Our Knee-Jerk Culture

Rebecca:

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.)

Anyway, I was reading Alan Jacobs this morning:

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.

Restricting Immigration: The Not-So-Secret Political Reason Republicans Want a Wall

Rebecca:

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.

Screen-Shot-2017-03-27-at-9.18.49-AM.png
From an anti-immigration protest in Rockville, MD. Yikes.

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:

  1. Immigrants vote for Democrats.
  2. If enough immigrants vote for Democrats, Republicans won’t have a chance to win elections.
  3. 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.

This, of course, continues a grand tradition: Republicans believe that disenfranchising brown people is their best path to electoral success. On one level, you can’t blame them. On the other hand, one shouldn’t mistake Republican nativism for populism. It’s not about helping poor people fed for themselves. It’s about holding and keeping power.

Twas ever thus, right?

— Joel

Can You Be a Pacifist Without Religion? (Maybe.)

Rebecca:

Great post. You’ve touched on an area where my agnostic side and my Mennonite side clash in a fairly thorough way.

While I was still (for lack of a better word) churched, I found Mennonite pacifism relatively easy to adopt. My logic went something like this.

  • God is the God of eternity.
  • Any losses you suffer in this life are thus short-term in nature.
  • Ultimately, through faith in God, Good wins out over Evil.
  • Taking up arms, then, would have a couple of effects: It would hurt our witness — hard to convert the mind and soul of somebody you are killing — and it betrayed a lack of faith in God to win the ultimate victory.

Now? I really don’t know if there is God, or if it’s in the nature of God to win out over evil as I define and perceive it. Which leads me to wonder if it’s not the right thing now and again to pick up a gun and kill a bad guy — for the greater good.

But that withdrawal from total pacifism is kind of theoretical. In practice — and as in many other things — you can take the boy out of the church, but it’s not easy to take the church out of the buy. In practice, I’m pretty dovish.

blogger-image-1946931649 (1)

Some of that’s a result of being American, I guess, where we tend to exalt violence as a solution to many of our problems. Our popular entertainment is soaked in blood, our president wants to gut the State Department while putting even more money into a cash-rich defense department, and we no longer talk about the use of nuclear weapons as an event to be ardently avoided. Any small pacifism is an important counterweight in a society where violence seems to be the only hammer and every problem — no matter its nature — looks like a nail.

I’m also dovish because as a practical matter, war doesn’t seem to work that often. I thought we were justified, for example, going to war against the Taliban back after 9/11. But we’re still in Afghanistan. I’m not certain the country isn’t worse for it, or that we’re safer from terrorism as a result.

Really, there aren’t many wars — the ones fought in my lifetime — that didn’t seem to cause as much trouble as they mitigated. Afghanistan is a tar pit. Iraq is beset with terrorists. Libya, where we “led from behind” still ended up a mess. War rarely fixes problems and often expands the suffering that was already present.

So even though I’m not strictly pacifist these days, pacifism still informs my outlook.

Violence is easier than pacifism, because pacifism requires patience. Violence provides immediate feedback: Pull a trigger, watch a body drop. Push a button, watch the explosion. But those bodies, those explosions, aren’t necessarily solutions — though they’re often mistaken for such. Pacifism doesn’t provide that kind of immediate gratification, and never will, which is one reason it’s doomed to forever be a minority position.

In our private talk, you said you thought there was an atheist defense of pacifism. I think that’s right. If you’re an atheist and you snuff out a life — even if there’s a good reason — that’s a life forever ended: No chance to change, no chance at redemption. Even the least spiritual among us recognize an elemental difference between “alive” and “not.” There are few good reasons for erasing that distinction.

On the other hand, I can’t swear that there are no good reasons for it, either.

Back to your initial question though: Is self-defense a “sacred” right for Christians?

I keep coming back to this:

51At this, one of Jesus’ companions drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52“Put your sword back in its place, Jesus said to him. “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.53Are you not aware that I can call on My Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?…

If Jesus is God, and we’re not allowed to use violence to defend God — nevermind the fact that we actually do — then what excuse do we have? It’s the Mennonite in me speaking, but gun-toting Christians confuse me.

— Joel

What Thomas Jefferson Had in Common With Hillary Clinton

Rebecca:

When you get discouraged about politics — and it’s easy to do that these days — it’s always good to remind yourself that we’ve been through this (bleep) before.

I’m reading “American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon” by Stephen Prothero, an excellent overview of how Americans have viewed Christianity’s central figure — sometimes by untangling him from a religious context — and how those views of have shaped America. Early in the book, he delves into the now well-known story of how Thomas Jefferson created his own “gospel” by taking the King James Bible and cutting out all the parts referencing Jesus’ divinity and miracles, leaving only the parts that made him sound like a wise sage.

jefferson-bible-clippings
Thomas Jefferson took scissors to the Bible — in the name of a purer Christianity.

