Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Harry Jaffa, No Trump Supporter

2/22/2017—Harry Jaffa, who died in 2015, was a professor at Claremont McKenna College and “patriarch” of the Claremont Institute, which is getting publicity these days for its Claremont Review of Books and its ties to the Trump Administration. But I want to say here that Professor Jaffa would have had nothing to do with Donald Trump.

The Institute has always stood against all forms of progressivism, but Jaffa was also known both for his searching and beautiful studies of Lincoln and his criticism of the value skepticism of his fellow conservatives. In 1994, he selected me to write a response to his essay in Originalism and the Framers of the Constitution, in which he argued for a natural rights interpretation of the Constitution as both faithful to the framers and true. I was picked as the left wing natural law position. It was an honor.

Yesterday, the New York Times highlighted the Institute—Justice Alito just accepted an award—and its ties to Trump. And certainly the Institute has always opposed the “East Coast” version of conservatism, as the article makes clear—modern, individual, selfish (but isn’t that what the right of abortion is?). Jaffa thought America “heroic”—standing for something enormously large.

Well, I don’t know about the Institute, but I know about Professor Jaffa. His attitude toward Trump would be the same as that of his beloved Lincoln toward the Know-Nothing Party, a 19th century anti-immigrant group. Lincoln accepted their support as any office-seeking politician would do—and he said so in at least one letter I read somewhere. But he made it clear what he thought of the group. Jaffa would welcome policies he agreed with but he would never support Trump.

Jaffa, like Lincoln and like the Declaration of Independence, believed there were self-evident rights of all human beings. Universal human rights. As far as I know, he never feared immigrants, but assumed they would become the next generation of Americans dedicated to the American creed—as indeed they always have. I cannot imagine anyone further away from Donald Trump.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What the Rule of Law Looks Like

2/18/2017—I am addressing a question for a program in April on whether the Supreme Court has become too political. It is not clear what the terms mean, exactly. But if we want an example of what we want our courts to do, Thursday’s invalidation of a Florida law punishing doctors who ask questions about their patients’ gun habits is a good example of a court not doing politics but applying the law.

The court en banc (all of the judges) ruled 10-1 against the law on free speech grounds. Any of my students would have ruled the same way—I hope. So, when legislatures go overboard, we want courts to remind us of our core value commitments. (Of course Justice Scalia would say that is why Obergefell is a mistake. Obviously the Supreme Court was not doing that in requiring same sex marriage.)

Of course it is easier for a lower court, which must follow precedent, to rule in accordance with settled law. Only the Supreme Court can change that law. But you would like to think that it is the first amendment that compelled Thursday’s result and not just its interpretation in caselaw.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Ninth Circuit Decision

2/12/2017—I told my students that fundamentally the President has the authority to exclude entry of foreign nationals from countries he considers dangerous. So, why did the ninth circuit panel uphold the temporary injunction (how it treated the TRO)?

First, the procedural stage—the government was asking for a stay of an injunction pending appeal of the underlying decision below. Burden on the government. And while the harms of the Executive Order were vividly plain, the government purportedly refused to introduce evidence of the threats to national security—maybe because there aren’t any, but in any event, that made continuing the injunction easy.

Second, executive overreach. The government argued that the EO was essentially unreviewable—did the government really argue that or did the ninth circuit misinterpret? No court in America is going to accept that argument in the absence of an obvious emergency. Then there was the fact that the government acknowledged that some of the people excluded by the EO had a statutory or other legal right to stay—permanent residents—or at least established legal process—persons in the US without documentation. That established law cannot be overturned by an EO. Mostly the government acknowledged this but the panel held that statements to that effect by the White House counsel are not binding. All of that could easily be fixed by limiting the EO in a formal way.

But the ninth circuit also made what seem like obvious errors. If a ban on entry from a country is valid—within the President’s authority—then the only due process issue there could be is the issue of where a person is actually from. There would be no due process rights in general. But due process was the main ground the court relied on.

Think of it this way. If the government fires you for your performance, you might get a hearing. But if the government closes your department, you don’t get an individual hearing. Because your performance is not the issue.

Also, the ninth circuit repeated the error that the President’s personal feelings about Islam and Muslims could be legally relevant. That cannot be right when the order is not applicable to most Muslims and cites matters that are not discriminatory in principle—the threat of terrorism. If President Trump eliminates Obamacare, that action cannot be challenged on the basis that the program helps people of color and he hates people of color. That is not a valid legal basis for challenging a general rule.

The entry ban is terrible in so many ways and self-defeating. And discriminatory. But legal? Probably. Eventually.

