Token Dissonance

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

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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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Rage Against the Correctness

“You can’t get anyone to agree with you if they don’t even listen to you first.” –Sally Kohn

If progressives want to burn bridges, who am I to judge?

If progressives want to burn bridges, who am I to judge?

In the aftermath of the battle royale of articles, tweets, blog posts, and other responses to Jonathan Chait’s infamous (and more than a little hypocritical) rally against the sinistral arts of political correctness, I considered adding my own vernacular garrisons to the fray. However, a friend went ahead and offered a guest post employing most of the essential points I would have marshalled and spared me some trouble. But in maneuvering through the battlefield of what has largely been internecine wrangling on the Left, it may be worthwhile to offer some comment as one disadvantaged by the intersectionality, as progressives might say, of several measures of privilege.

There is the curious phenomenon of encountering white (usually heterosexual and often male) liberals from affluent backgrounds and elite educations who are all too willing to lecture me on the profundities of the multimodal oppression that black, gay, and working-class Americans face in this country. I will spare you, my audience, a Terri Lynn Land moment and just note that this recurring phenomenon tended to derail my attempts at having reasonable conversations with some people about how the Ferguson riots attacked black lives far more than the violence and vandalism “disrupted” any “paradigms” or “systems” of oppression. (Curiously enough, most of the black people in my social orbit somehow intuited this reality.)

To be sure, one does not need to be a member of a given underprivileged class to offer pragmatic insights into pertinent social issues. Indeed, non-members of minority-x might occasionally, possibly, maybe offer more insightful—dare I say, better—solutions than some (though certainly not all) members of minority-x in some circumstances, because societal groups and situations, liberal caricatures aside, are not monoliths. As such, though I have many disagreements with the first half or so of J. Bryan Lowder’s progressive attempt at an evenhanded critique of Chait, his broader analysis rang true on the following point:

“The problem with identity politics—in this particular manifestation, anyway—is that it assumes that just because a person claims a certain identity label, that person is necessarily empowered to be judge and jury on all issues pertaining to that category. The truth is, identity grants experience (and experience should be valued to a point); but it does not automatically grant wisdom, critical distance, or indeed, unassailable righteousness. To forget this is to turn individual people who possess a range of intelligences, backgrounds, self-interests, and flaws into two-dimensional avatars for the condition of humanity in which they happen to share. And, by corollary, to assert that it is impossible on some fundamental level for those who don’t share that condition to ever relate or speak to that person as merely another human being with ideas and opinions.

That logic is real, it is ridiculous, and it is truly tiresome. It deserves all the criticism it gets.”

But there is something insidiously unhinged about the self-aggrandizing fury in which many expressly “outraged” voices of “social justice” seem (perhaps ironically, if not surprisingly) more eager to comminate skepticism of progressively dystopian worldviews rather than seriously engage a broader range of perspectives and concerns (e.g. that #blacklivesmatter should extend to the black livelihoods immolated in the riots). In short, as even many progressives have noted, there seems to be a driving force underlying the worst abuses of P.C. culture that seeks to antagonize, conquer, and eradicate what are viewed as insufficiently progressive “problematic” strains of thought, by whatever means necessary and possible, casualties be damned.

To put it more bluntly, there’s a whiff of vengeance and exploitative power-dynamics about the whole exercise that approximates a mockery of the fight against ubiquitous hatred, fear, and power-inequality that avatars of social justice purport to represent. In this regard, Michael Brendan Doughtery seems to have grasped a key reality (his emphasis):

“Political correctness conflates normal slights, sincere disagreements, thoughtless cracks, and the verbal miscues of the uninitiated with actual oppression. In extremely crude terms, political correctness engenders (or really, embodies) extreme sensitivity to status. The victims of historic oppression were accorded a low status by their oppressors. Imposing a low status on a group is a way of granting yourself permission to abuse its members. And so some of the normal rough and tumble of human interaction can be mistaken (or willfully misconstrued) as an attempt to replicate the very hierarchies that cause oppression and genocide. A real ‘P.C.’ blowup leaves one person crying and feeling misunderstood and ‘othered,’ while it leaves another person feeling both defensive and offended that the crying person appears to be trivializing real oppression.

