Change the Mississippi state flag

I just sent this to the governor of my state:

Governor Bryant,

I urge you to take a firm stand and lead our state to adopt a new state flag.

I am a white, conservative, sixth generation Mississippian, who also happens to have voted Republican 95% of the time over the past 40 years. I am tired of offending a large number of my fellow Mississippians, and, now, unintentionally aligning our state with bigoted haters by continuing to fly the current state flag. You keep insisting on “letting the voters decide.” This seems to me like an indefensible double standard. Using your “let the voters decide,” approach, we should just do away with the legislature, and just govern by popular vote, putting matters such as the state budget and traffic laws to a vote by the general electorate.

I know you know that we don’t live in that kind of a pure democracy because it is unworkable. We elected you and the members of the legislature to lead. Start leading by following Sen. Wicker’s advice: put the current flag in a museum, and design and adopt a new flag of unity for Mississippi.

Don’t fall into the trap that previous “leaders” of this state fell into. It is inevitable that this change is going to happen, just like it was inevitable that segregation would end. The outside pressure on the state, including economic pressure, will become too great. The longer you wait, the worse the state looks to those outside the state. And, the longer you wait, the more likely that history will associate you with the likes of Ross Barnett rather than leaders, such as William Winter, who could see the future and strove to lead their fellow Mississippians to forge a better more unified Mississippi.

Our democracy depends on compromise

Compromise is not a dirty word when it comes to politics. In fact, the United States Constitution prescribes a form of government that requires political compromise in order for the government to operate at all. Separation of powers between legislative, executive, and judicial branches along with the requirement that every single law, including every single budget bill, must pass both the House and the Senate ensures that almost no one is ever going to get exactly what they want. Instead, our system demands that, in order to make any change to the status quo, our representatives must settle for legislative sausage that isn’t exactly what they think tastes best but is nonetheless better than the putrid mess that will continue to sit on our plates if there is no compromise.

Two opinion pieces appeared in the Wall Street Journal last month that accurately described an example of what happens when congressmen, senators, and the purists among their constituents forget the necessity of political compromise.

Fred Barnes wrote on July 17th about the Republicans inability to repeal and replace ObamaCare:

“Politics is a team sport, and Republicans are playing it poorly….This is an example of why legislative success depends on operating as a team. You don’t abandon your team just because you don’t get everything you want (or want left out). You hold your nose and vote for an imperfect measure, sometimes merely because it’s politically beneficial and better than the alternative.”

On July 20th, Karl Rove wrote:

“….dissenting Republican legislators, by opposing either the Senate bill or the House version, would leave all of ObamaCare intact and all of its problems unsolved. The rebels have let the incomplete be the enemy of the good.”

Consider a different example. Should those of us who believe abortion is wrong and should be illegal only support legislation that completely outlaws abortion? Isn’t it better to support compromise legislation that puts some limits on abortion, for example, the requirement that the parents of minors seeking abortions should be notified? Isn’t a half loaf better than no loaf at all?

Purists of all political persuasions need to realize that, given our form of government, holding out for a majority of the body politic to come around to your exact point of view is a recipe for no improvement whatsoever to the status quo and the continued weakening and decay of our republic.

Identity politics leaves some of us speechless

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Alan Jacobs captures my sentiments exactly:

     American politics is now nothing more than rival assertions of tribal identities. There are no Americans; there are no human beings; there are only instantiations of racial and sexual identities looting the store of our economic and cultural capital. In such a world the most ruthless bullies acquire more loot than everyone else. Tomorrow’s bullies will have a different set of policy proposals but will be temperamentally and morally identical to today’s.

When you’re ready to start the political conversation with by affirming that everyone in the room is a human being — not necessarily right about anything in particular, not necessarily good or even decent, but a human being in precisely the same sense that you are a human being, and that every single human being in this country should be subject to the same laws and norms enforced equally across the board, then get back to me. Until then, I don’t know what to say to you. I’m not refusing to speak; I just don’t know how to speak your identity-politics language without giving up everything I believe about humanity, and about what politics is for. — (Alan Jacobs, “Thought for Today,” on November 16, 2016, at his outstanding blog, Snakes and Ladders.)

