Will Manjoo’s call for liberation from the tyranny of the gender binary catch on in the way that the push for same-sex marriage did before it? I have no idea. What I do know is that, whatever happens, it’s likely to be followed by another undoubtedly very different crusade in the name of individual freedom, and then another, and another, as our society (and others like it) continues to work through the logic of its devotion to the principle of individualism.
The only thing that could halt the process is the rejection of that principle altogether.
The controversial Penn law professor Amy Wax is under intense fire for her remarks at this week’s National Conservatism conference in Washington. She sat on a panel about immigration, the full transcript of which has not yet been released. Several media outlets reported that Wax’s words were racist. Zack Beauchamp at Vox, for example:
She explicitly advocated an immigration policy that would favor immigrants from Western countries over non-Western ones; “the position,” as she put it, “that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” (She claims this is not racist because her problem with nonwhite immigrants is cultural rather than biological.)
This is the problem with any attempt to build conservative nationalism in a nutshell. At a very abstract level, it’s possible to make non-racist arguments for a more restrictive immigration policy and a more broadly nationalist ethos. But when you get to the level of actual policy and politics, these ideas nearly inevitably end up devolving into attacks on minority groups.
It sounds explicitly racist. Conference organizer Yoram Hazony defended Wax. He said on Twitter that he doesn’t have a view on her immigration opinions, but that it is unjust to claim that she is racist, based on what she said. Beauchamp replied:
Here is the surrounding context for Wax’s comments. It’s excruciatingly clear that she is endorsing an immigration system that (in effect) prefers whites over non-whites pic.twitter.com/XYMxuqsz7k
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) July 19, 2019
The speech also began with her saying “Conservatives need a realistic approach to immigration that…preserves the United States as a Western and First World nation.” It concludes with this passage: pic.twitter.com/CuZrArhe88
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) July 19, 2019
I can understand why, at first glance, people would think that this is straight up racism. That reaction, it seems to me, proves Wax’s point.
I may change my views once I see the entire transcript, but it seems to me that Wax’s main premise is a cultural one: that the United States is a Western country that reasonably should want to maintain a Western culture. To achieve that goal, it will have to limit immigration from non-Western nations. This makes people uncomfortable because the effect would be racially disproportionate, falling heavily on excluding darker-skinned people from Third World countries. Therefore respectable conservatives don’t talk about it. But, I hear Wax saying, they should talk about it, because there are compelling reasons to favor in immigration the kinds of people who share Western cultural values.
I don’t think it is inaccurate to say, as Beauchamp does, that “she is endorsing an immigration system that (in effect) prefers whites over non-whites.” It seems clear that she is doing exactly that. Beauchamp believes that alone is discrediting — which, if I’m reading this correctly, proves Wax’s point that it’s impossible to talk about the kind of immigration system that is culturally appropriate and wise for America to have, because of disproportionate racial impact. That is to say, the only fact that matters for critics is that such a system would disfavor non-whites, which, in their eyes, renders it wicked on its face.
I can see some problems with Wax’s proposal. What does it mean to be “Western”? Russia is a European country, and a Christian country, and a country of white people … but it’s not really Western. Should we limit Russian immigration? Ghana is an African nation that is vastly more Christian than, say, Sweden, but it’s certainly not Western, and it’s in the Third World. Would America be better off with a policy that favored atheist Swedes over Christian Ghanaians? Asians — South Asians and East Asians — are not Western, obviously, not Christian, and many of them do not live in what we consider the First World. Yet they tend to be “model migrants,” in that their children obey the laws, study hard, and achieve professional success disproportionately. Is an immigration system that puts them at a disadvantage over Europeans better for America?
It’s certainly debatable, but one of Wax’s points is that we can’t even talk about it, because it is widely assumed that any immigration system that results in disproportionate racial impact is racist and therefore bad. Because of this, the character of America stands to be changed substantially over time — and those who object will have been intimidated into silence by fear of being called racist.
Here are a few thought experiments.
First, imagine that you are the headmaster of a Christian school in a small city. A large number of Somali Muslim immigrants have suddenly moved to your city, with more on the way. The Somali parents, seeing that the local public school is deficient in many ways, approach you asking for their children to be admitted. They have the money to pay tuition. The parents say that they recognize yours is a Christian school, and they don’t want to contest that. They only ask that their children not be required to say Christian prayers, and be permitted to sit silently during Christian worship.
You like these parents, and want to help these kids. Who knows, maybe they will come to believe in Jesus Christ because of their experience at the school. You also know that there is a small but loud minority of parents of kids already in the school, moms and dads who are terrified of Muslims, and who, in your view, are simple-minded bigots. You don’t want to surrender to them, or to give the impression of having surrendered to them.
There is also a small but loud minority of parents of kids already, moms and dads who are terrified of being thought to be bigots, and who are demanding that the school open its doors to these black Muslim migrants, in a spirit of “Gospel hospitality” (welcoming the stranger, and all that). You recognize that these parents have their hearts in the right place, but they are not thinking about the long-term character of the school. They want to demonstrate their compassion now — and are telling you that if you refuse to open the doors to these kids, you will have shown yourself to be a bigot. You don’t want to surrender to this emotional blackmail.
Here’s the inescapable fact: the culture of your Christian school will be changed over time by the presence of these Muslim kids — who, by the way, are black. State officials have said that more Somali migrants are on their way to your small city. If you let a cohort of Somali Muslim kids into your Christian school now, how do you say no in the future? At what point does the culture of the school tip, and it ceases to be a Christian school, except nominally? This is one of the likely consequences of your decision.
What do you do?
The solution, I think, is to insist that all students and their parents must sign a Statement of Faith, affirming their belief in particular Christian doctrines. These doctrines, not race, are what binds the community together. African migrant children who are Christian would be welcome to join the community. To allow into the community people who do not believe these doctrines, even if you’re doing so with the best intentions, would compromise the identity of the community. Yes, this decision by the headmaster might give aid and comfort to the bigots within the community, and yes, it stands to disadvantage some morally upstanding African Muslim families. But protecting the community’s identity, and that of its educational institution, is vital.
Why? Well, what is the community for? To worship and serve Jesus Christ, and to form future generations as worshipers and servants of Jesus Christ. The school is part of that mission. This is an emotionally and politically difficult decision, but ultimately not a hard one on the merits.
A second thought experiment, this one more difficult. You are the president of a historically black college. In recent years, Latino immigration to your region has been high, and your college has seen a sharp increase in the number of Latino applicants. You have welcomed this, in part because a slow decline in black applicants has put the long-term future of the school in doubt. However, the number of applications is about to reach a tipping point, such that your board of directors has told you that they’re worried the college is going to lose its identity as an HBCU. They’re not wrong about this. At the current rate, black students at your college will become a minority by 2040. A school founded to serve black students who were forbidden by segregation to attend other colleges will have ceased to be a majority-black institution.
If you, as president, are going to preserve the black identity of this school, then you are going to have to make decisions that limit or even deny admission to qualified Latino students. You can say, “We’re not trying to be racist; we are just trying to protect the historically black character and culture of this institution.” And you would be right! Those are your intentions. But you cannot get around the fact that this decision would disadvantage Latino kids, solely because of their race.
You reply, “That is regrettable. But if we don’t adopt a policy granting preferential status to black applicants, then our college will cease to be what it always has been, and what it was founded to be. We will lose that forever.”
Latino leaders in the community reply: “But that’s racist. Saying that you want to keep our kids out so you can keep this institution black is racist.”
What do you do? Strictly as a matter of logic, they’re right. You concede that, even though you also know that racism is not the effect you intend. Still, there it is. But you know that doing what is necessary to avoid the accusation of racism would likely cause the demise of your institution as an HBCU. Is that worth it?
If you go one way, an institution that was founded and preserved as a haven from racism for black college students would cease to be black. If you go another, an institution that was founded and preserved as a haven from racism for black college students would have only been able to preserve itself by embracing a form of … racism.
Not an easy choice, is it?
In both cases, the charge of “racism” or “bigotry” is meant not to illuminate the debate, but to obscure it, and to force a decision in favor of policies that would, over time, likely cause the community of the institution to cease being itself, and to become another thing. Put another way, the community is being asked — or to be more honest, told — to dissolve itself for moral reasons.
In this way, Amy Wax is correct: the important discussion over what kind of nation America is, and wishes to be, and how that should affect our immigration policy, is not allowed to happen. The fact that over 1,000 students are already calling for her dismissal over her “racist” words this week proves her point.
To be clear, I don’t have a position on what she’s saying, and not just because I haven’t yet seen the whole of her remarks. If we were a European nation, I would have a strong position against allowing most migrants of any kind in, at least at this point. An Italy that had a large population of Americans just like me — Christians who love and respect Italy — still would not be Italy. I wouldn’t blame the Italians one bit for adopting a policy that keeps people like me out. I might regret it, but given how fragile their cultural and religious traditions are at the current moment, I would understand it.
But I don’t live in Europe. I live in the United States. Europeans are tribes with flags; America is not that, and never has been. Sure, a lot of the immigrationist rhetoric is sentimental and mush-headed, and fails to take hard considerations about national identity into account. “We have always been a nation of immigrants” is a truism — something that is factually accurate, but also says nothing new or interesting. The real question is, what kind of immigrants should we accept? Who we choose to be today is who we will be tomorrow. There’s no getting around that. Choices have consequences.
The late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington was a realist who hated sentimentality. In his 2004 book Who Are We? — about immigration and identity — Huntington argued that this issue, which came to the fore with the 1960s immigration law reforms, throwing open our doors to the entire world, is going to be central to our future politics:
Historically the substance of American identity has involved four key components: race, ethnicity, culture (most notably language and religion), and ideology. The racial and ethnic Americas are no more. Cultural America is under siege. And as the Soviet experience illustrates, ideology is a weak glue to hold together people otherwise lacking racial, ethnic, and cultural sources of community. Reasons could exist, as Robert Kaplan observed, why ‘America, more than any other nation, may have been born to die.’
To elaborate: Huntington says that we no longer think of American identity in terms of race and ethnicity. That leaves us with culture and ideology. The historical culture of the United States is Anglo-Protestant, he says — and really, this cannot be seriously doubted. Huntington said that Anglo-Protestantism gave America its historic identity as a land shaped by the Protestant religion, English common law, and a strong sense of individualism, a strong work ethic, and the belief that it is the responsibility of all Americans to labor to make the US a “shining city on a hill.”
These values are the ones that made America free and prosperous, and a beacon to immigrants the world over. Huntington contended that these values were under siege for various reasons. Religion — certainly not Anglo-Protestantism — no longer unites us, though things have gone much farther toward dissolution on the religion front since Huntington wrote. That leaves ideology, which, as you read above, Huntington believed would not be enough to hold America together, absent a shared dominant culture. Huntington does not believe the “diversity is our strength” claptrap.
In his book, Huntington forecasts several potential outcomes for the US. Because I can’t find my copy of Who Are We? on my disorganized home bookshelves, I’ve screenshotted a couple of key passages from his introduction, via Amazon:
It is hard for many Americans who have not traveled abroad to grasp how profoundly Anglo-Protestant culture has shaped America. In the past couple of years, I’ve traveled quite a bit among Catholic peoples of Europe. Getting to know them and their ways has made me aware — sorry, there’s no delicate way to say this — of how Protestant even American Catholics are, in the way they think. I’ll be going to Russia this autumn, and though I’ve been an Orthodox Christian for 13 years, I expect to have the disconcerting experience of standing in Moscow and St. Petersburg churches, realizing that as a cultural matter, if not a religious one, I have far more in common culturally with a Bible-church fundamentalist back in Baton Rouge than I do with fellow Russian Orthodox. Americans who fall in love with some romantic idea of their ancestral pasts back in Europe, Africa, or elsewhere, do not want to hear things like this. But it’s true. Just this week I have been writing about the odd but pleasing experience of coming back to the US from abroad, and re-discovering how deeply American I am, e.g., being able to talk at a certain level with a black Southern fast-food clerk, in ways that I could not talk with white Europeans with whom I share lots of ideas, but whose culture is not my own. Neither the black fast food clerk nor I are Anglo-Protestant, but we are both heirs to the culture made by Anglo-Protestantism.
Huntington’s point is that we are foolishly allowing the deeper sources of American identity dissipate, and that we are going to be very sorry for this, not because Anglo Protestants are superior people to non-Anglo, non-Protestants, but because there is nothing else to hold us together as a country. It’s a debatable proposition, to be sure. Amy Wax’s point, as I read her, is that we are not allowed to have that crucial debate because people shout down others as racist before it even gets started.
I remember when that book came out 15 years ago. People in the establishment freaked out, even more than they freaked out over Huntington’s prophetic book The Clash of Civilizations. Why? Because as in that earlier volume, Huntington, arguably the most respected political scientist of his day, challenged the left-right establishment consensus, which tried to deny the importance of identity, in favor of a globalist cosmopolitanism. Huntington was no nativist son; he was the ultimate establishment insider. And he was telling people what they didn’t want to hear. So they called him a nativist, and even a racist.
Here’s the thing: if rational, morally sound people are not allowed to debate these questions openly, the only people who talk about them will be raucous people who don’t give a damn about whether or not you think they’re a racist. Or, as David Frum has put it in another context, shouting down as “fascist” any talk about immigration restriction only serves to empower actual fascists.
Frankly, I don’t see any way through this. Our discourse, especially among elites, has gone so far to the left that the very serious and legitimate questions about who we are as Americans, and how that should affect our immigration policies, are seen as bigoted. Amy Wax was right about this. Whether Amy Wax is right that the US should favor people from nations who more or less share traditional American culture is a more difficult question to answer; I’ve listed some of the reasons above, but there are more.
One point I had not thought of when I started this post: the kind of people who have access to public microphones — academics and journalists, mostly — are the kind of people who are psychologically much more open to disparate cultures (except, of course, the culture of white people who go to Walmart and NASCAR races). I am one of these people, and I know it. I save my money and take my family to Europe on vacation, instead of going every summer to Disneyworld, like many Americans do. I find it just as easy, and maybe easier, to sit around a table at a pub in Slovakia talking with Catholic intellectuals I’ve just met than I would to go to a bar in working-class areas of my own city, and talk to white Trump voters who work at one of the chemical plants out by the river. I say that to make it clear that I try to recognize my own prejudices. People in my intellectual class love to think of ourselves as free of prejudice, but we have them, all right. It is much easier to find people like me who have sympathy for a Guatemalan immigrant than it is to find people like me whose sympathies like with a white house cleaner who lives in a trailer park in the part of town where we don’t go.
I say this because recently, I was talking with a (white) intellectual in my own city about immigration. He has strong progressive opinions about race and immigration. He said, “If you think about it, what is there worth saving in American culture as it stands today?” That was the last thing he said before we parted. I’m thinking about those words this morning, in light of a movie I saw last night: a Russian film called Loveless. It’s unspeakably powerful. It’s a story set in contemporary times, about a middle-class couple that’s going through an extremely bitter divorce. They are both intensely self-involved. Horrible people, but rather recognizable, I’m afraid. In the film’s beginning, their 12-year-old son overhears them arguing about which of them will have to take custody of the boy. Neither wants him. He’s too much of a burden to their individual pleasure, and the lives they want to build for themselves free of each other.
The boy runs away. Most of the movie is taken up with the search for him, and what that search reveals about the characters of his parents. I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but it wasn’t until the final scene that I realized I was watching an allegory about life in contemporary Russia (the director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, previously made Leviathan, praised as a devastating indictment of corruption in Putin’s Russia). One of the movie’s messages is that Russians today are so caught up in their desire to gain and maintain comfortable middle-class status, which includes individual freedom, that they are ignoring their responsibilities to others who depend on them. They are without love for their own children, and their own countrymen, who they see only as a burden, and an obstacle to living as they prefer to live.
Loveless is a movie about Russia, but it’s impossible not to see the root of some of our own American problems in the same thing. Nowhere in our immigration debate is there room for talking about what we owe to the people who are already here — white, black, and otherwise — in terms of being custodians of whatever exists of a common culture. Nobody consults them to ask them what kind of country America should be going forward. They are deplorables, after all. If they had a microphone at all, they would be shouted down as racist bigots. Look, Amy Wax is a tenured professor at an Ivy League law school, and she can’t even raise these questions without being denounced as a monster, and with a thousand people calling for her to be fired. What chance do people without her exalted status have to be heard? I mean, even if they’re wrong, shouldn’t they be taken seriously, out of respect for our fellow countrymen? Don’t we owe them at least the recognition that the questions of national and cultural identity raised by the immigration issue are a hell of a lot more complicated than cosmopolitan angels vs. nativist devils? Don’t we owe them consideration, because they are our fellow Americans?
When people say “____ hates America,” maybe it’s a vicious smear. It probably is a vicious smear. But watching the film Loveless compelled me to consider that it might just be a crude way of saying, “People like that don’t show to Americans like us the love they owe me as a fellow American; they think of us as nothing but bad people, and obstacles to living the kind of life they prefer to live.” The men, women, and children who are already here, no matter what their race, religion, and culture, have a greater claim on our love and loyalty than those who want to come here. They might be wrong, and they might even be nothing but crude bigots, but they deserve to be heard, and debated, because they are not just fellow consumers; they are our own people.
Good luck trying to get men and women of my intellectual class to understand that. For them, it’s racism! all the way down.
You know, I hope, that all of this is a big reason people vote for Donald Trump.
(If you comment on this post, please take into consideration the two thought experiments I posted above. Also, if all you want to do is throw a bomb, from either left or right, I’m not going to post your comment. Serious contributions to the discussion only, please. Also, I reserve the right to amend my remarks when the full transcript of Amy Wax’s presentation becomes available.)
Here’s an excerpt from a long, satisfying Quillette interview with Tony Tost, a successful screenwriter and producer who grew up hard, in a working-class family. That background informs his creative work. He sounds like a really interesting guy. This question from interviewer Clay Routledge, and Tost’s lengthy response, is really interesting:
QM: You have a PhD in English and worked in academia before becoming a screenwriter. Do you have any thoughts on the state of academia, particularly the state of the humanities?
TT: I probably have too many thoughts on the state of the humanities. If you deeply love art or books or music, I really believe the last thing you should do is pursue a graduate degree studying that thing you love. Right now, for a creative or artistic or even just a curious person, I think over-exposure to academia is intellectual and spiritual poison.
But I should qualify that disillusionment by saying that academia also saved me. If I hadn’t read Franz Kafka in community college and discovered (to my utter shock) that I had a gift for writing poetry in my first creative writing class, I have no idea what kind of bad roads I would’ve wandered down. So my disillusionment with academia was gradual and fairly late.
I can maybe explain if you’ll indulge a mini-narrative of my academic career. After community college, I went to a very conservative Christian college in the Missouri Ozarks. It was a school for working class kids where you worked on campus to pay for your tuition and room and board. So for most students it was our one realistic chance at a full college education without crushing debt. So, no matter how crazy the school’s politics got in our eyes, we felt like we were stuck there. But when I was a student, the college also had a great English faculty who turned us on to William Butler Yeats, Flannery O’Connor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Emily Dickinson, Faulkner, Hemingway. There was also a healthy theater department. Little by little, my handful of weirdo artsy friends and I learned how to creatively thrive without institutional sanction or ideological kinship with our hyper-conservative college.
After my undergrad education, I went to the University of Arkansas’s MFA program in creative writing to study poetry. And that was pretty amazing in its own feral way. I connected with this great generation of old school Southern writers in Arkansas, though that generation began phasing out during my four years in the program. They started getting replaced by writers who were more slick, more credentialed, more politically astute, less problematic but also infinitely less interesting than the generation that preceded them. [Emphasis mine — RD]
But more important than the professors were the other MFA students in the program, who came from all over the country with wildly different backgrounds and were by and large as nuts about books and art as I was. I also fell in with the local music scene and played in a couple drunken sloppy rock bands and found that community to be perhaps even more artistically inspiring than the MFA crowd.
But still, at this point, all I wanted to do was be a creative writing professor and write poetry while teaching and discussing great books. But through a couple of life changes, I found myself living in North Carolina after finishing my MFA and I decided to pursue a Ph.D. at Duke in 2005. Here’s where things started turning in a different direction. And it’s hard for me to pin down whether it was a change in the times or a change in the kind of institution I was in.
This is an extreme example, but at my first department function at Duke after being accepted as a doctoral student, a prominent professor asked me where I went to undergrad. I told him Green River Community College and College of the Ozarks. He looked me up and down, then turned away and simply didn’t speak to me again my entire six years in the program. That wasn’t typical. But it did feel a bit symptomatic.
I didn’t interact with everyone in my program and I’m sure I have my own issues and blindspots, but compared to the largely working class artists and musicians and writers I’d been surrounded by up to then, very few Duke grad students seemed to be intoxicated by books or ideas or art. Many, however, seemed to be experts at positioning themselves within the newest intellectual trends. Many seemed like they’d been cultivating their academic careers since middle school and now were armed with impeccable credentials and tons of entitlement and very little imagination, creativity, or curiosity. None struck me as any more gifted than the brighter working class students at my prior schools. They just had better funding and better connections. In fact, I’m pretty sure the two Duke grad students who struck me as the most interesting minds in the department both happened to come from more blue collar, public school backgrounds. As far as I know, neither has yet to land a full-time academic job after getting their PhDs. Last I heard, one of them is an adjunct and the other is running a bar.
At its worst, this level of academia struck me as a bunch of privileged people ensuring their cultural status. I remember the head of the English department giving a talk about his new ambitious post-colonial literary theory, which was elegantly presented and name-checked all of the right theorists and fused cutting edge notions of the subaltern and post-human aesthetics, etc. And then at the end he asked us if we knew any books that would fit his theory. Apparently, he hadn’t found any yet. As someone for whom books and art have been a lifeline, I was astounded. The art itself simply didn’t matter.
