Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mark Lilla Discovers the Necessity of Truth

12/7/2016--What is happening to our politics is that we are cracking up because we don’t any longer believe in Truth. Here is a quote from the New York Times about the fake news that many people now read:

“The larger problem, experts say, is more insidious. Fake news, and the proliferation of raw opinion that passes for news, is creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, causing a kind of fun house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything.”

The writer is presumably unaware that this is no accident. The phrase “doubt everything” was the method of Descartes, who is, in many ways the spiritual ancestor of today’s progressives.

In other words, smart people brought us to this situation, not hoi polloi.

Which brings me to Mark Lilla, one of those smart persons. Lilla had the nerve to write a story on November 20 in the New York Times Sunday Review about the End of Identity Liberalism. A healthy politics has to be about commonality, he wrote.

But, back in 2007, in his book, the Stillborn God, Lilla sounded much more like the New Atheist he was then. Lilla’s earlier view was that politics was about the pursuit of individual conceptions of the good. He would have said then that there is no Truth, there are just the truths people choose.

Of course people change their minds. Maybe Lilla has done so. But it would be helpful if Lilla would spend one moment reflecting publicly-—I presume he has done so privately—-on how he contributed to the current disaster. Someone like Lilla could really cause some soul searching.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Supreme Court and Politics

"On April 8, 2017, the Pepperdine Law Review will hold its annual symposium on the question of whether the political deadlock over the Merrick Garland nomination provides a stark indication the U.S. Supreme Court has become an unduly political institution, and, if so, what internal and external reforms might address this problem. We invite all interested scholars to submit a relevant proposal to present at the symposium and be considered for publication in a special edition of our law review."

I submitted a proposal for this program, which was selected. So, I will be presenting on Arpil 8, with a paper to be published in the Pepperdine Law Review. Below is the proposal--the reader will see that I reject some of the terms of the issue, as presented by the announcement.
Ideological Domination in an Age of Nihilism

To ask whether the U.S. Supreme Court has become “unduly political” is to confuse the partisan with the ideological. In Bush v. Gore, all of the Justices voted in a politically partisan manner, jettisoning established legal commitments to promote the goals of the political Parties. Such partisanship is reprehensible, but as Hamdi v. Rumsfeld illustrates, thankfully rare.

The refusal of the Republican leadership in the Senate to schedule a nomination vote for Merrick Garland does not reflect a fear of such partisanship from Judge Garland. Instead, this paralysis reflects a realistic appreciation of the ideological cohesion currently present in the highest stratum of American law. It is utterly predictable that any nominee from a Democratic President today will share a laundry list of fully formed commitments—defending Roe v. Wade and Obergefeld v. Hodges while overturning Citizens United v. FEC, for example—just as any nominee from a Republican President will manifest a commitment to textualism and originalism that yields the opposite case outcomes. Since the same ideological commitments control the political Parties, it is reasonable for Republicans to hold out to see whether their side might prevail in the coming Presidential election.

Sanctimonious talk about the rule of law, or the qualifications of a judicial nominee, only hide these political and legal realities. Our situation is not a government of men rather than of law. It is a government of ruling ideologies. The resulting deadlock and political decline is clearly harmful, but a solution is hard to imagine. There are no “specific reform measures.”

Certainly no solution can be expected from law professors. Law schools are the engines of this ideological cohesion. Legal commitments touching on political issues are completely predictable there. Legal arguments by law professors are usually fabrications in support of an edifice of ideology.

There is one fundamental commitment that unites law professors and judges. It is that normative commitments are the product of subjectivity—human will. Conservative jurisprudence adapts to this insight by attempting to impose arbitrary rules of interpretation to restrict judicial discretion. Liberal jurisprudence, which is much less developed, tends to adapt by substituting process and equality concerns for normative argument. Everyone agrees that judgment is a mask for power.

Could this context change? The reason that science largely avoids ideological hardening, despite tendencies in that direction, is that science has a subject matter of study. Despite academic calls for empirical research, the legal profession lacks similar understanding of the subject matter of law. Even worse, our ideological straightjacket blocks appreciation that the lack of a subject matter is the problem and prevents any movement toward its resolution.

There was an earlier tradition in law, represented by figures such as Charles Black and Justice John Harlan, which assumed that something akin to Truth could be sought in law, as it could be sought elsewhere. This normative tradition has now collapsed and cannot simply be reinstituted. To that extent, Nietzsche is right.

But this is not the last word. There are new starting points, represented by thinkers such as Bernard Lonergan and Martin Heidegger, promising other ways of investigating human flourishing. Even to begin down that path, however, law professors would have to be willing to learn something new.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

More Paranoia: "millions" of illegal voters

11/30/2016--On Sunday, I wrote about the paranoia of Jill Stein and her supporters, including the Clinton campaign, sort of, in requesting a recount of some States because of fears that the voting totals were hacked. As Newt Gindrich, whom I don't usually quote, put it on Fox News, "You're seeing the sort of nutty wing of the Democratic Party begin to take over."

How, I wonder, did Gingrich then respond to the tweet of President-elect Trump on Sunday: "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." I have not seen anyone dispute that Trump did write this.

I would have hoped that it goes without saying that there were not millions of illegal votes cast in this election. Donald lost the popular vote fair and square, just like he won the Electoral College fair and square. You could even add that he could have won the popular vote if he had set out to do so but that it was irrelevant in our electoral system. I doubt that, but no one knows for sure.

What do we learn from this episode? First, and it cannot be said often enough, Truth is genuinely in danger in America. People on the left and on the right will say and do anything if it feels right to them. The secular left that loves to claim that only religious people dispute science, or the facts, or evidence, or the new one--the date--better reformulate and reeducate. Denial of Truth is everywhere.

Second, there is such a thing as a bad democratic conscience. Trump has it. Trump knows that the candidate with the most votes has a moral claim on the Office of President. This knowledge eats at him. That is why he made this silly statement. Eventually, after I am dead, this reality will lead America to direct election of the President. But, before that happens, the Republican Party is going to work very hard at denying the moral claim of democracy. That, along with abolishing or limiting healthcare for millions of people and other terrible policies of the new Administration, will be one more bad thing for this country.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Perfect Paranoia—-Jill Stein’s Recount

11/27/2016—A short break from the blog during Thanksgiving. I hope my readers had a happy holiday.

The spirit of irrationality that is present all over America and the West has a new illustration—the request for a recount in Wisconsin by the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, with requests to follow in Pennsylvania and Michigan if Clinton is shown to have won Wisconsin.

On the one hand, this is pretty funny, since as Robert Reich has pointed out, without Jill Stein on the ballot, Hillary might have easily won all three States. So why should Jill Stein care now whether Hillary won or not? Stein, after all, did not win these States. This recount is an admission that Trump is a threat and it really mattered that people vote for Hillary. Well, then, isn’t Jill Stein and the Green Party and her supporters to blame, rather than shadowy Russian hackers?

Anyway, despite these “experts” and their alleged showings of paper ballot discrepancies in the voting, there was nothing wrong with the election results. How exactly was this hacking supposed to have happened? Voting machines are not connected to the Internet. Remember a few weeks ago, when election officials were assuring the public that voting was safe and accurate and Donald Trump was darkly suggesting problems with the voting. Progressives then said this was irrational paranoia on the Right. Still is, now on the Left.

All of this is part of the prevailing loss of faith in Truth. Everything is now dark forces rather than simple cause and effect for which people are responsible. Lots of reasons Trump won. The Electoral College, Progressive indifference to working people, great strategy by Trump, somewhat low turnout among Democratic voters—and the Green Party (though largely offset by the Libertarian Party). And no doubt other things. Lots of reasons except hackers.

I’m just sorry the Clinton campaign has gone along with this.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Hypocrisy of the Congressional Republican Party

11/19/2016—We’ll have to get to Donald Trump’s horrible national security picks later. We’ll have to get to the attempt to destroy Medicare later also.

What is amazing is the apparent willingness of the Republican congressional majority to now provide the funds for a new infrastructure program because Donald Trump, a Republican, is President.

Here is the way healthy politics is supposed to work. If your opponent proposes a program that you feel is good for the country, you support it for that reason. Here, President Obama proposed such spending consistently and the Republicans in Congress unanimously opposed it. But now it is ok to spend this money because a Democrat will not get the credit.

Putting politics before the good of the country is the worst thing a politician can do. I am not blaming President Trump for this. He, after all, is just proposing infrastructure spending to help the country.

Of course, there is another possibility. It could be that Republicans know this spending program would not be good for the country—-it will increase the deficit to no necessary purpose since the economy is already growing. It could be that Republican opposition to the Obama stimulus was sincere.

Is this really any better? If this is the case, then the Republican majority is now willing to hurt the country because a Republican President wants to do so. In either case, the Republican congressional leadership has shown itself to be utterly corrupt.

At least so far. Maybe they are planning their opposition behind the scene. Maybe they are planning a deal in which infrastructure spending is traded for ending Medicare—-but then it would be President Trump who would be the corrupt liar for going back on his promise to defend social security and Medicare.

You have to feel bad for the American people with leaders like these.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The End of the Spritual Thirst for Democracy

11/16/2016—Look, Donald Trump won fair and square. If the system had required that he get more votes than Hillary Clinton, he would have campaigned differently. Maybe he could have gotten more than she.

