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.