But I want to be careful not to paint with a completely totalizing brush. I think there are plenty of adventurous teachers and thinkers housed in the humanities. And I had some great professors at Duke and was generally treated well in that I was largely left alone to pursue my own weird intellectual project. And I had a handful of generous, enthusiastic supporters. So I think my issues are less with Duke or that particular English department and more with this emerging academic generation, which to me seems to double-down on the older generation’s worst trait (ideological certainty) while skimping out on its greatest strengths (genuine erudition and intellectual curiosity). As an academic, I generally felt like as soon as the older professors retired, I was going to be surrounded by people who all read the same ten theorists and who uniformly had pretty banal tastes in literature and who were all frothing to cancel and leap-frog each other into eternity and/or tenure. [Emphasis mine — RD]
I’d gone into academia because when I was 18 I discovered that books and films and art understood me better than my family did and I wanted to maintain that spiritual intoxication for the rest of my life. By the time I was finishing my dissertation, academia had seemed to turn into some kind of perpetual primary to see who could be elected “least problematic” or something.
Ideology — left wing or right wing — is the death of art, of beauty, of wisdom, and of the curiosity that leads to these things. Leszek Kolakowski has this great line: “As Epicharmos said, everything precious is usually found at night.” Ideology turns the klieg lights on everything, so there is nowhere for precious things to cloak themselves in mystery and shadow.
Tost’s story about the interesting old writers being abandoned for lesser PC ones, I was reminded of a conversation I had at Cambridge University this past summer. I met someone there who told me that the entire university is about to undertake an initiative to consider how it can “decolonize the curriculum.” What does this mean in practice? If the decolonizers are successful, they will throw out, say, Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant and replace them with African philosophers of equal stature. Who don’t exist, because Africa has not had a 2,000-year-old formal philosophic tradition, but whatever.
If a great and old university like Cambridge casts aside the giants of Western Civ for the sake of political correctness, where will this knowledge be preserved for saner times? Serious question. You don’t have to be religious to embrace this part of the Benedict Option.
James C. is hobbiting his way through rural England. Above is a shot from the Fingle Bridge Inn. Here’s the inn itself (website):
It’s so great to have a big open expanse on your doorstep when you want to get away from the madding crowd. That’s Dartmoor (if you’ve seen the Spielberg film Warhorse, it was filmed here). And yet, when you get to a river gorge deep in the forest along a single-track lane, what do you find? An inn, of course. I’d have had something to eat if the coronation chicken baguette I got in another remote village hadn’t been enormous. Rural England…just wild enough and with homely, hobbity comforts.
Now off on a hike to earn that beer…
Have you done the Face App thing yet? I understand people being afraid of giving a Russian company access to an image of yourself, but here’s news: if you’ve uploaded photos to Facebook, a multinational already has plenty of pics of you, and they’re available to anybody who can access them on FB. I did it, and used the Face App aging function to see what I will look like as an old man. The image on the right is a mirror image of the one on the left, only aged. Funny, huh?
A reader from Poland writes:
I have just finished reading your most interesting article on Poland’s Crisis. I must say, being both Catholic and slightly „off-the-main-current” person, that your observations are quire right. Quite, but not entirely.
Let me explain. You seem to base your opinion on Warsaw and Warsaw-oriented people. Should you decide to come to other regions, like for example Silesia (deed deep down south), your vision might have been totally different.
What I am trying to say is that in rural areas, like mine for example, nobody really cares for the Warsaw divisions. We are happy to be able raise our kids and be free from LGBT propaganda spread happily by the so called total opposition. We support the government not because we are into politics. We do it because we can clearly see that what the present government does is good for us. As simple as that. No sophisticated philosophies here.
As far as „a Millennial-Generation Catholic who was part of the conversation” is concerned, I would be more than glad to share my e-mail with her/him, so that she/he had the opportunity to get to know the first Catholic satisfied with the bishops. Sure, they are fallible and may err, but that ARE our pastors in the most profound meaning of the word. „To generalize is to be an idiot”, said William Blake. May this quote suffice for my comment (not to be taken personally, of course).
Let me express my gratitude and admiration for your splendid book „The Benedict Option”. I read it with pleasure and it gave a lot of spiritual benefit.
Another reader writes (this one Catholic from Warsaw in his 20s):
Catholicism in Poland is rather passive and conformist. For many many years all you had to do was to attend liturgy every Sunday and obey your Church leaders. But now it is high time to organise (the left knows how to organise and mobilise and because of that they have achieved so much!) and stop relying merely on the Church hierarchy. There are some movements which try to activate the laity, but most of them have insignificant impact and cannot attract wider masses. Most of them base on emotions or something like prosperity gospel (or, as you would have put it: mixture of Catholicism and Moral Therapeutic Deism). But such things cannot strengthen us enough to resist the world which is against us.
I have also read your new blog entry about visit in Tyniec. That Benedictine father you spoke with seems to be pretty intelligent man! I will try to contact him. And, to be honest, I was quite disappointed that people cannot believe that we are now heading towards Ireland-like scenario… I have shown you the data which make me such a pessimist. But I prefer to be pessimist in peace with truth than stay in a peaceful comfort zone without any link to the reality. Prophecies (and such research are real prophecies and wake up calls for Polish Catholicism!) are real even if they are not pleasant.
That reader sent me a story about a conservative magazine in Poland that’s distributing an anti-LGBT sticker for stores. Naturally the usual suspects are having an absolute fit over it. The reader, who identifies as a Catholic traditionalist who supports the Church’s teaching on sexuality, is frustrated by this gesture:
It makes Catholics look like fascists, or at least ridiculous.
Me, I don’t blame Polish Catholics and conservatives one bit for wanting to push back, and push back hard, against the Pride propaganda. But that message goes way too far. How would they feel if someone put out a “No Christians Welcome” bumper sticker? Of course they would say that the Pride ideology pervading more and more workplaces mandates this de facto. When I was in Poland, I talked to people who work for US and Europe-based multinationals, who said that they are afraid of losing their jobs because they are observant Catholics who disagree with the Pride campaigns inside the workplace. They made it clear to me that these campaigns are going beyond tolerance, and requiring affirmation. One manager told me that he is getting close to the point where he’s going to have to resign as a matter of conscience.
The US Ambassador to Poland spoke out publicly against the magazine’s anti-LGBT sticker. Wouldn’t it be nice if President Trump’s ambassador would speak out publicly against the policies of US multinationals to force cultural imperialism on Polish workers? Wouldn’t it be nice if President Trump himself would urge Congress to come up with legislation protecting the jobs of American workers who dissent from the Pride propaganda blitz?
In other news, here’s a good and detailed e-mail from a reader who was at the Trump rally in North Carolina this week:
I attended the Trump rally the other day at Greenville. Despite being unable to watch the rally from inside ECU’s convention center, I watched the live broadcast on the jumbotron adjacent to the building. I was surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of Trump supporters decked out in MAGA gear, and the crowd outside mirrored the reactions of the crowd inside in real time. Your image of a right-wing mob foaming at the mouth with rage is completely off base. Nobody was angry at the rally, except for the left-wing protesters shouting “Fuck Trump!” randomly. People were in a good spirits. There were no skin-heads or Neo-Nazis. There were elderly Church ladies handing out Trump flags, and there were many female college students watching with their boyfriends, parents, or friends. There were more minorities than you might expect, including a dark-skinned Hispanic couple that parked behind me and whom I chatted with briefly. I met a friendly college student during the walk to the arena that had voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary before voting for Trump in the general. This was the first time in two years he felt comfortable enough to wear a MAGA hat in public without fear of harassment.
I am utterly flabbergasted at how cluelessly the media is reporting the event. The “Send her back!” chants were an innocent joke. It’s ludicrous to suggest that the “mob” of elderly ladies and parents was on the verge of violence. Matt in VA is always writing about how the Republicans need to be more aggressive in their rhetoric and their actions. Your favorite commenter is constantly lamenting that Republicans roll over when they encounter the slightest resistance from left-wing activists. Well this is what a mild dose of Matt in VA’s political culture looks like. And once again, the Republicans revert to the party of apologetic pansies.
To the media, “Send her back!” might be the harbinger of a second Kristallnacht. But to more Americans than you realize, the image of a punky, loudmouthed Congress-girl being thrown out of a plane over Somalia onto her ungrateful butt is funny. The joke is funny because it’s ridiculous. There is zero chance of Omar being deported. None. People who laugh at this impossible scenario are not bad. Think of your friend “Jackie” whom you referenced in a previous post. You referred to him as “a really nice guy”, someone you “have mad respect for”. Now, I don’t know what “strongly uncomplimentary” comment he made about AOC, Omar, etc. But from your description, I suspect if he had been in Greenville he would have joined in on the chants. That wouldn’t make him a “racist” or even a bad person. It would make him no different than millions of Americans who swear at the news on TV.
I understand why the “Send her back!” chants touched a nerve for you. The Deep South has a history of vigilante violence against blacks. Two of your previous posts about race (the first about the respected townsman who murdered the black man falsely accused of rape, the second about the mob of 20,000 Louisianans celebrating and picnicking while another black man was arbitrarily accused of rape and murdered) represent some of your best writing because the accounts are so chilling. But we don’t live in the Jim Crow era anymore. Blacks are not being rounded up and murdered. Neither are Mexicans, nor Muslims. To compare the Greenville rally with events from 70 or 80 years ago in radically different political contexts is lunacy. Race never even came up during the chants… unless the mere criticism of minority Democrats is “racist”.
Furthermore, I am sorry for the abuse you suffered in high school Rod. I know what it is like to be awkward growing up, to feel ignored as chaperones decline to intervene in the midst of teasing. I am thankful things never escalated to anything remotely close to what you had to endure. But Rod, what if one of those kids had stood up for you? What if one those kids, instead of joining the bullies, had walked up to the lead tormentor and kicked him in the balls or given him a wedgie? Would you have berated your rescuer for “assaulting” the bully? I suppose we’ll never know. But we both know with moral certainty that the leftwing activists of the Democrat party are bullies. We saw it during the Kavanaugh hearings, we saw it during the firestorm over the Covington Catholic kids, and we saw it when homosexual activists tried to force Jack Phillips into bankruptcy for the crime of not baking a cake. And we’ve seen the left’s bullying in a hundred other incidents of racial demagoguery against whites and religious intolerance against Christians. They will not be satisfied until every monument to Washington and Jefferson is smashed and every memorial cross for dead soldiers is uprooted. The Democrat voters are not bad people. But their politicians are trying to destroy everything you hold dear. You know this is true. In this day and age we can’t take the left’s narrative of events at face value.
We cannot solely rely on Donald Trump to save us. Even Trump was swayed by the media’s false narrative around the “Send her back!” chants. That is why you wrote The Benedict Option. Christians need to band together and prepare to be hated and despised. It won’t be easy, but there are more of us than the left realizes. And no matter what, if we put our trust in God things will work out, whether it be in this life, or the next.
As one Christian to another, I ask that you give the Trump supporters in Greenville the benefit of the doubt. Christians should be slow to judge, especially towards people we disagree with. I promise you, nobody is planning on kidnapping Ilhan Omar back to Somalia (as appealing as that may sound). And I can tell you with the moral certainty of an eyewitness, there were no monsters among the Trump supporters in Greenville. There were only family and friends, neighbors and countrymen, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
I appreciate that feedback. I sincerely do.
A reader writes on another thread, about our debased popular culture:
A perfect example of this is occurring right now in pop culture. On The Bachelorette, the popular dating forced elimination reality show, they are down to the last four contestants. The Bachelorette, Hannah, is an outspoken Christian as is one of the final four, Luke. The are at the “fantasy suites” in which the Bachelorette and each of the male contestants spend the night together presumably to road test their sexual organs. At one point, Luke tells Hannah that it would be a dealbreaker if she has had sex with any of the other three contestants and explains that such conduct would be against his own Christian values. (Apparently he has not watched the previous seasons.)
Hannah is outraged and basically kicks Luke off the show.
Hannah sees absolutely nothing wrong with her strong Christian belief and extramarital sex. This apparent contradiction goes unexplained, but I suspect that her views are the majority of Christian views in America today. I’m not accusing her of hypocrisy. Most Americans tend to espouse political and religious views are are opposed to how they lead their daily lives.
I didn’t know anything about this show, so I looked it up online. Here’s a Daily Beast piece from earlier this week:
On a recent episode of The Bachelorette, lead Hannah Brown tells suitor and contestant Luke Parker, “I have had sex, and, honestly, Jesus still loves me.” (Jesus was not available for comment.)
Each season has a major turning point. Colton Underwood jumping the fence. Arie Luyendyk Jr. dumping his winner for his runner-up. Ben Higgins telling two women he loves them. And Brown’s signature moment—the thing fans will likely repeat back to her for years to come—seems to be her sex and Jesus declaration.
What she said is unlike anything we’ve ever seen from The Bachelor franchise. In years past, the show has danced around the topic of religion—or lack thereof—which is odd, considering that when picking a spouse in a matter of a few weeks, it’s sure to come up.
So why now? Brown certainly isn’t the first Christian to appear on the show. But she seems to be the first person the show has allowed to have religion as a main character trait on the show. During the first episode, cameras showed Brown praying, “Lord, bring me your goodness and your love… Help me feel worthy. Help me feel smart.”
It all seems to be contrived in a way, considering how during a recent episode Parker—a devout Christian who took Brown to a Sunday school class on his hometown date—and three other men will head into the fantasy suites (where the lead has time with the contestants with no cameras around). Typically, only three men make it to that point in the season. Carbone says he believes this was intentional on the producers’ part.
“(The producers) probably set it up that way and were hoping for some sort of fireworks and they got it,” Carbone says. “I’m sure they had a reason to believe that if we put him fourth and the conversation of sex in the overnight comes up, he’s going to lose it if he finds out about her.”
Brown gave Parker the first impression rose on the first night and during Parker’s hometown date, he took her to Sunday school. But it seems the two view Christianity slightly different. Brown seems to be more liberal with her faith—choosing to have sex before marriage, and even “fucking in a windmill”—while Parker seems to be more traditional. He explained in his opening package that in college, he chased sex until one day while he was in the shower, he heard God speaking to him. No word on what God said.
She really did describe what she did as “fucking in a windmill.” See this People magazine account, in which they praise her for speaking “her truth.” Turns out that Hannah got poked in the windmill by one of the other contestants.
OK, look. If you’re a serious Christian who goes on a reality show hoping to find a wife, you have no reason to complain that the object of your pursuit turns out to fall short of orthodox Christian moral standards. That said, my guess is that the reader is right, and that Hannah’s views — that there is no contradiction between her easy sexual morals and her Christianity — are pretty mainstream today. Gallup’s recent poll of all Americans (not just Christians) shows that almost three out of four see nothing morally problematic with sex between unmarried people. This is not surprising. We are a post-Christian nation.
There has never been a time when Christians lived perfectly by the sexual teachings of the faith. What’s happening now is that Christians are flat-out denying those teachings. The relationship between sex and the body is not incidental to Christianity; it is close to the center. It is only in the past 60 years or so — since the arrival of the Sexual Revolution — that this has been disputed within Christian churches.
Since then, generations of Christians have been catechized not by their churches, but by the culture. Many churches — not all, but very many — prefer to ignore the entire issue of sexual morality, finding it too controversial and embarrassing to discuss. You end up with people like Hannah Brown, a Gen Z Alabamian whose Christianity appears to be garden-variety Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Of course Jesus still loves her if she has had sex. Who denies that? That’s beside the point. The point is that from any remotely orthodox Christian viewpoint, those sexual acts were serious sins. That’s what she denies. From this exchange, she seems to think that they are at worst peccadilloes:
She is indignant that the poor sap Luke questions the integrity of her faith because she slept with other men, and doesn’t regret it. I’d say from watching that clip, he dodged a bullet — but again, what did he expect, going on a reality show to look for a wife?
The reader who brought this to my attention — and he is a liberal! — is correct to observe that this massive contradiction between what Christianity teaches, and the ethic Hannah affirms, is not explained. You don’t expect a reality TV show to be the Council of Trent, but that her only response is “how dare you!” probably makes a lot of sense to many self-professed Christians of her age (she’s 24). That’s just a guess; does anybody have any hard data on that?
Again, the point is not that Christians are always faithful to Christian sexual teaching. Plainly we are not. What’s at issue here is that Hannah has made her Christianity central to her identity:
But on the show, she presents herself as the kind of Christian who is not about to sacrifice her sex life for the sake of Christ. The kind of Christian Hollywood loves, naturally. She’s a Southern good-time gal, as this tweet about her windmill lover “bringing the wood” indicates. She and Luke argued this week on social media:
@AlabamaHannah There is a difference between eating with sinners who laugh and sinners who laugh at their sin. Sin is the very thing that put Jesus on the cross and that’s not a laughing matter. https://t.co/cU1YlEgeFB
— Luke Parker (@luke_parker777) July 16, 2019
Hannah is apparently the kind of person who uses Christianity as a cultural and psychological support for herself. It happens. But it’s not Christian by any Scriptural or historical standard — and it’s important. All of us Christians are hypocrites in some way, but La Rochefoucauld was right: hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Dealing with your hypocrisy by denying moral truth is spiritual death. In the clip above, Luke says that a “slip up” is something he can deal with — meaning that if she fell short of Christian sexual virtue, and is repentant, that’s fine. But that’s not how Hannah rolls. She feels that she has nothing to repent of — that receiving the “wood” brought by Pilot Pete in the windmill’s fantasy suite was kosher by J.C.
Here’s where the standoff is today:
Hannah is mad at the people who are trying to make her feel bad about the windmill sex romp:
As an aside, a reader passed this billboard today, and sent me a photo:
Right. You’re carrying a fatal sexually-transmitted disease, one that will require a lifetime of drug cocktails to survive, but the important thing to know is that you can continue to “love without limits.” Welcome to American culture.
Anyway, if Hannah is determined to live by sexually revolutionized pseudo-Christianity, then I’ve got a spiritual advisor for her — the freakazoid liberal Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who here holds an idol of a vulva, made out of “purity rings” sent to her by deconverted Evangelicals:
UPDATE: If the sexes were reversed, and a woman was being the chaste Christian, while the man was being a sex mo-sheen, would it change the way you viewed this dispute? Not me.
By the way, I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: sexually permissive Christianity is the Prosperity Gospel for liberals.
1) Three of the people in question were born in the United States.
2) Trump himself abhors the common culture in many respects. So do many conservative Christians like Mike Pence and white nationalists like Steve King. No one ever tells them to “go back”. Why, Andy? https://t.co/ZF3n6xwnkn
— Conor Friedersdorf (@conor64) July 19, 2019
Well, let’s unpack this. From McCarthy’s column:
What does “racist” even mean anymore?
Racism is the headline on President Trump’s Sunday tweets — the media-Democrat complex assiduously describes them as “racist tweets” as if that were a fact rather than a trope. I don’t think they were racist; I think they were abjectly stupid.
Like many Americans, I am tired of being lectured about racism by racists and racialists, individuals whose full-field explanation for all life’s issues is this matter of genetic happenstance that should be increasingly irrelevant in a pluralistic society.
I, too, am tired of the all-purpose smear “racist,” and of “racism” deployed as an all-purpose insult for opinions, events, and outcomes that liberals and progressives dislike. But just because the other side cries wolf all the time does not mean that there are no such things as wolves. More McCarthy:
Is it “racist” to tell people who have contempt for the country — who abhor the common culture that makes us American — that they ought to go back to where they came from? It has nativist and reactionary overtones, but I don’t think it is racist. I’ll grant this much, though: It is closer to actual racism than the Left’s usual demagogic claim: I am a racist if I extend to a non-white nincompoop like Ilhan Omar the courtesy of taking her seriously as an individual and a public official, as if it were her race rather than the idiocy of what she says that moves me to dissent.
It would be racist to tell the progressive “Squad” that they don’t belong in our country because of their race or ethnic roots. I don’t understand Trump to have done that. He is attacking their radicalism, which they wear like a badge of honor.
I think it’s perfectly legitimate to go after the Squad for their politics. Some people called Trump racist because any attack on a Person Of Color by a white person, in their deranged minds, is “racist.” But people (including me) were calling the Trump tweets “racist” because he assumed that all these radical women were foreigners, presumably because they were black — “presumably” because if not that, then why? As we know, three of the four were born here in the US. McCarthy:
Yet, Trump said they were from “countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they have a functioning government at all).” This is indefensible jackassery. It is not an excuse that the president would have been on solid ground if he had said the congresswomen were apologists for such countries. He said they were from such countries and ought to go back to them.
Presidents can’t make mind-blowing errors like that and expect to remain politically viable. Trump so basks in the huzzahs of his blindly loyal base that he appears blind himself to the fact that even people who support many of his policies, and who find today’s Democrats unacceptable, do not want to be embarrassed — do not want to be put constantly in the position of trying to rationalize his antics.
Truer words will not be spoken anywhere today!
From Conor’s tweet, I expected McCarthy’s column to be a full-throated defense of the idea of “a common culture that makes us American.” It’s really not. It’s a harsh criticism of Trump, the gist of which is, “look, you idiot, a lot of us fear and loathe what the Democratic Party and the cultural left stand for, and we’re afraid of them taking political power, so quit being such an idiot and a jackass and making it easier for them to win — and stop embarrassing your allies.”
This is true and necessary to say.
But I want to take up the claim that there still is “a common culture that makes us American,” because I think Conor Friedersdorf is right to point out that many of us on the political and cultural Right are as critical of what America has become as left wingers like the Squad.
By the way, many of us on the Right might think that Ilhan Omar is some sort of Islamist. From Rep. Omar’s website, here are her LGBT policy stances:
- Fight against any efforts to undermine LGBTQIA+ rights in the name of religious liberty
- Strengthen national protections against discrimination for both gender identity and sexual orientation
- Ensure that care specific to the LGBTQIA+ community, such as gender-confirmation surgery, is covered by health insurance plans
- Enact protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals who are incarcerated, and ensure transgender people who are incarcerated are placed with their gender identity
If you are a Muslim who worries about your Islamic school being compelled by the state to accept gender ideology, and to queer the locker rooms and bathrooms or lose your tax exemption, then you’re not going to want to vote for Ilhan Omar.