But I doubt it. Clinton also did not campaign to get more votes than Trump—but she did. About a million more at this point.

In the future, it might get even harder for a Republican to win a majority of the national vote.

That is subject to change, of course. Trump could run much better in 2020—as President Bush did in 2004, when he broke the 50% level in popular vote.

But, I believe that after 2000 and now 2016, the Republican Party will cling to the Electoral College and denigrate the obvious democratic principle that the candidate with the most votes should win.

To justify their bad faith, Republicans will have to develop an anti-democratic philosophy, which the Party has already begun to do, with an anti-voter agenda of gerrymandering, voter id and anti-immigration. The Republican Party fears immigration more for the votes it brings Democrats than any other reason.

Let me be clear, as I have written before—both Parties have lost their faith in democracy. Their commitment to it. That is why Democrats don’t try to convince voters of anything—they just try to get their base to vote. That is reducing an election to a technical matter.

That is also why environmentalists have turned to the courts—and gay rights proponents too. No one really cares about popular vindication anymore.

But the Republican anti-democratic turn is more immediate and direct. You may even see a revival of the cheat of turning a couple of blue states to congressional district electors in Presidential elections. If a couple of blue states did that and no red states, the Republican candidate for President would always win and the national vote would be irrelevant. Once you break the commitment to democracy, why not go all the way?

Here’s what the late songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote about Democracy—

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It there they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s there they got the spiritual thirst.

But we don’t any longer have the spiritual thirst for democracy.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

It Was Jobs, Heroin and Disconnection—Not Racism

11/13/2016—If you want to feel better about the election result—well, relatively better—listen to ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis on NPR weekend edition about white working class voters who voted for Trump overwhelmingly and flipped the Rust Belt, narrowly, to him. (story here)

These voters have real grievances. But many of them voted twice for President Obama and race did not arise once in MacGillis’s report. Nor did immigration, really. When immigration came up, the conversation shifted to Mexican heroin, not Mexicans. Undocumented people are not an issue for most of these voters. Nor do they oppose progress for women—in fact mostly they were women. Nor was it any real animus toward Hillary Clinton. Clinton just was part of a faraway establishment that runs things and leaves them out. If you will, President Obama and Donald Trump were obviously not part of that establishment, while Romney and Clinton were. Women candidates might have a harder time reaching them, but a different woman might well have done so.

These voters talked about jobs and the opioid epidemic and, overall, that they have been left behind and don’t count.

The question for me is, what accounts for the extraordinary social dislocation and emptiness that MacGillis found? Is it just stagnating wages and lost manufacturing jobs? Or, is it absolutely that, but also something deeper?

Take Erie, for example, which, on election night, former Governor Tom Corbett presciently noted was not voting Democratic enough for Hillary to win Pennsylvania. Erie symbolizes the vote for Trump.

Erie was devastated by the 2008 recession. Its recent peak unemployment rate 11.7% in February, 2010. As late as January, 2013, the unemployment rate was still 10.1%, at a time when the State unemployment rate was only 7.6%. So, Erie was left behind.

Yet, since January 2013, the unemployment rate has been steadily dropping. In April, 2015, the unemployment rate had dropped to 5.5% and the State rate to 5.3%. Erie had mostly recovered.

But, something unexpected then happened. Unemployment went up in the last year in Erie, when it did not nationally—from 4.6% in September, 2015 to 6.4% in September 2016. That increase is not quite what it seems. It is probably in equal parts stagnation in hiring plus an increase in the labor participation rate—people not bothering to look for work are not counted as unemployed, so when they start looking for work, the unemployment rate goes up. But there certainly is no sign of brisk hiring.

So, what is it? Are working people in Erie devastated by economic conditions? It’s not great in Erie, but it is not the Great Depression either. Certainly, by itself, economic conditions don’t warrant blowing up the whole system, which is partly what a vote for Trump was understood to be.

What does the Democratic Party offer to people in Erie? Jack Kelly, the conservative columnist for the Post-Gazette, wrote today that all the Dems offered was bathrooms for transgendered people. He was making the point that the Democratic Party had lost touch with ordinary working people. By implication, it was only Trump’s racist and misogynist personality that kept the race as close as it was. White working class voters did not share these views, but these views did not repulse them enough not to vote for Trump—Trump even got a fair share of votes from people who said he was unqualified to be President.

From this perspective, Hillary’s error was running against Trump rather than against his policies—his opposition to an increase in the minimum wage, his corporate tax cuts and so forth. Trump’s personal failings misled Hillary into thinking Trump could be defeated personally rather than as a Republican, with typical Republican positions on many issues.

Part of the reason for the misdirection was that Hillary did not want to talk about two issues in particular: trade and global warming. This reflects both the schizophrenia in the Democratic Party and Hillary’s lack of candor. On trade, Hillary clearly was not telling the truth about her genuine leanings. She is a free trade advocate and would have been better off defending trade. She lost the anti-trade vote anyway. On global warming, her refusal to engage the job losses that climate change requires led many workers to conclude she did not care. Hillary had to acknowledge the pain and loss and ask for sacrifice for the sake of our grandchildren—plus offering something to climate change and trade displaced workers—something Republicans also reject.

Two more points. First, it was not Comey and Clinton looks small invoking him as the reason she lost. I’m sure his letter to Congress hurt her. But she should be asking why the election was so close that the letter mattered so much. Hillary had not closed the deal one week before the election and that is why late deciding voters broke against her. On the other hand, Hillary did not run a bad campaign. She won the popular vote after all. The Democratic coalition is still the dominant coalition. Translating that national strength into electoral success should not be an impossible task.

Where does all this leave my concern about nihilism—the decline of all traditional values and institutions that has resulted globally from the death of God and the inability of secularists and non-affiliated people to fill the God-shaped void? I believe this nihilism is why the rust belt is in such despair. Community was broken—not just the job market.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Don’t Forget that the Game is Still Rigged

11/10/2016—While I am glad that Donald Trump acted like a normal person after he won, that does not erase the damage of his prior nihilistic pronouncements—see comments like “the voting is rigged” and nobody believes the numbers anyway.” Imagine the scenario if Trump had lost—the anger, bitterness fanned by right wing media. That anger will return when the normal ups and downs of political life interfere with the Donald’s fantasy commitments, like 4% growth.

The outcome of the election shows the importance in a polarized politics of one Party having Congress and the Presidency. The Republicans can actually enact their program and the country can judge the results. This is good.

But that just shows how much damage the Supreme Court had done in allowing the political gerrymandering of the House of Representatives. There is no reasonable likelihood that the Democrats could ever enjoy the same situation as the Republicans now do, whatever the national vote for Congress. That is bad for democracy. Eventually, the Supreme Court must require reasonable efforts to ensure competitive seats in the House. For now, voting remains rigged.

The election results also show the fundamental health of the Democratic Party—still. Unlike the Republicans when President Obama won in 2008, no major Democratic Party figure called for unrelenting opposition. The Democrats will not generally use the filibuster in the Senate to bloc Republican Party action—I don’t mean never, just not to block everything. They won’t use it to block Trump’s judicial nominees, for example. This means that the Democratic Party is not dedicated to the failure of government. With that ideology, cooperation is obviously easier. But that also means the Republican Party is really sick at its heart.

But that is changing. Not the Republican side, where the tensions are only temporarily hidden by victory. But on the Democratic side, where voices are calling for just the kind of opposition-for-the-sake of opposition that you would hear if the shoe were on the other foot. Nihilism is growing in the Democratic Party.

For now, things look ok. The Democrats are hurting but the country is in some ways be better off. But all that is temporary. First, the election of a woman President should have already happened and has now been delayed. That is a real harm caused mostly by Hillary’s baggage and Trump’s political acumen. He ran a brilliant campaign. But the Democratic coalition just about still won despite all those votes against Hillary. Any other woman would probably have won. The 2012 electorate was 72% white. This time, 70%. Next time—68%? 67%? The demographic clock is still ticking for the Republican Party.

Which brings us to the next problem. Donald is still Donald. Of course, if he governs well and the Republicans maintain the House and Senate, we will have peace and prosperity for 8 years and all will be well. Then the Republicans will have a new, more diverse coalition, a more pragmatic platform, will deal with global warming in a market friendly way and we will return to the Republican Party domination of the 1920’s. But the Donald is the Donald and that scenario is not too likely.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

“Nobody Believes the Numbers Anyway”

11/6/2016—Despite the last minute frantic leaks from the FBI, which Republican politicians will eventually decide they also must deal with as worrisome to civilian control of the government, and despite the fact that some of the allegations are absolutely true—if Chelsea Clinton received classified emails, that is much more serious than the other email charges and Clinton Foundation influence peddling is only marginally less than a crime—and despite the fact that I am now not certain that a President Clinton can actually govern unless President Obama grants her a general pardon to stop all the criminal investigations, which he would not dare to do, I assume Hillary Clinton will win on Tuesday and become the next President.

And that is really a good thing. Of course Donald Trump would be dangerous as President, as most conservative newspaper columnists have said all along in a display of honorable conduct that no Democrat seems to appreciate.

But, all that aside, Donald Trump exemplifies the nihilism at the heart of American life so completely that it is frightening. With him around, let alone as President, what would life be like?

