Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Jester as King


This is not the way a President behaves.  Nor is this:



Or even this:

(By which I mean, promoting his own news stories when he likes them.)

And I don't mean some vague notion of "Presidential behavior," of sobriety and seriousness, of dullness and dull demeanor.  These are not the actions of a national leader.  Of course, neither is this:

During a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, Trump repeated his criticism of Europe’s handling of attacks by Islamist militants saying a friend “Jim” no longer wanted to take his family to Paris.

Which drew a rebuke, not just a response, from the President of France:

“There is terrorism and we must fight it together. I think that it is never good to show the smallest defiance toward an allied country. I wouldn’t do it with the United States and I’m urging the U.S. president not to do it with France,” Hollande said.

“I won’t make comparisons but here, people don’t have access to guns. Here, you don’t have people with guns opening fire on the crowd simply for the satisfaction of causing drama and tragedy,”Hollande said, responding to questions during a visit at the Paris Agric fair.

Do I need to even say that France is our oldest ally in the world?  Or that Trump's DHS Secretary went to Mexico, probably our largest trading partner in the world, and asked why they wouldn't take all our deportees and hold them until we could conduct international deportation hearings?

Trump's behavior is not that of a President.  It's the behavior of a fool.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Two For The Price Of One


First, I don't disagree with TC's read on this story, and I appreciate the longer selections from the homily posted there.  Taking the reported narrative as read, however, and purely arguendo for my own purposes, I've mentioned before my neighbor from long ago, a determined atheist whom I described in more than one sermon as one of the most Christian people I'd ever met (as I've also said before, there are reasons I no longer have a pulpit!).  My neighbor was selflessly generous with his time and talents to anyone he knew, especially the poor and the elderly, but even to me and my Lovely Wife when we were young (but not so well off as all that).

In another life, I coulda been Pope!

According to a transcript posted online by Vatican Radio, the pontiff called it a “scandal” during his morning mass on Thursday:

“Scandal is saying one thing and doing another; it is a double life, a double life. A totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money…’ A double life.”

The pontiff said “many Christians” were living this double life.

“How many times have we heard ― all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere ― ‘but to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist,’” he said.

He gave an example of a Christian boss taking a vacation as his workers went unpaid — and issued a stern warning about where that will lead.

“You will arrive in heaven and you will knock at the gate: ‘Here I am, Lord!’ ― ‘But don’t you remember? I went to Church, I was close to you, I belong to this association, I did this… Don’t you remember all the offerings I made?’ ‘Yes, I remember. The offerings, I remember them: All dirty. All stolen from the poor. I don’t know you.’ That will be Jesus’ response to these scandalous people who live a double life.”

He then called on Catholics to examine themselves.

Francis has addressed atheism in the past, and in 2013 he seemed to suggest they may have a path toward Christian salvation.

“Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point,” he said. 
No, I'd never have gotten close.  But I do agree with him on these matters of soteriology.

And another thing:  I won't even excerpt from it.  I'll just link to it and say mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.  I'm not even Catholic, but the sentiment is sound.  An excellent analysis that reminds us when you point a finger at someone, 3 more are pointing back at you.  And I'm sure the comments at Salon are going to hate it; which ensures it will repay the reading effort.  It may even be nothing concrete is offered there (in the end, I'm not sure it is), so it is a problem argument without a solution.  Regardless, the self-reflection it invokes is never time wasted.

Friday, February 24, 2017

As I was saying...



Trump seems to be referring to the news that Reince Priebus tried to get the FBI to quash statements about the connections between Russia and the White House.  But that kind of communcation is not "classified information."  And saying it in a Tweet is not a Presidential directive classifying that communication.  It's not even the right way to handle a concern about leaks in the White House and FBI authority to contain or even criminalize such leaks.  Sort of like this tweet:


What does he think he's going to do:  replace Rahm Emmanuel?  Appoint a new police commissioner in Chicago?  Declare martial law there and flood the streets with soldiers?  Is this even a directive to Congress to investigate how to help Chicago and stem the violence there?