Omar seems to be one of those Muslims who takes her Islamic identity in a wholly political, intersectional way — in other words, not as an affirmation of particular religious beliefs, but rather as an Other that defines her against white, heteronormative, Christian identity.
Anyway, though I affirm most of what Andy McCarthy wrote in his column, I do want to push back, along Conor Friedersdorf’s lines, against the idea of a common American culture — and I want to do this from the religious right.
I think I know in my gut what McCarthy is saying, but I really don’t think that it’s an accurate description of America any longer. If by “common culture” he means the American ideals of fair play for all, equality under the law, respect for dissent, and so forth, then yes, I think it is hugely important to affirm these things. But there are so many aspects of the majority culture that people like me — conservative Christians — cannot affirm, and not only cannot affirm, but actively reject.
The Sexual Revolution, for example, has been thoroughly embraced by the American mainstream. I hardly need to list the ways, but let me mention a couple of things that show its ubiquity — things that are so common most people don’t see them. I haven’t been a network TV watcher since 1983, when I left home for school at 16. We didn’t have TVs in our dorm at school, and when I went to college, I was out of the habit of watching TV, and didn’t return to it, ever. As an adult, I had cable in most of my apartments, but I only used it to watch the news; my TV I used almost exclusively for watching movies on video and then DVD. Today, we have a TV, but only use it for videos, and for streaming content from Netflix and Amazon that we’ve chosen.
I tell you this to say that I’m not one of those “I have no television” people — it wouldn’t be true — but to say that for most of my life, I’ve been cut off from the common culture of network television.
A few years back, I joined a gym. On the elliptical trainer, I started watching that Charlie Sheen sitcom that was one of the top-rated TV shows of its day. I guess it was in syndication. I was genuinely shocked by how coarse, vulgar, and sexual it was. Mind you, it wasn’t encountering sexual material that shocked me; for heaven’s sake, I was a professional film critic for a number of years. It was encountering material like this on a massively popular network sitcom. I was a sort of Rip van Winkle of network television, who woke up after thirty years and found that the world had radically changed.
I wouldn’t let guests in my own house talk like that in front of my children. But I knew people — self-identified conservatives — who watched that show with their children and grandchildren, and didn’t give it a second thought. I wouldn’t want to sit around my living room talking with people who talked like the characters in that sitcom. So yeah, call me a prude. By today’s majority-culture standards, I am. I don’t apologize for that. But I also know well that I am in a dissenting minority. If this is the common culture, then I want no part of it.
That’s a small example, but there are plenty more important ones that hardly need belaboring here. I think the network TV one is more important than you might think, in this way. Around the time I stepped out of TV Land — 1983 — cable TV was already a big thing, and satellite TV was just coming, but the three networks still dominated the television landscape. Throughout my 1970s childhood, network TV really was a common culture. At school, everybody talked about the previous night’s episode of “Happy Days” or “Welcome Back, Kotter.” For us kids, one of the highlights of the year was the Saturday morning in early autumn when the networks debuted their new cartoon lineups. Heck, Saturday morning cartoons was must-see TV (and if you remember the phrase “must-see TV,” congratulations, you’re a Gen Xer).
Network TV might have been stupid, but it was something we all had in common. It broadly reflected values held in common. Here’s something quaint: I’m old enough to remember when pastors urged congregations to write to the local ABC affiliates to protest “Soap,” the racy prime-time parody of soap operas, which debuted in 1977. It didn’t work. The moral boundaries of what was still considered the common culture were already radically shifting.
There is a certain sort of tiresome person who, whenever you bring up the steep and consequential decline of cultural standards, can be counted on to say, “People used to think Elvis was evil.” If a cable network ever stages live executions or barnyard orgies, these same people will turn up mouthing the same cliche. This line is not an aid to thinking clearly, but is an obstacle to it. It’s meant to assuage the consciences of those who say it, and to grant them permission not to think about the troubling thing in front of their noses.
Anyway, I find that in locating myself outside much mainstream American culture — the worship of sex, money, and fame — I have a lot in common with a certain kind of secular liberal. I imagine some of these liberals read this blog, even though some of the things I say infuriate them. They recognize, as do I, that at some basic level, we are outsiders. And this is why I believe it is really important to protect dissenters, even if I reject what they stand for. In many ways, I — white, heteronormative, conservative, Christian — am a dissenter from the American mainstream.
Psychologically, it’s very difficult for conservatives to recognize that America has gone from being a “shining city on the hill” to being Babylon. I’m thinking this morning of this passage from Sam Quinones’ great book Dreamland, about the opioid epidemic. If there was any justice in this world, Dreamland would have been as massive a seller as Hillbilly Elegy. If you haven’t read it, my God, please do. It’s a book about a drug crisis, but it’s really a book about the American dream. I read it four years ago, and as you can see, it still haunts me. (I see that it’s only four dollars on Kindle today — go ahead, take a chance.)
It’s the story of the contemporary heroin epidemic nationwide, especially in small cities and towns that had never known the presence of heroin until now. What it’s really about, though, is a culture that opened the door for this catastrophe, in complicated but all too familiar ways.
I wrote that most fascinating part of Dreamland is how Quinones examines the cultural roots of the opiate epidemic. He writes:
In heroin addicts, I had seen the debasement that comes from the loss of free will and enslavement to what amounts to an idea: permanent pleasure, numbness, and the avoidance of pain. But man’s decay has always begun as soon as he has it all, and is free of friction, pain, and the deprivation that temper his behavior.
In fact, the United States achieved something like this state of affairs … in the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. When I returned home from Mexico in those years, I noticed a scary obesity emerging. It wasn’t just the people. Everything seemed obese and excessive. Massive Hummers and SUVs were cars on steroids. In some of the Southern California suburbs near where I grew up, on plots laid out with three-bedroom houses in the 1950s, seven-thousand-square-foot mansions barely squeezed between the lot lines, leaving no place in which to enjoy the California sun.
Excess contaminated the best of America. Caltech churned out brilliant students, yet too many of them now went not to science but to Wall Street to create financial gimmicks that paid off handsomely and produced nothing. Exorbitant salaries, meanwhile, were paid to Wall Street and corporate executives, no matter how poorly they did. Banks packaged rolls of bad mortgages and we believed Standard & Poor’s when they called them AAA. Well-off parents no longer asked their children to work when they became teenagers.
In Mexico, I gained a new appreciation of what America means to a poor person limited by his own humble origins. I took great pride that America had turned more poor Mexicans into members of the middle class than had Mexico. Then I would return home and see too much of the country turning on this legacy in pursuit of comfort, living on credit, attempting to achieve happiness through more stuff. And I saw no coincidence that this was also when great numbers of these same kids — most of them well-off and white — began consuming huge quantities of the morphine molecule, doping up and tuning out.
This book hits hard. What Quinones shows is the connection between a rich, decadent America, where people want to do anything to relieve themselves of the pain and anxiety of living, and dirt-poor Mexico, where people are willing to do anything to relieve themselves of the pain and anxiety of living in poverty — including selling opiates to those Americans, who use them to destroy their lives.
One more from that post:
Reading Dreamland, you can see why unemployed former mill workers could fall into this kind of addiction, but it’s harder to see why the kids of the rich do. Quinones shows that the specific motivations may be different, but the basic motivation is the same: wanting relief from the perceived pain of living. For the middle class and the well-off, it’s a matter of boredom, of believing that life should be pleasurable all the time, and that instant gratification is their birthright as Americans.
The book is full of sad stories, but the saddest is the tale of Russian Pentecostals in Portland, Oregon. Massive number of these persecuted Christians emigrated from the Soviet Union to the US, and settled mostly on the West Coast. They were religious, conservative, and strict churchgoers. But their kids went to school with other Americans, and came to see church life as boring and too restrictive. They tried OxyContin, and moved into heroin. Hundreds of these Russian Pentecostal kids became addicts. Their parents did not know what to do. In one family’s case:
Two decades after Anatoly and Nina left the Soviet Union for the freedoms of America, each of their three oldest children was quietly addicted to black tar heroin from Xalisco, Nayarit. … [T]heir American dreamland contained hazards they hadn’t imagined. Remaining Christian in America, where everything was permitted, was harder than maintaining the faith in the Soviet Union where nothing was allowed. Churches were everywhere. But so were distractions and sin: television, sexualized and permissive pop culture, and wealth.
Think of it: these Pentecostals were better off in the USSR than in America, because American freedom led to extreme decadence.
And this, right there, is why I want no part of the “common culture” of American Babylon. I think I know what Andy McCarthy is talking about when he calls on us to be patriotic by loving “the common culture that makes us American.” What I don’t agree with is that we have a common American culture anymore, or to the extent that we do, that it’s something that we can and should affirm.
I was talking with a Christian friend not long ago. She sends her kids to public school, in a good school district. She told me that the common culture there for the kids is marked by pot, booze, promiscuity, homosexuality, and gender fluidity. It’s a real struggle for her and her husband to shepherd their children through that. The pot, the booze, the sex — it was all present when I was in school in the 1980s, even in my small town. Open homosexuality and gender fluidity are new, granted, but it’s not like a crisis descended on America when high school kids started coming out in the 2000s. The crisis goes much deeper (see Quinones), and farther back in history, to the Rubicon of the 1960s, when America truly became post-Christian. This is a much longer discussion, though.
So, when conservatives say that members of the Squad “hate America,” what are they saying? What is America to these conservatives? Is it a false idol? When we say we love America, what do we mean? Can there be a restoration of a common culture — and if not, where does that leave us?
I’ll leave you with this. It sounds silly, but there’s something in it. Earlier this week, I flew home from ten days in Poland. I had a great time, but like every time I return to the US from overseas, I am sentimentally thrilled to be back. When I land in the Atlanta airport, I always make a beeline for the Chipotle near gate D28, to have tacos and a big-ass diet Coke, with lots of American ice. When I got there this past Monday, my checkout clerk was a tall, big-shouldered young black guy named El Shaddai Cooper. He was really friendly, and we joked with each other in that way that Americans do (and, to be precise, the way Southerners do). That kid has no idea how much good it did me to see him and talk to him.
When I walked away with my food, and went looking for a corner to sit down in and eat it, I thought, “I love El Shaddai Cooper!” I laughed at myself for it, but it’s true. A new Polish friend had said to me the day before, “I love how you Americans allow yourselves to imagine things in new ways.” After ten days in Poland, I understood what he was saying. There is a gravity to Polish culture that we just don’t have here. Sometimes it is lamentable, but sometimes it’s a real blessing. One thing I have learned over the years by extensive travel in Europe is that whenever you, an American, meet another American there, I don’t care whether that American is white, black, Latino, Asian, or whatever, you have more in common with him than you do with the Europeans. I say that as a deep Europhile. It’s just true.
My DNA says that I’m 100 percent northern European, but in truth, I have a lot more in common with the black guy selling me tacos than I do with all the Europeans I know and love. Because we are American. And if El Shaddai Cooper went to Africa, he would discover that he and I have a lot more in common than he does with native Africans.
Why is that, given that the lives Cooper and I lead are probably very different? What gives us that commonality? Is it something we can identify, and find a way to affirm, across our differences? I’ll tell you this: it’s not political, no how, no way.
If I were sent in exile to Europe tomorrow, and was told that I could never come back to the US, I could have a good life, in spite of that. I love Europe, and love Europeans. Some of my dearest friends are Europeans, and some of the deepest conversations I’ve ever had have been with these men and women I love. And yet, I would know for a fact that I could never have the kind of conversation I have every single day with fellow Americans like El Shaddai Cooper, when I go out to do my shopping here in Baton Rouge. Isn’t that strange? There are lovely people in every country in the world, but the pleasure I take in the silly banter with the sweet lady at the CVS pharmacy — that’s something only we Americans can share with each other.
There must be something in that, something to build on. There has to be. There has to be more there than to insist on an idolatrous view of America.
It’s like this: America is the only country in the world that could have produced Louis Armstrong, one of the greatest artists in the history of the world. There’s something in that. I’m serious. If you hate Louis Armstrong, you hate America. If you don’t hate Louis Armstrong, then ask yourself what it is about him that you love, and build out from there to your neighbors. I’m going to try this myself.
On my final night in Poland, at Tyniec Abbey in the countryside not far from Krakow, I met with a Benedictine priest-monk named Wlodzimierz Zatorski. Father Zatorski asked to sit down with me because he’s a fan of The Benedict Option book. He told me that when he read it, it registered with him because he’s been trying to do put together a particular Ben Op-style project for 20 years.
Father Z.’s idea is to start a small quasi-monastic community in which two or three monks live with a group of lay Catholics, aged 40 and above, and share an ordered spiritual life while working in the world. Why aged 40 and above? Father Z. said he’s been the director of the monastery’s oblates for many years, and experience shows him that lay believers need to reach that stage in their life in order to do the kind of spiritual work he envisions for this community.
Father Z. told me that the life of the Catholic Church in Poland would benefit from introducing a more disciplined, monastic spirituality into the lives of lay Catholics. He is inspired in part by the way ordinary Orthodox Christian spirituality is more monastic in its style and content. He would like to see how this might work for a small Catholic community.
He has a couple of possibilities in mind for establishing a location, and has been in touch with bishops about it, and has written at length about the vision. But what Father Z. really needs now are people with the financial resources to help launch the community. I told him I would be happy to help. If you are Polish and would like to be in touch with him, to find out more about the monk’s vision, write him at wlodzimierz — at — benedyktyni — dot — pl
(Be aware that Father Zatorski does not speak English, so please don’t write him unless it’s in Polish.)
We talked for about an hour, during which he discoursed about the spiritual and culturarl challenges in Poland today, and talked about the Desert Fathers. Father Zatorski is deep. He is not interested in spiritual tourism. This priest-monk wants lay Catholics who seek Christ, and are willing to try a new way of living and praying together. I urge my Polish readers to reach out to him.
By the way, also on my last day at the monastery I met Monika, a college student who was on the Teologia Politiczyna summer school program where I spoke. I don’t remember her last name. She very kindly thanked me for the difference The Benedict Option made in her life. She said reading it convinced her of the value of staying close to her home community, and living out stability with them. I was so humbled to hear her story, and thanked God that my work had meant something to her.
I see from the comments on my previous Poland posts that I’ve given the wrong impression to some people. Yes, Poland is in a spiritual crisis, with the Catholic Church struggling to remain relevant to the lives of the post-communist generation of Poles. Nearly every Polish Catholic with whom I spoke about the religious situation in their country said that the institutional Church has been resting on its reputation — I heard lots of comments about the pridefulness of the bishops, and the lack of zeal for evangelism and discipleship. I heard that its leaders are living in denial about the widespread falling-away from the faith of the young. Mind you, I am not in a position to judge the accuracy of these complaints; I am simply reporting to you what I was told.
But — and this is a big caveat — it seemed to me that Poland is in a much better position to build a countercultural resistance to this decline. After a young Catholic in Warsaw told me that he feared the Church in Poland would look like the shell-shocked and shattered Irish church in a decade or two, I repeated that claim to young Catholics I met in Krakow and Tyniec. I didn’t take notes, but I can’t recall a single person disputing that possibility. That said, American Catholics, who are facing more or less the same challenges would be grateful to have the spiritual and cultural resources of Polish believers. Now is not a time for Poles to despair. Rather, it is a time both to recognize the depth and seriousness of the crisis upon them, and to recognize the residual strengths of their communal faith, which has held more firmly in Poland than in any other European nation (or in the United States). Poland has been late to join in the our Western decline into post-Christianity, but if the Poles wake up and get active, they can show the rest of us the way forward through the darkness.
Here’s Monica, a bright young Polish Catholic face shining the light:
UPDATE: This comment, from a reader on a different Poland-related blog post of mine, helps me to understand what Father Z. means:
I’m married to a Pole, and just returned from living in Poland for almost two years. The churches still draw a big crowd, and many have outside loudspeakers for the overflow, but you’re right, it has lost it’s hold on the young.
And that is because of a fundamental defect in the Church in Poland. It is the old model – like medieval model – where the parishioners serve the church, not the other way around. The Church is not Rome. It is the parish, the faithful, the congregation. This is The Church – the Body of Christ..
But the Church in Poland is top down, not bottom up. “Attend mass! Pray! Give money!” But where is the community? Are there fish frys on Friday? Is there an annual parish carnival? Where are the clubs? Knights of Columbus? Holy Name Society? Boy Scouts? Nothing.
What Poland really needs is to have Catholic values merged with everyday life. The Church could teach Poles what Poland really needs – a set of business ethics. But they do nothing. Are they exposing corruption in government? Are they organizing the faithful to agitate for a lower VAT tax? Are they calling out dishonest businesses in their community? Hell no. They just blab on about Jesus and heaven, instead of trying to create heaven on earth. Poland could have the reputation of the most ethical, most business friendly place to do business in Europe, but the old men in dresses won’t lift a finger.
Well, it is not the place of the Church or any other body to produce “heaven on earth” — that is idolatrous. But I think I know what this guy means. He seems to be getting at the idea that in Poland, there is a separation of Church and Life, and that this is killing the Church. I heard the same thing, in somewhat different ways, from frustrated Polish Catholics (including, in his way, Father Zatorski, which is why he wants to try something different).
I feel the need to explain to you why I am so alarmed by what Trump is doing this week, and more than that, by what is happening in our culture. For you who have read my books, or read this blog for a while, most of this will be old news. I beg your pardon, then, for repeating myself. But this stuff is all personal to me, for reasons I’m about to explain.
What worries me most about Trump and the Trump mob is the fear they give me for dissenters. Most of my adult life, in every institution I’ve been a part of — schools, media organizations, church), I have been a dissenter of some sort. It’s partly my nature, but the fact is, I have found myself in the minority in a crowd. Not a mob, but a crowd. A mob is an angry crowd that has lost its reason. Crowds turn into mobs easily, even if they aren’t aware of it. I have seen polite, professional mobs at work. These are the mobs who hide their mobbishness from themselves. More on which in a second.
If I had to pick one single event that formed my outlook on the world, it would be a couple of minutes on the floor of a hotel room at the beach, in the summer of 1982. I was part of a group of high school kids from our town who were on a summer vacation. We were chaperoned by several parents of kids on the trip. The cool kids had been pushing me and a couple of other kids around the whole time, but it was relatively minor stuff. One afternoon, when a bunch of us kids gathered in one of the hotels’ suites, group of older high school boys threw me onto the ground, pinned me, and tried to pull down my pants. The goals was to humiliate me for the amusement of the high school girls in the room.
I was 14. And I was terrified.
They had been picking on me for days, but this was a real escalation. What made it so important to the development of my worldview was that I was lying on the floor, pinned and helpless as I struggled to get free, I called out to the two adults in the room to help me. Both of them literally stepped over me to get out of the room. As I’m sitting here writing this, nearly four decades later, I can recall with crystal clarity the stitching on the pants leg of the jeans one of those moms wore as she stepped over me (the other mom went around me).
After a minute or so more, the boys let me up, and I ran away. They never took my pants down; they were just toying with me. For all I know, as the two moms left the room, they signaled to the boys to knock it off. The point is, though, that rather than use the authority they had to force this idiot small mob of boys, and the girls who stood on the hotel room beds jumping up and down, squealing and egging them on, to stand down, they walked away. No doubt because they wanted to stay in good with the cool kids. These were the kind of moms who wanted to be friends with their teenagers, not authorities.
Here’s something else: this was not an angry mob (and not much of a mob either: maybe seven or eight boys, and that many girls). They were merry. I was a mouse, and they were cats. They were doing something vicious, but to them, they were just having fun. There was no point to what they did other than to amuse themselves by the suffering of someone who couldn’t fight back.
The whole thing might have lasted two minutes at most. But the shock waves of that have reverberated throughout my life. I learned more in those two minutes about the way the world really works than I have learned in five decades, though it took a very long time for me to understand that.
After I returned home from that summer vacation, I wanted to get out of my hometown. This mob kept it up, tormenting me and others, until I finally moved away for good, at the start of my 11th grade year. Anybody who has had to suffer at the hands of the cool kids in high school knows what this is like.
I can say that I am not a Catholic today because of what happened in that hotel room. As you probably know, I lost my Catholic beliefs around 2005, and formally left the Catholic Church in 2006, after having been shattered by covering the sex abuse scandal. I remember the two moments, early in my coverage, that touched the rawest nerve. The first was talking on the phone in early 2002, shortly after Boston broke, to Horace Patterson, a Kansas farmer whose son Eric committed suicide a few years after having been molested by a priest. It turned out that there were five suicides of that priest’s victims. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita knew what Father Larson was, and kept reassigning him. I sat in my office in New York City talking by phone with Horace, and listening to him tell me about what their family had been through, and heard the story about how he sat on the front porch of his farmhouse after he received the phone call that Eric, his beloved son, had blown his brains out. Horace sat there waiting for his wife, Eric’s mother, to come home. He saw her turn in at the end of the long road, and motor towards the worst moment of her life.
I heard that, and thought about my own little Catholic boy back home in Brooklyn. These bishops, these sons of bitches, would have allowed the same thing to happen to him, if we had been in the Pattersons’ position.
The second time the scandal touched the nerve was reading court filings in a particular abuse case. I can’t remember which one it was, but one priest testified that he had walked into a bedroom at the rectory, caught Father so and so having sex with an altar boy, and shut the door on them to give them privacy.
That priest was a mob. The Catholic bishops were a mob. They metaphorically walked over the bodies of innocent victims — the molested kids and their families — to get out of the room, so to speak. Maybe they just wanted to avoid trouble. Who knows? The point is, this is what those cowards did, over and over and over.
