Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Get Rid of the Filibuster--but don't pack the Court--Capital-Star

 10/21/2020--This week's column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star (here).

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Anti-Racism

10/18/2020--I was just reading the April, 2020 review of The Shadow King in the New York Review. Colin Grant quotes the raw racism of the Italian writer Ferdinando Martini about the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia by Italy. It was shocking to read.

"One race must replace the other; it’s that or nothing…whether we like it or not, we will have to hunt [the native] down and encourage him to disappear, just as had been done with the Redskins, using all the methods civilization—which the native instinctively hates—can provide: gunfire and a daily dose of firewater."

I quote this language because nothing but his own words would communicate that racism in its power.

This is a lesson in anti-racism. 

Two faculty members have left Pittsburgh Universities in recent weeks over the use in class of the word N*. I have no need to write the word out here because I am not trying to show the power the word had. 

But these educators were trying to do that. I now want to repeat that raw racism has to be shown--it cannot be described. It must be quoted.

Who was let off the hook in these incidents? In my view, white students who will never understand what people of color confront every day even now--see the recent incident involving Gisele Fetterman (here). 

Details matter and I not defending the actual conduct of the professors in question. 

But I am defending two principles. First, racism must be permitted to speak its awful message if it is to be understood and confronted. Second, while the classroom should never be hostile to students, it must often make students extremely uncomfortable. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The One Religious Question Barrett Should Not Have to Answer

10/7/2020--this week's column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Let's see if the Dems read it.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

It Is Fitting that President Trump Contracted the Virus

 10/3/2020--Believe me, I pray for the health of President Trump every day. Not only do I genuinely not wish serious illness on anyone, I don't want a new Presidential race with a President Pence replacing President Trump. Trump is losing and my goal is to get rid of the Administration currently in power.

But, why should I not say that there is a fittingness about the man who did more to discourage simple steps against contracting COVID-19--wearing a mask and socially distancing--actually contracting the virus? The truth is, he deserved what happened.  

Of course, you can't say such things in public. I only can say them in the relative anonymity of a blog read by only a few. Not even on Twitter.

Trump's supporters now say he did not mock Biden for wearing a mask and wore one himself when appropriate. But this is not entirely true. For weeks he would not wear one at all. And he did everything he could to minimize the importance of such steps.

No one can really figure out why President Trump acted this way. Yes, he wanted to minimize the virus in order to open up the economy. But masks and distancing are ways to reopen, not ways not to. Duquesne University is open now because we vigorously adhere to these practices. So we can be in person in ways other schools are not.

The same could be true of the economy as a whole. 

But then who said President Trump is rational. Often he cannot pursue even his own self-interest--see condemning white nationalism.

Anyway, I am assuming that neither he nor any member of his family is seriously ill. He does not seem to be. As long as that is the case, his illness simply unhinges his campaign--both because he cannot campaign and also because he is exposed as reckless and uninterested in protecting the people of the United States. He encouraged people to act in ways that made it more likely that they would get sick and then he got sick. That is fitting.

 

 


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Today's Column on the Confirmation Fight

 9/22/2020--In their lust to control the Supreme Court, conservatives lied to the people in 2016 and now want to change the "McConnell rule". Let the people decide. Today's column.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Happy New Year

 

9/20/2020— Today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish calendar.I have not been able to write High Holy Day blog entries for a few years. This year was no exception.

But I would like to mention that one of the difficulties in establishing a really satisfying secular life is the absence of holy days.

For a Jew, the month before the High Holy Days, Elul, is one of introspection in preparation for the holiday period.

Then, there is the sense of possible new beginnings in the New Year itself.

When does the secular person engage in such introspection? When is the possibility of new beginning really present?

For us, one day tends to be like another.

It is not a problem yet solved. In fact, it is not yet a problem seen as a problem.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Mark Tooley on George Weigel/Judge Pryor on the Court of History

9/12/2020--I have this unfortunate tendency to lecture Christians on the meaning of the Gospel. As a self-professed non-believer, as a hallowed secularist, this must irritate believers. I don't blame them. It's just that I don't hear the Gospel preached. 

Two recent examples. 

Mark Tooley, the very thoughtful President of the Institute of Religion & Democracy, interviewed the Catholic thinker George Weigel on the theme Will America Choose Liberty or Anarchy? This drove me crazy. As if Trump represents liberty. Trump represents tyranny--ask any business owner he pushes around. As if the protests of people getting America to finally confront its racial sins represent anarchy. 

Justice looks like anarchy when you are in power. A man who enters by pushing on an infirm door gets an unjustified reputation for violence. What about the state of the door. (And a man who at 68 can still endorse his high school yearbook quote has obviously not learned very much in a lifetime). 

Anyway, I complained to Mark, whom I don't know personally and who took the time to gently remind me that Weigel did not support Trump, which is true. In 2016, Weigel urged people to vote for neither Trump nor Clinton. 

But this was incredibly bad theology. Trump represents a spiritual harm to the Church in a way Clinton never could--I don't care how pro-choice she is. In a Clinton presidency, the church, or much of it, would have confronted what it viewed as evil. It would have been wrong in many ways in my view, but it would have borne witness. In a Trump presidency, the church--its leadership and many of its congregations--have aligned themselves with the evils of power and in this way have shamed the Gospel. That is by far a greater harm. 

Say what you will about Hillary. She would never use a Bible as a photo op. 

The second example is 11th Circuit Chief Judge Bill Pryor, who wrote a separate concurrence in a case upholding Florida's requiement that fines be paid before felons could reclaim voting rights. 

The dissenters wrote that prior cases upholding votng rights "will be viewed as kindly by history." Pryor could not stand that. He wrote, There is no court of human history. 