Monday, February 6, 2017

When Did the Lying Start?

2/6/2017--Charles Sykes, former right-wing radio host, has written an impassioned plea in the Sunday New York Times about our current malaise--"The battle over truth is now central to our politics." Sykes writes this about false claims from the Administration, such as about crowd size at the Inauguration or the number of illegally cast votes in the 2016 election.

But where did all this start? Nor with Trump. The distrust of all institutions, especially science, the romance with alternative facts and free-floating skepticism is no different from the teachings of the Republican Party for years about global warming. It is no coincidence that that is a lie that President Trump repeats as well. We can't know about global warming--well we can't know about illegal voters.

But it did not start with the right and the Republican Party. It absolutely started with the left. Who taught the incommensurability of different scientific paradigms? The right for years resisted the skepticism of the Philosophy of Science crowd. The left denies any truth of human nature in the belief it is the only way to defend gay marriage against the Catholic Church--not so. The left denies any truth of the universe in order to deny God.

Even today, the secular left does not understand that it is not reason, but faith, that grounds progress. In reason we trust, says the left. But that is not the case. For someone like me, acceptance of the truth of global warming is entirely--or mostly anyway--a matter of faith, faith in science as a discipline. If tomorrow scientists told me that after all, it was sun spots or natural variation, that is warming the world, I would accept it. I trust scientists. I cannot really decide such a technical matter for myself. The scientist may verify, or try to, but I must rest on trust.

The slogan really has to be In trust we trust. Or even in faith we trust. But the left cannot accept this because then someone might return to belief in an unseen God. When you claim that we should only believe what we can see or touch, then the next step is the chaos of skepticism, where we find ourselves today.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

First They Banned the Muslims

2/1/2017—Truly, there is so much news from the Trump Administration, one does not know where to start. Last Friday’s Executive Order, with its overtones of religious bigotry, was a disgrace to America. I’m putting the following on my door at school—First they banned the Muslims, but I wasn’t a Muslim so I didn’t say anything.

However, the Order was probably not, in the main, unconstitutional. Aspects of it may have violated norms of due process or statutes, but the vetting process has been largely the work of the Executive Branch, so President Trump gets to change it.

Which brings me to the irresponsible actions of Sally Yates. The Attorney General is the hand of the President in seeing that the laws are faithfully executed. She was entitled to her view that the Order was unconstitutional, but not to obstruct it. The policy decisions of the Executive Branch, excepting the Independent Agencies, are those of the President, not the Attorney General, Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense. Imagine a Representative at the U.N. who voted here conscience on behalf of the US. If Yates could not go along, her obligation was to resign.

But the Democrats are now playing the Republican game. That is, delegitimize and demonize. That is what Republicans did to Obama and now the Democrats are happy to do the same.

Which brings me to the Senate Democrats and the nomination of Judge Gorsuch. I’m sure they will filibuster and the Republicans will end the filibuster—the nuclear option. We now have a system in which there is no restraint. So, disciplined democratic life is beyond us.

We should have no illusions. When it looked like Clinton would win, the Republicans made it clear that they would never confirm any nominee she sent up. They were willing to ruin the Court rather than accept the will of the people. Republicans might deny that now but it was plain and they are now lying or fooling themselves.

So, why should the Democrats not do the same? Because the people voted for Trump—in the only electoral system we have—and for Republicans in the Senate. Gorsuch or someone like him was their decision. The minority should not obstruct unless it is necessary. How can it be said that it is necessary with Gorsuch? The only objection to him is to the judicial philosophy the election was in part about.

I called Senator Casey and asked him not to join a filibuster. I suppose he will. But the Court is more important than short-term politics. The Democrats should not behave like Republicans.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Now the Markets Will Fall

1/27/2016—I have been perplexed that the market jumped when Donald Trump became President. After all, Trump is so crazy and the markets, it is said, like stability.

Well, it turns out that markets really like low taxes and little regulation because in the short term that helps rich people make money and keep the money they make. (It does not do that in the short term because you need to sell things to regular people and regulations make economic activity sustainable—see the 2008 crisis).

But now we have a reminder that Trump is not just a typical Republican—he is in fact, well, odd. Now he and his Party are talking about a 20% tariff on goods imported from Mexico to pay for a wall we don’t need in the first place. This is just stupid and I believe would violate existing treaties, which are the law until scrapped. By next week, this should become clear and the markets should go down on the news. Unless the plan is scrapped.

