Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

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Pride and Terrorism: Reflections on Orlando

“People like me are constantly subjected to immense violence. I expect violence walking alone late at night… I expect random acts of hate violence on the street. [But] I do not expect violence when I am dancing at an LGBTQ club…” –Jacob Tobia

Sunday morning, after news of the Orlando terrorist attack broke, I received a text message from an old friend I hadn’t connected with in a while. A Jewish UChicago Law graduate (and passionate Duke alumnus) from suburban New York, he is a stalwart #NeverTrump conservative who interned for Utah Senator Mike Lee and campaigned mightily for the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from start to finish. Like both senators, this friend is socially conservative to a fault, and we have sparred often and bitterly through the years over gay rights, from the Obergefell decision to the various iterations of the Federal Marriage Amendment to the circumstances in which my future husband and I should be able to adopt kids.

Some might wonder how I would have the patience for such a friendship, and I don’t have an easy answer to that question for the truly incredulous. But some people are worth the long project of winning their hearts bit by bit, even through the inexorable pain of the many potholes and snares along the way.

His text read: “Just want you to know that as I wake up to this terrible news in the midst of Pride week, that I am thinking of you. That is all. Hope you are well, otherwise.”

It was a welcome surprise, considering.

As the unexpected thoughtfulness of that gesture has lingered, it’s been surreal to see the furious amalgam of LGBT allies—from the ACLU to a vast network on social media—blaming Christian opponents of gay rights, among others, for the murderous evil of a radicalized adherent to the superlative homophobia of Islamism. Most social conservatives, like just about everyone else, recoiled in horror and sadness from the undisputed evil of anti-gay terrorism. Accordingly, many of them, like my Jewish UChicago Law friend, were dumbfounded and insulted to be public targets of blame for villains they revile engaging in conduct they abhor.

I can understand—or at least maybe grasp—the underlying sentiments that animate some of this antagonism that seems as unintelligible to its recipients as it is painfully obvious to its progenitors. The simplest but perhaps most important thing to say to baffled social conservatives to explain the invective against them in the wake of Orlando is that religious terrorism against LGBT Americans did not begin in Orlando.

The more consistent LGBT critics of social conservatives perceive a culture that produced the attack on Pulse in the homophobic fanaticism of both conservative Christianity and Islam. A friend of a friend on Facebook, for example, sees the roots of the potentially closeted terrorist’s violently internalized homophobia as much grounded in the toxic Islamism of Afghanistan as in the decades of anti-gay cultural hostility inflicted by American Christians.

This awareness of Christian mistreatment of gays is hardly relegated to the fringes of society—where you’ll find its unrepentant celebrants in the likes of Pastor Roger “they deserve what they got” Jimenez of California’s Verity Baptist Church (who no more represents the Christian mainstream than the shooter represented American Muslims)—but extends all the way to the leaders of the American Body of Christ. In the recent words of Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida:

Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.

Before we go any further, I want to state clearly, lest there be any confusion, that I do not blame Christians for the horror in Orlando. Rather, I admire the staff of Chick-fil-a who went out of their way, as though in a modern-day parable, to support the victims of the tragedy at Pulse and their families. What I hope to accomplish in writing all this is something of a bridge between wholly different perspectives, so that social conservatives and LGBT allies can better understand one another—pain, grievances, and all.

Having said that, now I’ll be blunt: queers have a long, nasty history with political and cultural Christianity that far too many Christian conservatives seem unwilling or unable to appreciate. There are the kids kicked out of their own homes, expelled from institutions, inveighed against from the pulpit (don’t even get me started), bullied relentlessly into depression or even suicide; there are the adults who were tormented at workfired from jobs, kicked out of hospitals, kicked out of mallsslandered across continents, denied basic services, and scapegoated for every manner of misfortune—and were fought tooth and nail by Christian conservatives at nearly every turn for every iota of dignity and respect they managed to accrue from society or the law.

There are the people who know too well what Storm meant when she answered Senator Kelly’s question in the first X-Men movie about “normal people”: she hates them, sometimes, “because I’m afraid of them.” And they have good reason to be afraid—to hold hands in public, come out at work, or put an arm on a significant other’s shoulder during a transit ride. It’s no surprise to the LGBT community that the second-most common type of hate crime in America by far, according to the most recent FBI data, is anti-LGBT violence. (For comparison, anti-Muslim violence was less than 3 percent, and anti-Christian attacks were among the lowest of any demographic.)

And the truth is, we never really know when we go out somewhere in the world which of you will suddenly attack us for being who we are, or who you assume we are. But the thought occurs to us more often than you might think. Among other things, this is why my boyfriend and I, who were nearly victims of hate crimes in supposedly tolerant places, have concealed carry licenses and the means to defend ourselves, if it ever came to that. It’s almost why I used to feel a mercurial combination of gratitude and shame at having grown up in (and exaggerating this aspect of) a culture that discourages PDA, which in turn excused my once indomitable aversion to holding my boyfriend’s hand in public.

This is why Orlando hurts so much for gays hundreds of miles away who knew nobody inside, living or casualty.

Granted, many Christian conservatives today would not favor any of that pain, but the (ongoing) history is there. It does not help that breathtakingly few prominent Republicans even bothered to mention the LGBT nature of the Pulse massacre, even though that aspect was integral to why the tragedy occurred in the first place. Moreover, some, like The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson, went so far as to dismiss vital questions about gay rights issues in wake of a transparently anti-gay attack as “an unnecessary dividing line.”

At best, this excessive discomfort with even talking about gays is appallingly ignorant and insensitive. At worst, it is emblematic of the kind of malign indifference or deep-seated hostility to the peculiar struggles of LGBT Americans that underlies (and some would say justifies) LGBT supporters’ open revulsion at and rejection of what they interpret as the crocodile tears of their enemies. As conservative journalist and LGBT ally Betsy Woodruff put it rather poignantly:

After years of supporting some of the most discriminatory and hateful legislation aimed at the LGBT community, some top Republicans finally found a way to exploit the community as it grieved the Orlando shootings.

In this vein, well-intentioned overtures to gays from some on the Right—from The Resurgent’s Dave Scharoun to evangelical darling Ted Cruz—rooted primarily in conservative opposition to violence against gay people come off as patronizing and disingenuous. It is a supremely low bar to say, in effect, “We may have viciously opposed just about every social, cultural, and political initiative that would have empowered you to pursue happiness as productive citizens—and in so doing actively worked to make your lives more miserable than they needed to be—but at least we don’t want to kill you like those people we hate over there. Why won’t you support us?”

That is not a compelling message. Especially not when aggressively LGBT-friendly candidate Hillary Clinton is laying out plans (whatever you think of their substance) to destroy the Islamic State while calling out America’s Muslim “allies” for being insufficiently committed to extirpating Islamic radicalism.

It is certainly a noteworthy point that even some of the worst anti-gay organizations, like the Family Research Council, which most gay rights advocates consider an anti-gay hate group, offered explicit support to the LGBT victims of Orlando (and in so doing managed somehow to convey a greater degree of sympathy than the bulk of elected Republican officials), while the worst anti-gay jurisdictions in the Middle East would make the Pulse terrorist seem tame and merciful by comparison. But we’re not in the Middle East.

Whether or not social conservatives find that interpretation of their sympathy and culture war history fair (and those honest or sufficiently self-aware will concede at least much of it is), this is how the situation looks to a great host of LGBT people and their allies for many good reasons.

In response to much of this, some social conservatives and their political allies will incline understandably toward incredulity or exasperation. They maintain sincere, principled objections to same-sex marriage and various gender identity mandates. To be sure, there are some on the Left for whom such opposition is a non-negotiable personal failure over which no social or political bridge is possible. For most others, though, there is a navigable world of fertile seeds for common ground and mutual understanding. The paths that lead to and through it are all accessible by a deceptively simple code of conduct derivative from the Golden Rule:

Act like you give a damn.

What does that mean, you ask?

Well, for starters, if you notice a radical Islamic terrorist attacked an LGBT space to kill LGBT people, acknowledge the primacy of LGBT suffering in that tragedy. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, talk about the manifold ways in which America has been—and in some ways continues to be—a hostile play for gay people. See: the aforementioned point about hate crimes. If the Family Research Council and Ted Cruz can pull off a passable effort, so can you.

A real-life instance of this was a speech Marco Rubio—one of the few GOP officeholders to acknowledge the anti-gay nature of the Orlando attack—gave at Catholic University in summer 2014. Even as he reaffirmed his unyielding opposition to same-sex marriage, he acknowledged the monstrous but little-known history of government-sanctioned discrimination against gays, and the legitimate grievances gay people have today because of such ills. There’s certainly more the Florida senator could do to better represent his LGBT constituents, but his comments represent a helpful show of what I hope is genuine good will.

If you want to get more advanced, you could spend a fraction of the resources you use to oppose same-sex marriage or other gay rights issues to, say, engage gay parents, taxpayers, and community members about particular challenges facing their families, which will exist whatever your opinions of them. You could explore—and dare I say champion—policies that might help alleviate such challenges without compromising your values.