The day finally came when I could no longer believe as a Catholic. It’s not that I decided not to believe. I just couldn’t believe in it anymore. The rage at the injustice, including the systematic lying by the bishops, and the unwillingness of most of the laity to see what was right in front of them, and demand change — it was an acid bath that corroded everything within me tying me to Catholicism. This is something that is hard for many Catholics to understand. They keep saying that the sins of the clergy don’t negate the truths of the Catholic faith — as if that has anything to do with the psychological reaction inside people. The sins of an abusive parent don’t negate the biological and legal reality of their parenthood, but they can drive a child into permanent exile from that family, if only to feel safe.
I had to learn from the experience of losing my Catholic faith how to handle the rage that comes from watching authorities walk away as the vulnerable are bullied. The greatest tension within me is my hatred for authority, based on what I have observed, and at the same time recognizing the legitimacy of authority, and the necessity of it for the building and maintenance of a civilized order. Without authority, we are left with mob rule. But an authority that permits mob rule is no authority at all.
There’s a lot more to this for me. My late father was the embodiment of Justice for me. He really was in most respects a just man, and a man who insisted, angrily, on justice. And he was right to! In his first job, he was a state health inspector. In my childhood, I overheard him tell my mom once about an official who tried to bribe him to let the facility the official oversaw pass a health inspection. My father was outraged that the official thought of him as the kind of man who could be bribed. I was so proud of my dad, and his honor. He was in most respects not only a good man, but a very good man. When he lived, he had a deserved reputation for being a man of wisdom and justice.
But his greatest flaw, the flaw that has had a devastating impact on our family system, was that he never, ever considered that he might be wrong about anything. I didn’t see this until I became a teenager, and didn’t see how far this error would extend until I returned to Louisiana in 2011, and came to realize that my father would sooner see everything around him fall apart than admit that his judgment about me, and things related to me, had been mistaken. Justice without mercy becomes tyranny. And mercy is only possible when one is humble enough to recognize one’s faults, and how much one depends on the mercy of others when one fails.
Of course I couldn’t see that as a small boy. For me, Daddy was justice. This is why I hero-worshiped him as a boy. He was strong, but also gentle. In most respects, he really was a model of how to exercise authority with compassion — so much so that when I disappointed him, I assumed that I was in the wrong.
It was only when I became a teenager, and began to defy him — in truly minor ways, like wanting to wear my hair a certain way — that I began to see his tyrannical side. He wanted to impose control on me, and didn’t care what in me he had to break to do it. He alienated me — drove me away — rather than admit that maybe he was too harsh (and believe me, this is a lesson that I have taken to heart in the raising of my children). Truth to tell, when I went off to public boarding school at 16, I was mostly running away from the kids in my school, but I was also running away from my father, who once suggested to me that the reason I was being picked on was because I was so weird.
In my history classes in college, I had to confront the fact that during the 1960s, when the Civil Rights struggle was going on, most of the older people — white people — I had grown up admiring were on the wrong side. By then, I didn’t talk about race with my dad. I was a semi-militant liberal as a college student, and I’m sure I was insufferably self-righteous. I think of the final argument we had about race and history. His basic belief was that the hearts of his generation had been in the right place, and yes, maybe Mistakes Were Made, but they only wanted to preserve order. When I challenged him on this, he became infuriated, and accused me of disrespecting him.
“I’m your father!” he raged that night. “Do you think I’m lying to you?!”
I told him that it wasn’t a matter of lying, that it was a matter of interpreting the facts — and that my conclusion about the facts was different from his. I have never seen him so angry. My father never hit me, but I think that night in the 1980s, he wanted to. Like I said, he simply could not imagine that he was wrong about anything.
Keep in mind what I said about my father having been the embodiment of Justice for me as a small boy. I was unlearning that. We quit talking about race and history after that night, because it was clear that we couldn’t do it. As I came to understand over the years, in the Jim Crow era, my dad and white people of his generation really did believe that maintaining a just public order required treating black people — the poorest of the poor in our part of the world — as second-class citizens.
Some of them believed in employing extrajudicial violence to maintain that order. As an adult learning more about the history of my place, having to come to terms with the fact that many of the older men I grew up being taught to respect had in fact been Klansmen, forced a terrible reckoning. I only learned the names of a few of them, though there had been many more. These were names of men who were pillars of the community. It would have been easier for me had these men been nothing but monsters. In fact, they were men like my father — ordinary people who were in many cases kind, funny, and loyal. Even kind to blacks. I have seen this with my own eyes. Human beings are strange. I wish I had been able to talk at length with my father, in our later years together, about those times, and why the people back then thought the way they thought, and how they reconciled it with what they professed to believe about righteousness. But it wasn’t possible.
I did get this story from my father back then, who heard it from one of the men who participated in it. Back in the 1940s, the sheriff of West Feliciana Parish, a man named Teddy Martin, put out a call for help. A black man had been caught raping a white woman, and fled into the woods. The sheriff needed some strong men to help him track the rapist. The man who told the story to my dad was one of the posse (there was only one other, beside the sheriff). They caught the black man, carried him back to the town jail, and lynched him that night.
Two days later, the white woman who had been the rape victim broke down and confessed that she and the black man had been lovers. She accused him of rape when they had been caught having sex. Her conscience was consuming her, and she broke.
Nothing happened to these murderers, the sheriff and these two working-class men (I know their names — they’re both long dead). The white woman and her family moved away, to escape the shame. The old man who told my father this story thirty years ago or so was nearing death, and must have related it to my dad to clear his conscience.
My dad told me that story back in the 1990s, on one of my visits home. The old man who confessed to him had recently died, and the confession came up as my dad and I were talking about the fellow. My dad was clearly jarred by what the old man had told him. I recall trying to talk to my dad about how that confession might have caused him to rethink any of that. I was still young back then, and was under the impression that most people wanted to know the truth, and wanted to search their own consciences, and to live in truth. Daddy had no idea what I was talking about. He really didn’t. He saw no connection. This was just an unfortunate thing that had happened. But Mr. ____ was a murderer, and he got away with it! I thought.
I remembered, though, the lesson of fighting with my father about all this when I was in college. Daddy didn’t want to hear anything at all that contradicted his worldview. Mr. ____ had been a just man and a good neighbor. That thing he had done in the past — well, that was the past. Mistakes were made. Mr. ____ was a good man. Good men don’t murder innocent men. Therefore, somehow, what happened at the jailhouse that night must have been forgivable. A just world was a harmonious world, and if maintaining that harmony required a mob behaving unjustly at times, well, the greater justice made it worthwhile, didn’t it? Said Caiaphas, the high priest, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)
Earlier this year, in my travels, I spoke to an older Catholic who has lived a life of distinguished service to the Church. This person told me that it has been extraordinarily painful to be faced, in the twilight of years, with evidence that the institution to which so much service has been given was in many cases unjust and corrupt. My Catholic interlocutor, whose name many of you would know, had undertaken an excruciating self-reflection. Most of us don’t have this capacity, or doubt that we do. Reflecting later on my conversation with the older Catholic, I recalled that my late father could not allow himself to think the kinds of thoughts that this Catholic layperson was thinking. He was afraid that his entire world would fall apart. Thus, Caiaphas.
We are all like that to some extent, aren’t we? Let me say clearly and unambiguously here: I recognize that if I had been born into my parents’ generation of whites — born in the 1930s and 1940s — in that same place, I would have almost certainly have held the same views as all other whites back then. In those days, before mass media made it possible to conceive of competing narratives, it would have required extraordinary consciousness for whites to have given a fair hearing in their minds to a rival narrative, and almost unimaginable courage to have resisted the received narrative by which everybody you knew and loved understood the world. When every institution around you, and every moral authority around you, upholds white supremacy as the Way The World Is, how are you going to find the grounds to resist it?
If you, white reader, think that you would have been the brave resister, I believe you are lying to yourself. I would love to think that I would have stood up for what was right, and damn the consequences. I am sure that I would not have done this, and more to the point, I am sure that it would not even have occurred to me to do this.
Read this article from Ebony magazine, in 1964. It’s about the day in 1963 when a black man, the Rev. Joseph Carter, went to the courthouse in my hometown to register to vote, as was his right. He was confronted by the local sheriff and white officials who were determined to stop him. He was also confronted by a howling white mob, aflame with hatred. I didn’t discover this article until 2012. I had no idea this had happened in my town. It was a hell of a thing to realize that I probably knew the names of most of those whites in that mob. I certainly knew the name of the sheriff, who died a few years back, and the name of the registrar of voters, who was a dear friend of my late grandfather.
It was also a hell of a thing to realize that if I had been a man in his 30s or 40s back then, I might have joined that mob. Or, more likely, I would not have joined it, but would not have stood up to it either. When the Church tells us that every one of us would have been in that mob in Jerusalem, demanding the crucifixion of that innocent man, Jesus, pay attention. At best we would have been like Peter, hiding out from the mob, and denying that we even knew the condemned man.
This is not a white thing. If you, black, Hispanic, or Asian reader, or gay reader, or religious minority reader, think you and your people are not capable of this kind of thing, under the right circumstances, turn from that self-deception right now. Evil does not reside in this race, but not in that race. This is the human race. In the natural course of things, he who is bullied today will bully tomorrow, when he has power.
So look, I hate the mob, and one thing I hate most intensely about the mob is the sense of innocence that it grants to itself. It has been my fate to work in a number of professional milieux in which I am a political, religious, and cultural minority. I have witnessed over and over again how the mob mentality works in those settings. It is genteel, usually, and cloaks its tyrannical qualities from itself in the language of therapy and social justice. But it is a mob, and it is led by people who are infinitely more sophisticated, intelligent, and polite than Donald Trump. They have no problem crushing the weak in the name of social justice. They don’t even think about it — in the same way the Catholic bishops didn’t think about it, and the ruling class of West Feliciana in the 1960s didn’t think about it.
Antifa is the left-wing mob par excellence. But the mob mentality doesn’t require taking to the streets with rocks in your hand. The progressive mob that wants to smash a Baptist florist and an Evangelical wedding cake maker in the name of justice — that’s a mob. The progressive mob that demonizes dissenters in corporations, and colleges, and on the pages of our leading newspapers, smearing them as evil people who need to be silenced and made to suffer for their thought crimes — those are mobs. I have been present when right-thinking liberals, reinforcing each other’s righteousness, have spoken with shocking contempt of those who oppose their views. When you read on this blog me talking about fearing the contemporary left in power, it comes from having observed them up close, and having listened to them. So many of them genuinely believe in their own righteousness, and would no more question their judgment than my father questioned his, or the Catholic bishops questioned theirs.
But they can’t see this, because they believe, contra Solzhenitsyn, that the line between good and evil runs between themselves and other men. In his great work Crowds And Power, Elias Canetti writes, “A murder shared with many others, which is not only safe and permitted, but indeed recommended, is irresistible to the great majority of men.”
There is no such thing as perfect justice in this world. When there is a conflict, someone has to lose. This is inevitable. Justice is not therapy. For example, Central Americans are fleeing misery, but that does not mean they have a right to settle here without the consent of the people who already live here. Justice cannot be determined solely by whether or not the people we prefer prevail. One frightening thing about progressives today is that so many of them have given themselves over to the Marxist-Leninist view that justice is what distributes power to particular classes. The twentieth century is filled with warnings about where that mentality leads. It must be admitted, though, that though you would not have found a single Marxist-Leninist, or even a progressive, in power in the Jim Crow South, those committed to white supremacy also saw justice as defined by what distributed power to themselves. They just weren’t as honest about it as our progressives today are.
We shouldn’t deceive ourselves about this. Only God gives perfect justice. Here in the mortal realm, if we are good, then we strive to do the best that we can, recognizing at all times that our verdicts cannot help falling short of perfection. Still, we have to judge. If we are going to judge rightly, then we have to judge as dispassionately as we can. Wisdom is not something that an algorithm can produce; a wise judge uses his head, but does not ignore the counsel of his heart. Yet if we are going to have the rule of law, then we first must establish the rule of reason over the passions. Without this, civilization isn’t possible.
In 2002, a teenager in Baltimore shot in the leg a Catholic priest who had molested him years earlier. I remember reading about this at the time, and thinking, “Good! That priest deserved it.” I had to repent of that thought. Whether or not the priest deserved to be shot in the leg is beside the point. We cannot allow ourselves to choose to live in a world in which men are shot on the street, even for crimes they committed. To have approved of that act, even in the chambers of my heart, is to sanction the mob. As I said, I repented. Believe me when I tell you that not a week goes by in which I don’t have to repent of something like this. The struggle with the righteous mob within is the task of a lifetime.
As I’ve said, I do believe that the mob mentality rules in many of our institutions heavily dominated by progressives. The hide their mobbishness from themselves behind cloaks of righteousness. Their victims are legion. A recent one: Dr. Allan Josephson, a distinguished psychiatrist who spoke out publicly about his doubts, as a medical professional, about transgender treatment. He was driven out of his institution. We could go on all day about people like this — people crushed by the progressive mob for holding the “wrong” views. What progressives don’t understand is that a creature like Donald Trump is, to a serious degree, a response to their own mobbishness.
What makes a mob a mob is the degree to which it surrenders reason, and acts based only on emotion. It’s easy to know that you’re looking at a mob when you see Antifa mass on the streets of Portland. It’s easy to spot a mob on social media, when the Twitter legions smash and grab. It is more difficult to recognize that you’re looking at a mob when the faculty masses behind the scenes to punish crimethinkers, who deserve no mercy or consideration.
The Trump mob, convinced of its own righteousness, doesn’t recognize what it is turning into. They’re willing to run over dissenters, even bad people like Ilhan Omar, to get what they want — and just like the progressives they loathe, they’re hiding from themselves what they’re doing. I’m so tired of hearing that whatever Trump says or does is justified, because progressives are so wicked that they must be stopped by any means necessary, and if you object to that, then you must be some sort of cuck. Really? Was Tolkien a cuck when he warned, in one of the greatest literary works of the blood-soaked 20th century, that seizing the Ring to defeat evil was going to corrupt? Was Solzhenitsyn a cuck when he recognized that the fathomless evil to which he bore witness could be reproduced anywhere on this earth, because the line between good and evil bisects the heart of every one of us?
There is a meaningful difference, I believe, between the mob mentality exercised within institutions, and the actual mob gathered on the street. The mob on the street is subject in a particular way to the demonic. Let me explain what I mean.
I said in a post yesterday that Trump is summoning demons. This is a phrase I have also used a number of times in the past to describe what progressives are doing with their rhetoric on racial matters, and other things. I use the concept of the demonic in both a metaphorical and a literal sense.
Metaphorically, I mean that these political figures are calling up extremely dark passions that history shows can easily master individuals and peoples. A few days ago, I was standing in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. I will never understand how any human society can build such places, much less what was the most technologically and culturally advanced society on earth at the time. We don’t have to understand it to recognize that it happened, and that if it happened once, to intelligent and cultured people, it could happen again. The demons that Germany gave itself over to could come calling for us as well. And also the demons that Soviet Russia invited in. And Red China. And, for that matter, the slave-owning South, and the Jim Crow South.
Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and their demons, and the demons of their followers — that’s far away. But think of the demon that drove the old man in my town who was a friend of my father’s to trust authority — the sheriff — and to trust his culture’s narrative, and to participate in the lynching of an innocent man one night, because the man had to be guilty, according to that murderer’s understanding of the world. No white woman would voluntarily have sexual congress with a black man. That black man had violated the purity of that white woman, and in so doing had attacked the foundation of Southern society. He was no human at all, in fact — he had to pay to restore order to the world.
Had the black man been brought to trial, there was a chance, however slim, that the demon’s lie would have been exposed under rational deliberation. That the lie of the supposed victim would have come out. That the black man would have been set free. But the mob — the sheriff and his two helpers — they knew the truth in their hearts. They executed justice by executing the black man without trial. They didn’t think they were surrendering to a demon. They surely thought they were agents of righteousness. I have no idea if any of those three murderers were churchgoing men, but certainly they would have considered themselves Christian. But they gave themselves over to a demonic (dark, overwhelming, irrational) passion for what they thought was justice — and became killers.
There is also this. Tony Judt wrote, in remembrance of the Polish thinker Leszek Kolakowski, about the one time he heard the great man lecture:
The seductively suggestive title of Kolakowski talk was ‘The Devil in History.’ For a while there was silence as students, faculty, and visitors listened intently. Kołakowski’s writings were well known to many of those present and his penchant for irony and close reasoning was familiar. But even so, the audience was clearly having trouble following his argument. Try as they would, they could not decode the metaphor. An air of bewildered mystification started to fall across the auditorium. And then, about a third of the way through, my neighbor — Timothy Garton Ash — leaned across. ‘I’ve got it,’ he whispered. ‘He really is talking about the Devil.’ And so he was.
Kolakowski had survived the Nazi occupation of Poland and the de facto Soviet occupation. I’ve been reading him lately, and thought it’s not clear if he ever became a religious believer, he was certainly acquainted with the devil — and he did not believe in the devil as a mere metaphor. I also believe in the demonic as a real force. I have been worshiping as an Eastern Orthodox Christian for 13 years. Orthodoxy tells us that the life of each individual Christian is a constant struggle to master the inner passions, and against the demons. I believe in demons — real demons, meaning discarnate intelligences that are malevolent and chaotic, and that serve death.
Many of those drawn to Donald Trump are Christians — Christians who correctly see that the forces aligning among progressives against us really do hate us, and wish to see harm done to us. Personally, I have no time at all for progressives who tell themselves that social and religious conservatives are nothing but paranoids. We see what you have done, what you are doing, and what you will do if you are not stopped. We see this even if, blinded by self-righteousness, you don’t. These Christians — on some days I am among them — are drawn to Trump not out of any respect or affection for him, but solely out of self-protection. It would be a near-miracle if progressives who are mystified by Trump’s popularity would ask themselves, in all honesty, if they have given conservatives reason to fear them such that they (conservatives) would see a manifestly bad man like Trump as the lesser evil.
That said, when I look at Trump’s crowds, shouting, “Send her back!” about Ilhan Omar, I instinctively take the side of the dissenter. From what I know of her, Omar is an appalling figure, and I hope everything she touches in politics fails. But I know the demonic when I see it, and a US president stoking a crowd to chant that kind of thing about an American citizen is demonic.
Compare that to this short clip of the new Pope John Paul II on his first pilgrimage back to Poland after his election:
After having heard the pontiff’s preaching, the vast throng broke into a Polish hymn titled, “We Want God.” When I was in Poland last week interviewing people who lived through the communist era, several of them told me that this 1979 papal pilgrimage was the turning point in the life of the nation. Coming out to these masses was the moment they collectively realized that they were not alone. John Paul could have turned that crowd into a mob that tore Poland apart. He did not. He used his authority to make them a communion.
I might be wrong about this, but I seem to recall having read that Czech dissident leader Vaclav Havel, addressing a vast crowd in Prague’s Wenceslas Square during the Velvet Revolution, urged them not to seek revenge on their communist oppressors. He said something to the effect, “We are not like them.”
Havel was not a religious man, but he was doing what John Paul did: made a crowd that could easily have become mob into a communion.
Wojtyla and Havel spoke to the better angels of men’s natures. Donald Trump speaks to what is demonic. It doesn’t matter whether or not Trump’s targets are right or wrong. Wojtyla’s and Havel’s targets were not only wrong, but actually evil. Still, neither man resorted the demonic to fight the demonic.
To my Christian readers, I say this: when you watch Trump work those crowds, do you see the spirit of Havel, do you see the spirit of Wojtyla — or do you see something else? I saw that “something else” in Washington, at the big progressive pussyhat march. I saw it in the mob action against Judge Kavanaugh, and in the mob that attacked the Covington Catholic boys. The examples are endless. The weaponization of rage.
But it’s not just them! A mob that is on the side of justice is no less a mob. I have felt that rage too, and it’s intoxicating. If I had ever in my life been in a position to feel that rage standing shoulder to shoulder with others who felt that rage, and someone we trusted had told us to give in to it, to allow its power to run through our bones and our muscles, and to go forth and take power to work justice on those who hate us — it’s terrifying to contemplate.
This is what it means to surrender to the demonic, to the forces of destruction and vengeance and chaos. Very few people choose to do evil, knowing that it’s evil. We tell ourselves that it’s good. We tell ourselves that as good people, we could not do evil, therefore we find reasons to excuse ourselves, e.g., “Racism is a function of power, so I can’t be racist,” or “At least Trump fights, not like those gutless Republicans.”
“Evil is continuous throughout human experience,” wrote Kolakowski. “The point is not how to make one immune to it, but under what conditions one may identify and restrain the devil.”
This is our task: to identify and restrain the devil. We cannot restrain the devil by using the power of demons. It will consume us too. We will become like those we hate. This is an old lesson, and one that progressives who fight Trump should wake up and take seriously as well.
I told you at the start of this long, rambling reflection that yesterday’s Trump rhetoric struck me personally. I hope I have explained why, and explained why even though I fear and loathe the progressive mob, that can never justify taking the side of its conservative analogue. I’ve spent the summer reading about what communist mobs did. I spent Sunday looking at what the Nazi mobs did. A mob is what happens when we allow demons to possess the body politic, and cease to see human beings, and human dignity, except through the fevered eyes of our passions.
St. Paul told the Church in Ephesus that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” He meant that all warfare is ultimately spiritual warfare. We Christians need to be taking this more seriously than we do. And we need to stand with the targets of the mob, the dissenters, and protect them even though we may despise what they stand for. The mob is fickle. The life we protect today may be our own tomorrow.
Our nation is headed down a dark road, and I don’t have a lot of faith that we have within us the capacity to turn back. I hope I’m wrong. The mobs are going to do what they are going to do, but don’t let’s you and me try to stop them, and if we can’t, at least let’s not be in their midst.
UPDATE: Today the president said that he didn’t like the “Send her back” chants.