Does Trump even understand he is the President now?

"You know, Mandrake...."



We are five weeks into the Trump Administration, and not one bill has passed through Congress and landed on his desk for signature.  In fact, there's perishing little evidence ANY bill is being considered by Congress and headed toward the other chamber or a joint committee for reconciliation.

And yet Donald Trump is going to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and, to hear Digby tell it, inevitably start World War III.

Please.

Donald Trump has accomplished one thing:  he signed an executive order that threw international travel into chaos, an order that was halted in almost every court that reviewed it, and was tossed out by the 9th circuit.  All indications are the "new, revised" order is the same thing as the old order, just with a clarification excluding green card holders, which puts Stephen Bannon in the corner, or something.

Otherwise, nothing.  Trump still has some 500 appointments to make and get approved by Congress; he doesn't even have names for those appointments.  He is busy keeping his Cabinet officials from picking their own staff because their choices are considered insufficiently loyal to Trump or worse, said unkind things about once upon a time.

This is the guy who's going to get Congress to fund a massive wall that, as Seth Meyers notes, most of the Texas delegation doesn't want (have you seen how much of that border is in Texas?)?  Not to mention the costs are expected to double when eminent domain proceedings have to start to condemn private land so a wall can go up.

And what is Trump doing to get that legislation moving through Congress?  He's tweeting about who should be the new head of the DNC, finding out that slavery was bad, mkay?  And blathering on about "fake news" and the immigration problems of Sweden.  Which, quite frankly, makes this hilarious, rather than disturbing:

“If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you’re sadly mistaken,” [Stephen] Bannon said. “Every day there is going to be a fight.”

Bannon denounced the “corporatist, globalist media” for being “adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda” the president is pushing. He repeated a reference to the media as the “opposition party,” and bashed it for being “always wrong” about the workings of the administration.
How is Trump pushing an economic agenda?  By tweeting about the closing of a factory?  By falsely declaring the replacement Air Force One was going to cost $4 billion before he whacked $1 billion off the price tag? (The entire AF budget for AF1 is $1.9 billion, by the way.)  What workings of the Administration are evident?  Have they figured out the light switches at last?  Have Priebus and Bannon (as PBS reported tonight) figured out the pecking order of the White House staff?  And what is an "economic nationalist agenda" anyway?

Don't tell me, I don't want to know.  I know more about the "alt-right" than I want to know, already.  But how will they implement this agenda?  Strength of will?  Purity of essence?  Take over an Air Force Base?

Week five, and he hasn't signed one bill into law; and there doesn't seem to be anything moving through Congress, not even Trump's nominees.  Week five, and they still don't understand they are part of a government, not party of a reality TV show or a children's version of the adult world, or the Masters of the Universe.  Week five, and even Trump's magic will exerted against companies to keep jobs isn't working all the time.

Perhaps he's expecting to sign a bill making his Tweets into legislative action.....

"We're gatherin' 'em up from miles around...."



I shouldn't have to tell you how that line ends....

Sessions issued a memo replacing one issued last August by Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general at the time. That memo directed the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin reducing and ultimately end its reliance on privately run prisons.

It followed a Justice Department audit that said private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run ones. Yates, in her announcement, said they were less necessary given declines in the overall federal prison population.

But Sessions, in his memo, said Yates' directive went against longstanding Justice Department policy and practice and "impaired the Bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system."

Or why I think it's appropriate here....except soon they'll be free to be put in private cages all over the country....

Thursday, February 23, 2017

He never said he was a "Compassionate Conservative"....

I'm guessing this is a clue..... 


You really just have to take it in:

Spicer, though, has not specifically said what Trump was doing between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 28, other than to say he was in the White House residence ― not in the Situation Room. That’s the hour ― 1:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. local time ― when the firefight in Yemen resulted in the deaths of some 30 people, according to news reports. U.S. forces had called in air strikes because of the ferocity of the resistance they encountered. At least 10 of those killed were women or children.

