…between Liberals and Conservatives today there is broad agreement: that America is fundamentally good. Imperfect, obviously. Currently imperiled, for certain. But full, coast-to-coast, with optimistic, generous, and industrious people. Our Constitution represents an astonishing achievement, the key to helping us out of whatever mess we’re in. We are all still Americans, after all.
Believer doesn’t mean milquetoast, although Believers are too often overmatched by the venom of the Cynics. As James Baldwin once observed, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
But Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson were all Believers—they played to win and won. Amy Klobuchar and Tom Cotton, Elena Kagan and Sam Alito proceed this way too: the politicians among them may attack the other side relentlessly (this is part of the job, after all). But listen to their arguments: they believe in the First Amendment, Due Process, and Equal Protection. They understand that American ideals require defense; they represent not only the best hope for America—but the best hope for humanity. They think the American people are something special. They hold the righteousness of the Declaration’s promise deep in their bones.
It’s no secret to anyone that America has seen better days or that the national mood is low. The question is whether to kick her while she’s down, to give up on her entirely—and then, to replace her with what, exactly?
As for the Cynics, The Believers must fend them off with everything we’ve got. “Do not succumb to the disease of cynicism for it will justify all of your worst instincts,” Dr. King once warned. Believe him.
Seth Moskowitz, an associate editor at Persuasion, has some good advice for these fractious political times:
The recognition that no one, regardless of political persuasion, is immune to reactionary tendencies should leave us all asking the uncomfortable question: have I, too, fallen into the reactionary trap?
There is no clear-cut answer to such a subjective question. Still, many thinkers have managed to oppose certain forms of social change without becoming reactionary themselves. Whereas reactionaries are guided by reflexive opposition, these thinkers are driven by a positive vision and substantive principles. Whereas reactionaries inflate threats to the point of hysteria, these thinkers maintain a sense of proportion. I emailed several of them for advice on steering clear of a reactionary mindset. Here are the five best recommendations that came from those conversations.
- Do not let the illusions of social media trick you. Matthew Yglesias, who writes the political newsletter Slow Boring and co-founded Vox, told me that “the set of people who talk a lot about politics on the internet is much, much, much, much more left-wing than the American electorate. At the same time, the structure of American political institutions … [means that] electoral outcomes are meaningfully to the right of the actual electorate.” This dynamic, according to Yglesias, leads reactionaries to lose “sight of who in fact holds power in the United States” and respond “primarily to vibes on Twitter rather than to the realities of the political situation.”
- Learn to recognize and avoid “us-vs-them” thinking. This tribalist instinct leads to hostility and reflexive opposition towards those deemed the “other.” Chloé Valdary, the founder of an anti-racist and diversity training company, said that “to escape an us-vs-them mindset, it’s […] helpful to be able to pause and ask yourself when you’ve entered into a counter-dependent relationship with someone or some idea, where your identity has become dependent upon countering someone else.”
- Be skeptical of convenient narratives. Ben Dreyfuss, a journalist who writes a newsletter called Good Faith, told me that he tries to interrogate his “beliefs to see if they are conforming to easy narratives. And if they are, I try to push back against myself more […] whenever it looks to me like people are reaching hardened consensuses because of social media mobs I have a knee jerk ‘slow down and think about this.’”
- Avoid the “zeal of the convert.” Newcomers to a philosophy often take it to an extreme. Zaid Jilani, a journalist who has worked for various progressive organizations and now writes a newsletter called INQUIRE, told me that people shouldn’t “be shy about being open-minded and being willing to change their beliefs. But they should consider the idea that jumping from one extreme to another is unwise because there may be just as many flaws to the other side as there were to the one you originally were on.”
- Take seriously the possibility that you are wrong. This is by far the most common bit of advice that I received. Valdary said that “everyone is susceptible to self-deception, because we are all human beings. It’s not a left/right thing”; Dreyfuss told me that “you don’t need to be right all the time but the one thing you do owe people is attempting to be intellectually honest”; and Jilani said that it is important “to be curious and be vigilant about flaws in your own thinking.”
Reactionary politics is an easy trap to fall into these days, given that so much of what is deemed progress is really the opposite. Ultimately, however, reactionaries do more harm than good. We do not need them, or the alarmism and hysteria in which they often indulge, to save us. Nuance, principles, and moderation will do just fine.