I’m sure that means he will take a lot more care with the way he uses rhetoric, then. So all is well. Right?
UPDATE.2: From reader J Lo:
Thank you Rod for writing this article.
I agree with you on so many counts (not perhaps the literal demon part) and it is interesting because I am an socially liberal 30-something born and bred in NYC, child of immigrant parents, agnostic and generally suspicious of religion and of Christianity in particular. We do not come from the same background, and if one followed political tropes, we should be on opposite sides.
My father grew up in Communist China, and in what was then rural village. In another life, he probably would have become an engineer, or perhaps an architect or an industrial designer. He had designed and directed the construction of a small bridge crossing one of the waterways around his village by the time he finished elementary school. Apparently, some passing political bureaucrat heard that and as a reward, had him come ride in the posh car going through he village. Somewhere along the way, it came up that my father came from a landlord family, and he was promptly asked to get out. I remember my father commenting how he had wanted to continue going to school, but that stopped after the primary school level because of his anti-revolutionary landlord family background (spots should be reserved for children from a good farmer/proletariat stock). There was a lot relentless government sanctioned bullying that went on back them, and people who did not have enough revolutionary “cred” or worse, was at the wrong end of the revolutionary spectrum suffered at the hands of their community, neighbors, even their own family. There were many who were tormented particularly ruthlessly, perhaps by their own righteous children, that ended up committing suicide. That was the mob mentality of the Cultural Revolution back then.
Today, what most reminds me of these stories of old, and what makes me most concerned is the blatant dismissal and blind vilification of the “other” in politics. The blind defense of even Trump’s most objectively idiotic blunders, to the point where anything disagreeing can just be casually labeled “actors and fake news” and dismissed, infuriates me. While the self-righteousness of the most strident far-left liberal strains feel that their views require no defense, that if you do not automatically agree it is because you are ignorant, bigoted, or “suck corporate d*ck”. People no longer feel the need to engage disagreement, because people who disagree have no value and do not need to be accorded the same consideration or even perhaps rights as people who agree with you (why else would someone say that an American citizen who has committed no crime could or should be forcefully ejected from the country, as if they had no rights? How “American” is that?).
Tonight at a rally in North Carolina, the President of the United States criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar, which he is certainly entitled to do. But listen to the crowd: “Send her back! Send her back!” Did he try to stop them? Of course not.
Where does he think this is all going to go? This is horrifying. Republican members of Congress need to stand up right now and say that this is unacceptable behavior in a president, whipping up a mob like this.
This is why I say that there’s no telling who’s going to win in 2020. Trump is unhinged. Omar and the Squad deserve strong criticism, but Trump can’t restrain himself from going too far. I have said for some time now that as bad as Trump is, I believe that putting Democrats in power would be worse, solely because of what it would mean for laws and policies that are important to me. But this degrading demagogic behavior is exactly the kind of thing that would flip me to the other side. There are things worse than a president who is radically pro-abortion, opposed to religious liberty, and favoring open borders. It’s having a president who recklessly endangers the lives of people for the sake of winding up a mob.
The truly psychotic thing about Trump is that he doesn’t have to do this! It’s easy to fight the radicals of the Squad without resorting to this kind of thing. In fact, he is winning on the politics of Omar & Co. But that’s not enough for him. You’ve got to wonder if he’s some kind of sadist.
Where does this cycle stop? I don’t see how it fails to end in violence. Or rather, let me revise that: not end in violence, but cross the threshold into retributive violence. Antifa has been pushing for that on the Left. And now, on the right, we have the man with the biggest megaphone in the country leading a mob in chanting for the expulsion of a political opponent — a US citizen! — from the country. I reject most everything that Ilhan Omar stands for, but this is degrading, disgraceful behavior from an American president. This is Two-Minute Hate stuff. From Orwell’s 1984:
The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.
That’s not what this rally’s audience was like. But give it time. Trump is summoning demons.
We are not soon going to recover from this man.
UPDATE: I endorse:
Check my feed. I’m very tough on Omar bc she deserves it, on the merits.
I am sickened by the hate-laced “send her back” chants. Shame on every person who participated.
POTUS has a responsibility to put an end to it. He alone has the ability to do so. Chant “vote her out.”
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) July 18, 2019
If this were a Democrat president who had called for a prolife Christian rep to go back to where her came from on Twitter, and then at a rally his, people started chanting, “send her back,” I would call or evil, bigoted, and dangerous.
— 𝐎. 𝐀𝐥𝐚𝐧 𝐍𝐨𝐛𝐥𝐞 (@TheAlanNoble) July 18, 2019
UPDATE.2: Reader KyleW:
A populist with a shred of self-control, humility, or human sympathy would wipe the floor with these wild-eyed pseudo-Marxists so hard the Ben-Op would have a generation to find its feet before it had to worry about a hostile state again. Instead, we get dime-store Benito Mussolini. Who, by the way, fuels the pseudo-Marxists rush to ever greater extremes with this nonsense, thus ensuring that anybody to the right of Pol Pot reaps the whirlwind as soon as Democrats are back in office. Lord, remember us and turn aside Your hand of judgment.
This is something that will only mean anything to Catholic readers, but it’s so hilariously un-self-aware that I have to share it with you. Michael Sean Winters, a marquee columnist for the ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter, the whole raison d’etre of which has always to do Catholic journalism independent of the Catholic bishops’ control, is upset because the independent Catholic cable network EWTN is doing the same thing from the Catholic right — and succeeding. He writes:
The vast complex of parishes and schools and hospitals and fraternal associations that American Catholics built in the 20th century were all, in some meaningful way, connected to the hierarchy of the church. People might agree or disagree with what the church had to say, but they knew who spoke authoritatively for the whole. EWTN, however, severed its official ties to the church at the same time as it had eclipsed the bishops’ own efforts to create a Catholic television network. NCR is proud of its independence from any official control, but EWTN repeatedly claims it is presenting the news “from a Catholic perspective.” When you are the only Catholic network, people can be forgiven for thinking the “Catholic perspective” being presented is authentic and accurate.
And that claim could not be more wrong. Despite their insistence that they are loyal to the magisterium, EWTN has always been highly selective in presenting church teaching. They distort some teachings and ignore others. They inflate those teachings they like to the point that they block out other important teachings. They evidence none of the historical suspicion with which the Catholic tradition has always viewed capitalism. NCR has always acknowledged its role as a kind of loyal opposition. EWTN has claimed to be loyal to the party in power, but now in the age of Pope Francis, their disloyalty is no longer able to be hidden.
“NCR has always acknowledged its role as a kind of loyal opposition.” I apologize to you Catholic readers who fell out of your chair when you read that, or who broke a rib laughing. But wait, there’s more!
The bishops have a large problem on their hands. They have lost control of communications within the church. Millions of Catholics watch EWTN. How many read a press release from the bishops’ conference calling for protections for undocumented immigrants? How many read a diocesan newspaper if there still is one?
Oh man, Catholic readers, can you just even? National Catholic Reporter came into existence precisely to be a voice for covering the Church independent of the feeble diocesan press, which was suffocating under institutional control. From the NYT’s obituary of Robert Hoyt, NCR’s founder, who died in 2003:
In 1964, when Mr. Hoyt started The National Catholic Reporter, almost all Catholic newspapers and magazines were published by dioceses or religious orders and, as Time magazine noted at the time, usually displayed ”a nervous, reverential caution in telling what goes on inside the church.”
Mr. Hoyt’s aim was to bring the professional standards of secular news reporting to the Catholic press.
”If the mayor of a city owned its only newspaper,” he liked to say, ”its citizens will not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs.”
He was right about that. NCR has published some good and important journalism, most of all Jason Berry’s pathbreaking reporting on the abuse scandal. But NCR has over the decades been a bastion of amplifying and indeed glorifying left-wing dissent from authoritative Catholic teaching. That’s what it does. I was never a faithful reader of that paper, but my impression of NCR’s editorial line over the years was: No enemies to the left. The paper never met a radical lesbian nun that it didn’t love.
Now, I’m sure that there’s stuff to criticize about EWTN. I don’t have cable, and haven’t kept up with the network since I left the Catholic Church in 2006. I’m not in a position to defend EWTN, though when I was a Catholic, I was grateful for it, because despite the network’s shortcomings, it provided something for orthodox Catholics to hold onto. Still, the idea that a National Catholic Reporter columnist, of all people, would dress down another Catholic media outlet for criticizing the Pope and for failing to follow the bishops’ instructions on covering the Church is like watching Madonna chastise Miley Cyrus for being a self-promoting slut.
The fire warning system at Notre-Dame took dozens of experts six years to put together, and in the end involved thousands of pages of diagrams, maps, spreadsheets and contracts, according to archival documents found in a suburban Paris library by The Times.
The result was a system so arcane that when it was called upon to do the one thing that mattered — warn “fire!” and say where — it produced instead a nearly indecipherable message.
It made a calamity almost inevitable, fire experts consulted by The Times said.
If that’s not a metaphor for the fragility of advanced civilization, I don’t know what is. For example: we now have incomparably more information about how the world works than any humans who have ever lived, but when we are called to the one thing that matters — produce future generations capable of doing the basic things necessary to carry on life — we are failing.
Read it all. It’s an incredible story, very well told by the Times‘s reporters. I rag on that newspaper (to which I subscribe) all the time for its biases, but when it gets something right, no news organization on the planet can touch it.
Yesterday’s satire is tomorrow’s headlines. pic.twitter.com/hdACx1mnmG
— Kyle Mann (@The_Kyle_Mann) July 17, 2019
Here’s the new RNC ad that Ryan Saavedra mentions. Note to readers — and let this be an evergreen — my quoting or posting an ad for any candidate or cause does NOT mean that I support that candidate or cause. I’m “quoting” this ad here because it tells us a lot about the kind of campaign the Republicans are going to run in 2020:
Here’s a clip from
the Gang of Four the Squad appearing on CBS, to call out Nancy Pelosi, of all people, for aiding and abetting racism, and those who issue death threats — this, for criticizing them:
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) calls out Pelosi: “She is Speaker … she can ask for a meeting to sit down with us … acknowledge the fact that we are women of color … be aware of that and what you’re doing … because some of us are getting death threats”pic.twitter.com/ujGrfiSjFE
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) July 17, 2019
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is flipping out. From his piece today:
I’m struck at how many people have come up to me recently and said, “Trump’s going to get re-elected, isn’t he?” And in each case, when I drilled down to ask why, I bumped into the Democratic presidential debates in June. I think a lot of Americans were shocked by some of the things they heard there. I was.
I was shocked that so many candidates in the party whose nominee I was planning to support want to get rid of the private health insurance covering some 250 million Americans and have “Medicare for all” instead. I think we should strengthen Obamacare and eventually add a public option.
I was shocked that so many were ready to decriminalize illegal entry into our country. I think people should have to ring the doorbell before they enter my house or my country.
I was shocked at all those hands raised in support of providing comprehensive health coverage to undocumented immigrants. I think promises we’ve made to our fellow Americans should take priority, like to veterans in need of better health care.
And I was shocked by how feeble was front-runner Joe Biden’s response to the attack from Kamala Harris — and to the more extreme ideas promoted by those to his left.
Friedman says he wishes the radicals would stifle it and stay focused on the economy, and themes of unity, at least long enough to get Trump out of office. More:
But please, spare me the revolution! It can wait. Win the presidency, hold the House and narrow the spread in the Senate, and a lot of good things still can be accomplished. “No,” you say, “the left wants a revolution now!” O.K., I’ll give the left a revolution now: four more years of Donald Trump.
That will be a revolution.
I know, I know: it’s Thomas Friedman. But you know, he’s right. And look, he’s not talking about the Squad. He’s talking about the party’s presidential aspirants!
With the release of today’s GOP video, it’s clear that Trump is making the Squad the face of the Democratic Party. And this quartet of amateurs are even attacking their party’s leader and framing her as a threat to “women of color.” You watch: none of these Democratic presidential hopefuls are going to criticize the Squad. Only Kamala Harris and Cory Booker might, because they’re black, which gives them some protection — but after what Rep. Ayanna Pressley said at Netroots Nation over the weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Squad responded by calling Harris and/or Booker Oreos.
Golly, 2020 is gonna be lit. Trump is going to run as Nixon ’68, positioning the Democrats as the party of “acid, amnesty, and abortion.” It lacks the alliteration of Tricky Dick’s line, but “open borders, socialism, and anarchy” has a beat, and you can dance to it. Check out this 1968 Nixon campaign ad:
Notice the slogan at the end of the ad, one that is repeated on other Nixon ads that year:
If Trump follows Nixon’s successful path, he’ll figure out a way to make the 2020 race a referendum not on particular policy differences, but on rival ways of viewing the world — and make the choice feel like an existential one.
UPDATE: I’m so stupid. A reader points out that “acid, amnesty, and abortion” was Nixon ’72. Still, the general point holds.
Reader Jonah writes:
On Sunday, my wife had brunch with several friends who have children in kindergarten or early elementary school. All of them live in a nearby densely packed suburb here in our county, which is a “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants in all but name.
Every single friend confessed that they and their husbands plan to sell their homes and move to other areas of the county because “the schools have gotten so bad.”
All of these nice, liberal-signaling people are uprooting their entire lives to get their kids into better schools, but they can never speak the reason aloud. The schools turning bad is force majeure, you see, like a hurricane or an earthquake, but with utterly mysterious origins, like a pulse from another dimension that leaves the world’s top scientists scratching their heads.
It’s just so weird. White, Asian, and black people can haul ass away from schools that are overcrowded with Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan immigrants, schools that take tax money to implement programs for youth gang interdiction, and they can speak openly about the fact that they’re leaving, but nobody is allowed to utter why they’re leaving. It’s absolutely verboten to suggest that concentrating impoverished immigrants in certain places even sometimes has social and cultural down sides. We can’t even suggest that local politicians have mismanaged the influx of immigrants. We’re only allowed to reiterate that immigrants add colorful threads to the diverse multicultural tapestry of our community. We’re not allowed to say that schools are less safe, violent crime has doubled, and we have a gang problem we didn’t used to have—not even at brunch with friends, as if there are no options between tight restrictions and open borders.
This is a super-bourgeois observation — I mean that in the sense that what he’s talking about is the code among college-educated middle class white people. Funny story: once, about 20 years ago, I was visiting my folks down in Louisiana. One day, when I drove in from town, a mill worker from down the road had stopped by, and was on my mom and dad’s front porch visiting. He hardly knew me; I was Ray and Dot’s son who had moved away and was in the media. I walked in mid-conversation, and found this mill worker talking in a strange way about some big problem at the mill, and the Democrats this, and the Democrats that. I couldn’t make sense out of what he was saying.
After he left, I asked my folks what on earth the Democratic Party had to do with the problems at the mill. They all laughed. My sister, who had been sitting there listening to it, said that “Democrats” is the code white working-class people like the mill worker use to talk about black people when they’re in the presence of white outsiders who are likely to judge them as racists.
I can’t remember any details of what the mill worker said, but I do recall thinking clearly at the time that even if that particular mill worker was a racist, substituting “black co-workers” for “Democrats” in his narrative that afternoon wouldn’t have made it racist. The point was that this mill worker assumed that because I was white, and college-educated, and lived in the big city, that I hated people like him, and was prepared to judge any criticism of black people at all as racist. He wasn’t going to stop telling his story to my Louisiana family just because the city boy he barely knew had walked up … so he code-switched.
(And what a code word! This man, who is probably retired now, if he’s still alive, worked in a paper mill and lived in a trailer in rural south Louisiana — yet for him and his social circle, the word “Democrats” was synonymous with “blacks.” A generation earlier — my dad’s generation — all white men like him would have been registered Democrats. If that man is alive today, I bet he’s a Trump Republican, and was finally glad to have a Republican to vote for who sounds like him.)
To be honest, that simple mill worker was right to be wary about me, a middle-class urban white guy, for the same reason that reader Jonah says in his comment.
What Jonah is talking about is what the UK academic Eric Kaufmann calls “asymmetrical multiculturalism.” Park MacDougald writes about the idea here in New York magazine. MacDougald opens by talking about how thinkers and commentators on the left decry white identity, while their counterparts on the right respond by rejecting identity politics of all kinds. More:
This bipartisan aversion to white identity is the target of Whiteshift, a fascinating new book by the political scientist Eric Kaufmann. Kaufmann claims that despite our best collective efforts to repress the topic, white identity concerns are already in the process of reshaping politics across the West. Migration-driven demographic change is polarizing white electorates, pitting group-oriented whites determined to resist their decline against cosmopolitan whites who accept or even cheer it, leading to the liberal-internationalist versus populist-nationalist split we see in nearly every Western country. More controversially, Kaufmann argues that the identity-based concerns of whites who oppose or fear their demographic decline should not be considered racist, and that it is neither possible nor desirable for the mainstream to suppress or condemn them. Instead of assuming that all political expressions of white identity are motivated by prejudice, Kaufmann calls for a new “‘cultural contract,’ in which everyone,” white and nonwhite, “gets to have a secure, culturally rich ethnic identity as well as a thin, culturally neutral and future-oriented national identity.”
MacDougald notes that Kaufmann contends the future of the West is going to bring a lot more interethnic marriage, as a result of immigration. Kaufmann, who is one-quarter Latino and one-quarter Asian, says the he himself is an example of the future. More:
In the meantime, however, he predicts that the conflict between those who wish to slow this transformation and those who wish to accelerate it will become the defining cleavage of Western politics.
In fact, at the center of Whiteshift is the argument that this conflict is already reshaping our politics. In Kaufmann’s view, white identity concerns, not economics, are behind the rise of right-wing populism. For all the attempts to explain populism as a backlash to inequality or a revolt of the losers of globalization, Kaufmann, drawing on his own research and that of colleagues such as Karen Stenner and Ashley Jardina, sees it as an expression of conservative white opposition to demographic change. Among whites in the United States, for instance, support for Trump was strongly predicted by psychological conservatism and authoritarianism, white identity and ethnic consciousness, and opposition to immigration. (Similar measures predicted support for Brexit in the U.K.) Kaufmann also cites suggestive research not directly related to the election, such as Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson’s finding that whites, after reading a passage about their demographic decline, displayed greater levels of in-group bias and support for the GOP.
Kaufmann is not the first to suggest that populism is an expression of white demographic anxiety. Versions of this argument have been made before, often becoming, in simplified form, the basis of a morality tale in which Trump voters are racist authoritarians whose only real goal is to maintain white supremacy. Yet Kaufmann believes that it is perfectly legitimate for whites to prefer immigration restriction for cultural reasons, and criticizes the expansive elite anti-racism norms that see this preference as racist. These norms, according to Kaufmann, make it difficult for mainstream politicians to respond to their voters’ actual concerns, producing a vast unmet demand for restrictionist policies that the populist right is well-positioned to meet. They also lead restrictionist voters and politicians, who oppose immigration for cultural reasons but fear accusations of racism, to invent spurious economic or security rationales to justify their preferences. “Paradoxically,” Kaufmann writes, “it becomes more acceptable to complain about immigrant crime, welfare dependency, terrorism or wage competition than to voice a sense of loss and anxiety about the decline of one’s group or a white-Christian tradition of nationhood.” Consider the debate over Trump’s border wall. The president has cited terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and immigrant crime as reasons to build the wall, tarring immigrants as criminals while offering a policy that would do little to address his stated concerns. It would be far better, in Kaufmann’s view, if the president — or at least, the more intelligent of his advisers and supporters — were just to admit that what what really made them anxious about immigration was demographic change.
MacDougald says Kaufmann, a sociologist at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, believes that both the identity-politics Left and the anti-identity-politics Right, are going at the social and political questions wrong.
The Left observes what Kaufmann calls “asymmetrical multiculturalism” — the belief that every racial/ethnic identity should be asserted and celebrated, except white identity. This, says Kaufmann, is a strategy that works for “psychological liberals,” but not for everybody else. Asymmetrical multiculturalism is at work in the story reader Jonah told about the middle-class white people who are desperate to get away from bad schools that got that way for reasons that those white people cannot even bring themselves to speak about among each other. This is distorting, and destructive.
But the Right plays its own version of denial, in Kaufmann’s view, with its belief that all identity politics are immoral. They do this in part because they are trying to maintain moral symmetry: if it’s wrong for white people to identify with their race, and to pursue political policies based on what’s good for their race, then it must also be wrong for every ethnic group to behave that way. The problem with this, says Kaufmann, is that it’s unnatural and just plain wrong. People of various “tribes” do this all the time, and though it obviously can be abused, it’s better (in Kaufmann’s view) to allow everybody to engage in a limited version of this, rather than to deny that it has any validity at all. If whites were allowed by the popular culture to think of themselves collectively in the way blacks, Latinos, Asians, and others are allowed to think of themselves, then perhaps non-liberal whites would recognize that some identity politics claims made by racial minorities are valid and important to recognize.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Imagine what would happen if a Republican Congressman said about whites in politics what Mod Squad member Rep. Ayanna Presley said about gays, Muslims, and racial minorities in politics last week:
We would have a national media freakout on our hands. Anderson Cooper would interview a loaf of Wonder Bread and a jar of mayonnaise on live TV. Frankly, I find what Pressley is doing here — policing the boundaries of minority politics — to be repulsive, and I would find it repulsive if a white Republican Congressman did it for whites. The fact, though, that this is considered normal behavior by progressives who are racial minorities, but absolutely unthinkable for white conservatives, testifies to the power of asymmetrical multiculturalism.
Speaking from my own experience, when I think of whites being allowed to think about race, identity, and politics in the same way as racial minorities, I think about segregationists like the late Gov. Lester Maddox, who said on that Dick Cavett interview I mentioned yesterday that he supports black folks who believe in defending the preservation of their race, and white folks who believe in the same thing. In 1970, when he said it. that was a transparently a fraudulently fair-minded argument for maintaining white supremacy.
