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.”

"We don't always endorse liberal Democrats, but when we do, it's because gays."


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All We Know of Heaven: A Requiem for NOM

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We don't always endorse liberal Democrats, but when we do, it's because gays."

“We don’t always endorse liberal Democrats, but when we do, it’s because gays.”

It wasn’t so long ago when indefatigably engaged political outfits like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) or Family Research Council (FRC) could drive (in modern Politico speak) vital conversations from the Bible Belt to the nation’s capital. Nowadays, as the country slips away from their hostility to same-sex marriage, such avowedly socially conservative groups find their influence even in the Republican Party to be limited and declining.

In such a situation, one might expect serious conservatives to proactively complement or even spearhead GOP attempts to expand the electoral coalition that supports the conservative movement. After all, we owe it to our philosophy to study how to win, and a broad Republican coalition—featuring such diverse voices as Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Mitt Romney, Milton Wolf, American Crossroads, Tea Party Express, and the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans and American Unity Fund—is campaigning hard for Republican candidates with whom they assuredly do not agree on every issue. Unfortunately, NOM has opted instead for reactionary spoilage by endorsing the very congressional Democrats who would empower Nancy Pelosi and the Obama agenda.

While conservatives are out working to expand Republican control of the House of Representatives and win control of the Senate, NOM is launching all-out political warfare against gay Republican candidates Richard Tisei of Massachusetts and Carl DeMaio of California. This scorched-earth belligerence represents an escalation from earlier in the cycle, when NOM joined FRC in expressing opposition to the gay Republicans (including an odd attack on DeMaio’s support for the Second Amendment based on his desire to “improve enforcement for background checks and to keep weapons out of the hands of those with serious mental health issues and criminal history”—a position concordant with the NRA) but stopped short of endorsing their liberal opponents.

To be sure, the official reasons given for the active belligerence are rooted in the candidates’ support for same-sex marriage, but this reasoning is belied by the evidence.

As anybody who is passionate about the marriage issue ought to know, Tisei and DeMaio are not the only Republican candidates who support issuing civil marriage licenses to committed same-sex couples. Current Republican challengers and incumbents for congressional office who support same-sex marriage include Carlos Curbelo, David Jolly, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Susan Collins, and Charlie Dent. Even if we narrowly restrict the discussion only to non-incumbent Republicans in competitive races for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, there remains no explanation for why NOM is ignoring my fellow Florida native Carlos Curbelo—who has been endorsed by pro-gay Republicans for his support for same-sex marriage—for holding essentially identical positions on marriage as his fellow challengers in Massachusetts and California.

Of course, there is a simple explanation for why NOM is singling out Tisei and DeMaio. Although they are not alone among Republicans in their support for gay rights, Tisei and DeMaio are the only Republican congressional candidates this cycle who are openly gay. That NOM is willing to endorse liberal Democrats against more conservative candidates only in a desperate attempt to defeat gay Republicans speaks volumes about the organization’s—and its supporters’—hostility to gay Americans and willingness to throw the conservative movement under the bus in the pursuit of that animus. That NOM seems unwilling to admit openly what is blatantly obvious upon inspection suggests even the hardened heart of Benedict Arnold may recognize the enormity of this social and political wrong.

It is a terrible shame to realize that an organization familiar to many on the Right is blatantly and enthusiastically discriminating against gay people—a position opposed everywhere from Christian traditionalists to the Mormon Church to Rick Santorum. It is downright infuriating to recall that NOM has been welcome at conservative gatherings like CPAC, even while those gatherings repeatedly exclude pro-gay Republican groups—like the Log Cabin Republicans—that consistently campaign to defeat, rather than elect, liberal Democrats.