South Texas Law Professor wrote favorably about this in Reason

Here is a fuller quote. Our duty is not to reach the outcomes we think will please whoever comes to sit on the court of human history. The Constitution instead tasks us with "administering the rule of law in courts of limited jurisdiction," id. at 1343, which means that we must respect the political decisions made by the people of Florida and their officials within the bounds of our Supreme Law, regardless of whether we agree with those decisions. And in the end, as our judicial oath acknowledges, we will answer for our work to the Judge who sits outside of human history. 

Professor Blackman writes that appeals to history "no longer have any meaning for me." They represent "mythology." 

This is the same nihilism that AG William Barr demonstrated when he was asked how history would view his decisions: "I am at the end of my career. Everyone dies, and I am not, you know, I don’t believe in the Homeric idea that, you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries." 

 Conservatives have now abandoned Martin Luther King, Jr.: the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. Oh, and I should add that in the Judeo/Christian tradition, God does not sit outside human history. When you abandon justice, you abandon religion too. I have no problem with a judge saying his role is to follow the law and sometimes not follow justice. But don't tell me there is no such thing.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

This Week's Column--Tribalism

9/10/2020--link to this week's column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

"art is not enough, but art is all we have"

9/6/2020--One of the saddest book review/essays I have ever read is by the writer Rumaan Alam, reviewing Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore in the New York Review August 20, 2020 issue. (here).

It's a really good review. Alam admires Moore's work and has great insights into it. But he detects and shares a decline in optimism over the years: "In the decade that elapsed between Birds of America [1998] and A Gate at the Stairs [2009], that premillennial optimism—we thought Al Gore would be president!—hardens. ...The writer sees the world differently now, and maybe with the wisdom of age, it's more difficult to sustain optimism."

But it's not really a matter of optimism or pessimism. It's worst than that. In the end, art does not console us. But nothing else does either. That conclusion is the source of Alam's last line--"This story reminds us that art is not enough, but it is all we have."

But is it all we have?

In terms of my new book, Alam answers no to Bernard Lonergan's question, is the universe on our side? You can build a civilization out of the no, but it is not easy to do so.

Nor is it necessary. There is also a potential yes, even for those who do not believe in God. That is the secret of renewal.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

What Libertarians Get Wrong About Masks

8/27/2020--This week's column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Case for Trump

8/25/2020--I have accused conservatives of a fixation on the courts when President Donald Trump represents a grave threat to constitutional government. I have found the continuing support for Trump impossible to understand.

Then Randy Barnett, the most thoughtful of American conservative constitutional theorists, wrote this tweet:

*******************
Aug 23
Replying to
@RandyEBarnett
and
@JonahDispatch
In the 2016 primary, for this and other reasons, I preferred another candidate. But I and others have been pleasantly surprised at the governance of his administration. Dismissing the relevance of this, or the likely administration of his opponent, seems wrong to me.
*****************************
This helps explain a lot. In Barnett's view, you have to look at what the Trump Administration has actually done rather than the instincts of the President. Barnett calls the latter, the character issue.

In governance, Barnett presumably means things like the Iranian agreement and deregulation. He ignores the tax cut that led to higher deficits--deficits have never been his thing.

That latter issue also suggests that he is thinking of the contrast of Trump with a Democratic Administration. That Administration would threaten liberty in a more basic way than Trump does. For example, religious liberty, the right to bear arms and economic freedom--all fundamental issues for Barnett.

But, I still do not understand the structural blindness. Trump's instincts are not just a "character" issue in the personal morality sense, but a political character issue. He would prefer that the federal government only deal with governors who flatter and agree with him--VP Pence refused to do that in the case of the Governor of Michigan. He feels he has the right to tell the states how to conduct voting so that it benefits him. He asks a foreign government to investigate an American citizen. He suggests we delay the next election.

My problem with Trump is something I never even thought of with a President Bush. I'm not sure that if he is re-elected in 2020 that there will be an election in 2024. That is not something that Barnett has to worry about in the case of Biden and the Democrats.

Even if that is only a small risk, it is not a risk that any constitutional conservative has the right to take.

Maybe this depends on the importance of democracy versus certain forms of liberty. Could one favor a benign dictatorship that protects liberty over a democratically elected despotism. Is that trade off at the heart of conservative willingness to overlook Trump's dictatorial tendencies?

Or is it, as Barnett suggested later, that my fear of dictatorship is simply a paranoid fantasy on my part that no conservative has to take seriously?


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Evil Geniuses

8/23/2020--The book review in the NY Times today makes me want to read this book. It tells the tale of a change in consciousness in America beginning in the 1970s that is the result of a cabal of right-wing thinkers and the wealthy. As described, the story makes no sense. Ronald Reagan ran on this very platform in 1980 and was very popular. So, how could there be this change then? Everything the book review mentions--all the interrelated ideas and institutions came later. Plus, when Donald came on the scene, the edifice more or less collapsed. But, I have to read it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Listen to the Podcast Ikthos

8/19/2020--I was interviewed by Felicia Gaddis on her podcast, Ikthos, here. It was a lot of fun. First time I talked in public about the book.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

How Can the Sacred be Regained?

8/13/2020--The quotes below are from an op-ed by Thomas Friedman: Beirut’s Blast Is a Warning for America. The subhead was, In this country, as in Lebanon, everything is now politics.

Friedman was quoting Moshe Halbertal:

“For a healthy politics to flourish it needs reference points outside itself — reference points of truth and a conception of the common good,” explained the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal. “When everything becomes political, that is the end of politics.”