In response to Friday’s jobs report—a pretty good one, with 161,000 jobs added, wages up 2.8% over the prior year, unemployment down to 4.9% and the labor participation rate stable if not up—Trump’s response was to call the report “an absolute disaster” and, more importantly, adding, “nobody believes the numbers anyway.” [New York Times story here].

Now, of course, Trump undoubtedly did mean that the unemployment rate does not tell the whole story of President Obama’s poor economic performance. It is a partial measure. But ever since Jack Welch said much the same thing in a tweet back in 2012 about a jobs report: “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers,” [see here] a Republican idea has been that you can’t trust government numbers on employment. And that is just one more charge on top of the allegations of pretty much nonexistent vote fraud or other unspecified issues.

As I hope I have said many times on this blog, this kind of destructive skepticism is not partisan. Progressive parents make dark noises about lying government officials on the link between autism and vaccines and otherwise normal African-American leaders speak of government collusion in the crack epidemic.

And just when you think conspiracies are crazy, you have the example of the Pennsylvania legislature manipulating the ballot question for judicial retirement and then lying about it.

It is hopeless to imagine a better world if people assume that everything is a lie and no one acts with good faith. A full page ad run in newspapers by a tea party group says “drain the Washington swamp”—-they are not all corrupt in Washington.

So, we live in X-Files world. But I don’t want it to get worse. So I will be happy if Trump loses and goes away. Then we have to deal with the situation he merely represents.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What Comey Did

11/2/2016—I admit that in releasing his letter to Congress, James Comey may have violated Justice Department rules or customs. And he did so as well when, in announcing no criminal case against her in July, he went on to criticize her as careless etc.

Nevertheless, having testified before Congress that the investigation was over, how could he not have informed Congress that the investigation had been unexpectedly reopened? This aspect—misleading Congress—is the reason the usual rules of not commenting on ongoing investigations does not apply.

As for affecting the election, it is of course ridiculous to accuse him of bias against Secretary Clinton since all he had to do to really hurt her was recommend prosecution. The Justice Department would not have followed the recommendation, but the whole thing would have irretrievably damaged her.

Actually, his decision to inform Congress aids Clinton because it shows he is willing to harm her politically and thus retroactively legitimates his decision not to charge her with a crime.

Did the letter to Congress lead to the tightening of the race? Yes and no. Yes, it reminds people of the reasons they already have for not liking Clinton. This emboldens Trump supporters and reduces Clinton votes as well.

But, on the other hand, the race is tightening largely because Republicans are returning to support their Party’s nominee. That was inevitable, letter or not.

If only Clinton could be gracious about these things. Why attack Comey? Why not just say you have nothing to hide and welcome the further investigation of emails—especially since Comey never said there was anything there.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Republicans About to Practice Supreme Court Shutdown

10/27/2016—I sure hope the Democrats win back the Senate. The reason is that conservatives are already making arguments that nothing in the Constitution requires nine Justices—(I read that Michael Stokes Paulsen makes this case at National Review.) This is just the latest willingness of Republicans to shut down the government if things don’t go their way.

As a constitutional argument, it is not an argument, of course. As the Supreme Court has said many times, the Constitution is supposed to work. The framers would be horrified if they could have foreseen a “faction”—their name for political parties—refusing to perform the role of confirmation of Supreme Court nominees. This is not the same as deciding not to confirm, which if practiced in good faith, is also part of their job.

There is a reason why the Republicans will have to practice obstruction rather than actually hearing nominees and voting them down. The American people would catch on that the game was to refuse any Democratic Presidential nominee.

I am frustrated because Toomey would be part of this and McGinty lacks the talent to nail him on this. I asked a reporter a few weeks ago to put the question to each candidate—will you promise to actually vote on the nominee of whoever is elected President? But the question is not being put. The people of Pennsylvania are not that partisan and would probably not like the refusal to vote. Plus, if there were votes, the obstruction would break down.

Yet, for all my frustrations, there is some sense in the Republican position. This is what happens when you become convinced that there is no possibility of a rule of law. Then the Court is just a power play. Sure, some of these conservatives would say, no, we practice a rule of law, but the other side does not. But this is meaningless. Textualism and historicism are just subjective choices as well. A method you choose for prudential reasons—-maybe even legitimate reasons—-is a substitute for a rule of law. It is not a rule of law. I could point to Bush v Gore. But you see it mostly in the political gerrymander cases. What is textualism there? Sure, you say these cases just happen to give political power to Republicans…give me a break.

Once the objectivity of values disappears, it is gone for everyone. The honest conservative knows that even her conscience cannot be trusted.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why Tolerate Religion?

10/20/2016—-This is the title of Brian Leiter’s 2012 book. Leiter is asking why religion receives preferred treatment in most Western democracies in matters like religious exemptions—-he uses zoning laws that allow religious institutions to expand but not other institutions and an instance in which a Sikh boy is permitted to carry a ceremonial knife as examples.

Leiter concludes that we should treat all claims of conscience the same—-something that many people would agree with—-and that we should generally not permit any exemptions from laws that promote the general welfare—-something many people might disagree with. It is interesting how indifference to religion morphs into indifference toward all claims of conscience.

The book is informed overall by Leiter’s disdain for religious belief. Such beliefs are irrational at best and harmful to society at worst. This attitude is never itself examined. It is taken for granted.

That attitude of entitled secular or liberal judgment about religion is what is most noticeable in the emails hacked from the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. It is not the details of who said what about whom. It is the lack of respect for religion itself. What is missing is any sense of the otherness of religion—-that the religious life is not primarily about policies or dogmas at all. In the view of those exchanging the emails, their political opponents are attracted to something like the Catholic Church out of a desire for social reassurance of their place in society. The possibility that religion might radically challenge someone does not occur to them. (This is of course also true of their own religion).

The religious life is a spiritual adventure that those outside it do not know. The Christian ideal of a relationship with the absolutely accessible and yet impossibly noble and holy figure of Jesus Christ is a striking instance of this quest. As someone who is no longer a part of this organized quest, you have to wonder about people willing to judge religion—-how can they judge when they know so little about it?

Anyway, this disdain is the current dominant secular attitude toward religion and it is displayed in the emails. President Obama exhibited something like in 2008 with his comment about clinging to guns and the Bible. The notion of religion as liberation and freedom, which is how its followers once experienced it, is now culturally foreign.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

So, Hallowed Secularism is Getting Somewhere

10/15/2016—The biggest problem in addressing the nihilism of modern life is admitting that modernity has led to nihilism. Secularists are sure that the death of God is either a blessing or at least irrelevant to cultural health.

But there are indicators that secularists are catching on that something is wrong. One such indicator is Tony Kronman’s book, Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan. Kronman was dean at Yale Law School in the 1990’s. He joined the faculty a year after I graduated, in 1978. So, I don’t know him.

David Brooks praised the book yesterday in his column. The book sounds enormous—over 1000 pages of thoughtful review of what you could call the non-theistic, religious tradition in the West—-I have only seen the Amazon page so far.

Brooks says that Kronman ends up a follower of Nietzsche, Spinoza and Whitman. It is exactly the book I could never write—-Kronman has become a great teacher of philosophy. And it shows why and how law works to create great generalists.

But for Brooks—and undoubtedly for me as well—Kronman is missing the moral: “Personally, I have issues with born-again paganism. Shapeless, it leads to laxness — whatever moral quandary you bring it, it gives back exactly the answer you’d prefer to hear. It throws each person back on himself and leads to self-absorption and atomization, as everybody naturally worships the piece of God that is one’s self. Na├»ve, it neglects the creedal structures that are necessary for those moments when love falters.”

At the moment, though, so what? The book is a great marker. Secularists who feel the emptiness will now have a place to start. Good for him.

Monday, October 10, 2016

No, Trump Was Not Advocating Sexual Assault

10/10/2016—I have not looked at the tape and I don’t want to. But I did read the quotes and I agree with the Donald that he was talking about celebrity and power influencing women. He thinks it is fun that “they let you.”

Having said that I don’t think he was advocating criminal conduct, this episode indicates what he thinks about women—they are objects for aggressive male advances. This is news? Why didn’t it disqualify him from being President in the first place?

But now let’s talk about Bill Clinton. He is old news. He is not running for President. And no one knows exactly what he did or didn’t do in some of these episodes. Let’s assume he also never committed sexual assault. So, like Donald, he is not a criminal.

But what about Monica Lewinsky? His treatment of her was exactly what Donald was boasting about. He had power and celebrity—much more than Trump. So, he pushed her into performing a sex act. Then he lied about it to the American people.

I don’t remember Democrats condemning him. In fact, I remember Democrats making fun of Joe Lieberman because Clinton’s conduct so bothered him. And, if Donald should not be President because of these remarks, then why were the Republicans wrong to try to impeach and remove Clinton?

The answer is that the Republicans didn’t care anything about the sex, or even the lying. It was all politics. And you have to be careful about reversing the political judgments of democracy over personal failings.

Well, the same is true here. Donald Trump was chosen by his Party. He has as much right as Clinton to run. Bernie Sanders supporters would say more right—though I don’t agree Clinton stole the nomination. She won California fair and square and that was it.

This tape is a side show. Yes, it shows Trump is too crude to be President, but much more shows that and he still could win the election.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Nihilism Looks Like This

10/8/2016—I bear some blame for looking around and crying “nihilism” at everything I see. Well, that’s because all I see is the claim that the universe is just forces. Then I try to figure out what a culture that believes or suspects that looks like. I don’t know what nihilism looks like at the cultural level.