Real-life examples of this would be then-Sen.-elect Pat Toomey’s (R-Penn.) announcement of support for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, even though he would never get a chance to vote on it, or Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-NC) surprising decision to vote for that repeal bill, with no evident political gain, because it was “the right thing to do.” There’s also the case of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who posted a lengthy and detailed explanation of his vote for an amendment from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) that reaffirmed an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. The explanation even went so far as to call out Amash’s conservative allies for woefully misrepresenting the amendment’s text and effects. Etc.

But even for those social conservatives who remain skeptical of such policy reforms, the mere exercise of continually engaging LGBT people to hash out such things would almost certainly lead to a learning by osmosis of some concerns, struggles, frustrations, and hopes that go beyond politics and underlie true compassion. It’s the kind of empathetic approach that, if scaled well, would go a long way to resolving the GOP and conservative movement’s enduring difficulty with young and minority voters.

You can find a gold standard of empathy and a way forward in the cogent remarks of Utah’s Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox at a vigil for the Orlando victims:

I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.

Over the intervening years, my heart has changed. It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you. You have been patient with me. You helped me learn the right letters of the alphabet in the right order even though you keep adding new ones. You have been kind to me. Jim Dabakis even told me I dressed nice once, even though I know he was lying. You have treated me with the kindness, dignity, and respect — the love — that I very often did NOT deserve. And it has made me love you.

I cannot recommend his entire speech enough. Seriously, go read it right now. I can wait.

But if nothing else, the next time you have an occasion to ponder the fury or frustrations of LGBT people in your midst, however baffling or seemingly inscrutable, reflect on this timeless insight from Carlos Maza in the Washington Post:

Many LGBT people have spent years keeping problems — especially problems related to being LGBT — to ourselves. We have become masters of seeming fine, of convincing ourselves that we are fine, when we are not fine. Because we badly want to be fine.

There is a good chance your charming, confident, smiling gay friend feels deeply scared and unwelcome in the world.

Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you love them. Tell them your love doesn’t come with caveats. Tell them it’s okay to cry. Tell them they don’t deserve to be scared. Tell them that it’s okay to be scared anyway. Tell them it’s okay to be afraid of dying. Tell them that they matter to you — and that you want them here, alive, now.

As it stands, too many LGBT people believe that conservative Republicans don’t care or actively despise them, and so much about the response to the Orlando attacks will reinforce that perception, to everybody’s detriment. That, in the end, is the tragedy that keeps on stealing.

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The Con of Mephistopheles

“I am aware, in a way that many Americans whose families have been here longer are not, of how fragile a thing American exceptionalism is. Of how remarkable a moment in world history it was when this country was founded on principles of government and Constitution rather than a tribe. Like Ronald Reagan said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.’” –Inez Feltscher 

Long ago, a doomed priest desperately admonished the proud lords of Ilium: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. His words, like the cries of captive Cassandra, were all in vain. The Trojans took the horse as a sign of their enemies’ defeat and decided unanimously to let it stand inside their impenetrable walls as a monument to their greatness. So the glory that was Troy ended with a con that her people voted upon themselves.

It was neither the first nor the last time a people or individual fell grasping at poison in the guise of hope.

Donald Trump promises many things that he sums up in a mantra that is somehow simultaneously gleeful and indignant: Make America Great Again. Most Americans, even zealous fans of the incumbent administration, reasonably believe the country to be on the wrong track and, as that metaphor suggests, to desperately need a course correction. What is curious is the degree to which this national craving has evolved beyond content into a visceral campaign for The One who reassures, as forcefully and cryptically as modern electioneering will allow, “We can be safe still.”

There was a widespread myth, peddled by the likes of Trump and court eunuch Reek Chris Christie (R-Dreadfort), that the promising Marco Rubio was essentially the Republican version of Obama—young, charismatic, and light on substance. Ironically, Rubio’s painfully doomed campaign (of which, full disclosure, I was an enthusiastic supporter) was profoundly heavier on policy and lethally lighter on electioneering fundamentals, which is why he lost the GOP nomination despite seeming to have everything going for him. The actual paradigmatic heir to Obama ’08 is indeed neither of the freshman Senators with ethnic minority backgrounds—or either of the Democrats—but instead Donald J. Trump.

Barack Obama campaigned eight years ago on the revivalist fervor of “Hope and Change.” Endless words were spilled, from rival Democrats to perceptive journalists to incredulous Republicans, about the mercurial projections of a candidate who managed to seem and promise and all things to all people through precious little substance. The vitality and promise were above all the message, and in the backdrop of the failures and fear of the Bush era, this proved enough to upend the political order that was.

As a young Obama supporter said of the future president in December 2007, “He presents a hope for our country and that sets him apart. He’s not afraid to tell it how it is.”

Now, dissatisfaction with the Obama era has brought an illusion of clarity to what is to be Hoped for and how things are to Change: America is in decline, and it must be Made Great Again. As before, the promise—which includes that reverberating echo of transcendent political vitality Obama so yearned to represent—is the message. But the Trump song is for those who believe the cultural, social, and economic trends of the day have left them behind while the Obama coalition of spoiled special interests seems poised to inherit the Earth.

Put another way, the hardened Trumpists, like the Obamaniacs of old, are bound to their candidate by a visceral sense of aspiration that transcends policy positions and blatant hypocrisy to the point of rejecting that entire category of ideological criticism. (See: Scandal-addict Ann Coulter, starved for the diminishing return of her next degrading media hit, going pro-abortion for Trump.) That such flagrant indifference to a candidate’s ignorance and hostility to truth seems impossible to square with praising the candidate for being unafraid “to tell it like it is” is a feature, not a bug.

When loyalty to an office-seeker transcends issue substance into the ream of cultural appeal and aspiration, what some might call a cult of personality, blatant contradictions cease to be liabilities and instead bolster rather than undermine the candidate’s credibility through the desultory mythology of “authenticity.” The supporters’ aspirational devotion evolves into an amaranthine barrier of unfalsifiable intertia that does not allow for new information to trigger apostasy.

Consider this characteristic description of Obama’s support in April 2008:

Obama is unusual, however. He attracts supporters who not only disagree with his stated positions but assume he does too. They project their own views onto him and figure he is just saying what other, less discerning voters want to hear. So when Obama’s chief economic adviser supposedly told a Canadian official that, contrary to campaign rhetoric, the candidate didn’t want to revise NAFTA, reporters found the story credible. After all, nobody that thoughtful and sophisticated could really oppose free trade.

Compare this to the appreciably broad amalgam of contemporary Trump supporters who are proving impervious to fact-based attack ads, as in the people who are happy to discriminate against innocent Muslims and cast aspersions against Mexican immigrants but get outraged when a private landlord in Colorado opts to deny them the respect they wish to deny others. Or the following example of a guy who denounces globalism and jobs going overseas only to hand-wave the subject away upon learning that Trump sends jobs overseas:

That Trump shares his supporters’ knack for what could charitably be called inconsistency, or more accurately described as incoherence, surprises nobody anymore. Still, it’s worth noting that he did just give a speech at AIPAC where he vowed to somehow reject the Iran deal:

“My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”

And enforce it:

“We must enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable, and we will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced, people—believe me.”

Trump’s strong positions doubtlessly followed extensive consultation with his top foreign policy adviser. In any case, as the New Yorker himself stated publicly, he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and [he] wouldn’t lose any voters.” His supporters agree:

“There’s nothing short of Trump shooting my daughter in the street and my grandchildren — there is nothing and nobody that’s going to dissuade me from voting for Trump.”

Insofar as Trumpism is the monstrous heir—or, at least, reductio ad absurdum—to Obamamania, even the Obamaniacal Chris Matthews seemed less, well, maniacal with his infamous leg thrills. That said, Trump has enjoyed servile media promotion, most shamefully captured in Breitbart’s descent into a Trumpist MSNBC, and so the new mania spreads as the old one did. This time, however, a lot more of the “mainstream” sees the farce for what it is.

Beyond the flip-flopping and stultifying mix of arrogance and ignorance, the weakness and dangerous opportunism of Trump’s policy scheme, where it approaches coherence, has been spelled out elsewhere, so I’ll refer those in need of a handy refresher to Eugene Volokh’s detailed summary:

Trump openly advocates massacring innocent civilians. He wants to use bogus lawsuits and FCC censorship to suppress the speech of his critics, and recently pined for the “old days” when his supporters would have been allowed to beat protestors to the point where they “have to carried out on a stretcher.” He has lobbied for the government to condemn a widow’s home so he could use it to build a casino parking lot. He has utter contempt for constitutional property rights, and other constitutional limitations on government power. He wants to deport millions of people to lives of Third World poverty and oppression,including hundreds of thousands of children born in the United States, who have never known any other home. And he would engage in massive discrimination on the basis of religion.

A man who advocates such things must not be elected president of the most powerful nation in the world, and he must not be allowed to become the nominee of a major party. Blocking him is far more important than ensuring the victory of any one other candidate that we might happen to prefer. The differences between the other viable candidates are modest compared to the evil represented by Trump. Trump many not really believe or want to act on some rhetoric. But it would be dangerous to take that chance. Even if it is all an act, a triumphant Trump might well be conclude that the script that got him in the White House will also help him stay there and consolidate his power.