“When you lose the realm of the sacred, that realm of the common good outside of politics, that is when societies collapse,” said Halbertal. That is what happened to Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq. And that is what is slowly happening to Israel and America.

One thing about the column is odd—all these countries mentioned are among the most religious in the world. So, one question Friedman is not interested in is how is it the religions of the book—Islam, Judaism and Christianity—lost the sacred?

I believe this happened because of the Death of God, which has absolutely penetrated everywhere. Religion loses its capacity for creativity because it fears the universe instead of having faith in it. Do you hear the Orthodox in any religion say, we shall have peace because with God all things are possible?

If these religions had not lost God, there would be much more serious cross boundary worship, as there was with Martin Buber. The Rebbe would have been capable of this. Pope Francis is. It is rare. God is Dead.

But, in rapidly secularizing America, we have to ask another question—how does secularism recover the sacred?

You don’t get the answer for a year, which is when my new book will be published. It is all about how to recover the sacred. It is called The Universe Is On Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life.

Here is the abstract: There has been a breakdown in American public life that no election can fix. Americans cannot even converse about politics. All the usual explanations for our condition have failed to make things better. Bruce Ledewitz shows that America is living with the consequences of the Death of God, which Friedrich Nietzsche knew would be momentous and irreversible. God was this culture’s story of the meaning of our lives. Even atheists had substitutes for God, like inevitable progress. Now we have no story and do not even think about the nature of reality. That is why we are angry and despairing. America’s future requires that we begin a new story by each of us asking a question posed by theologian Bernard Lonergan: Is the universe on our side? When we commit to live honestly and fully by our answer to that question, even if our immediate answer is no, America will begin to heal. Beyond that, pondering the question of the universe will allow us to see that there is more to the universe than blind forces and dead matter. Guided by the naturalism of Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy, and the historical faith of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we can learn to trust that the universe bends toward justice and our welfare. That conclusion will complete our healing and restore faith in American public life. We can live without God, but not without thinking about holiness in the universe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

First They Came for the NRA

8/11/2020--I wrote today's column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star on the topic of the entry below.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Latitia James's Tyranny

8/7/2020--The New York Attorney General is suing to dissolve the NRA. She has jurisdiction because the NRA is a non-profit charitable organization registered in New York.

Dissolution of charities is a rare but not unheard of remedy for corruption and self-dealing that renders a purported organization essentially a fraudulent front.

The issue in this instance is, of course, that the NRA is one of the most effective political organizations in America and it opposes Latitia James's Party.

Yet, no outrage at this obvious government overreach.

Sure there is self-dealing in the NRA. The people involved can be separated from the organization and/or jailed for fraud. But imagine if the government had sought the dissolution of the Teamsters under Jimmy Hoffa. Then the Left would see danger. But not in the case of the NRA.

Lest anyone doubt the politics of this, here is a quote from another story: "Gun control groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, both funded by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, praised the suit."

In 2018, the ACLU filed an amicus brief on behalf of the NRA. I hope the group, of which I am a member, does the same this time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Power of Prayer

8/5/2020--I wrote in a draft of my book that one way you know that this culture does not believe in God is that no one prayed for America to be spared the virus. Not in public, in a serious way.

Nor did anyone try to find out why God did this.

In other words, we effectively treated the virus as a wholly natural event.

That is appropriate from a naturalistic, modern perspective. But not from a Biblical one. The omnipotent creator God of the Bible is entirely free to bring or stop a virus. And does things like that all the time. There might be a theological reason not to ask to be spared God's judgment, but even Jesus prayed that the cup pass from him.

This is what I mean when I say God is dead. That supernatural being who does tricks is gone.

Not for everybody of course. But for the culture.

That is why we are so suspicious of Tanzania. There, the President, John Magufuli, says there have been no cases since April because of the power of prayer. We know he is covering up, but why are we so sure?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

GOP Meddling with the Courts

7/29/2020--this is the column instead of the one on the federal police power. Dishonesty in Washington and structural racism in Harrisburg.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

No Federal Police Power

7/26/2020--This Summmer, as I was writing the book, The Universe Is On Our Side, the first and second drafts of which are now finished, I have not been blogging here. Instead, I have been just directing readers to my columns in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Well, there are also columns that are not written. This week's column is about GOP efforts to interfere with the courts. But that is not the column I set out to write. Last week, the people of the United States were unsettled by threats from President Donald Trump to send federal agents into several American cities to combat murder and violence.

So, I set out to write about the absence of the federal police power--that is the power enjoyed by State government to act for the health, safety and welfare of the citizenry. A government of general powers has the police power.

The federal government, in contrast, is a government of limited powers. Thus, it lacks the police power.

That is why Trump lacked authority to do what he proposed to do.

There were also separation of powers issues. Domestically, the President has only the power to enforce the laws, not to keep order. He can protect federal property, as in Portland, Oregon, but cannot combat ordinary crime. That was another reason, Trump could not do what he said.

However, when I set out to write the column, it turned out that the whole thing had been a hyped up nothing.

Here is how the column was to start: "On Wednesday, July 22, President Donald Trump announced that he would be sending hundreds of federal agents into several American cities to confront a rise in shootings and other violence. This is an action he has no constitutional authority to take.

Fortunately, Attorney General William Barr explained that the Justice Department would be sending 200 additional agents to Chicago and 35 to Albuquerque to beef up violent crime task forces that already work with local police. This is not only constitutional, it is commonplace."

So, after all the talk, and threats, all the President planned to do was to send more agents to help local police as federal agents had already been doing. This involves enforcing certain narrowly defined federal laws, such as certain drug laws and organized crime and gang laws.

It is not patrolling the streets and it is not solving and preventing murders when local government cannot do so.

