Category Archives: Random Blogging

Michael Gerson’s Jeremiad

Students of early American history will recognize the term jeremiad, a favored form of sermon delivered by Puritan pastors of the time. Wikipedia tells us that a jeremiad is “a long literary work lamenting the state of society and its morals in a serious tone of sustained invective.” The term comes from the prophet Jeremiah, who catalogued Israel’s fall from fidelity and warned of the horrible judgments to come.

I wouldn’t apply the term “invective” to the recent, lengthy essay in the Washington Post by Michael Gerson, but I would definitely  call it a jeremiad.

Gerson is best known as a speechwriter for George W. Bush, and as a devout Evangelical Christian. Along with other intellectually-honest Republicans, he has been appalled by Donald Trump, and like other genuine Christians, disheartened by the embrace of Trump by those who claim the Evangelical label. He is especially distressed by the fact that “much of what considers itself Christian America has assumed the symbols and identity of white authoritarian populism.”

Gerson’s essay is long, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety. This post cannot do it justice. He begins by recognizing that many conservative religious people feel disrespected and defensive, and believe that their values are under assault by government, big business, media and academia.

Leaders in the Republican Party have fed, justified and exploited conservative Christians’ defensiveness in service to an aggressive, reactionary politics. This has included deadly mask and vaccine resistance, the discrediting of fair elections, baseless accusations of gay “grooming” in schools, the silencing of teaching about the United States’ history of racism, and (for some) a patently false belief that Godless conspiracies have taken hold of political institutions…

The political alignment with MAGA activists has given exposure and greater legitimacy to once-fringe ideas, including Confederate nostalgia, white nationalism, antisemitism, replacement theory and QAnon accusations of satanic child sacrifice by liberal politicians.

Gerson acknowledges the influence of population density and the rural/urban divide on patterns of belief– and the political reality that America’s electoral mechanisms skew in favor of geography over population. But his essay is mostly concerned with the damage MAGA Republicanism is doing to Christianity.

Strangely, evangelicals have broadly chosen the company of Trump supporters who deny any role for character in politics and define any useful villainy as virtue. In the place of integrity, the Trump movement has elevated a warped kind of authenticity — the authenticity of unfiltered abuse, imperious ignorance, untamed egotism and reflexive bigotry…

Conservative Christians’ beliefs on the nature of politics, and the content of their cultural nightmares, are directly relevant to the future of our whole society, for a simple reason: The destinies of rural and urban America are inextricably connected. It matters greatly if evangelicals in the wide, scarlet spaces are desensitized to extremism, diminished in decency and badly distorting the meaning of Christianity itself — as I believe many are.

To grasp how, and why, it’s important to begin at the beginning.

Gerson follows that sentence with a lengthy history of Jesus’ background and teachings- his preaching against religious hypocrisy, his welcoming of “social outcasts,” and a “future age in which God’s sovereignty would be directly exercised on Earth.”

What brought me to consider these historical matters is a disturbing realization: In both public perception and evident reality, many White, conservative Christians find themselves on the wrong side of the most cutting indictments delivered by Jesus of Nazareth.

Christ’s revolt against the elites could hardly be more different from the one we see today. Conservative evangelicalism has, in many ways, become the kind of religious tradition against which followers of Jesus were initially called to rebel. And because of the pivotal role of conservative Christians in our politics, this irony is a matter of urgency.

He follows those paragraphs with an indictment of Christian Nationalism, concluding that

Evangelicals broadly confuse the Kingdom of God with a Christian America, preserved by thuggish politicians who promise to prefer their version of Christian rights and enforce Christian values. The political calculation of conservative Christians is simple, and simply wrong.

Gerson goes on to list numerous ways in which that calculation is wrong–and dangerous to democracy.

As I said at the outset of this post, this is a lengthy essay. It is also and obviously a product of considerable distress over the political grievances that have distorted and displaced authentic faith. As he concludes, “It is difficult for me to understand why so many believers have turned down a wedding feast to graze in political dumpsters.”

Gerson’s jeremiad puts him firmly within the camp of those of us who have been warning Americans about the dangers of Christian Nationalism–and reminding them that Christian Nationalism is very different from actual Christianity.

I admire Gerson’s attempt, but somehow I doubt the Christian Nationalists will listen.

 

Stop The World, I Want Off Doesn’t Work

Posted this by mistake, but just consider it an extra…Sorry to clutter your inboxes.

I’ve often thought that if ultra-wealthy people like Bloomberg and Gates really want to help the country reject White Nationalism and misogyny, they would use their dollars to buy Fox News and its clones. (But no one ever listens to me…)

Evidently, however, some rich people on the Right have come to the same conclusion: propaganda can be effective if you dominate the information landscape. As Vox (among others) has reported, CNN-one of the world’s most powerful news outlets– is in the process of change, and that change happens to be in sync with the views of one of the world’s richest men.