NOM could have stayed neutral in Tisei’s and DeMaio’s races, as it is apparently doing in Curbelo’s and the others I mentioned. The Heritage Foundation, RedState, and other socially conservative outfits almost assuredly share NOM’s objections to the marriage positions of all three candidates (and others), but they appear to be focusing their energies on supporting the candidates and policies they agree with, rather than shooting at fellow Republicans in invidious contempt for Reagan’s 11th commandment. This article isn’t about the folks in organizations like Heritage or RedState—with whom I of course profoundly disagree—it is about the unholy union of NOM and the janissaries of the imperial Obama-Pelosi agenda.

As I’ve said before, it’s vital that we keep social conservatives in the Republican coalition, even and especially as the same-sex marriage question fades like dust in the wind. It’s also vital to include the growing majority of young Republicans (let alone winnable independents) who even Heritage obliquely acknowledges are turned off by divisive mean-spiritedness against gay people. From what I can see, a good many social conservatives, even those who disagree on civil marriage policy, are eager or at least willing to accept gay Republicans and civil marriage dissenters into the GOP big tent.

This article is not about reasonable conservatives of good will who still have political differences to hash out. This article is about NOM and the priorities of those for whom gays and Republicans are as men and lions.

Notwithstanding my objections to NOM’s vituperative treachery against American conservatism, I am profoundly grateful that they have shown us their true colors.  When the chips are down, and the time comes for conservatives to unite for the good of the country, we all now know that NOM cannot be trusted to oppose the political enablers of the deranged fever dreams of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Those so-called social “conservatives” would rather smear and fight against gay Americans than support the broad spectrum of conservative principles that unite us all behind a common banner.

Perhaps this parting is all we need of the culture wars.

Now remember to vote!


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Reflections on a Tempest in Arlington

“A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest,
 as rivers of water in a dry place,
 as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The eyes of those who see will not be dim, and the ears of those who hear will listen. Also the heart of the rash will understand knowledge… The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places,though hail comes down on the forest…” –Psalm 32: 2-4, 17-19

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

I remember, distantly, that time the Army picked my family up and moved us across the Atlantic to a land the natives still call, “Father.” The oceanic climate deep in the continent was much too cool for my liking, and the winter days far too short. The coldest nights were little eternities unto themselves, yielding all too often only to the gray coolness of monotone skies along the Neckar—skies that seemed forever pregnant, never delivering. Until they had slipped from my grasp, I hadn’t realized how much I missed the endlessly soothing cycles of thunderstorms and sunshine that marked summertime in the American Southeast. Whether among the forests of Virginia, the swamps of Georgia, or along the waters of Florida, I could sit in that solace for hours.

At another time, in another climate I hate, I heard a gentleman speak about Edmund Burke at the meeting of a debating society near the southern coast of New England. He rhapsodized about the beautiful and sublime, of flowers and storms, of men and God. I remembered then the days and nights of violent atmospheric chaos I loved so peacefully, like a lamb cuddling into the fur of a lion and feeling ineffably safe. I remember those forays, early and late, into the philosophies of transcendence and stewardship of tradition. It was a reminder that man is as much a tiller of the world as a ward of powers beyond reckoning.

It was like faith made incarnate. In the quiet of the conditioned air and with the thunder rolling outside, I could see somehow a living truth in the requiem of light and darkness at the core of the paradox by which I was soothed by the presence of nature’s destructive power. What is it to feel safe—comforted, even—by confrontation with something that you know could very well hurt you but will not?

As I sit, years later, in an eleventh-floor apartment across the river from the capital, the storm raging beyond my balcony ignores me. It quakes in a vicious symphony of light and awe and mist, and I think of that captivating thought I heard in a movie: “God is in the rain.”

I suppose God may be in all things, but if there were a particular meteorological phenomenon that touched on the awe we feel for the divine, it would be the storm. When it comes to the winds of summer: the lower the pressure, the closer to God. Somewhere at the nexus of fear, awe, and solace that comes at a window looking out into the fury of heaven is the love a child feels for his parents—and in time, perhaps, the world he inherits, with rights and duties tracing back to the Father. It is the love of that which could wring destruction but will not—the love that begets trust, and the trust that begets love—that foments a sense of place, however tempestuous, and purpose, however elusive.