I am glad the column did not have to be written, but it is a token of how Trump governs that he made these threats when he, or at least those around him, knew that nothing of the sort was planned. This is real pathology. But I guess you would have to call it political pathology rather than a constitutional crisis.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Fantasyland of American Public Discourse

7/14/2020--It is now obvious that Dr. Graham Snyder of UPMC was correct that there is now a new, more transmissible, much less dangerous virus strain. (Story here). That is why infections are up, but deaths and serious cases are not.

This is very good news. Why are we not hearing about it?

The media do not want to run this story because they are committed to running President Trump into the ground.

But we don't hear it from the President either, because the virus is still dangerous.

The Democrats are making a mistake in linking themselves to this narrative that we are in a more dangerous position. We are not. Infections have been going up for almost a month. And still, yesterday, there were nationally 465 deaths on Monday. In March there were over 3000 deaths a day.

And it makes no sense to then move the goalposts by talking about serious illness. Dr. Snyder noted that almost no new cases require respirators.

Why cannot we have a reasonable conversation in this country? You still wear a mask but you can now concentrate on protecting the most vulnerable. Things can pretty safely reopen.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Trump Threatens University Tax Exempt Status

7/19/2020--This week, President Trump threatened the tax exempt status of schools that, he said, indoctrinate with left-wing propaganda, rather than educate. This comment shows how dangerous he is, of course. But let's assume nothing comes of it.

Where are all those religious voices ready to go to war because they feared Hillary Clinton would threaten their tax exempt status? Where are all those so-called constitutional conservatives? If they have denounced the President, I haven't heard about it.

The destruction of constitutional liberty is threatened because many of those who claimed to care about the Constitution did not do so when the threat came from their side.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Fourth of July

7/4/2020--I cannot write my book fast enough. Now David Brooks writes about "a pervasive loss of national faith." I Have a whole Chapter on that, which will not come out until next summer.

Well, presumably we will still lack faith then.

It is a really simple idea. We lack faith because the object of faith, God, died. Once that occurred, all the selfishness and banality became inevitable.

Easier to tell the story than to do something about it. But all we need is a substitute for God--but not an idol. The universe will do. The universe is on our side and that will be the beginning of a new faith.

So, I have just given my book away, a year early and for free. But at least my readers can have a happy fourth.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pennsylvania Capital-Star Column

7/1/2020--Take a look at today's column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star addressing reason and truth in American public life.

Originalism Is Dead

7/1/2020--I write this as the Adrian Van Kaam C.S.Sp. Endowed Chair in Scholarly Excellence. My 5-year appointment began today. My thanks to Dean Barton, President Gormley and Duquesne University, my home since 1980.

Espinoza v Montana Dept. of Revenue (2020), decided yesterday, is just the latest indication that this Court is going to protect religious believers as its core commitment. That is what following the election returns means.

The decision, effectively that the no-aid provision in the Montana State Constitution is unconstitutional, means that State aid must go on an equal basis to parents of students who would use the money to attend religious schools. (the details in the case involve tax credits, but this is the new rule). This differs from Zelman in 2002 that held that school vouchers could be used for religious schools without violating the Establishment Clause. Now such programs must include religious schools.

The decision is fine with me. But, as I have been saying since Trinity Lutheran Church in 2017, it means that originalism is dead. This is not what the free exercise clause meant when it was adopted. Want the law to adapt, great. Think the framers were overly concerned about religious separation, me too. Just don't call yourself an originalist.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Report on The Universe Is On Our Side

6/272020--Readers of this blog have noticed the dearth of material over the past month or so. I have been hard at work writing the first draft of the book that will be published by Oxford University Press next summer--The Universe Is On Our Side: Restoring Faith In American Public Life. I want to report that yesterday I finished Chapter 6--of a likely 10. So, more than halfway there. So, watch for my continuing column updates here, but there will not be too much more material posted probably for another month. In August, I will return with more regular reflections.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Is Every White Person a Racist?

6/21/2020--KeepAll3 responded to my column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, below, as follows: "If @BLedewitz feels guilty because he used to be a racist, that’s fine. But please don’t project onto the rest of us. Thank you kindly."

Just to be clear as to what I mean by racist, let me repeat:

"For white racism is simply the feeling that this is my country. The feeling that the normal American is white. And, you can add, in the appropriate circumstances, straight and male.

That is the sort of person most white people expect to see, hire, interact with, listen to and treat as an equal.

This feeling is embedded in most of us. Overcoming it is hard work. Fortunately, among the young, you can tell it is less present."

So, the first thing I have to admit is that it isn't that I "used to be a racist." I say in the column that white racism is like any other addiction--it does not disappear. You fight it every day.

Second, I suppose there are white people my age who do not feel this way. That is why I use the word, "most." But I admit it is hard for me to believe. No one ever taught me to be racist in this sense. I was very, very close to a black woman growing up, Gertrude Falls, whom I loved deeply.

Nevertheless, I thought of white people as the norm and I still would if I did not consciously think about it. So, I don't really understand why other white people would feel differently.

But it they do, great. I am happy to apologize to KeepAll3 right here and now. And I know many young people feel differently.

In fact, that is a large part of my hope for America's future.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

White Racism Matters

6/20/2020--Take a look at this week's column, which I call, White Racism Matters.

Monday, June 8, 2020

James Bennet Resigns

6/8/2020--It is a sad day. The New York Times allowed James Bennet to resign because he greenlighted an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The newspaper failed to support Bennet, the op-ed editor. If you go to the op-ed now, here is the statement by the paper.
********************
Editors’ Note, June 5, 2020:

After publication, this essay met strong criticism from many readers (and many Times colleagues), prompting editors to review the piece and the editing process. Based on that review, we have concluded that the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published.

