us to say it’s okay for Robert E. Lee but not a George Washington. We need to call it what it is.”

Here we go. That’s the thing about the Left: the Law Of Merited Impossibility — “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it” — has infallible predictive powers.

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Mysticism & The Benedict Option

 

Here’s an interesting short piece by Thaddeus Kozinski discussing The Benedict Option in light of the writings of René Girard, Romano Guardini, and Charles Taylor. Excerpts:

Catholic traditionalism in general, and the Benedict Option in particular, are simply not adequate for living the life of Faith in today’s world and enabling others to do the same, for it is not the proper response to how things actually are and will be quite soon. To help us see how things really are, or at least, to present a view of our situation for which the Benedict Option may not even be an option, let alone the long-term solution to our problems, I would like to present three philosophers: Taylor, Girard, and Guardini, who look at three aspects of our world: Taylor, the existential, Girard, the political, and Guardini, the spiritual. Taylor will teach us that modernity is inescapable, Girard that our politics is in the final stages of the apocalypse, and Guardini that intimate union with God Himself—with nothing in between—is no longer an option, but an absolute obligation and necessity.

Kozinski points out that philosopher Charles Taylor says that it is futile to try to avoid modernity:

If this is the existential milieu we find ourselves in, and if it is indeed inescapable, then any Benedict Option community must reckon with this, and thus not attempt, whatever else it attempts, to escape this mode of consciousness, for such would be futile. No matter how monastic and centered-on-God our practices and our community is, we simply cannot go back to the naïve theistic consciousness of the medieval man. We are inevitably going to feel the pull of other worldviews and social imaginaries, and we simply have to accept the deep pluralism of our age, even if it is a pluralism that cloaks a homogeneous and stultifying immanentism, materialism, liberalism, and individualism. In other words, what Taylor is telling us is that the Benedict Option is impossible, if what is meant by it is a return to a medieval consciousness and immunization from modernity through small-scale, communal participation in traditional religious, cultural, and familial practices.

Well, once again, I wonder if a critic has read the book. I make it pretty clear that we can’t escape modernity, for reasons Taylor says. I describe our situation “not as a problem to be solved, but a reality to be lived with.” Here (from The Benedict Option) is my description of what Charles Taylor described as the “pillars” of the medieval imagination:

  • The world and everything in it is part of a harmonious whole ordered by God and filled with meaning—and all things are signs pointing to God.
  • Society is grounded in that higher reality.
  • The world is charged with spiritual force.

Contemporary Catholicism and Orthodoxy still hold to these beliefs (I’m not sure to what extent Protestantism does; I’m pretty sure the third is not true of Protestantism, but I could be wrong). But it is undeniably true that all of us today live in the modern age, where none of these things are believed by all. In fact, I doubt your average Christian of any kind affirms all of these pillars, or even knows what they mean. The world has become “disenchanted” in modernity. It’s not that the three pillars are untrue, but that they have ceased to be part of our common experience. Practically speaking, one has to work to keep one’s eyes on the truth of those statements. The way modern life is organized obscures these truths, when it doesn’t deny them outright.

According to Taylor, the key difference between our time and the Middle Ages is that we know that it is possible not to believe in God, in Christianity, or in anything. This was scarcely possible for medievals. This is why Kozinski rightly says the Ben Op can never be a total escape from modernity. We cannot un-know what we know.

Kozinski then turns to the theories of René Girard, especially Girard’s teaching that mankind is hurtling towards an apocalypse. It may not be the Apocalypse (though it might; Girard was a believing Catholic), but it is nevertheless an orgy of violence, coming upon us because in modernity, we have cast off all restraints that would have held us back. Girard’s view is more anthropological than religious, and it is hard to explain simply. In this 2009 essay in First Things, Girard discusses the basics of his theory of apocalypse. He points out that ours is the first civilization in history that has to live with the knowledge that it has the power to destroy itself.

Anyway, Kozinski:

Needless to say, if Girard is correct, while we can protect ourselves from the spiritual contagion of scapegoating by unwavering obedience to and identification with the Divine Scapegoat, the apocalyptic political violence Girard foresees will not be forestalled by Benedict Option communities, and we will not ultimately be protected from it wherever we go.