It is the beginning of everything sublime in our judgment.


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Wars of the Magnolias

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

“The bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict, and laziness.” –Jon Stewart

Courtesy of a softer world

The media will pretend to be fair and reasonable if we pretend to believe them.

Back in early May, the infamous ink-butcher George R. R. Martin submitted to an interview with Davie Itzkoff at The New York Times. There had been a public uproar over a rape scene in a recent episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Many in the fandom wanted desperately to know why such a compelling story as that of the characters of Westeros needed to be written in the free-flowing blood of continual atrocities. This (abridged) exchange followed:

Q. Some critics of the books have said that even if such scenes are meant to illustrate that the world of Westeros is often a dark and depraved place, there is an overreliance on these moments over the course of the novels, and at a certain point they are no longer shocking and become titillating. How do you respond to this criticism?

A. […]The atrocities in “A Song of Ice and Fire,” sexual and otherwise, pale in comparison to what can be found in any good history book.As for the criticism that some of the scenes of sexual violence are titillating, to me that says more about these critics than about my books. Maybe they found certain scenes titillating. Most of my readers, I suspect, read them as intended.

Alas, this post is not about the fictional intrigues of Westeros, but rather the real pathologies of the American politico-media complex. The setting is Mississippi, where a close and combative U.S. Senate primary had once been a test of rival philosophies of the Republican vision of government. Is the occupant of that contested seat supposed to bring home the bacon, see: incumbent Thad Cochran, or abide by Mississippi voters’ desire to limit government and promote economic freedom, see: challenger Chris McDaniel?

But that was before the media discovered its latest dark and depraved place for political titillation: the contemptible violation of Rose Cochran’s privacy by a plot of deranged hacks who happen to support McDaniel.

McDaniel and his campaign have denied any involvement in the crime. Given the predictability of the subsequent firestorm, it hardly strains credulity that any statewide candidate with sufficient intellectual acuity to be executed in Florida would have never sanctioned such hapless grotesquerie. More the point, no charges have been filed or suggested against McDaniel. Of course, police are investigating all conceivable possibilities, whatever their actual merits, but reasonable people don’t usually jump to conclusions because a cop won’t “clear” anybody publicly before an investigation is concluded.

If we opt not to be vapid, the lack of any compelling evidence against McDaniel in the Cochran scandal is much less incriminating, newsworthy, or even interesting than former Senate Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) trying to name a courthouse he had built with $100 million of his constituents’ money after Thad Cochran (whom Lott endorsed for a seventh six-year term) instead of one of Mississippi’s first black lawyers. If Morning Joe Scarborough (R-Latte) and other Very Serious People in the media were less vapid, they might even note that Cochran, who was first elected when my parents were toddlers, has had more government structures named after him than any other sitting member of Congress.  (By the way, I’m no expert in congressional naming etiquette, but isn’t getting your name put on multiple courthouses a tad greedy?) What a thoughtful use of our generously earmarked tax dollars!

At this point, even moderately responsible reporters might call into question Thad Cochran’s purported devotion to fiscal conservatism. The more inquisitive might additionally question Cochran’s interest in the people he was elected to serve. After all, the senior Senator spent half as much time in Mississippi as fellow Sen. Roger Wicker, yet used $35 million more taxpayer dollars doing it. How’s that for getting less for more?

If, despite all these more relevant or insightful topics, we feel compelled to dwell on the Cochran scandal, the media might at least wonder aloud—between all the inane musing about McDaniel’s invisible knavery—about Sen. Cochran. It is curious, after all, that the Senator has benefited immensely from exploiting a crime against his wife and is now avoiding the media.

Many of the insinuations against McDaniel, like from Morning Joe Scarborough (R-Latte), follow along the lines of this phrasing from Christian Science Monitor:

“Though no one publicly suggested McDaniel was behind the video, Mr. Kelly is a strong McDaniel supporter and there are pictures on social media of him and McDaniel together. In the early hours after the story broke, the McDaniel campaign also gave conflicting signals about how much it knew about the video and when.”