Would it be today? Perhaps, but much less so. What about circa 2040, when America becomes a majority-minority society?
I hate asymmetrical multiculturalism because in the world I live in — among media, academic, and cultural elites, broadly speaking — it is a strategy for disempowering and marginalizing people on the basis of race, sexuality, and religious belief, and psychologically disarming any instinct for self-preservation among them. I’m one of those right wingers that Eric Kaufmann says is mistaken in his opposition to all identity politics.
He might be right about me and my kind. One thing is for sure, though: in this time of turmoil and social transition, conservatives who think like me are going to lose ground to white right-wingers — not conservatives; right wingers — who think like the black Democrat Ayanna Presley. Who, by the way, has more in common with Lester Maddox than she could possibly understand. In that sense, Donald Trump is arguably playing by the rules Pressley, Omar, and the asymmetrical multiculturalists of the American Left observe — and that’s why they hate him so much. I don’t think Trump is any kind of political genius, but perhaps it takes someone as uncultured and unformed by the norms of his economic class to reject the asymmetrical multiculturalism that is received without question by our elites.
This is an anecdote, nothing more. But I think it says something about where we are in this culture.
This morning, our air conditioner repairman came over to fix our clunky system. We’ve used Jackie (as I’ll call him) before for various heating and cooling issues. Really nice guy — works hard and well. I have mad respect for a man who will climb up into a Louisiana attic in summer. Jackie does it all day, every day, all over this city.
After he finished, we stood on the front steps talking. I told him that I had just gotten back from Poland, and had learned a lot about what Poland had been through in the Second World War. I showed him my Auschwitz photos, and talked about the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Jackie said that he had been reading a lot about the war lately, and watching documentaries. We think we have things so hard today, he said, but we have no idea about how much people suffer.
We briefly spoke about contemporary American politics. Jackie said something — how to put this? — strongly uncomplimentary about the Squad (AOC and her three cohorts). A word you wouldn’t hear in church might have been used. Then he went on to tell me about a Vietnam veteran he knows who is the hardest worker he’s ever seen. Old man is 70 years old, and can outwork anybody, said the repairman. Jackie told a story about how the guy is a total badass, and how he (the repairman) saw the old guy a few years back sawing limbs off a tree, hanging from a harness high up in the crown. The old guy had a chainsaw in one arm, and was clearing limbs with the other. An amazing thing, said the repairman.
“I wouldn’t go at him unless I had a 12-gauge,” Jackie laughed.
Then we shook hands, and he went off to do his next job. A few minutes later, I got into my car and drove off to pick up one of my kids. As I pulled out of my driveway, the public radio interview show Fresh Air was finishing up on the car radio. It’s earnestly liberal to an almost comic degree. Host Terry Gross invited listeners to tune in tomorrow, and hear guest Randy Rainbow (yes, that’s his name), a gay comedian who has made a name for himself doing political satire making fun of President Trump, and who incorporates show tunes into his act.
I found myself suddenly as mad as hell. Randy Rainbow — seriously? There is no way in five thousand lifetimes that Terry Gross would have Jackie the Repairman on her show, or anybody sympathetic to his worldview (other than that time she interviewed J.D. Vance in 2016). OK, so this is not a fair comparison. Some conservative talk radio host might have a Jackie on, but never in a million years host a Randy Rainbow figure. I get that. My point, though, is that our mainstream media pretty much only cares about Jackie the Repairman and the things he cares about in order to deplore them.
As I drove, the Boston-based NPR show Here And Now was next up. The host touted the stories coming up in the next half hour. One of them was a look at a gay male columnist who is calling on gay men to come out as feminists. Turns out the piece lasted nine minutes — a long time in radio. Look, I get this too: the public radio audience is more likely to be interested in gay male feminists than in the lives and concerns of middle-aged air-conditioner repairmen.
What ticks me off, though, is the lie that the mainstream media, and other leading cultural institutions, tell themselves about how interested they are in “diversity.” This is an old complaint of mine, and I won’t bore you with the details again. I’ll tell you why it stood out to me today, though — and it’s not just because of the Trump tweet saga, which I’ve already tuned out, for Tommy Kidd reasons:
Or, to put it in terms lasering in on my concerns, “We are living through the collapse of Christianity, akin to the fourth-century collapse of Roman paganism, and I can’t bring myself to sustain outrage over what President Archie Bunker tweets about four loony left Congresswomen.”
Still, I would love for the major media reporters to spend even half as much time trying to understand why people like Jackie the Repairman find the rhetoric of AOC, Ilhan Omar, and the like so infuriating, as they spend setting their hair on fire about what a racist Trump is. I just checked to see if Terry Gross had invited Chris Arnade, an actual leftist, on her program to discuss his amazing new book Dignity, which is a travelogue about his journeys among the down and out in America — including whites, blacks, and Latinos, and yes, including Trump supporters, for whom he has human sympathy, if not political sympathy.
She has not. But she’s got Randy Rainbow.
Anyway, the Jackie conversation, followed by the NPR stuff, was a bone in my throat because early this morning, I listened to this amazing new episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s great Revisionist History podcast. The entire episode is about the singer-songwriter Randy Newman, and his terrific, unsettling 1974 song “Rednecks,” the lead track from his masterpiece Good Old Boys, one of the greatest albums ever. The song is sung in the character of an Alabama steelworker. Here’s a link to the performance — I warn you, though, it’s not safe for work, because it uses the n-word. The song starts like this:
Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart ass New York Jew
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too
Well he may be a fool but he’s our fool
If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong
So I went to the park and I took some paper along
And that’s where I made this song
Lester Maddox was the segregationist firebrand Georgia governor from 1967-1971. He was a populist Democrat who never finished high school. I’ve loved Randy Newman, and that song, for decades, but I had not realized until listening to Gladwell’s podcast that the Maddox incident cited in the song had really happened, on the Dick Cavett Show. (Cavett is not Jewish; remember, Newman, who is Jewish, was writing this song from the point of view of a working-class white man from Alabama, who might have naturally assumed that a liberal New York talk show host was Jewish).
Here’s what happened: eight minutes of Lester Maddox sharing the screen with football great Jim Brown, and eventually stalking off the stage because he believed Cavett insulted his honor.
It’s riveting TV. Maddox is an indignant redneck boob who makes a fool of himself — though his Trumpian performance controlled the screen. Guess who was watching the show that night? Randy Newman. And being a superlative ironist, Newman imagined what Maddox’s humiliation on national TV might have looked like to a white Alabama steelworker.
In the song, Newman’s character repeatedly admits that Southern whites are “keeping the n–gers down.” Then he concedes:
Down here we too ignorant to realize/That the North has set the n–ger free
Yes, he’s free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he’s free to be put in a cage on the South-Side of Chicago
And the West Side
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he’s free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They’re gatherin’ ’em up from miles around
Keepin’ the n–ers down
See what Newman is doing? He’s turning on the hypocrisy of Northerners, who live in cities segregated not by law, but by fact, and in effect asking them if they are scapegoating Southerners like the narrator while hiding from their own guilt.
Newman tells Gladwell that he stopped performing that song in the South when he realized that white Southern audiences were not taking it in the right spirit — that is, they were saying, “Hell yeah we’re rednecks, and proud of it!” Gladwell also observes that a song like that could not be written today. Too dangerous. Gladwell also spends some time on Newman’s even greater song about race in America, “Sail Away,” which is written in the voice of a slave trader who is trying to convince a black child in West Africa to climb aboard his ship, and sail away to paradise on the other side of the ocean. Watch an old clip of Newman performing it here. Listen closely to the lyrics. You have to listen to the Gladwell podcast to hear the story about what Bobby Darin did with this song — it’s a jaw-dropper, and very, very American.
As a thought experiment, I know well that had I, as the 52 year old man I am today, been watching Lester Maddox on TV that night, I would have laughed at what an ignoramus and a fool he was, and probably felt bad that he embarrassed the South so much. But it took a sly, 27 year old secular Jew from Los Angeles to see more deeply into that encounter on television between the bigoted Southern populist and the iconic New York liberal. To be clear, I don’t think Newman’s narrator was dinging Dick Cavett personally, but rather hitting out at the superiority of the kind of people who identify with Cavett.
That’s how I felt listening to Terry Gross and the other NPR show after listening to Jackie talk briefly about the Squad. Our media elites will fall all over themselves to defend and celebrate people like Ilhan Omar and Randy Rainbow, but guys like the middle-aged man who came down from my attic today dripping sweat, and who can’t bear people like Ilhan Omar — in the eyes of our liberal elites, they’re what’s wrong with this country.
I imagine Jackie identifies with Tucker Carlson’s monologue last week about Omar. Excerpts:
No country can survive being ruled by people who hate it. We deserve better. For all of our country’s flaws, this is still the best place in the world. Most immigrants know that and that is why they come here. It’s also why we’ve always been glad to have them here.
But now, there are signs that some people who move here from abroad don’t like this country at all. As we told you last night, one of those people now serves in our Congress.
Think about that for a minute. Our country rescued Ilhan Omar from the single poorest place on Earth. We didn’t do it for the money, we did it because we are kind people. How did she respond to the remarkable gift we gave her?
She scolded us, called us names, showered us with contempt.
He’s not wrong. Read this Washington Post profile of her. More Carlson:
It’s infuriating. More than that, it is also ominous. The United States admits more immigrants more than any other country on Earth, more than a million every year. The Democratic Party demand we increase that by and admit far more. OK, Americans like immigrants, but immigrants have got to like us back.
That’s the key, it’s essential. Otherwise, the country falls apart.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali would, by the standard of identity politics, seem to have everything in common with Ilhan Omar. She was born in Somalia, moved to Kenya and eventually came to this country. Unlike Omar, she loves and cares about the United States. She believes this country is superior to the country she came from.
For saying that, the left despises her. Two Somali immigrants, one among the most impressive people in America. The other, among the least.
It’s not about race. But, of course, Omar and her friends already know that. Nothing they say on the subject of race is sincere. It’s all the hustle designed to get them what they want. Omar has made a career of denouncing anyone and anything in her way as racist. That would include virtually all of her political and personal opponents. It includes even inanimate objects like the border wall, that’s racist. So was the Congress, so is the entire state of North Dakota, she once tweeted.
Omar may be from another country but she learned young that crying racism pays. The bigger question is, who taught her that? She didn’t arrive from a Kenyan refugee camp announcing people as bigots for a political campaign. She wasn’t always a professional victim. That is learned behavior.
Importantly, she learned it here. In some ways, the real villain in the Ilhan Omar story isn’t Omar, it is a group of our fellow Americans. Our cultural gatekeepers who stoke the resentment of new arrivals and turn them into grievance mongers like Ilhan Omar. The left did that to her, and to us.
Blame them first.
Gov. Lester Maddox really was a racist. If Donald Trump is, then he’s not a racist in remotely the same way that the segregationist Maddox was. I say that so you don’t think I’m making a one-to-one comparison between Maddox and Trump. And again, I think Trump’s “go back to where you came from” rhetoric directed at all four of the minority Congresswomen was wrong, and probably racist, and certainly politically stupid. (Had he kept it to Omar alone, it would have been much more understandable.)
Having said all that, I wonder what 27-year-old Randy Newman would make of this. (I know what Randy Rainbow would.) People like Jackie the air conditioner repairman know the kind of contempt people like Omar, Rainbow, Woke Capitalists, and the liberal media, have for them, and everything they stand for, including a certain idea of America. Donald Trump may be a fool, but he’s their fool. This point has been made about a million times since 2016, but it’s still salient.
I don’t like or respect Trump one bit, but I like and respect Jackie, and I’d rather stand with him than with Ilhan Omar, Terry Gross, and their lot, who don’t even see men and women like Jackie as anything other than bigoted rednecks — if they see them at all.
When your air conditioner is broken in the middle of July, don’t call Randy Rainbow to come fix it. Same with your country.
A British schoolteacher comments on the “Busing Or Bust” post from the other day. I’ve adapted it slightly for a separate post. The emphasis below is mine:
I’ve taught here in the UK for over 40 years (officially retired two years ago, but still going into school on a voluntary basis), and we have exactly the same pathologies in so many classrooms here: what’s euphemistically called ‘low-level disruption’, something that covers everything from pupils shouting across the room to their mates to telling a teacher to ‘F- off’. It’s practically impossible to teach everyone in these circumstances: the most one can do to control the disruption enough to enable the pupils who want to work to do so, knowing that they’re quite likely to get beaten up outside the classroom by the thug tendency. And younger, inexperienced teachers can’t manage to control the class at all: it’s unsurprising that many drop out. And that seems to be worsening. The statistics from the National Foundation of Educational Research are worrying:
“The retention rates of early career teachers are also lower now than they were a few years ago. Around 87 per cent of teachers who enter teaching remained in the profession at the end of their first year, which is a figure that hasn’t changed since 2010, until this year, when it decreased to 85 per cent. Worse still, the three-year retention rate has dropped from 80 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2017 and the five-year rate has dropped from 73 per cent in 2011 to 67 per cent in 2017.”
In other words, a third of new teachers leave the profession within five years of starting. (It’s slightly better in primary schools and worse in secondaries.) And the two factors most mentioned in surveys of teachers leaving are workload (which is huge during term-time) and behaviour.
The thing is, though, that it’s nothing to do with race: the major offenders are white — but they are disproportionately from (another euphemism) ‘deprived backgrounds’: mother’s never been married, has several children by various fathers, and lives on state benefits (which are not particularly generous: poverty is part of the problem, though not the largest part). Drugs and alcohol are always in the background, and boys in particular carry knives. Culture matters, not race.
Here’s a City Journal article from nearly 25 years ago (!) by the British psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple (pen name of Anthony Daniels), in which he discusses at length British schools as failure factories. In this first excerpt, Dalrymple, who spent his career working in prisons and with the lower classes, talks about how lower-class kids in the UK are socialized:
Alarmingly, this arbitrariness reinforces precisely the kind of discipline which I see exercised around me every day by parents whose philosophy of child rearing is laissez-faire tempered by insensate rage. A small child rushes about noisily, creating havoc and wreaking destruction about him; the mother (fathers scarcely exist, except in the merest biological sense) first ignores the child, then shouts at him to stop, then ignores him, pleads with him, ignores him again, laughs at him, and then finally loses her temper, screeches abuse at him, and gives him a clout on the ear.
What is the child supposed to learn from this? He learns to associate discipline not with principle, and punishment not with his own behavior, but with the exasperated mood of his mother. This mood will itself depend upon many variables, few of them under the control of the child. The mother may be irritable because of her latest row with her latest boyfriend or because of a delay in the arrival of a social security payment, or she may be comparatively tolerant because she has received an invitation to a party or has just discovered that she is not pregnant after all. But what the child certainly never learns is that discipline has any meaning beyond the physical capacity and desire of the mother to impose it.
Everything is reduced to a mere contest of wills, and so the child learns that all restraint is but an arbitrary imposition from someone or something bigger and stronger than himself. The ground is laid for a bloodyminded intolerance of any authority whatever, even should that authority be based upon patently superior and benevolent knowledge and wisdom. Authority of any kind is experienced as an insult to the self, and must therefore be challenged because it is authority. The world is thus a world of permanently inflamed egos, trying to impose their wills on one another.
How do you suppose kids who are raised that way do in school? Answer: the way the British schoolteacher says they do.
Here’s a second bit from Dalrymple’s 1995 essay:
There is one great psychological advantage to the white underclass in their disdain for education: it enables them to maintain the fiction that the society around them is grossly, even grotesquely, unjust, and that they themselves are the victims of this injustice. If, on the contrary, education were seen by them as a means available to all to rise in the world, as indeed it could be and is in many societies, their whole viewpoint would naturally have to change. Instead of attributing their misfortunes to others, they would have to look inward, which is always a painful process. Here we see the reason why scholastic success is violently discouraged, and those who pursue it persecuted, in underclass schools: for it is perceived, inchoately no doubt, as a threat to an entire Weltanschauung. The success of one is a reproach to all.
And a whole way of life is at stake. This way of life is akin to drug addiction, of which crime is the heroin and social security the methadone. The latter, as we know, is the harder habit to kick, and its pleasures, though less intense, are longer lasting. The sour satisfaction of being dependent on social security resides in its automatic conferral of the status of Victim, which in itself simultaneously explains one’s failure and absolves one of the obligation to make something of oneself, ex hypothesi impossible because of the unjust nature of society which made one a victim in the first place. The redemptive value of education blows the whole affecting scene apart: no wonder we don’t want no education.
We can’t talk about these things, of course.
We have the worst people setting the tone and the content of American public life:
We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2019
Translation: if you dissent, you don’t belong here. And given that only one of the four Congresswomen targeted by Trump was born outside of the US, I don’t see any way to read this other than a racist remark. Look, I think these four — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley — are wrong about many things, and maybe even bad people. I don’t care if POTUS denounces this so-called “Squad” for their political views.
But the way he does it matters. He crossed a line. I invite defenders of Trump to imagine a future progressive president who denounces a Nigerian-born black pastor, or a US-born Arab Christian or Muslim, for their opposition to transgender rights, telling them that this is America, and if they don’t like it, they can go back to their bigot countries.
Meanwhile, here’s a member of the Squad yesterday, speaking to a progressive group:
Rep Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice” pic.twitter.com/2NIj5Vvcor
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) July 15, 2019
Translation: if you are a racial, religious, or sexual minority, and you dissent from progressive orthodoxies, you are a traitor to your race, religion, or sexual tribe, and we don’t want you.
It’s easy for liberals to see why Trump is extremely problematic for saying things like he does (and we conservatives ought to try harder to see and hear Trump from the point of view of others). But liberals ought to imagine what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t fit into the Squad’s woke progressive categories of acceptability, and to imagine what it would be like for those people under that kind of progressive government.
One of the people I follow on Twitter is the American Muslim Ismail Royer. He is a pro-life social conservative, and often calls out US Muslim leaders for taking public stands (e.g., pro-abortion, pro-LGBT) that contradict Islamic law. He is exactly the kind of Muslim that progressives like Ilhan Omar and others would marginalize, because progressive orthodoxy means more to them than religious orthodoxy, or even tolerance of the religiously orthodox. I certainly wouldn’t say that Ismail Royer supports Trump, but I can at least conceive that for him, as an American Muslim of morally and socially conservative conviction, it is not clear whether it would be worse for America if it was ruled by the Trumpist right or the Woke left.
This is how I see things as a socially and religiously conservative Christian, anyway. I’ll say flat-out that I think Trump is a scarcely competent president who is a moral cretin and is damaging American life. But the idea that on policy, Trump is worse than where most Democratic politicians stand today? I don’t buy it. It seems axiomatic for many liberals and progressives that Trump’s awfulness negates any bad qualities from progressive would-be rivals (if they — the liberals — see these qualities as bad in the first place, which many do not).
For example, I remind you that nearly all of the Democratic presidential contenders are operationally open borders. Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum said the other day that he can’t tell any difference between what Elizabeth Warren proposes on immigration, and an open borders position. Every one of the Dems is strongly pro-abortion, and strongly pro-LGBT, in ways that pose significant threats to the liberties of religious dissenters, and ought to concern everyone regarding transgender ideology and its spread in schools and in the medical profession (more on which in a separate post today). There’s more. None of that negates the bad things about Trump, heaven knows, but it’s just bonkers for liberals to act as if we’re dealing with a devilish president versus angelic opponents.
I know some religious and social conservatives who fear progressivism in power, but believe for various reasons that Trump is worse, and who will either vote Democratic in 2020, or withhold their vote.
I know some religious and social conservatives who fear progressivism in power, and who believe that as bad as Trump is, if he’s the only thing standing in the way of progressives, then they need to bite the bullet and vote for him.
I think both strategies are rational — that is, I think a reasonable case can be made for both. I am more likely to take the latter than the former, but until we get to election day next year, I won’t be sure which one it will be. I have been in a situation like this before: voting for the corrupt Democratic Edwin W. Edwards for governor in 1991, to prevent former Klansman David Duke from becoming governor. To me, that wasn’t a close call, but it still made me sick to have to vote for Edwards, who symbolized most of what was wrong with the political culture of our state. But Duke was worse. No conservative who voted EWE in ’91 was under any illusion as to why it was important to vote for the crook that year.
Anyway, what is do damned depressing about our time is that all the political energy is with the worst people. David Brooks touches on this issue in his column about the civil war among progressive and liberal factions in the Democratic Party. Excerpt:
Critics on the left argue that liberalism is a set of seemingly neutral procedures that the privileged adopt to mask their underlying grip on power. Left-wing critics detest liberalism’s incrementalism and argue that only a complete revolution will uproot injustice.
They do not share liberalism’s belief in the primacy of free speech. They argue that free speech sometimes has to be restricted because incorrect words can trap our thinking. Bad words, like insensitive gender pronouns, preserve oppression.
They embrace essentialism, which is the antithesis of liberalism. Essentialism is the belief that people are defined by a single identity that never changes. A cisgender white male is always and only a cisgender white male.
In short, many of today’s young leaders, and their older allies, don’t want to work within the liberal system. They want to blow it up.
So which side will prevail?
Over the short term, I’d put my money on the anti-liberals.
Read the whole thing to see why. I think he’s right, and that this is why the best chance the Dems have to toss out Trump — boring old Joe Biden — is not going to win the party’s primary. One thing Brooks says in his reasons why anti-liberals are going to prevail in the Democratic Party resonates especially with me:
Second, liberal institutions have deteriorated. A liberal society needs universities where ideas are openly debated, it needs media outlets that strive to be objective, it needs political institutions, like the Senate, that are governed by procedures designed to keep the process fair to both sides. It needs people who put the rules of fair play above short-term partisan passion. Those people scarcely exist.
How much have you read in the leading media about Antifa’s assault on Andy Ngo? How much have you read, seen, and heard about the Antifa loony Willem van Spronsen, shot dead by authorities while throwing incendiary devices at a government (ICE) immigration facility, and trying to blow up a propane tank at the facility? It’s not that the media have ignored these stories entirely, but that they rarely receive coverage proportional to their importance, at least from a conservative perspective.