To that latter point, about the common refrain among the many reasonable and thoughtful people who support Trump and assume he cannot mean the worst of his words, my friend Michael Estève, a young Republican city councilman in Maryland, adds:

So, after conversations with a handful of Trump supporters, it basically boils down to (for some) a bet that Trump isn’t serious, doesn’t mean most of what he says, and is just using the media to mobilize an enthusiastic base and troll the establishment. And that may very well be the case. But is it *really* worth the risk that he does, in fact, want to open libel laws to target the press? Bring back torture worse than waterboarding, inspired by “the middle ages”? Kill the families and friends of suspected terrorists in violation of international law? Build a wall, which, I assume, will be paid for with import tariffs on a country with less than 1.5 trillion dollars of GDP? Allow Social Security and Medicare to continue to crowd out federal spending without even modest reforms? And, more importantly, introduce religious tests to immigration, law enforcement, and surveillance? I get liking a successful troll, but the gamble that he’s self-aware and benign is fairly high-stakes given the potential harm to innocent people.

But set aside, for a moment, the matter of Trump’s disqualifying contempt for the brave troops in our American military, weakness on policy, and establishment-style propensity to lie to his supporters with pathological abandon. Even if you’re well aware of the many good reasons Trump’s campaign is terrible and inclined to support him anyway to achieve nihilistic catharsis in burning down the world, consider the preliminary smoke signals from the Trump phenomenon’s early embers.

In the heartland, white high school students chanted “Build a wall” at a basketball game against a school with mostly lower-income American kids of Hispanic heritage. They held up a poster of Trump as they did so. This event echoes a crowd of adult Trump supporters chanting “USA” as they assaulted nonviolent Latino protesters at a Trump rally. Trump encouraged them. Even among white Republicans, Trumpism inspires the kind of existential terror that seems more suited to the Middle East or Soviet-era Eastern bloc than 21st-century America.

This is insane. Trump is running nakedly as the kind of lawless, unprincipled autocrat that his supporters and opponents alike find damning in Obama. But again, he promises greatness, strength, and Putin-style “leadership,” so all sort of people who really should know better are willing to dance with the Donald for the small price of everything they claimed to value in the idea of America and basic decency.

Jon Gabriel’s lamentation of the Trump campaign captures well the Mephistophelean choice the would-be strongman of the United States has offered to the polity, which too many are willing to accept:

The Strong Man on the white horse will save us — not through Congress, the courts, or the Constitution, but merely by willing it. And the price is cheap: All we have to do is admit that the American Experiment is dead. Our Founding Fathers were wrong about that individual liberty nonsense and we should bow to our new king. America will be so great your head will spin.

In reflecting on the barbarisms of the French Revolution—a campaign to make that country so great the heads were literally spinning—conservative thinker Edmund Burke timelessly inveighed:

But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever… It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.

In a very raw sense, these are the stakes, even as Europe today is but a castellated shadow of her former majesty. There is nothing ennobled by the illusory “strength” of Donald Trump, not his spectacular business failures, Trump University victims, exploited illegal foreign labor, targets of racial discrimination, right-wing enablers, or legion of trusting voters who enable his threats to take by violence what he cannot win legitimately at the ballot box. Everything Trump touches he degrades, including the goals, aspirations, and energy of the voters who comprise the Trump coalition.

It’s not even true that Trump cannot, as he and his supporters oft repeat, “be bought.” Trump’s most prominent business ventures are funded by the same moneyed special interests that “buy” other politicians, including notorious liberal mega-donor George Soros. That’s the same George Soros who bankrolls candidates and causes—like open borders and bringing Syrian refugees into the United States, which Trump also supported—that are supposedly anathema to Trump supporters.

But of course, as noted earlier, Trump loyalists necessarily apathetic to matters of principle or values will not care. Political candidates taking $160 million dollars from special interests only matters when non-Trump politicians do it. Case in point:

Whether or not you see heavy-handed notes of unabashed fascism, murderous nihilism, or other forms of authoritarianism in Trump’s explicit comments, or subscribe to #NeverTrump, the would-be strongman’s beguiling rise undercuts the legitimacy of and ability to resolve the very grievances he seeks to embody. To highlight just a few critical notes the Trump campaign cedes irrevocably to its opponents, left and right, as helpfully compiled by a known enemy of the GOP establishment: the cult of personality and lawlessness that has enabled Obama (as mentioned above, Trump runs on such fuel); the corrupt worldview that produced the escalating disaster of Obamacare (Trump endorses it); political corruption (Trump profits from and promises more of it); nasty, identity-politicking, and election-losing portrayals of the American Right (Trump’s campaign is the apotheosis of them all); grotesque mistreatment of our troops and veterans (also touched on above); and, perhaps most saliently, weakness and betrayal from GOP elites (if God is the embodiment of love, Trump is treachery incarnate).

If you care about any of those issues, Trump is your gleeful, cantankerous enemy who will destroy everything you love along with some—though not all—of the things you hate. Because that is the essential truth that Trump, like Mephistopheles, hopes his supporters, like Faust, won’t think too much about: The only way he could break and burn the system is to immolate and consume the hope and anger of his supporters until only dust and haunted votes remain.

For conservatives, the only viable option left to defeat Trump—a candidate so odious he would lose to either Democrat for president in deepest of deep-red Utah—and put our best foot forward against the not-indicted Clinton machine in November is to unite in support of the candidacy of Ted Cruz. In case it need be said, John Kasich has no viable path to the White House, or even the GOP nomination. Frankly, even if he did, the governor’s economic record in Ohio is atrocious. Kasich has the worst fiscal record of any of the supermajority of the nation’s Republican governors, including the absolute worst record on spending of any governor of any party in any state.  That’s setting aside whatever he meant by a “Department of Judeo-Christian Affairs” and his contemptuous end-run around his own legislature to expand the protean quagmire that is Obamacare.

I can understand why many folks—particularly more centrist or establishment-leaning Republicans and voters reasonably concerned about what Cruz’s election would mean for gay people—want to support Kasich, and I respect those sentiments. But John Kasich has no path to the White House and is more likely to enable Donald Trump than stop him. By contrast, Ted Cruz has a viable path to both the nomination—through toppling Trump—and the presidency. It is perfectly reasonable to hold Cruz to task for legitimate points of concern and disagreement, and I expect all of us to do that. And may we all, including Cruz, emerge the better for it.

Ultimately, the Senator from Texas is the best shot we have to point the Republican Party and the American Republic toward the right direction. He may well fail in July or fall in November, but at least with him conservatives can unite in the embrace of a broad set of principles we mostly agree with (or at least recognize), rather than despair between the Scylla of Hillary and the Charybdis of Trump in November. With Cruz, we will take the nomination and the White House, or we will come back on our shields, having fallen for a cause we know and believe to be resolutely superior than everything else on the table.

When the fall is all there is, it matters.”


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They Are Who We Said They Were

“The aim of an arbitrary system to destroy the civil rights of the whole population, who ultimately become just as outlawed in their own country as the stateless and homeless. The destruction of a man’s rights, the killing of the juridical person in him, is a prerequisite for dominating him entirely.” –Hannah Arendt

NYT confiscate guns editorial 2015 - White House flag

Will they lower the flags when they murder our liberty?

The New York Times did an amazing thing in running a front page editorial to prominently express its long known view on guns.

Before we go further, we can agree upfront that the editorial is much more likely to fuel ideological polarization than change any minds. As Callum Borchers aptly notes in The Washington Post:

Put plainly, the New York Times is the New York Times. Swing voters in Middle America aren’t its subscribers, and the swing voters in Congress don’t have to appeal to voters who care much about what the New York Times thinks. In fact, you could make a pretty convincing case that this would have the opposite of the intended effect by overreaching on something most Americans simply don’t think will do much to prevent mass shootings.

But never mind all that; it is hardly news that the Times’ target audience is a distant echo chamber of urbane progressives high on self-regard and short on sociopolitical heft or self-awareness. So bracket that point for a moment.

Finally, after so many years, debates, invective, and political wrangling, the media elites of Manhattan at last put their cards on the table on a topic that apparently matters more to them than all the great crises and struggles of the last century. In garnering public endorsements from like-minded liberals, including Democrats who covet the White House, the New Yorkers have also summoned their supporters out of the shadows into the daylight of near-honest dealing.

The anti-gun Left that dominates and consumes The New York Times has finally admitted they want to ban and confiscate guns. Gun rights proponents have known and argued this for years, but anti-gun leftists used to regurgitate unconvincing platitudes to pretend they support gun rights and would never confiscate guns. They would even go so far as to ridicule sincere concern about confiscation with derisive references to comments about “jack-booted thugs” and “black helicopters” (a favorite of Rachel Maddow).