Well, yes. I don’t present the Benedict Option as some earthly version of the Rapture, whereby the faithful will be spared the violence coming from the breakup of our civilization. I can’t say it often enough: the Ben Op is not escapist. Rather, it is a strategy for enduring hard times — even very hard times — upon us now, and increasing with each passing year of the advance of post-Christianity. The best we can hope for is to ride this out, even if it takes centuries. I certainly don’t want to have to suffer, or to have my children, or their descendants, suffer. But if suffering must come, I want them to meet it bravely, as true Christians. I believe, with Girard, that we must not comfort ourselves with false optimism or escapism, for “to seek to comfort is always to contribute to the worst.” For the Christian, death is not the worst thing. Losing one’s soul is. That is what the Benedict Option seeks to prevent.

Finally, Kozinski turns to Guardini:

Guardini described a world in the 1950s similar to the one Dreher describes now, one of a neo-pagan totalitarianism that is no longer tolerating any threats to its secularist, atheistic, and humanist dogmas, one in which Christians and other theists are called to brook no compromise and live out their Faith all the more integrally and heroically. But Guardini’s prescription for action is something at once more bracing and consoling than Dreher’s. Nothing but the “free union of the human person with the Absolute through unconditional freedom will enable the faithful to stand firm—God—centered—even though placeless and unprotected.” He goes on: “Loneliness in faith will be terrible. Love will disappear from the face of the public world, but the more precious will be that love that flows from one lonely person to another, involving a courage of the heart born from the immediacy of the love of God as it was made known in Christ. . . . Perhaps love will achieve an intimacy and harmony never known to this day.”

In short, Guardini sees no real possibility for “safe” havens of Christian culture, and even if we could create them, they have the real potential of stunting our spiritual growth. God is calling theists to a higher level than mere orthodoxy and orthopraxy, indeed, a heroic and mystical level, of Faith, obedience, and trust—unshakable, naked, intimate, experienced union with God, communicating this supernatural reality wherever we go and to everyone we meet. Like Christ, we will have nowhere to lay our heads.

Kozinski posits this vision — radical mysticism — against the Benedict Option. This is a false juxtaposition, one he could have only made from either not reading the book, or reading it in a facile way — that is, as an escape plan. It’s not that. I agree with Guardini (as interpreted by Kozinski) that we Christian believers are being called by the times to radical trust and obedience, and that this will only be possible in the face of post-Christian modernity by believers who are deeply rooted in prayer, Scripture, and practices — individual, familial, and communal — that sediment the reality of our faith into our bones.

It’s like this. In the medieval age, and for some time beyond it, the social structures in Western culture acted as an external framework bolstering Christian belief. It was easier to believe in Christianity because nearly everything in society made that belief incarnate. It’s not to say, obviously, that life was an Eden. Every age has been a sinful one. The point is, belief was supported by social structures, much as flying buttresses support the high walls of Gothic cathedrals.

Those external structures are gone now. There is nothing to buffer us from unbelief. We have to rely on our internal strength — that is, on our faith as individuals, and in our small communities. If the Christian life is a walk on a footbridge crossing the abyss, our ancestors were able to make that walk steadied by the unshakableness of the bridge, and by strong railings on either side to keep them from falling off. Today, the decayed bridge sways in the winds of a coming storm, and there are no handrails. We have to train to develop the internal strength and sense of balance to keep from falling off. We cannot wish the old bridge back, nor can we avoid the walk. The Benedict Option is about the spiritual training we all need to devote ourselves to for the sake of making that walk — and making it together — in very difficult times.

Put another way, the Benedict Option is about practices that make the metaphysical truths perceived by all Christians in the first millennium of the Church, and just beyond, visible through the fog of modernity. As I write in the book:

“Monastic life is very plain,” [Father Cassian Folsom] continued. “People from the outside perhaps have a romantic vision, perhaps what they see on television, of monks sort of floating around the cloister. There is that, and that’s attractive, but basically, monks get up in the morning, they pray, they do their work, they pray some more. They eat, they pray, they do some more work, they pray some more, and then they go to bed. It’s rather plain, just like most people. The genius of Saint Benedict is to find the presence of God in everyday life.”