But occasionally I get a glimpse and I just did from a Saturday New York Times story about the political fallout of the jobs report that remarked on a curious disconnect. Americans are mad, resentful, dissatisfied etc., especially about the economy. But when you poll Americans about how they individually are doing, we are doing okay and are not angry, including economically. It is as if, says the story, Americans use the economy to make a different kind of judgment about optimism and pessimism toward the future.

But in nihilism, the categories of optimism and pessimism are beside the point. There is nothing to be optimistic or pessimistic about. There is no sustaining standard. There is no narrative shape of the universe that might falter (pessimism) or go forward (optimism). In nihilism, you are trapped in a meaningless repetition—Nietzsche: the endless repetition of the same.

The first step to healing is to understand where you are. The death of God was a catastrophe. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t die. That God died. I left Judaism because that God died.

But what to do? Maybe nothing. Nietzsche also said it would take a thousand years to bury God—we are only a couple of hundred years into nihilism.

We can stop congratulating ourselves about how good we can be without God. Religious people, who had more to do with God’s murder than anyone else, can stop congratulating themselves about having been right. That much we can do.

Oh, and we can continue to do science with an open spirit. Maybe we will learn that forces do not equal chaos. Or, maybe we will learn that chaos has a shape. Maybe there is a deeper order out of which hope can emerge.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Three Days at Regent Law School

10/2/2016—I have just spent three days—days both inspiring and frustrating—at Regent Law School. I spoke at the Conference of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools and at the 25th Anniversary Symposium of the Regent Law Review.

The hospitality was wonderful, for which I wish especially to thank Associate Dean Lynn Kohm and the Law Review. Dean Michael Hernandez is a very thoughtful legal educator and religious thinker.

I spoke on Thursday on the Future of Democracy and yesterday on the Obergefell case. The overall impression I received was one of depression, fear and confusion. This religious community is still trying to understand the reality of same sex marriage and the darkness of American political life. I am afraid I was very little help and I would speak differently if I had it to do over again.

I will continue to reflect on this blog on my experiences, but right now I can say that the secular community is going to have to come to grips with the question, why tolerate religion—-the candid title of Brian Leiter’s 2012 book. Until it is realized that the Christian community has something crucial to offer society, it will be unclear why religious groups and individuals should be permitted to discriminate against gay people.

Of course there are constitutional and statutory protections and there is a human right to religious expression. Those are already grounds for religious exemptions. But, until those who do not share or understand the religious perspective that homosexuality is unnatural, can acknowledge a positive good in religion that was not present in racial discrimination, the tendency will be to enforce these legal protections grudgingly, as indeed the US Civil Rights Commission has just recommended. Only if the religious communities are understood as a necessary resource will a robust approach become to accommodation be seen as acceptable in the larger, increasingly secular society.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Nihilistic Election

9/29/2016—“I feel like the election is just playing the American people.” So said a young voter—26—in the New York Times today. This is an expression of powerlessness—it is a feeling that nothing will change.

On the other hand, a lot of young people were enthusiastically for Bernie Sanders, so how can I say that the election is nihilistic? Isn’t it just that there are two bad nominees by the major Parties?

I am actually not sure. It may be that Bernie was attractive because he was not going to actually win. Look at how a fair proportion of his support seems to be going to Gary Johnson, who in one recent poll has 29% of the under 35 vote—a really remarkable figure. But Johnson is very far away from Sanders in terms of substantive political positions. Johnson is the only free trade candidate running. You would think that support would be going to Jill Stein and the Green Party, but it is not, or not nearly as much.

So, this makes me feel that a lot of young voting is really protesting.

The other thing I don’t get is the antipathy toward Clinton. On domestic policy, I don’t know of many differences between Sanders and her. For example, is Clinton against single-payer health insurance? Against a $15 minimum wage? Then again, Johnson is plainly against both.

The point of this entry is not criticizing younger voters. (Although I am much afraid of Donald Trump than some of them are). My point here is just thinking about what is going on. In a culture of nihilism, nothing seems to matter. That frees people, even encourages people, to act in unexpected ways.

By a culture of nihilism, I don’t mean that people are indifferent. I mean that all standards are destroyed. In our terms, the establishment is discredited and may not exist at all. It’s what Nietzsche predicted with the death of God.

To improve our politics, you have to think at this level.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

An Open Letter to Fred Barnes

9/22/2016—Fred Barnes asks the question, why aren’t there any anti-Hillary Dems in the September 5, 2016 Weekly Standard. His point is basically that Republicans are willing to police their own, but Democrats are not. Thus, the outpouring of anti-Trump Republicans and nothing comparable on the Democratic side.

A few points. First, both Democrats and Republican rank and file are about equally dissatisfied with their candidates. According to a Fox poll on September 15, “Eighty percent of Republicans back Trump, and 81 percent of Democrats support Clinton.” These are pretty low numbers for a Presidential candidate at this stage of a race. Especially among young voters, dissatisfaction with Secretary Clinton translates into support of third party candidates. So Barnes’ premise is wrong about the rank and file.

Second, some of the column confuses policy and character. Most Democrats do not agree that the Clinton foreign policy was “disastrous” as the column puts it. That is just a disagreement, about the Iran nuclear agreement, for example. It’s a tough world and a lot has gone wrong. But, the last eight years have contained fewer major mistakes than the previous eight.

Third, not everyone agrees that the Clinton problems are that serious, especially compared to comparable issues with Donald Trump. The Clinton foundation peddled influence, clearly. But nobody got anything. As Paul Krugman put it yesterday, the Trump Foundation engaged in more or less open bribery. Clinton’s email scandal shows her as secretive, but not dishonest. The continuing refusal of Trump to release his tax records undoubtedly means he has something to hide—if only how little money he makes and has.

But Barnes is right about Party leadership. Leading Democrats do not talk publically about Clinton’s serious personal lapses. The reason for this is obvious—they do not want to do anything to help Donald Trump. The question is, why this lockstep response at the top? This kind of unity is unusual among Democratic Party leadership. It is much more normal for Republicans. So, why the reversal this year?

This gets to the heart of the matter. Speaking for myself—not a Party leader, of course, but an outspoken person. Barnes does not understand who I think Trump is and what a Trump victory would mean. I am not certain that after eight years of Donald Trump, there would be another Presidential election. It took Mussolini around three years before he began to dismantle the democratic structure of pre-war Italy. Unlike Clinton and all the major Republican candidates this year, and unlike President Bush, whom I loathed, I have to worry with Trump about whether he believes in, or understands, constitutional checks and balances.

Barnes surely believes that President Obama rules unconstitutionally by decree. But what does Obama do when a court orders him to stop doing something? He stops. Barnes must be positive that a President Trump would also obey court orders. But I don’t have his confidence and I am not willing to take that chance.

Do you think, compared to the possible end of constitutional government in the United States, I care about Clinton lapses? I don’t deny them. I discount them. If Clinton were running against Rubio, I would have to think about them. But with Trump, there is the potential for real harm of the kind that has not been threatened since the 1930’s.

Now, I may be wrong about Donald Trump. But let Barnes convince me of that, rather than wondering why more Dems are not anti-Hilllary.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

You Have a Moral Obligation to Vote for Hillary Clinton

9/21/2016--I just put the following message up on my door: You have a moral obligation to vote for Hillary Clinton in order to defeat Donald Trump. I don't care for her, but he has the potential to be Mussolini, with all the damage to America and the world that would follow. In 36 years, I have never before put a political message on my door at school.

I know some young people who are not voting or are voting for third party candidates. They must not understand how dangerous Donald Trump is. Trump is impulsive, narcissistic and undisciplined. If he wins, it will vindicate all the illusions about himself that he already has. It's hard to imagine him living within constitutional limits. People complain about Barack Obama's tendency to rule by executive order. Now imagine that ten times worse without the restraint of obeying court orders to stop. And then there is the harm in foreign and military policy.

It's hard to quite understand people supporting him. How do they know what he will do if he is elected? He probably does not know. Trump believes in winging it.

Trump is the same person he was earlier. It's just that he is having a sane month. And that could allow people to vote for him.

But still, Trump doesn't have enough votes to win. It's that Hillary is not holding on to the votes of people who don't like Trump.

Mussolini did not come to power through a coup. He was invited to form a government within the democratic process. If all the citizens of Italy devoted to democracy had united and opposed him, he would not have come to power. They undoubtedly did not consider him a serious threat. People who are not voting or are voting for a third party candidate are making the same mistake.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

“moral relativism in its most base form”

9/14/2016—Now we’re getting somewhere. The liberal op-ed columnist Andrew Rosenthal wrote yesterday in the New York Times (What Trump Supporters Want You to Believe) that Donald Trump’s comments praising Putin—“‘It’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly in that system, he’s been a leader. Far more than our president has been a leader.’”—constitute “moral relativism in its most base form.”

OK. So, who is not a moral relativist? Who is willing to say that one kind of human life is better than another? Who is willing to say that there is a normative order in the universe? Next you will be willing to condemn gay marriage as unnatural.

I’m joking about the last point. But until recently every secularist I have met has been a moral relativist in principle. Since most secularists believe, or think they have to believe, that the Big Bang was an accident without meaning and purpose, there is nothing they can be other than materialists. And materialists are generally forced into moral relativism.