But the main point is that the free flow of goods is good for the economy. This tax if enacted will finally show this to people perhaps. Finally, economists close to politics, like Krugman will have to get their hands dirty. The Democratic Party will have to come up with a real plan on trade that actually is good for everybody. Maybe we will have a real debate finally.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Deadpool is Awesome

1/22/2017—I don’t normally blog about cultural matters like movies, but I have to say that Deadpool is a clever and funny experience. From the self-referential opening credits to the shooting of the British villain in the face of the uplifting speech, “you were droning on,” the movie is ironic without being mean. Nor in any way does it trash good and evil, despite its stated willingness to do so. Deadpool is like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, when asked by his wife, Jamie Lee Curtis, in True Lies, whether he had ever killed anybody, responded, yes, but they all deserved it.

What also struck me in watching Deadpool was a reference to God. As described in the New York Times, “During one gory scene, when Deadpool’s arm is geysering blood, he quips: ‘Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret,’ referring to the 1970 Judy Blume book about a sixth grader anxiously awaiting her first period.”

Now I have been on a movie watching binge the last two days—Erased, Sisters, Deadpool and How to be Single—and that is the only reference to God I remember. God has simply exited most movies. The portrayal of American life, for youngish people especially in How to be Single, reflects a life utterly without depth and guide beyond the vague self-help book type references. In the last scene, Alice achieves her goal of watching the sun come up in the Grand Canyon. Even there, her earlier explanation of this goal, is that doing this would show that she is willing to actually live, rather than learning anything about beauty or transcendence from the experience itself.

One last thing—-Marvel did not make Deadpool nearly hideous enough. Or maybe he looked worse at some points than others in the movie. It was more fun, but not satisfying, that Meghan would obviously be able to adapt to life with him. The animated version of Beauty and the Beast was more honest in rendering the hero not really human. Of course the outside face was supposed to be merely the physical reflection of the inner reality that Deadpool was a different person, not easy to love. But, the movie had no intention of demonstrating that—-Deadpool did not seem to change at all.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Welcome, President Trump

1/20/2017—Never has the loss of an election been so eventful. I have to distinguish between the bad things that are about to happen because America elected a Republican Congress and what may happen because of Donald Trump. So far, the harm I am worried about—the loss of healthcare coverage for poor and working people, the threat to Medicare and Social Security and the undoing of global warming efforts—are the result of votes for Congress, not because of President Trump. The same is true of what harm his nominees to the Supreme Court do. Different nominees might have happened if the Senate were Democratic and, anyway, any Republican President would do the same.

But these were more or less legitimate results of what the American people have chosen. For years, people have been voting to slit their own throats by voting Republican. Progressives and the Democratic Party have failed to connect with a majority, or at least a large enough majority, to genuinely govern.

So, I detest all these marches and protests. It only takes normal politics working well to elect Democrats and do normally good things. I don’t need protests and lawsuits. I need ordinary voters.

Others are worried about fascism. Maybe I am naïve, but the harms I’m seeing are coming from democracy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

President Obama’s Accomplishments

1/16/2017—What can they not take away? In an incoming administration with a labor law violator running the Labor Department and a sympathizer with polluters running the EPA, you have to wonder. President Obama’s greatest failure was that he was unable to put most of his attainments into legislation, making them easier to reverse. On the other hand, healthcare reform was put into legislation and it is going to be repealed—so maybe that is not even true. Anyway, there was a genuine disagreement with Republicans in Congress over most matters, so not much legislative compromise was going to happen even if President Obama had been better at it.

I have to start with the racial change. America elected an African-American President. He and his family led the nation with grace and dignity for eight years. They cannot take that away. On Martin Luther King Day, that is an accomplishment of surpassing importance for this nation. I know that people think race relations are bad and that police brutality is terrible, but both problems are miniscule compared to the past. White racism will never make sense to anybody after the example of President Obama. Its last spasm helped elect Donald Trump, unfortunately, but that does not change the change.

President Obama’s next great accomplishment was leading the economy without major mishap. Over the last eight years, American economic performance has been better than any other advanced economy in the world. We have come back from the terrible recession he had nothing to do with to an economy more or less performing well. It is odd to read about the economy never attaining a 3% growth rate under Obama—the major Republican Party counter to this narrative. Neither did any other nation as far as I know. When your performance is the best in the world, it is the best in the world. I realize that Presidents get too much criticism and too much credit for economic performance, but that is the way we rate them and Obama did fend off Republican policies that were tried elsewhere and made things worse. If President Trump is able to deliver on his promise of 4% growth, then I will have to reconsider. But even then remember third quarter GDP growth in America was 3.5%--Obama’s best, but occurring under him. Obama was steady when we needed that.