Jefferson, of course, only dabbled as a theologian — we remember him as a politician. (And we remember him as embodying some of the contradictions built into our country’s founding.) But his theological work created some political backlash:

A “Christian Federalist,” no less alarmed, viewed the prospect of Jefferson’s election as the beginning of the end of his Christian nation. “han serious and reflecting men look about them and doubt,” he wrote, “that if Jefferson is elected, and Jacobins get into authority, that those morals which protect our lives from the knife of the assassin—which guard the chastity of our wives and daughters from seduction and violence—defend our property from plunder and devastation and shield our religion from contempt and profanation, will not be trampled and exploded.” Such vituperations did not prevent Jefferson from winning the White House, but they did send Federalists into a postelection frenzy. After a rumor circulated that President Jefferson had decreed a bonfire of the biblical vanities, housewives in New England reportedly squirreled away their scriptures in wells, to prevent them from being burned by the flames of Jeffersonian free thought.”

I don’t have much to add to this at the moment. But the hysteria — the belief that one’s opponents will rob you of your right to practice religion, the baseless rumors, the assertion that violence against our women is just a hair’s breadth away — all are prominent parts of our modern discourse. It sucks. But we have survived and lived to see better days.

That’s not to say we should get complacent. But if you get discouraged, well, we Americans have been down this road before. If we persist in upholding our values, there’s reason to hope for a light at the end of the tunnel.

—Joel

Why Should Mexico Pay for Trump’s Wall?

Hi Rebecca:

Looks like we’re on the verge of an extraordinary moment: The Republicans control the White House and both branches of government, yet the government might still shut down this weekend.

Why? Because President Trump doesn’t want to sign a spending bill that doesn’t include funding for his “big beautiful wall” on the border with Mexico. And it doesn’t look like such a bill can pass Congress at the moment. Thus: A standoff.

Some folks have pointed out Trump’s request for funding means he’s violating his campaign pledge to make Mexico pay for the wall. (Trump and his allies say those payments will come, eventually, just you wait.) And that’s fine. But nobody seems to have asked a basic question: Why should Mexico pay for Trump’s wall?

This isn’t the same as asking if Mexico will pay for the wall, which is a dubious premise on its own. No, the question is why they should.

Say you and I live next door to each other. I put up a fence to keep our properties separate. Would there be any world we can dream of in which I’d legitimately expect you to pay for my decision to defend my property?

No?

I’ve asked this question a few times and never received a satisfactory answer. Best I can tell, there’s some alpha maleism going on here — a sort of “Why are you hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!” of international relations. There’s no reason for Mexico to pay for the wall … except as a show of submission to the U.S.

And submission is what President Trump seeks, it seems to me.

Makes sense. The building of a wall is an act of fear. A ridiculous one, when you think about it. The same people who want the wall are often the ones who go on and on about the superiority of American culture. Yet this supposedly superior culture is threatened by the presence of people speaking Spanish in public places.

When bullies act out of fear, they often do it by acting extra alpha-maley — in essence, like bigger bullies.

Maybe there’s some other, good explanation. But as it stands, making Mexico pay for a while just a way of making sure that people know that we might be afraid of the outside world, but America still commands hegemonic power.

Yours in tough guyness,

Joel

What Do Harry Styles and Ted Nugent Have in Common?

Rebecca:

I was going to let you have the last word on Harry Styles, class and gender.

But this happened.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 10.32.21 AM
Yes. That’s Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin and Kid Rock flanking President Trump.

And the reaction was about what you’d expect.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 1.22.27 PM

Now. I’m no fan of Nugent, who’s a racist, or Sarah Palin, who’s a dimwit. Kid Rock? Not really, though I’ve grooved to “I’m a Cowboy, Baby” once or twice in my time.

But man, the reactions went there in a hurry, didn’t they?

You wrote:

What constitutes “good taste”—which is definitely not boybands!—is defined by those with the most cultural capital, those who have not just the money but the education, leisure time, and access to difficult-to-access content. “Poor taste” isn’t just bad taste; it’s the taste of those with lower levels of cultural capital. This doesn’t align perfectly with economic class—Donald Trump eats his steaks well-done, with ketchup, proving that money can’t always buy good taste—but economic class opens up opportunities for cultural capital.

So here’s the thing about Donald Trump, as well as the Establishment that seems to disdain him so: I’m convinced that (with some exceptions) the Establishment disdains him not because of the godawful things he (seems to) believe and advocate, but because he’s a reality TV-starring, WWE-wrasslin’, KFC-eatin’ yokel.

He’s Jed Clampett. He’s Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack.” He’s nouveu riche even though his riches aren’t all that nouveau.

This isn’t to discount all the ways Trump is genuinely awful. But his genius is seizing on the snobbery the Establishment has for the Stuff That Belongs to the Commoners and embracing it wholeheartedly, and not in a “who’s he kidding with his love of pork rinds?” attempts to appear in touch.

If Trump watched less TV — or simply the right kind of TV — and talked about books more, a lot of the powerful people who profess to oppose him would roll over like puppy dogs for him.

This makes the task of defeating Trump more difficult. Democratic policies may help the poor more than Trump’s proposals to massively cut taxes on the rich, but all it takes is Keith Olbermann screaming “white trash” and you’ve lost the war. Our snobbery, ultimately, is going to kill us.

— Joel