To not be a moral relativist, you have to commit to the proposition that some things are right and some things are wrong, not according to human opinion, but according to reality. In principle, religious people believe this—although there are plenty of functional atheists in church, synagogue, mosque and temple—but secularists don’t.

By the way, the heart of hallowed secularism is a protest against materialism and moral relativism, but this has not exactly caught on yet.

So, of course Donald Trump is a moral relativist. But he had good teachers—the very people now criticizing him for it. The left is morally relativist to its core. I don’t mean that as an insult but as a description. And it doesn’t mean you don’t feel strongly about your positions. You just can’t justify your positions apart from human will.

And, by the way, we now see how moral relativism—which is actually not about morality but the nature of reality—so it is ontological—demoralizes society and undermines healthy politics. Under the domination of this way of thinking, every position is just “what I happen to think.” So, genuine persuasion cannot happen. There is no truth of the matter out of which to be persuaded. I can force you or fool you, but I cannot persuade you. This impasse explains a lot about our current, partisan, hate-filled politics.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Are the Right and the Left Anti-Semitic?

9/11/2016—I pause before beginning to remember the men and women who lost their lives fifteen years ago in terrorist attacks. I remember thinking then that the attacks would not change that much. In a sense that was true. There had been terror attacks in the few years before 9/11—and federal criminal trials of terrorists as well. (As there should have been since).

But it was different. 9/11 militarized terrorism, which previously had been treated as another form of criminal activity. This led to dealing with terrorism through military interventions, which was a grave error. The first Iraq war had come as a response not to terror, but to invasion.

The world is now quite different than it might have been. And, as a young person I know said the other day, not many good things have happened in the US since 9/11.

One more thing that has changed is that the Israeli-Palestinian impasse now seems to have permanently been solved by Israel militarily. Ironically, Putin is the one putting pressure on Israel to make concessions and is scheduled to hold talks. But not much is going to come of this. There is a slow creep to occupy all of the West Bank. Partly it seems to be motivated by orthodox religion, but also by simple nationalism.

The motif that allows Israel to deflect criticism about this is anti-Semitism. This week’s Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh contains two stories about that subject—one about the alt-right and the other about the left.

Barry Shaw’s piece about the left is the most impassioned and determined. It notes that support for the Palestinian side is strong among those who, like the Black Lives Matter Movement, identify with exploited groups. His point is, along with Alan Dershowitz, that you don’t have to take a stand on Russia and Saudi Arabia to be in good standing on the left—but you do on Israeli policy.

I would call this silly if the subject were not so serious. I am sure the left is quite anti-Putin—although there is some anti-Ukrainian tropes among the left—and certainly anti-Saudi Arabia. But Israel has always touched America deeply—remember the wildly popular movie Exodus? Israel has always had a very close relationship with the US, including financially and militarily. So there is a sense in which the US is implicated in the treatment of Palestinians in a way we are not implicated in other injustices in the world. Plus, Israel is an outpost of the West in the midst of the Islamic world. Not exactly imposed by the West—Britain certainly did not support Israel’s creation consistently—but a part of the story of Western imperialism all the same—how else was Britain involved at all? If Muslims had been allowed to control the territory after WWI, there would never have been an Israel. So it is not crazy to see in this conflict responsibility by the West.

Anyway, those people so angry about the boycott movement should do more to promote peace. I don’t know whether this is possible. Where still after all these years is the Palestinian movement pushing for a realistic settlement? Israel is not going away and the right of return will not be granted.

The one thing that people opposed to Israeli annexation of the West Bank can do is to be very clear that Israel has no right to any of the West Bank. The settler movement has obviously won over Israeli public opinion, but that does not mean that the rest of the world has to accede. Yes, at this point, there are facts on the ground. But they are not justice. It is a little late in the history of religion for one religious group to claim that God gave it title to property.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Is Secularism Doomed to Superficiality and an Incapacity to Sustain the Human Spirit?

9/6/2016—Mark Miller has done a tremendous service in translating the thought of Bernard Lonergan into a more or less easily digestible bite-size in his book on Lonergan, The Quest for God and the Good Life (2013). I highly recommend it.

After making the attempt on a couple of occasions to read Lonergan’s masterpiece, Insight, I believe I am in a position to say that Lonergan is quite a daunting thinker. Mark Miller renders Lonergan much more accessible then he would be to most of us on our own.

There is a chance that Lonergan is the key to the renewal of American public life. Lonergan was a great student of the human being and human civilization and their trends. Clearly a religious thinker, Lonergan nevertheless was quite secular in describing what human nature is like and how human thinking works. There is a real naturalism in Lonergan that does not dissolve the possibility of transcendence.

It is a serious question how secularism will respond to the emergency of American public life. Democracy is broken and it is not clear how it happened or what can be done about it. Nor is it clear at all that secularism possesses the depth of resources – – or maybe I should say the resources the depth – – that would permit a renaissance of hope. I am shocked by the absence of hope and presence of cynicism among so many Americans, especially the young.

But how can a secularist approach anything with depth? After all, the point of secularism is that this world is all there is. The key to that puzzle must be to recalculate depth in this world. In that regard, a translation of religious terms must prove possible.

To see what I mean, consider the following poem by Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arrupe, quoted by Mark Miller in his book (I am unable here to properly format it):

Nothing is more practical
than finding God, that is, than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything. It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love, and
it will decide everything.

The question is, can this poem speak to a nonreligious consciousness?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ben-Hur, Done That

8/30/2016—Why remake a religious class movie if you are not interested in religion? The new Ben-Hur movie is a lot better than people are saying. Yet, it is absolutely inferior to the 1959 version on several grounds. On the other hand, some choices made by the Director are just different, not inferior, but revealing of a different cultural stage.

The one, obvious way that the new version is not as good is the crucial depiction of Jesus. The actor, Rodrigo Santoro, is fine. But he is reminiscent of Liam Neeson in the Episode 1 Star Wars movie—likeable, rugged, intense, good. But the movie chooses an intensely naturalistic portrayal. There is no sense of transcendence—handled with great skill and piety in the 1959 version. The movie makes it seem odd that people were so affected by Jesus.

The other naturalism is in Judah Ben-Hur himself. He has no obvious religious feelings in the new movie. This makes little sense in the context of first century Israel. Nor does it make his conversion believable.

The other obvious flaw in the movie is just in storytelling. In the 1959 version, all ends were gathered up. For example, the new movie is forced to explain—how the mother and sister are affected by the crucifixion, how they are freed etc.

The ways in which the movie makes choices that are revealing involve the role of evil. In the 1959 film—and book, I guess—the event that brings down the house of Hur is an accident—a shingle breaks off. Not only is this poignant, it gives Messala a choice to do the right thing.

Conversely, in the new movie, Judah harbors a zealot who shoots Pontius Pilate with an arrow. Obviously, there must be retaliation. This is not as dramatically interesting. (It also makes Judah into a fool).

The other problem with Messala is related. Just as he could not do anything for the family even if he had wanted to, he is a compromise figure in general. Messala is portrayed in the new movie as trying to do the right thing but being frustrated. In the 1959 version, Messala makes a real choice for evil and suffers the consequences.

This is my final beef with the movie—the happy ending. Yes, in the 1959 version, there is a happy ending, but not for Messala. He is killed in the chariot race. And Judah plays a role in his death. This is not undone by the miracle around the crucifixion. In the new movie, Messala lives and everyone is reunited. This is pablum.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Murder Rate is Down

8/26/2016—Paul Krugman today in the New York Times criticized Donald Trump for his dystopia. Donald has been going around reaching out to minorities by describing America’s cities as unlivable hellholes. He is the law and order candidate.

Except, says Krugman, that none of this is true—unlike Donald’s earlier claims that there are no manufacturing jobs. Krugman argues that the murder rate (a proxy for violent crime because it is so easy to count) in cities did climb from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. But after that it dropped and is now back to its earlier-in-the-century rates. Cities are as safe as they have ever been.

Good news. But Krugman’s larger point is a values point—critics said that the reason crime was up was that Christianity was in decline. You have to restore values, they said. Well, says Krugman, no you don’t.

For those of us who have been bemoaning nihilism, this raises a question. What does nihilism look like socially? Does nihilism mean that people will go out and kill? That has actually been a criticism of Nietzsche for a long time. See Leopold and Loeb in 1924.

Well, maybe nihilism does not look like that. Maybe nihilism looks like our current political dysfunction. Or, maybe it looks like tolerance for gay marriage—not justice, but you-can-do-what-you-want. Maybe nihilism is not so bad.

I have to think about all this. One thing looks pretty certain. Organized religion is not headed for a comeback. So, the moral foundations for society will have to come from somewhere else.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

America Would Not Ban the Burkini

8/18/2016—Well, for one thing, it would be unconstitutional. In addition, most Americans believe it is one’s own decision to wear clothing because of religious beliefs.

Some French towns have now banned the clothing a few Muslim women use to go to the beach. The media reports it is something like a wetsuit and covers most of the body.

It’s just anti-Muslim bigotry.

I’m actually happy to see these bans because they demonstrate the intolerance of Europe. Yes, France is an especially anti-religious society, but other European countries have banned the building of Mosques.

Now, as the Trump campaign demonstrates, America is not all that tolerant either. But we are more welcoming of people than perhaps any other country in the world. That is our heritage.