The basic arguments advanced by Senator Cotton — however objectionable people may find them — represent a newsworthy part of the current debate. But given the life-and-death importance of the topic, the senator’s influential position and the gravity of the steps he advocates, the essay should have undergone the highest level of scrutiny. Instead, the editing process was rushed and flawed, and senior editors were not sufficiently involved. While Senator Cotton and his staff cooperated fully in our editing process, the Op-Ed should have been subject to further substantial revisions — as is frequently the case with such essays — or rejected.

For example, the published piece presents as facts assertions about the role of “cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa”; in fact, those allegations have not been substantiated and have been widely questioned. Editors should have sought further corroboration of those assertions, or removed them from the piece. The assertion that police officers “bore the brunt” of the violence is an overstatement that should have been challenged. The essay also includes a reference to a “constitutional duty” that was intended as a paraphrase; it should not have been rendered as a quotation.

Beyond those factual questions, the tone of the essay in places is needlessly harsh and falls short of the thoughtful approach that advances useful debate. Editors should have offered suggestions to address those problems. The headline — which was written by The Times, not Senator Cotton — was incendiary and should not have been used.

Finally, we failed to offer appropriate additional context — either in the text or the presentation — that could have helped readers place Senator Cotton’s views within a larger framework of debate.
**********************
The statement is absurd. These details are always present. Op-eds often assert "facts" that are not established. That is why they are on the opinion page. Especially sad is the last part about context. It is an opinion. Readers are not stupid.

The first part shows the newspaper's cowardice. If the argument is newsworthy, it belongs in the paper.

If the point is that Cotton is a racist fascist for wanting to call in the troops against the American people, then the paper should have said so. And added, we don't publish racism. That at least would be an understandable position.

Friday, June 5, 2020

On Criticizing Our Side

6/5/2020—Pat Robertson did a very important thing when he said of President Trump’s church performance, “You just don’t do that, Mr. President,” he said, and added, “We’re one race. And we need to love each other.”

Liberals and Democrats will exult, of course, which is why we find it so hard to criticize our own side.

But I am certain that Robertson thought he was doing something important for the President, for the country and for the church.

It is the only way that our leaders can really be restrained.

We ow it to ourselves and them to criticize in those ways that will hurt politically.

How many on the left would have done that?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Why Have Taxes At All?

6/3/2020--Today's column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Regarding This Moment

5/31/2020--On Friday, David Brooks tweeted,

"This has been one of the worst weeks of our collective lives: 100K dead, an economy still collapsing, racism, murder, conspiracy mongering, a president more contemptible by the day. Hang in there. It will get better."

At this same time, I am working on Chapter 1 in my upcoming book, The Universe Is On Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life: The Breakdown in American Public Life. But, what is that breakdown?

Brooks is discouraged. That is not surprising since he has no ontological foundation. That is, his native optimism is not grounded in the nature of the universe. Thus, all he can say is , "Hang in there."

But the bright prospects of hope are absolutely present in his array of bad news.

President Trump, for example, is undoing himself. Trying to court black voters, he threatens to have protestors shot. Trump is more concerned with stores than with black lives taken by rogue police officers.

Well, that is not shocking, but to see it only a few months before an election....

And Trump's baselessly accusing a private citizen of murder? His media supporters recoil.

And racism--what would you have said if, in the course of human lifetime, police brutality went from intentional policy to a charge of murder? If the casual racism of white Americans would be captured on a video and exposed and condemned by the whole country?

Where young, and younger, people naturally feel outrage, an old man like me can see only the most amazing progress.

America is finally purging itself of racism.

It will not be long before the police are widely regarded as a force for protection among all communities. That is why Trump's call for violence against the protestors fell so flat.

The country mourns two acts of senseless violence--the deaths of George Floyd and Dave Patrick Underwood. They are martyrs to a future of peace.

And the virus--receding. We could have done better. But the truth is, we don't really know what works even now. And the economy is actually improving.

It will get better. But not because of some mindless optimism. It will get better because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Every Once in a while...

5/23/2020--every once in a while, you remember that politics is not life. Your political opponents are not your enemies. There are a number of terrific Republican Governors. Here is Doug Burgum of N. Dakota with an emotional plea to the anti-mask crowd.

Can Joe Biden rescind Rush Limbaugh's Medal of Freedom on the ground that he knowingly endangered innocent people by telling people not to wear masks?

I feel the same way about the anti-vaccine crowd.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dropping the Flynn Case Was the Right Thing to do

5/20/2020--this week's column in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Why Have Taxes At All?

5/18/2020—A story in the New York Times said what everybody already knew—the emergency we face economically requires any spending we can muster whatever the effect on the deficit. Much like a war.

But, if this were a normal time, then when we reopened, we would try to bring the deficit down. That would not be so difficult, since these payments are one-time and not recurring—not like social security.

The real danger is that since the Fed is buying Treasury bonds—essentially just printing money—we now believe or want to believe that deficits don’t matter. Really don’t matter.

At that point, why have any taxes at all?

This is the lesson taught by what is called Modern Monetary Theory. It says in effect that the old model of a nation’s budget being like any person’s budget is false. Government just issues money and should do so until full employment is reached. Debt is not “paid back.”

I am not an economist. But I do know snake oil when I hear it. MMTP—and practice—is just like the old supply side idea. Cut taxes and you will have more money come in.

The point is that we have no problem believing this for the same reason we have no problem believing that the virus will disappear or global warming is not real.

It’s reality we don’t believe in. Reality and its limits on anything we want to do. Why should unserious people like this sacrifice? Live within limits? Wear masks? Have an inconvenient child?