The Iranian deal is next and is proving impossible to undo. Thank God. I don’t understand criticism of the deal—as if we would be better off if Iran were building a bomb and not buying planes from Boeing. Sure Iran is still doing terrible things and now can do them even better because there are no sanctions—but the point was to keep Iran from doing terrible things with a nuclear bomb. One day Israel will have to acknowledge that Obama was right and Israel was wrong about what was best for its own security.

What Netanyahu wanted was an attack on Iranian facilities. Either by the US or by Israel. This leads to Obama’s next great accomplishment—he kept us out of new wars. I wish we had wound down faster—we still have troops in too many places doing too much fighting, but Obama kept us from new foreign adventures. Obama mishandled Syria, but mostly because he promised what he could not deliver—the departure of Assad. America never had a national interest in the forces fighting in Syria—there never was a democratic opposition. We should have stayed out altogether. But the point is that after eight years of war, Obama was elected to draw down and he did.

There is a downside to that. The influence of the US is less than it was eight years ago. Russia and to a lesser extent China are emboldened by that. In years to come, Obama will get even more credit for managing a withdrawal from empire without things getting even worse. What the Republicans are correctly pointing to is not a failure but a necessary adjustment to the end of US hegemony in the world. It should not go too far. We should rebuild the navy in particular and be a presence in the South China Sea. But basically the last eight years should have been a time of retrenchment.

Then there is healthcare. I thought this would be one more reversal, but it turns out it may be harder to reverse than I thought. If President Trump ends up proposing catastrophic insurance for all, Krauthammer’s suggestion some years ago, that will not be as good, but it will still be a lot better than we had before Obama and it would never have happened without Obamacare. After all, the point was always to get people healthcare without preconditions—so that people would not die because they could not afford a cancer operation. If President Trump wants that, good for him.

I might add that I really hate this “illegitimate President” stuff. Trump did not commit any dirty tricks. What was he supposed to do? They were not his emails. Yes, he got fewer votes, but again he won by the rules we have. Which is what anyone running for President is supposed to do. All that means is that he should remember he has no mandate. Presidents generally forget about that.

Finally, we had eight years of attempts by the executive branch to fight global warming. And American carbon emissions are actually down. The biggest part of the decline is the switch from coal to natural gas, but what is wrong with that? The main thing is Americans now know that it is all true—even a Trump nominee admitted that humans are warming the climate and we have to do something about it. The best news on that front is the operation of a carbon capture coal plant announced last week—or was it two? I don’t know why the Administration did not take more credit for the subsidies that made that possible and the coal jobs that now might actually be saved—a lack of imagination by both Obama and Secretary Clinton—she might have won Pennsylvania with that news prominently featured. But this is an accomplishment. Maybe even here, reversal will not be possible.

A good record. A very good record. Could have been better, particularly on wages and inequality, but who is to say? Even on that front, the Obama years will be paying dividends to the Trump Administration for years. I hope Donald does not screw it up.

Friday, January 13, 2017

“The way it is nowadays, unless I see positive proof, it’s all a lie.”

1/13/2017—As I mentioned earlier that my teacher challenged me to specify how nihilism manifests in America. Roughly speaking, nihilism is the belief that all values – – normative judgments – – are matters of opinion rather than of truth. But Americans do not think about matters that way. So nihilism may be the condition, but the symptoms will look like something else.

My first effort along the line of specification was that nihilism manifests in a lack of hope. And this does seem to be the case. Certainly, under the rule of nihilism, there can be no grand hope of a genuinely better world and life.

But today’s New York Times brings a much more potent illustration of the effect of nihilism. The quote above is by Al Amaling, a member of the Table of Knowledge, which refers to a group of older white men who meet in a diner to discuss things in Monticello Iowa. President Obama won this district decisively in 2012 and Donald Trump did the same this year.

In a world of nihilism, nothing is trustworthy. That means we must always insist on proof. That sounds like a helpful formulation, but it is not. Because, in a world in which nothing is trustworthy, no proof is trustworthy either. Mr. Amaling’s comment from the right—although he was an Obama voter in 2008-- just echoes the distrust on the left of vaccines and genetically altered food.

In a world of nihilism, everyone is lying to us. And since our inconsistencies on proof will always prove inadequate, we are left with our own prejudices, biases and ideology. Unfortunately for Mr. Amaling, in a world of nihilism there is no proof either.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Public Trust Litigation

1/10/2017—the last session I was able to attend in San Francisco at the AALS meeting was the Hot Topic Program Juliana v Atmospheric Trust Litigation. The session was organized by Professor Mary Wood of the University of Oregon School of Law. Professor Wood pioneered the principles of the public trust litigation movement that is now engendering lawsuits around the world.