Back to Europe. For years, some people on the left have promoted a kind of narrative about religion. It was said, that religion is not necessary to be a decent society. Europe was secular and Europe was generous and kind. And happy, as polls showed.

The European welfare state is a genuine accomplishment I wish America would emulate. But we now see that it is based on self-interest. We take care of ourselves. The European welfare state is most akin to old people in America (I am one) voting to protect social security.

The trick, however, is to build a genuine community, in which other people are protected by public policies. People not like oneself. Now, religiously-oriented America looks a lot better.

Does all this mean you can’t be good without God? Of course not. It means, however, that religion provides a healthy base for a society. Now that religion is waning, another source of meaning and goodness is urgently needed. Humanism will not cut it. That is just an unjustified worship of oneself.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Hottest July in Recorded History

8/15/2016—This is like a nightmare—actually, it is a nightmare. NPR just reported on NASA’s conclusion today that July 2016 was the hottest July on record. It was 1.5 degrees F higher than the long term average (I believe they use 1950 to 2000 as the benchmark, but I have to check.)

Well, no one said defeating global warming would be easy. No one even assured us it would be possible. The difficulty is not the nightmare. Not even the harm is the nightmare.

More valuable than any policy, even a crucial policy like fighting global warming, is truth. The denial of global warming in its human causation is the nightmare.

I don’t get it. There are still people—I am talking about leaders in our government (in fact Donald Trump among many others) who still say the whole notion is made up. They say the warming stopped or even say that the numbers are cooked.

But even worse, because seemingly intentionally misleading, there is Paul Ryan, who acknowledges warming but says climates change all the time. It will warm now and will presumably cool later. (This might turn out to be true in the long run—there could always be another ice age). Ryan denies that humans are causing this warming. In other words, scientists in the 1980’s noticed the build up of gasses and warned it would warm the planet. Now the planet is warming and what? It is just a coincidence?

But why wouldn’t Ryan want to do something to stop this? He has kids. Surely he can’t really care more about his career than their safety.

George Will says people like me want to stifle debate. But you don’t debate facts. There is no judgment to bring to bear. Warming is happening or it is not. Humans are causing it or they are not. It is not debating if suddenly in one realm standards of proof are absurdly elevated. We accept many scientific findings with far less warrant than we have about the warming climate.

Anyway, go ahead and debate. The scientists do that every day. But I have been hearing since the 1990’s that this isn’t true—my son’s swimming coach used to tell me it is all made up. Yet it continues to get warmer—as if it were true.

We can’t even start to protect ourselves unless we can reach a consensus that the threat is happening. At that point, there will be tremendous disagreement about what and how much to do. That won’t bother me. But the denial. It is a scandal by evil people.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What They’re Doing to Bill McKibben

8/10/2016—On Sunday, Bill McKibben published an op-ed on how he is being followed and how maybe his daughter is also being followed. Apparently a GOP opposition research group has decided to follow him and one other environmental leader to get embarrassing pictures. The pictures are meant to show that McKibben is a hypocrite—he uses plastic bags for shopping when he forgets to bring cloth etc.

McKibben wanted to make the point that we are living in the world of choices corporate power has given us—he mentions Exxon. That is, we have to fly because corporations have blocked fast trains, for example. And to change that world, we have to live in it. So, McKibben wants to show the context.

But I am more interested in a minor comment he makes. McKibben is not sure that his daughter is being followed. “When my daughter reports someone taking pictures of her at the airport, it drives me nuts. I have no idea if it’s actually this outfit; common decency would suggest otherwise, but that seems an increasingly rare commodity.”

Common decency is an increasingly rare commodity. But I wish McKibben had admitted that in this regard at least, the environmental movement is no different. The left demonizes the corporate leadership at Exxon. They are just liars and criminals—knowing the truth about global warming, they have deliberately misled the nation for their own profit. They will be responsible for many, many deaths.

As I write those words, I am certain that this is the attitude on the left because this is my attitude. But if I believe my opponents are evil, I cannot be surprised if my opponents feel the same way. Even if I am right about them, I should not pretend that they are overly zealous but I am not.

In other words, if I could change Exxon’s policies by following the CEO and his family around with a camera, wouldn’t I do it? Of course I would.

Since common decency is in short supply in our political life, we are going to have to pay very careful attention to our own characters. Since we are not going to change our behaviors, changing our candor might be a good starting point.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

And One More Thing—The Candidates Are Too Old

8/3/2016—I am 64-years old. I just realized that both Presidential candidates are older than I am. Donald Trump is 70; Hillary Clinton is 68.

This is ridiculous. Barack Obama will be 55 tomorrow. Happy birthday Mr. President.

What difference does this make? The baby boom generation—my generation—has already failed to make the world a better place. Or, if the world is better in some ways, my generation has nothing left to offer. It has led us to where we are now. Something new is needed.

That something new is not directly related to age. But it is directly related to technology. Most people in America have now grown up with the Internet and have been formed by it and by all that it implies. Trump and Clinton and I have not. So, whoever wins will be incapable of addressing the new world people are living in.

A recent article in the New York Review—In the Depths of the Digital Age, by Edward Mendelson, addresses these matters. I was surprised by how my assumptions are not the assumptions of my students in law school. Just one example—when I was around 13, I spent the summer at Pine Valley Camp in Canada. One day, I found an old Playboy Magazine. It was amazing to me. I had never seen a woman that undressed—she was of course not actually naked. I had never read sexually oriented discussion—it was not very graphic. I hid that magazine so I could get back to it. (Naturally, it disappeared).

According to Mendelson, the experiences of a 13-year old American boy today are different. I assumed that. But I never considered how different. Let’s just say, there are no such secrets for him. No guilty pleasure. No shame, but no satisfaction either. The world of sex has speeded up and is no longer sweet.

It’s just one example. But it is enough to remind me that there really are differences today among age groups. If we are at a dead end, then, like John Kennedy, we should at least start with a generational shift.

Real change—change you can believe in—is not going to come from Clinton or Trump. There is not anyone I know of in public life who could bring such change—Bernie is even older, after all—but not these two.

Ironically, the one voice that can teach us something new about technology is Martin Heidegger. He would be 127 today.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

It’s Materialism

7/31/2016—Last week, David Brooks wrote a column about the nation’s problems—and the fact that Hillary may have a hard time understanding them. The major problem is spiritual. Americans feel things are falling apart. But Democrats are too materialistic to recognize and respond to this.

Well, Brooks is a conservative—although not this year. So, he does not want the kind of economic changes that Bernie Sanders does. But really what were those changes? A ban on fracking? Breaking up the big banks? Higher taxes on the wealthy? I doubt Brooks has big problems with all that. So, I don’t think Brooks is just trying to avoid anything.

Hillary will have a hard time responding because she has not been an uplifting figure. And as the columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote yesterday in the Post-Gazette, there is still no case for Hillary—Continuity Now! ?

Anyway, I have been sounding this theme for a long time. Once you say that values are subjective, your society is not going to last. You can tell from listening to Hillary from years ago in Arkansas that she does not share that belief. But can she address it?

Monday, July 25, 2016


7/25/2016—I was traveling last week and so could not avoid watching some of the Republican National Convention. It is revealing to compare what observers are saying about it now versus how it seemed then.

Several people I respect have said that the convention atmosphere was toxic and unreal. Almost violent. Yet, it seemed strangely normal at the time. This is the power of the “is”. Nothing seems so extraordinary when it is happening.

There are several themes going on. One is Trump himself—-self-regarding, ignorant, impulsive and dishonest. A bad President. Strangely bad. Unprecedentedly bad. You can have an ordinary man as President. Truman was ordinary. But Truman served in the army in WWI. It is hard to imagine Trump serving in the military.

Then there is the country. To get elected, Trump has to convince the country that things are a lot worse than they are and that he can fix them. Why is it that he might succeed? In coal country, here in western Pennsylvania, the answer is easy. The jobs were really good and Clinton is the perfect symbol for people who are killing those jobs on purpose for some liberal do-gooding goal of global warming that those people will not pay for but coal workers will. All you need is someone who is willing to lie about global warming and lie about coal jobs. There is plenty of evidence that these voters know they are being lied to. They would rather have someone who cares enough about them to lie.

But for everyone else? Things are just not that bad. FDR said it, at another time that fascism really did threaten democracy—the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And it would be a lot easier today to actually improve things than it was in 1932.

But, would it be easier? There is something sick in the spirit of the nation today that was not so sick in 1932. You saw it in the hatred toward Hillary at the Republican Convention—-and Trump had nothing to do with it. Hillary really had nothing to do with it. The feeling was the same for Bill Clinton, once, and Barack Obama until recently.

But it is also true for the Democrats, to a lesser extent. I’m not speaking about disliking Trump, who really is an exception. Some Democrats feel almost the same way about Hillary that the Republicans do. The policy divisions were so exaggerated in the primary campaign. The political narrative was so unreal. Trade was a symbol. Do all these educated people really want to end foreign trade? What would that even mean? Maybe the recent deal is not great—-Krugman cannot make up his mind about it—but NAFTA? That deal strengthened the American auto industry. You can’t have good jobs unless you have an efficient economy. This economy uses foreign trade to become more efficient. This economy uses automation to be more efficient. Both these things eliminate some jobs. But they do work for the economy as a whole. And it is working right now.