One consequence of the creepy cult of personality surrounding Barack Obama is that Republicans were primed to get in on the act. I don’t want to venture too far into David French’s turf, but the willingness of many evangelicals—and people who play them on TV—to embrace Archangel Donald was among the most shocking features of the Trump presidency. He was a “modern day Cyrus” and a new “King David.” Trump was in his own Manichean struggle against Satan, against witchcraft, etc.Of course, not everyone embraced the religious version of Trumpism. But the secular MAGAs were no less committed to the idea that Trump would be a transformational, messianic, redemptive force—and quite a few are still committed to this stuff. They think that through sheer force of will a handful of politicians and the scribblers who love them can “Make America Great.” I left off the “Again” because the most passionate partisans in this struggle have given up on making America more like the 1950s, as impossible and silly as that was (if you haven’t noticed 2022 Hungary doesn’t look a lot like 1955 Cleveland). They now bat around batty ideas about making America more like Prussia in the 1550s.I used to argue that the problem with George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was that it wasn’t an alternative to Bill Clinton’s “feel your pain” liberalism, but a Republican version of it. I think with the benefit of hindsight that’s becoming even more obvious. I suspect historians of the future will see a similar continuity in the transition from Obamaism to Trumpism.…But the through-line is this increasingly bipartisan hunger for “transformational” politics and the belief that the presidency is less a political and policy position and more of a metaphysical or even mystical talisman. As Kevin Williamson has long argued, there’s a good deal of idolatry in how we think of the presidency these days. In short what people want from the president, and politics generally, isn’t actually “transformation” but “transmogrification”—the magical process of transformation.And it’s all nonsense.…The quasi-religious obsession with making government an engine of social transformation is a direct byproduct of the government’s inability or unwillingness to do the simple, normal, work of government. Talking about “transformation,” “making America great,” fighting Frankfurt School Marxism, white supremacy, structural racism, the deep state, and all the other abstract hobgoblins that consume our imaginations is what you get when politicians don’t know—or don’t care—about doing their jobs.
Source: Jonah Goldberg, Transformers: Less Than Meets the Eye – The G-File
For consideration from today’s (12/3021) Wall Street Journal:
In next week’s case, Carson v. Makin, the justices will have to decide whether this theoretical distinction between status and use will become part of the constitutional rule.
Maine previously argued that court precedents required governments to avoid supporting religion, even if that meant they were not acting neutrally. Yet the Supreme Court has steadily moved away from that approach over the past few decades. Maine parents brought this suit, claiming the tuition support program’s rules violate the First Amendment. (We have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case.) A federal appeals court upheld the “sectarian” exclusion because it withholds money from the schools based not on their status as religious schools but for using the funds to teach religious curricula.
This sort of semantic gamesmanship provides one of the most obvious reasons why such an arbitrary construction must be abandoned. Status and use are permeable categories that can be contorted to achieve preferred but unprincipled legal outcomes. Moreover, the status-use distinction undercuts existing government programs that distribute public funds promoting important secular goals. The federal government and many states provide grants to religious institutions that fund health and educational services, security and disaster relief, and much more. Excluding faith-based institutions from receiving funds that serve societal goals because use of those funds happens to overlap with religious uses is the constitutional equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The status-use distinction is also discriminatory. Consider Jews committed to fulfilling the commands of Jewish law, which governs everything from how Jews should pray, eat and dress to safety regulations, medical ethics and commercial practices. Jewish law has such wide scope that it infuses the performance of seemingly secular activities with religious purpose.
This comprehensiveness means the status-use distinction will yield terrible consequences. Some rabbinic organizations have ruled that Jewish law, which “obligates us to care for our own health and to protect others from harm and illness,” imposes a religious obligation to take a Covid-19 vaccine. On such a basis, could states exclude Jewish institutions from vaccine-related funding because it would be a religious use?Jewish law’s safety regulations also require that construction be done in such a way to remove and protect against life-threatening obstacles. Could states, in the allocation of historic-preservation grants, choose to provide funding to Jewish institutions, but withhold funds to promote safety because such funds would be used for a religious purpose?It’s clearly unjust for states to withhold funds simply because they have secular and religious uses. Doing so is premised on a worldview that takes for granted a neat division between the secular and the religious. Few religions have such dividing lines. If the court is serious about protecting all faith communities equally, then it should prohibit religious discrimination based on status and use alike.
Businesses do good for society when they focus on their primary goal of making a profit by serving customers within the limits of law and morality. When they deviate from this–either by transgressing against the morality and law or by trying to go beyond their primary goal–they risk becoming a force of social harm:
One of the most interesting critiques of corporate social justice is Vivek Ramaswamy’s book Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam. Ramaswamy makes a strong case that corporations’ claims to be serving the greater good often hide dishonesty, self-promotion, self-dealing, and even outright corruption. Even when the desires of CEOs and companies are altruistic, Ramaswamy argues that the deviation from their narrow purpose confers more power on corporations than they are supposed to have in democratic society. The limited focus of companies is there in no small part to protect democracy from corporations becoming excessively powerful super-citizens (as Milton Friedman argued in an influential essay back in 1970).
Source: Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, How to Keep Your Corporation Out of the Culture War
From Madison’s (former) Mayor Dave:
I am not celebrating Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal on five charges last week.
Rittenhouse should not have been in Kenosha in the first place and he most definitely should not have been carrying an AR-15. In my view, nobody should be carrying an assault rifle. Their sale and possession should be banned outside of the military.
But as John Gross, Director of the Public Defender Project at UW-Madison, has pointed out, the problem was not the jury, but the law. Gross argued in a Sunday oped in the Wisconsin State Journal that the jury correctly applied Wisconsin law with regard to self-defense. That law requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not acting in self-defense. That’s a high bar and the prosecution in this case didn’t meet it.