People who are anxious, confused, and looking for answers are quick to search for solutions in the pages of books or on the Internet, looking for that “killer app” that will make everything right again. The Rule tells us: No, it’s not like that. You can achieve the peace and order you seek only by making a place within your heart and within your daily life for the grace of God to take root. Divine grace is freely given, but God will not force us to receive it. It takes constant effort on our part to get out of God’s way and let His grace heal us and change us. To this end, what we think does not matter as much as what we do—and how faithfully we do it.

A man who wants to get in shape and has read the best bodybuilding books will get nowhere unless he applies that knowledge in eating healthy food and working out daily. That takes sustained willpower. In time, if he’s faithful to the practices necessary to achieve his goal, the man will start to love eating well and exercising so much that he is not pushed toward doing so by willpower but rather drawn to it by love. He will have trained his heart to desire the good.

So too with the spiritual life. Right belief (orthodoxy) is essential, but holding the correct doctrines in your mind does you little good if your heart—the seat of the will—remains unconverted. That requires putting those right beliefs into action through right practice (orthopraxy), which over time achieves the goal Paul set for Timothy when he commanded him to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

And:

Thought it quotes Scripture in nearly every one of its short chapters, the Rule is not the Gospel. It is a proven strategy for living the Gospel in an intensely Christian way. It is an instruction manual for how to form one’s life around the service of Jesus Christ, within a strong community. It is not a collection of theological maxims but a manual of practices through which believers can structure their lives around prayer, the Word of God, and the ever-deepening awareness that, as the saint says, “the divine presence is everywhere, and that ‘the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and evil in every place’ (Proverbs 15:3).”

The Rule is for monastics, obviously, but its teachings are plain enough to be adapted by lay Christians for their own use. It provides a guide to serious and sustained Christian living in a fashion that reorders us interiorly, bringing together what is scattered within our own hearts and orienting it to prayer. If applied effectively, it disciplines the life we share with others, breaking down barriers that keep the love of God from passing amongus, and makes us more resilient without hardening our hearts.

We are not trying to repeal seven hundred years of history, as if that were possible. Nor are we trying to save the West. We are only trying to build a Christian way of life that stands as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of liquid modernity. We are not looking to create heaven on earth; we are simply looking for a way to be strong in faith through a time of great testing. The Rule, with its vision of an ordered life centered around Christ and the practices it prescribes to deepen our conversion, can help us achieve that goal.

Read Kozinski’s entire essay.  There’s a lot of good stuff to contemplate there. He is right that all Christians have to become mystics in post-Christian modernity, in the sense that we will only be able to endure this trial if we are people of prayer, people who have formed their imaginations with a strong sense of the unseen order all around us. Nothing else will do. The Benedict Option is a strategy, based on ancient Christian monastic practice, for helping ordinary believers in the world do just that: by structuring our entire lives around deeper communion with God.

If Prof. Kozinski (or anybody else) has a better strategy, I’d love to hear it, because I have children, and therefore skin in this game. I’m not kidding.

UPDATE: Please be patient with my posting and comment-approving today. I am suffering from a relapse of chronic mononucleosis, and having to sleep at inopportune moments. A lot. Plus, brain fog. More than the usual. Thanks.

UPDATE.2: At last, in the comments, we get to the root of why Prof. Kozinski doesn’t like The Benedict Option (a book he says he has not read): because its author left the Roman Catholic Church. It’s sad how educational standards have declined. Prof. Kozinski teaches at a Catholic college, but is apparently unfamiliar with the idea that argumentum ad hominem is a fallacy.

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Bannon On Alt-Right: ‘Clowns’

On Tuesday, Steve Bannon called Robert Kuttner, the editor of The American Prospect, a liberal policy magazine. He never asked for the conversation to be off the record — which seems to have been a catastrophic mistake for Bannon, one that someone with his media experience should not have made. The article (“Steve Bannon, Unrepentant”) has been taken down, or at least the link is invalid. But a reader grabbed the cached version and sent it to me as a PDF. [UPDATE: The link is back.]

It’s stunning. It is impossible to believe that Bannon wanted this to be on the record, unless he’s playing twelve-dimensional chess. Excerpts:

Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim.

“To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”

So, right there he undercuts his boss on North Korea.