 

Trump Wins – Michael Moore Was Right

I will elaborate on my very negative opinion of Michael Moore later in this post. But, when Moore explained weeks ago why Donald Trump would win, I believe he was brilliant — even prophetic.

If you ran into Moore, a far-left movie maker who has made millions of dollars in his chosen field, at the local 7-11, you might easily mistake him for an overweight, middle-aged guy getting a cup of coffee and some junk food on his way to his job at the local sheet metal shop. In his ball cap, t-shirt, and baggy blue jeans, he’s hardly anyone’s image of a Hollywood star.

Moore grew up the son of a Michigan automotive assembly line worker. The first major documentary movie he produced, Roger & Me, villainized U.S. automobile maker General Motors accusing that company’s upper level management of selling their U.S. workers down the river by outsourcing their jobs to Mexico. Moore understands blue collar working families. He came from one. And, he understands those men and women, not in some abstract way, but in terms of the frustration that many of them have felt for a long time.

And, that’s why he gets it so right in this clip. WARNING: Moore’s language is salty, to put it mildly, and unsuitable for the office or the ears of little ones. But, it is a pitch perfect echo of what you might hear on the shop floor or on the construction site:

 

Moore PERFECTLY captures the mood of a lot of people who just helped make Donald Trump the President-Elect of the United States. A lot of elites in Manhattan and Los Angeles don’t know anyone who feels this way. I know a lot of people who feel this way. But, you might ask, what about people who voted for Trump but who have a good job, and good insurance, and whose families are intact, and who don’t curse like sailors, and who are disgusted by the coarseness in Trump’s character. I can tell you that Moore still brilliantly captures the essence of the mood of many of these folks. They make up most of my friends and acquaintances here in a small town in a very red state. Many people who don’t fit the stereotype of the laid-off Rust Belt blue collar worker, got fed up with being patronized by elites who looked down their cultural noses at them as unsophisticated “deplorables” just because they oppose things such as same-sex marriage or safe-zones on college campuses, or are in favor of any number of politically incorrect beliefs or practices.

Don’t make the mistake of concluding that Moore is a fan of Trump. In the film, Michael Moore in TrumpLand, from which the clip above is taken, Moore ridicules Trump and makes it clear why he thinks Trump will be a disaster for America.

To reiterate what I stated above, my general opinion of Moore is negative, and that’s putting it mildly. I think his socialist politics are wrong and would be a disaster. I think his various crack-pot conspiracy theories are beyond wacky. But, he understands something about what a lot of “non-elite” Americans are feeling that most of the well-educated professionals who lead our society just don’t get.

And, I must confess, Moore’s paean to democracy in the middle of the video above brought me to the brink of tears. There is something powerfully just and right when, as Moore says, even though American men and women may lose everything they have, they still have “one thing: the one thing that doesn’t cost them a cent, and is guaranteed to them by the American Constitution: the right to vote…….it’s equalized on that day….. a millionaire has the same number of votes as the person without a job: one.”

Russell Moore’s Erasmus Lecture

Russell Moore continues to be the the Christian public intellectual who best speaks for me on matters of politics and policy. Last night I watched his Erasmus Lecture (sponsored by First Things) live streamed on Facebook: http://bit.ly/2ekxkiO. First time I’ve watched such a long lecture live.

Actual video and audio begins at 15:40 (min:sec). It’s over an hour long. Rod Dreher summarizes Moore’s lecture and provides his commentary at:
http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-religious-right-a-eulogy/

I believe Moore was right when he said, “One of the assumptions of some in the old Religious Right is that the church is formed well enough theologically and simply needs to be mobilized politically,” and, then he persuasively argues that this assumption is wrong. As Dreher more colorfully puts it, “American Christians are theologically ignorant, and it’s killing us.”