Political correctness looks like grasping aspirational privilege. Related to the above. The right not to be offended, or the ability to punish those who offend your finely tuned sensibilities, is a form of privilege. Without having conducted a detailed sociological study, my anecdotal impression is that ‘politically correct’ styles of engagement are most popular among a class of people that is in a similar position to the old petite bourgeoisie:college students and strivers whose primary class consciousness is not their relative privilege over, say, Appalachian whites or people in the developing world, but their lack of power and status compared with the haute bourgeoisie, which is composed of everyone from crass GOP-affiliated lax-bros that want to go into finance to the polished and tamed ‘liberal’ graduates of Sidwell to the real inheritors of privilege like the Bush twins.”

It is a straightforward exercise in experience, empathy, or simple imagination to concede that an amorphous morass of systematic biases and (dis)advantages have accrued over time into what has come to be known as “privilege.” It likewise follows that the parameters of this privilege shift across various ethnic, cultural, geographical, socioeconomic, and other lines that impact different people in unimaginably complex ways. It is from this very complexity—and our avowedly universal belief in the value and dignity of individuals as such—that we ought to understand and accept that different experiences afford a broad array of perspectives that might not have occurred to us but perhaps should have. Some of these perspectives are more worthy of engaging than others, but where folks are wrong, it is generally worth considering that errors come from ignorance or misunderstandings than from malice. This is what is generally meant by the principle of charity, as my guest author noted.

A key ideological problem with the radical leftists whom Chait criticizes, some of Chait’s critics in turn, and even Chait himself is precisely this lack of charity—either in argument or in “live and let live” activism. You do not shout down or vituperatively impugn people whose views, motives, or reasoning skills you fundamentally respect. But once political opponents, or even skeptics, are deemed evil and perpetrators or abettors of evil—be it racism, sexism, classism, or whatever other forms of conscientious bigotry or stupidity are often ascribed to conservatives or the insufficiently progressive—then the desperate, venomous tactics of total-war activism become as natural and justifiable as the merciless socioeconomic quarantine we righteously impose on the most blatant antagonists of societal pluralism, from David Duke to Donald Sterling. Except, of course, people like Duke and Sterling are not remotely the norm.

In other words, the very folks who would have you believe that all their political or social theory critics—let alone actual opponents—are agents of animus, intolerance, and self-serving power dynamics (whether by pushing grannies off cliffs or promoting Taliban-style theocracy) are probably the same folks you should most suspect are projecting their own ignoble biases or motivations for their own agendas. Be wary of the activists and writers who demand that you heed their perspectives but have no use for anybody else’s. That is not to say that outrage is never good, reasonable, or worthwhile. Rather, those who demonstrate a sustained incapacity to refine rage at an ever expanding pandemonium of ills into a productive, conciliatory force that compels skeptics into constructive understanding instead of defensive recoil, are probably not going to be winning many wars you want to be part of.

Years ago, I wrote on the need to commit to the long-suffering project of tolerating those whose views we find abhorrent on even the most pressing issues of life and politics. In a similar vein, my friend Leah Libresco, a liberal Catholic blogger at Equally Yoked and The American Conservative, criticized the firing of Brendan Eich as a entropic salvo in a disturbingly segregationist trend of totalizing ideological warfare that threatens to transmogrify every aspect of our lives. That we are both openly LGBT people defending compassion for and patience with gay rights opponents whose views we would never want to see prevail is perhaps why those articles resonated across social and political divisions. The vast majority of Americans want to hear from and engage with those who manage not to believe the worst of them. The project of empathizing with sociopolitical detractors can at times leave even the best of us ineffably verklempt (to employ one of my boyfriend’s favorite words). Yet those situations in which empathy is the most elusive are precisely the ones in which it is most essential for all involved.

No, it should not fall on those afflicted by societal injustice to suffer the grating learning curves of those more privileged. Yes, engaging people where they are, defending the same colloquial liberties and philosophical charity for them that we would want for ourselves, and figuring out how to get them where we want them to be is the very mettle of social progress.

All that said, if you’ve read this post and happen to be an incorrigible progressive Democrat, feel free to ignore everything I’ve written here. Winning hearts and minds is probably racist anyway.

"Necessary" evils never looked more necessary than when they never hurt me.


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Ezra Klein and The Ones Who Stay in Omelas

“They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

"Necessary" evils never looked more necessary than when they never hurt me.

“Necessary” evils never looked more necessary than when they never hurt me.