Wages are stagnating, but that could be changed. The wealth all this produces just needs to be moved around a little more.

The feeling I have is that we hate each other. The issues are almost beside the point. That is the sickness.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lessons from My Uncle’s Funeral

7/21/2016 – – My uncle passed away last weekend. Last night there was a memorial service for him in Ormond Beach Florida in a small synagogue that he and his wife of 68 years have been very active in.

The service was reminiscent of the memorial service held for my mother back in 2007. That service was also held in a small synagogue that she had been very active in.

When most people moved to Florida, they seem to lose institutional connections to any community. Of course it depends when in life one moves here. But I know a lot of older Jewish people who never set down any roots in Florida at all. Thus, their universe gradually constricts to family members.

But my mother and my uncle were not like that. They engaged tremendous energy in their new synagogues. They took up important organizational roles. They gained new friends. And they were both loved in these new settings.

There is a lesson here for secular life. My brother and I said to each other, after the service, that there could not be an event like this upon our deaths. Because we do not belong to synagogues, there is no institutional basis to our lives.

Well, I suppose you should not live your life so that you have a nice memorial service when you die. On the other hand, my uncle and my mother were actually much happier than most people are because their lives still mattered, even quite late in life.

Secular life tends to be institutionally isolating. There is no necessity for that course. But there is nothing built in to prevent it either. In addition, I am sure that both my uncle and my mother, neither of whom was probably religious in belief, also gained a lot of satisfaction from the ritual rhythm of Jewish life. Life is just better when you are going to synagogue every week and celebrating the holidays every year.

What are the rituals of secular life going to be? What will be its community? What will be its rhythm? The difference between an empty secularism, which is the direction in which we seem to be heading now, and a hallowed secularism, which this blog is supposed to be about, lies in part in the answers to these questions.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Future of Democracy in the Islamic World

7/16/2016—I don’t trust Recep Tayyip Ergodan as far as I can throw him. He has restricted free speech in Turkey and is planning a strongman Constitution that does not bode well for the future of Democracy. Plus he provoked the conflict with the Kurds.

Nevertheless, Erdogan is the elected President in a genuinely free election. So, of course, President Obama, and other NATO allies, condemned the coup attempt. And it apparently failed.

The more basic issue is whether there can be an Islamic Democracy. In 1992, the Islamic Front in Algeria appeared to be winning national elections and was forestalled in a coup. In 2006, the US refused to recognize Hamas as the winner in legislative elections in Gaza. In 2013, Morsi was overthrown in a coup in Egypt.

The West cannot preach democracy but support or promote coups whenever we don’t approve the winners. Remember Tom Lehrer—For might makes right/until they see the light/ they’ve got to be protected/all their rights respected/till someone we like can be elected—Send the Marines.

Eventually, there will be Islamic Democracy. Eventually, a tamed Islam will emerge—just as a tamed Christianity emerged in Europe after the wars of religion in the 16th century. Westerners have to stop saying things like, they don’t understand democracy or they are not like us. All people want freedom and democracy.

The West has lost confidence. I am not sure why. It may have something to do with the crisis of meaning.

Of course democracy in the short run makes everything worse. It flames popular hatreds. But those hatreds are there anyway. Only democracy can defuse them eventually. Only free speech can lead the way to solutions. It is still true that democracies don’t go to war with each other.

The West solved the problem of religious democracy. We just have to have faith in our own system.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Black Lives Matter So Much that Police are Needed

7/8/2016—this morning brings news of six killings yesterday—two civilians in police shootings in two cities and four fatal shootings of police officers in Dallas, with more officers wounded. It is a horrific reminder of the violence and race issues at the heart of America.

But I want to tell a different story. Last month, there was a shooting at a basketball court in the afternoon in a park near my house. At the time, children, overwhelmingly African-American, were practicing for youth football and cheer leading. One girl was wounded.

Rather than cancel these youth activities, organizers asked members of the nearby community to show up at the first practice held after the shooting and asked for increased police presence. So, there we all were—mostly older white neighbors, city officials, and several officers—watching kids practicing under the watchful eyes of older black men and women who were doing coaching it looked like they had been doing for years. It was an inspiring sight.

That night, there was no question of tensions between the police and the community. The police were there to help hold off the forces of drugs and gangs and guns that were one possible alternative for the hundreds of young black children playing in the bright sunlight. That night another alternative seemed possible, one symbolized by the positive organization of youth sports.

That night, my neighborhood, which generally practices social racial segregation amidst its physical integration, was united with hope for these kids and a determination that they not be claimed by the streets.

It was also a reminder of what the true threat is to black lives in America. The unfortunate police shootings must be investigated and, finally, wrongful shootings must be punished, which they rarely are. But those are tiny exceptions. Tuesday night, the police officers, black and white, were there to help. And they wanted nothing for those children but a full and healthy life. The real threat had come from the casual violence on the basketball court weeks before. There was the threat that might one day kill and cripple many of these kids.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Home and My Uncle William’s Funeral

7/2/2016—My Uncle William died last week at over 100. He lived a very full life. What was noticeable to me was the difference between his funeral and that of his brother—my father—a few years ago.

On the surface, these two men were very similar and led similar lives. Both were talented small businessmen. Both took their Judaism seriously. But the decision of my father to move to Florida, at first for part of the year, and them permanently, altered the parallel trajectory of their lives.

When my father moved to Florida, he gradually cut ties with his long-time synagogue. No continuing, long term social institution was substituted. So, by the time my father died, he was in daily connection only with family.

In contrast, Uncle William remained an active member of his synagogue and this helped keep him in contact with other people. This made for a much more vibrant social life. You could see this at Uncle William’s funeral, which can be viewed online. A large turnout, mostly, but not entirely family.

Part of the difference between them was health. My father was very healthy until age 90, but weakened considerably after that. Uncle William was healthy almost until the very end of his life.

But part of the difference was moving to Florida. Dad did not substitute a new synagogue there and never resumed regular worship. I’m not sure why.

The implications of this for hallowed secularism are troubling. Currently, secularism has no social structure. That is fitting since American secularism tends to be individualistic. But a human life requires a social network. How will secularism manage that challenge?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Humans Will Walk On Mars in the Century

6/28/2016--Ever since the 1972 Presidential race, I have been out of step with my fellow progressives on the question of space exploration. I believe such exploration is part of the human need to explore and learn. I have never understood why great men like Thomas Berry were opposed to such things. Sure, the race to the moon was wasteful. So what? There were certainly spin offs from scientific breakthroughs that recouped some of the cost. The benefit was incalculable. What is the price tag on the pictures of the Earth from the moon?

Especially now, with the inward looking politics of Brexit and the zero sum game approach of Trump and Sanders--no sense that everyone can win--not Mexicans for Trump, not the rich for Sanders--there is need for policies that are expansive.

And there is plenty of money. Space exploration is a good thing and costs relatively little. The money it does cost would not have gone into food for the poor, after all.

This is all why I greeted yesterday's news of the further development of the Chinese space program with glee. Even hidebound conservatives, even anti-technology liberals, will not want the Chinese to get too far ahead in space. Maybe this Presidential election will not make the promise to go to Mars, but the next one will.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Purposeful Obfuscation on Gun Control

6/22/2016--Oh, give me a break. I don't usually write on gun control issues--and almost never to take the Party line against the pro-gun side, but the latest Republican proposal on guns is really too much.

That proposal, written about today by Ramesh Ponnuru in the Post-Gazette, is that if someone on the terrorist watch list tries to buy a gun, the government has 72 hours to go to a judge with "probable cause" that the person is involved in terrorist plotting (that last phrase is from Ponnuru, but the "probable cause" part is in the bill.) If probable cause is found, the judge bars the sale.

This is a joke for quite technical reasons that most Americans will not know but the authors of this absurdity do know. The standard for arrest is probable cause. Therefore, if the government has probable cause to believe anyone is involved in criminal activity, the government already has the power to arrest and charge them, often holding them in jail until the case is heard, in the case of terrorist related charges.

So this proposal is literally absurd. Its only purpose is to give Republican legislators something they can vote that sounds good. Ponnuru calls it more respectful of civil liberties and more realistic about errors on the watch list. Maybe Ponnuru just does not understand how the legal system works. But I assure you, the government would never need to act under this proposal if it became law. The government already arrests such persons.

The good idea is the one I mentioned in my last entry and which would happen anyway if someone were not permitted to buy guns. The government should have to satisfy some level of scrutiny since the no-fly list is quite overbroad and inaccurate. You would know the Republicans were serious if the proposal were to force the government to satisfy reasonable suspicion, for example. But probable cause--no. That level of scrutiny is all you need for an arrest.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How Heller Resolves the Gun Issue

6/16/2016--I have never been able to convince my fellow gun-control progressives, but DC v. Heller, the case that, in 2008, held that Americans have a constitutional right to have a gun, and McDonald v. Chicago, which extended Heller to the States, helpfully resolves the gun issue. The reason it does so is that it removes the possibility of confiscation of guns from any conversation about gun control. So, in theory, Heller should make it easier to enact sensible gun restrictions.

To see how this might work in practice, consider the issue of the no-fly list. After the horrible tragedy in Orlando, gun control advocates have renewed calls for suspension of gun purchase rights by persons on the government's no-fly, anti-terrorist watch list. Yesterday, Donald Trump agreed with this position.