Or this one from MSNBC:

“Then things got worse: three more people were arrested on Thursday in connection with the break-in, including a state tea party leader with longstanding ties to McDaniel and an activist who had, according to The Clarion-Ledger, regularly co-hosted a radio show with McDaniel.

A lone blogger was bad enough, but suddenly law enforcement authorities were alleging a conspiracy that included prominent conservatives who knew McDaniel personally.”

It is certainly noteworthy that associates or supporters of McDaniel’s have been arrested for a serious crime. That fact is hardly any excuse, however, for implying without evidence that McDaniel must have been involved in something simply because his supporters were.

For perspective, Cochran’s close aide Kay Webber hosted at least two Democratic fundraisers  in her house in 2006 and 2008, when Republicans were skewered at the polls. Given that Cochran has long employed and traveled with Ms. Webber (on taxpayer dime) while also living in her house, where Democrats schemed to retake Congress and the presidency from the Party that Webber works for, there is an arguably stronger link between Cochran and Barack Obama’s Democratic Party than anyone has shown between McDaniel and the crime against Mrs. Cochran. If we’re casting aspersions on candidates because of their supporters, surely this story will break into a major scandal any day now.

I won’t hold my breath.

Perhaps at some point, somebody might remember that this U.S. Senate contest involves meaningfully distinct candidates with agendas and priorities that will influence national politics. But of course, that would involve substantively engaging the two candidates on their merits, and the punditocracy has little interest in such encumbrances as balanced reporting. Especially not when the narrative of every the day is embarrassing conservatives.

We shouldn’t be surprised; the internecine wrangling of a restlessly acephalous Republican Party is primarily old news in the Acela Corridor by now. Depending on your view, the “civil war” is over, and the media-preferred Establishment won—or else the fiscal conservative assimilation of the Establishment is more or less accomplished—and, anyway, how many different ways can lazy media hype the same “GOP implosion” storyline while doggedly eliding the philosophical merits of any candidate?

If we must take anything from this saga as conservatives—beyond, “Don’t be stupid”—it is a simple truth we’ve known all along: the media disdains and undermines conservatives, and it’s useless to whine about it.  I don’t know how the Mississippi race will end, but going forward, conservatives had better build and maintain a more functional outreach strategy than pleading or waiting idly for fairness from biased elites who have no interest in truly engaging the project of economic liberty and limited government. Among other things, that’s how we lose.


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The Tradition of Ink and Wood

“To recognize that there is a need to distinguish…between the good and the evil in tradition, requires recognition of the preeminent role (not, lest I be misunderstood, the sole role) of reason in distinguishing among the possibilities which have been open to men since the serpent tempted Eve and Adam…” –Frank S. Meyer

“Some people aren’t books, they’re poems.” –A Softer World, 680

“Some people aren’t books, they’re poems.” –A Softer World, 680

Mom used to take me to bookstores on occasional trips to the mall or en route to some all-day set of errands. Barnes & Noble, Borders, some local community shop—I cared less for the name on the door than for the promises teased on back covers and inside flaps. She and I have long been avid readers, so these little sojourns to outposts of the empire of narrative were often my favorite part of an entire week. It’s a shame there were no frequent-traveler miles for wandering by print.

Years after our last trip together to whatever manuscript emporium, Mom bought me an eReader for Christmas. She asked me if I would use it. I told her I would, and I sincerely meant it. I have read a few books since that day. Not a one has lacked the tree-born pages so amenable to dog ears and annotation. It turns out that for all the time absorbed by the many screens in my life, I remained a reactionary on books. It was never even a conscious choice but simply a fact of me.

But the more I think on it, the more I find myself an unrepentant partisan of the traditional, battery-free book. The reason is not that I hate eReaders, want them to go away, or somehow associate them with civilizational decline—to the contrary, ebooks and other digital goods are the latest children of the mind, as worthy of celebration and use as their elder siblings. But in the end, the experience of a natural book is to the LED script of an ebook as the sound of your voice is to the lines of a text or as getting lost under the sky is to clicking through Google Maps Satellite.