Zero-tolerance policies in schools have a funny way of producing the kind of terrible results that are difficult to imagine any reasonable person intended when the policies were enacted. Just recently, honors student Atiya Haynes of Detroit found her promising academic career upended when a knife given to her by her grandfather for protection in a dangerous neighborhood was accidentally left in her purse. While this situation is certainly infuriating, it should hardly be surprising. Students from poorer or ethnic minority backgrounds have a long history of affliction from well-intentioned “zero tolerance” rules purportedly designed to help and protect them, though they are by no means the only victims.

When I was in high school nearly a decade ago, I almost fell victim to a zero-tolerance policy for a (not weapon-, drug-, or harm-related) mistake in which county policy would have required me to fail the relevant class that I actually wound up acing. (More ordinary repercussions for this genre of mistake usually escalate little further than detention.) Fortunately for me, my thoughtful teacher—well aware of the difference in consequences—kindly overlooked the classroom error in question, and I was able to remain an honor student, eventually go to Yale, and begin a promising, upwardly mobile professional life. Many other people from could-be-more-privileged backgrounds, especially those whose infractions involve things like accidental weapons or self-defense after being bullied, are not so lucky.

All of this brings us to the ostensibly unrelated case of Vox’s Ezra Klein and his alarming, if not altogether surprising, willingness to retreat from liberalism in difficult situations—specifically, his support for California’s deeply problematic “affirmative consent” law. The commonality, it turns out, is the determination to condemn good people to bad consequences for the sake of achieving some greater good that might not actually obtain.

In Klein’s own words:

“SB 697, California’s ‘Yes Means Yes’ law, is a terrible bill. But it’s a necessary one… the law is only worth the paper it’s written on if some of the critics’ fears come true. Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.

[…]

The Yes Means Yes laws creates an equilibrium where too much counts as sexual assault. Bad as it is, that’s a necessary change.”

Pause for a moment to reflect on that line of thought.

Seriously, take a moment.

Read it again.

I’ll wait.

Ezra Klein’s willingness to embrace what is accurately described as illiberal persecution of the innocent for the sake of noble goals is precisely the kind of ethically disturbing consequentialism that underlies the kind of policies, like “zero tolerance,” that disproportionately afflict those already poor and disadvantaged. It’s all well and good—and altogether predictable—for the wealthy and well-connected to perennially wax sententious about “necessary” evils from which they seldom suffer much. The rest of us live in the real world of administrative self-interest, systemic incompetence, political cowardice necessity, police brutality, and limited influence on or recourse for wrongs against non-elites who are less well-off than Klein’s socioeconomically cocooned friends. For us real-world folks, legitimate concerns about fairness and injustice in an invidiously ill-conceived system are not idle abstractions to whitewash away in the pursuit of utopian dreams.

And make no mistake; it is vituperatively utopian to imagine that the crimes of an admittedly unfair system will be justified by some larger social good. Most insultingly, there is little evidence that sexual assaults will decrease—they certainly won’t be eliminated—as a result of this policy change, and Klein uncharacteristically presents no evidence to support this critical premise. (This omission is particularly curious given that many schools, like the University of California system, most of the Ivy League—including my alma mater—and a number of other institutions, already have such a standard and could presumably provide supportive data.) There is ample evidence, however, of colleges already expelling accused students for what would charitably (to the colleges) be considered dubious circumstances.

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf well encapsulates the enormity of Klein’s moral decrepitude (emphasis in original):

“Extreme problems require extreme solutions. When wrongdoers are going unpunished, intrusive countermeasures are justified, even if they create new victims. Innocent-until-proven-guilty is nice in theory, but untenable in practice. The state should strike fear into innocents if it leads to fewer victims of violent crime.

Ugly problems don’t always have pretty solutions.

These are the sorts of value judgments one expects from supporters of Stop and Frisk, ‘three strikes’ laws, the prison at Gitmo, and racial profiling to stop illegal immigration. They’re also the value judgments that Ezra Klein invokes in his endorsement of a California law requiring affirmative consent for sex on the state’s college campuses. As he puts it, ‘Ugly problems don’t always have pretty solutions.’

[…]

To understand California’s law as Klein does and to favor it anyway is appalling, if admirably forthright. It is akin to asserting that, to fight sexual assault, we must operate on the dark side. It is a declaration that liberal values aren’t adequate after all, using logic Klein rejects when it is applied to other policy areas.”

