Token Dissonance

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


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Of Politics and Philosopher Kings

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” -William Pitt the Younger

Pop quiz! Which of the following areas was covered by preclearance: A) Arkansas, B) Tennessee, C) West Virginia, or D) New York City

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its long-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

From SCOTUSblog:

“Today’s holding in Shelby County v. Holder, in Plain English: Today the Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. That portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring all state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures, no matter how small. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required. But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.”

In short, the federal government may still require preclearance, but it will now have to devise a formula suited to modern circumstances to do so in modern times. I know, I know—how dare a bunch of unelected judges require our elected federal officials to be responsive to current, real-world circumstances before selectively burdening local officials with cripplingly onerous regulations based on problems from half a century ago! The audacity!

Of course, a more or less bipartisan chorus of people has already begun to address a situation that everybody seems to know: while certainly not impossible, it is not terribly likely that Congress will pass a new standard of teeth for the preemptive Section 5. Accordingly, preclearance will have as much vitality from now on as Charles Xavier’s vegetative brother.

If you don’t like it, vote us out!

Guess we’ll have to finally treat districts in the littoral South, New York City, New Hampshire, California, and other erstwhile preclearance zones like we do everywhere else in 21st Century America. What a revolutionary change.

But whatever your opinion of the need for preclearance, it should be noted that any reasonable defense of the standard ought to be based in modern considerations. By the same token that labor activists would object to a minimum wage and workplace protections based in 1960s dynamics, every American committed to justice, fairness, and equality should oppose selective restrictions in 2013 based in the world as it was in 1965. My parents didn’t even exist in 1965, blacks voted in higher rates than whites in 2012 (despite the hullabaloo over voter ID laws), and I see no reason why my elected officials should have to waste incalculable human and financial resources answering for crimes they neither committed nor would tolerate.

I can understand the sentiment behind the objection that Congress will never pass another set of preclearance standards, and so Section 4 was the best that could be hoped for; however, the practical result of that sentiment is manifestly unjust. We cannot tolerate unfair and unconstitutional governance simply because some of us like how the results of that legislation make us feel. Thus we cannot expect or allow the Supreme Court to play the caped vigilante overwhelming any and all legal restrictions whenever our duly empowered officials upset us.

As Chief Justice Roberts sagely mused in upholding (most of) Obamacare:

“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

Personally, I don’t buy the recurring trope that either the South or the Republican Party is particularly racist. But if either myth is true, it should be feasibly enough to write targeted, modern laws demonstrating this effect and re-empower Section 5 accordingly. After all, Congress did overwhelmingly pass the Voting Rights Act again in 2006. This time around, it may take more effort, but what else is new in politics?

If you are unsatisfied with how your elected officials behave, then change your officials. If you disdain how your neighbors’ officials behave, then persuade your neighbors to change their minds and then their officials. If you are unwilling or unable to do any of these things, then I would kindly suggest finding a new set of battles to fight or else abandoning the whole sphere of politics.

If you learned nothing else from George R.R. Martin’s songs of realism and heartache, remember this: life isn’t your fairytale, you aren’t the protagonist, and you won’t always get what you want. Get over it.

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Sexual Politics in the Grand Old Dominion

“The only question is, whose vision of moral rectitude does it reflect?” –Bishop E.W. Jackson

How could this guy not appeal to Democrats and swing voters?

There are several different narratives percolating on the intersection between religious faith and homosexuality in America.

We have 61 percent of the Boy Scouts voting to drop both a ban on gay scouts and an institutional condemnation of homosexuality. This is particularly interesting in that the largest sponsor of the Boy Scouts—ahead of the United Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Southern Baptist congregations—is the Mormon Church. Not only did the Latter-Day Saints support the change, but their church has been pointedly moving away from the gay front of the culture wars toward a more libertarian consensus on the role of government and institutions in private life.

From Ralph Hallow in The Washington Times:

“The behind-the-scenes effectiveness of the Mormon Church, which sponsors more than a third of all Scout troops in America, is becoming more visible and appears to be nudging the GOP a bit toward a more libertarian stand on some social and cultural issues. Up to a point, Mormons and evangelicals think that the more libertarian the nation’s political center of gravity, the lower the risk of government meddling in religious matters.