It’s a bit like the ongoing conservation of conservatism.

On the one hand, you have traditionalists clinging to such antiquated values as family, honor, duty, loyalty, and transcendence because they speak holistically to the disparate and unified condition of humanity. Tradition, after all, is as much a project of aesthetics as of truth, as much for the heart as for the mind. It is the anchor of the eternally silent majority in cold, cosmic seas—the balance of agency and cupidity in the present by the democracy of the dead.

An eReader battery dies or “digital rights” management prevents you from sharing your ebook with a friend. But at any time you can read a paperback and give it to anyone as readily as your community imparts the peculiar stamp of its wisdom and flaws. A dog-eared page can trigger memories or fantasies as poignantly as a photograph in a loved one’s home. The annotations on paper are as stories told across decades, iced tea, pecan pie, and the background sound of children playing. There is something ineffably raw about a book that is lost in translation to yet another screen between you and the escalating abstractions of a rapidly digitizing world. There’s something about the way the markings and the mass carry separate, wordless stories of joy and pain, vulnerability and hope.

On the other hand, you have libertarians beating the drums of pragmatism, efficiency, liberty, idiosyncrasy, and autonomy. Denying sentiment, they offer function. Against reaction, they demand solutions. No longer impressed either by tradition—and underlying assumptions of old authority and static truth—or establishment—and its atrophic will to complacency—they seek above all freedom from imposed shackles and entrenched stupidity.

A book is a tool to impart knowledge or provide entertainment. Where we progressed from vinyl to cassette tapes to CDs to iPods, we have evolved from oral tradition to manuscript to paperbacks to ebooks. Our lives are more efficient, our opportunities more plausible, our tools more expansively useful when technology captures libraries in the palms of our hands. There is something uniquely enabling about the power to construct and define your own domain in an increasingly automated society.

Where these perspectives meet is in the question central to the whole project of free society, and the narratives it keeps—what is freedom for?

Is it really convenient to have a universe in a Kindle if you no longer know the spontaneous pleasure of glancing at a shelf, grabbing an inviting title, and reclining into a place where the smells of wood, paper, and earth create worlds within worlds of imagining? Are you really better off if you no longer find reason to flip through an old favorite and reminisce over highlighted passages that once breathed clarity into vast labyrinths of mystery? Are you freer if your autonomy comes in automated packaging that will wipe away its every memory of you under the commands of a stranger? Under all the paeans for progress and efficiency, are you any less of a hopeful machine wanting pieces of the world to retain some piece of you when you’re gone? Or will we have people autograph our eReaders now?

I’m not saying abandon your Nook and your smartphone and read only through disposable media. I rarely read print news anymore at home, but I would be remiss to deny preferring the touch of an express paper to my smartphone on the morning Metro. I would never want to live in any dimension where the expanse of human knowledge is beyond reach of my hand. And I would not care to endure an era where all simple joys of old pleasures were ever abandoned for newer toys. What I cherish is knowing that the convenient genius of an eReader is always within reach, even as I freely choose to seek my stories elsewhere.

There should be a word for the things we do, not because they’re sensible, but because we want to.

This post was written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge from The Daily Post.


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The Inheritance

“It has always been my belief that people who spend too much time with my work end up as lost souls, drained of reason, who lead lives of raving emptiness and occasional lunatic violence.  What a relief it is to see this documented.” – Liberalism Lemony Snicket

Turns out the gates of civilization are more fragile than we thought.

When I was growing up, Mom encouraged me to read a lot. She brought home encyclopedias, dictionaries, Bibles, and thesauruses so I could learn facts about the world. She took my siblings and me to local libraries on weekends in the summer, so we could exercise our minds during the dog days of bare feet, sweet tea, mosquitos, and moon pies. Dad kept saying, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”, and “A mind is terrible thing to waste.” I certainly didn’t want to lose my mind.

