Hallo, hallo, I interrupt this non-stop gloomery to report that soon my son Matt and I will be departing for a summer in Vienna. We have planned for months to spend the summer in the Austrian capital. I rented a flat from a friend who gave me a fantastic deal, and will use Vienna as a base to travel and do research for my next book. Matt is going to cycle a lot, travel with me some, and look around for grad school programs in Europe.
We visited Vienna last summer for a long weekend, and really liked it. I have some friends there — ADF folks, Mario and Ellen Fantini, and a few others — so we won’t arrive as strangers. I have never really been drawn to German culture, but there is something soft and appealing about the Austrians. I even like to hear their lilting version of spoken German, though German speakers seem to look down on it the way Back Bay Brahmins would snoot at an Alabama drawl.
Let me put the question to you Vienna lovers, and generally to you fans of Austria: what should we do this summer there? Mind you, I’ll not be staying put in one place, and we’ll be living there, not being tourists, so I’m more interested in the kinds of things that should become part of our summer-in-Vienna life. What are some good walks? Good cafes to make our second home? Places to drink wine? Our apartment will be not too far from the opera house, near the center of the city.
And what about Austrian culture? What should we know about it? What are things we should do? Shouldn’t do? What about trips within the country? I was just out here in Baton Rouge, where the temperature is 91 degrees Fahrenheit, with 42 percent humidity, and I’m thinking that I need to be on top of an Alp, drinking a cold crisp lager.
What should we read to prepare? Actually, this is a question for my son. I’ll be reading books of research for the book I’m writing. I insist that he read Joseph Roth’s novel The Radetzky March, Stefan Zweig’s memoir The World of Yesterday, and Paul Hofmann’s nonfiction portrait The Viennese. What else? If I had the whole summer to read what I wanted, I would probably try Robert Musil, but my reading program is set.
There’s a movie theater on the Ring that plays The Third Man, one of the greatest movies ever, regularly. I will find a Third Man tour of Vienna for us. And I might even bring myself to compete for 50,000 krankheits by climbing the Shmatterhorn!
If you have nothing to say about Vienna, why don’t you still add to this thread by talking about your vacation plans for the summer. I’m curious to know where people are going, if you’re going anywhere during this inflationary season.
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A Day In The Culture War
Man, there was some hardcore Democratic craziness on Capitol Hill today. Here is Aimee Arrambide, a Democratic witness before a House committee today, at a hearing on abortion rights:
Truly incredible clip
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) May 18, 2022
A Democrat witness testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on abortion rights Thursday declared that men can get pregnant and have abortions.
Aimee Arrambide, the executive director of the abortion rights nonprofit Avow Texas, was asked by Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., to define what “a woman is,” to which she responded, “I believe that everyone can identify for themselves.”
“Do you believe that men can become pregnant and have abortions?” Bishop asked.
“Yes,” Arrambide replied.
The remarks from Arrambide followed a tense exchange between Bishop and Dr. Yashica Robinson, another Democrat witness, after he similarly asked her to define “woman.”
Here’s the exchange:
Q: “Do you believe that men can become pregnant and have abortions?” –@RepDanBishop
A: “Yes.” -Democrat witness pic.twitter.com/TfxboajSJU
— House Judiciary GOP (@JudiciaryGOP) May 18, 2022
This is what the Democratic Party believes. These are witnesses called by the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee. Dr. Yashica Robinson, a pro-abortion OB/GYN, refused to answer a straightforward question about whether or not she would support the right to abort a child that was halfway out of the birth canal. Dr. Robinson said that such a thing has never happened. But it most certainly has (warning: very graphic video here).
We cannot have this. This has to be stopped. These insane people cannot be allowed to set public policy.
Meanwhile, Woke Disney continues to shape the minds of the young. Witness its new Pride collection of clothing and accessories,which includes kids’ clothing like this queer Star Wars jersey:
Marx believed that capitalism was a revolutionary force. Woke Capitalism is unquestionably the most culturally revolutionary force — and that’s the only revolution that matters today. You saw this ad, I guess, from Calvin Klein:
I do not want to share a society with any of these people. Not the people in this image, not the people who made these image, not the people who profit from images like this. They are destroying us.
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Tucker Carlson Not Surrendering
I’m thrilled that Tucker Carlson isn’t doing the usual right-wing thing and crumpling in the face of bad-faith attacks from the media and Democrats. Watch this 15-minute monologue from him last night, throwing the “Great Replacement” smears back in their faces.
Early in the monologue, Carlson points out that last year, a Syrian immigrant shooter went into a Boulder, Colo., supermarket and allegedly (he has not yet been tried and found guilty) murdered ten people — same number of dead as in Buffalo. Unlike this week in Buffalo, Joe Biden didn’t fly to that crime scene, Tucker said. Why not? Because that mass shooting didn’t fit the Narrative. He was a Person of Color, not a white supremacist. Colorado Public Radio even did a story at the time about how worried Colorado Muslims were of “backlash” because the shooter was Muslim. The Washington Post ran an analysis that pointed out that the Syrian shooter was, in fact, legally white, and an example of “whiteness”. So the Narrative Managers were able to call this an example of white male violence after all!
I also didn’t realize until watching this segment how mentally ill Payton Gendron, the Buffalo shooter, was. Did you know that he was hospitalized for 20 hours as a high school student because he had threatened mass shooting? Did you know that he wore a hazmat suit to school for an entire week? Did you know that his mother once helped him bury a cat that he had tortured and killed? Animal torture is a MASSIVE warning sign! This kid has been priming himself for homicide. But sure, let’s blame Tucker Carlson for this heinous act.
Below is the especially valuable part of the Carlson segment — the one in which he video-quotes passages of Democratic politicians and pundits saying explicitly that non-white immigration is diluting white voting power, and that’s a good thing. Watch:
Carlson smirks appropriately at the end, “So you play clips of them saying it, and you’re the deranged conspiracy nut.”
About the op-eds and media claims about how whites are declining in political strength, and what a great thing that is, Carlson says:
“If you don’t want people to be paranoid and angry, maybe you don’t write pieces like that, and rub it in their face, and give them the finger day after day.”
His point — and it’s a good one — is that the Left is totally gaslighting us on the “Great Replacement” thing. If you believe that whites are being displaced politically by immigration and the growth of non-white communities, and that it’s a good thing, you’re fine to say so. But if you believe that and you think it’s bad — well, you are a white supremacist who encourages loonies to commit mass murder.
Carlson brought up this 2013 story from Politico, which is as mainstream Washington political reporting as it gets. Here is a screenshot of the headline:
From the piece:
The immigration proposal pending in Congress would transform the nation’s political landscape for a generation or more — pumping as many as 11 million new Hispanic voters into the electorate a decade from now in ways that, if current trends hold, would produce an electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.
Beneath the philosophical debates about amnesty and border security, there are brass-tacks partisan calculations driving the thinking of lawmakers in both parties over comprehensive immigration reform, which in its current form offers a pathway to citizenship — and full voting rights — for a group of undocumented residents that roughly equals the population of Ohio, the nation’s seventh-largest state.
If these people had been on the voting rolls in 2012 and voted along the same lines as other Hispanic voters did last fall, President Barack Obama’s relatively narrow victory last fall would have been considerably wider, a POLITICO analysis showed.
Again, if you notice this from a progressive or neutral point of view, it’s fine. But if you notice this as a conservative, and you say you don’t like it, you are a RACIST.
Check out the headline on this Michelle Goldberg column in The New York Times:
It more or less concedes the white nationalists’ point, and says too bad for them. Excerpts:
Right now America is tearing itself apart as an embittered white conservative minority clings to power, terrified at being swamped by a new multiracial polyglot majority. The divide feels especially stark in Georgia, where the midterm election is a battle between Trumpist reaction and the multicultural America whose emergence the right is trying, at all costs, to forestall.
“Any time there is progress made there will always be moments of retrenchment,” Abrams said to me later on Saturday. But, she added, “what I am more excited about is the counterforce that we’re seeing in the number of people running for office who represent a much more forward-looking, progressive vision.”
Abrams’s goal is to put together a coalition of African-American and other minority voters and white liberals. The potential is there; Georgia is less than 53 percent non-Hispanic white. “Georgia is a blue state if everybody votes,” DuBose Porter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, told me.
On Saturday morning, Abrams closed by reminding the crowd of Kemp’s views on democracy. “He said he is concerned that if everyone eligible to vote in Georgia does so, he will lose this election,” she said. “Let’s prove him right.” In a week, American voters can do to white nationalists what they fear most. Show them they’re being replaced.
You can’t have it both ways, liberal media. I mean, you can, because you usually do, but finally at least some conservatives are not intimidated by your hypocrisy. Take a listen (or a look at the transcript) of how NPR yesterday tried to blame these murders on Tucker Carlson and Fox News. Excerpts:
[HOST MARY LOUISE] KELLY: David, you start. And let’s start there with Tucker Carlson, who – just to be clear, he is not mentioned in this 180-page screed that authorities say the alleged gunman posted online. Right?
[MEDIA CORRESPONDENT DAVID] FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. He’s not anywhere in there, not at all. Instead, he cites the influences of 4chan and invokes what’s called the so-called “great replacement theory,” this idea that these amorphous forces are trying to replace whites – started a century ago in France, moved around, different targets in different places.
KELLY: So in this century, why is why is Tucker Carlson part of this conversation? What’s his role here?
FOLKENFLIK: Because he’s made it acceptable to talk about it. If you look at what leading white supremacists have said, a number of them really hail him for popularizing their views, and particularly on this. I think there are two ways to think about Carlson being part of this. One is through the sheer volume of his coverage. And the other is the influence he has in the Trump wing of the Republican Party on and off the air. He’s one of Fox’s most popular shows. And if you think about him as a political force, people have even – talking about him as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024 should Trump not run.
Yeah, so Tucker Carlson isn’t anywhere in the 180-page manifesto the alleged killer left explaining why he did what he did … but it’s Tucker’s fault anyway, according to David Folkenflik. More:
KELLY: Well, let me turn us to the politics of this, which brings me to you, Domenico. How influential is this? How does this filter into the politics of the right in America?
[NPR POLITICAL ANALYST DOMENICO] MONTANARO: I mean, David’s documented pretty well how conservative media, particularly Tucker Carlson, has played a pretty big role in all of this. We have seen his influence with the base of Republican voters, certainly in that Trump base. We’ve seen in polling, for example, that people who watch conservative media far more likely to believe in the tenets of replacement that – and that it’s, in fact, happening in this country. Almost half of Republicans believe replacement is happening, according to a recent AP-NORC poll.
So it’s taken some degree of hold. But the seeds of this go pretty far back. You know, the fights over affirmative action in the 1980s when manufacturing jobs were being outsourced in huge numbers. Blue-collar jobs were becoming increasingly scarce. And that led some politicians to try and exploit that for political gain. I think back to 1990, for example, in this ad run by the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms called “White Hands.” Take a listen to part of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, “WHITE HANDS”)
JESSE HELMS: You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?