The premise of this line of litigation is that the climate is constitutive of a portion of the public trust, which is a common law concept concerning the government’s responsibility to protect the citizenry by maintaining public natural resources. Global warming seriously threatens the public trust for future generations. The idea is that the courts can order the government to draft the plan, at least, to protect the climate.

Public trust litigation is felt to be necessary because Congress has so abdicated its responsibility to protect the people and generations yet unborn. There is no longer any time to wait because the danger to people in the future from global warming is now so great.

When Professor Wood was at Duquesne University last year, she and I had an email exchange in which I voice my serious hesitation in allowing courts such a central role simply because the legislature has not adopted certain programs felt to be necessary. The premise of the public litigation movement seems to be that a democratic response is simply impossible. But if that is the case, because of big money or for whatever reason, democracy is at an end. That seems a result only a little less dire than global warming itself. So serious was my reservation years ago that I actually abandoned the position I had taken about a fundamental right to a healthy environment in an earlier Law Review article.

I have not changed my mind about the antidemocratic nature of this litigation. However, after listening to Professor Wood, I have tempered my views. There are two reasons that this. First of all, Professor Wood finds herself in essentially the same place that FDR did in trying to get America ready for war despite the isolationist mood of the electorate. FDR simply did whatever he needed to do in order to get the country ready, knowing that later, when the country finally was ready for war, might have been too late. History has just FDR’s actions rather kindly, I believe.

The second reason that I no longer oppose this kind of litigation, despite its antidemocratic character, is that, after all, whatever the courts find, the courts will be unable to force Congress literally to do anything at all. So there is no chance of an actually antidemocratic result. On the other hand, the finding by a federal judge that global warming is real, that it is caused by humans, that it will be immensely harmful and that the Congress is doing nothing about it, would in and of itself change public opinion on the matter of global warming. So the courts could be part of a genuinely democratic turn in fighting global warming. But that could not happen unless litigation were going on. So I guess I have to offer Professor Wood an apology.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why Law Matters, the presidential transition

1/5/2017—I just went to the AALS plenary session on the election of Donald Trump. The session was so one-sided, self-righteous and thoughtless that it made me weep.

There is a lot to say, but let me just start out with this—Donald Trump got elected because of what law professors have been saying for 30 or 40 years. Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean at UC Irvine, said early that Donald Trump does not believe in truth. Well, if that is the case, then Donald Trump should be teaching at a law school because almost every law professor teaches value skepticism and that there is no truth. Nietzsche said in effect that with the death of God, you would get fake news. Well, law professors are happy about the death of God and so they should expect fake news.

Martha Minow, currently the Dean of Harvard Law School, actually said you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts. Well, you’re not entitled to your own opinion. Your opinion can be just as false about values as it can be false about any fact. Or, as Hilary Putnam put it, if you start by denying the truth of values, you will end up denying the truth of facts too. Martha Minow does not realize what a nihilist she is.

Let me put this a different way. Is there a truth about human nature? This is usually called essentialism. Is there a truth about the universe? That is usually called foundationalism. In the fight about same-sex marriage, the progressive strategy was to assert that there is no human nature. Therefore, when the Catholic Church, for example, says that gay marriage is unnatural, the Church is wrong by definition.

But that was not a satisfying defense of gay marriage. It was a stance of skepticism about truth. A satisfying defense of gay marriage is to assert, and try to show, that gay marriage is consistent with human flourishing and is not unnatural. You have to say the Catholic Church is wrong. It’s much easier to say there is no truth and therefore the Church's assertion is without proof.

How does all this relate to Donald Trump? The only way it makes sense to talk to someone you don’t agree with is on the assumption that both of you want the same thing and that you can reason your way to a right answer about something. If fundamentally you don’t believe that, then everything is power. And we will not be able to talk to each other.

One last thing. The session was supposed to have been about the rule of law. Donald Trump may very well not be a threat to the rule of law. After all, his party controls all the branches of government. Why should he do anything other than write a statute to get what he wants?

The person who was a threat to the rule of law was President Obama, who wrote executive orders when he could not get his way with Congress. I don’t blame him for doing that, but why should we now hypocritically claim that all we care about is the rule of law?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Is Secularism A Nonnegotiable Aspect of Liberal Constitutionalism?

1/4/2017—Greetings from rainy San Francisco, where I am attending the AALS annual meeting. I may have the chance on this blog to criticize the theme of this year’s meeting, why law matters, [imagine a meeting of physicists in which they ask each other why physics matters] but today I want to address the session of the section on law and religion, the section I have been most associated with.