Trump had been in office one week, had approved the raid over dinner, after as minimal a briefing as imaginable, and couldn't be bothered to monitor the situation, but was wandering around probably trying to figure out the light switches.

And the White House thinks nothing of admitting this through the Press Secretary......

Run in circles, scream and shout!


I've decided the only explanation for all these acrid town hall meetings with GOP Congresscritters is that voters expected Hillary to win, and expected a GOP Congress to keep her in check just as she kept them in check (there wasn't going to be a threat that Obamacare would really be repealed, for starters).

And that didn't happen, and they didn't get the deliberately divided government they really seem to prefer.  And now they really don't know whether to shit or go blind; because the crazies are in power, and there's nothing to stop them.

Except fear and intimidation.....

Future so bright!

Somewhere in his mind, this must have made sense:

“I worked at the World Bank, and they’re very interested and they have departments that do clean air and clean water. And guess what the No. 1 thing you can do to have clean air and clean water is? Increase your economic growth. Rich people, it turns out, like clean air and clean water,” [Rep. Dave] Brat [R-Va.] said, immediately earning loud boos from the crowd.

Poor people love that dirty water. donchaknow.  And rich people get things done!

Brat responded by saying he didn’t think he had said anything controversial, and then went on to ask the crowd, “Do you want to be poor or do you want to be rich?”

Because, really, there are only two choices, right?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Meanwhile, back at Obamacare


Don't get me started....

Promises, promises....

"Many of the questions were without clear answers from Blackburn, who served on Trump's transition team and is carrying key legislation that will be a part of the repeal effort from the GOP-led House. She said the replacement will include provisions allowing people of certain age groups with pre-existing conditions to get insurance.

"She said the replacement plan will be 'more responsive and more affordable' as well, without going into many specifics."
Because it's money that matters in the U.S.A.:

As Republicans look at ways to replace or repair the Affordable Care Act, many suggest that shrinking the list of services that insurers are required to offer in individual and small group plans would reduce costs and increase flexibility.

"Increase flexibility" is weasel-speak for "Not cover so damned much, because people are too damned expensive!"  For example:

That option came to the forefront last week when Seema Verma, who is slated to run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Trump administration, noted at her confirmation hearing that coverage for maternity services should be optional in those health plans.

Pre-natal care?  Maternity care?  Why should we pay for other people's pregnancies?  And then, of course, there are the children.  We love our children; but other people's children?

Pediatric oral and vision care requirements, another essential health benefit that's not particularly common in employer plans, could also be weakened, says Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at the consulting firm Avalere Health.

If you're noticing a pattern here, it's that government should be run like a business, and business doesn't like to provide greater health insurance coverage than it has to; so a lot of this discussion is turning around what is common in employer health-care plans.  Because that's our consumer society morality:  What Would A Reasonably Pecuniary Board of Directors Do?

Before the health law passed, just 12 percent of health policies available to a 30-year-old woman on the individual market offered maternity benefits, according to research by the National Women's Law Center. Those policies that did offer such benefits often charged extra for the coverage and required a waiting period of a year or more.

The essential health benefits package plugged that hole very cleanly, says Adam Sonfield, a senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and advocacy organization.

"Having it in the law makes it more difficult to either exclude it entirely or charge an arm and a leg for it," Sonfield says.

Maternity coverage is often offered as an example of a benefit that should be optional, and that's what Verma has advocated. If you're a man or too old to get pregnant, critics of the requirement say, why should you have to pay for that coverage to be included in your policy?

But that a la carte approach is not the way insurance is designed to work, says Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Women don't need prostate cancer screening, she points out, but they pay for the coverage anyway.

"We buy insurance for uncertainty and to spread the costs of care across a broad population so that when something comes up, that person has adequate coverage to meet their needs," Blumberg says. 

Viagra is a drug insurance should cover; birth control is not.

It's just good business!

The Most Special of Snowflakes


I said Rick Santorum was taking his cues from Trump on anti-semitism in America and its source.  I was wrong.  Santorum isn't taking cues from Trump; Santorum is taking directions from the President.