MONTANARO: And you see in that a white man in a flannel shirt crumple up a piece of paper. And fast-forward to the fights over immigration in this century, and that narrative really took hold on the right. Here was Donald Trump as a candidate for president three months before the 2016 presidential election, backstage at the Values Voter Summit to the Christian Broadcasting Network.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you’re going to have people flowing across the borders. You’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in, and they’re going to be legalized, and they’re going to be able to vote. And once that all happens, you can forget it.
KELLY: So he’s not actually using the word replacement – not using it explicitly – but clearly talking about it, and then taking that and moving into the White House.
MONTANARO: Right. And when he was in the White House and when he campaigned again, he’s been – he did it in very intentional ways and continues to do it. I mean, earlier this year, Trump was at a rally, and he exaggerated what was happening with a COVID program in New York. He claimed that whites were being made to go, quote, “to the back of the line” for therapeutics. So I called up Casey Kelly a professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, who has studied Trump’s language. He says what Trump has tried to do to exploit white grievance is to reframe experiences of alienation that many in rural America feel that pop culture doesn’t reflect who they are anymore and show it as something purposeful that’s being done to them.
I remember when that Helms ad was controversial, and I understand why it was controversial. But here’s the thing: that’s what affirmative action and quota hiring do! This is the most amazing thing about the liberal/progressive mind: they celebrate things that actively stigmatize and discriminate against people on the basis of race, sex, and sexual orientation … but if you are one of those stigmatized and discriminated against, and you don’t agree that you deserve it, then you are a bigot for saying so!
Notice that what Donald Trump said in the quoted piece above is pretty much what Politico said in 2013, and what a panoply of liberal politicians, academics, and pundits have been saying for years. But when Trump says it, well, shut the front door, that’s RACIST!
About the Covid comments from Trump, here’s an MSN report from when he first said it, and the context in which he said it:
Speaking during a rally in Florence, Arizona, Trump alleged that coronavirus vaccines and treatments are being unfairly “rationed” and withheld from white Americans in some states.
“The left is now rationing life-saving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating, just denigrating white people to determine who lives and who dies,” Trump said during his speech. “You get it based on race. In fact, in New York state, if you’re white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical help. If you’re white, you go right to the back of the line.”
The former president’s comments came in reference to a recent New York state policy that allows health-care providers to consider race as a risk factor when administering limited supplies of antiviral treatments to those most in need.
That policy states that “non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk” due to “longstanding systemic health and social inequities” that increase the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. The guidelines come after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Hispanic or Latino people are 2.1 time more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people, while Black people are 1.9 times more likely to succumb to the virus.
Did Trump “exaggerate”? Maybe. But note this Jan. 7 Wall Street Journal op-ed from left-wing academics John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, criticizing the very New York state policy that Trump criticized. Excerpts:
New York state recently published guidelines for dispensing potentially life-saving monoclonal antibodies and oral antivirals like Paxlovid to people suffering from mild to moderate symptoms of Covid-19. These treatments are in short supply, and they must be allocated to those most in need.
According to these guidelines, sick people who have tested positive for Covid should be eligible to receive these drugs if they have “a medical condition or other factors that increase their risk for severe illness.” These include standard criteria like age and comorbidities like cancer, diabetes and heart disease—but, startlingly, they also include simply being of “non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity,” which “should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.”
Consider the following cases: A middle-aged investment banker born in Colombia shows up at a physician’s office in Manhattan; a laid-off middle-aged worker of Italian ancestry shows up at a doctor’s office in Rochester, N.Y. Neither has medical risk factors, but both have mild to moderate symptoms of Covid-19. The wealthy Colombian-American could be given Paxlovid; the laid-off auto worker would be turned away. You can construct thousands of these comparative cases using well-off Hispanics, Asians or blacks and working-class whites.
This is unfair and possibly illegal. With these kinds of regulations, the Democrats who control New York reinforce the racial and ethnic divisions that grew during Donald Trump’s presidency. These state officials have been abetted by social scientists who collect survey data in a manner that, intentionally or not, confirms their presuppositions.
All this suggests that the racial lens on Covid disparities is inadequate. A broader lens that included class factors would be unlikely to suggest to public health officials that the Indian-American CEOs of Alphabet and Microsoft ought to get priority over white Walmart clerks and hospital orderlies. Who should receive scarce Covid treatments should be based on genuine medical risk factors such as age and comorbidity, but class disparities can be relevant to deciding where to spend money to increase access to public-health benefits including vaccination and testing.
Liberal political scientists and many Democratic officials seem determined to ignore class divisions and instead divide the country up by race and ethnicity. This practice, which is unpopular outside elite media, universities and nonprofits, contributed to the rise of Mr. Trump. If it continues, Democrats could pay a lasting political price, which could threaten the welfare of groups Democrats want to help.
So Trump might have exaggerated, but his basic claim was true — and here you have two prominent left-wing commentators warning the Left not to go down this route, because it helps Trump.
Back to the NPR story. Here is Folkenflik griping that Fox won’t fire Tucker Carlson:
KELLY: And what about media on the right? Let me bring it back to you to close us out, David Folkenflik. Is there any pushback? Is there any – say, at Fox News, which employs Tucker Carlson, is there any sign that they’re addressing this rhetoric?
FOLKENFLIK: None whatsoever. Fox News almost invariably – and again, in this case today – doesn’t comment, just points you to what Carlson has had to say on his show about this subject. In his case last night, Tucker Carlson called the shooting horrific, said the accused shooter was racist and also mentally ill. But he’s turning the tables, essentially using this to lay into President Biden and Democrats for playing what he says are racial politics. The parent company, Fox Corporation under Lachlan Murdoch, says this is just all part of an open, lively debate and discussion, won’t really engage on it now. But in reality, Fox News has stripped away restraint. And you aren’t seeing repercussions for Carlson. And what that means is you’re seeing other opinion hosts dip into these waters. And some news anchors essentially allow guests to propagate the same racial replacement racist theories without any pushback or contradiction. And in doing that, they’re simply following Carlson, who is clearly the leader of the pack at Fox.
This is how they roll, the Left. They want to fire people who say things they don’t like. They want Tucker Carlson cancelled because he notices the same things they all notice, but he thinks it’s bad, not good — and says so.
This leftist crybullying increasingly doesn’t work anymore. At last!
I urge the usual left-wing commentators to watch the 15-minute Carlson monologue before phoning in your usual complaints.
UPDATE: Excellent observations by commenter AnnieOfArc:
In 2006 I identified as left-wing. When I went to live in Texas it became apparent the state would be purple and then blue within the next 20 years. My friends and I would delightedly chuckle about this, though I quickly started to laugh a little quieter. I remembered what happened to my lower middle class neighborhood flooded by immigration a few years earlier.
Years passed and I was less and less able to avert my eyes or close my ears. My life is full of lovely, wealthy liberals, all of whom have gloated and boasted about demographic change leading to blue party dominance. They brag about themselves moving to places like North Carolina to turn it blue, and then sneer about the parochialism of the locals. But the colonists are proudly saying they hate them, attempting to dispossess them, and then want them to be congratulated for it!
Of course I’m no longer a partisan of any party. The sins and virtues of all peoples are more than enough to contemplate in their complexity for many lifetimes. But the particular colonization techniques of elite liberalism leave a particular feeling of disgust in my mouth. Colonialism, by any means possible, is alive and thriving, and they will shriek for your banishment if you notice what they bragged about 90 seconds ago.
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The Anglosphere’s most elite universities continue to beclown themselves: Cambridge University undergraduates are to be taught to regard Mozart’s music as imperialistic.
I know I keep saying that the totalitarian impulse ruining liberal democratic society today is like unto the Soviet Union, but they didn’t go that far even in Soviet Russia. In fact, the pianist who famously rebuked Stalin and lived to tell the tale (this story is recalled in the black comedy The Death of Stalin) was playing Mozart on the radio when the dictator heard her and loved her performance so much he demanded a recording of it. So, wrap your mind around the idea that Josef Stalin was more tolerant of Mozart than Cambridge University instructors.
Meanwhile, in the US, Princeton University advances towards woke madrassah status:
Princeton University is planning to fire one of the most distinguished classics professors in the country, Joshua Katz, after his criticism of the school’s racial politics made him the target of student protests and the subject of two separate university investigations.
University president Christopher Eisgruber—who in 2020 alleged that Katz had failed to exercise his free speech “responsibly”—passed his recommendation that Katz be stripped of tenure and fired to the university’s board of trustees last week, according to three sources with firsthand knowledge of the situation.
It is rare for a university to fire a tenured professor, and even rarer for a university to fire a professor with Katz’s record: By the university’s own admission, he did not commit fraud or sexual misconduct, two of the most common grounds for revoking tenure. Rather, the university is citing as grounds for dismissal a consensual relationship Katz engaged in with a student more than a decade ago, and for which he was already disciplined by the school in 2018.
The board is all but guaranteed to accept Eisgruber’s recommendation when it meets on Wednesday, the sources said. Board members include Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken, who has presided over several high-profile free speech-related scandals on her campus, including the intimidation of a second-year law student by university administrators.
Princeton University did not respond to a request for comment.
Why are they going after Katz? It began back in 2020 with an astonishingly illiberal, even semi-totalitarian, proposal by black faculty members and allies that Princeton fully embrace race radicalism, to atone for its alleged racism. Part of the proposal called for:
… a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty, following a protocol for grievance and appeal to be spelled out in Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. Guidelines on what counts as racist behavior, incidents, research, and publication will be authored by a faculty committee for incorporation into the same set of rules and procedures.
Like I said, totalitarian.
Katz responded with a public letter in Quillette criticizing the proposal. Though he is one of the nation’s most accomplished classicists, Princeton has endeavored to make his life hell ever since. One of his lead antagonists is Dan-el Padilla Peralta, once mentored by Katz, and who now, as a Princeton Classics professor himself, is trying to overturn the field of Greco-Roman studies to “save it from whiteness.”
If Princeton fires Katz today, I hope he takes them to court and walks away with a fat fortune. I cannot imagine, though, that most Princeton alumni and donors would be happy with what Eisgruber and the board will have done. This is precisely the reason that many revolutions succeed: liberals charged with gatekeeping collapse morally and functionally in the face of radical challenge.
If Katz is sent down, Princeton is probably lost. No professor will feel free to resist the woke totalitarians. If they can get a tenured professor of Katz’s academic status fired for crossing the ideological line, who is safe?
I should say that since all this began in the Summer of Floyd, I’ve gotten to know Joshua Katz somewhat. He is a very fine and generous man, and a friend — which makes his persecution at the hands of Princeton’s privileged and powerful personally galling to me. What the Princeton board does not understand is that if they make a free speech and academic freedom martyr of Joshua Katz, they will, in the end, have done themselves and the Ivy League more damage than they realize. You don’t persecute and abominate a man like that without serious consequences. Bring them on.
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I drove down to New Orleans last night to have dinner and spend the night with some old friends. It’s the first time we’ve seen each other since my divorce news, and they wanted to offer me some bourbon and sympathy. What I’m about to tell you I do so with the permission of the wife, “Alison” (not her real name).