This theme is reflected in the title of this blog entry: is secularism a nonnegotiable aspect of liberal constitutionalism? As formulated, the question seems to ask whether the American model of secular constitutionalism is necessarily the only model of a basically constitutional state—-one with, for example, freedom of speech, regular elections, the rule of law and it basically open economy? This is another way of asking whether Islamic countries, where Islam dominates, or Israel, where Judaism dominates, can ever be modern constitutional states?

Formulated in that way, the session is very helpful because it throws into question the dominant assumption of American law professors that only the America model is genuinely constitutionalism. I see the hand here of Richard Albert, the thoughtful and visible professor of law at Boston College. This is precisely the kind of challenge to liberalism that Richard likes to bring.

Nevertheless, the question avoids two direct challenges to the conception of American constitutionalism as basically secular: first, is American constitutionalism secular? Second, is secular constitutionalism possible?

As to the first question, I argued in a 2006 book, American Religious Democracy: coming to terms with the end of secular politics, that America does not have a secular political system. Nor is there any legitimate prohibition on religion in the public square. John Rawls is just wrong.

Looking at things in that way, the premise of the question in today’s session is false.

The second question, however is new. Religion, and Christianity in particular, are in decline by any measure in America. And Christianity has declined most dramatically in the very heartland of the postindustrial Midwest where Donald Trump won his Electoral College victory. These communities used to be dominated by churches and Christian culture. Where are those churches today? They are hollowed out.

Some of those Trump voters were without hope and so they latched on to the false hope of a Trump. This brings to mind the observation of C.K. Chesterton: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

What has secularism given to ordinary people as a reason to live, as a narrative of hope? All secularism has given us is a universe of chance and accident, in which the only reality is force and matter. I don’t believe a civilization can be founded or sustained on this ontology.

I don’t mean that this ontology is false. I just mean it is damaging.

So the question we should be asking is whether a secular, liberal constitutionalism can be sustained? I believe the answer is no. I wonder if that question will be addressed today.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017—This is What Happens When You Vote Republican

1/2/2017—Happy New Year. As legislation is introduced to privatize Medicare and Social Security, as Obamacare is repealed, and as the tax code is rewritten, as greenhouse gases soar, and as the recognition is given to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Americans are going to see what a functioning Republican Party government does. Although I don’t agree with the policies, there is something good about what is about to happen. America will learn that voting matters and that the Democratic and Republican Parties are different.

I hope this will lead to a resurgence of democratic decision-making, in which voting begins to take place on grounds of actual policies by people who disagree with each other in public.

In a way, the strategy of noncooperation has worked for the Republican Party. Government was deadlocked and people naturally lost faith in government. My Republican friends tell me Obama was intransigent, but it does not look that way to me. Republicans delegitimize any Democratic President. They certainly did so with President Obama and with President Clinton before him. Democrats generally don’t do that to the same extent as Republicans. They have not done so even with Trump, yet.

Domestically, Trump will not matter that much. I don’t think he is interested in domestic policy. There might be more steel and coal jobs since environmental regulations will be reduced. But not many.

It should also be remembered that this will be minority government. The House is gerrymandered, which ought to be unconstitutional, the Senate is constructed to represent States and not people, and Trump lost the Presidential election by 2.9 million votes. It is laughable to hear people say that this reflects Clinton’s win in California by 4.3 million votes—California voters are not American?

The reason the framers of the Constitution did not think about direct election of the President is that the President was not to be a policy maker. The body they thought would be the active policy making branch was the House of Representatives and they made it the most representative government body. But now the President has evolved into the most important policy maker, including the sole decision whether to destroy human life on Earth through the use of nuclear weapons. No minority has the right to decide who that should be, only the majority. I would even favor a runoff if the two Parties were not an adequate substitute for majority voting for the President.

But none of that matters. Like President Bush, who did not feel constrained by his minority status, and unsettled the Middle East by his invasion of Iraq, President Trump will not feel constrained. But Trump lacks Bush’s basic generosity.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Doing the Right Thing/Doing the Wrong Thing

12/29/2016—As the Obama Administration fades into history, I find President Obama’s actions and statements puzzling. On the one hand, there is the terrific challenge to Israel on West Bank settlements through the abstention in the Security Council and Secretary Kerry’s speech enunciating the two-state solution against intransigent opposition in Israel.

On the other, there is the juvenile statement that “I would have won if I had been able to run.” Not only is this insulting to both Clinton and Trump, it is silly. If such a thing had been possible, Reagan would still be President, even though he is dead. Of course sitting Presidents are popular, since their candidacies are purely fanciful.