You may have missed it amid the distraction of Trump’s insult to a Jewish reporter, but in the same press conference, SiriusXM’s Jared Rizzi circled back to the hate crimes question. “I’ll follow up on my colleague’s question about anti-Semitism,” Rizzi said. “It’s not about your personality or your beliefs. We’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism around the country. Some of it by supporters in your name. What can you do to deter that?”

Trump’s reply: “Some of it is written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that?” In case he wasn’t being sufficiently clear, he added, “Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or live Donald Trump. They’re put up by the other side, and you think it’s like playing it straight? No. But you have some of those signs, and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They’ll do signs, and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.”
You know, like Muslims, who are definitely not Donald Trump supporters; and probably not even American, to hear Rick Santorum talk about it.

The real problem, as ever, is how events in the nation throw mud on the reputation of Donald Trump.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mainlining the racism

Clearly the problem here is Islam....

What hath Trump wrought?

“If you look at the fact of the people who are responsible for a lot of this anti-Semitism that we’re seeing, a lot of it is coming from the pro-Palestinian, or Muslim community,” [former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA.) said on CNN.
....
“If you look at the fact of the people who are responsible for a lot of this anti-Semitism that we’re seeing, I hate to say it, a lot of it is coming from the pro-Palestinian, or Muslim community. So let’s lay out that fact,” Santorum responded.

And it's a fact because Santorum said so.  Hey, if the President can do it, why not a former Senator?

Rogues

 "And in your dreams you can see yourself...."
Democracy has a more compelling justification and requires a more realistic vindication than is given it by the liberal culture with which it has been associated in modern history. The excessively optimistic estimates of human nature and history with which the democratic credo is linked are a source of peril to democratic society, for our contemporary experience refutes this optimism and there is danger that it will seem to refute the democratic ideal as well. Modern democracy requires a more realistic philosophical and religious basis.--Reihnold Niebuhr

I learned in seminary that the basiliea tou theou required a race to the bottom, and so a constant churning.  But not quite this kind of churning:

Just because social media isn’t as utopian a force as Friedman believed doesn’t mean that it must be a dystopian danger. Nor is social media, as some people like to say, merely a neutral means—one that can be directed, with equal ease, toward any number of ends. Instead, social media has a very specific impact: It weakens the power of insiders and strengthens the power of outsiders. As a result, it favors change over stability—and constitutes a big, new threat to political systems that have long seemed immutable.

So were my seminary professors wrong, and hopelessly idealistic?  Is the proper Christian society modeled along Pauline lines of trusting the powers that be (the basis of the European "divine right of kings")?  Or should it be a place where the first of all is last of all, and servant of all?  Is that model simply "a big, new threat to political systems that have long seemed immutable"?  And even if it isn't, is that kind of threat a bad thing?

The first issue here, not the last one, is the question of power.  Social media, the argument goes at Slate, "weakens the power of insiders and strengthens the power of outsiders."  The constant race to the bottom of the empire of God weakens the power of everyone.  Only the powerless have any power, and that power is the power of powerlessness.  So we aren't describing similar things at all, to note the fruit-basket turnover social media has created.  And what it hasn't; as Slate point out:

The mullahs still rule in Iran, and Syria lies in tatters. Social media may have helped to give rise to movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter that aspire to “more liberty.” But it has also spawned countermovements that seek to disenfranchise minorities—including the one that propelled Donald Trump into the White House. 
So social media doesn't really weaken insiders so much as give outsiders a sense they have a voice, maybe even some power.  Oddly, that sense of power is fleeting, as Trump himself seems constantly concerned with asserting that he really did win the Presidency:

“Why should Americans trust you?” asked [NBC reporter Peter] Alexander.

“I was given that information,” Trump said, cutting Alexander off. “I don’t know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.”

“Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive of being fake, when you provide information that’s not accurate?” Alexander asked.

“I was given that information,” said Trump. “Actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?”