Alison — middle to upper-middle class white person — is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, which, of course, knows no class boundaries. She struggled for years to deal with it before finally getting the help she needed. Part of her recovery has been to involve herself in charity work helping families in severe crisis. This has become her passion. She’s an Uptown New Orleans lady who looks like everybody else walking around this part of the city, but this woman, I swear, is a saint. I mean it seriously. Working out of her own radical brokenness, Alison, a committed Evangelical Christian, has thrown herself into helping children who are even more vulnerable than she was.
When I said goodbye to her this morning, after hearing the story of one family she’s helping, I said to her, “My God, if you weren’t in their life, where would they be?”
She replied, “That’s exactly what made me do it. When I first heard about them, I said, ‘Lord, do I really want to wade into that mess?’ And I realized that if I just stood by and let it happen, those kids would have nobody advocating for them.”
This family is a black family. Four kids, I think, all by different fathers, but there is a man in the house, their mother’s longterm boyfriend, who seems like a good guy. They were homeless when Alison was put in contact with them through a charity she works for. They were living in a hotel on Chef Menteur Highway, which, said Alison, “is the human trafficking district of New Orleans.”
She explained that human trafficking — that is to say, trafficking in sex slaves — is “one of our big tourist draws in New Orleans” (she was being sarcastic). She said, “We have way more pedophiles in this society than people think.” She told me about a friend of hers who works in state government, on a task force fighting human trafficking, who goes into crowds when there are big sporting events in the city, and passes out leaflets warning people that the “girlfriend” they hire might be a sex slave.
“A lot of these people come to town and want prostitutes,” said Alison. “And a lot of them want ten year old girls.”
She then told me about a world that I only barely knew existed. And it was this world from which she was trying to save the children in that family.
But to do that, she had to help save the family from itself. She told the back story of how they used to live with the mother’s mother (that is, the grandmother of the kids). That woman was abusive, and stole the paychecks of her daughter, the children’s mother, and gambled them away. Finally they got out of that situation. The mom, though, “has no idea how to be a mother,” said Alison. She was never taught. Alison has to teach this poor woman basic things about how to live life — the kind of things that most of us take for granted.
When Alison first encountered them, she set up an escape plan for them to get out of that trafficking motel and into safe housing for six months, during which time they were supposed to figure out a plan for their lives. The six months came and went and … no plan. Alison says that they simply could not imagine the future, or imagine that they have any agency.
I forget the timeline as I write, but at some point the kids lived in the care of a distant relative who ran an unlicensed day care center. She abused these children — little children! — so badly that one of them ended up in the ICU. When the child protective services got involved, they found that the other children had bite marks on their torsos. This distant relative who ran a freaking day care, was abusing them in ways that other people couldn’t detect.
Eventually, Alison opened doors and got the children and their reunited parents moved to a town that’s safe. They didn’t want to go at first, saying, “they don’t like black people there.” Alison had to explain that a lot of black people lived there, and that the schools for the children would be almost entirely black.
This is just one family. Just one family. But, says Alison, this city, and this country, is full of people like them. Alison plans to spend the rest of her life pouring herself out to do what nobody did for her, growing up in a solid middle-class conservative Christian family: do her best to make sure the kids are safe.
Listening to Alison’s stories — and she works with other cases too — made me realize how completely unrealistic our discussion in this country is about race, class, and poverty. This is one reason why J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy struck such a chord in me: because he talked about white people who lived in many ways with the same internal social chaos as these black people Alison helps. One great strength of J.D.’s book — something that angered his liberal critics — is that he criticized his own people for their failures to thrive. For their drinking and drugging, and not showing up for work, and for creating a culture of failure.
Alison’s husband was telling me about this family his wife helps, and how so much of the brokenness and exploitation came from a “truth” of the family that the wicked grandmother told: that her daughter’s paycheck didn’t belong to her daughter, but to “the family,” which meant that Granny got to control it … and she gambled it away while they all lived in poverty. Granny exploited the idea that “family” means more than anything else. This went on for years before the young mother realized what was going on, and told Granny that you won’t be getting my paycheck anymore and taking it to the casino. Granny called child protective services and told them that her daughter was abusing the kids. They seized the children — this, because Granny wanted to punish her daughter for standing up for herself.
I told Alison’s husband about two extended families I know of back home — one black, and one white — that operate this way. How children raised in those family systems can ever break out of it is a mystery. One of these families I wrote about in Little Way. My late sister helped a student of hers do so. That student, who came from one of the poorest families in the parish, went on to get a graduate degree, and has built a successful life as a wife, mother, and professional out in California. I asked her after I interviewed her for the book if she ever thought about coming back to Louisiana. Never, she said: if she did, her family would eat her and her husband and their kids alive. This woman had been delivered from a culture of drink, drugs, and abuse — and could not afford to look back.
Family. The details she gave me about how the members of her clan treat each other made me realize that there is not enough private charity or government programs in the world to fix that kind of brokenness. Same with the white family clan I’m thinking of. At some point, something essential was lost. Me being me, I thought about the collapse of the western Roman Empire, and how total it was. As the Oxford archaeologist and historian Bryan Ward-Perkins has shown, when the Roman state fell apart in the West, the amount of basic human knowledge that was lost was massive.
I wonder if we are living in a failed society, in the sense that the systems that passed along basic social knowledge have been lost to large numbers of people, and are being lost. I’ve written here about how bizarre it was to go to a conservative Evangelical college about a decade ago — a predominantly white school in a fairly conservative part of the country — and to have a conversation with a professor who told me the thing that worried him most about his students was that they would not be able to form functional families. This mystified me. Why not? I asked.
“Because most of these kids have never seen one,” he replied. All the other professors around the table nodded.
(I am aware, of course, that I am making this point as a man whose wife is divorcing him, and whose children are now … well, you know. And yet, as regular readers know, I have said that even though I did not choose this path, I believe my wife chose the less bad option, given how long we had both been suffering in a marriage that long ago broke down irretrievably. We have the freedom today to end bad marriages — and even marriages between two people who are faithful Christians who believe in the sanctity of marriage can go bad. So much of the stability that we long for in the past depended on people having to absorb a hell of a lot of suffering, with no hope of relief. I believe that our inability to tolerate suffering is a big part of what’s wrong with our society and culture — but that said, that doesn’t mean that one must accept deep suffering in every instance as simply a fact of life.)
Anyway, what has happened to the poor is now moving up the social ladder, though in different ways. The very poor are homeless and living in fleabag motels on the Chef Menteur Highway, trying to keep their children from being trafficked. The middle class and the rich are trying to figure out how to keep their children from deciding that they are the opposite sex and want to cut their breasts or their balls off. As a people, we are forgetting the basic skills of how to be human. Don’t you think? I interviewed Prof. Ward-Perkins years ago, and he told me that it’s difficult for modern people to conceive of how total the loss of technical knowledge was when Rome fell. For instance, he said it took Europeans a thousand years to learn how to build roofs as well as the Romans.
That’s not likely to happen to us, thanks to technology. There will always be books that can teach us how to build roofs. But what about knowledge of how to raise a family? How to create stability? How to build a resilient society?
I’m not talking about utopia, please understand. We will always have evil with us. It’s in our nature. The kind of evils that adults visit on children, and that Alison was telling me about — the evils to the poor black family, and the evil that was done to her as a child by members of her extended family — are not a function of bad social systems, or poverty, or anything other than the evil that lurks inside every human heart. I firmly believe that the best we can do is build societies in which the instances of evil are limited, but it cannot be eliminated. An attempt to do so would create other evils. You could build a theocratic police state where vice is heavily policed, but think of all the other evils that trying to stamp out particular evils would create. Any proposed solution that ignores the urgent need for repentance, and the reformation of each individual’s heart, is a false one.
Solzhenitsyn famously said that one of the most important lessons he learned in the gulag is that the line between good and evil doesn’t run between social classes, but down the middle of every single human being’s heart. We are always looking for scapegoats. I was thinking on the drive back to Baton Rouge today of a person I know whose mother looked the other way while he was being abused by others in the family. He told me that to this day, she refuses to admit any responsibility for what was done to him. “It’s not that it’s her fault, exactly,” he once said. “But she had a part in it. She can’t say that she’s sorry. This is how she’s been all her life, blaming everybody else for all her failures.”
He no longer talks to his mom. My sense is that all he asks from her is that she say, “I’m sorry I failed you.” But she won’t. This is as old as Adam blaming Eve for making him taste of the forbidden fruit. Scapegoating is in our nature. Alison told me this morning that she and her mom are rebuilding their relationship, but it took a while, because her mom did not want to face her own role in the abuse that happened to her daughter (it was the same kind of deal: the mom should have recognized what was happening, but did not want to see the obvious signs, because that would have forced her to take responsibility to protect her child by offending other family members).
How much respect I have for Alison! She can never undo what was done to her, but she’s healing now — and she has used her own experience of deep suffering to reach out to others, especially children, to try to save them from some version of what happened to her. Alison has political views, and I’m quite sure she has ideas about what the state, and private society, can and should be doing that it’s not. But Alison is also a faithful Christian, and there is a certain realism about her Christianity. She doesn’t harbor illusions that all this brokenness can be fixed if we just adjust the technocratic formulas, or crusade sufficiently in the media against this or that social evil, or demonize this or that race, religion, or class of people. She believes that sin is real, and Jesus Christ, the God who entered into the human condition, and suffered as unjustly and as painfully as anyone suffered, is the only real hope for any of us. She is trying to be Christ to that poor family. She told me that on Mother’s Day, the mom of that family texted her to say, “You have taught me more about how to be a mother than my own mother ever did.” Alison, who has no children of her own, but whose heart was broken, and out of it pours love for the other broken people.
She got me to thinking on the drive home: how will I allow the broken heart I have over my divorce change me? How can I allow this suffering not to embitter me, or make me cynical, but rather more loving? If you read the thing I posted here about the small miracle I had in Jerusalem on Holy Thursday (see “A Resurrection in Jerusalem”), you’ll know that I spent Holy Week at the chapel built over Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, praying for my wife, my kids, and myself. On that Thursday, I was at a different chapel, this one at the base of the stone hill that was Golgotha, and I felt the presence of Jesus at my right side. I wrote:
The morning after I found out that my wife was divorcing me, I came to Jerusalem. I have spent a lot of time atop Golgotha, praying for her, praying for me, praying for our kids. I have been grieving. God has given me an ability to see my wife as someone who has been suffering greatly too. I have not been able to muster anger at her. We are just so unbelievably exhausted from all this. Nine years of it.
So: as I sat in that silent crypt this morning, I thought about the sword in the stone, then I remembered that today is Holy Thursday, the day that Jesus Christ was taken in the Garden of Gethsemane to his trial. On this night, Peter drew his sword to protect the Lord from his enemies, but Jesus told him to put it away, and surrendered to his fate. Jesus knew that what was about to happen had to happen for all righteousness to be fulfilled.