The jury did not say that Rittenhouse was innocent or that he showed good judgment or that he was a good person. They simply concluded that he was not guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, of the charges brought against him. So, it’s important not to read too much into this.
Rather than pointing to the Rittenhouse verdicts as another example of how our system failed, we should see it as our system working remarkably well. The question before the jury was not about the First Amendment or the Second Amendment or Black Lives Matter or vigilantism or any other hot-button culture wars issues that commentators on Fox or MSNBC wanted to make it out to be. The question was a narrow one carefully defined in law. The jury took its time and reached a more than defensible legal conclusion.
If you don’t like the result — and I don’t — then the answer is to change the law, not to throw out or defame our system of justice.
At the conclusion of every school year, most American children receive a book with their photos and names in it, honoring them long before they have done anything worth committing to print. Perhaps most of their parents assume that the individuality of every child is celebrated elsewhere. But in most of the world most lives begin and end without much of a trace.
Non-immigrant Americans do not realize the beautiful design of the society that leads them toward living and planning for the future, as opposed to preoccupying them with martyrdom and the grudges of yore. In most other places, a tragedy like 9/11 would have been the occasion for a National Day of Mourning. In America, it is remembered as a National Day of Service.
America has many failings—our growing economic inequality perhaps among the gravest of them all. Such a failure is more than a mere flaw. It is an existential threat inflicted by ourselves upon our own democracy. Yet the first step to saving our democracy from this and other threats is to recognize the miracle of its existence in the first place. We cannot plot our way to a better future if we are not aware of our abundant riches, those for which countless others are fighting and dying elsewhere in the world, and for which immigrants still flock, ceaselessly, to our shores.
Like our politics and our media, the legal system has become a vehicle for collective rage; there is no room for doubt or deviation from our predispositions. Yet in denouncing “vigilante justice,” pundits and politicians seem to be advocating for a form of mob justice.
The difference between vigilante and mob justice? Perspective and numbers.
For some, Rittenhouse running down Sheridan Road in Kenosha with his AR-15 is a vigilante. For Rittenhouse, people chasing him with guns and chains is a mob. Neither involves actual justice, which is what juries mete out through the dispassionate application of law and facts.
Some were not satisfied to simply denounce the jury or judge as racists. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick declared that this was the final proof of a “system built on white supremacy” that “further validates the need to abolish our current system.” What appeared infuriating … about Kenosha was the absence of mob justice, not a victory of vigilante justice: Rittenhouse personified all of our social ills and had to be punished, sentenced to life in prison on the basis of popular opinion.
That, of course, would transcend evidence or law. It would be a system based on demand, not deliberation — the very definition of mob justice.
Ann Althouse writes:
Rittenhouse and every other individual — except a truly deranged person, such as, perhaps, Rosenbaum — are responsible for his own actions. We tend to focus on the actions of other human beings, and the trial was a spectacle commanding us to focus on Rittenhouse. The government puts on that show, and that show distracts us from the failings of government.
The first moral obligation of government is to protect life and property. When it doesn’t, as it didn’t do in Kenosha, as it didn’t do here in Madison and around the country, innocent lives are put at risk. Because elected officials failed to do what they swore to do, two men in Kenosha are dead and two others are maimed, one physically, the other morally.
3 November, 2021
Feast of Venerable ILARION the Great of Palestine
Dearly Beloved Clergy and Faithful of our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA,
CHRIST IS AMONGST US! IS AND ALWAYS SHALL BE!
We rush to share with you troubling news about our Spiritual Father, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, BARTHOLOMEW I, has been hospitalized this day to determine the cause of recent physical discomfort and pain in his chest was admitted to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. We have just been informed that he underwent a procedure for a stent placement to increase blood flow through the heart. We understand that the procedure was successfully completed and that His All-Holiness is resting well. If this continues overnight, he will be released from hospital tomorrow morning to make his return flight to Constantinople and the Patriarchal residence. He will have follow-up care with his regular physicians and we are thankful for this because we know that it feels “better and more safe” if something like this takes place near home, rather than half-way around the world.
We ask you all to immediately include His All-Holiness in your prayers beseeching our Lord’s abundant protection to him, healing him completely:
“O Heavenly Physician, You did send your Only-Begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to heal us and comfort us, that He may look down upon your servant, His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and extend His healing touch into His life, raising him up from temporary illness so that He may lead us for generations to come in faithful service to You with all our hearts, minds and souls. Grant him all the physical, spiritual and emotional strength to rebound from this temporary setback to continue his powerful witness before You and all the world beseeching our salvation and protecting all Your Creation from disuse and abuse for the generations to come. Hear us, O Lord, and strengthen us in our own prayers for his All-Holiness and for all Your people. For You are blessed and You Love all mankind. We give Glory to You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
By the Grace of God, Metropolitan
By the Grace of God, Archbishop