All of that is behind us now. With this editorial, and its prolific concordance on social media, the anti-gun Left is dispensing with the lie no reasonable gun-rights advocate even pretended to believe in the first place. They want to empower government agents to take millions of guns they decide should be illegal (an ever expansive category) from American households. They want to enable government agents to infringe upon or outright destroy the right to bear arms, even if it would not prevent violent tragedies.

They are who we said they were. They want what we said they wanted. And now we can deal with some semblance of honesty in the political debate about guns.

I say “semblance” of honesty, of course, because the now-admitted gun-grabbers are still dissembling elsewhere. Under the guise of disarming terrorists, the anti-gun Left, including the Manhattan editorial cabal, united behind a terrifying measure that would have enabled federal bureaucrats to deny constitutionally protected civil rights to any citizen they decide, for whatever reasons, to suspect of being dangerous.

I refer, of course, to Democrats’ viciously misguided (or evil) attempt to deny Second Amendment protections to people on the terror watch list. While at first blush, such a proposal may sound obviously reasonable, due diligence shows it to be, well, misguided (at best) or evil. Gabriel Malor of Hot Air makes the point nicely:

As my colleague Taylor has explained, the terrorism watch list was never meant for this purpose. As a mere watch list, it includes thousands of people who have done no wrong and clearly do not represent a threat to anyone. Like, for example, Fox News contributor Stephen F. Hayes, who was added last year for the crime of going on a cruise, or Nelson Mandela, who’s placement on the list should demonstrate for anyone with two working brain cells that it was never intended as a tool to strip citizens of their rights. There are no statutory criteria for inclusion on the terrorism watch list and no statutory mechanism to challenge one’s placement on the list. All of that was left to unelected, anonymous government bureaucrats. That’s probably half the reason Democrats like the idea so much.

In the article Malor cites, Taylor Millard offers this damning observation:

This ignores the fact of how stupid terrorist watch lists are because they don’t do the job the government claims they’re supposed to. The Intercept (which isn’t exactly a conservative or libertarian publication) got hold of the National Counterterrorism Center guidelines for putting people on watch lists last year. Some of these guidelines includes social media and what “walk-ins” say, even if government employees are told not to use hunches.

reasonablesuspicion

socialmedia

So, yes, you might be on a terrorist watch list if you tweet, Facebook, or use other social media sites to post an article someone doesn’t like. The rules are so vague that even those who might be criticizing or pointing something out for others to see could end up on the list. But the Democrats and their allies in the media are all in favor of passing a law keeping people on watch lists from getting guns.

It is literally the case that a ban on terror watch list “suspects” buying guns would enable the federal government to infringe upon the explicit constitutional rights of its citizens without due process or public accountability. Coupled with progressives’ alarming campaign to curtail the First Amendment, there is an unmistakably totalitarian flavor to the explicit policy agenda of the mainstream American Left.

It should go without saying that these same progressives would cry havoc if Republicans attempted to deny various other constitutional rights to innocent people without due process. And they would be right to do so. But because the civil right in this instance involves things progressives dislike, the ends of undermining gun rights apparently justify authoritarian means, a song we have noted before.

Put simply, progressives hate gun rights more than they love constitutional democracy, and they have declared themselves willing to destroy the foundation of the latter to attack the former.

It is also telling that The New York Times acknowledges upfront that its preferred gun control regime would not prevent mass shootings—as much deadlier attacks in multiple European countries with much stricter gun control has shown. Indeed, some of the worst mass shootings in the U.S. involved standard handguns and Joe-Biden-approved shotguns (Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Navy Yard, etc.). To ban and confiscate even these is to essentially outlaw (read: drive into the black market) the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of guns in America today.

But the government would have to ban and confiscate nearly all American firearms in order to eliminate the civilian means to commit mass murder—or prevent violent crime. There is, of course, no precedent in the developed world for successfully disarming its citizenry of more than 350 million guns. Even the infamous gun-grabbers of Australia only managed to confiscate at most one million guns. While this may have amounted to one-fifth to one-third of that country’s total, it would be less than one-third of one percent of the American arsenal—which is to say a statistical rounding error—to say nothing of how much such a program would cost.

This directly relates to another key wrinkle in the confiscation plot: A great many gun owners would not cooperate with any confiscation regime. We know this because resistance is already evident. When progressive regimes in blue states expanded their “assault weapon” bans and required registration of those currently owned, civilians and even law enforcement officials refused to comply. Otherwise law-abiding residents of Washington, D.C., where it is nearly impossible to register a handgun for legal carry, are increasingly ignoring strict gun laws for their own safety. If even New York and Connecticut cannot, even now, successfully register the firearms they dislike in their borders, it is a mystery how they would confiscate them.

Unless, of course, Democrats were willing and able to empower confiscators to violate due process and kick in people’s doors to violently force compliance. Unless, of course, Democrats are willing to enable government operatives to kill or ruin once-lawful American gun owners in order to forcibly disarm them. Lest you think this unlikely, it is already happening in California. (Yes, that state with San Bernardino.)

And thus the insidious “terror watch list” farce reveals itself for what it is: a truly terrifying early salvo in the assault on the civil liberties that, for now, protect ordinary citizens from the machinations of a hostile government. If Democrats also managed to implement their preferred rewrite of the First Amendment (and other elements of the Bill of Rights), they would even be able to undermine the ability of engaged citizens to speak out against the abuses progressives are itching to inflict.

As they say, all oppression is connected.

In the final analysis, “assault weapon” remains an arbitrary political fiction, gun violence is at historic lows and declining, homicide rates show no correlation with gun ownership, violent crime is falling as gun sales are rising, and mass shootings are neither unique to nor especially deadly in the U.S. when compared to Europe. But none of that matters in a world where open appeals to rank despotism are now the rallying cry of one side of a binary political sphere. This is no longer, if it ever was, just a political dispute but an existential one about the very maintenance of American republicanism.

These are the stakes.

Progressive agitators and their political enablers are perfectly willing, as The New York Times editorial board reminded us as loudly as it can, to destroy the most basic safeguards of constitutional democracy to extirpate civil rights they deem antiquated. They explicitly demand that we enable government operatives to suppress political speech and confiscate basic means of self-defense to forcibly disarm millions of innocent Americans. We do not have to read between the lies anymore to argue this state of affairs; they announce their authoritarianism openly and with unblinking moral and political conviction.

To imagine good faith and the possibility of a satisfactory, enduring compromise between the defenders of civil liberties and the avowed enemies of the Bill of Rights is a fool’s errand. The New York Times and its supporters do not want reasoned discourse or “common-sense solutions,” they want our compliance and subjugation. As Achilles long ago rebuked Hector before their epic last fight in the shadow of Ilium, so progressives rebuke us now as they demand an end to our civil rights:

There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall.

They are who we said they are. They want what we said they want.


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A Song for Barbarian Refugees

“‘I am not going to be a slave or a wife. Even if I am stupid and talk funny and get sick, I won’t let you turn me into a slave or a wife. I’m getting out of here. I can’t stand living here anymore’… They reached again and again for a high note, yearning toward a high note, which they found at last and held—an icicle in the desert.” –Maxine Hong Kingston

Syrian refugees - UNHCR

Hat tip to Google for this clever bid for awareness: http://betagoogle.com/refugees.html

I didn’t really understand anything about “Islam” or “Mohammed” as a child, but I knew the Muslim family down the block in our sleepy Virginia neighborhood was lovely. The father was a soldier like mine, and like mine, he was away a lot, going about the difficult business of serving his country during the turbulent Clinton years. The mother wore the hijab and took care that their daughter did, too. She was best friends with my mother, a devoutly evangelical Christian, and would often babysit us in her home, with her young son and daughter.

This friendly Muslim neighbor woman introduced my younger siblings and me to the saporific wonders of curry and taught us some basic awareness of Islamic culture, like that they did not celebrate Christmas like we Christians (i.e., everybody else). And if memory serves, the first time I visited Philadelphia (and crossed the Mason-Dixon Line) was on a trip where we met some of her kin. In that quaint Virginia town, our families most often came together, frequently with other neighbors, for the holy rituals we all could celebrate together as American patriots: watching football. For the bigger games, like the Super Bowl, the father might even throw a party and play host to a full living room of rowdy soldiers, spouses, and kids.

Like so many others, I never saw that family again after the Army moved us elsewhere. But I remember them fondly, and it is perhaps for having known them—and others I would eventually meet, like my Pakistani best friend in high school—that I never developed a generalized fear of Muslims or idle suspicion of Islamic paraphernalia after the trauma of 9/11 and all that came later. Call it one of the many prejudices from which my multicultural Army upbringing shielded me.

I often think of those Muslims I knew growing up amid the ongoing debate about whether America should accept a small sliver—and 10,000 is but a drop in a restless ocean—of Syrian refugees. It’s not so much that I think those ghosts of my past and these modern victims of Islamism have much in common besides the Quran. Rather, it amazes me how many politicians have rushed to posture overmuch about how the Islamists and their victims also have in common the Quran. The sober, responsible leaders we elected these politicians to be ought to meet panic and anxiety with calm and reason—like focusing on the vital task of how to integrate refugees from the brutal reach of Daesh (an appropriately derogatory term for ISIL) into the norms and values of Western civilization—rather than grandstand about means (imagined in the case of governors) to block or expel them. But instead, we see the politics of fear and the exploitation of fear that, to his credit, George W. Bush nobly resisted in his presidency.