Be limited by the resources of the planet?

Once you don’t live in reality, there are no limits.

But reality has the last word.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Why Can’t We Be Reasonable? Because There Is No Such Thing As Reason

5/11/2020—In the middle of a pandemic, one group acts irresponsibly and meets in groups of 150 in close contact, without masks, led by a Pennsylvania State Senator.

Another group says we should stay shutdown even though the case numbers have flattened and more deaths may arise from the shutdown at this point than the virus.

Even a great Governor like Andrew Cuomo cannot bring himself to admit that he is actually balancing one set of lives against another.

We can’t make difficult judgments. So we over simplify our choices.

Why not?

The answer is not just because judgment is hard. It’s actually because we have been taught that there is no such thing as reason.

In my own discipline of law, no one, no one, no one, will defend the possibility of reasoned judgment. Right or Left. Scalia ridiculed it. But no one on the Left practiced it. (Scalia’s point was that you couldn’t even begin to reason about abortion without talking about the status of the unborn, which the Justices upholding Roe would not do.

And why do we not believe in reasoned judgment. Because there is no starting point in the real.

Want to see the Death of God. Here it is.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Panic About the Future

5/10/2020--Our current mood is captured by Giles Harvey in a book review of Weather, by Jenny Offill. Harvey referred to the mood of the novel as “the preemptive nostalgia for the present, the exhausting fear of the world to come.”

I am amazed at the fear and panic I hear about the virus and the future. America can certainly sustain the current level of virus cases and deaths until immunity and vaccine end the threat. I am told that on average 8000 American die every day. Yesterday a little more than 1400 died from the virus.

That is a terrible thing, but why is it something to panic over?

And, in Pennsylvania anyway, over 3/4 of the deaths have occurred in nursing homes and other facilities serving the old. I don't mean that these deaths are acceptable because people are old, but that it is obvious how to prevent a lot of the deaths we are seeing. We really have done a terrible job.

This panic is strangely maldistributed. People my age should be more worried and as far as I can see are not. People in their 30's and 40's are the ones I see panicking.

It may be that I am surrounded by academics. We as a group are not robust and fearless.

Plus we have paychecks. For now. We can work remotely. We are callous about the damage that the shutdown is doing to people.

It is said that some of this is political. Democrats want to prolong the suffering because that will hurt Trump in November. I'm not so sure.

Politics may give people some kind of permission to be oversensitive, but the condition itself seems to be based on something else.

A friend of mine who is very religious says that not believing in God is one factor. Serious believers assume that God will not allow utter catastrophe, particularly from a natural event. Theologically, this is preposterous and vicious. It means that God willed these deaths in particular. What did these people do? But as a overall indicator of faith in the future, it explains something.

There are different ways to think about "the world to come." The quote above and the traditionally religious.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Preparing the Ground to Overrule Roe?

5/5/2020--my column today in the Capital-Star, here.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

What Does Over-Caution Signify?

5/2/20202—Gov. Wolf announced a totally inadequate partial reopening yesterday. I was so angry about it that I begged off an interview for fear of what I might say. Here’s the story.

Southwestern Pennsylvania should have begun reopening by the metrics announced. Yet we were not included. It’s the attitude that bothers me most. State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine several times cited Pittsburgh and Allegheny County’s “density” as the reason for not including us. Here is that part of the announcement, from state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine:

“And so we felt it prudent that looking at all the different data and looking at all the metrics, but taking consideration in our ability to work with counties in terms of contact tracing and testing, and the population density of Allegheny County and Pittsburgh, that it was it was not prudent to go from red to yellow at this time. But we are hoping to do that in the future.”

We are hoping??? What does that mean? This is not some permanent state of affairs where we have to ask the government to go back to work.

The purpose of the shutdown was to prevent overwhelming the health care system. That is accomplished and nowhere in the country is that threat threatening to return. Everyone criticized Georgia, but there may be no increase in cases there. After all, there have not been many reported infections from the demonstrators. And they were on top of each other.

It was never the point of the shutdown to keep people from getting sick and dying. Even after the orders are lifted, no one has to go out. Anyone who wishes can stay home.

Gov. Wolf is not being reasonable. He is allowing an unrealistic public health model to bankrupt the state and individuals, as if someone going broke is not a tragedy. All this nonsense about checks, as if we could replace the economy by printing money.

This is a perfect example of the age of evasion. Tough decisions cannot be made. It’s enough to make you wish Republicans were in charge.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Disenchantment of the Virus

4/25/2020—I wrote a column about this—see below, but it is worth remembering what we are not seeing in this time of shutdown.

There never was a national effort, or even much effort in houses of worship that I know about, to ask God to spare us or humanity from the natural calamity of the virus. People used to ask God to end droughts all the time. Why don’t we do that?

In one sense, this is sophisticated theology. God has his own plans. If God sent the virus, why ask him to rescind it?

But, really, isn’t this an indication that God, even if people say they believe in Him, has no impact in the world? People know that God cannot intervene in the natural affairs of the world. How many steps then to saying God is irrelevant? You never have to become an atheist. But you are certainly not a traditional believer in any monotheist tradition—as C.S. Lewis said, Christianity is one big miracle.

There is another indication of the death of God—there never was a national day of fasting and introspection and repentance for the sin that brought on this terrible calamity. That failure has an environmental side—maybe humans really did bring on this virus in some sense. Maybe the Earth is responding to global warming.

But the plagues of Egypt were brought on disobedience to God. That is something a traditional believer would have at least considered.