In the past, this proposal has foundered on the ground that there are mistakes on the no-fly list, which are difficult to get removed. So, many innocent people are on that list and cannot seem to get off. The NRA and its allies do not want that problem exacerbated by adding guns to the list.

But now consider the impact of Heller. Courts are understandably reluctant to second guess the government about people on the no-fly list. This reluctance cannot be extended to the loss of the right to buy a gun, however, because that is a constitutional right. So, courts will have to grant hearings and put the burden on the government to justify the loss of the right to purchase guns. The net effect will be a list without obvious errors.

Progressives have not made this argument because they are afraid that it would entrench Heller. Well, guess what? Heller is entrenched. It is not a broad right--it allows a ban on concealed carry, for example--but it is robust where it applies. It will not be overruled. And it can be used to expand gun control if one knows how to use it.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Clinton Clinches

6/9/2016—I am one of the many Democrats who find it hard to warm up to Hillary Clinton. I believe she is dishonest, or at least manipulative. The email issue, which does not seem to me all that serious by itself, is a continuing symbol of what I don’t like about her. She did that to be sure to keep things private that had to be shared, at least with others in the government. It is that kind of control issues that both Clintons have always had problems with. That is why they are known collectively as Clinton, Inc.

And there is her support for the Iraq War.

Plus, I am tired of the Clinton drama. Bill Clinton was not a good President. His personal behavior was a disgrace, of course, and it did hurt the country. In addition, his new-Democrat policies hurt poor people badly. The very, very poor, especially badly. Now people who have no money often cannot get welfare, even if they have young children. Clinton is partly responsible for all that.

Nevertheless, I have no real problem supporting her. It is true, as she said yesterday, that if you want a rise in the minimum wage, you have to support her. Hillary and Bernie are actually very close on domestic economic issues. Trump is just another Republican on the most important economic issues—though he does not support cuts in social security. Even on banking issues, Hillary supports Dodd-Frank. Trump wants to eviscerate it.

And then there is global warming. Here, there is no comparison. Hillary supports the Paris Accord. Trump wants to undo it.

On all these matters, Trump is mostly just another Republican and Hillary and Bernie are Democrats. Those are the differences that matter in most Presidential elections.

So, no, I have no problem supporting Hillary.

Of course, there is more. Hillary is a woman. I am proud that a woman is nominated for President and I get to vote for her.

And there is one more matter. Donald Trump is a lunatic. So, even if I could not stand Hillary, and even if I did not agree with her on most issues, I would vote for her. So should everyone else.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Heart of Hallowed Secularism

6/4/2016--I'll be traveling some in June, but I will try to be more faithful in blogging. For my term as Associate Dean at Duquesne Law School is ending and my life in thinking is about to begin again.

This last week I spoke to a group of civilians--non-lawyers--about Judaism as part of a class on Comparative Religion. At the same time, I submitted a proposed paper to the Association of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools to speak at their meeting in September. These two matters come together for the future.

The issue is American Democracy and what is wrong with it. Why are we so angry and disappointed? Some say the reasons are material, but I believe the reasons are basically spiritual. We are a people who are lost. We no longer get our orientation from traditional religion, but we have no substitute. Most secularists--people who don't go to Church or Mosque or Temple or Synagogue--and some who do, subscribe to a worldview that is a dead end. They think they are rationalists--hence the Reason Rally today in Washington.

But they are not rationalists--they are a kind of materialist. They reject God for the silliest reason: that he is invisible and inexplicable. Well so is quantum entanglement.

I am what you might call a minimal materialist. I reject God as a being. But of course all thinking religious people reject God as a being also.

The heart of my alternative to God as a being is hallowed secularism. Secular because there cannot be a quasi-physical realm like a heaven where spirits act like people. Hallowed because this reality is holy--the missing ingredient at the Reason Rally.

My hero is Sarah Blumenthal from the book, City of God, by E.L. Doctorow. Sarah is a liberal rabbi and gives a talk. God is something evolving, she says. And what about humans? We live out a teleology that gives one substantive indication of itself--that we live in moral consequence.

There you have the future of secularism--teleology and moral consequence. Teleology: this reality is not an accident. Yes, it has random features. But look at humans. We are the universe becoming aware of itself. No mere materialism can capture that. And we know what it means to live a moral life. That means that morality is real--not a matter of opinion. So much flows from that.

Of course we disagree in the present about moral questions. But we do a really good job historically in figuring out the right answers to moral questions.

But, shockingly, I could almost describe Judaism as a teleology of moral consequence, too.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Anti-Zionism or Anti-Semitism?

5/30/2016—The really good newspaper, Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle, covers issues of interest to the Jewish community with amazing journalistic integrity. It is not unusual to find Arab and Palestinian voices in the newspaper criticizing the policies of the current government of Israel. And it is common to hear liberal voices within the Jewish community challenging unthinking support for Israel and defending American politicians who want America to play a more balanced role in the Middle East. The debate over the Iranian nuclear accord played out in the pages of that newspaper. I read it every week.

But one area where the magazine either is less even handed, or, perhaps, I don’t know what is going on, is the issue of where the line is drawn between a genuinely anti-Zionist stance and antisemitism. By genuinely anti-Zionist, I don’t even mean people who feel that the State of Israel should never have existed. The newspaper would undoubtedly call such people anti-Semitic. No, by anti-Zionist, I mean people who believe that the State of Israel has become racist in recent years and is so now. That its treatment of the Palestinian people is shameful—a violent occupation of a civilian population that would like to live in peace. That most Israelis no longer even want a Palestinian State to exist in the West Bank. That Arab Israeli citizens are second class citizens. In other words, that Israel is now a nationalist, dangerous apartheid State.

When this line, which I have never been able to make my mind up about—the Israelis I know are not representative, but they have come reluctantly to the conclusion that there cannot be peace with the Palestinians because Palestinians don’t want peace and these Israelis oppose the policies that disadvantage Arab Israeli citizens; that would not be racist in any way—is presented on college campuses, the Jewish Chronicle sometimes characterizes it as anti-Semitic. And many Jews do the same.

One thing is clear. The current government of Israel does not want an independent Palestinian State—for religious reasons (it would be on land some believe was promised by God to the Jewish people) or security reasons (inevitably, such a State would be taken over by fanatics staging attacks on Israel). After all, the current random attacks on Israelis are the reason the consensus in Israel changed against peace.

But is such criticism anti-Semitic? I don’t think it starts out that way. There are Jews, after all, who share this view of Israel. But we have to remember the insight of Carl Schmidt, the German/Nazi theorist. He wrote that once you have the friend/enemy distinction, all other oppositions follow. If a people occupy your land or oppose your policies, you eventually come to hate that people and not just what they do.

All this, of course, is miles away from the amazing anti-Semitic ranting that Jewish journalists are beginning to absorb from Trump supporters, which Jonathan Weisman wrote about in the New York Times a few days ago (here). That stuff is purely nativist. But it is comical. Impossible for me to take seriously as a threat to Jews. Donald Trump himself is a product of New York values. No one ever thought of him as anti-Semitic. The notion is ridiculous.

Well, why doesn’t he call out his supporters? For the same reason Lincoln accepted support from anti-immigrant groups. In politics you take all the votes you can get.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Shining Hour of Conservative Columnists

5/23/2016--This will ever be known as the shining hour of conservative columnists. I have four in mind: George F. Will, Ross Douthat, David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer. I don't read these four every day, so it's possible I have missed something. But as far as I have seen, these four have bucked the trend inside the Republican Party to come to terms, and support in some form, Donald Trump as the Party nominee for President.

Now, you may say that this is hardly a test--that anyone smart enough to be a columnist would understand how dangerous Trump is. But that attitude misunderstands how politics works. William Safire, a great conservative columnist, once wrote that he supported Republican Party positions even when he had doubts about them because in American politics, to have any influence, you have to be on one side of the two party system. That is basically true. If Trump wins in November, opponents in the Democratic Party will continue to work and will have a home. These four men, conversely, would be marginalized in such an event. Eventually, one way or another, they would cease to have the position they have now. And they know it.

Furthermore, at least Will loathes Hillary Clinton and the others have really grave doubts about her fitness to be President. Yet, none of them is criticizing Republicans who are planning to vote for her.

The reason they are acting in this way is that they believe what they have been saying for a year--that Trump is not another politician. Not only is his word worth nothing--this is actually not true of politicians in general because they need to be loyal to their Party's coalition--but he has no democratic instincts. Trump really does not understand the restraints of the constitutional system in a way that most politicians take for granted. Think of an even less principled Richard Nixon. Think of putting the IRS in Trump's hands. Well, think of putting any power into his hands, really.

Yet, the crawl toward Trump of Republican Party officials is what you would expect of the Party establishment. They know how bad Trump is, but they have nowhere else to go. Right now, they are just hoping he is defeated and they can get back to normal politics.

Nor do I believe a Paul Krugman or other liberal columnists would do the same thing if the situation were reversed. These four columnists are loyal to a political tradition independent of Party that I am not sure liberals have. Liberals agree with each other on some policy points, but when they disagree with each other--as on free trade, for example--liberals don't have an abiding ideology to fall back on.

So three cheers for the big four: Will, Douthat, Brooks and Krauthammer. Their country owes them a debt.