The first failing, of course, comes at the top. President Obama failed so spectacularly to make a compelling case for his administration’s ability to vet incoming refugees that the House of Representatives just passed a bill to implement its own preferred security regime over the administration’s objections with veto-proof, bipartisan support. Strangely, taking immature partisan swipes at how the more-than-just-GOP skepticism of his refugee plan is “scared of 3-year-old orphans” did not help.

Rather than churlishly mocking reasonably concerned Americans who look to the President for critical, life-or-death assurances, Obama and top security officials should have focused all along on painstakingly educating the public about the contours and reliability of the security apparatus that will vet all refugees and keep us safe. If the administration needs advice on how to do this, they could look to the empathetic, conciliatory way sometime Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the concerns of refugee-skeptic Gov. Robert Bentley, among other governors, at conference in their native Alabama. In fact, he might have been wise to reach out to her and other leaders, like devout Christian churches, in that sagely humanitarian effort as he dutifully balances compassion and security. But we have learned not to expect such perspicacity from this White House.

Still, there is failure all around. The callous dismissal of the plight of refugee children, as we see from the likes of Chris Christie, is part and parcel of the disconnect between Christian governors attempting to pause or block refugees and Christian leaders—evangelical, Catholic, and mainline Protestant—actively preaching for a more humanitarian response as the Christian duty of believers. Likewise, various politicians’ apparent disinterest in a perceived surge of anti-Muslim hostility hews too closely to a climate of fear and fearmongering than to the kind of mindsets our leaders should encourage.

Sober leaders should remind us of facts and critical nuance as we face tough, complicated decisions. This would include explaining why it matters that the Tsarnaev brothers were not refugees but recipients of asylum who entered the country on a tourist visa. To be resettled in the United States, refugees must undergo extensive evaluation after an initial referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

From the State Department:

The [Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs)] collect biographic and other information from the applicants to prepare for the adjudication interview and for security screening. Enhanced security screening is a joint responsibility of the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security and includes the participation of multiple U.S. Government security agencies.

Officers from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) review all the information that the RSC has collected and also conduct an in-person interview with each refugee applicant before deciding whether to approve him or her for resettlement in the United States.

All USCIS-approved refugees undergo a health screening to identify medical needs and to ensure that those with a contagious disease, such as tuberculosis, do not enter the United States. Finally, the RSC requests a “sponsorship assurance” from a U.S.-based resettlement agency that is experienced in providing assistance to newly arrived refugees. Most refugees undergo a brief U.S. cultural orientation course prior to departure for the United States.

[…]

United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is comprised of:

  • The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Five international or nongovernmental organizations operating Resettlement Support Centers around the world under the supervision and funding of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State
  • Nine domestic nongovernmental organizations with a total of about 350 affiliated offices across the United States.
  • Thousands of private citizens who volunteer their time and skills to help refugees resettle in the United States.

The total processing time varies depending on an applicant’s location and other circumstances, but the average time from the initial UNHCR referral to arrival as a refugee in the United States is about 18-24 months.

In contrast to the intensive refugee process, tourists, including those who eventually seek asylum, face much lower barriers of entry. That asylees, unlike refugees, are already in the country when they seek asylum status (in addition to international legal requirements) to stay may explain much of the difference in screening. But in any case, terrorists have a variety of other ways to get into the U.S. (if they are not already here), and each of those ways is quicker and easier than going through the refugee process. Attempting to block refugees to fight terrorism would be even worse security theater—providing the illusion of security with none of the substance—than the useless TSA. Whereas the TSA is mostly just inconvenient (on a good day), the anti-refugee campaign actively puts and keeps lives in danger without doing anything whatsoever to prevent terrorist attacks.

This is not to say there is no risk that a terrorist may slip in among refugees—the possibility certainly exists, but in truth, the refugees do not pose a serious security threat. Moreover, any terrorists who could make it through the refugee screening process, which is the most strenuous we have, could easily arrive through other means, which remain available if refugee status is denied them. The only reason a terrorist would deliberately seek the difficult and unnecessary refugee route would be to poison the well between the vast majority of resettled Muslims looking to be peaceful, hardworking contributors to society and the broader Christian public. But, again, they do not need to go that route and can still come if it is denied them.

It is also worth driving home the point that 10,000 is basically a rounding error compared to the numbers of refugees and what other countries are taking. Neighboring Muslim-majority countries are hosting the lion’s share, and there is doubtlessly more we could do to help them there:

Syrian Refugee numbers map - Vox

 

In light of the paltry American numbers, the rise of comparisons to the Holocaust and Japanese internment, common among as disparate groups as liberal activists and the Southern Baptist Convention, are as poignant as they are compelling for many of us who believe on some level we are, when the blood cries out, our brother’s keeper. But it would be uncharitable not to acknowledge that one can sympathize with the Holocaust Museum and still hold, as many do, that the specific threat of Islamic terrorism makes the Syrian situation different from our deplorable indifferent to the earlier plight of German Jewry.

It would be absurd to pretend, as the Obama administration and allied progressives often do, that the tactics, goals, and other evils of Daesh and other Islamists have nothing to do with their Islamic faith. Critics of the administration are right and fair to point this out. But it is one thing to demand an honest reckoning of how sincere Islamic belief forms a cornerstone of systemic violence and illiberal terror. It is quite another to consign the predominately Muslim victims of Islamic extremism to the cruelty of a neo-Inquisition because they happen to believe in the same prophet. It would be even worse to double down, like Donald Trump, on the crescendoing echoes to the crisis of World War II by entertaining the (unconstitutional) identity politicking tactics of the thwarted fascists of yesteryear. No, Donald Trump and fans, we will not be closing down mosques, instituting religious segregation, or devising a national database of religious minorities. It is bizarre that such things may need to be said, but we live in interesting times.

In a recent study, the Pew Research Center found, unsurprisingly, that the great majority of Muslims closest to Daesh regard the organization with fear and loathing. Israelis and Palestinians seem rarely to see eye-to-eye politically, and tensions remain high with Palestinian radicals repeatedly attacking and murdering innocent Jews. But even amid all that mutual hostility, the Jews and Muslims of the Holy Land hold overwhelmingly negative views of Daesh. It turns out, the Quran and ties to the desert are just about all the Islamists and their Muslims victims have in common.

The Syrian refugees are fleeing a scourge so evil it has managed to align the disparate interests of the United States and Russia, Israel and Iran. If America is to be the beacon, that shining city on a hill President Reagan envisioned, we must prove equal to our values. We must, as patriots of a civilized nation, take in these refugees and turn them into loyal, hardworking Americans whose living well among us will represent the clarity of our moral and civilizational superiority to everything the barbarians promote.

In the end, welcoming these tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free is in our own national self-interest. We are at war with barbarian hordes, as vicious as they are shrewd, for the very nature of the human condition. We need every ally of every faith to repel the darkness of Daesh with the triumph of the human resilience that reflects in us the unyielding image of God. To take in the refugees from the barbarian advance is to win converts to the Western principles of freedom which America must always exemplify. And, as with resettled Afghans from an earlier conflict, today’s refugees may make tomorrow’s American soldiers who will continue the cycle of life and heroism.

As the Gipper once said, soon after taking office in the house Jimmy Carter left:

We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression.

Let us be true to our traditions.


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Between Yale and Me

We’re only young and naive still
We require certain skills
The mood it changes like the wind
Hard to control when it begins –”Young Blood,” The Naked and Famous

“A story can take you through a whole process of searching, seeking, confronting, through conflicts, and then to a resolution. As the storyteller and the listener, we go through a story together.”
―Maxine Hong Kingston

BD Days

It all started with a book and FOOT.

Before incoming freshman move onto campus and get oriented during a week known as Camp Yale, many opt for one of Yale College’s multi-day preorientation programs. The offerings include living on a farm, hiking in the woods, a program for international students, and a “Cultural Connections” option that is more campus oriented. Given that I was a suburban kid of untapped country heritage, I opted for one of the six-day Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips (FOOT) to the Berkshires, located near the northern end of the Appalachian trail in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts.

It was great fun. We stowed away watches and phones, set up camp in the woods, hung our food to keep it from bears, climbed waterfalls by day, and lied beneath the stars at night. The group, my first social circle at Yale, was as effortlessly diverse as my group of friends in my majority-minority Virginia high school. One of the two leaders was a black guy; the other a white girl. The freshmen included a Sikh, a Muslim, some Asians, Jews, Christians, and a broad range of colors. Our cultural differences were many and great, and it was fun to explore them. I learned the phrase “hella,” which I now use overmuch; about the awkward zoo (including old favorites: awkward turtle and inappropriate llama); and of the existence of curious shibboleths of American affluence like hummus, nutella, veganism, and Whole Foods.