I heard the inner voice say to me that now was the time to put away my sword — that is, to stop fighting for a restoration of the past. In fact, said the voice, I had done that at the monastery. I had made the long nine-year journey across the empty bath with the flame alight; now I needed to place it on the stone and be free. Then it hit me: that stone where I had just been praying was the stone that marks the spot (traditionally, if not necessarily literally) where the Romans discarded the Cross. The inner voice was telling me that the fight was over, that what was about to happen — meaning the dissolution of the marriage — had to happen.
But why? I asked. Why not just restore the marriage?
I didn’t wait for an answer, but banished the questions. I may never know, and that’s beside the point. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? We are dealing with the deepest mysteries here.
Why doesn’t God smite the child traffickers and child molesters? Why doesn’t he punish the evil grandmothers who exploit their children? Why doesn’t he stop the white supremacist mass shooters before they can pull the trigger? You get nowhere going down this path. I think of my friend Michael, who is now dead. He was raped by the monsignor who was principal of his Catholic school when he was around eleven years old. This would have been in the 1960s. He told his working-class Irish Catholic mother what happened. She slapped him hard and told him never to speak ill of a priest. That was it. He became the sex slave of a priest who went on to become a bishop. Michael became a chronic alcoholic who compulsively sought out sex with men, often priests. Eventually, as an older man, he found sobriety.
He told me about how back in 2002, I think it was, a priest from somewhere in the Balkans came through New York to say some masses. This priest was purported to have some sort of mystical gifts of healing. The priest said mass at a big parish in Queens. Michael went to the mass, though the priest spoke no English. He was hoping for a miracle. Michael said he waited in line to get the priest’s blessing, and made sure that he was one of the last ones. He didn’t want to be greedy.
He knelt to receive the blessing, then began making his way toward the exit. Before he got to the door, an English-speaking assistant of the Balkan priest ran to him, took him by the arm, and said, “Father wants me to tell you that the Holy Virgin saw your suffering there, at the hands of that priest. She was there with you, and suffered too.”
When Michael told me that, he was crying. Those words had been so healing to him. My unspoken thought was, But why didn’t she strike down the evil monsignor? Michael, he was just grateful that he had been seen, and that the Mother of God shared his suffering. That was enough for him.
It is enough for me, in my own suffering, to know Jesus was there with me, and in some way, this was part of His plan. My suffering is very, very small compared to what Alison endured, and to what the family she’s helping endures. Alison can’t fix all that is wrong with that poor family. But she can try to fix what she can, and she can continue to walk with them, and share their suffering. What else is there?
We will never be able to straighten every crooked line, and right every wrong, though that is certainly no excuse for not acting when we have the capability to do so. We are going to need a lot more Alisons in the days to come. And by the way, in the subhed of this piece, I said, “What a once-broken and abused woman is doing to redeem her suffering.” Alison would be the first one to correct me. She would have me say, “What a once-broken and abused woman is allowing Christ to do through her to redeem her suffering.” She has in her kitchen a kintsugi vase — it’s a Japanese style of pottery that’s about the art of embracing damage. It’s a sign of her new wholeness.
UPDATE: The commenter Lord Karth, who is an upstate New York lawyer, writes:
It’s worse than you think, Mr. Dreher.
In my 34 years of Family Court practice, I have had to tell any number of people that they had to make a choice between abusive/drug-using/alcoholic “significant others” and getting/keeping their children. In the first dozen years or so, I tended to get angry looks. The clients (mostly women) pretty much knew what they were doing was not good. They didn’t like being called on it.
In the last dozen years or so, the reactions have changed. The most common reaction I get these days is stunned, uncomprehending surprise. They honestly do not know that the situations are bad, either for themselves or the children.
They simply do not get it. I could be speaking Sanskrit for all they comprehend.
You don’t know the half of it, Mr. Dreher. You really and truly don’t. Come up and make the rounds of CNY Family Courts with me. I’ll show you situations that make the ones you describe look like a picnic.
That is the change: that so many of us have lost the capacity to discern good and evil in these matters. A white friend who, until relatively recently, lived for decades in a black part of Baton Rouge (he remained in the house his parents lived in, even after white flight), told me that the only strings holding together any semblance of healthy social order in his old neighborhood were the grandparents’ generation — and they are dying out. They are the only ones with any memory of the Before Times. It sounds like this is fast becoming the situation for all of us in America. Remember the quote above from the Evangelical college professor, who said that his (mostly white) students had never experienced a stable family.
Wanting to protect our children from that is one of the reasons my wife and I struggled so hard, and for so long, to preserve our failing marriage. What grief, all around… .
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Whiteshift & The Demons The Left Summons
Is there anybody who doesn’t recognize the Buffalo massacre as a racist abomination, and the (alleged) murderer as the scum of the earth? Of course not! Is there any decent person who doesn’t deplore the racist propaganda on the Internet? No!
This is (mostly) not a blog post about that demonic act and actor, or the hateful philosophy that drove him. You can find those kinds of stories and commentaries everywhere. Insofar as they condemn him, his deed, and the ideology that motivated him, I endorse them, or at least that part of those commentaries. But this blog post is a story about how the media are exploiting this horror to forward a narrative that demonizes political actors they hate.
First, let me share with you a story about how this works, in a fairly non-political story. Check out this new 40-minute documentary from the New York Post, about the Pentagon’s secret office investigating UFOs.Remember what a huge deal it was when The New York Times revealed this thing existed? I do. I believed all of it. We had ex-government officials on the record, and besides, it was in the Times, our national paper of record. Well, it turns out that there was a hell of a lot more to the story than we knew — and a hell of a lot less — as the Post‘s documentary reveals. You’ll need to watch it yourself, but they show how that narrative was consciously constructed, leaving out the inconvenient fact that the government had also been paying, as part of the same program, for research into werewolves, poltergeists, and cryptozoology at a remote ranch owned by a rich friend and financial supporter of Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid. Leslie Kean, one of the main promoters of the UFO story (and a co-author of the Times blockbuster), admits on camera that she left out the occult part of the program because she didn’t want it to discredit the UFO work, which she believes in.
The point here is not that UFOs do or do no exist. The point is that activists had an interest in creating a specific narrative, and it was a narrative that a lot of people — including your blog host — were eager to believe. Who doesn’t want to believe that there’s a secret X Files office at the Pentagon investigating and documenting the Truth That’s Out There™? It’s an awesome story! It confirms what a lot of us want to believe.
In that spirit, look at this:
This is just one example of a story that is everywhere in the liberal media, and left-wing social media. Today the Times uses it to go after Republicans and, in particular, Tucker Carlson — though buried deep in the story is this line:
Measuring the extent of Mr. Carlson’s influence in spreading replacement theory may be impossible.
Here is a clip from Media Matters for America, the left-wing activist organization, alleging that Tucker Carlson is an advocate of “white replacement” theory. They are quoting a 2021 Carlson segment about immigration. Transcript:
TUCKER CARLSON (GUEST): I’m laughing because this is one of about 10 stories that I know you have covered where the government shows preference to people who have shown absolute contempt for our customs, our laws, our system itself and they are being treated better than American citizens. Now, I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term “replacement,” if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.
If you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there. So every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter. So I don’t understand what we don’t understand cause, I mean, everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it. Oh, you know, the white replacement theory? No, no, no. This is a voting right question. I have less political power because they are importing a brand new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that? The power that I have as an American guaranteed at birth is one man, one vote, and they are diluting it. No, they are not allowed to do it. Why are we putting up with this?
It sounds to me like Tucker Carlson is complaining about mass migration bringing into the US a Democratic-friendly electorate that would weaken the voting power of conservative like himself. What’s wrong with that? Don’t liberals complain all the time about Republican moves that allegedly stand to weaken the voting power of blacks and other minorities? The only question about those complaints is whether or not they are accurate. It is perfectly legitimate for black people and other minorities to express concern over whether or not their political enemies are working to diminish their political power, and to dispossess them of their culture.
Here is another clip, with transcript, from Media Matters — again, a leftist activist group — denouncing Tucker Carlson as a racist for talking about immigration and dispossession. The transcript:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): You’ve got to ask yourself, as you watch the historic tragedy that is Joe Biden’s immigration policy, what’s the point of this?
Nothing about it is an accident, obviously. It’s intentional. Joe Biden did it on purpose, but why? Why would a president do this to his own country? No sane first-world nation opens its borders to the world.
Promising the poorest people on the planet that they can have endless free taxpayer funded services if they show up and break your laws? That’s not just stupid, it’s suicidal.
For generations, middle-class Americans have had access to the best healthcare in the world, but not anymore. That’s over for good. Our system cannot handle this many destitute newcomers, period. Imagine what hospitals are going to look like a year from now. How about schools?
What Joe Biden is doing now will change this country forever. So again, why is he doing it? There’s only one plausible answer. You’re not allowed to say it out loud, CNN will attack you if you do. The social media companies will shut you down. The Southern Poverty Law Center will call you dangerous, you could lose your bank account. The left has become completely unhinged and hysterical and that’s how you know it’s true. They only censor the true things.
An unrelenting stream of immigration. But why? Well, Joe Biden just said it, to change the racial mix of the country. That’s the reason, to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly-arrived from the third world. And then Biden went further, he said that non-white DNA is the quote, “the source of our strength.” Imagine saying that. This is the language of eugenics, it’s horrifying. But there’s a reason Biden said it.
In political terms, this policy is called “the great replacement,” the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries. They brag about it all the time, but if you dare to say it’s happening they will scream at you with maximum hysteria.
How about some context: here is an archive site that presents the news report that preceded this Carson monologue. It was a report from the US-Mexico border, across which thousands of Haitian migrants were illegally trying to cross — and the Biden administration was welcoming them, facilitating mass releases of these migrants into the US population.
Is it racist to notice this? Is it racist to object to this? According to the Left, it is. And now that a lunatic white supremacist young man in New York has massacred black people, claiming to be defending his race against “replacement,” the left-wing media is attempting to silence all criticism of immigration by saying that those who notice must be in league with this killer.
Take a look at this 2015 clip from a White House event on combating terrorism. Appearing with a large group of Muslim clerics and leaders, then-Vice President Joe Biden mentions at this point that white people in America are going to be an “absolute minority” — and says that this is a good thing:
This is something that blows my mind about leftist white people today: they are so full of self-loathing that they cannot grasp that there is no people anywhere in the world, of any ethnic or religious background, that regards its own dispossession and diminishment of power as something to be welcomed! Only white North American and European liberals and progressives do this.
From that same press conference, here is Vice President Biden, in front of Islamic leaders, talking about how we need to engage those people who are “marginalized,” and therefore susceptible to being radicalized online. He was talking about isolated Muslims — and he was right about that! Watch:
But where is Joe Biden saying that we need to work on reaching out to young white men who are isolated and likely to be radicalized online, to make them feel like they are part of the community? He doesn’t exist. He doesn’t exist because the Left today — including the Democratic Party — has been taken over by an ideology that tells young white men that they are the problem with this country.