But overall, it’s Mormonism that may be on the ascendancy. The nation’s best-known Mormon politician — Mitt Romney — unequivocally endorsed gay equality in Scouting in 1994, long before his 2012 presidential race.”

Representing a different set of priorities, we have legacy scout alum and RedState editor Erick Erickson announcing his acceptance of the Boy Scouts’ decision and rejection of further involvement from his family with the institution. As Erickson puts it, it’s fine to welcome gay people—and he has gay friends!—but it must be maintained that gay behavior, which presumably includes those committed, monogamous relationships that some call love, is sinful. Eve Tushnet, a gay Catholic and a friend-of-friends from Yale, would agree. This position on gay love is, blessedly, a minority and declining view in America, but we have little reason to believe it will die quietly.

And then there are people like Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr., the Republican Party of Virginia’s convention-chosen candidate for lieutenant governor. Jackson’s contribution to the discussion: LGBT people make him “feel ikky all over.” That is among his least objectionable statements. (We are supposed to be comforted by the fact that “he wouldn’t support any sort of ban on gay sex”—not that Lawrence v. Texas is constitutional precedent or anything.) Of course, he also spends his free time promoting discrimination against Muslim Americans (because obviously most of them are, like, terrorists and stuff) and warning people about the dangers of Satanic possession inherent in yoga.

As a conservative with libertarian leanings, I’m an independent at heart. I’m willing to entertain diverging views even on such sacred cows as gun control (use both hands and stand your ground) and the freedom to marry (Yes). I do have friends and family who oppose me on either and other positions, and I have and will support and vote for candidates who disagree with me on major issues if I am persuaded that their overall vision is superior to that of their opponent.

So I would vote for Chris Christie were I a New Jersey voter, despite lip-curling disdain for his positions on gun rights, pork-free relief bills, and gay marriage (which is as benign—if still annoying—as opposition can get), and against a Democrat whose policies would be great for gay rights (i.e., extending the invaluable word, “marriage”) but otherwise abhorrent. Likewise, I would support Mark Kirk in Illinois, despite his unsettling antipathy to gun rights, for essentially the same reasons unabashedly gun-grabbing progressives would support Brian Schweitzer over a Republican in Montana. That said, I would probably support neither (as first, second, or even third choices) in a Republican presidential primary, which would presumably be full of better (overall) options.

But however certain I may be that the progressive vision of America should be regarded as a call to arms against the equalizing asphyxiation of a prosperous civilization, there are bridges too far in that fight. With Jackson, even in areas where we agree, he manages to make me uncomfortable. For instance, I would find it difficult to support at-will abortion (i.e., pregnancies terminated for reasons other than rape, incest, or health considerations). However, I must draw a line well before comparing Planned Parenthood—which, in many cases is the only viable non-abortion health option for poor women—to the KKK. I also agree that liberal policies are disastrous for minorities (and most people), but I don’t see how expressing unmitigated contempt for minority voters wins any converts.

So to put it bluntly: I am not terribly inclined to support E.W. Jackson. (Yes, I suppose there may be worse options, but I am a zealous opponent of invoking Godwin’s Law.) That is not to say I will vote for the Democrat rather than just skip that race altogether, but barring a sudden and convincing change of heart from Jackson, the Virginia lieutenant governorship is all but certainly the Left’s race to lose. These things do happen when party bosses opt for conventions over primaries so as to limit the input of voters—the same voters who will decide the general election.

Fortunately, my political and moral revulsion toward Jackson has not yet translated into opposition to GOP gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. To be sure, I have qualms with Cuccinelli—not the least of which his opposition to Gov. McDonnell’s bipartisan transportation bill and less-than-enthusiastic regard for workforce protections for LGBT employees—but I will allow his campaign to convince me that his governance will hold the pragmatic conservative line set by his predecessor. Besides, the prospect of a Democratic Party hack like Terry McAuliffe as Governor of the Commonwealth is downright unconscionable.

We all have to compromise somewhere.

For some closing thoughts, allow me to make a general point on sexual politics that pertains to Erickson and Tushnet as much as to Jackson and other Virginia Republicans like Robert G. Marshall. The sexual revolution is over. In fact, it was so long ago settled that before I was ever dreamt of, my parents grew up in a world where birth control, casual sex, and divorce were already culturally ingrained, and gay relatives and friends were already finding the precursors of modern acceptance. It is all well and good for the holdouts of the erstwhile “Moral Majority” to solemnly distinguish their values from the philosophical incoherence of the Boy Scouts on the one hand and the rabid bigotry of E.W. Jackson on the other. However, that is a conversation that no longer has any more resonance in 2013—when 72 percent of Americans believe gay marriage will happen eventually—than a debate over the validity of absentee voting.