It was only much later I learned that even this early, innocent decision of preorientation trips was fraught with demographic tension. You see, apparently, “students of color” go to Cultural Connections (which used to exclude white students) and affluent white kids do FOOT, so some contingent of people saw in the latter program’s existence another chapter in the endless book of segregation, privilege, and systemic racism in the whole ordeal. And of course, I was on the wrong page.

I stumbled upon this delightful chapter sometime after a mandatory freshman orientation event in Woolsey Hall, where some 1,400 new Yalies were forced to endure the desultory ravings of the black president of Spelman College (my deepest condolences to those poor, unfortunate souls) who declared all white people racist by definition. Incoming freshmen had been required over the summer to read her book to this effect, and to this day, I distrust anybody who claims Yale avoids talking about race. Subsequently, I had the eye-opening experience of explaining that black kids did not uniformly or even largely agree with or relate to that speaker’s opinion to a mostly white group of fellow freshmen and a senior or two who were employed by Yale College as freshman counselors (a position as vaguely and imperfectly analogous to an RA as a residential college is to a dormitory).

In so many instances of the “conversation about race” we always seem to need even as we keep having it, I noticed claims of debilitating systemic racism on campus often came back to “institutional” factors like the demographic split among preorientation programs, the purported cliquishness of FOOT leaders, supposed bigotry in fraternities, or the differing reactions (and range of offense) at that mandatory “white people are eo ipso racist” reading assignment and presentation. The familiar dynamics of recent campus discussions (especially if you swap out the reading assignment/presentation with the Halloween emails), suggests the divide in perspective on this issue yawns as widely as ever.

Which brings us to the controversial allegations against SAE.

Among the oddest and more taxing recurrences in racial discussions are the spectacles of ludicrously improbable tales that do not hold up under scrutiny. The latest such instance, the obstinately bizarre tale of a “whites-girls only,” anti-gay party at SAE strikes a particularly personal chord. Relatively responsible media have reported on why the alleged incidents likely never happened. But for my part, it seems prudent to tell why the stories were never believable in the first place, except perhaps to those largely ignorant of Yale fraternities or who desired to thread an insidious mythology of oppression through the malleable fabric of wounded souls.

When I first came to Yale as a prefrosh (our term for prospective student) during Bulldog Days (our midweek welcome period for admitted students), I had never consumed an alcoholic drink, attended a fraternity party, or even stepped foot in New England. Fashioning myself a curious and bold adventurer, I wanted to kill all those birds with a single three-day trip. I do not recall where I got my first beer, but I do remember that I wound up at SAE that night feeling less bold and adventurous and more awkward and stomach-achey.

Several brothers and their friends came bearing copious bread (an excellent resource at parties) and effusive, welcoming conversation about their own experiences and how well I would fit at Yale. I had never felt more like a group of virtual strangers wanted me to belong among them. I attended many dozens of fraternity parties over four years, from massive, crowded ragers to summer rooftop gatherings with brass monkeys and cornhole. I had amazing and raucous times at Sigma Chi (my neighbor for a year), AEPi, Sigma Nu, Sig Ep, and elsewhere. But SAE was a perennial favorite, stemming from that first Bulldog Days encounter.

The Yale chapter of SAE had always been a diverse and friendly group for as along as I’d known of them, and it showed in every one of the innumerable gatherings I attended there. One of my first gay Yale hookups began with stolen kisses on their dance floor. A wonderful bond with an attractive Latino friend of a friend from Princeton blossomed over multiple summer nights in their backyard. I carried home a belligerently drunk friend, who is utterly delightful when sober, from their porch in the wee hours. I’ve conquered and been conquered at beer pong in their basement in as many episodes as there are hidden gargoyles on a New Haven campus. A Vaseline wrestling party I helped organize as an elected class councilmember (long story) came to life in their living room. I took my own prefrosh to their Bulldog Days parties every year, because I knew I could trust the environment and its keepers without fail.

When a black SAE brother and fellow Southerner noted, after the infamous fiasco at the Oklahoma chapter, that he found such racism unimaginable at his home in the Yale chapter, my outsider experience corroborated the sentiment. I’ve told friends for years that were I to do Yale all over again, I would rush SAE. (I have a closer personal connection to the Virginia chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa, but their Yale chapter shuttered long ago.) That is as true now as it was back in 2009, when I realized, with familiar upperclassman horror, that I never got around to joining all the groups I liked.

The slander against SAE is certainly not the first time college kids have invented incidents of oppression to buttress peculiar narratives about institutions. The black student body president at Mizzou announced confirmed KKK sightings amid racial protests on campus, only to later admit his sources made it all up. There was the libelous Islamophobia hoax at a the George Washington University. Also the rush to declare leftover decorations a hate crime in Delaware. And the homophobic receipt hoax. And the fake racist vandalism at Claremont McKenna. And fake hate crime and sexual assault reports elsewhere. The list goes on. And on.

I would not necessarily compare the probable non-victims of SAE to the aforementioned bigotry hoaxes—maybe these were vaguely sincere, alcohol-fueled misunderstandings. But if, as racial protesters at Yale and elsewhere say, these claims supposedly contribute to a broader narrative of truth, why would their likely nonoccurrence not do the same? To say nothing of the incidents of racial harassment against nonwhite people who complicate the prevailing narratives (see: SAE brothers inveighed as race traitors, protesters spitting on black kids, etc.). What is it about the mythology of systemic oppression that makes it so conducive to fabrication and slander?

I do not know the answer to that question, but such notions haunted me at Yale, where I would encounter frequent double standards and doublespeak about supposed microaggressions and vestiges of racism/sexism/bigotry. They taunted me when other aspects of my cultural heritage were publicly attacked, as in that memorable debate when a certain liberal leader of the Yale Political Union dismissed military officers as cowards and parasites. That this particular gentleman (ahem) obviously lacks the intestinal or moral fortitude to put on any uniform is par for the course. They chided me when (usually white) female students from the Northeast denounced as “sexist” and “chauvinistic” various behaviors I had learned were manners from the women (and men) of my family who would regard their omission as barbaric.

Such questions percolated amid instances of the insidious classism, ironic parochialism, and smug tribalism that permeate jokes about the kind of people who shop at Walmart (read:my people) or feel comfortable around guns (also my people) or tell racist jokes as a way to mock racism (my people, again) or join the military or believe race-based affirmative action is deleterious to nonwhite people or talk seriously about virtue instead of rote “solidarity” signaling, no matter how absurd (still my people). These questions arise whenever people, especially administrators, talk of “cultural appropriation” as though reasonable people can actually be expected to agree that such a concept is coherent, has any merit, or is undeserving of contempt. Or when Yale assumed all minority students needed “ethnic counselors” and to be added to email lists to get “ethnic” campus updates because we are apparently that different from white or otherwise “ethnic” people.

Since it need be said, and said again, demographic groups are not monoliths, not at Yale or anywhere. I had—and may still have, if my Yale-enhanced upward mobility hasn’t yet compromised my roots—more in common with peers from poor and working-class families in the South and Midwest, whatever their color, than with affluent black activists whose obtuse Sith mind tricks around their staggering privilege inspire revulsion or frustration rather than solidarity. I learned in grade school that Puerto Rican food isn’t spicy, many American Latinos don’t even speak Spanish, many Amerindians don’t care about the Redskins, black African immigrants (who are disproportionately well-educated) are often more culturally like Europeans than black Americans, homemade Korean barbecue and Ethiopian food are much better than commercial variants, and countless other nuggets of my multicultural background that many Yalies from much more segregated upbringings might have found useful in thinking about diversity, culture, and campus.

As such, I shared many bonding moments with white, black, and Latino Yalies about such things as our common Southern childhood anthem, “Go out back and pick a switch” (for the record, I abhor corporal punishment), or getting checked for ticks at dusk after playing in the woods while our parents chatted over lemonade or iced tea on the porch, or the cake masquerading as cornbread in the dining hall, or how to wash and iron clothes. (Believe it or not, there are a disturbingly large number of Yalies who cannot do their own laundry.) And I recall with particular fondness a senior-year Thanksgiving day in Virginia when some black family friends from Arkansas shared a dinner joke at the expense of a black family in New Jersey about the inadequacies of Northeastern cooking.

I’m also reminded of a conversation I had with a white Mississippi belle of the Yale Political Union’s Tory Party—and later with the racially diverse members of Yale’s Southern Society—about how curious it was that Yale Dining served fried chicken and definitely-not-your-mama’s collard greens on the holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. More saliently, I remember the time I helped a white, middle-class farm boy prefrosh from Wisconsin navigate the insidious intricacies of financial aid policy at elite schools, which allowed him to secure a better aid package from Yale and convince his parents that their remaining contribution was a worthwhile investment. That particular conversation, and the consequent friendship, was only possible in the first place (he was the prefrosh of a friend who introduced him to me) because of how profoundly we shared the disorienting experience of being middle American pioneers on alien terrain.