Moore pointed to the positive signs that many younger evangelicals have embraced a more theologically thick faith. He points out that Jonathan Edwards is alive and well among some younger evangelicals.

However….. as much as I agree with Moore that rich, intellectually deep theological knowledge brings with it truth, beauty, and a rootedness that is necessary if Christians are to be salt and light in the post-Christian West, the transmission and cultivation of robust theology among a larger number of Christians has its limits.

Face it. The vast majority of Christians, past and present, have neither the educational background nor the temperament, to pore over Edwards and Augustine. For that matter, not many will read the wonderful works of more contemporary, and more accessible, authors such as C.S. Lewis (cited by Russell Moore in his lecture as helping save his faith), or Tim Keller, or Dallas Willard.

Besides, it is very clear to me from the New Testament that Jesus did and does place a higher priority on qualities such as love, faith, hope, mercy, humility, service, sacrifice, compassion and the fruit of the Spirit, than he does doctrinal correctness, intellectual depth, and theological rigor. And, based on personal experience and observation, the latter are not particularly good predictors of the former.

Still, the Lord has gifted the Body of Christ with men and women who can serve the Body by providing intellectual and theological leadership. Moore pointed out in his lecture that most American evangelical church leaders who have exercised political leadership (and I would add many who were not politically inclined but who have served in positions of power and celebrity in evangelical churches) over the past several decades have been sorely deficient in the gifts of intellectual and theological leadership, and those deficiencies account for much of the mess that we find ourselves in.

For me the biggest takeaway message from Moore’s lecture is that those of us who agree with his diagnosis must appreciate and promote biblically based theological seriousness, richness, and depth in our pastors, churches, seminaries, colleges, and among those lay Christians who are gifted and called to go deeper into theological study and then apply that knowledge in the vocations where God has placed them.

Maybe then, evangelical Christians will have something more substantive to contribute to America politically, including spiritually mature believers to serve in the vocation of politics.

Rising Tide

The Mississippi River flood of 1927 is at the center of Rising Tide, but John Barry freely interweaves much more. I found these subplots as interesting, if not more so than, the flood itself:
  • How Mississippi—economically, politically, and culturally—has long been comprised of two very different parts: the Delta and the rest of the state. (And, I would add, a third part, the Gulf Coast, which has long been under the New Orleans’ sphere of influence.) This was much more interesting that the bland story told in my eighth grade Mississippi History class.
  • How New Orleans in the early 20th century was the most powerful city in the South, and how the insular, wealthy, usually non-elected, elite of the city controlled, not only the city, but economic and political power in Louisiana and beyond.
  • How those New Orleans elites ruthlessly, callously, and needlessly sacrificed the people of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes by dynamiting the levee south of the city in order to decrease the height of the river at New Orleans. And, then how those same power brokers reneged on their lofty promises and refused to compensate the flood refugees for destroying their lives.
  • How St. Bernard Parish truly has a fascinating history, including the bootlegging, fur trapping, and “wild west” atmosphere of the 1920s. I live only 30 miles from St. Bernard Parish, and many of its residents have moved to our nearby higher elevation county in south Mississippi. So, I know many people from “The Parish.” What I didn’t know is that of one of the most important ethnic groups in St. Bernard Parish are the Islenos, descendants of Spaniards from the Canary Islands who arrived in the 18th century. The Islenos’ culture was still very much alive in 1927.
  • How two brilliant, ambitious civil engineers—James Eads and Andrew Humphreys—engaged in a bitter feud over how the Mississippi River should be controlled.
  • How never before the post-1927 flood control project had the Congress appropriated such a large expenditure  to fix a problem that was in essence a regional, state, and local problem without requiring at a minimum “matching” funds from local governments. The flood control bill, reluctantly signed by Republican Calvin Coolidge, set a precedent that Franklin Roosevelt would push to even higher and broader levels in the New Deal just a few years later in the 1930s.