“You’re the president,” Alexander replied. 

It doesn't even matter that Trumps margin of victory places him in 46th position out of 56 Presidential elections; he's the President.  But he isn't satisfied with that, anymore than his supporters seem to be satisfied with the fact their guy won:

“They’re stonewalling everything that he’s doing because they’re just being babies about it,” Patricia Melani, a 56-year-old New Jersey transplant who attended Trump’s campaign rally in Florida on Saturday, told The Washington Post. “All the loudmouths? They need to let it go. Let it go. Shut their mouths and let the man do what he’s got to do. We all shut our mouths when Obama got in the second time around, okay? So that’s what really needs to be done.”

It isn't enough to win; there must be no opposition at all.

“We’re backed into a corner,” a 46-year-old small business owner told The Times. “There are at least some things about Trump I find to be defensible. But they are saying: ‘Agree with us 100 percent or you are morally bankrupt. You’re an idiot if you support any part of Trump.’”

As he summited up, “I didn’t choose a side. They put me on one.”
Do these formerly powerless people feel empowered?  Apparently not.  If anything, social media feeds the illusion that power equals absolute control.  But that plays on both sides:  how many articles have I read lamenting the fact the GOP isn't yet ready to impeach Trump and remove him from office?  The Congress that can't put a bill on Trump's desk in his first month, is supposed to have finished impeachment proceedings by now?  As for social media being disruptive, the favorite buzz-word of Silicon Valley, it clearly isn't; otherwise the mullahs wouldn't still rule Iran and Syria wouldn't be in tatters, and the "Arab Spring" overall would be much more, well:  spring-like.

Social media hasn't changed the centrality of power, else Donald Trump wouldn't have won the Presidency.  It has simply changed the perception of who has access to power.  And therein lies the promise, and the danger, of democracy; especially to democracy itself.

Perhaps this is the moment to recall an example that would appear particularly symptomatic of the current situation we have been discussing regarding Islam and democracy, namely, what happened in postcololnial Algeria in 1992 when the state and the leading party interrupted a democratic electoral process. Try to imagine what the interruption of an election between the so-called rounds of balloting might mean for a democracy. Imagine that, in France, with the National Front threatening to pull off an electoral victory, the election was suspended after the first round, that is, between the two rounds. A question always of the turn or the round, of the two turns or two rounds, of the by turns, democracy hesitates always in the alternative between two sorts of alernation: the so-called normal and democratic alternation (where of one party, said to be republican, replaces that of another be equally republican) and the alternation that risks giving power, modo democratico, to the force of a party elected by the people (and so is democratic) and yet is assumed to be nondemocratic.... The great question of modern parliamentary and representative democracy, perhaps of all democracy, in this logic of the turn or round, of the other turn or round, of the other time and thus of the other, of the alter in general, is that the alternative to democracy can always be represented as a democratic alternation. The electoral process under way in Algeria in effect risked giving power, in accordance with perfectly legal means, to a likely majority that presented itself as essentially Islamic and Islamist and to which one attributed the intention, doubt with good reason, of wanting to change the constitution and abolish the normal functioning of democracy or the very democratization assumed to be in progress.
....
The Algerian government and a large part, though not a majority, of the Algerian people (as well as people outside Algeria) thought that the electoral process under way would lead democratically to the end of democracy. Thus they preferred to put an end to it themselves. They decided in a sovereign fashion to suspend, at least provisionally, democracy for its own good, so as to take care of it, so as to immunize it against a much worse and very likely assault....[T]he hypothesis here is that of a taking of power or, rather, a transferring of power to a people who, in its electoral majority and following democratic procedures, could not have been able to avoid the destruction of democracy itself."
And that question of destroying democracy in order to save it, can be applied to that most central of democratic practices, the vote:

...one will never actually be able to "prove" that there is more democracy in granting or in refusing the right to vote to immigrants, notably those who live and work in the national territory, nor that there is more or less democracy in a straight majority vote as opposed to proportional voting; both forms of voting are democratic, and yet both also protect their democratic character through exclusion, through some renvoi; for the force of the demos, the force of democrary, commits it, in the name of universal equality, to representing not only the greatest force of the greatest number, the majority of citizens considered of age, but also the weakness of the weak, minors, minorities, the poor, and all those throughout the world who callout in suffering for a legitimately infinite extension of what are called human rights. One electoral law is thus always at the same time more and less democratic than another; it is the force of force, a weakness of force and the force of a weakness; which means that democracy protects itself and maintains itself precisely by limiting and threatening itself.  
Jacques Derrida, Rogues, tr. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2005), pp. 30-36.

We can examine the challenging question of allowing immigrants and non-citizens the vote, but that's too abstract a concept.  What about people without driver's licenses, or birth certificates?  What about people who didn't vote for Donald Trump?  "They need to let it go. Let it go. Shut their mouths and let the man do what he’s got to do."  And he can do that a lot better if those people who didn't vote for him, don't have a voice:

We've begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It it's disaster. I know you can say, oh, Obamacare. I mean, they fill up our [rallies] with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.

Because really, who needs voting when we can just confine Republicans in office to representing the people they think put them in office, and ignore all those other 'citizens'?  Representative democracy is so much easier when you only have to represent people whom you think are thinking like you.

Interestingly, we need not just a Derrida to deconstruct our democratic ideals (which are neither so ideal nor so democratic), but also a Niebuhr to make us look at fundamental issues of human nature:

The same phenomenon is in the middle of transforming the media landscape. Until a few years ago, a small elite of writers, editors, producers, and news anchors effectively decided what views were mainstream enough to be given a hearing. This may sound sinister, but it served an important purpose. It allowed the journalistic class to contain false claims and to refuse to publish racist articles. It also meant that critics who rejected polite political discourse had trouble breaking in. Building a distribution network was expensive, so they couldn’t do much beyond writing angry letters to the editor (which those newspapers could decline to print). 
It is quite clear the internet (i.e., social media) hasn't contained racism in America; it has empowered it.  And that's not really a surprise:

Niebuhr was a critic of national innocence, which he regarded as a delusion. After all, whites coming to these shores were reared in the Calvinist doctrine of sinful humanity, and they killed red men, enslaved black men and later on imported yellow men for peon labor - not much of a background for national innocence. "Nations, as individuals, who are completely innocent in their own esteem," Niebuhr wrote, "are insufferable in their human contacts." The self-righteous delusion of innocence encouraged a kind of Manichaeism dividing the world between good (us) and evil (our critics).
That quote from Niebuhr could explain Donald Trump in a nutshell.  That last sentence could be applied to the critics of Trump on the internet as easily as it is applied to the supporters of Trump who cheer him on as he attacks those they would see attacked.   And something Niebuhr wrote in The Irony of American History applies directly to our concern here:

Obviously the idea of the abolition of the institution of monarchy as the most important strategy for the redemption of mankind was characteristic of the peculiar prejudices of middle-class life as the idea of the abolition of the institution of property was of the unique viewpoint of the propertyless proletariat. In each case they identified all evil with the type of power from which they suffered and which they did not control; and they regarded particular sources of particular social evils as the final source of all evil in history. Neither Condorcet, nor Comte in his subsequent elaborations of similar hopes, placed all their trust in this single strategy. The liberal world has always oscillated between the hope of creating perfect men by eliminating the sources of social evil and the hope of so purifying human "reason" by educational techniques that all social institutions would gradually become the bearers of a universal human will, informed by a universal human mind. These ambiguities, which have saved the Messianic dreams of the liberal culture from breeding the cruelties of communism, must be considered more fully presently. At the moment it is worth recording that the Frenchman, Condorcet, envisaged the French and the "Anglo-Americans" as the Messianic nations. Here we have in embryo what has become the ironic situation of our own day. The French Enlightenment consistently saw the American Revolution and the founding of the new American nation as a harbinger of the perfect world which was in the making. Though Comte, almost a century later, rigorously clung to the idea of French hegemony in the coming utopia and fondly hoped that French would be its universal language, France has fallen by the wayside as a nation with a Messianic consciousness, its present mood being characterized by extreme skepticism rather than apocalyptic hopes. (emphasis added)

--Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1952), pp. 66-68.