While I am writing on Israel, I have to give the funny line of the year award (I would call it the Chutzpah award, but I don’t like to do Yiddish Shtick) to Benjamin Netanyahu for criticizing Secretary Kerry’s speech along the following line—“Israel doesn’t need to be lectured about peace by foreign leaders.” This is the man who came to Washington to lecture Americans about peace with Iran by speaking to Congress against the wishes of the President of the United States. Granted, that shameful episode was really the responsibility of the traitorous Republican Party leadership, which does not believe in any kind of American solidarity and loyalty. I hope they realize how they have forfeited any right to criticize disrespect to a President—(they haven’t, I know, because they have no sense of consistency). But still, Netanyahu came and spoke. So I guess he cannot criticize Kerry on that ground—actually, he still does because his words don’t mean anything either.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas, 2016—Secular Hope

12/25/2016—I have been chided by my teacher, RT, that my carping on the theme of nihilism does not really capture what has happened here in America. Nihilism is a European phenomenon, he tells me, not an American one.

I think he is right. Nihilism as such requires a kind of intellectual history that Americans lack. It requires an openness to ideas. America is not oppressed by ideas.

But, the same experience of the death of God is present in America. Perhaps it has played out in America as the end of hope.

America has always been known as an optimistic culture. We were always a can-do people. Let’s call this kind of people, hopeful.

Where did this hopefulness come from? Originally, it came from Protestantism. Christ was our hope. Christ was America’s hope. This hope was born on Christmas. Certainly the conquering of death was always part of Christian hope, but I don’t believe at the beginning of American history it was as silly and literal as it later became. The second coming was the promise and no one knew when it would happen. It was not the promise of heaven—of life after death. It was mostly the promise of the kingdom of God on Earth, which was something Americans could instinctively work toward. This was the source of American earthly hope. This hope gradually merged into a belief in progress.

At some point, however, the Christian promise became one of personal continuation after death. Ross Douthat wrote about one such hope today in the New York Times—A.J. Ayer died and was resuscitated at age 77. He told about an experience of following a light and he said it gave him some suggestion that death might not be the end of him.

You don’t get much of that kind of suggestion in the Gospels. But it became so dominant in America that someone—I think it was Peter Berger, but maybe not—wrote that without an afterlife, the mother’s promise to the child that “everything will be all right” is a lie. There is no comfort without a heaven in which my ego will continue forever.

This hope has now collapsed culturally—some people still believe it, of course. But it no longer inspires this culture. And so the foundations of hope have ebbed away. It is in a hopeless culture that an opioid epidemic can grow.

The collapse of the Christian hope corresponds to the undermining of material progress as well as growth slows and its fruits become concentrated in the top 1%. A smaller percentage of Americans will be better off than their parents than ever before.

And then there is the graying of America as the baby boomers grow old and die. Cultures of the old naturally are not as hopeful as youth cultures.

And then there is the breakdown of the Pax America in the world—partly natural decline of a postwar dominance and partly the simple loss of American hope that had earlier allowed for unified American responses to world problems. Now we are divided.

So, not nihilism, but on this Christmas Day, a loss of hope. Can secularism retrieve hope? That is its challenge. [I don't usually review my previous writings, but the reader might be interested in a post written about a year ago--12/9/2015, I believe, about the movie Tomorrowland and its treatment of the loss of hope. So this theme has engaged me for awhile. There is also the last chapter of Hallowed Secularism itself, which I must now revisit.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Faithless Calls for Faithless Electors

12/20/2016—Now that the Electoral College has voted and Donald Trump has actually been elected, it is time to consider the role of democracy in the United States.

Here is the NBC news lead:
President-Elect Trump Wins Electoral College Despite Cries for Dissent

The Electoral College formalized Donald Trump's election victory on Monday despite protests around the country to encourage GOP electors to abandon the Republican.

The president-elect easily racked up the 270 electoral votes needed to send him to the White House. Interest in the normally mundane voting process spiked this year as opposition to Trump continues to fester, fueled by Clinton's success in capturing over 2.6 million more votes than her Republican opponent.

"Today marks a historic electoral landslide victory in our nation's democracy," Trump said in a statement. "I thank the American people for their overwhelming vote to elect me as their next President of the United States."
The first thing to notice is that there were serious calls for the electors to vote for someone else. This shows how widespread is the demoralization of democracy. The Electoral College is terrible and may get worse. But the only good thing about it is that the electors actually vote for the candidate that the State elected. It is a scandal that Democratic Party leaders did not denounce these calls for the limited nature of our democracy to be frustrated and our votes to become merely suggestions for the electors.