Accordingly, the conversation ahead of 2016 is whether and how potential Republican presidential nominees will downplay any opposition to gay marriage. I fully expect influential contingents of the conservative base to demand full-throated opposition to gay rights, and I suspect they will get some bone or other (e.g. nominal but express opposition to the freedom to marry). I also expect a growing mainstream contingent of pro-gay Republican and Independent voters will be unusually eager to kick that bone away in the face of popular Democratic grandstanding for gay rights.

This tension is not sustainable. Conservatives, as a movement, will have to learn to articulate a set of values that is inclusive to gay Americans—and the voters who support them. Otherwise, the Republican Party, along with the values of strong families and free enterprise it espouses, will buckle under the weight of escalating political liabilities like an aging welfare state over an overtaxed population.

Whatever happens in Virginia this November, the need to relate timeless values to evolving cultural trends will continue.


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The End of All Happiness

Important Note to Readers: This article contains potentially ruinous SPOILERS about “Game of Thrones” Season 3, Episode 9, “The Rains of Castamere.” If you are waiting to see the episode somehow unsullied by the knowledge of what transpires, please turn away now. Otherwise: Abandon every hope, who enter here.

“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

“Oh [there is], plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope—but not for us.” –Franz Kafka

“as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.” –Ecclesiastes 9:12

On the first Sunday in June, the fans of HBO’s popular “Game of Thrones” witnessed the abomination of desolation generally referred to as the Red Wedding. For those who saw the massacre coming, the entire episode weighed as heavily and cruelly as any lingering hope with which the Old Gods may have mocked Cassandra in the last days of her ambitious warrior-king Agamemnon. For those who did not, well, there are various articles about their jilted and horrified reactions.

The first thing that people reach for, in the throes of sudden tragedy, is a reason for madness. Why do good things happen to bad people? Why are hope and good intentions so often thwarted? Why is the world so broken? What is the point or value of divine invocation if such godless cruelty prevails? Is this feeling in our hearts, as we watch the Great Cause of a Free North bleed out on the floors of degenerates, the actual murder of some kind of idea greater than the men who embodied it?

As it happens, George R.R. Martin—author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series on which HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is more or less faithfully based—answered the “why” of the Red Wedding himself. Like a gruesome reanimation of Cervantes’s deconstruction of chivalry, Martin purposefully sets out to mock and disabuse the idealism of his audience with the compelling guile of Lucy extinguishing the hope of Charlie Brown. And like Don Quixote before him, the original sin of Robb Stark—and his fans—is that he sincerely and cartoonishly believes the world to be other than it is. After all, the Red Wedding is, in fact, based on real atrocities committed by real people who, depending on your view, were never properly held accountable in life for their sins against God and man.

But Martin explains his motives well enough on his own in an exclusive interview with James Hibberd of Inside TV:

“People read books for different reasons. I respect that. Some read for comfort. And some of my former readers have said their life is hard, their mother is sick, their dog died, and they read fiction to escape. They don’t want to get hit in the mouth with something horrible. And you read that certain kind of fiction where the guy will always get the girl and the good guys win and it reaffirms to you that life is fair. We all want that at times. There’s a certain vicarious release to that. So I’m not dismissive of people who want that. But that’s not the kind of fiction I write, in most cases. It’s certainly not what Ice and Fire is. It tries to be more realistic about what life is. It has joy, but it also had pain and fear. I think the best fiction captures life in all its light and darkness.”

To that last bit, the Red Priestess Melisandre would add that shadow is a servant of light, and so the darkness, too, may gratify the Lord of Light, just as the trials and suffering of good men on Earth may be thought to gratify the God of Abraham. But this conversation is not, at its core, about theodicy. It is about life, in spite and because of the motives or amusements of whatever transcendent forces may exist.