How many times over the years have I said in this space that the Left has no idea what kind of demons it is calling up by abandoning the Martin Luther King narrative on racial justice, in favor of racial essentialism? Payton Gendron, the accused mass shooter in Buffalo, is exactly one of those demons. No, I’m not saying “look what the Left made Payton Gendron do”. Payton Gendron is responsible for his own evil actions. And to some extent, so are the white supremacist websites that he frequented. But I have to tell you, I wonder what on earth the Left in this country expects, when it and all the institutions it controls — which is to say, every major institution in American life — has given itself over to a sick, racist ideology that demonizes white people — especially white heterosexual males — because of their unchosen identity (white, heterosexual, male)? You will get some fringe demons who pick up guns and commit racist acts of murder.
A country as big and as violent as the USA will always have fringe crazies who commit bigoted acts of murder. Nothing excuses it, ever. But Joe Biden was right in 2015 to say that we need to be working to keep people who are alienated, and on the margins, connected to society, so they won’t be at risk of radicalization. If you can get past the paywall, this 2015 profile by the Washington Post‘s Stephanie McCrummen, of the people that racist mass shooter Dylann Roof stayed with before he murdered black people in a South Carolina church, is a masterwork of reporting. Here’s how it starts:
The trailer where Dylann Roof found refuge is faded yellow with a thousand tiny dents. It is on the western edge of Columbia, S.C., along an unpaved road strewn with damp garbage, and it is where Roof briefly lived until the day he allegedly killed nine black church members at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Now, a month after the June 17 shooting, the blinds are drawn at noon and the family that hosted Roof is inside, where the boom of gunfire and explosions is so loud the trailer vibrates.
“Ha ha. I just killed all them mothers,” says Justin Meek, 18, playing a video game in which blood and body parts fly across a 42-inch TV screen.
“You got enemy on the other side! Use a grenade!” says his brother Jacob, 15. “Kill yourself! Kill yourself!”
On a lopsided couch is Lindsey Fry, 19, flicking her tongue ring, eyes locked on a cracked cellphone for news about the shooting, which has lately included her boyfriend Joey, 21, the third Meek brother who lives in the trailer, which is in a town called Red Bank that the Meeks call Dead Bank.
“Wow,” she suddenly says and reads aloud what she is seeing on her phone: “The expanded scope of the investigation now includes people with whom Roof associated in the weeks before the June 17 shooting.”
She looks at Joey. Joey looks at his two brothers and his mother, Kim Konzny.
They are the people with whom Roof was associating in the weeks before the shooting, and this is the place he drifted into with little resistance, an American void where little is sacred and little is profane and the dominant reaction to life is what Joey does now, looking at Lindsey. He shrugs.
The piece is so good because it reveals what the headline calls “an American void,” a world of meaninglessness and drift, where disturbed young men can find meaning and purpose in hatred, including race hatred. This was a world that was invisible to me, and I live in a part of America where I don’t have to drive more than twenty minutes to find white people just like that. In the other direction, here is the world of black Baton Rouge, just a short drive north of where I sit writing this. This is an early video from L’il Boosie, a nationally famous rapper from my city:
How do young men of any race who grow up in these savage, violent cultures avoid turning into murderous haters? Right now in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, the murder rate is very high. It’s almost all black-on-black, especially involving young black men. Baton Rouge, which is 51 percent black, is one of the most deadly cities in America, in terms of homicide. Is this national news? No, it’s not. It’s not in part because it doesn’t fit a narrative preferred by the news media. In Buffalo, the NYT reports today:
“We don’t want to be protected after the fact,” said Marlene Brown, 58, who is Black. For more than a decade she has lived just blocks away from the Tops supermarket, where 10 people were killed. “We want to be protected and treated like we matter,” she said, “without it taking a white supremacist shooting up our community.”
She added: “Time and time again they’ve shown nobody cares about us here. It’s a pattern.”
I don’t know about the specifics of violence and culture in Buffalo, NY, but looking at data from the FBI, it is clear that if you are going to be a murder victim there, you are highly likely to be a black person. Though the race of the murderers is usually unknown, when they are known, the killers are more likely to be black. And given the general criminological principle that most murder victims know their killers, it’s not a stretch to surmise that the killers of these black people were other black people. Look at Buffalo, NY, data from the last four years it’s available:
Maybe the black woman quoted in the Times story is saying that the police only care about black people in Buffalo when a white supremacist comes along and starts killing blacks. But in 2020, Black Lives Matter marched through Buffalo to the mayor’s house, demanding that the city defund the police. Which is it? Which narrative does the Times and the people it quotes prefer? Is the problem not enough policing in Buffalo, or too much?
Our media, corporations, and cultural gatekeepers make an honest conversation about the complexities of race, violence, and crime impossible.
Poverty and cultural dislocation may not explain Gendron, the Buffalo shooter. According to the New York Post, he was from an intact middle-class family … but he was a loner at school, and had once been hospitalized for mental health issues. According to the early reporting, nobody around him knew how far down the hole into race hate he had gone. How was he radicalized? According to the manifesto he left:
Before I begin I will say that I was not born racist nor grew up to be racist. I simply became racist after I learned the truth. I started browsing 4chan in May 2020 after extreme boredom, remember this was during the outbreak of covid. I would normally browse /k/ because I’m a gun nut and /out/ because I love the outdoors and I eventually wound up on /pol/.
Was he radicalized in the same way that some young Muslims in America become radicalized: by evil men exploiting their loneliness, their fear, and their uncertainty? Was he radicalized in the same way that Helena Kerschner described herself (in this powerful essay) being radicalized into transgenderism: by being a lonely and alienated high school kid who found a community online, one that made her feel that she belonged the deeper she went into its radical ideology about body and gender? Elsewhere in the manifesto, Gendron says that he used to be a hardcore communist. Whatever else he is, this was a kid who was primed for extremism of some sort.
We know for a fact that the mental health of teenagers and young adults is in very bad shape these days. We also know that anything you could possibly hope to find is on the Internet. This would be a great time to discuss how the fabric of American society is fraying, leaving young people of all races, of both sexes, and so forth, vulnerable to radicalization online.
But we are not going to have that conversation, because the media gatekeepers have a Narrative to sell. If you are a black radical professor, you can speculate about carrying out mass violence against white people as necessary to achieve racial justice, and you can be rewarded with academic positions and accolades. It is perfectly clear to many of us that racism is a progressive virtue as long as it is practiced against white people. Judging people not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” as MLK put it, is so outdated, according to today’s Left.
Do you remember the New York City mass subway shooting? It happened on April 12, just over one month ago. The alleged shooter, Frank James, is a black nationalist who hated all white people, including Jews, and left a lengthy trail of hate messages online. Did we see a national outpouring of media examination of how the normalization of racialized discourse by progressive and mainstream institutions may have contributed to the alleged shooter’s mindset? Don’t be silly. It was just one of those things, you know. If people started to do that, the media would have jumped on it to tamp it down, in the same way it tells us all (reasonably enough!) not to connect Islamic terrorism to normative Islam.
The Frank James mass shooting — which, thank God, did not kill anybody — has more or less been memory-holed by the media. We are going to be talking about this Payton Gendron monster forever, though. They’re already trying to tie it to Tucker Carlson and to the Republican Party. Those lies don’t work anymore, though. Amazingly enough, many people are capable of understanding a news story like this without drawing spurious and hateful conclusions about entire classes of people. Me, I think Frank James probably would have done what he is accused of having done even without the broader racialized left-wing discourse about how demonic white people are. I’m not blaming Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo for the New York subway shooting. But we can see right now, all over the American media, the finger-pointing at Tucker Carlson, the GOP, and others on the Right.
One of the goals here is to force critical discussion about immigration to end. In the same way opponents of Hungarian PM Viktor Orban tried to silence his criticism of progressive oligarch George Soros by accusing him of anti-Semitism every time he brought up what Soros was actually doing in Hungary, the Left is trying to make all critical discussion of immigration illegitimate. This is how their soft totalitarian approach always works. If we don’t teach kindergartners that they might be genderfluid, you will have the blood of trans kids on your hands, you bigot!
We know this is a narrative-managing maneuver by the Left now. We know that you cannot trust the major papers, TV stations, or radio broadcasters to report fairly, and to attempt to understand the complexity of these horrific situations. We know that this is information warfare. Glenn Greenwald grasps what’s going on here:
Democratic politicians believe they should and do control the internet and dictate what can and can’t be said on it. https://t.co/1EFGlk2LZo
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 16, 2022
Read this important essay by Greenwald. Excerpts:
At a softball field in a Washington, DC suburb on June 14, 2017, a lone gunman used a rifle to indiscriminately spray bullets at members of the House GOP who had gathered for their usual Saturday morning practice for an upcoming charity game. The then-House Majority Whip, Rep. Steven Scalise (R-LA), was shot in the hip while standing on second base and almost died, spending six weeks in the hospital and undergoing multiple surgeries. Four other people were shot, including two members of the Capitol Police who were part of Scalise’s security detail, a GOP staffer, and a Tyson Foods lobbyist. “He was hunting us at that point,” Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) said of the shooter, who attempted to murder as many people as he could while standing with his rifle behind the dugout.
The shooter died after engaging the police in a shootout. He was James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old hard-core Democrat who — less than six months into the Trump presidency — had sought to kill GOP lawmakers based on his belief that Republicans were corrupt traitors, fascists, and Kremlin agents. The writings he left behind permitted little doubt that he was driven to kill by the relentless messaging he heard from his favorite cable host, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and other virulently anti-Trump pundits, about the evils of the GOP. Indeed, immediately after arriving at the softball field, he asked several witnesses whether the people gathered “were Republicans or Democrats.”
A CNN examination of his life revealed that “Hodgkinson’s online presence was largely defined by his politics.” In particular, “his public Facebook posts date back to 2012 and are nearly all about his support for liberal politics.” He was particularly “passionate about tax hikes on the rich and universal health care.” NBC News explained that “when he got angry about politics, it was often directed against Republicans,” and acknowledged that “Hodgkinson said his favorite TV program was ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ on MSNBC.”
Indeed, his media diet was a non-stop barrage of vehement animosity toward Republicans: “His favorite television shows were listed as ‘Real Time with Bill Maher;’ ‘The Rachel Maddow Show;’ ‘Democracy Now!’ and other left-leaning programs.” On the Senate floor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) divulged that Hodgkinson was an ardent supporter of his and had even “apparently volunteered” for his campaign. A Sanders supporter told The Washington Post that “he campaigned for Bernie Sanders with Hodgkinson in Iowa.”
Despite the fact that Hodgkinson was a fanatical fan of Maddow, Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, and Sanders, that the ideas and ideology motivating his shooting spree perfectly matched — and were likely shaped by — liberals of that cohort, and that the enemies whom he sought to kill were also the enemies of Maddow and her liberal comrades, nobody rational or decent sought to blame the MSNBC host, the Vermont Senator or anyone else whose political views matched Hodgkinson’s for the grotesque violence he unleashed. The reason for that is clear and indisputable: as strident and extremist as she is, Maddow has never once encouraged any of her followers to engage in violence to advance her ideology, nor has she even hinted that a mass murder of the Republican traitors, fascists and Kremlin agents about whom she rants on a nightly basis to millions of people is a just solution.