More:

Bannon explained that his strategy is to battle the trade doves inside the administration while building an outside coalition of trade hawks that includes left as well as right. Hence the phone call to me.

There are a couple of things that are startling about this premise. First, to the extent that most of the opponents of Bannon’s China trade strategy are other Trump administration officials, it’s not clear how reaching out to the left helps him. If anything, it gives his adversaries ammunition to characterize Bannon as unreliable or disloyal.

More puzzling is the fact that Bannon would phone a writer and editor of a progressive publication (the cover lines on whose first two issues after Trump’s election were “Resisting Trump” and “Containing Trump”) and assume that a possible convergence of views on China trade might somehow paper over the political and moral chasm on white nationalism.

The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up. This is also puzzling, since Steve Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press. He’s probably the most media-savvy person in America.

And get this:

I asked Bannon about the connection between his program of economic nationalism and the ugly white nationalism epitomized by the racist violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s reluctance to condemn it. Bannon, after all, was the architect of the strategy of using Breitbart to heat up white nationalism and then rely on the radical right as Trump’s base.

He dismissed the far right as irrelevant and sidestepped his own role in cultivating it: “Ethno-nationalism — it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

“These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.

From his lips to Trump’s ear.

“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Steve Bannon, on the alt-right: “These guys are a collection of clowns.”

Either Bannon is a genius, or he’s reckless and crazy. Or maybe he’s both, but his recklessness outran his genius this one time. I can’t see how he survives having talked so loosely to a journalist — a liberal journalist at that — about administration infighting and the White House’s approach to North Korea and China. We’ll see, I guess. Just another day at the Dumpster fire.

UPDATE: Now Bannon is saying he didn’t think he was giving an interview.  A guy phones an editor at a left-wing magazine that has been harsh on Trump and then dishes on his colleagues, and undermines the president’s foreign policy stance? A guy who is suspected of being a big leaker? Gen. Kelly ain’t gonna like this.

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How ‘Diversity’ Is Tearing America Apart

A nice idea that has become a pseudo-religion balkanizing America (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

It may be a small thing to you, but this is a big deal, for reasons I will explain. Reader A.B. comments:

The last two quotes you included from Lilla’s upcoming book describe exactly what I experienced at an annual conference of case managers in the I/DD [Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities] field in Oregon in June of this year. The main event of this conference was a 3-hour session titled “Unpacking Held Identities: Understanding Privilege, Diversity, & Equity”. The speaker, a professor from a very liberal university in Oregon who was representing his consulting firm which specializes in “Diversity/Equity and Inclusion”, provided the audience with a glossary of terms which he proceeded to define.

While the list is long, I don’t know how to edit it down without diminishing the overwhelming effect the list had on me in its entirety:

Ableism, Ageism, Bigotry, Counter Narrative, Discrimination, Dominant Discourse/Dominant Culture, Equality, Equity, Gender Identity (including a definition of Cisgender), Homophobia, Insiderism, Kindness (added because, as the speaker noted ironically, kindness is often lacking in our world), LGBTQ, Lookism, Micro-aggression, Misogyny, Prejudice, Privilege, Racism, and finally: Sexual Orientation.

Naturally, he pointed out that this is not a full list (!). His primary points were these:

(1) white cisgendered males (of which I am a member), being the group in power, both perpetrate and perpetuate each of the –isms, phobias, etc. on this list;

(2) members of the victimized groups do not perpetrate or perpetuate any of these –isms, etc. due to the fact that they do not have structural power in the United States; and

(3) to help fight this injustice, members of these victimized groups (along with woke members of the dominant group providing they understand it is a big no-no to actually speak for any of the members of the victimized groups) need to use “tweezers” to politely pluck away at these (as Lilla calls them) “immodest locutions” uttered by these racist, discriminatory, prejudiced, cisgendered white males that those in the audience undoubtedly encounter in their day-to-day interactions with them.

As this was a conference for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I approached him after one of the breakout sessions and asked him to explain how he believes to achieve unity and equality inside of this philosophy when, for example, some pro-choice members of these victimized groups he is supposedly championing perpetuate ableism when screening for conditions such as Down’s syndrome. I cited a BBC article (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37500189 – “A world without Down’s syndrome?”) that stated that 90% of women in the UK with a positive Down’s diagnosis have abortions.