OK–so CNN has a new owner, and a new boss. Changes are coming. There is nothing inherently suspicious about change–but in this case, the question is: will change come “because the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, its new owner, wants an overhaul? Or is it at the behest of a conservative billionaire investor in the company who sits on its board?

Malone has repeatedly wished, in public, for CNN to remake itself. And his prescription happens to sync with the new CNN agenda: a plan to steer the channel away from what Malone and others call a liberal bias they say muddles opinion and news. And to shift it toward a supposedly centrist, just-the-facts bent.

Just “fair and balanced,” right? (Malone has opined that Fox News is “real journalism.”..)

Those who now control CNN have hotly denied any meddling by Malone, and insist that their goal is a non-ideological middle ground between Fox and MSNBC. Time will tell, but suspicions of a political agenda raise a more basic question: can the various plutocrats who are  “flooding the zone” with conservative propaganda, the Neanderthals in Red state legislatures, and the ideologues who’ve been appointed to the courts win the fight they are waging against modernity?

Can they take the country back to a time when rich White Christian men were in charge? A time when they didn’t have to share dominance with uppity women, people of color and immigrants from “shithole” countries?

I very much doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong–the forces of reaction can bring progress to a temporary standstill–and “temporary” can be a long time.  As we’ve seen, GOP efforts to pack the courts can end up eviscerating constitutional guarantees and eliminating longstanding rights. The Tucker Carlsons of the world can give aid and comfort to the incels, militias and other assorted hate groups that litter the American landscape.

But ultimately, they can’t erase a century of cultural change. The America we currently live in is a dramatically different country than the one these people want so desperately to re-install.

Let me offer some homegrown examples.

Before I sat down to write this blog, my husband and I shopped at the Costco on the south side of Indianapolis. That location serves the suburban south side of town and the adjoining exurban and rural–very Republican– areas. The store carries a variety of foods catering to its wide variety of shoppers–as I browsed, I saw Sikh turbans, Muslim hijabs and a variety of “ethnic” folks.

I’ve previously noted that I read my husband’s Engineering World Record. (Yes, I’m a nerd.) A story in the current issue highlighted pilot projects testing out “smart roads.” Engineers in Kansas and Denver are working with technologies developed Germany’s Siemens A.G., by  Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and by France’s Renault. Companies from Israel, Italy and India are all in the mix.

Another article reported on several cross-country joint ventures focused on “green hydrogen.” 

When I was a girl–back in the Ice Age–a trip to another continent seemed impossibly exotic. I would have been astonished to learn that I’d have a granddaughter living in England and a son living in Amsterdam–and that I would keep in touch with them between visits via that science-fiction-promised “picture phone”–i.e., FaceTime.

The frightened reactionaries trying to “stop the world” may well create an extended period of chaos, but there is simply no way they can “reverse engineer” the cultural changes that have brought us to today’s normal. Women aren’t going back to the kitchen and nursery; LGBTQ folks aren’t climbing back into the closet, interracial couples aren’t divorcing and Black Americans aren’t going back to the plantation.

The vastly increased diversity of America’s cities has spread to the suburbs. Outside of the most isolated rural precincts, most Americans have friends and relatives who don’t look or pray like they do. 

The Rightwing can make acceptance difficult, or a Blue wave in November can accelerate it.  Either way,  the Right will ultimately lose. 

America isn’t going back to the 1950s.

 

 

 

 

Are Hoosier Democrats Catching On?

My recurring answer to the question “what can we do about [fill in the blank]”has been “we have to get out the vote.” (In a recent Substack letter, Robert Hubbell pointed to an organization he believes is effective in doing just that: Focus For Democracy,. I know nothing about it, but I’m transmitting his recommendation.)

 We all know that GOTV will be immensely important at the federal level, but we also need to recognize that down ballot races are equally critical–especially in Indiana, where the state lags in so many crucial areas thanks to the state’s Neanderthal Super-Majority. I’ve written before about the importance of the Secretary of State race, and I keep hearing that   the candidates on the Democratic statewide ticket are unusually impressive. 

Hoosier Democrats may finally have figured out that you can’t beat something with nothing.  This year, the party has recruited some truly first-class candidates to run in districts they  have historically written off.

And that brings me to Joey Mayer, who is running in House District #24. Her website is here.

Mayer is a high-quality candidate. She describes herself as “a life-long Hoosier, a mother, a wife, a small-business owner, a community organizer, a rescue dog mom and proud Democrat,” and in our discussions, she has come across as knowledgable, grounded and hard-working. She has knocked on more doors than any other candidate for Indiana’s statehouse, and she has a good grasp of policy–especially the policies that prompted her to run.