We still hope for the apocalypse, when all foes are vanquished, and all truth is undeniably revealed.  In the meantime, we identify evil with what we think we suffer from and don't control, and particular sources of particular social evils as the final source of all evil in history.  Once that is eliminated, we will finally be free.  We will be free because we suffer form the power we don't control; once we control that, all our trials will be over; and once we eliminate particular social evils, like liberals or "identity politics," to name two examples, we will eliminate the final sources of all evil in history; or as good as, anyway.

But evil, and my evil?

Is social media good, or bad?  Depends on your point of view.  If you are a rural American who can finally get their opinion heard (read) beyond winning the lottery of getting on talk radio, then it's probably good.  But if your opinions are racist and retrograde and as ignorant as the President's on any subject (say, economics, for example), then social media is bad.  We didn't have unanimity of purpose when Walter Cronkite told us the way it is, but we didn't elect Presidents on a rising tide of white supremacy, either.  Was social media ever going to save us?  Reinhold Niebuhr could have disabused us of that notion in a heartbeat.  He still can; but Niebuhr is not our savior, either.  There is no savior:  not in the sense of an uber-Daddy who will make everything all right (and I stop again to point out the concept of "savior" was not a Jewish one, but a Roman one; it was an office claimed by the Caesars once they became divine, because they alone could save Rome from barbarity and keep civilization from collapse.  An idea that haunts Western civilization to this day.).

But if we are to respond to the effects of social media on our political system, we must start by understanding its nature: Neither wholly good nor wholly bad, social media favors the outsider over the insider, and the forces of instability over the defenders of the status quo.

Which is funny, because there's nothing more status quo than Facebook and Twitter, and the people who get the most attention on either platform are the most inside of insiders:  celebrities and politicians famous enough to be recognizable (quick, name a Senator from Idaho.  Or Arkansas.  Wyoming; Delaware.  I'll wait....) and the moment somebody like Stephen Barron is inside the White House, there's some group like Black Lives Matter that feels even more outside than ever.  And nobody's gonna confuse this situation with the kingdom of God, because the moment those who perceive themselves as last become first. they are busy sticking it to everyone else.  And that kind of political upheaval just seems to be the pendulum swing of American politics (from Kennedy/Johnson to Nixon, from Carter to Reagan, from Clinton to W., Obama to Trump).  So I'm not sure social media favors stability or instability, or inside over outside.  I'm not sure it really does anything but serve as a megaphone and the only question is:  who has the bullhorn now? (and, almost separately, there's always blowback.  Just ask Milo Yiannopolous).  Maybe it is the new printing press; but where's the power of the written word, now?  Donald Trump gets all his information from basic cable channels, and newspapers are dinosaurs.  And besides, Trump has an approval rating hovering between -14 and -18%.  So being on the inside is no guarantee of success; and social media is no conduit to upsetting the status quo.  Donald Trump still raves on Twitter, but in one month he's spent 6 days playing golf, and despite having a fully GOP Congress, not one bill has passed through that august body in 6 weeks to wind up on his desk for signature.  His only executive order to have immediate effect in the world created chaos and was slapped down by almost every court that reviewed it.

It seems to me the status quo is winning.  Or, at least, it isn't all that disrupted by a President who thinks tweets are Presidential decisions.

Monday, February 20, 2017

#MakeAmericaFierceAgain



We're going to get, eventually, to the power and impact of social media (i.e., the internet), but on the way there....

“Why should Americans trust you?”


This is more likely the "real Donald J. Trump" than the prior tweet about Sweden was.  And it is proof there is really no gap between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.  Bannon is not Trump's Svengali; they are twin sons of different mothers.