Make no mistake, I hate that Robb Stark dies defeated and that wickedly self-serving characters like the Lannisters and Boltons are left in triumph to carve up a ruined world. But whether your faith is in the God of C.S. Lewis or Arya Stark, we know that we live in an unjust world where good ideas may die as easily as good men. No matter how glorious and placating the trappings of civilization, values, and good intentions may seem, we can never become so complacent as to believe that men like Ned or Robb Stark always, or even usually, win the day. Nor can we forget that some of our greatest heroes in the previous century fought just causes to virtuous ends by smearing innocent blood on their hands, the ghosts of which echo from Dresden to Nagasaki.

The ultimate promise of free, republican society is that we may build more perfect unions of secured liberty, fair laws, meritocratic prosperity, and enduring peace. To this end, it is wonderful to know that we in the civilized world maintain societies where, notwithstanding threats of terrorism, bloody events like the Red Wedding or Black Dinner are no longer imaginable (except, perhaps, wherever the lords of black markets still seek whom they may devour). But underneath it all, man is no different a creature now than a thousand years ago, and the cruel indifference of a vast universe remains the frontier into which we spin for as long as we are given.

So in the end, there will always be pain and pragmatism, atrocities and heartache, and the twin devils of cruelty and cunning will always pay their due to those industrious and fortunate enough to profit on the failings and misfortunes of others. It may not be a given any longer that our peculiar games of thrones will end in death, but there are other ways to destroy lives and break spirits in the 21st Century than to drive a sword through a heart and twist.

If there is nothing else to learn from the Red Wedding, remember this: no matter how hard you work, how noble your intentions, or how faithful your supporters, everything can still be taken from you in any instant for any reason. Though on a lighter note, we may take some solace in the corollary truth that the wicked are no more secure in their iniquity than the noble in their virtue. According to Rousseau, the intuitive knowledge of this reality once made the Ottoman Turks exceptionally gracious, whereas the ignorance of it left European gentry singularly incapable of imagining life beyond stations they learned too late were fleeting.

What it would mean for us as a society to earnestly believe any noble protagonists may readily be perspicacious Churchills or ill-fated Starks is a question too complex for me here to pretend I know an answer. Perhaps the seeds of this perspective are already present enough, as in the haunting lines with which the Hound attempted to reassure Arya Stark that she would soon reunite with her family:

“You’re almost there, and you’re afraid you won’t make it.  The closer you get the worse the fear gets.”

The fear is always worst when we cannot make an end of the reasons we wrap our hearts in cold hands to numb the pain of loss. So much for our happy endings.


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Right Quick: Valar Dohaeris

It seems I’ll be writing quite a bit about death at the start of this week, which is a curious way to welcome the month of June. Like most people, perhaps, I don’t care to dwell too long on the empty silence of eternity that yawns beyond the swan song of a heartbeat. But alas, Death awaits us all, and with all things, what matters is what we learn and do while we can.

Frank Lautenberg, a veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey, was the last veteran of the wars that rent worlds serving in the Upper Chamber. His passing has now ended forever the era when those who defended freedom in the Great Wars of the early 20th Century represented entire states of free men and women in Congress. As the world tumbles on, which it always will, we should take a moment to remember that we stand on the shoulders of men who built and defended across the world a civilization that we now take for granted.

The things these men must have seen and known…

If we are lucky, neither us nor our children will ever be called to dutifully face the martial belligerence of the extinction of liberty. While all of the men who did will soon be gone, we should always remember and honor the fact that such men lived. Thank God that such men lived, fought, and went on to serve their families and country in civilian life. The ultimate gift they will leave behind is a nation increasingly distant from the cost of constitutional virtues that are neither free nor universal, even if they ought to be.

It is easy to forget in good times the horrors that can surface in terrible times, but there is the enduring paradox of building the peaceful prosperity of a nation on the solemn sacrifices of a generation of mortals who knew they lived far too close to an abyss. Can we live peacefully in a free world where ever fewer of us know firsthand the costs of peace and freedom?

I did not agree with Sen. Lautenberg, may he rest in peace, on many or most political issues of the day, but I certainly share his love of country and zealous commitment to the American project. In short, I’m glad that such a man lived and served for people like me. I’m likewise glad that men and women today still serve and bring the raw edges of wisdom in a broken world to those of us who will never see suffering as they are called to.

Someday, as assuredly as Ozymandias reigns over sand and dust, my generation will have perished and with us the firsthand knowledge of life in the Second Millennium. Whether the values and wisdom we hold and accumulate will translate well to those who inherit our stations is a question our lives will serve to answer.