I cannot stress enough that Klein—like the left-leaning crowd inclined to take his opinions seriously in forming their own—rejects this very line of thinking when it is applied to almost anything they dislike else. The difference is perhaps explained by who Klein and company imagine the targets of this particular form of aggravated illiberalism to be—i.e., rich, white frat boys, rather than poorly represented minorities from poor neighborhoods—but whatever the case, the reasoning for accepting injustice remains hollow, given our purported national commitment to such concepts as fairness and civil rights. As Friedersdorf puts it:

“Long experience shows that drastic measures are best shunned when they violate liberal values, an insight that does not imply an insufficient commitment to reducing sexual assault on campus any more than opposition to Stop and Frisk means one doesn’t care about gun violence in New York City, or opposition to adopting a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard for terrorists would imply an underestimation of the problem terrorism poses or the devastation of its victims.”

Returning to the zero-tolerance comparison, Klein’s explicit admission—supported by evidence—that innocent people will be required to wallow in the filth of our social and cultural sins in order to build and sustain the Omelas of a world without campus rape begs us to ask: Who does Ezra Klein think will bear the brunt of these unjust prosecutions when ambiguous or nonverbal sexual enthusiasm is legally prescribed cause for expulsion?

When gun control laws get stricter, poor people and minority communities are disproportionately ruined by the prison-industrial complex. When zero-tolerance policies proliferate in schools, underprivileged people of color disproportionately find their dreams deferred by circumstances all but unfathomable to many a Vox reader. When students are consigned to a regime that encourages abuse, it would be odd to assume those same marginalized members of the so-called “coalition of the ascendant” will not find themselves disproportionately at risk of life-altering social and academic sanctions for allegedly not having procured and adhered to an explicitly detailed legal contract—which seems to be the only reliable way to meet the “affirmative consent” standard—governing every conceivable minutiae of sexual interaction.

Would it matter to Klein if men (or women) of underprivileged demographics are more likely to be accused of and rightly or wrongly punished (and punished more harshly) for—but not necessarily more likely to actually commit—sexual assault, which familiar disparity we see in other legal matters? Should it matter to his readers that he never even bothers to ask the question? (For the record, I do not know the answer to this, but it and many other good questions occurred to me because I prefer to seriously consider my neighbor before throwing him or her under the bus.) It should not be too much to ask those in Klein’s camp who these sacrificial lambs are likely to be—and not be—and what, if anything, we should think about that.

One of the things professional leftists prefer to elide, in the perpetual indignation of their dubious policy initiatives, is that the people who bear the costs of progressively intrusive policy disasters are the disadvantaged communities progressives purport to represent. And again, there is not even much (if any) evidence that California-style “affirmative consent” laws will improve campus sexual culture—a laudable and vital goal—any more than “zero tolerance” has improved the life of Atiya Haynes or countless kids like her. We owe it to victims of assault—and confused kids sincerely looking for guidance—to do better than this.

But at least we know one thing more clearly than before: when faced with prospect of thriving at the parasitic expense of those cursed with a lesser lot in life, Ezra Klein would not be among the ones who walk away from Omelas. I suppose, in the end, privilege is too comfortable and rewarding a perch for the progressives who get to enjoy it.


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The Church is Responsible for This

I read these haunting words from Candice’s article, and my heart wept as though some modern-day Lazarus might never breath again:

“These people have only one conclusion…that God must not want them. And the Church is responsible.”

In reflecting on crosses we bear in our struggle to know and live the Love of God, I hope we all find some comfort in this sacred command our Savior offered:

“Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love… That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:42-5

At some point, whether from the pulpit or the pews, we have to reckon with the fruit of the ministry of our lives and the examples set by our decisions. What is Love, for which Christ died for us, and how do we live or compel others to know it by turning away those who seek God in good will?

For the more secular among us, perhaps this is an opportunity to reflect upon the ways in which we – of any or no faith – have turned away people who sought out our guidance or companionship, because we could not be bothered to step outside ourselves to engage with the unfathomable weight of somebody else’s life. Most people at least profess to believe in the Golden Rule – do unto others as we would have them do unto us – but how often do we follow that to its logical and emotional conclusion: we are our brother’s keepers?