And there are things like this. Jesse Singal is a self-described progressive who covers science for New York magazine — and he’s appalled by the politicization of trans coverage:
Outlets have completely, completely given up on covering this like they would any other health or science subject. It’s just astounding how radical the journalistic shift has been. https://t.co/9XMKriFyuo
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) July 14, 2019
From where I sit, the mainstream journalism coverage of LGBT issues is heavily propagandistic — not even-handed, but almost pure advocacy journalism. In fact, most coverage of so-called “diversity” issues is too, as is a lot of immigration coverage. Point is, when one is conservative, and sees how thoroughly the culture-forming, opinion-making institutions of American life are shifting further to the left, and away from old-fashioned, fair-play liberalism, having Archie Bunker in the White House isn’t as much of a problem as it would otherwise be.
Conservative supporters of Trump say, “At least he fights” — as if idiotic, immoral, fat-mouthing tweets constitute “fighting.” They are “fighting” in the same sense of some redneck moron deciding that he’s struck a blow against evil by giving some authority figure a good cussin’. But look, now the left is going to benefit from the same performative nonsense from the Squad. They’ll say all the things that rile up their core, and appall or frighten many others. I’m not sure that Yeats’s famous lines are exactly true today, and that the best lack all conviction, but it is certainly true that the worst, on both left and right, are full of passionate intensity. And, as in the Spanish Civil War, sooner or later most of us are going to have to choose a side, even if it’s only in the secrecy of the voting booth.
UPDATE: Please read Douthat’s column today. In it, he talks about how Trump is a cruder version of what he ran against. Excerpts:
But in the post-Cold War dispensation [conservatives’] defense [of American exceptionalism] became rote and unconvincing, because even as they chest-thumped about their own patriotism and the perfidy of liberalism, conservative politicians didn’t seem to be actually cultivating or sustaining the things their ideology claimed to be defending.
This tendency culminated in an Obama-era conservatism that decided that anyone unhappy with Republican governance was just an ingrate who didn’t deserve the American experiment: You were a socialist if you doubted the perfection of our health care system, part of the mooching “47 percent” if you didn’t think a capital-gains tax cut would solve the working-class’s social crisis, an appeaser if you doubted the wisdom of a maximally hawkish foreign policy.
Right, and Trump rose because he was willing to talk about things that ordinary Republicans weren’t. Now, because of the ground he opened up, a really interesting philosophical conversation has begun among many on the Right, who are openly questioning the conventional wisdom of the worn-out GOP vision. (I’m talking about this week’s National Conservatism conference in DC, more on which separately.) More Douthat:
But — and you know there’s a but — none of the people having this lively debate are the president of the United States. And in the president himself you can see how nationalism-in-power, instead of correcting exceptionalism as Thiel suggests, can simply become a cruder, more exclusionary version of the “everything is awesome” mentality that inspires its irritation in the first place.
The only people who are adversely affected by his rhetoric are the rest of us who have to inhabit the noxious political atmosphere that he did not create but in which he has flourished. He will not be the last important American politician to employ these tropes — perhaps not even the last president. This is the cockle of rebellion, insolence, and sedition that we ourselves have plowed for, sowed, and scattered.
Now it’s harvest time.
UPDATE.3: I was unclear about which tweets of Trump’s I believe were racist. Not the one at the very top! (It’s just dumb.) These were the ones that crossed the race line, in my view:
So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
The racism part comes in assuming that all those women are foreigners, because of African or Latino descent, and that therefore they should get out of the country.
On Sunday morning, I went to Auschwitz. I had to take an Uber there from the Tyniec monastery. It was jarring to take Uber to Auschwitz. It was jarring to pass by strip malls and movie theaters and all the usual signs of modern life only a short walking distance from the scene of world-historical mass murder. Watching through the car window older Poles walking to mass down the streets of Oswiecim, I wondered what it’s like to live in a town that is forever associated with infamy — even though your people were victims, not perpetrators.
I have the sense that I’m like someone who ran to the melting-down Chernobyl reactor to see what was happening, and now have to wait to see the effects of radiation poisoning. It wouldn’t be correct to say that “nothing prepares you for Auschwitz.” In fact, our culture does a pretty good job preparing people for Auschwitz, though I will agree that standing in front of the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate really does give you a jolt. The entire time I walked around the grounds, I was praying my prayer rope for the souls of the dead. If I’m honest, I was also praying it, in a sense, for myself — as a kind of shield against the moral horror of what I was seeing.
Because there’s nothing to say about Auschwitz that hasn’t been said a million times already, I’ll keep this short, and restricted to my own brief impressions.
I didn’t realize that there are actually two Auschwitzs — Auschwitz II, which is 2 km away from the first camp, is called Birkenau. They are very different places, though also the same. The first Auschwitz is where the most interesting things are, because it was where the Germans tried their worst things; Birkenau is what they built when the number of Jews and others being brought to Auschwitz I overwhelmed its capacity to murder them. There’s not as much to see at Birkenau, because by the time the Nazis built it, they had it all down to a science. The vastness of Birkenau is what knocks you flat. I took the photo above just inside the red brick gate (the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate is at Auschwitz I):
Imagine train cars lined up about as far as you can see, disgorging human beings. That’s what happened here. The great contemporary historian of Poland, Norman Davies, writes:
It took only twenty minutes between the arrival of a train load to be undressed and “disinfected” [gassed] and the arrival of the special detachments to strip the corpses of hair, gold fillings, and personal jewellery at the entrance to the crematorium. Hair mattresses, bone fertilizer, and soap from human fat were delivered to German industry with Prussian precision.
The barracks and crematoria covered a massive plain. I could not count them all. Most of them have been allowed to rot; all that remains are crumbling chimneys from the small stoves inside the barracks, meant to keep the inmates warm. This gives the site the appearance of a dead forest. When historians say that the Germans were doing industrial-scale murder, this is what they mean. I really could not have conceived of this without seeing the size of Birkenau. It is a platitude (if speaking of Auschwitz can ever be that) to call Auschwitz-Birkenau a killing machine, but confronting it with your own eyes — especially Birkenau — reveals the truth of that observation with staggering clarity. It could not have been more efficient.
That was Birkenau — which I saw after I had toured Auschwitz I.
Two things jumped out at me about Auschwitz I. First, how utterly banal it is. Again, that platitude, that cliche: the banality of evil. But seriously: it’s true here, like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. If you didn’t know what had happened there, it would look like a dull barracks. You’ll walk by a building, and stop to read the museum marker, and it will say something like, “In this building, Dr. Josef Mengele…”. There’s a room there where the museum displays hair the Nazis harvested from female corpses, and sold to textile makers. There was over one ton of it. Do you know how much human hair it takes to make a ton? Enough to fill a small house! I also saw a cell where prisoners sentenced to death by deliberate starvation were kept. Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic saint, died in that cell.
The second thing that jumped out at me was how mind-blowingly bureaucratic it all was. Again, this is something historians tell us, but you really need to examine the documents on display there to grasp the perversity of this. The Germans kept records of everything. It was so methodical. If somehow this site had been the place of a battlefield massacre, it would have been more comprehensible. But this was about as premeditated as it gets. It makes you ashamed to be human.
The whole thing made me aware of our capacity, as human beings, to do this kind of thing, and to hide what we do behind forms and papers and ideas. There was handwritten testimony there by Rudolf Hoess, the Auschwitz commandant from 1940-43 (later hanged there as a war criminal), who wrote about receiving the order from Himmler to start gassing Jews. Himmler told him this in a face to face meeting in 1941. Hoess wrote (this is from the Yad Vashem website):
We discussed the ways and means of effecting the extermination. This could only be done by gassing, since it would have been absolutely impossible to dispose by shooting of the large numbers of people that were expected, and it would have placed too heavy a burden on the SS men who had to carry it out, especially because of the women and children among the victims.
Can you believe that? They came up with mass gassing in part to spare the tender feelings of SS men, who would feel bad about shooting women and children. Again, this is not news, but to see it at Auschwitz, in Hoess’s own handwriting — there’s nothing like it.
Human nature never changes
Here’s what the inside of a gas chamber looks like:
I wondered if those scratch marks were from the hands of the dead, but a guide told me no. In the room next to the gas chamber were these ovens for burning bodies:
In the car riding out to Auschwitz, I had caught up on my Twitter feed, and read initial reports about the BBC’s new documentary in which former Labour Party employees spoke out about anti-Semitism in the party, and Jeremy Corbyn’s upper management team trying to squelch complaints. Here’s the latest, from The Guardian on that story. Excerpt:
Several other officials told the programme that dealing with the scale of the complaints took a severe toll on their mental health. Kat Buckingham, the former chief investigator in the disputes team, said she had a breakdown and had decided to leave the party.
“I couldn’t hold the tide and I felt so powerless and I felt guilty and I felt like I failed,” she told the programme.
This was on my mind when I saw those ovens. Labour Party leadership is institutionalizing anti-Semitism, according to whistleblowers within the party, commenting on the controversy that has dogged Labour ever since the far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn took over the party’s leadership three years ago.
Look at this. These are clothes taken off children that were later gassed:
This young man’s photo hangs on the wall with those of other children and teenagers. Look at his eyes. I have a son about the same age as Kopel Polter:
And of course these empty cans:
I remember thinking as I was walking out of Birkenau that the only thing harder than believing in God after Auschwitz is not believing in Him. There is an outdoor exhibition outside the gates of Auschwitz I featured photos and excerpts of contemporary interviews with Auschwitz survivors, reflecting on their religious thoughts after Auschwitz. Here’s a story from the Times of Israel about the exhibition.
As I walked through it, the rain began, and it came down hard, but I couldn’t tear myself away from reading the words of these survivors. Punctuation below is in the original inscriptions at the exhibit.
Here’s something from Tzipora Fayga Waller, a Hungarian Jew:
I was 18 years old. During the selection in Auschwitz, I held onto my aunt’s child. Mengele motioned me to the left. I did not understand. He screamed at me “is that child yours?” I said “no.” He took Avrumy from me and pushed me to the right. I didn’t know what it meant then. We believed Hashem [the Most High — a name of God] was going to help us. But it didn’t work. I was the first born, and the only one that survived. What I learned from my experience in Auschwitz is to believe in kindness. Be good to the people around you.
Here’s one from Avraham Zelcer, a Czech Jew:
I was 16 years old. The train stopped in Auschwitz on the morning of Shavuos. We thanked God we arrived. The horrors of our transport from Czechoslovakia were beyond words. So many people suffered and died. We didn’t know what was waiting for us. Women and children to the left. I went to the right. I asked someone: “where are the women and children?” He pointed to a tall chimney: “they went out through there.” The only way out of Auschwitz was through the chimney: today, tomorrow, or the next day. It took me a year after liberation to return to my faith.
From Ernest Rumi Gelb, also from Czechoslovakia:
I was 17 years old. I remember our daily marches to work every day in Auschwitz. Invariably there was someone who knew the morning davening [prayer] by heart. I am not sure I felt like praying, but I did. The impulse for rejection was strong. Prayer, however, was a reminder of God. On Rosh Hashanah, as on all days, we were forbidden to pray. But we did it on the marches. Commiserating with other Jews through prayer was important for me. We could all hope and imagine together that, God willing, next year we would be out of there.
From Rabbi Nissan Mangel (Czech-born):
I was 11 years old. The fires of Auschwitz made some people lose their faith. one morning, I was marching with others in the camp. A man in the group saw a yingele [Jewish boy], dead, hanging from the gallows. He screamed, “where are you God!” Another man responded, “you know where God is? He is on the gallows with the boy. That’s where he is.” I saw the exact same barbarity. The man could not reconcile what he saw with a compassionate God. My father taught me that fire makes things hard, or it can make them melt. My emunah [faith] became stronger that day.
One more, from Irving Roth, also Czech:
I was 14 years old. it was the day before Yom Kippur. I was hungry, frightened. I couldn’t eat my piece of bread. I could not drink the coffee. Looking back, as a religious man, I ask myself today how did I live through this? I decided that my quarrel was not with God, but with man. It was man that created the gas chamber. Not God. In spite of all that the Nazis took from me, I made choices in the midst of this meaningless terror. I made decisions about how I would conduct myself. Fatih was the only thing left. I took comfort in it.
As I was leaving Birkenau, I thought: ifI had survived imprisonment at Auschwitz and thought God didn’t exist, and that ultimate justice would be impossible, I don’t know how I would be able to go on living.
My next thought was a Christian one: about how deeply right it is that God would take the form of a man persecuted and put to death by torture, and would overcome that death through resurrection. After Auschwitz, the logic of the Incarnation and the Passion made sense to me at a deep level, in a way that it had not before.
I also thought about how forgiveness is the only way to maintain civilization. There is no way Germany could ever atone for the Holocaust. No way. In fact, I have to say I admire the moral courage of the German visitors I saw at Auschwitz that morning (I knew they were German because I heard a guide speaking to them in German.) I would not be able to bear the shame of it.
Leszek Kolakowski, whose essay collection Is God Happy? has been my constant companion in Poland, writes about theodicy (the branch of theology concerned with reconciling an all-powerful, all-just, and all-merciful deity with the existence of evil):
People today do not lose their faith because of the evil they see around them. Unbelievers perceive evil in a way that is already determined by their unbelief: the two are mutually supporting. The same holds true of the faithful: they perceive evil in light of their faith, which is consequently affirmed rather than weakened by what they see. So there seem to be no good grounds for saying that the evil of our time casts doubts on the presence of God; there is no compelling logical or psychological connection.
Similarly with science: Pascal was terrified by the “eternal silence” of infinite Cartesian space; but both this silence and the voice of God are in the ear of the listener. God’s presence or absence lies in belief or unbelief, and each of these attitudes, once adopted, will be confirmed by everything we see around us.
The meaning of the godless Enlightenment has not yet become apparent, because the breakdown of the old faith and the collapse of the Enlightenment are taking place simultaneously, both before our eyes and in our hearts.
In the same essay, he wrote:
The collapse of Christianity so eagerly awaited and so joyfully greeted by the Enlightenment turned out — to the extent that it really occurred — to be almost simultaneous with the collapse of the Enlightenment. The new, radiant anthropocentric order that was to arise and supplant God once He had been deposed never appeared.
I have long believed that the Holocaust was the most important event of the 20th century, and maybe the most important event in human history outside the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because it tells us the truth about who we are. That no matter how advanced we become, in culture, education, and technology, we are capable of doing this to each other. It wasn’t just the Germans. The Soviets did something like this too. As did the Red Chinese. What happened in Auschwitz could happen anywhere, given the right set of circumstances.
I can understand how someone would lose their faith in God because of the Holocaust. What I can’t understand is how they could retain their faith in Man. There is no such thing as a radiant anthropocentric order. It’s a lie, and only fools believe it. They are fellow travelers of Christian fools who believe in a happy-clappy God of Your Best Life now.
And that’s all I have to say about it, for now.
I’m about to leave Poland, headed back home. Flight out of Krakow boards in a few minutes. I wanted to say a couple of things before I head out. I’ll elaborate more later if I have time.
First, I can’t overstate how much I have enjoyed being in this country. The people are so warm, the culture so rich, the food so delicious. Since I’ve started this new book project, I’ve been able to spend time among the peoples of countries that for much of my life, I never imagined I would be able to visit, because they were behind the Iron Curtain. The new friends I have made there will be with me always. Let me encourage my fellow Americans to travel to Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, and other countries that we call “Eastern Europe” (which, note well, they hate, because it’s a Cold War framework imposed on them). There is so much to learn here, and so much to love. I might sound like a tourist board marketer by saying that, but it really is true. If you’re an American who loves to travel in Europe, and you only know the UK, France, Germany, and the other familiar countries, then you only know half of Europe.
Second, I must admit that I did not foresee the sense of cultural crisis that exists in Poland, but which now, after nine days here, is undeniable. I had a number of conversations in Warsaw and in greater Krakow, with laity and clergy, with middle-aged people and young ones. Almost everyone I spoke to expressed deep concern about the direction of the country, and awareness that it’s at a crossroads.
Most of my interlocutors are political conservatives, though not all of them support the present government. Those with whom I spoke who oppose the populist government really hate it, with the same passion that progressives hate Trump back in the US. Some of the conservatives I talked to are reluctant supporters of the government, but all of them, even the unconflicted supporters, worry about the deep political division within the country. As in other liberal democracies, the splits among political factions are widening into a chasm.
The most concerning thing to me, and to my interlocutors (almost all of whom were practicing Catholics), is the state of the faith, and specifically of the institutional Catholic Church. This is the most surprising thing for an American like me to hear, because many of us have been accustomed, since the days of John Paul II, to thinking of Poland as a bastion of popular Christianity. The “Alas For Fortress Poland” sentiment I picked up on my first days here was more than confirmed by later interviews and conversations.
As I’m about to board the plane for home, the conversation that stands out strongest in my mind is one I had with a veteran priest. He is exasperated with the bishops and the institutional church. He told me that they are full of themselves, and completely indifferent to the mounting crisis around them. This cleric spoke with unusual depth and passion. In his view, they are proud and full of vainglory, and don’t see how dissatisfied Poles are with their leadership. He said the Polish church is coasting on past glories, and its leadership doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the moment.
A Millennial-generation Catholic who was part of that conversation told me later, “He’s right. I don’t know a single Catholic, of my generation or of any generation, who is satisfied with the bishops. Everybody is angry over the way they have handled the abuse scandal.”
Mind you, the abuse scandal has only just started in Poland. There is much more to come.
I spent my last couple of days in Poland at a monastery, where I spoke at a summer school attended by Catholic college students. Last night I talked with one at dinner. The student said that most of her friends have walked away from the Church, because they have never really been raised in it.
“This thing you talked about in your speech, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that is exactly how most of my generation were raised,” she said.
I heard the same kind of thing often on this trip, from practicing Millennial Catholics and Gen Z Catholics. In last night’s conversation around the dinner table, I repeated what a young Warsaw Catholic told me: that within 10 to 20 years, Poland will be where Ireland is today in terms of the faith.
There was nodding all around.
This is Poland, y’all.
The good thing is that relative to the churches in other Western countries, the Poles have a stronger base from which to mount resistance. But if the testimonies of the faithful Catholics I’ve been talking to over the last nine days are accurate, it seems to me that renewal and resistance will not come from the institutional Church. It will come from engaged laity and the priests who share their sense of mission in a time of crisis. Now that I think about it, I wish I had emphasized more strongly to the students in my speech that nobody is going to come save them. I did repeat to them something I heard from a middle-aged Catholic earlier in the trip: that the future of Polish Christianity depends on the faithful among Millennials and Generation Z, not in the trite general sense of “the young are our future,” but because they are the only ones who really understand the severity of the crisis.
The message I received loud and clear is that those who we Americans would call Baby Boomers, and even many Generation Xers, like me, are too detached from the main currents of faith and culture in this country to perceive what’s happening, much less mount effective resistance. One young Catholic in Warsaw said to me, “We are desperate for leadership.”
It seems to me that what Poland needs is some way to connect these younger Catholics to each other, and to lay and clerical Catholics who share their sense of crisis, and their eagerness to find a way through it. But how will they do it? Now is the time for spiritual entrepreneurs among the orthodox Catholic faithful to come forward.
We really are all in this together. What happens in Poland affects us Americans, and vice versa. Let’s build the networks now, and help each other.
Plane is boarding. More later.
UPDATE: Folks, I’m talking about Poland’s religious crisis. If you’re a secular person, you see no crisis at all — in fact, you might well think that Poland is doing well to rid itself of Catholicism. Most believing Christians see things very differently. From my point of view, a Poland that is a Slavic Sweden would have suffered an enormous catastrophe, no matter how rich it may be.
Wow, wow, wow. The Progressive-Industrial Complex is really going to do this thing. Trump could dump Pence and pick Jeffrey Epstein as his running mate, and still win because half of America + 1 is going to be terrified of the social engineers of the Loony Left. pic.twitter.com/dEMo9NnYcZ
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) July 12, 2019
I see that this tweet ‘o mine has stirred up progressives on Twitter. Of course. Fine by me, but man, those people really and truly cannot grasp the damage they’re doing to themselves.
Are we really going to re-argue about school busing? Apparently so. Of all the things to get wound up about, and to make an issue in the 2020 presidential race, defending the virtues of one of the most unpopular public policy initiatives of the past 50 years is not one I expected from a party that wants to defeat Donald Trump. But this is how our progressives roll.
The other day, AOC more or less called Nancy Pelosi racist because the 79-year-old legislator dared to question whether or not AOC and her Democratic cohorts were following the wisest course for the party. But you know how these progressives are: if you don’t agree with them 100 percent, then you are Evil. It’s idiotic and self-defeating, but as someone who would rather not see these loonies in power, I guess I should be happy about it. Maureen Dowd actually had a pretty good column about it today. She writes:
Pelosi told me, after the A.O.C. Squad voted against the House’s version of the border bill and trashed the moderates — the very people who provided the Democrats the majority — that the Squad was four people with four votes. She was talking about a legislative reality. If it was a knock, it was for abandoning the party.
That did not merit A.O.C.’s outrageous accusation that Pelosi was targeting “newly elected women of color.” She slimed the speaker, who has spent her life fighting for the downtrodden and who was instrumental in getting the first African-American president elected and passing his agenda against all odds, as a sexist and a racist.
A.O.C. should consider the possibility that people who disagree with her do not disagree with her color.
The young lawmaker went further, implying that the speaker was putting the Squad in danger, asking why Pelosi would criticize them, “knowing the amount of death threats” and attention they get. Huh?
A.O.C. pulled back and said she wasn’t calling Pelosi a racist. But once you start that ball rolling, it’s hard to stop. (You know how topsy-turvy the fight is when the biggest defenders of Pelosi, who has endured being a caricature of extreme liberalism for decades, are Trump and the Wall Street Journal editorial board.)
