Politics, culture, family and more. From a (mostly) Mennonite perspective.
Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.
President Trump will name Callista Gingrich, the wife of campaign surrogate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as his ambassador to the Vatican — an unlikely pick who will now be charged with reconciling the commander-in-chief’s rough populism with the Holy See’s focus on social justice.
The 51-year-old third wife of Gingrich is currently the head of Gingrich Productions, a multimedia company for which she produced a number of documentaries, including one about Pope John Paul II.
Callista and Newt had a six-year affair while he was married to his second wife.
Now: I understand the Catholic Church pretty much frowns on divorce and remarriage. And the Catholic Church is also famously against being actively gay, and gay marriage is right out.
So it’s fun to think about a president — any president — nominating an openly gay man to represent America in Vatican City. I just don’t see it happening.
Why the difference, do you think?
Me? I’m not one to tell a whole religion what rules to have. But I’m never surprised when it’s conservatives who turn out to be “Cafeteria Catholics,” picking and choosing which doctrines really matter. It is, however, worth occasionally pointing out.
You’ve heard by now that Donald Trump revealed classified information … to Russian officials … in the Oval Office?
Here’s how it reportedly went down:
In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.
For Pete’s sake.
Let’s acknowledge the story’s just broken, and that further facts may reshape this scoop. What follows remains the case regardless.
It’s been apparent since before he took office — really, since the 1980s, at least — that Trump is a narcissistic, insecure braggart whose personality traits would’ve made him a Darwin Award winner long ago, were it not for the fortune his daddy bequeathed to him.
Before the election, I wrote that Trump’s temperament — maybe more than any of his loathsome policy positions — would be his downfall:
Understand: Probably all politicians (and writers) are narcissistic to an embarrassing degree. The smart ones put that self-regard to the service of a broader agenda, one that benefits the people that they represent.
The, uh, less smart politicians have a two-year-old’s sense of object permanence, unable to see past the irritation in front of them to take the long view. And that leads to trouble.
With Trump, we know. We know exactly what we’re getting and … we know exactly how that story ends.
Nothing that’s happened since the election has altered that assessment, or the prospect of the likely end. We’ve crossed the line. The man cannot be trusted with the office. Even if it means we get a near-full term of President Mike Pence (ugh!) it’s time to to begin pushing for his removal.
I love Rod Dreher. I hate Rod Dreher. He’s essential reading. I sometimes have to turn off his RSS feed for weeks or months. He’s incredibly thoughtful. He’s a kneejerk reactionary. He’s terrified of the influence that gays will have on American society. He’s really good friends with Andrew Sullivan — who kind of helped kickstart the gay marriage movement decades ago. He’s profoundly human, but I wish he could be a bit more humane and less purely contemptuous of people who think differently than he does. I think there’s stuff we have to learn from him, and for God’s sake sometimes I wish he’d just shut the hell up.
Tonight, I wish he’d shut the hell up. Why? Here’s Twitter.
Now. Maybe it’s because I just celebrated another Mother’s Day without my mother — the day after what should’ve been my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary.
Or maybe it’s because I saw the image posted earlier in the day, by a friend who spent many years longing to become a parent — she and her husband finally adopted a couple of years back, a joy to them and all who know them — and who, I know, still vividly remembers the pain of that yearning.
Rod Dreher has written not one, but two books substantially centered on his daddy issues. Some people draw memes suggesting flowers for people who have family issues; Dreher’s made an income from his.
And Dreher’s whole shtick is that modern American society is destroying the family, and that civilization will soon follow. So why not make fun of people who yearn for family, or to improve their family relationships?
Dreher’s feelings get hurt easily. We know that from reading his blog and books. But he doesn’t reciprocate the sensitivity he seeks from others. One moment where a bit of humanity might’ve proven beneficial from him, and he chose to go for the hurtful snark.
So screw him. He deserves as much of a respectful hearing as he gives others. Which is to say: None.
P.S. “Participation trophies” are for folks who have lost competitions. Family isn’t — shouldn’t be — a competition.
P.S. again: Dreher didn’t like my series of tweets castigating him for his tweet. Apparently he can dish out the “participation trophy” disses, but can’t stand when the heat is redirected. That’s fine.
I haven’t been down with talk of impeaching Donald Trump up to now. There were two reasons for this:
• Congress is held by Republicans. As a political matter, it’s highly unlikely, even improbable, that this Congress would impeach this president. Is there a line he could cross that would prove too much for Congressional Republicans? One hopes so, but one hasn’t actually seen sign of it.
• More importantly, I wasn’t convinced until this week that we had grounds for it. “I don’t like the president’s policies” isn’t good enough — elections have consequences — and the emoluments clause is vague enough for it not to get the traction it probably should.
But this week, the president fired the FBI director. Then gave implausible reasons for doing so. And it seemed the only plausible reason was that he didn’t like the FBI investigating whether Russia colluded with his presidential campaign.
Then, this morning, this happened:
Yes. That’s the president of the United States telling the former FBI director: “Shut up about what you know, or else I might have incriminating information about you.”
Does this meet the legal, chargeable definition of “blackmail” as a criminal offense? I don’t know. As a practical matter, it’s blackmail, the work of a thug done publicly.
As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.
By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.
I think we have evidence that President Trump wants his cabinet members to subvert their oaths of office. Those oaths require a fidelity to the Constitution — not any single person within government. I’m not sure Donald Trump knows the difference between himself and the state he leads. I’m not sure he ever did.
All of which is to say: I still don’t think Republicans will impeach this president. But I’m starting to have a firmer sense of the grounds upon which an impeachment might be possible.
I was napping yesterday when James Comey was fired.