One could suppose I was the most out of sync with the zeitgeist of Yale when I was the most insistent that we not define ourselves or make assumptions about others based on race. But I do not believe this is true. The late unpleasantness, notwithstanding, I have always believed—and still do—that the spirit of Yale, if there is such a thing, is committed to free inquiry, the battle of ideas, and honest engagement with different perspectives and ideas, whatever the background of people who hold them. When I think of the crippling failures of Yale, I think foremost of mental health, not systemic bigotry, and I hope with eyes wide open that the University improves mightily on that front. But I cannot do justice to the conversation that topic well deserves in a paragraph, though I would recommend you read this article.

In the end, I choose to believe that at its core Yale remains the beacon of the search for truth pulsating through the inspiring visions of Master Christakis, in his thoughtful homage to the principle of charity, and the defenders of the Woodward Report, which holds sacred the academic principles of free speech and vigorous debate. I do not recognize the oppressive, racist, paranoid Yale the protesters represent and describe with eloquently aggrieved incoherence against refreshingly thoughtful critics like Conor Friedersdorf, and I take comfort in my conversations with countless Yalies who believe, as I do, that it does not exist.


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Where the Safe Things Are

“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.” –Tennessee Williams

“Though when pushed on what exactly makes them feel unsafe or to point to specific incidents of crimes or physical harm on campus, they yielded no answers.” –Casey Breznick

YPU debates affirmative action

This is what a revolution looks like.

In light of the emotion and confusion over recent protests at Yale, one might think I would sympathize with the idea that racism persists on campus. In truth, I do. When I see videos of the protesters at Yale and Mizzou and read articles from their supporters, however, I most strongly feel a range of emotions from pity to furious contempt. I could not help but think how embarrassed my parents or family would be to see my shrieking profanities in the face of a remarkably patient administrator—let alone the Master of my residential college. (For the record, I was in Timothy Dwight College, Silliman’s geographically smaller neighboring rival that is culturally and morally superior in every way.) I could not help but feel revulsion at how unlikely all these white “allies” would condone such churlish behavior among their racial peers, or were the races of student and master reversed.

But he was white, and she was not, so we are supposed to stand in solidarity with the black student. Full stop. So it goes at Yale, Mizzou, Ithaca College, Claremont McKenna, and however far the silk road goes.

The funny thing is, nonwhite people vary as richly and profoundly as white people. This note may seem obvious, but I know of too many nonwhite people afraid to speak out about how these “solidarity” protesters do not speak for them to omit it. I likewise know too many white people who think they are agents of tolerance and diversity in shoring up the “solidarity” narrative that marginalizes so many nonwhite voices.

The disconnect is in part a necessary consequence of a precious yet besieged reality: There is no such meaningful category as a “person of color.” The very idea of it is at best troubling and at worst the strange and sour fruit of a tree poisoned with the wicked roots of a slavish past. The indomitable River Tam, the pseudonym of a brown female Yalie who posts biting criticisms of received “wisdom” on social media, makes the point well in a post I highly recommend reading in its entirety:

The second problem with the “students of color” rhetoric is that it elides the tricky business of non-white students enacting problematics [5] against other non-white students. When you say “students of color feel unsafe,” the implicit message in that sentence is “because of stuff that white students are doing.” [6] But on a campus where 40%+ of students are not white, this charade is hard to maintain.

One of the perpetrators of the Yale Halloween Blackface Scandal of 2007 was a well-meaning non-white international student who was trying to dress up as a shadow. The only time I ever heard an actual racial slur directed at me during my time at Yale came at the hands of a non-white student. A Lebanese-American Yalie dressed as an Indian Chief for Halloween. (our Native American classmate told him off for it). I witnessed a black girl telling off an Asian girl for dating a black guy using the old “stealing our men” reasoning. Jokes about Chinese people eating dogs, Hispanic kids knowing how to mow lawns, black kids being better at basketball. I heard it all. And not from white kids.

[…]

My final point is a simple one: ‘people of color’ is an ugly euphemism because it’s a euphemism of an ugly concept. I prefer the term ‘non-white people’ because that way, the concept can live and die in the daylight. The term ‘non-white’ was purportedly abandoned because it was white-centric. But the problem was never that the WORD is white-centric, the problem was that the CONCEPT is white-centric. The euphemism conceals this – it perpetuates a white-centric model of racial identification and a view of the world that pits white people against everyone else. That’s why I keep using the term non-white – it’s an ugly word born of an ugly dichotomy and I want it to die in the daylight.

I was called an “Uncle Tom” and worse at Yale, including less savory permutations of the term, “house Negro.” (My critics, to their deficit of credit, were polite enough to refrain from spitting on me.) Dear friends—white and brown—told me how much unlike a “typical black person” I am for, among many other things, not being as hung up as they were on “oppression.” I’ve had affluent white liberals lecture me with varying degrees of condescension on the plight of “people of color,” gays, and working-class people in America. (Mind you, I was a progressive-ish Democrat at the time, so the disputes were not partisan.) That a lot of these people came from segregated backgrounds—whereas mine was near the pinnacle of diversity—made it all that much more deliciously ironic. But irony is one of the few consistencies of our eternal “conversations about race.”

Had I been on campus during this late unpleasantness, I might well have been another black kid spat on by the obstreperous victims in need of “safe spaces” and “validated experiences.” To say that I feel alienated from a culture where such views are elevated to “the voices of people of color” is to describe the Pope as a Catholic bachelor.

Detractors of the email Silliman Assistant Master Erika Christakis sent in response to student concerns like to say the broader “discussion” and protests were about more than an email or the alleged SAE incidents. This may well be true, but these issues are nonetheless informative in precisely the opposite ways the protesters and their comrades argue. Rather than showing examples of systemic racism and cultural sensitivity at Yale, the protests and their defenders betray profound flaws in the entire worldview of their argument.

The Halloween email dispute was not, as a South Asian friend furiously reminded me, about allowing or encouraging students to be offensive. It was about the gray areas where reasonable people of any color and ethnicity might reasonably disagree or express concerned confusion in fear of administrative or other forms of harassment. From the Christakis email:

As a former preschool teacher, for example, it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde-haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it. I suppose we could agree that there is a difference between fantasizing about an individual character vs. appropriating a culture, wholesale, the latter of which could be seen as (tacky)(offensive)(jejeune)(hurtful), take your pick. But, then, I wonder what is the statute of limitations on dreaming of dressing as Tiana the Frog Princess if you aren’t a black girl from New Orleans? Is it okay if you are eight, but not 18? I don’t know the answer to these questions; they seem unanswerable. Or at the least, they put us on slippery terrain that I, for one, prefer not to cross.

Building on this point, my friend and fellow Yalie Kate Maltby adds further perspective:

That’s not to say that everything I encountered at Halloween was comfortable, though there are already university directives for dealing with clear-cut racial mockery, like blackface. But it was complicated: take my fellow international student, a black man from Africa, who dressed as a tribal demon from his homeland, only to be confronted by African Americans for looking too much like a racial stereotype.  Or drag: the Halloween drag of straight frat boys was mincing misogyny on display; the carefree, joyous cross-dress of queer students experimenting was a liberal celebration. Do we ban both?

I could add my own stories, like one of a Native American friend who preferred to don feathered headdresses and shoot bows and arrows while the rest of us were shooting guns. Are we to believe he is “appropriating” Amerindian culture or otherwise helping to marginalize somebody somehow? We could go on. The issue was not blackface but what counts as offensive (and what “cultural appropriation” even means), who gets to decide, and what happens if administrators dislike a student’s attire. Critics like to note the original email was a request or advisory that entailed no enforcement mechanism, and I hope they remember that thought when they receive “friendly suggestions” from their boss or parents or anybody with the resources to make their lives difficult. Sometimes, as they say, the power dynamic itself is sufficient cause for concern.

A related and arguably more damning flaw is the strain of insidious misdirection—what some might call “invalidating lived experiences”—of racializing the contours of dispute to erect a wall of false consciousness through manicured demographic narratives. Detractors of the Christakises purport that nonwhite people stand with them, and their dispute is with the unreconstructed insensitivity of whites.

Obviously (ahem), this is not true.

But the proponents of that view take pains to promote it, even to the point of willful dishonesty. Take as an example this Medium article criticizing the insightful Atlantic article Conor Friedersdorf wrote about the email ordeal. The anonymous author explicitly parrots the paradigm of ignorant and harmful whites, who are apparently demanding the right to be offensive, besieging marginalized nonwhites who seek only sensitivity and understanding in denouncing the email. I happen to know the author knows this split to be false. The quote “sympathize one iota with” comes directly from a Facebook post I made about exactly the (non-email-related) situation described in that paragraph, though neither my name nor race are mentioned. It is visible only to my friends, who would also be able to see I, among so many others, posted and effusively endorsed the very Friedersdorf article the author argues is endemic to how white people think.