When I think about my success in school and getting into Yale, I think first and foremost of my parents encouraging me to read. I think of books and all they taught me. For inasmuch as learning is sacred, books are acolytes of the divine. The idea of hurting them is somehow…sinful. They are, after all, a singular inheritance. If all society were lost tomorrow, and we had to start from scratch, we would rediscover writing, electricity, industry, astronomy, and all the gifts of science and math. But the lessons of our books would have gone the way of the nephilim and Atlantis. All those windows into vast tapestries of imagining and experience would never be more than half-remembered dreams from too many lifetimes ago.

So imagine my horror at discovering that some postmodern industrialist smilingly murdered a series of books to decorate storage space. The barbarians are inside the gates, indeed. I always imagined there was an abyss at the heart of civilization, the analog of the supermassive black holes within all the galaxies in heaven. I never thought I would catch of glimpse of what it might be like to see that void, that negation of all sapience—that ultimate nihilism. It’s enough to make you wonder—or cry or plea—is anything sacred?

One of the things that struck me in places like Yale—where a certain kind of liberalism is the smog you have to breathe—was how often the answer to that question seemed to be: “What does that even mean?”

Dear Reader, I cannot tell you what that means. If you have never felt anything like transcendence, purpose, or calling to rise above yourself, I cannot talk to you of Honor. If you have never believed anything worth fighting or dying for, even when the stakes seem impossibly trivial and the potential reward more spiritual than effable, I cannot speak to you of Sacred. If you have never met something so beautiful that the experience of it could only be a testament to Truth, I cannot convey to you Beauty. And if you have never fallen in love across a bridge of pulp and ink, I cannot explain to you why a book is more precious than a mockingbird.

I can’t make you care about or understand anything. I can only show you the little pieces of the world that I see. And through words across the cloud, you’ll learn something true or not. If you believe that something substantial would be lost forever if every book were ruined, then we are at least as far as the foothills of tradition, with its many idiosyncrasies.

If you cannot fathom freedom without this precious inheritance, then you have another portrait of why I am a conservative.


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Liberalism and Conservatism in Young America

What with demographic trends, immigration fights, and the culture wars, many folks across the political spectrum are pondering the long-term viability of the Republican Party. With such proposals as gay marriage and the Dream Act steadily amassing popularity, particularly among the young, many conservatives are indeed increasingly estranged from the forward march of modernity. As such, it seems only natural to dismiss the GOP and its conniptions as the violently hopeless screech of a reactionary swan at war with its own mortality. Why would anyone—especially a young non-straight-male-WASP—be conservative today? What does the Grand Old Party have to offer young Americans, of any color or creed?

The answer isn’t easy, but we’re talking about the future of our country and the world it leads, so any easy answers are probably useless, or worse, wrong. Like any people, we Americans tell stories about ourselves—

“We are a nation of immigrants!”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

“The era of big government is over.”

            —and reach deeply into wells of tradition to grapple with our evolving place in an ever-changing world. Like any people, we face crises—terrorism, debt, unemployment—and we have to decide how best to honor our heritage and values in setting priorities, making commitments, and embracing necessary sacrifice to overcome setbacks.

America is a contest of ideas as well as a community dedicated to sublimating the foreign and exotic to the familiar. From every reach of the earth, America aims to erect a living, shining monument to the industry, liberty, and creativity of human freedom. For whatever reason, these struggles have generally played out in a field between two partisan posts built from many and shifting factions of interests and values. But while George Washington warned against factionalism, the Federalist Papers extolled its ability to check the tyrannies of majorities. So we come to our two camps.

In liberalism, we find a profound concern for fairness and equality. The moral foundations of the welfare state are well at home here, for the world is unequal, unfair, and often unjust. We have the means to counteract, if not eliminate, these evils, and we are compelled by our concern for human rights and basic decency to do so. Thus we see welfare, Medicaid, Medicare, public education, and humanitarian relief from the state. The liberal goal is justice, however understood, above everything.