Barry’s historical narrative reads more like a page turner than a textbook. I don’t rate many books 5-stars. For me, this one easily made the cut.

Trump supporters – can you blame them?

In his outstanding essay, “Conservatives have failed Donald Trump’s supporters,” Michael Brendan Dougherty, hits the nail on the head: working class Americans are between a rock and a hard place, sometimes ignored, often disrespected, and, in effect, frequently told to suck it up by upper and upper middle-class conservatives . Donald Trump doesn’t have the answers, but he at least says what they’re thinking. Trump ridicules a lot of people. But, he doesn’t ridicule the working class.

Dougherty is right:”traditional” conservatives from all camps–country club, neocon, intellectual, social–need to recognize their arrogance and the political and moral foolishness of telling Trump followers to–as summarized by Dougherty–“Get a job, you racists, and stop playing the victim! Don’t you remember the ’80s?”

Read the whole thing.

Finding the right words on PC campuses

Hobey Baker posted this recommendation over at First Things a few months ago in the midst of on-campus turmoil about language, speech, words, and titles. I wholeheartedly agree that universities should consider his tongue-in-cheek advice. Of course, they probably won’t recognize it as tongue-in-cheek. Who knows; maybe some of them will actually adopt the recommendation. How sweet that would be.

The limits of free speech according to Bernie and Hillary

The first amendment protects our right to free speech. Does that right extend to groups that we join comprised of like-minded people?

During the midst of the civil rights struggle of the 1950s, the state of Alabama decided that the NAACP was stirring up too much trouble. The state went to court to kick the NAACP out of Alabama, using a variety of arguments and legal maneuvers, including a subpoena for the NAACP’s membership lists.

The NAACP brought a countersuit, NAACP v. Alabama. The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in favor of the NAACP’s right to continue operating in Alabama. Furthermore, the Court held that “freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to the ‘advancement of beliefs and ideas’ is an inseparable part of the the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Makes sense to me.

But, as George Will points out, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and legions of others think that such protection should NOT be extended to groups involved in political campaigns.

Under a logic that escapes me, the opponents of collective free speech in political campaigns (isn’t that a venue where we want to maximize free speech?), think that the Supreme Court’s 1958 NAACP v. Alabama decision is wonderful, but that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that the government can’t stop non-profit groups from spending their money to express their opinions in political campaigns, is egregiously unfair and awful.

Would I prefer that less “group” money be spent in political campaigns? Probably. I also would prefer that we Americans spend less money on our pets and more on charitable causes.

Should the government regulate our spending on political campaigns or our pets? No.

Free speech in a democracy, particularly in political campaigns, is not limited to individuals standing on street corners shouting their ideas or tweeting their ideas on Twitter. Free speech includes banding together with others, raising money, and spending money on advertising. This is a liberty that is worth the abuses and ugliness that come along with it.

If Bernie and Hillary don’t like it, they should propose an amendment to the Constitution that makes an exception to free speech that prohibits campaign spending by groups. Then, the stakes will be out in the open for all to see and debate.

Rubio’s Foreign Policy – Not so impressive

A few days ago I expressed my appreciation for Marco Rubio’s articulate rationale for pursuing and supporting policies that will reduce the number of abortions, even if those policies are half-measures compared to the equal protection deserved by unborn babies.

I’m not nearly impressed with Rubio’s foreign policy vision. As pointed out by Daniel Larison and A.J. Delgado at The American Conservative, Rubio promises to be an aggressive, activist international interventionist. As Larison puts it:

“While he [Rubio] claims not to want to promote conflict, Rubio has a remarkable knack for advocating policies that would raise tensions in almost every region of the world. He imagines that this is necessary as ‘a means of preserving peace,’ but in practice it is a recipe for confrontation and costly entanglements.”

There’s a lot I like about Rubio. This, I don’t.