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.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Huddled Masses – Not Really

Alan Cross, author of the DownshoreDrift blog, reminded me of something really striking in his post today about the increasingly strident immigration debate. I had forgotten about these words etched on the Statue of Liberty:

 “…Give me your tired, your poor,
   Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
   The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
   Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
   I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As Cross points out, “Donald Trump is upset because he says that we are not getting the “best and brightest” and all of the really “smart people.” He claims to be a great American. He claims to be a conservative. But, the actual American, Conservative values are summed up in Emma Lazarus’ words. The Real, Historic America wants the tired, poor, huddled masses and wretched refuse. The Real, Historic, Conservative view believes that America is a great place – even a transformative place – where people can come from all over the earth and work and make a life for themselves. We are a nation of immigrants and many of our ancestors came here with nothing but dreams for the future – dreams that they fought, worked, and died for to see come true.”

Of course, we shouldn’t get too starry-eyed about the past. Many Americans, after their families had been here for one or two generations, conveniently forgot how their ancestors got here and began looking down their noses at those who were just arriving. But, my impression is that those prejudices were less a part of post-World War 2 America than at some previous times. Maybe it was just easier to take a friendly view of immigrants between 1935-1990 because, according to statistics from the MIT Center for International Studies, immigration was low compared to several previous periods in American history.

And, who knows, Lazarus who wrote those words in the late 19th century, might have felt less generous if she had realized that the USA would become a modern welfare state attempting to provide a social safety net for everyone, including illegal aliens. We live in a different time with a different set of challenges. I agree with those who say that immigration, particularly the illegal variety, is an unfair burden on American taxpayers. I oppose amnesty for those who came here illegally.

But, there are a lot of options for moving forward that don’t require denigrating immigrants or ignoring the realities of how a large number of illegal immigrants are contributing to the good of America.

Lazarus’s words inspire me. They remind me of an attitude and outlook that helped make America great. I wonder if fans of Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric want to erase those words, which have welcomed immigrants to New York for over a century, and replace them with something like, “If you’re not smart, go back to where you came from”? I wonder how many of us would be U.S. citizens today, if that had been the policy when our ancestors came here?

How the SSM Debate Made Me a Libertarian

After listening to yesterday’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage (SSM), I am now an unabashed political libertarian. It’s a political philosophy that I’ve been leaning towards for years, but the SSM debate has now sealed the deal for me.

Have my views regarding the morality and wisdom of SSM changed? No. If anything, I am more convinced than ever that SSM is an oxymoron, that it will be detrimental to society as well as many individuals, that homosexuality is a warped expression of human sexuality, and that homosexual acts are sins.

I believe that the same can be said about premarital sex, adultery, about most instances of divorce, as well as a whole host of other actions and attitudes involving not only human sexuality but all of our relationships with one another and the rest of God’s creation. I hold these convictions because I embrace what most Christian churches have taught over most of the last 2000 years regarding these matters. Those churches have arrived at those teachings as they have sought to interpret the teachings of Jesus and the apostles as preserved in the New Testament scriptures.

Those of us who seek to follow Jesus as Lord make a critical error if we believe that the governments of this world are somehow partners with God’s people in ushering in the kingdom of God. Governments are indeed ordained by God and necessary for civilization. But governments, no matter the form, are comprised of sinful human beings. And, governments always possess and utilize the power of coercion. Every government, no matter how well-structured its forms and well-intentioned its participants, will eventually fail and fall. To think otherwise is to set up an idol that will compete with the one Lord who has promised that He and He alone ultimately will bring peace and justice.

Therefore, the God-ordained roles for government are few in number and narrow in scope. Enforcing contracts? Yes. Building infrastructure for the common good, for example roads? Yes. Protecting its citizens against any who would deprive them of life, liberty, or their property? Yes. Protecting the helpless against imminent danger? Yes.

Defining and sanctioning “marriage”? No. Government should enforce contracts. If adults want to enter into a contract with the property rights and responsibilities that we have traditionally associated with marriage, then, as far as the government is concerned that should be allowed – not because it is good, but because adult citizens should be free to associate and enter into legally enforceable agreements with one another, as long as those agreements do not deprive others of their life, liberty, or property.

Justice Alito asked the lawyer arguing for SSM this question: why should we deny marriage to two women and two men who want to get married? Read the transcripts, if you wish. I’ll just say that I found her answers unpersuasive – and, ironically one of those answers sounded strangely similar to the “tradition” argument used by SSM opponents.

Once the Supreme Court declares that there is a constitutional right to SSM, which it will almost certainly do, then there is no logical reason that the government should deny marriage rights and responsibilities to any group of consenting adults who choose to enter into that contract.

Meanwhile, religious communities – including churches – who hold to the traditional definition of marriage should act in accordance with our teachings. That means not performing weddings or recognizing arrangements that we do not consider marriage, even if they are allowed by the state.

Most of us Christians need to wake up and take a lesson from our Anabaptist brethren: “Christian nations” do not exist. Governments, whether they be democracies, monarchies, or oligarchies, can claim that they are. They can even fake it for extended periods of time. But all governments ultimately depend on power and coercion for their existence. That’s not the way of Christ. So, how can they possibly be “Christian”?

Christians in the United States should work to make our democracy a libertarian democracy. This means that we will be surrounded by institutions and activities that we believe are wrong and that, in the long run, are harmful to human beings and our societies. (News flash: that is going to be the case until Jesus returns no matter what form of government we have and no matter who’s in charge of it.) But, it is also the best way to create an environment where Christians, no matter how despised we may be for our beliefs, can live out and act on those beliefs; and, most importantly, have the freedom to speak the Good News that Jesus Christ died for our sins, is risen from the dead, and will return to set all things right.

 

Free Expression for All! (Except for Traditional Religious Believers)

In the wake of the murders in Paris of the Charlie Hebdod staff, I have been encouraged by the outpourings of support for freedom of the press and freedom of speech. But, it is obvious that many, at least here in the U.S., despite their declarations of such support, believe they know best when those freedoms should be restricted. For example, the New York Times editorial writers…….

If you haven’t heard, last week the city of Atlanta fired Kelvin Cochran, the chief of its Fire and Rescue Department. Cochran charges that it was because he expressed his condemnation of homosexuality in a book he wrote in 2013.

Well, the NY TImes editorial writers, recent defenders of Charlie Hebdod’s right to publish cartoons considered blasphemous by many Muslims (and by the way, I can understand why many Muslims would be offended), apparently see no contradiction between that defense and cheering the firing of Cochran. How strange. Just a few days ago, David Brooks, columnist for the NY Times pointed out this kind of hypocrisy among many self-identifying liberals, for example, the enforcers of political correctness on college campuses.

Rod Dreher discusses the chilling hypocrisy of the NY Times editorial board. And Denny Burke highlights, what seems to at least some of us to be, the obvious implications for religious liberty. Both point out the admission by the city of Atlanta that there was absolutely no evidence that Chief Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians. In other words, the NY Times finds it laudable to fire people because of what they believe and say, even when what they are saying is consistent with the traditional teaching of three of the world’s great religions. (Although, I agree with Rod: I think the way that Cochran expressed himself was graceless. I wouldn’t have said it the way he said it. But, that’s fodder for another post.)

We are in for some big debates in this country regarding freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. But, I suppose that’s been obvious for quite some time.