Second, these calls show that we have to get rid of the Electoral College. Even Republicans should worry about the absolute legal right these electors have to vote for anyone they want. That is how the system was set up. If they had elected Clinton, would the Supreme Court have voided the vote? No one knows for sure. Yes, that would have sent the election to the House of Representatives and Trump would have been selected—but, what about the future?

Third, the notion that the people elect the President is still the only legitimate standard in America—that is why we need direct election of the President. Trump’s quote was fine but inaccurate. The American people did not vote to elect him as President. The American people voted to elect someone else.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

I Don’t Understand Charles Krauthammer

12/17/2016—I greatly admire Charles Krauthammer and I always have. He rose to greatness in my view in regard to Donald Trump. You can’t blame Trump on him.

But I don’t understand his jokey condescension about global warming. Today’s column in the PG referred to “belief” in global warming as the left’s “religious test”—as if the truth or falseness of global warming was something to be debated. It’s true or false and it does not matter one bit what any politician or voter thinks about it. As Thomas More says in the play, if the Earth is round, will the King’s command flatten it?

What I don’t get is this—what episode in history defines Charles Krauthammer? Given his love of Churchill, whom I believe he once called the man of the century, Krauthammer has to resonate to the rejection of Churchill’s warnings about Hitler in the run up to the War.

Can’t Krauthammer see that his breezy joking about global warming is the same attitude the elite took to Churchill—“Oh that’s Churchill going on and on about Hitler again.” Even Krauthammer must admit that if it true that man is warming Earth’s climate, the threat is much greater than anything a Hitler could do. Of course it may not be true. But the threat is nothing to make light of. If the scientific consensus is wrong, great. Churchill could have been wrong about Hitler, too. But you don’t make fun of people worrying about something very much worth worrying about.

It’s going to be the tragedy of Krauthammer’s life when he realizes that he is playing the role of Chamberlain—trying to appease global warming, hoping against hope that we don’t have to change and get ready for the threat, even when the evidence began to mount.

And while we are at it, it is a stupid misunderstanding of everything we know about the framers to invoke them against national action on global warming. They created a federal government in order to deal with genuine national threats. Don’t invoke them against EPA action. They never expected the States to deal with threats to the Union.

If you say Congress has to do this rather than unelected bureaucrats, I could not agree more. So, stop enabling the traitorous inaction of the Republican Party on global warming. Or, are you going to wait until the bombs actually start falling—the ice is already melting all over the world.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Fed and the President Elect

12/16/2016--To be fair, there was only a little Republican Party criticism of the Fed for raising interest rates and forecasting future increases.

But in the past, Republicans called for more such increases.

On the other hand, Democrats like Krugman used to criticize rate increases as premature and I did not see anything from him either.

Thus the partisan hypocrisy of Washington.

The Alice-in-Wonderland aspect of what is going on is that President elect Trump has called recent job creation "terrible" when it was in fact pretty good. The Fed is actually looking at the economy. Enough voters experienced a bad economy or were convinced that it was bad despite their own ok situation to elect Trump. But that does not mean the economy is performing that badly.

The problem in the economy is distributing its benefits, not its overall performance. That could be fixed pretty simply--raising the minimum wage would help.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Businessman’s Economy

12/10/2016—The markets are really happy with Trump. The New York Times had a story today about the golden age for business. Lower taxes. No regulations. Infrastructure spending. Energy production. No raised minimum wage.


This is really silly and you have to wonder about the maturity of business people. For one thing, businesses have been raising wages in response to the market, not the minimum wage, which has not gone up. For another, energy production is already up in the US. We are awash in oil and gas. This infrastructure spending is just Keynesian deficit spending the economy is in no need of—-though infrastructure spending that is paid for is greatly needed.

We did all this under President Reagan and it led to an expanding deficit.

Then there are the corresponding harms. Working people, the ones who supported Trump, are the ones who will be hurt. It is their wages that will not go up and they are the ones who live near toxic projects.

President-elect Trump is in Louisiana and that is interesting because the book about the tea party in Louisiana—-Strangers in Their Own Land—-makes the point that many people there respect and admire business even when it is harming them. I don’t get that but the slogan used to be, the business of America is business. So, these actions will not necessarily make Trump supporters unhappy with him. If they mess with Medicare or Social Security on the other hand, older people will end his political career.

As for the planet, everybody knows and not everybody cares. I don’t have sympathy for people, even working people with tough lives, who sell out their own grandchildren for short term benefits for themselves. I’ll talk more about the questionnaire in the Energy Department in another entry.

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. Naïve, 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.