Instead of entering into dialogue as I had admittedly naively hoped, he rather interrupted (or rather “tweezed”) me at multiple points to correct the immodest locutions I was using (one of my sins was using the terms pro-choice and pro-life which implied that he is anti-life, and he also tweezed me to be careful citing statistics) and stated he was always for a woman’s right to choose. He completely ignored my point.

Lilla is exactly right when he says that a foundation based on personal identity “sets up a wall against questions” and that “the more obsessed with personal identity campus liberals become, the less willing they become to engage in reasoned political debate.”

The reader is talking about Mark Lilla’s new book The Once And Future Liberal, which condemns identity politics from an old-fashioned liberal point of view.

The evangelist (so to speak) who taught the session at A.B.’s workshop is no outlier. This kind of thing is common at universities, and within corporate culture. It teaches the Chosen that they are free from sin because, in the metaphysics of the diversity religion, they have no power. It tells people outside of the camp of the Chosen that they are bad by virtue of their race, sex, sexual desire, gender identity, physical ability, and, at times, religion. They were born into this state of defilement, and can never fully cleanse themselves of it. The only way they can redeem themselves is by agreeing to accept dhimmitude — second-class status — as their just desserts.

The clerical class keeps close watch over the words the dhimmis speak, and if they question the religion in any way, or violate any of its taboos, they will be punished severely. The clerisy polices doctrinal purity by declaring any dissent to be a manifestation of bigotry, which is to say, evil. The clerisy teaches the Chosen that they do not have to monitor their own consciences, because they cannot sin. Rather, their job is to scan relentlessly the lives of the others, the Deplorables, and root out sin when they find it by reporting them to the religious authorities.

These “diversity” programs, such as the one A.B. had to endure, amount to catechesis in the righteousness of dhimmitude. Is there any wonder that people disadvantaged by this religion are sick and tired of it? Having taught the masses to think of themselves in terms of identity categories, the clerisy is shocked to find that the unclean, the Deplorables, are doing just that, but rejecting the idea that their identity defiles them. In fact, they are coming to see that this religious system, which refuses to admit to any rational criticism, is in fact a structure designed to dispossess them. What started as an effort to teach people in the majority demographic categories to empathize with minorities, and to treat them more fairly, has devolved into a re-education program telling majorities that justice requires them to despise themselves, because they can never really overcome the original sin of being white, male, heterosexual, and politically or religiously conservative.

Meanwhile, those in the category of the Chosen — racial minorities, women (but only some women; e.g., pro-life feminists need not apply), LGBT, et alia — have had the ability to empathize with the Deplorables educated out of them. They have been taught that their identity makes them good, and the identity of the Deplorables makes them bad. Therefore, when the Deplorables question that dogma, the Chosen receive that as denying their personhood.

What’s more, the clerisy lives in such a bubble of self-reinforcing homogeneity that they can no more grasp the discontent and discord they are sowing than a courtier around a Renaissance pope could have grasped what the Church’s corruption was bringing about in the hinterlands of German-speaking Europe.

It is not easy to live in a pluralistic democracy. Left-wing identitarians and those who empower them — I’m especially looking at you, university administrators and corporate managers — are making it much harder. A workplace where people have to be on edge for fear that they will be reported to Human Resources for microaggressing someone by engaging in “lookism” is a place that, sooner or later, is going to blow.

And so is a society whose imagination has been formed by this malevolent catechism.

Finally, I think Brendan O’Neill of Spiked Online has it exactly right:

UPDATE: Here’s a new policy I have. If you read a post of mine, and you restate it in a comment in some absurdly distorted way, I’m not going to bother to answer you. I’m just not going to post it. If you are genuinely confused about something, I’m happy to clarify, if I have the time to do so when I approve that batch of comments. But if you’re just asking a “When did you stop beating your wife?” kind of question, too bad, you’ve wasted your time. Ain’t gonna post it.

UPDATE.2: Let me clarify that at no place in his book does Lilla condemn “diversity”. That is my opinion, not his — and in my case, I don’t condemn actual diversity, but rather the ideology of quote-unquote, diversity.

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