Her opponent is Donna Schaibley, an incumbent whose voting record places her firmly  within the extremism  of today’s GOP. Schaibley was one of the Republican lawmakers who sent a  letter to the governor demanding a special session to ban abortion, and (of course) she voted in favor of the ban.   She also voted against House Amendment #43, which would have put a non-binding question (shall abortion remain legal in Indiana?)  on the November ballot.  (Evidently, she was uninterested in finding out what Hoosiers actually wanted…)

Schaibley supported HB 1134–the House version of the Senate bill that, had it passed, would have dictated what Indiana’s public school teachers can and cannot teach (the embarrassing “be fair to Nazis” bill  about which I previously posted.) And–predictably–she voted for permit-less carry, despite warnings about its dangers from multiple police and public safety officials .

Joey is pro-choice, pro-teacher, and pro-public education (as she says, public education works best when provided by professionals rather than politicians). She supports reasonable gun safety regulations. She has laid out her policies on her website, and I encourage you to click through and read them.

When I first went to that website and looked at the boundaries of District 24, I figured hers was a hopeless task. Much of the district is rural, and regular readers of this blog know I consider rural Indiana unreachably Red. But Joey has had some surprising experiences at those doors she’s been knocking on: she failed to anticipate the number of people who’ve told her “I thought I was the only Democrat in Hamilton County,” and the equally-unanticpated  number of self-identified Republican women who  begin by saying they’d never have an abortion themselves but go on to criticize Indiana’s ban as a huge and dangerous government overreach.

Several Democratic strategists who previously “wrote off” the district have moderated their initial skepticism. (As one told me, “It’s uphill, but it could happen.”)

There is a lesson here–a lesson that ought to be obvious: political parties that want to win elections don’t ignore difficult districts. They challenge them –and they do it by recruiting the highest-quality, hardest-working, most attractive candidates they can find. 

In District 24, the Democrats have such a candidate. She is working hard, and she is challenging an extremist–a Republican forced-birth advocate who, despite claiming to be “pro-life,” supports measures that feed America’s deadly gun violence, and who also wants to micro-manage the teachers in Indiana’s public-school classrooms. The contrast could not be greater.

If a Democrat is ever going to flip this seat, this is the year it will happen.

But no matter the outcome, running an exceptionally good  Democratic candidate deprives this member of the GOP cult of the opportunity to hide her extremist positions. If survey research is to be believed, only a minority of Hoosiers–even in rural Indiana– agree with those positions.

I’m going to throw a few dollars into this race, and I encourage those of you who can to do likewise. If any of you live in District 24, I hope you’ll volunteer and work to get out the vote.

Good candidates deserve all the help we can provide. And for once, Indiana Democrats have a lot of very good candidates!

 

 

America’s Trolley Problem

There’s a famous “what if?” used in classes teaching ethics: it’s called the Trolley Problem, and it poses a terrible dilemma. A trolley is bearing down on a group of five people, who are (unaccountably) unaware of its path. You are standing near a switch that can divert it–but if you do, it will kill a single person who would then be in its path.

What do you do? Do you resist taking an action that would make you, in effect, the person who murders that single unfortunate (and presumably innocent) bystander? Or do you shrug and let the trolley kill the five (presumably equally innocent) original targets, excusing your non-interference with the fact that your actions were not responsible for their demise? (Accidents happen…)

There’s no comforting solution to that dilemma, just as there is no “perfect” answer to most of the questions we wrestle with almost daily on this site and elsewhere.

I am one of the many former Republicans who is horrified by what that party has become, and I have been adamant about the importance of voting Blue in November. That advice has been criticized–on this site and elsewhere–by those who find both parties unworthy of their support. Democrats are far from perfect, they point out, so–as  advocates of moral purity–they refuse to draw any distinction between a fascist cult and an admittedly flawed political party.

Talk about making the perfect the enemy of the good!

May I suggest that the Jews living in Nazi Germany would have been grateful for a corrupt or inept or otherwise “imperfect” alternative to Hitler? (I don’t think that example is as far-fetched as it would have been in times past.)

We American voters are standing at that switch. We are watching the trolley come down the track.

Not unlike certain commenters to this blog, some number of progressive American voters entertain a firm belief in their own superior moral purity. Those voters exhibit disdain for the very idea of casting a vote in support of a political party that doesn’t meet their rigid and impossibly high ethical standards. They harp on the multiple failings of the political party that is–at this moment in history–the clearly preferable alternative.

That posture is particularly appealing to  American voters who are White, male and middle-class, and thus unlikely to be an early target of the Christian Nationalist cult that has taken over the once-respectable GOP.