Mr. Selin completed a study recently focusing on negative news reports about Sweden’s acceptance of refugees. It found numerous exaggerations and distortions, including false reports that Shariah law was predominant in parts of the country and that some immigrant-heavy neighborhoods were considered “no-go zones” by the police.

Breitbart News, the right-wing website once led by Stephen K. Bannon, now Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, has published numerous stories alleging that migrants have been responsible for a surge in crime and for a wave of sexual assaults. Swedish officials have said that their statistics do not justify such sweeping assertions, and that the country has a high number of sexual assault reports relative to other European countries because more victims come forward, not because there is more violence.

Mr. Selin said the news reports “were highly exaggerated and not based in facts,” adding, “Some of the stories were very popular to spread in social media by people who have the same kind of agenda — that countries should not receive so many refugees.”

As for the cover-up alleged by Mr. Horowitz, Mr. Selin said: “That kind of claim has been in the political debate for 15 years now. But nobody has been able to prove there is a cover-up. On the contrary, the fact is that crime rates are going down.”
....
In an essay in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the journalist Martin Gelin speculated that “Trump might have gotten his news from the countless right-wing media in the United States that have long been reporting that Sweden is heading for total collapse.”

He added, “Among Trump supporters, there are common myths that Sweden is in a state of chaos after taking in refugees from the Middle East.”
Again I remind you, the man has access to more and better information than almost anyone on the planet (much of it, yes, available on the internet, like The World Factbook issued by the CIA.)  But watching basic cable is so much easier than reading....

Same song, second verse....


It's hard to find any reports on the "new" travel ban (a/k/a Muslim ban) that Trump is supposed to issue to replace the one that blew up in the 9th Circuit (and in almost every trial court where it was challenged).  The broad outlines seem to be that it will be the same as the first travel ban, only without a restriction on green card holders (something Bannon was reportedly adamant be a part of the interpretation of the original ban).  Update:  those outlines can now be found here, where the new order seems to be the old order, only without an immediate application to those in transit.  As if that was the problem with the old order....

Which means:

“I think there will be a huge legal push-back on the presumably looming executive order,” said Alén Takhsh, an Iranian American attorney based in Chicago. “The constitutional arguments against the executive order are likely to once again pass judicial muster, and on top of that, you tack on the argument that the law does not pass the ‘rational basis’ test. Yes, the President does have wide discretion in protecting us, but what he does has to be rationally based. You can’t just say I’m going to ban people from Tajikistan, [for example], you have to point to how nationals of Tajikistan traveling to the U.S. have harmed Americans. And, obviously, facts are important in that calculus.”

To revisit two key portions of what the 9th Circuit panel said:

The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all. We disagree, as explained above.

As the lawyer said, "you have to point to how nationals of Tajikistan traveling to the U.S. have harmed Americans."  Go back to the list the White House released earlier; all the U.S. based terror attacks they could list were perpetrated by "U.S. Person."  What new evidence do they have to support this new order?  The Bowling Green Massacre?  The terrorist attack in Orlando?  What happened in Sweden?

And of course, there's the other problem, the matter of due process under law:

The Government has not shown that the Executive Order provides what due process requires, such as notice and a hearing prior to restricting an individual’s ability to travel. Indeed, the Government does not contend that the Executive Order provides for such process. Rather, in addition to the arguments addressed in other parts of this opinion, the Government argues that most or all of the individuals affected by the Executive Order have no rights under the Due Process Clause. 

Which doesn't even get close to the First Amendment issues and Trump's many statements about Muslims as the source of evil in the world (as Charlie Pierce says, Stephen Bannon drinks a glass of water while Trump speaks).  But we never have to get to the First Amendment issues, if the order can't get past the due process problems and the rational basis questions.

And nothing in the news reports indicates it's going to do that.  Because the President can't simply ban whole countries from traveling here without having a rational basis for the ban, and taking into account due process "prior to restricting an individual's ability to travel."  Which is why we do these things by legislative process, not by Presidential edicts.