It would be madness to try to assign moral or political blame to them. If we were to create a framework in which prominent people were held responsible for any violence carried out in the name of an ideology they advocate, then nobody would be safe, given that all ideologies have their misfits, psychopaths, unhinged personality types, and extremists. And thus there was little to no attempt to hold Maddow or Sanders responsible for the violent acts of one of their most loyal adherents.
The same is true of the spate of mass shootings and killings by self-described black nationalists over the last several years. Back in 2017, the left-wing group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) warned of the “Return of the Violent Black Nationalist.” In one incident, “Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed Dallas police officers during a peaceful protest against police brutality, killing five officers and wounding nine others.” Then, “ten days later, Gavin Eugene Long shot six officers, killing three, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.” They shared the same ideology, one which drove their murderous spree:
Both Johnson and Long were reportedly motivated by their strong dislike of law enforcement, grievances against perceived white dominance, and the recent fatal police shootings of unarmed black men under questionable circumstances, specifically the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota . . .
Needless to say, the ideas that motivated these two black nationalists to murder multiple people, including police officers, is part of a core ideology that is commonly heard in mainstream media venues, expressed by many if not most of the nation’s most prominent liberals. Depicting the police as a white supremacist force eager to kill black people, “grievances against perceived white dominance,” and anger over “the white supremacism endemic in America’s system of governance from the country’s founding” are views that one routinely hears on MSNBC, CNN, from Democratic Party politicians, and in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Yet virtually nobody sought to blame Chris Hayes, Joy Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Jamelle Bouie or New York Times op-ed writers for these shooting sprees. Indeed, no blame was assigned to anti-police liberal pundits whose view of American history is exactly the same as that of these two killers — even though they purposely sought to murder the same enemies whom those prominent liberals target. Nobody blamed those anti-police liberals for the same reason they did not blame Maddow and Sanders for Hodgkinson’s shooting spree: there is a fundamental and necessary distinction between people who use words to express ideas and demonize perceived enemies, and those who decide to go randomly and indiscriminately murder in the name of that ideology.
To be sure, there have been a large number of murders and other atrocities carried out in U.S. and the West generally in the name of right-wing ideologies, in the name of white supremacy, in the name of white nationalism. The difference, though, is glaring: when murders are carried out in the name of liberal ideology, there is a rational and restrained refusal to blame liberal pundits and politicians who advocate the ideology that animated those killings. Yet when killings are carried out in the name of right-wing ideologies despised by the corporate press and mainstream pundits (or ideologies that they falsely associate with conservatism), they instantly leap to lay blame at the feet of their conservative political opponents who, despite never having advocated or even implied the need for violence, are nonetheless accused of bearing guilt for the violence — often before anything is known about the killers or their motives.
In general, it is widely understood that liberal pundits and politicians are not to blame, at all, when murders are carried out in the name of the causes they support or against the enemies they routinely condemn. That is because, in such cases, we apply the rational framework that someone who does not advocate violence is not responsible for the violent acts of one’s followers and fans who kill in the name of that person’s ideas.
… But when a revolting murder spree is carried out in the name of right-wing ideas (or ideas perceived by the corporate press to be right-wing), everything changes — instantly and completely. In such cases, often before anything is known about the murderer — indeed, literally before the corpses are even removed from the ground where they lie — there is a coordinated effort to declare that anyone who holds any views in common with the murderer has “blood on their hands” and is essentially a co-conspirator in the massacre.
The attempt to blame Carlson for the Buffalo shootings depended entirely on one claim: Carlson has previously talked about and defended the view that immigration is a scheme to “replace” Americans, and this same view was central to Gendron’s ideology. Again, even if this were true, it would amount to nothing more than a claim than the shooter shared key views with Carlson and other conservative pundits — exactly as Hodgkinson shared core views with Maddow and Sanders, or the numerous murderers who killed in the name of black nationalism shared the same views on the police and American history as any number of MSNBC hosts and Democratic Party politicians, or as Pim Fortuyn’s killer shared core views with animal rights activists and defenders of Muslim equality (including me). But nobody is willing to apply such a framework consistently because it converts everyone with strong political views into murderers, or at least being guilty of inciting murder.
But all bets are off — all such principles or moral and logical reasoning are dispensed with — when an act of violence can be pinned on the political enemies of liberals. If a homicidal maniac kills an abortion doctor, then all peaceful pro-life activists are blamed. If an LGBT citizen is killed, then anyone who shares the views that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had until 2012 about marriage equality is blamed. If a police officer unjustifiably kills a black citizen, all police supporters or those who dissent from liberal orthodoxy on racial politics are decreed guilty. But liberals are never at fault when right-wing politicians are murdered, or police officers are hunted and gunned down by police opponents, or an anti-abortion group is targeted with firebombing and arson, as just happened in Wisconsin, or radical Muslims engage in random acts of violence. By definition, “moral reasoning” that is applied only in one direction has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with crass, exploitative opportunism.
Did you know that in his 180-page manifesto, Gendron described himself politically like this: “On the political compass I fall in the mild-moderate authoritarian left category, and I would prefer to be called a populist”? I know this thanks to Glenn Greenwald, who points out that this racist kid had no discernible, coherent ideology. Read the manifesto yourself: he also calls himself a “fascist,” and elsewhere “an ethno-nationalist eco-fascist national socialist,” and says that from ages 15 to 18, he was a hardcore communist. He rejects Christianity, despises conservatism, and says he got his radical ideas “mostly from the Internet.”
Gendron is a monster, plainly — but he has provided the media and left-wing institutional voices with something they can use to advance their narrative. Don’t fall for it. These are the same people who will not shut up about how evil “whiteness” is — and yet, they are shocked when some vicious, unhinged white kid surrenders himself to the demon of race hatred. The hypocrisy is galling.
There is a very, very important reason to think hard about this stuff. It’s identified by the political scientist Eric Kaufmann in his 2019 book Whiteshift, about the challenges ahead as the United States moves from a majority white country into one in which whites are a minority. In a 2019 Quillette article, Kaufmann wrote:
Whiteshift has a second, more immediate, connotation: the declining white share of the population in Western countries. Whites are already a minority in most major cities of North America. Together with New Zealand, North America is projected to be “majority minority” by 2050, with Western Europe and Australia following suit later in the century. This shift is replacing the self-confidence of white majorities with an existential insecurity channelled by the lightning rod of immigration. No one who has honestly analysed survey data on individuals—the gold standard for public opinion research—can deny that white majority concern over immigration is the main cause of the rise of the populist right in the West. This is primarily explained by concern over identity, not economic threat. I explore this data in considerable detail in the first part of my new book (from which this essay is adapted). Not everyone seeks to maintain connections to ancestors, homeland and tradition, but many voters do.
The loss of white ethno-cultural confidence manifests itself in other ways. Among the most important is a growing unwillingness to indulge the anti-white ideology of the cultural left. When whites were an over-whelming majority, empirically unsupported generalizations about whites could be brushed off as amusing and mischievous but ultimately harmless. As whites decline, fewer are willing to abide such attacks. At the same time, white decline emboldens the cultural left, with its dream of radical social transformation. The last time this blend of ethnic change and cultural contestation occurred, in fin-de-siècle America, the anti-WASP adversary culture was confined to a small circle of bohemian intellectuals. Today, the anti-majority adversary culture operates on a much larger scale, permeates major institutions and is transmitted to conservatives through social and right-wing media. This produces a growing culture-war polarization between increasingly insecure white conservatives and energized white liberals.
It’s important to have people criticizing their own group: What Daniel Bell termed the “adversary culture” spurs reform and creativity when it collides with the majority tradition. But what happens when the critics become dominant? In softer form, left-modernist ideology penetrated widely within the high culture and political institutions of Western society after the 1960s. This produced norms that prevented democratic discussion of questions of national identity and immigration. The deviantization of these issues in the name of anti-racism introduced a blockage in the democratic process, preventing the normal adjustment of political supply to political demand. Instead of reasonable trade-offs between those who, for example, wanted higher or lower levels of immigration, the subject was forced underground, building up pressure from those whose grievances were ignored by the main parties. This created a market opportunity which populist right entrepreneurs rushed in to fill.
Ethno-cultural change is occurring at a rapid rate at precisely the time the dominant ideology celebrates a multicultural vision of ever-increasing diversity. To hanker after homogeneity and stability is perceived as narrow-minded and racist by liberals. Yet diversity falls flat for many because we’re not all wired the same way. Right-wing populism, which champions the cultural interests of group-oriented whites, has halted and reversed the multicultural consensus which held sway between the 1960s and late 1990s. This is leading to a polarization between those who accept, and those who reject, the ideology of diversity. What’s needed is a new vision that gives conservative members of white majorities hope for their group’s future while permitting cosmopolitans the freedom to celebrate diversity.
Cosmopolitanism and what I term ethno-traditional nationalism are both valid worldviews, but each suits a different psychological type. Imposing either on the entire population is a recipe for discontent because value orientations stem from heredity and early life experiences. Attempts to re-educate conservative and order-seeking people into cosmopolitanism will, as the psychologist Karen Stenner notes, only generate resistance. Differences need to be respected. Whiteshift—the title of my book, as well as the word I use to describe my approach to the subject—isn’t just a prediction of how white identity will adapt to demographic change, but a positive vision that can draw the sting of right-wing populism and begin to bridge the “nationalist–globalist” divide that is upending Western politics.
We are entering a period of cultural instability in the West attendant on our passage between two relatively stable equilibria. The first equilibrium was based on white ethnic homogeneity, the second on what the prescient centrist writer Michael Lind calls “beige” ethnicity, i.e. a racially mixed majority group. In the middle lies a turbulent multicultural interregnum. We in the West are becoming less like homogeneous Iceland and more like homogeneous mixed-race Turkmenistan. But to get there, we’ll be passing through a phase where we’ll move closer to multicultural Guyana or Mauritius. The challenge is to enable conservative whites to see a future for themselves in whiteshift—the mixture of many non-whites into the white group through voluntary assimilation. (Unmixed whiteness is not about to disappear and may return in the long run, but this is getting ahead of the story, so I hope you’ll read on.)
Read the entire essay — and, if you like, buy the book. Kaufmann’s general point is that this demographic change is coming, and that if we are going to navigate it with minimal violence, we are going to have to have different ways of talking about it than what the Left is imposing on us. If we want to get through the next few decades with fewer Payton Gendrons and Frank Jameses, we need to fight back hard against the Left’s “whiteness” rhetoric, and return to old-fashioned Martin Luther King liberalism.
Last point: I slightly know a young man, now in his mid-twenties, who was a middle-class, megachurched white Evangelical. He tried to be a cool kid in his conservative Christian school, and went down the rabbit hole of racist edgelord-ism by self-radicalizing on white supremacist websites. He’s in a lot of legal trouble now, for a crime not related to race; the rest of his life is settled because of his actions. That said, I kind of know his parents, and know that there is, and was, nothing remotely racist about them. They were just average middle-class churchgoing Christians. But they had no idea what their son was up to online.
Do you? Whatever your race, religion, or whatever, how much do you know about what your young son or daughter is doing online? Maybe you should find out.