The rest of us–women, people of color, non-Christians, immigrants, and others who don’t meet the Christian Nationalist definition of “real American”–are more likely to agree with President Biden about what is at stake this November.

Americans unwilling to make the perfect the enemy of the good will go to the polls and vote Blue No Matter Who because we care about reproductive choice, about protecting every citizen’s right to vote, about public education, about the economic well-being of working class Americans, about sensible gun laws, about genuine religious liberty (as opposed to the privileging of Christian religious doctrine), and about limiting the authority of government over our most intimate decisions.

Those of us who understand the choice before us aren’t blind– we understand that we won’t all agree about the policies that will be necessary or desirable to achieve our goals, or even, in some cases, the goals themselves. We are perfectly well aware that the Democratic Party includes plenty of lawmakers with whom we disagree, and some number whose behaviors are suspect and/or whose motives are impure.

It doesn’t matter.We can address those deficiencies once we save America’s admittedly imperfect democracy. Because–hysterical and overblown as it sounds–that actually is what is at stake. Moral purity from either the Right or Left is a pose and a fiction. Making the perfect (however one defines it) the enemy of the good is a cop-out–a defense for doing nothing.

November is America’s Trolley Problem.

No one wants to throw the switch that kills the single human on the alternate track, but refusing to do so will doom five equally innocent beings. The people refusing  to throw the ballot-box switch may not have been responsible for the trolley’s original path, but that fact doesn’t excuse their “pox on both your houses” refusal to distinguish between levels of harm.

Or perhaps, like the “Good Germans, they simply refuse to see the trolley…

 

 

 

 

There Are Two Kinds Of People…

How many conversations have you had during which someone (maybe you) opined that “there are two kinds of people…” and followed  that up with one of the roughly zillion ways that we “slice and dice” our fellow humans?

People who are open versus those who are closed. People who are honest versus those who aren’t. People who live in fear versus those who embrace change. People who are bat-shit crazy versus people who live in the admittedly-messy real world…

The New York Times recently ran a guest essay that made me think of another example: People who genuinely care about others–including their own children and grandchildren–and those who don’t.

The subject of the essay was something called “Longtermism”–a term I find somewhat off-putting. It began with a thought experiment, asking readers to imagine living the life of every human being who has ever existed — in order of birth. The experiment then went further:

But now imagine that you live all future lives, too. Your life, we hope, would be just beginning. Even if humanity lasts only as long as the typical mammal species (about one million years), and even if the world population falls to a tenth of its current size, 99.5 percent of your life would still be ahead of you. On the scale of a typical human life, you in the present would be just a few months old. The future is big.

I offer this thought experiment because morality, at its core, is about putting ourselves in others’ shoes and treating their interests as we do our own. When we do this at the full scale of human history, the future — where almost everyone lives and where almost all potential for joy and misery lies — comes to the fore.

If you knew you were going to live all these future lives, what would you hope we do in the present? How much carbon dioxide would you want us to emit into the atmosphere? How careful would you want us to be with new technologies that could destroy, or permanently derail, your future? How much attention would you want us to give to the impact of today’s actions on the long term?

These are some of the questions that motivate longtermism: the idea that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.

As I was reading this, it seemed like a very long introduction to a very important–and very obvious–observation: what we do in the present will affect untold numbers of future people, so we need to act wisely.

We can make the lives of those who will come after us better–or much worse.  Given that reality, it is important to think about the long-term impact of our actions.

As the author notes, most of us tend to neglect the future in favor of the present, with the result that future people are effectively disenfranchised. “They can’t vote or lobby or run for public office, so politicians have scant incentive to think about them. They can’t tweet, or write articles, or march in the streets. They are the true silent majority.”

Yes–but not entirely.

Perhaps it is understandable that people who never had children would dismiss the effect of their actions on that future “silent majority” (although I know a lot of childless people who care passionately about future generations). But those of us who have children and grandchildren have an obvious and important stake in the future. 

A number of the people who comment on this blog are–like its author–elderly. Most of us–granted, not all– are financially comfortable. The bad decisions being made by today’s courts and legislatures, the potential loss of democracy as a result of the significant number of Americans who live in Never-Never land, the existential threat posed by climate change–these things really don’t–and won’t–directly affect us.

But we care about them. A lot.

We care because we care about our progeny, and the progeny of our friends and neighbors. I suppose that makes us “longtermers.” Actually, I think it makes us humans.

I’m not sure what to call all the people who clearly don’t care about others–the people who didn’t care about their neighbors enough to wear a mask during a pandemic, and don’t care enough about future generations to divest of fossil fuels. The author tells us that “there is remarkable overlap between the best ways we can promote the common good for people living right now and for our posterity.” I agree.

Unfortunately, however, there are two kinds of people: those who care about the common good, and those who  clearly don’t.