In conservatism, we find less focus on either fairness or equality. The welfare state is expensive and must be paid for. The long reach of government is already too intrusive and must be retracted; everywhere the “Nanny State” is out of control, eroding our rights and self-reliance. People and their businesses are being oppressed by high taxes. Won’t somebody please think of the businesses!?!

Conservatism is easily less attractive to anyone who walks down the street in New York or Boston, sees the homeless everywhere, and wonders why the government doesn’t enact some program or redirect some spending to provide more food and shelter for those so much less fortunate. Conservatives, by and large, don’t want the state to obsess over any of that. Indeed, if other needs are not being met, conservatives demand the state pull back, to account for everything. On its face, this approach looks quite heartless.

When conservatives see a homeless woman on the street, they want and demand that she be able to get a job and provide for herself. Conservatives see dignity in self-reliance and the ability to be a full player in the communal game of interdependence. We are indignant that the state has sacrificed an economy that might employ her for one that reduces her to an indentured client. We have been led to believe that love is sweet, charitable, and forgiving. And it is all of those things. But love is also longsuffering, devoted to truth, and fundamentally opposed to whatever forms in which we find evil in the human condition.

A conservative doesn’t oppose endless welfare because she hates or is indifferent to those less fortunate. To the contrary, she wants her neighbor to eat, have good shelter, and be a full member of her community. But not everything that accomplishes any one of these things—say, ensuring the homeless can eat—accomplishes everything a person needs to live well.

That homeless woman wants a job so she can see that her energy and effort are worth as much as anyone else’s, particularly those yuppie masses that ignored her on the street when she was destitute. Thus she needs the conditions that allow for economic growth and broad prosperity. She wants to be able to contribute to society and help others, for she is a moral being. Thus she needs freedom from the indomitable web of well-intended but narrowly-focused social programs that stifle the market, which might otherwise empower her to make her own choices. She abhors the notion of dependence upon the largess of strangers, or worse, the reality of being a leech upon a community she loves. Thus she needs a welfare system that will not incentivize brokenness or encourage the decay of her neighborhood. She wants no one else to languish in the fate that she escapes.

And finally, our less fortunate neighbor wants assurance that her life in prosperity—and she believes she will be prosperous—will be as free and fulfilling as possible. Thus she needs a government that will never sacrifice the integrity of the middle class in an endless expansion of the state into the lives of its citizens.

Honoring the diverse and conflicting elements that comprise the richness of the human experience—along with the complexity of the relationship between people, their communities, and their government—is precisely the aim of the conservative movement. In short, conservatism considers the fullness of man as he is and aspires to be, as opposed to how we might wish or imagine him to be—or what he might need in the moment.

None of this is to say that the Republican Party has everything—or even most things—right. Like most young voters, I certainly look forward to the day when marriage equally is a universal reality and women no longer feel the state is imposing on their private affairs. But if anything should give you pause about the Democratic Party and its allies on the left, look no farther than the “Buffet Rule” charade in the Senate.

By all accounts, it was a symbolic gesture to highlight Republican opposition to tax hikes. In what universe is there any inherent virtue, political or otherwise, in the desire to raise taxes? We occasionally do so if we must, as have Republican presidents past, but with solemnly deliberated, practical ends—not for “symbolism.” Add to this the administration’s abject refusal to push for tax reform, pass a budget, or offer serious debt-reduction when the Democrats had large majorities, and to the student loan gimmicks masquerading as serious proposals in this Congress, and we have to wonder what the Democratic Party really has to offer us.

My fellow young Americans, the culture wars are waning. However, the mock-serious gimmicks of the Democratic Party will continue and should concern anyone—young, old, black, white, Latino, gay, straight, urban, rural, etc.—interested in the resilience and example of the American project. I do not need to be a partisan Republican to stand against failed leadership and for the middle class. Young America, we would all do well to put down the Democratic Kool-Aid and take a shot of skepticism, on the rocks.