After all, if you stumbled or fell or were facing affliction, persecution, or ruin, would it not strike you as cruel for the people around you to step away? Or should we understand those Good Samaritans who risk themselves to help strangers in distress as somehow intruding where one ought not be expected to tread? One of the joys I find in political and philosophical conservatism – and many a Democrat I respect would say something analogous of their liberalism – is precisely that traditional emphasis on the power and necessity of communities rooted in an interdependence that can be said to mirror the triune communion of God. Accordingly, I cannot help but see darkness and a devilish inhumanity in the programs and mindsets that reflexively build and sustain walls between people who might otherwise come to know, love, and understand one another.

But whatever your thoughts about God, gays, and love, I hope this article gives you pause.

Candice Czubernat

photo

by Candice Czubernat

I hold the church personally responsible for any LGBTQ person who walks away from God and Christianity. Every week, I get emails from individuals all across the country who are full of desire to be a part of a church. They want to go on the church-wide mission trip, join the choir, serve in the youth group and attend a small group. These are people who long to serve God, connect with other Christians and be a part of a wider community.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Here’s the heartbreaking part: they write me because the church won’t let them do those things and they don’t know what to do.

Their church has found out they are LGBTQ and because of this are no longer welcome to join in these church activities they long to be a part of. The worst are the emails I get are from young…

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And the Army’s Cold Glare

“You’re a talker. Listening to talkers makes me thirsty and hungry. Think I’ll take two chickens.” –The Hound

Hail to the Speech!

Hail to the Speech!

President Obama meandered into West Point the other day to tell the country, and all those families who just wanted to enjoy their proud cadets’ apolitical graduation, what the Obama Doctrine of foreign policy and national security was all about. One can only speculate as to how the pedantic conversations of jilted academics—fueled by straw and anodynes—managed to excrete into being the outline for such a speech.  But I won’t waste anybody’s time pondering the vaporous origins of something so inert as yet another Obama soliloquy.

For those interested in some of the broadly unimpressed reactions to Obama’s Occupy Commencement exercise, you can find several illuminating examples here, here, and here.

What is interesting to note, amid the bipartisan criticism of our Commander-in-Chief’s latest attempt to speak his manic progressive dreaming into reality, is the many ways in which Obama has confirmed the hapless inadequacy of the reigning strains liberalism to reckon cogently with the problems of a 21st Century world.

U.S. military funding—and the percentage of military spending by the world’s generally American-friendly democracies—is significantly declining, and the Obama administration aims to reduce it further.  This compounding financial suppression of the Pentagon has led not only to closures of military facilities at home and around the world, and to the shrinking of our fighting ability to the lowest levels since World War II, but also to our disadvantage in the latest strategic arms race of the modern world—hypersonic weaponry.

While Obama bloviates about a “pivot to Asia,” the Chinese government is developing the fastest aircraft on Earth, with the Russians racing behind them in the most chilling upgrade on Cold War geopolitical games since the Kremlin’s invasion of [insert latest country]. While some of my liberal friends (and certain irresponsible libertarians) have reacted to this news with either indifference or befuddling glee, it should alarm anybody concerned with the overall trajectory of power, political systems, and broader norms in the decades to come.

A economically, militarily, and technologically ascendant China with the means to thwart U.S. missile defenses is the hallmark of a world increasingly subjugated to the hegemony of autocracy and regionalism, at the expense of the Western project of constitutional democracy and civil-rights republicanism. Such a world would see the influence of the U.S. usurped by hostile powers, with the concomitant realignment of global powers and priorities.

While the idea of a new arms race may seem understandably harrowing to some, it is essential that the U.S. get out and remain at the forefront of martial innovation. Not only has military technological advancements helped spur such civilian utilities as the Internet and GPS, but they also offer means to reduce the rapacious human costs of war. The much-maligned drone program, an inheritance from President Bush, has done wonders to reduce the scars of combat for American troops and cut down on the costs of waging relatively effective combats campaigns across the planet. (We lose profound less in striking a terrorist enclave remotely than deploying ground units to fight their way through vicious obstacles to the same objective.)

Granted, drone strikes are prone to mistakes and collateral damage, but nobody with even passing familiarity with guerilla conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan can argue the same isn’t true of ground troop deployments.