So here’s the thing: When I went to sleep, lots of liberal folks hated James Comey — for his actions that seemed to hurt Hillary’s election, broadly, but also more recently for incorrect testimony to Congress that suggested (again, falsely) a close Hillary confidant had emailed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to her husband.
So when I go to sleep: Comey’s a bad guy. When I wake up, everybody’s outraged that he’s been fired.
It was a little disorienting.
Here’s the dumb thing I did: I started commenting on Twitter, assuming the last bad thing Comey did — the incorrect testimony — was the cause for his firing. Turned out I was wrong! The president says he fired Comey because … Comey handled the Hillary email situation badly. Like liberals have been complaining about for months.
Which, basically, no one believes. And with good reason.
So my own initial reactions were wrong. And it got me thinking: I love Twitter and I hate Twitter.
Good Twitter: Brings me new facts just as quickly as they’re created.
Bad Twitter: Requires the creation of analysis and commentary on that same now-now-now timeline. Which means a lot of us — including me! — make stupid comments until we get properly oriented. (This assumes, of course, that my considered commentary isn’t also stupid. I know, I know.)
Russell Berman tweets: “15 hours later, not one of the top 4 House Republican leaders have issued a statement on the president’s firing of the FBI director.” This expresses a commonly-held view — just as I write these words I see a post by Pete Wehner asking “Where is the Republican Leadership?” — but I wonder: When did we get on this schedule? That is, when did an overnight wait before commenting on a political decision become an unconscionable delay? I’m old enough to remember when people used to counsel their agitated friends to “sleep on it,” and maybe even seek the opinions of others, before making public statements or highly consequential decisions. Now anything but instantaneous response is morally suspect — at best.
We talk about “resistance” a lot these days. Among the things I feel a need to resist: The speed of the commentary cycle. The group rush to judgment — even when it’s “my” group. The writing off of our political opponents as bad people.
Oh yeah, and Trump.
I feel increasingly lonely in my desire to resist those first three things, though. And I suspect it means I’ll make an occasional error. I might even embarrass myself from time to time! But slowing down, not following the jerk of my knee — hard as it is to resist, it feels necessary.
We’ve talked a few times about the problems with Trump Era immigration policy. I’d like to talk just briefly about the political problems — wholly intended — of that policy.
Bottom line: Republicans intend that restrictive immigration policies will result in fewer Democratic voters.
No really. It’s right there in “The Flight 93 Election,” the ur-text of Intellectual Trumpism. I’ve quoted some of the following few sentences over and over, because I’ve found something new to think about — and object to — every time. I’m not sure this passage is key to understanding Trumpism as a project, but it probably comes as close as any.
In it, the author — then writing under a pseudonym, now known to be Michael Anton, a Trump advisor — complains that the deck is stacked against Constitution-loving limited government Republicans. One of the reasons, naturally: Immigrants.
It needs to be quoted at length:
The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle. As does, of course, the U.S. population, which only serves to reinforce the two other causes outlined above. This is the core reason why the Left, the Democrats, and the bipartisan junta (categories distinct but very much overlapping) think they are on the cusp of a permanent victory that will forever obviate the need to pretend to respect democratic and constitutional niceties. Because they are.
It’s also why they treat open borders as the “absolute value,” the one “principle” that—when their “principles” collide—they prioritize above all the others. If that fact is insufficiently clear, consider this. Trump is the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey. He departs from conservative orthodoxy in so many ways that National Review still hasn’t stopped counting. But let’s stick to just the core issues animating his campaign. On trade, globalization, and war, Trump is to the left (conventionally understood) not only of his own party, but of his Democratic opponent. And yet the Left and the junta are at one with the house-broken conservatives in their determination—desperation—not merely to defeat Trump but to destroy him. What gives?
Oh, right—there’s that other issue. The sacredness of mass immigration is the mystic chord that unites America’s ruling and intellectual classes. Their reasons vary somewhat. The Left and the Democrats seek ringers to form a permanent electoral majority.
Some of this is misleading. If Donald Trump is so leftist — and this is written during the election — why is Michael Anton, longtime conservative Republican man about town, advocating for him?
Put aside that bit of disingenuousness, though, and the thought process is clear:
Immigrants vote for Democrats.
If enough immigrants vote for Democrats, Republicans won’t have a chance to win elections.
So, it’s time to restrict immigration.
There’s plenty that’s offensive here — the idea that voting Democratic makes you opposed to liberty, or that brown people somehow are predisposed against liberty, and I dislike ideas that describe ideology as a near-inborn fact of demographics — but Anton isn’t alone in thinking that immigration will help Democrats. Here’s Ian Smith writing in National Review in 2015:
The Census Bureau includes aliens (both legal and illegal) in the statistics used to apportion our 435 congressional districts. This has the perverse effect of helping states with bigger immigrant populations to inflate both their representation in Congress and the number of Electoral College votes they are allotted (the latter is a function of the former). Just through their illegal-alien numbers, the states of New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and Illinois, which all went for Obama in 2012, received eight additional congressional seats in the last reapportionment, with over half of those gains coming from their sanctuary cities and counties. It’s clear, then, why Democrats resist enforcing our immigration laws: More bodies mean more power.
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies told me the same thing in an interview I did with him before the election last year: “”The broader issue is that mass immigration is a boon for Democratic candidates. It moves politics to the left, always, not just here but in Western democracies.”
There’s some good thinking to be done about why that’s the case, but let’s focus on the politics of this: Simply put, the anti-immigration movement is an anti-Democratic movement. And an anti-democratic movement; Republicans must restrict voting to white people as much as possible to hang on to power.
And if Dems favor immigration because it empowers them — I have no doubt there are more than a few — it means that Republicans dislike it because it disempowers them. When they talk about immigrants coming to take good jobs away from good Americans, they’re talking about jobs in Congress, and in the legislatures, and on county commissions, and so forth.