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The Holy Fire Miracle
As many of you will recall, I was in Jerusalem for Orthodox Holy Week. My experience included being present in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the Holy Fire ceremony. According to Wikipedia:
The Holy Fire (Greek ‘Αγιος Φως, literally “Holy Light”) is a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, the day preceding Pascha. It is considered by many to be the longest-attested annual miracle in the Christian world, though the event has only been documented consecutively since 1106. In many Orthodox countries around the world the event is televised live.
The ceremony begins at noon when the Patriarch of Jerusalem or another Orthodox Archbishop recites a specific prayer. The faithful gathered will then chant “Lord, have mercy” (Kyrie eleison in Greek) until the Holy Fire descends on a lamp of olive oil held by the patriarch while he is alone in the tomb chamber of Jesus Christ. The patriarch will then emerge from the tomb chamber, recite some prayers, and light either 33 or 12 candles to distribute to the faithful.
The fire is also said to spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church. Pilgrims say the Holy Fire will not burn hair, faces, etc., in the first 33 minutes after it is ignited. Before entering the Lord’s Tomb, the patriarch or presiding archbishop is inspected by Israeli authorities to prove that he does not carry the technical means to light the fire. This investigation used to be carried out by Turkish soldiers.
The Holy Fire is first mentioned in the documents dating from the 4th century. A detailed description of the miracle is contained in the travelogue of the Russian igumen Daniel, who was present at the ceremony in 1106. Daniel mentions a blue incandescence descending from the dome to the edicula where the patriarch awaits the Holy Fire. Some claim to have witnessed this incandescence in modern times.
I went to the event skeptical. In the past, skeptics have shown that you can make fire that appears to be spontaneous by using white phosphorous. I believe that it might be a miracle, but, well, I was dubious. The thing that would make me believe, I decided, would be if I experienced the stories people tell about the holy fire not burning flesh or anything else for the first few minutes. (Wikipedia says 33 minutes, but I had never heard that number.) Here is one of the many videos you can see online demonstrating that:
Before the ceremony, you buy from any one of the many vendors in the Old City a bound sheaf of thin beeswax candles — always 33. I held mine, and waited for the fire to be passed to me. Then, when my candles were blazing (see above), I passed my hand through the flame, back and forth, several times. I felt nothing.
I’m not kidding: I felt nothing. I moved my hand slowly, too. Nothing. A Serbian pilgrim and friend of mine allowed his flames to lick his bare face. Nothing happened to him.
But then, some time later — I don’t know how many minutes, because I had lost track of time — it became impossible to put my hands to the fire. The quality of the flame hadn’t changed, but suddenly it was … normal. My Serb friend said the same thing happened to him.
Back in the US, my Orthodox friend Frederica Mathewes-Green proposed an experiment. Go to one of the Old City shops, she said, and buy a sheaf of unsold candles. When you’re back home, light them, and see if you can put your hand to the flame in the first minutes, like you can with the Holy Fire.
So I did buy a sheaf of beeswax candles from one of the shops in the Old City — some that hadn’t sold before the ceremony. I brought them back to the US. Just now, my son Matthew and I tried Frederica’s experiment out on his front porch. We lit the candles, and waited for them all to blaze up. Both of us tried to pass our hands through the flame, but it was too painful to do except very quickly. That is to say, it was nothing at all like the first few minutes of the Holy Fire, but exactly what the Holy Fire feels like after it has burned a while. Here’s Matt, unable to pass his hands through the flame, except fast.
I should point out that these beeswax candles, like all the ones for sale in Jerusalem, aren’t treated with anything. They’re ordinary candles. Or if they were treated with something special, then we should have been able to put our hands through the fire tonight, because that sheaf of candles was in the same batch that that particular shop was selling to pilgrims the day before. What’s more, the flame is passed around the church in the ceremony from candle to candle, after the Greek Patriarch brings it out of the edicule. It’s not like everybody dips their candles in the same brazier, or something like that, where you might suspect that the fire was treated by a special chemical.
Make of this what you will. There has been a lot of criticism of the supposed miracle, and explanations for to account for the miracle (e.g., candles soaked in white phosphorus). I assumed that the critics were probably right, especially after Patriarch Theophilos in 2018 ordered the word “miracle” removed from the Patriarchate’s website, in reference to the event. And certainly my faith doesn’t stand or fall on whether or not the Holy Fire is an authentic miracle.
But I gotta say, I can’t explain the phenomenon that I experienced in the church that day, and that so many others experienced. Here is an older Greek collection (subtitled) of pilgrim’s testimonies with the Holy Fire. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Patriarch confects the Holy Fire by trickery inside the sepulcher. Why, then, wouldn’t the flame, after being passed around from candle to candle to the crowds gathered in the church, burn skin, hair, or clothes for some time, and then somehow behave like normal fire, and burn the things it did not burn? Is there a good explanation for this? If so, let’s hear it.
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Tim Keller And Christian Realism
James Wood has further thoughts on his controversial — unjustly controversial, in my view — First Things essay gently criticizing famed pastor Tim Keller. It was unjustly controversial because some of Keller’s friends took unnecessary umbrage at what struck me as a balanced piece written by a man who greatly respected, and still respects, Keller, but who thinks that Keller’s mode of pastoral engagement is insufficient to the times.
The Kellerites propound to abhor division among Christians, and yet I have found them far more divisive than they admit. This is captured in the common trope: “Punch right, coddle left.” Those who are devoted to the third-wayism of Keller generally appear to assume the worst from one side of the political spectrum and give the benefit of the doubt to—or at least provide an apologetic for—the other. (Case in point: David French’s recent piece on my essay.) Kellerites make up a significant portion of the “never Trump” movement among Christians, and this movement is unforgiving of those who have chosen, for whatever reason, to vote in that way (full disclosure: I did not in either election). They are also quick to join in the chorus of denunciations of “Christian nationalism,” which is often a bogeyman label for any robust pursuit of conservative Christian influence in politics. Make what you wish of Aaron Renn’s Three Worlds schema, but I think it is a bit obvious that, for example, in recent years conservative Christian political engagement that would have been seen as somewhat innocuous in previous years is quickly and regularly denounced as authoritarian “Christian nationalism.” I think this is itself partial validation of the Renn thesis, however much we want to debate the specifics of the timeline. And Kellerites are often quick to join in the denunciations.
Wood says that the Kellerites and their “winsome, third way framework,” approach politics through the lens of evangelism. This causes they to worry too much about people thinking ill of Christians over how they (Christians) approach politics. Wood goes on:
I have two primary problems with this approach to political judgments. First of all, I question our capacity to augur such eventualities. How do we know what the future holds for the public’s perception of Christians and their attempts to love their neighbors through political action? We might be surprised what the judgments of history have in store. Not only do I question the certainty we can have in these assessments about how our political actions will impact our long-term gospel witness, but I also think this is a category error. Politics is not about minimizing offense in order to maximize openness to the evangelistic message. Politics is, rather, focused on the pursuit of justice and the just ordering of society.
Here is where the Kellerites, and also the Christian center-right, could really learn from the left (including the Christian left). Politics is the prudential pursuit of justice. The left is quite clear on this. Most Christians on the left are passionate about the pursuit of justice (as they perceive it), and they are not overwrought in concern about how their political actions will help or hinder the reception of the gospel message. They have, I would argue, a better understanding of the nature of politics.
It has been said that I advocated the position that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and that my critiques of the methods of “winsomeness” as a cultural and political strategy for the present moment must mean that I jettison the Christian virtues and the biblical imperatives to show “gentleness and respect” and to love one’s neighbor. I absolutely want to dispel such concerns. If I thought Christians should just get nasty, then I would have been nasty in my piece, which I don’t believe I was. Christians are called at all times and in all places to love their neighbors, even their enemies; no shift in context repeals these imperatives. I just think that much debate is needed over what it means to love one’s neighbor through politics in the negative world.
Read it all. This is definitely a discussion worth having.
Like Wood, I hate the idea that some Christians have that to be hated is to prove your virtue. When I was an undergraduate at LSU, there were these twin brothers who were student evangelists. They were fundamentalists, and presented a gospel that was, frankly, repugnant. They seemed to draw energy from the hatred they provoked in others. Granted, college students aren’t likely to be open to the Gospel in the first place, but these young men, with their hard edges, made Christianity seem like a thing to be shunned. In those days, I was searching for a Christianity I could believe in, and had ruled out liberal Christianity as not worth taking seriously. I was, in the broadest sense, sympathetic to the boldness of those young men, even though I wasn’t really a committed Christian. But the pleasure they seemed to take in being hated, in the vindication they appeared to enjoy, was perverse.
That said, I think Wood is onto something about the religious Left and politics. They believe in doing what they think is correct, and let the chips fall where they may. One important difference, though, is that for many on the religious Left, religion is the Social Gospel — that is, the pursuit of this-world politics. I heard a really good podcast interview the other day between Father Daniel French and Calvin Robinson, both Anglicans (the podcast is “Irreverend”). Robinson is an Anglican seminarian who is a political and theological conservative. Robinson is really smart and interesting, and has a big media platform already. The liberals who run the Church of England have put a stop to his ordination. If you listen to the podcast, you’ll see that Calvin believes — no doubt with absolute correctness — that the cosmopolitan liberals in charge of the Anglican Church don’t want to reach people unlike themselves. If true — and I believe it is — then it is a betrayal of the Gospel. They have over-politicized evangelism.
But then, politics is not religion. Let’s use the extreme example of Syria to illustrate the logic. The only thing standing between the slaughter of Syrian Christians by Islamist head-choppers is the authoritarian government of Bashar Assad. Do you think that Syrian Christians love Bashar Assad, and approve of his ruthless methods? Maybe some do, but I’m guess most do not. But they are very, very happy to have him there, because without him, they would be dead.
Should Syrian Christians worry about how supporting the Assad regime compromises their witness? What would it even mean to be a “winsome” Kellerite Christian in Syria? The question is a silly one, obviously, because the US is not Syria. But you see the point. Sometimes — not all the time, but sometimes — pious angelism is an obstacle to justice. If Roe vs. Wade is overruled by the Supreme Court, it will have been because Donald J. Trump, a man I found too immoral to vote for in 2016, was president. That right there is a huge challenge to my own angelism, and I have rethought it. I am rethinking it.
I’ll give Wood the last word:
The view of politics I am promoting here does not mean that the ends justify the means. No; but we need to be clearer about the proper ends of political action. Again, our political stances should not be developed, articulated, and pursued primarily in view of minimizing offense so that the gospel can be heard. The ends are justice and the temporal common good (and we can continue to discuss how the temporal common good relates to the supernatural common good; but that would bring us far afield for this essay). As we become more clear about our understanding of the ends, we then must think clearly about the means available to us. We need a good dose of Christian realism, I propose.
I agree. Like I said, I’m having to rethink my own approach. I need to think about what “Christian realism” means for us right here, right now. For example, a very senior legal scholar whose field is religious liberty told me a couple of years ago that the federal judiciary is likely to be the last line of defense of conservative religious believers in post-Christian America. What does that mean for my vote, and yours, in the future?
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Are We Really ‘At War’ With Russia?