Max Weber was right. We live in a disenchanted world. God is Dead.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

My take on government abuse during the pandemic

4/23/2020--My column this week considers whether government has abused its powers during the pandemic.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Our Hyper Partisanship is Showing

4/19/2020—There was a moment, symbolized by President Trump's statement that we were in for a hell of a bad couple of weeks on Tuesday, 3/31. At that point, everybody was pulling in the same direction.

Actually he said, maybe three weeks.

We made it two weeks. The demonstrations to reopen started right after that.

It’s not as if the statement of hell turned out to be an exaggeration, or at least not much. During this period we averaged over 27,000 new cases a day and we went from 1000 deaths a day to around 2000 deaths a day.

But as Ross Douthat predicted in a column some time ago, weariness with the restrictions sets in. The economic pain becomes much worse, becomes a catastrophe in fact, and people want it to end.

I know more people who have been harmed by the shutdown than people who contracted the virus.

Couple that weariness with the Tea Party sensibility that anything Democrats, and some Republicans do, is bad and you get these demonstrations.

Then the President encourages them. He tweets, liberate Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia.

They have strict regimes all right, but not the strictest. And lots of Republican Governors have issued stay at home orders and closed essential businesses. I read at one point that 90% of Americans were under such orders.

So why blame these Democratic Governors?

(The movement plans demonstrations across the country, so maybe it will become less strictly partisan.)

For that matter, why not blame the President? The guidelines his Administration released outlined metrics for relaxing the restrictions that the three States he listed don’t meet.

But why expect consistency or logic from President Trump? Or his supporters?

Will all this help Trump's reelection? I don’t know. His idea is to say, vote for me if you felt the restrictions were too much, without taking any responsibility for deaths that result from relaxation because that decision was left to Governors.

In other words, it’s like he was not President.

It might not work. The American people might ask why the US had by far more cases than any other country? Why so many more deaths? They might ask why the President played down the threat rather than try to meet it.

But it was crazy to elect him before. We might do so again.

The real problem is that these demonstrations show that many Americans are still living in an ideological dream world.

I thought wrongly that the virus would cause us to get real.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

On Watching Ben-Hur

4/12/2020—I used to watch the 1959 version of Ben-Hur with my children every year to celebrate Passover/Holy Week. But I haven’t seen it in years. Then I watched it last night.

It is a very good film still, with a great plot, marvelous acting, a love story and a happy ending. Oh, and very good action, even for today. The chariot race still holds up. (the perched camera never gets old, but the naval battle doesn’t get work and never did). And one of the greatest musical scores of all time, not just because the music is moving, but because it so aids in telling the story.

But what is astonishing is the sophisticated theological issues addressed. And the restraint with which they are presented.

I have never read the novel by Lew Wallace, but it is aptly subtitled “A Tale of the Christ.” Jesus appears infrequently and we never see his face. That plus the haunting musical line associated with him in the movie creates an air of mysticism and reverence. (This effect is lessened at the end of the movie, when characters try to describe him during his passion. The failure of that dialogue emphasizes the power of the earlier, understated treatment.)

Basically, the story of the Christ is told by the effect he has on the characters. From the first scene at the manger with the three wise men, to his interactions with his father, Joseph (“He’s working,” Joseph replies to a critical friend when the young Jesus neglects his carpentry and walks alone in the hills—-a quick case study in how to be a father.) to the moment that Jesus changes Judah ben Hur’s life by intervening with water in defiance of the Roman soldiers, the power and goodness of Jesus’s presence are shown.

The movie elicits piety without being preachy.

The movie also still speaks to a materialistic age. The early miracles are called “magic tricks” by a Roman official. But the teaching that God is in every man affects the official. The movie stops short of the resurrection, emphasizing the power of Jesus’s sacrifice to heal the world by ending on Good Friday.

But the greatest aspect of the movie is its serious treatment of the different way of life Jesus is presenting and practicing. Judah’s desire for revenge, which ultimately dominates every aspect of his life and closes him off to love, is entirely justified. But, on the other hand, the Roman government he hates is not presented as simple tyranny that must be resisted no matter what.

In other words, the world of the movie is the real world.

Into this world Jesus says forgive your enemies. Only his life and example make this simple admonition credible. Jesus changes the world right before our eyes.

A character says that Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world, but that is not what we see. What we see is overwhelming compassion and love that brings forth love and compassion in everyone it touches.

That love and compassion is real power. The movie does not argue that Rome is not real power, despite Messala’s claim that it is. It simply juxtaposes the two ways.

The movie does not argue that the normal way of the world is death. It shows us Judah becoming Messala by practicing the normal way of the world.

Who would not want to be a follower of Jesus after watching this movie?

Who would not wonder why Jesus has so few followers?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

What is the Meaning of the Virus

4/8/2020--Check out my column today on the meaning of the virus in the Capital-Star.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The National Day of Prayer for the Coronavirus

5/5/2020—Three weeks ago, there was a national day of prayer for victims of the virus. The Proclamation was issued on Saturday, March 14, right after President Trump’s issuance of an national emergency declaration. You could say that it was at that moment that the President finally realized how serious the virus was.

Was there ever a proclamation taken less seriously? It was a busy time. Friday was the last time I would meet my classes in person. That Monday I began to teach to an empty classroom with my stuffed animals.

The world has changed quite a lot for everyone in these past three weeks. As of this morning, there have been over 300,000 cases and over 8000 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

So, maybe I overlooked the national day of prayer because I was so distracted. But, until yesterday, I did not know such a thing had happened. I only found out because of a snarky tweet by Richard Dawkins, pointing out that deaths only began to climb right after the Day of Prayer.

Here we have the real proof that God is Dead. This invocation was a perfect example of what is called in law, ceremonial deism. This is a reference to God that no one takes seriously as a theological expression. No one expected anything from God. No one thought God had anything to do with the virus.