If you haven’t read the excellent James Lindsay/Mike Nayna analysis of the religion of Social Justice, now’s a good time. Relevant excerpt:
Applied postmodernism begins in postmodernism, which as a social philosophy bears the following axioms, treated as articles of faith, as succinctly (and charitably) summarized by Connor Wood:
Knowledge and truth are largely socially constructed, not objectively discovered.
What we believe to be “true” is in large part a function of social power: who wields it, who’s oppressed by it, how it influences which messages we hear.
Power is generally oppressive and self-interested (and implicitly zero-sum).
Thus, most claims about supposedly objective truth are actually power plays, or strategies for legitimizing particular social arrangements.
So, among the SJW school of progressivism, to question the claims of a high-status person in the hierarchy of Oppression is to deny that those claims have any validity, which really means that you are denying the identity of the grievance-bearer.
The op-ed essay in question was written by Nikole Hannah-Jones, who is black. In it, she takes Sen. Kamala Harris’s side on the busing question, and slams Sen. Joe Biden as a fellow traveler of segregationists:
That we even use the word “busing” to describe what was in fact court-ordered school desegregation, and that Americans of all stripes believe that the brief period in which we actually tried to desegregate our schools was a failure, speaks to one of the most successful propaganda campaigns of the last half century. Further, it explains how we have come to be largely silent — and accepting — of the fact that 65 years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, black children are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid-1970s when Mr. Biden was working with Southern white supremacist legislators to curtail court-ordered busing.
The essay is actually well worth reading — seriously. Here’s what’s hard to understand, though, in that paragraph. If it’s true that “black children are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid-1970s,” then in what sense was busing not a failure? I guess Hannah-Jones means it was succeeding at its goal, until people (white people) decided they didn’t want their kids to go to school with black kids, and therefore declared that busing had “failed.”
Like Kamala Harris, I was one of those kids bused to white schools. Busing was part of a dsegregation plan Waterloo, Iowa, adopted using federal desegregation funds after being sued by the NAACP. Starting in second grade and all the way through high school, I rode a bus two hours a day. It was not always easy, but I am perplexed by the audacity of people who argue that the hardship of a long bus ride somehow outweighs the hardship of being deprived of a good education.
No, black kids should not have to leave their neighborhoods to attend a quality school, or sit next to white students to get a quality education. But we cannot be naïve about how this country works. To this day, according to data collected from the Education Department, the whiter the school, the more resources it has. We cannot forget that so many school desegregation lawsuits started with attempts by black parents to simply get equal resources for black schools. Parents demanded integration only after they realized that in a country that does not value black children the same as white ones, black children will never get what white children get unless they sit where white children sit.
I have spent most of my career chronicling the devastating effects of school segregation on black children. I have spent days in all-black schools with no heat and no textbooks. Where mold runs dark beneath the walls and rodents leave droppings on desks for students to clear in the mornings before they sit down. Where children spend an entire school year without an algebra teacher and graduate never having been assigned a single essay. And then I have driven a few miles down the road to a predominately white school, sometimes within the same district, sometimes in an adjacent one, and witnessed the best of American education. This is not to say that no white children attend substandard schools. But if there is a black school nearby, it is almost always worse.
The black students I talk to in schools that are as segregated as the ones their grandparents attended know it is like this because we do not think they deserve the same education as white children.
This is a choice we make.
The same people who claim they are not against integration, just busing as the means, cannot tell you what tactic they would support that would actually lead to wide-scale desegregation. So, it is an incredible sleight of hand to argue that mandatory school desegregation failed, while ignoring that the past three decades of reforms promising to make separate schools equal have produced dismal results for black children, and I would argue, for our democracy.
Before I write anything else, let me point out a couple of things. I was born in 1967, in a rural Southern parish where the population was (slightly) majority black. My generation was the first to attend integrated schools from the beginning. There was only one elementary school and one high school for the entire parish. Because it was a rural place, with a widely dispersed population, many of us rode the school bus for an hour or more each day. I did, because my mom drove the bus. “Busing” in the sense we’re talking about here did not exist in the integrated public school system I attended.
Now, nobody can doubt that school segregation was unjust, and that black schools received far fewer resources than white schools. “Separate but equal” was not only immoral, it was a lie. Segregation had to end.
The question here, though, is whether the end of segregation should have meant the end of laws mandating segregated schools, or whether it should have mandated positive actions meant to de-segregate school systems. The answer federal judges in the 1970s gave was: desegregation. Hence busing. It seems to me that Hannah-Jones is correct to say that people who oppose busing don’t have anything to offer regarding strategies for desegregating schools.
What she’s ignoring, though, is whether achieving desegregation (as distinct from ending segregation) was worth the political and social cost. She assumes that it was, and that the only reason busing failed was because racist whites wanted to keep their kids from going to school with black kids. Let’s acknowledge that there were plenty of racist whites who flat-out didn’t want their white kids studying with black kids. Shame on them. It’s impossible to watch this 1974 footage from anti-busing protests in Boston and to think that they were only motivated by civic concern, not racism.
But it’s also hard to watch it and think that race hatred explains everything. There’s a white woman in those clips — clearly white working class — who says it’s not fair that her kid can’t go to school at the school across the street, and instead has to be bused across the city. Why is she wrong to be upset by that? Wouldn’t a black parent be similarly upset? The busing-and-desegregation story is more complicated than the simplistic black-white dichotomy.
For one, if Hannah-Jones’s narrative is true, then there could have been no legitimate moral reason for white parents to resist busing. Wanting your kids to go to school in their neighborhood — nope. Wanting your kid to go to school in their neighborhood because you, as a parent, can be more involved there — nope. These are all covers for racism, in the Hannah-Jones view. Or at best, these reasons do not outweigh the moral requirement to achieve desegregation. In other words, reaching racial balance in public schools was such an overwhelming moral imperative that nothing legitimately stands in its way.
The education scholar Stuart Buck — a white man who is the adoptive father of two black children — wrote a fascinating book a few years ago about the “acting white” phenomenon as an “ironic legacy of desegregation.” In it, he documents how black educational achievement at all-black schools was higher than at desegregated schools, even when black schoolchildren had to work in much reduced material conditions. The reason, he theorizes, has to do with a sense of strong community ownership of schools in black communities; it was usually black schools and black teachers who lost out in desegregation. And it has to do with black kids having to deal with the intense stress of competing with whites, particularly in the context of an overall culture marked by the ideology of white supremacy. His book certainly is not a defense of segregation, but it does show how socially and psychologically complicated this story is.
It can’t be denied that white flight from integrated schools made a big difference in the failure of desegregation. But here’s another complicating factor: when black families got into the middle class, many of them left those same schools and headed to the suburbs. They weren’t racist; they wanted to get their kids away from poor black kids from dysfunctional families. Under segregation, they had no choice but to go to those schools. Were they wrong to want out? You might make that argument, but what you can’t do is call their decision racist.
In some places, liberal whites congratulate themselves on still sending their kids to public schools, even though their kids are a minority there. But this can be deceiving. In one Dallas school I wrote about when I lived there, the children of whites actually attended a kind of school-within-the-school, taking advanced courses in which their classes were predominantly white. A Latino school administrator complained to me (as a journalist) that the white liberals were getting credit (among themselves) for their commitment to public education, but in truth their kids didn’t have to deal with the down side of integration: the fact that kids who came from poor and working-class families often had to deal with a lot of family dysfunction that kept them from achieving educationally.
This was (is) a matter of class, and this was (is) a matter of culture. Liberal white friends of mine who teach in heavily minority public schools do so out of idealism, but the stories they tell about the conditions in the schools — regarding the kids’ behavior — are horrifying. One of these friends decided that whatever it took, his children would not attend public school in his district. It wasn’t a matter of the school being public; it was about the kind of public that attended those schools. The violence, the sexualization within those kids’ cultures, the stigmatization of educational achievement — all of these were things that teacher had to deal with every day in the classroom. He didn’t want it for his children.
One white liberal friend of mine quit teaching in her inner-city high school in Baton Rouge when a teenage black male she was trying to discipline told her that if she didn’t leave him alone, he was going to be waiting for her in the parking lot, and was going to rape her. That was the last straw for her. She did not feel safe at the school, and did not trust the administration to protect her. She left teaching, and took up another line of work. More recently, I spoke with an older black woman who quit teaching in a different (mostly-black) public school system after decades, because she could no longer bear the disorder among the students, and the contempt that their parents showed for teachers, and for the educational process. Was she racist too?
I cannot imagine that a black, Latino, or any minority parent who could spare their children such an educational environment would not do so. But this does not show up in Hannah-Jones’s analysis. It’s all about racism.
To be clear: I don’t doubt for a second that pure racism motivated many white parents back then. But I also don’t doubt that for many more white parents, motives were much more mixed than Hannah-Jones indicates.
Simply as a political matter, though, it’s pretty incredible that progressives want to bring up busing again as a cause to fight about in the presidential race. They’re holding up an ideal — achieving de facto desegregation — as something pristine and unchallengeable, and blaming anyone who dissents from it as motivated by bigotry. Maybe 1970s-era Joe Biden was a hypocrite. But he represented the views of his constituents. As this recent story in the Washington Post pointed out, busing was hugely unpopular:
Polling from that time, and for many years to follow, shows that Biden was swimming in the mainstream. Surveys consistently showed majority support for the Brown decision against separate-but-equal education but widespread opposition to using busing to achieve racial integration.
A 1972 Harris Poll found that only 20 percent of Americans favored “busing schoolchildren to achieve racial balance,” with 73 percent against it. A 1978 Washington Post poll found that 25 percent agreed that “racial integration of the schools should be achieved even if it requires busing.”
African Americans were more supportive than whites but also had concerns. John C. Brittain, a civil rights attorney who litigated school segregation cases in that era, noted it was usually black schools that closed, black teachers who were fired and black children who were forced to travel.
“African Americans always had to bear the brunt of implementing school integration,” Brittain said.
In a 1973 Gallup poll, just 9 percent of black respondents chose busing as the best way to achieve school integration from a list of options. The most popular was creating more housing for low-income people in middle-income neighborhoods.
Still, when asked directly by Gallup in 1981 whether they favored busing to achieve racial balance in schools, 60 percent of black respondents said yes, compared with 17 percent of whites.
Still, 40 percent of blacks opposing busing less than a decade after its success in physically desegregating schools is pretty damning.
So, yes, I think it is loony of the left to want to pick a public fight over school busing, especially if it makes voters think that a Democratic president would favor policies that encourage it. For older generations of Americans, busing is a condensed symbol of an entire worldview that sees people who oppose this or that left-liberal policy proposal as deplorables in need of smashing for the sake of justice. It appears that for certain progressives, opposition to busing is a condensed symbol for white intransigence. Identity politics is all about condensed symbols.
It is important and justified to talk about the de facto segregation of American schooling, and how we might overcome that. Yet a core conservative insight is that not every problem is solvable, or at least the solutions to particular problems might impose too high a cost in other areas to be worth it. That’s one way to look at busing as a solution to the desegregation challenge. Telling the American people that achieving certain racial ratios in public schools is a goal so important that no other considerations can be weighed against it, and if they don’t want to accept that judgment, that just shows how racist they are — well, progressives, good luck with that. Your moral absolutism and quickness to embrace the validation that comes with indignation blinds you to your own self-interest. You are making it so much easier for Donald Trump. You don’t want to hear that, but there it is.
Sohrab Ahmari of the NYPost tweeted this:
Every once in a while stories pop up that seem custom-made for The Post, as if by the hand of Providence.
— Sohrab Ahmari (@SohrabAhmari) July 12, 2019
Yes indeed! My valve slammed shut when I read that.
Similarly, every once in a while a piece of journalism will appear that seems custom-made for this blog. In the case of New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo’s latest bit, in which he calls for the abolition of gendered language. Mind you, Manoo is not a columnist for the Oberlin student daily, but the most influential newspaper in the world. He says he’s a normal suburban dad, and doesn’t mind if you call him “he.” However:
But “he” is not what you should call me. If we lived in a just, rational, inclusive universe — one in which we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs, nor the ridiculous expectations signified by those parts about how we should act and speak and dress and feel — there would be no requirement for you to have to assume my gender just to refer to me in the common tongue.
Right. We’re the ones who are “irredeemably obsessed” with genitalia, not the progressives who can’t stop talking about it. More:
I think that’s too cautious; we should use “they” more freely, because language should not default to the gender binary. One truth I’ve come to understand too late in life is how thoroughly and insidiously our lives are shaped by gender norms. These expectations are felt most acutely and tragically by those who don’t conform to the standard gender binary — people who are transgender or nonbinary, most obviously.
But even for people who do mainly fit within the binary, the very idea that there is a binary is invisibly stifling. Every boy and girl feels this in small and large ways growing up; you unwittingly brush up against preferences that don’t fit within your gender expectations, and then you must learn to fight those expectations or strain to live within them.
You can’t understand *anyone* who doesn’t question *everything?*
Maybe other people are both more humble about their reasoning ability, and more grateful that hundreds or thousands of years of human practical experience supplies answers where individual abstract reasoning fails. https://t.co/nqiwOi2f0F
— Michael Brendan Dougherty (@michaelbd) July 12, 2019
Well, not only that, but Manjoo seems oblivious to the ideological privilege he has. Try questioning publicly “every inherited part of the culture and seek to justify it” when the inherited part of the office culture is the standard progressive roster of Thou Shalt Nots — including questioning the abandonment of the gender binary. I am writing this from Poland, which is in general a more culturally conservative country than the US. There are people who work for US-based multinationals who are afraid that they’re going to get fired if they object in any way to this stuff being introduced into their workplace via ukase from American HR departments.
Damon Linker has a great piece about how out-in-left-field-over-the-wall-into-the-bleachers-and-halfway-to-Albuquerque liberals have become on gender in just two shakes of RuPaul’s tail. Linker points out that Manjoo is not going out on any kind of limb here. This kind of gender radicalism is now part of everyday discourse in pop culture, advertising, media discourse, and in the catechisms generated by corporate HR departments. Here’s the most interesting part:
The first thing to be said about these convictions is that, apart from a miniscule number of transgender activists and postmodern theorists and scholars, no one would have affirmed any of them as recently as four years ago. There is almost no chance at all that the Farhad Manjoo of 2009 sat around pondering and lamenting the oppressiveness of his peers referring to “him” as “he.” That’s because (as far as I know) Manjoo is a man, with XY chromosomes, male reproductive organs, and typically male hormone levels, and a mere decade ago referring to such a person as “he” was considered to be merely descriptive of a rather mundane aspect of reality. His freedom was not infringed, or implicated, in any way by this convention. It wouldn’t have occurred to him to think or feel otherwise. Freedom was something else and about other things.
The emergence and spread of the contrary idea — that “gender is a ubiquitous prison of the mind” — can be traced to a precise point in time: the six months following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Almost immediately after that decision was handed down, progressive activists took up the cause of championing transgender rights as the next front in the culture war — and here we are, just four short years later, born free but everywhere in chains.
Linker goes on to say that there is no limiting principle in any of this. It’s all rebellion:
A couple of months ago, when I was in Prague, I sat in a pizza joint interviewing three of the late Czech dissident Vaclav Benda’s adult sons. One of them said something that stuck with me. He was paraphrasing his father:
At the heart of all the totalitarian regimes is the idea of correcting the Creator and stealing your freedom so we can build the new world.
I went back last night to search my electronic copy of Benda’s essay collection The Long Night of the Watchman. I was looking to see if a phrase close to this turned up. I found this:
There are times when Christians do not realize that the idea of the forced establishment of paradise on earth and the emancipation of man with regard to any kind of higher authority comes from the same crucible as the idea of the improvement of sinners (or elimination of their occurrence) with the help of draconian laws, the idea of Christian dictatorship (totalitarianism): rebellion against the Creator stands at the root of all this, the same longing arbitrarily to correct imperfections in His work of creation.
An interesting point! I read on, though, and found this:
Totalitarianism devotes all its strength, all its technical know-how, towards a single goal: the unimpeded exercise of absolute power. It is capable of the most bizarre tactical somersaults imaginable, but it can never, under any circumstances, admit that anything is more important, more sacrosanct, than “the leading role of the party.”
Substitute “progressive towards diversity and inclusivity” for “the leading role of the party,” and you’ve got a pretty good general explanation for these weird manifestations like Manjoo’s column.
Benda said there can be no compromise with totalitarians:
One has either to submit oneself unconditionally to the violent and totalitarian power which sees a threat in every shadow and every free breath, or to confront it and to pit real strength against it (even if this is “mere” moral strength, for even that has shown many times in the history of Christian civilization how effective it can be). What is without any sense at all is to try to persuade the power that we mean well, and that we intend to limit its monopoly (its very essence!) only in its very own interest.
You do know that this stuff really is totalitarian, right? I bet Manjoo doesn’t. It’s totalitarian in part because it will tolerate no deviations. Take the time to read James Lindsay’s and Mike Nayna’s terrific piece analyzing Social Justice as a religion. They say that adherents to the cult aim to establish total power over society, to remake it in their ideal image. Excerpt:
That Social Justice defines the ideology motivating a moral tribe is instantaneously clear. Few communities of people organized around a shared moral vision aside from the most orthodox and fanatical religious sects and cults (whether religious or not) exhibit the traits of moral tribalism more overtly than Social Justice. That Social Justice represents a moral tribe is particularly evident in its tendency to police the moral behavior and thought within it and, where it can, reach outside of itself with what seems to be inexhaustible fervor and near-utter intolerance.
As dissident Benda observed when dealing with the Communist version of this fanatical mentality — which, you will notice, he said can happen also in a Christian context (Benda was a devout Catholic) — there is no peace to be made with these people. They cannot tolerate others, because their reason for being would cease to exist. To tolerate others is to co-exist with “Hate.”
Here, in another Benda passage, is another way that the Social Justice cult and its pomps and works is totalitarian. Remember, he’s writing in the 1980s, talking about Communism. But keep in mind how this applies to what we’re dealing with:
This decisive modus operandi of Czechoslovak totalitarianism is the atomization of society, the mutual isolation of individuals and the destruction of all bonds and facts which might overcome the isolation and manipulability of the individuals, which might enable them to relate to some sort of higher whole and meaning and thus determine their behavior in spheres beyond pure self-preservation and selfishness. I like to use the image of an “iron curtain” lowered not only between East and west, but also between the separate countries of the East (it is very noticeable that our contacts with the west increasingly take the form of an absolute idyll in comparison with the difficulties and adversity we encounter in establishing direct relationships with people from other Eastern countries), between separate social classes and groups, between separate communities, regions and enterprises. But iron curtains were and are lowered inside communities and enterprises too, and—when it comes down to it—even within families (we’ll leave aside curtains around individuals and in their inner selves, whose functioning would require a more subtle analysis). …
Hand in hand and in simple logical connection with the destruction of all social bonds is also the denial of any sort of truth which would be just somewhat impersonal and beyond current practical utility (not long ago I was shocked by young students’ simple unfamiliarity with orthodox Marxist terminology—even in their own schools they no longer try to pretend they are presenting some truths), the collapse and reduction of all values to nothing, the denial of any sort of order, morality and responsibility and eventually the particular perversion of freedom (that supreme gift of God), which is tolerated or even preferred only as mere license and arbitrariness.
As Linker avers, the Left is racing as far and as fast as it can to total atomization, and to unwittingly destroying any natural connections between individuals, and between individuals and objective reality. In Orwell’s 1984, the State sought to conquer Winston Smith’s mind by making him believe that all truth derived from what the Party said — and the Party decreed that all reality was in the mind. If the Party said that 2 + 2 = 5, then that was true. The Party, through its artificial language Newspeak, sought to change the way people talked so as to limit, even eliminate, the ability to think contrarian thoughts. In the end, it would not be enough for the Party to terrorize all opposition to Big Brother into silent submission; the Party’s ultimate goal was to make all souls love Big Brother.
Does this seem overwrought to you? After all, we’re just talking about a dopey column by a sweet, nerdy Millennial NYT columnist, right? See, though, this is exactly how this stuff gets institutionalized. As Linker points out, four years ago, what Manjoo claims in his piece is arbitrary and oppressive was so normal that nobody even thought about it. Now this kind of thing is quickly becoming orthodoxy within
the Inner Party leading progressive circles.
Manjoo engages in a classic piece of left-liberal rhetoric here, saying he wishes that our world were one
… in which we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs
See what he does here? The people who object to his absolutely radical proposal to alter English as it has been spoken for centuries, so that it can fit a bizarre model of biology that only a relative tiny elite of progressives accepts — hey, they’re the ones who are “obsessed” by meaningless flesh in people’s crotches. Fifteen years ago, progressives taunted those who questioned the wisdom of smashing the traditional model of marriage as being “obsessed” with what other people did behind closed doors, etc. The idea is to stigmatize norms as being arbitrary, irrational, and even immoral, as a way to pave the way for the uncompromising introduction of new norms … which are presented as obviously true and good.
Again: this is totalitarian. There’s no limiting principle within this insane ideology. If it’s going to be stopped, it’s going to be stopped by force. One hopes only moral force, and the force of voters pushing back as hard against it as it is pushing against us. One hopes by fighting like mad in the courts to stop it.
This morning in Poland, I am going to give a lecture on the Benedict Option to a group of Polish college students who are on a summer school focusing on theology and politics. I’m going to talk about the Ben Op in a mode that I rarely do: as giving them the kind of deep grounding and formation they need — spiritually, morally, intellectually, and in terms of fellowship and discipleship — to fight these fights. As in the case of Dr. Benda and the Czech dissidents, the day may come when the Party holds all the levers of power. Resistance will have to continue through other means. Doing the Ben Op now, though, means that we will have been formed in the mental, moral, and spiritual habits of resistance.