The height of this supple illusion comes with favorably trafficked articles and posts about nonwhite students detailing unpleasant but nonviolent experiences they encountered—from costumes they find offensive to wishing they had more [insert demographic group] friends at a party—and proclaiming to feel “threatened” or “unsafe.” But rarely is anything resembling a realistic threat ever mentioned. An old lady asking old-lady questions about the number of black students at Yale is less imposing than the homeless people Yalies encounter daily. Likewise, finding it unpleasant to be the only [race/ethnicity] person in the room (a situation I know well) likely speaks more to your familiarity or relationships (or lack thereof) with the people in that room—and not to any propensity for them to hurt you. I am not aware of any campus epidemics of white students attacking lonely minorities. Violence would of course demand police and other intervention. In lieu of that, however, what exactly is this demographic fear, and why is it any more reasonable or less damning than someone crossing the street to avoid a black or Latino stranger because of stereotypes?

I realize words can hurt and bad assumptions can be uncomfortable. But somebody telling me I’m not like “a typical black person,” being surprised to learn that I can swim (passably), or wondering if I can offer the “black” perspective on something does not qualify as a threat. (I’ve heard all such things and more, including analogous LGBT comments.) It is at best an opportunity to correct a misconception (the old wisdom of winning hearts and minds) and at worst a nuisance that by no means defines my daily experience or conception of the world. Nor should it.

It would be one thing if those using the language of safety and threats on campuses across the country could point to crime statistics and incident reports highlighting an actual trend of danger particularly for nonwhites. Or if they could show a demonstrable trend of racially discriminatory grading or academic/administrative sanctions. (No, a professor insisting on standard grammar does not count.) But they rarely do, at least not at Yale. Instead, we get mobs besieging unaccompanied administrators, accosting members of the media, forcing or demanding prominent resignations, and spitting on nonwhite people (when not inveighing racial epithets) whose views and perspectives are apparently less worthy of respect or validation.

We are told (as we always are) misbehaving protesters are isolated incidents which yield no broader narratives. Minorities are simply too hot with passion for civility, reason, or self-control in the face of the kinds of difficulties millions of people somehow endure without flying off the rails. Yet, respectfully civil emails and highly dubious incidents are heralded as symptoms of a great disease. Memorials to 9/11 are “unsafe” because racism. I don’t get it. Moreover, I don’t believe I should get it. If I am pained and uncomfortable about all this, it’s because a University I love has been hijacked by a fever dream of doublespeak and aggrieved illiberalism, and there are still white people telling me not to “disenfranchise” nonwhites while my nonwhite friends feel alienated and marginalized by a “diversity” culture that appropriates their experience without representing it.

Which brings us to the third flaw in the protesters’ worldview: There is little “courage” in what they are doing, and it is nigh on Orwellian to say people who bait accolades, sympathy, and supine administrative attention have sacrificed anything by telling tales (whether true in reality or in a certain point of view) of pain. Sure, some media may (rightly or wrongly) mock them, but what of it? The privilege of Yale or another alma mater does not evaporate upon a few critical stories arguing different points of view.

I do not see courage in a privileged black student screaming profanities at a mobbed college Master while he patiently tries to engage with the respect she and the crowd refuse to reciprocate—to say nothing of the authoritarian demand for his firing. I do see courage in the Master’s patient engagement and perseverance. I do not see courage in feigning KKK threats or having conniptions over people taking pictures with people wearing uninspiring costumes. I do not see anything to encourage in demanding exams be cancelled or crying when “sensitive” policy debates aren’t rescheduled because students lack the discipline, fortitude, or self-respect to be composed and endure what the warriors of real civil rights struggles—from Selma to Stonewall to ISIS—would probably see as a pride den of origami lions.

I do not see courage in the masses of the “marginalized” physically repelling the eyes of the media or attacking free speech—which irony is not lost on those aware of the critical symbiosis between freedom of the press and the triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement. I do see an admirable example in the widely beloved Mizzou professor who implored his class to stand up to bullies and defeat them—and in the Mizzou administrators who rejected his resignation when “marginalized” voices somehow mustered the social heft to marginalize him. I do see courage in the editorial board of the Claremont Independent standing up to the insanity of the scalp-claiming racial delirium at Claremont McKenna.

What I see in the ill temperance and deficient perspective of the protesters and their horrifying applauders is the soft bigotry of low expectations that I hate with more intensity than any microaggression could ever sting. But we all, I suppose, were children once. Some of us even grow up.


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A Ballad of Fallen Choices

“O thou man of God, there is death in the pot.” –2 Kings 4:40

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” –Genesis 50:20

"Whether they're a disposable clump of cells or viable human life with intrinsic human rights, what difference, at this point, does it make?"

“Whether they’re a disposable clump of cells or viable human life with intrinsic human rights, what difference, at this point, does it make?”

Long ago, in another era of acrimonious government, there was something of a moral (or at least political) consensus in America that held the willful destruction of a human life, whether developing in the womb or already bequeathed into the world, to be a terrible act. Among conservatives and a great many liberals and independents, this conviction manifested in the pro-life movement. For Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party, the homage that abortion advocacy paid to life, even as the once and would-be future First Family barred a prominent Pennsylvania Democrat from that party’s convention for his pro-life views, was the now tatterdemalion campaign facade of, “Safe, Legal, and Rare.” Even Barack Obama echoed that throwback mantra as recently as 2010.

Whether 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will maintain the old formulation or condemn it with the extreme prejudice she has shown so many of her husband’s political stances remains unclear. After all, it has been absent from the Democratic Party platform since the Obama era, to the bemusement even of Democrats who consider themselves “pro-choice but not pro-abortion.” Yet it seems that pro-choice and pro-abortion activists are marching “forward” and taking public offense at the once quotidian supposition that abortions should be rare.

Whether the formerly bipartisan moral consensus among the officeholders, activists, and Very Serious People of those antediluvian, “fewer abortions, please” days was genuine or an instrumental facsimile maintained and then terminated for political expediency is anybody’s guess. But in any case, though public opinion on abortion has not changed much in decades, the ancient consensus has gone the way of the nephilim.

Nowadays, the strident champions of unfettered abortion access cannot even, as my home-state lawmakers discovered recently in Tallahassee, acknowledge that a child who survives a botched abortion should receive medical care rather than be killed should either mother or doctor wish it. The Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee even went so far as to fein insult at the contention that a fully-formed, almost-born baby should not be dismembered. Somehow, it seems that defending the notion that unborn children who could survive outside the womb should not be summarily killed is enough to trigger liberals to cry havoc and beckon the dogs of the so-called “war on women.”

This all brings us to my friend Josh Hammer, who is a law student and Federalist Society member at the University of Chicago. We do not agree on everything (well, actually, we agree on most things, but all that philosophical concordance is less interesting to talk about), but I have always found his impressively bookish legerity to be rivaled only by his assertive passion for conservative values. As any self-respecting citizen (and academic) ought to be, Josh is intellectually curious and eager to engage with people who disagree with him. So he went to a campus event featuring a late-term abortion provider to discuss that provider’s contention that his Christianity inspired his peculiar line of work.

To summarize what transpired: Josh refused to shake the man’s hand before engaging in respectful if heated conversation, was chastised by pro-choice activists, and then found that a heated argument he had with another attendee over his presence had been publicly broadcast in a naked attempt to shame him and potentially assault his employability. Because, apparently, it is a newsworthy horror that a Jewish law student would argue the case of the majority of Americans who oppose late-term abortion (likely out of a general opposition to killing innocent children) to a late-term abortionist speaking on campus.

It is understandable that some would tut-tut Josh’s refusal to shake the hand of the late-term abortionist—after all, Winston Churchill (one of Josh and my heroes) famously said of his decision to employ full diplomatic courtesies in conveying a declaration of war to the Japanese ambassador in December 1941, “When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.” Of course, Josh is not the killer in this situation, and it is far more impolite to attempt to ruin a disagreeing interlocutor professionally than it is to spite a hand that exalts in the abolition of the unborn with claims of divine inspiration.

It is likewise rather indecent to prestidigitate away the gruesomely rational line from late-term abortion to “after-birth abortion” (otherwise known as infanticide) when pro-choice extremists and their Democrat enablers (like Barack Obama) are, as mentioned earlier, assailing laws that would protect infant survivors of abortion. One almost wonders how long it will be until these enlightened advocates of “reproductive freedom” push to reclassify Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as “after-birth miscarriage.”

But since we are being polite, it costs little to charitably posit that Josh may have done something or other worse in more than a quarter century of life than refuse to shake the hand of man he believes, not unreasonably, to be a murderous religious fanatic—and many of those worse things would probably still not merit public spectacle or professional ruin. To be certain, any opponent of religious extremists killing with impunity because “God said so” should give pause before condoning, let alone celebrating, the work of a man convinced that his God of Life has called him to the grotesqueries of destroying any unwanted human children right up until—or even after—emergence from a uterus.

What skeptics and opponents of unfettered abortion should take from Josh’s ordeal is that where extreme pro-choice activists cannot avail their fanaticism against public opinion, the federal Capitol, or in most state houses, they will endeavor to overwhelm their opposition through the sociocultural cache of the Democratic Party and the elite forces—from major media outlets to law offices—that can be cowed into obeisance.

They cannot be allowed to succeed. The lives, rights, and integrity of future generations may well depend on it.