My column this week is about the virus’s meaning. And I suggest three possibilities. One is materialism—the virus doesn’t mean anything because there is no such thing as ultimately meaning anything. The universe is random forces and matter.

The second is a new view of nature as alive. The virus is part of nature’s story. Maybe the virus is a natural feedback loop preventing temperature rises.

The third is the traditional monotheistic view. But what would that be? Something this stupendous would have to be the work of God. Jonathan Rosenblum points out that this viruses that jump from animals to humans could be a divine “hint” that we are losing our humanity. That kind of thinking is a still-functioning monotheism.

But, mostly, we invoke God just to say we will be OK. This is not nothing, but it is close.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thinking of the Virus and the Earth in a Different Way

3/29/2020—Brian Swimme tells a very strange and mysterious, indeed impossible, story in the documentary, Journey of the Universe. During the past 4 billion years, the heat radiation coming from the sun increased by 25%, because of changes in nuclear fusion in the sun.

This should have caused problems for life on Earth, because life only exists in a narrow band of temperature.

It turns out that the temperature did not increase by 25%, because at the same time, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere dropped, allowing the Earth to cool.

But why should this have happened? Swimme says that you could think of the Earth not as dead or mechanical, but as a kind of living system designed for the flourishing of life. One way that happens is if carbon becomes the shells of animals and sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

But if we think in terms like those, why should not the virus be another natural response to increasing temperature? We know that greenhouse gas emissions will now actually fall because of the catastrophic effect of the virus on all economic and social life.

I am not claiming this is the case. I don’t understand how such things could happen without the kind of intervention that Christians used to call God’s judgment.

But that just raises the question of the virus in a different way. Five hundred years ago, Christians would have called the virus a purposive act of God and would have looked for the cause of such an action—like the sailors inquiring of Jonah what he had done to cause a storm at sea.

Where are the Christians calling the virus God’s judgment for the abuse of the natural world that is leading to climate change? The Bible says that if God’s will is not obeyed, the rain will not fall. Well? In many places, the rains are already beginning to fail.

The absence of a robust theological response to the virus is the clearest indication that God is Dead.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Foreboding About the Stimulus Bill

3/28/2020—Look, even I tweeted that the unanimous passage of the stimulus bill in the Senate was good news. I wrote in my column that the response to the virus shows that we can still work together in an emergency.

But I am still troubled. First, so much red ink. Of course you do that in an emergency. But we passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, when we run a $1 trillion dollar deficit every year.

Worse, no one even said anything about it.

The American people are being led by irresponsible people. We could at least have pledged to cut the yearly deficit when we have recovered from virus. We could at least have mentioned that this situation is why you don’t cut taxes during a boom—you will need the money later when there is an emergency.

National governments are not just like households, but they are not totally different either. If they were, we wouldn’t have taxes at all.

So, the unseriousness of the culture is allowed to grow.

The second part is the partisanship. How much of the unanimity comes because there is a Republican in the White House? Would Mitch McConnell have done this if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016?

You’d like to think so. But, deep down, I don’t believe it. And that means, ironically, that it is a good thing Trump won. Democrats would do this for the good of the country, while the Republican leaders would have put Party first.

After all, McConnell said you don’t allow a sitting President to put a Supreme Court Justice on the Court in his last year before an election, but recently said if there were a vacancy right now, he would fill it.

He is just a disreputable and dishonest person.

I hope I am wrong about this.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Age of Evasion

3/21/2020--In the book I am working on, I am planning on a chapter entitled The Age of Evasion. The idea is that after the Death of God and the collapse of values, people don't necessarily embrace materialism. We may, instead, embrace deadlock. That is, faced with an unacceptable view of reality--that it is composed of indifferent forces and matter--humans may just stop inquiring and deciding about important matters.

I am reminded of this because of the curious irresponsibility being shown by political leaders during the current virus crisis.

It is a form of irresponsibility not to make the tough decisions. Closing everything down for an uncertain period of time, without any assurance that it will work any better than something more limited, is irresponsible. It will bankrupt and impoverish many people. How many? It depends on how long it goes on.

It would take a gutsy person to say out loud that a couple of thousand deaths of mostly already sick people is not worth causing that amount of suffering. How many people will die within the next two years because of decisions that are being taken now?

Then, having decided that it is worth it to impoverish people, it is proposed to add trillions to the already swollen debt by sending $1200 checks out that don't change the fundamental situation anyway.

Better to allow some level of business activity that would put a lot more than $1200 in people's pockets.

Brett Stephens has it right today in the New York Times.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Still No Community Transmission

3/17/2020--Happy St. Patrick's Day. But of course it is not happy. Governor Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses yesterday. But, actually, it will not be enforced. So, it amounts to a suggestion.

The reason for this may be that, while there are now six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Allegheny County, for example, there is still not one confirmed case of community transmission. (Story here). That would mean that County government would lack authority to order these closures and might mean the Governor lacks authority as well.

But more than a lack of legal authority, it probably means that this measure is a mistake. Government officials and health officials also have been acting as if these closures have no costs of their own--as if it is better to be safe than sorry. I wish instead they had translated the loss of income that they are causing into future deaths of despair. For that is going to happen to some people who will go bankrupt or simply lose all their savings or will live in destitution.

Less stringent orders--reducing restaurant capacity, ordering business to serve fewer people at a time, etc.--would not have been as effective, but they might have been sufficiently effective to retard and spread out community transmission. After all, it is not as if these measures either are going to prevent community transmission. And less stringent measures would be far less costly to people. Some income is better than none.