Engaging fully with the new technological frontier of military engagement in the modern world is, frankly, the most and only humane project the U.S. and allied nations can develop for American citizens and vulnerable people beyond our borders.


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Across Two Aprils

“Winter just wasn’t my season.” –Anna Nalick

"Ain't no party like a grand old party party, cuz a grand old party party...stops at a reasonable time in order to avoid fiscal irresponsibility." - Mike Giaquinto (props to the Log Cabin Republicans for grabbing the image)

“Ain’t no party like a grand old party party, cuz a grand old party party…stops at a reasonable time in order to avoid fiscal irresponsibility.” – Mike Giaquinto (props to the Log Cabin Republicans for grabbing the image)

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog consistently, and I can imagine that even some of you, my more faithful readers, may be on the verge of giving up on me. If I may beseech you, don’t lose faith just yet; I will come back for you!

Today’s post is as much political as it is about the joys and opportunities of life, which for me, is something of an ode to April. In April of last year, I started my new job with a wonderful online media consulting firm that has proven as challenging as the experience has been rewarding. My boss Liz Mair (whose opinions are not necessarily reflected in anything I write on this blog or elsewhere) is a young conservative rockstar, and her offer was a fitting postscript to the unemployment saga I wrote about for my friend Danielle Crittenden Frum at The Huffington Post (whom I must also thank for providing me a broader platform to promote a conservative perspective in that famously liberal medium).

Last April, it seemed my life was finally kicking off from the prolonged turbulence of restive stagnation that seemed to strike too early (I hadn’t even reached quarter-life crisis age) and too late (Who’s still trying to figure out their life at 24?). It turned out last April was the beginning of quite the adventure, and for that I suspect Joy and Triumph may be good neighbors on my block, rather than strangers from a town where I might never be welcome.

Now, here we are in April 2014, and a new round of investments from the aforementioned good neighbors is coming in. In the first place, I’ve been promoted to the mercurial and ubiquitous ranks of the “strategists” of the media-industrial complex. I suppose that means somebody somewhere thinks I have useful insights to offer on political and media happenings. Of course you, my dear readers, assuredly know better, but I trust you all will keep that between us. Secondly, I made my first cable news appearance yesterday to discuss same-sex marriage and the Republican Party with a panel on MSNBC (I know, I know). I was there representing Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry (an excellent group doing excellent work), and I’m starting to think this whole pretend-to-be-an-interesting-person-with-thoughtful-opinions thing is getting out of control.

But while we’re on the subject of personal and political evolution, let’s emphasize something critical to the push for a more inclusive conservative movement. As I told the liberals of MSNBC, the reforms many of us young conservatives are pushing for are not about alienating or replacing any part of our grand old coalition. We are not Democrats, and we will not play the games of identity politics and demographic resentments. Ours is a mission of individual liberty, personal responsibility, constitutional government, strong national (and self-) defense, and protecting God-given liberty. For all the talk of a Democratic “coalition of the ascendant,” it’s an exciting time to be a conservative and a Republican because we have inspiring leaders (like Rand Paul, Tim Scott, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, etc.), bold ideas (see: National Review, Cato, Reason, Commentary, RedState, The Washington Examiner, etc.) and indefatigable drive to better this great nation and the sovereign constituent states in which we invest our lives and values.

Finding and developing innovative ways to expand our coalition to better involve the growing segment of Americans who are young, nonwhite, LGBT-friendly, and mightily disaffected will not be a task we can accomplish overnight. Nor is it something we can achieve by papering over divisive issues that function as much as a fortress of power for the Democratic Party as a prison of dependency for those who believe, for whatever reasons, that the GOP would actively harm them or their loved ones. We as Republicans will continue to keep and encourage a Big Tent that welcomes opponents of same-sex marriage and whatever other issues are at odds with the popular views of Millennials and minorities. But we cannot keep to litmus tests that undermine our support and undercut our ability to promote conservative governance .

We do not advance conservative principles by losing battles or clinging to tactics that do not persuade. I suffer no delusion that my appearance on MSNBC will move the needle of that outfit’s liberal bias in any discernibly rightward direction. But I do believe that by engaging “traditionally Democrat” people on their terms and at their level, we’ll find more interest, reflection, and even support than the GOP platform’s marriage plank will ever see again. As some thoughtful sage opined long ago, we owe it to our philosophy to learn how to win.

I hope the view from next April is roses all the way down.