Did you authorize this?
If there’s a bigger story than the 82-year-old senior House Democrat, now in his 20th term in Congress, today announcing that the US is at war with Russia, I’d like to know what it is? https://t.co/OJi8elHcao
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 13, 2022
This is infuriating! We are at war with Russia, are we? Do you want to be at war with Russia, which has nuclear weapons? Do you want to risk nuclear annihilation over Ukraine? Most of the Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill do. What is wrong with us?!
Forty billion dollars our elected representatives approved sending to the Ukrainians this week. Forty. Billion. Dollars. Not just the Democrats, but the Republicans too. Meanwhile, people are having trouble buying groceries here at home, thanks to inflation.
But we are involving ourselves more and more in somebody else’s war.
Almost nobody in Washington speaks for the Americans who want to stay out of the war in Ukraine and seek a negotiated end to it. https://t.co/GzJ4DTtwiT
— Michael Brendan Dougherty (@michaelbd) May 11, 2022
Well, Sen. Rand Paul does:
My oath of office is to the U.S. Constitution, not to any foreign nation. Congress is trying yet again to ram through a spending bill – one that I doubt anyone has actually read – and there’s no oversight included into how the money is being spent.
— Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 13, 2022
Who benefits from this? Aside from US defense contractors, I mean.
I see today that Finland and Sweden are now applying to join NATO. I don’t blame them. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a colossal geopolitical mistake. That said, our leaders ought to be doing their best to bring this war to an end before it goes nuclear. They’re not, though, at least not American leaders not named Rand Paul.
You watch: decades from now, when historians write about the decline and fall of the American Empire this is going to figure prominently.
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Holy Land Diary: Russell Shalev
On my recent trip to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, I did a few interviews with local people for my upcoming book about re-enchantment. One of them was with Russell Shalev, 31, a reader of this blog who reached out to me. He moved to Israel eight years ago from Montreal. We had lunch in the Mamilla shopping mall, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. I talked to him about what drew him from Canada back to the land of his ancestors.
Rod Dreher: Tell me why you came here.
Russell Shalev: I grew up in Montreal in a non-religious but traditional family. Our house was kosher, but my family didn’t keep kosher out of the house. We had Friday night dinners, and celebrated the holidays. I grew up in a very Jewish bubble — non-religious, but I went to Hebrew school, summer camp, everybody around me was Jewish. But at the same time, I grew up in Quebec, where issues of identity are very much in the air. On the one hand, this story of French vs. English really isn’t my story. And my grandfather’s family was Israeli. They were originally Spanish Jews who came to Israel about 200 years ago from north Africa. He moved to Canada in the Fifties. He never really thought he was going to be there forever. So I grew up very, very connected to Israel.
As I was growing up, I was always very connected to my Jewish identity, but it didn’t make sense to me that we were learning about kosher, and our house was kosher, but we didn’t do it outside. Or that we were members of a synagogue, but we only went there on the holidays. In my head, Israel and Judaism and Zionism were all one, and my family roots, it was all one big thing mixed together. I always wanted to come and live in Israel. There’s just this feeling of being at home. Even on the most basic level, it’s Passover now, and signs everywhere say, “Happy Holidays,” and there’s kosher food everywhere.
I live in a suburb near Tel Aviv. It’s mostly religious, but it’s a mix. There are native Israelis, but it’s a mix. There are native Israelis but whose people come from Eastern Europe, from Arab countries, from Iran. There are also recent immigrants from North America and France. Everybody’s difference, but there’s this commonality. Every time I came to Israel when I was younger, there was always a war or something. The first time I came was in 2006, during the Second Lebanon War. We got here, and this war started, and we had no idea where we were staying. Suddenly there was this commonality, this shared experience. The war was in the north, but we were in Eilat, the most southern part. People who had left their homes were there, spending a few weeks. There was this feeling that we were all one people, we were all in this together. It was a very powerful feeling.
I have two kids, a four and a half year old, and a ten month old. My daughter’s kindergarten, she comes home every day and tells us the story of the Exodus from Egypt. She’s like, “Abba, don’t leave my room, I’m afraid the Pharaoh is going to attack me.” It’s just very powerful.
Tell me more about the call of the land itself. Lots of Jews who have a very intense Jewish life in Israel, and other places. Why was it important for you to come back to the land?
A few things. Historically, Jewish religion and nationality have been one and the same. It’s mostly a recent thing, in terms the the Emancipation. For example, you can be French citizens, but you’re French citizens of the Mosaic faith. Jews had to give up Jewish nationality. Part of the modern birth of the Zionist movement were mostly secular Jews. They weren’t keeping Jewish religion, and they didn’t have room to express themselves as Jews, with Jewish nationalism, in Europe. You’ve heard of Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of [Palestine under the British Mandate, 1920-48], the father of religious Zionism? He talks about how, in many ways, the Jewish nation was a nation under God, and that there’s no way to separate Jewish nationalism from Jewish religion.
And you agree with that?
Yes. And Jewish nationalism, while outwardly secular, inside it’s holy. The roots of Israeli national symbol are ultimately religious symbols. The [blue and white] Israeli flag is supposed to evoke the prayer shawl. The national language, Hebrew, is the holy language. And so, you see today in Israel, there isn’t necessary a return to religious observance, but there is a return to tradition. My family is here visiting from Montreal for the holidays. We went two nights ago to a concert in a big park in Tel Aviv. The singer is a popular religious singer in mainstream Israeli society, but all his songs are religious songs. There were average Israelis at the concert. One of the most popular songs he’s singing is a song of praise to God. And it’s just on the radio. I don’t know, it’s just a powerful thing.
In sounds like some form of what I call the Benedict Option. You’re all together in one place with your people, and you worship together. It’s not paradise, but nevertheless it’s a place where you can feel connected horizontally to others, and vertically to God, in a place that you just can’t do anywhere else, if you’re Jewish. What made you make the decision to come?
I remember the first time I said out loud that I wanted to move to Israel. The first time we were in Israel and I went to meet my mom’s aunt and uncle and cousins who live near Tel Aviv. My mom had a small family in Montreal, and she always spoke about [her Israeli family]. I met them for the first time, and I was talking to them. I realized that I wanted to live in Israel. It was a feeling of being at home. Canada is a very good place for Jews to live. It’s a free country, there’s not a lot of anti-Semitism, and it’s a safe place for Jews. Still, you know that you are a minority. You walk around at Christmastime, and Christmas is everything. Suddenly, being here, and almost everybody you see on the streets is Jewish — that’s really powerful.
You know what I mean by ‘thin places’? Places where you can experience the holy in a special way? What are your thin places in Israel?
The city of Hevron [Hebron], the Tomb of the Patriarchs [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]. Most of the holy places, the historical sites, it’s hard to know what’s historically accurate, but of the places, the majority of the building itself was built by King Herod. Most of the stones themselves you can see at the Western Wall. You can see the caves, or see that there are caves there. There’s this feeling that I am touching the beginning of the Jewish people. Politically, it’s a very controversial place, but it’s a very comfortable place. Until 1967, when Israel liberated, or conquered, whatever you prefer, Hebron, Jews could only go to the seventh step of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. There’s this image from history of Jews only going to the seventh step: that we couldn’t go forward, but one day, we’re going to go forward. The truth is that the first person of the Israel army to go past it was the army’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Goren. After the Arabs surrendered, the first order was to smash the seventh step, to say, ‘That’s it, we’re going in.” It’s a powerful place.
(We stop to eat lunch, then resume our conversation.)
We were just talking about the Passover seder, and its traditions. This all goes back to the Hebrew Bible.
Exactly. The truth is that the primary commandment of the seder, the Torah is that you will tell your children on that day what the Lord did for you, bringing you out of Egypt. So the term haggadah, the book we read on Pesach [Passover], comes from the word haggadah, which means “you shall tell.” In many ways the seder is built around doing things differently, so the children should ask questions. There’s a special song that the youngest child sings, and the song asks, “What’s different about this night?” And they ask four questions: Why do we eat matzoh? Why do we eat bitter herbs? Why do we dip our vegetables twice? Why do we recline when eating?
There’s a special game, of hide-the-matzoh, and the child who finds it gets a special prize. So much of the seder is about telling the story to your children. The things of the seder are simple. We have the bitter herbs to symbolize how the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors. We eat a certain food called charoset, which is a mix of dried fruits and wine and nuts that’s supposed to be like the mortar that the Israelites made in Egypt. We dip our vegetables in salt water which is supposed to represent the tears that the Israelites shed in captivity.
It’s just a very powerful thing to do this with your parents and grandparents. Everybody knows the songs. For the past two or three weeks my daughter, who’s four, has been learning special songs in kindergarten. She wanted to ask us the questions. So, we drink four cups of wine in the seder. It refers to the four languages of redemption. In the book of Exodus, God says to Moses, “I’ll take you out of Egypt and I’ll save you from their servitude, I’ll redeem you, and I will take you to me as a people.” And there’s a fifth line: “I will bring you to the land.” During Temple times, Jews would drink a fifth cup during seder, and so when Jews were exiled from the land, they stopped drinking the fifth cup of wine. It’s now considered to be the cup for Elijah the Prophet. It just sits there.
So the seder has past, present, and future in it. We start the seder by saying, “This is the bread of affliction, that our forefathers ate in Egypt. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free. This year we are here, next year we will be in Israel.” We read from the Book of Joshua, where we learn that in ancient times, our forefathers were idol worshipers, but God drew close to us. There’s a part where in medieval, Christian Europe, when we open the door to welcome Elijah into the house to punish the enemies of the Jews. And we end by saying, “Next year in Jerusalem.” It’s this fun night that the whole family is together to go through the past, to the present, and the future.
It’s a family liturgy.
There’s this great little book by the British anthropologist Paul Connerton who explains what cultures that resisted modernity did. They all have the same characteristics. They share a sacred story. They celebrate the sacred story in unvarying ritual. They experience the ritual as taking them out of time. And they have to use their bodies in the ritual. Everything you’ve said is that.
What’s amazing is that all of this is part of modern Israeli culture. There’s this expression, “We got through Pharaoh, so we’ll get through this.” Or something like, a few years ago, it was the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six Day War. There was this incredible light show right here on the walls of the Old City. There were tens of thousands of people who came to the show. Right before the Six Day War, there was this famous Israeli folk singer, Naomi Shemer, who wrote this song, “Jerusalem of Gold,” and it became like the second Israeli anthem. When the army captured the Old City [in 1967], the Chief Rabbi said, famously, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” The paratroopers went down to the Western Wall. Some of them were secular people from the kibbutzim, and the chief rabbi blew the shofar, and some of them just cried. And they recreated it [the capture] on that night, and tens of thousands of people came out to relive this modern miracle. Everybody was feeling it together. It was really incredible.
Do you ever experience moments of enchantment here?
Yeah, regular moments. During all the Covid lockdowns, there was a real community in our building, a bunch of young families. We started having services in the courtyard, on Shabbat, and parties and events. Sometimes there’s just a feeling that on Shabbat, everybody’s together. It’s this feeling of being at home, of being with people who are all from different places, but we are the same.