It was 20 years ago today…

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Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.

Bait and Switch?

Paul VanderKlay points to an interesting article at the BBC by Brandon Ambrosino, “The Invention of ‘heterosexuality.'” VanderKlay wonders, in an era of increasing sexual fluidity, might other items be at stake, as well?
The argument for the CRC embracing SSM is that “people are born that way and have no other choice. Are you heartless?” It increasingly looks like the 73 report won’t die for the reasons imagined even a few years ago, but because it dares to imagine people ARE “born that way”. Sexuality is fluid and to not celebrate whatever fluid moment is demanded in order to make the fluid feel validated is violence, oppression and the worst sort of evil (per a tweet from Rachel Hyde Evans).
I think the basic point of Ambrosino’s argument stands, that our sexual expression is culturally formed. E.g. how we understand marital relations today is really quite different from how marriage was understood 200 years ago.
What I find interesting is that this discussion of “fluidity” is unconciously part of the neo-liberal economic era. The notion that it is asserted or validated through violence points us in that direction.
When we had SSA as a physical or innate condition, we may have been making a theological statement but we were certainly claiming a political stance. If I am (physically) different, innately so, then I have a right to participate in society as that physical person. With an innate understanding of SSA then, to come out is to make a claim on societal resources; it is inherently political.
Now check in with fluidity. If identity is not located in the body (I.e. Externally) then how does it possess rights? The celebration of the self that chooses (this fluidity) lapses over into a participation in consumerism, in self-gratification. That matches with how we buy cell phones (iPhone v Android) — choices can participate in tribes, but the concept of rights? Of politics?
This fluidity is one more part of the post-modern era, but it still leaves the notion: how do we agree in common, on what basis? Even accepting this as a personal decision, how does one evaluate the choice; what makes one choice preferable to that of another? On what grounds? We are back to tribal identities and with them the determination of group relations by power equations: one wins the other losses; it’s all zero-sum, and very much part of the Spirit of the Age. Thus, this sense of fluidity is quite compatible with the restriction of human rights.
I think here is where the actual struggle takes place, where Christians engage: how do we relate to one another? On what basis? Christian thinking makes particular claims about bodies and selves. In the Western tradition it underlies, forms the bedrock for a political liberalism. And where I have an identity, then the subsequent question can be asked: to what purpose does that identity incline?

Pyrrhic Victory?

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The twentieth century struggle in American Protestantism was defined along the Fundamentalist/Modernist front. While the mainline reigned at mid-century, by the closing decade the conservatives had the upper hand, at least in professed believers. Some part of this growth was a Boomer phenomenon and the shift of population to the Sun Belt. One can mix in a bit of sexual anxiety that was the subtext of the 80s and90s — the prime family years of  the Boomers.

This religious growth was widely spread but it came with a catch: the growing conservative wing of Protestantism was also the wing for But something else was in the wind. Thsomething of a puritan movement had taken place.

these forces had been part of the fundamentalist community, particularly those in S California (see Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt). It was a potent stew: highly separatist adherents, a militant anti-communism, a Plain Folk distrust of elites; this was the gift of Orange County to the world.

But once you get past Reagan, what was the impact of this religious nationalism? More respectability, yes, and a new name (Religious Right) but still largely a failure argues George Hawley

(The Religious Right) was an effective fundraising tool for Republican politicians, but its lasting victories in terms of social policies are difficult to name. Stopping the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s was perhaps the movement’s sole permanent achievement. And that victory occurred before most of the major institutions of the Christian Right were even established. On abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and other social issues, conservative victories were typically fleeting.

But if it was a failure politically, it was worse for Christianity as a whole. The very political energy of the movement drove out the moderate  and liberals, not simply sending some to the mainline congregations, but completely out of the religious game. To the sidelines. As Hawley notes, “the finding that it expedited the decline of Christian identification and affiliation is a damning indictment.”




That Old Time Politics

Having come of political age in the 60s, I remember the transition from the traditional Republicanism of the Midwest (Rockefellerian, as it was) to the emergent New Right, with its fevered anti-Communism and its New Deal rejectionism. This was long before Ronald Reagan parted the waters in 1980.

Rod Dreher responds to an article outlining this New Right, aka “fusionism” and how the current moment differs. It does. Part of the difficulty of the moment, as of the lament is that the path out, this other moderate, decent path, was destroyed. The victory and subsequent purification of the Republican party robbed them of the resources now so desperately needed.

In a comment I wrote:

The impact of fusionism was the war against RINOs which displaced a deep, honorable traditional conservativism with something more ideological. Throughout the Midwest  this older, displaced form of traditional conservatism held main street values, but also championed common good solutions. These were men (few women in politics in those days) who enacted environmental law, who spoke out on civil rights, who built roads and infrastructure, who sought social programs that uplifted. They were found on Sundays in your mainline churches.

That generation of politicians of course, has largely disappeared.

Rather than seek a fusionism, I would submit that the better work is to promote the deeper traditionalist thinking of common good. Where we care about each other (and yes, this must mean the liberal and all the rest), we can then craft social solutions — political policies — that build a common life together. The best values in the BO nurture this; Deneen’s plea for a counterculture likewise points in this direction, albeit, that he wants to excoriate “liberals”. At its core, fusionism represents a shrinking of the moral base for conservative action, a replacing of what is Good and True for all (and so worthy of acceptance and action) with what is good and true for Some, a replacement of the polis for the merely political.

Right Schooling?

Justin Amash came to town this week, and boldly asserted “something isn’t a right if someone else has to pay for it.” Well, that didn’t sit too well with those in the audience, not least, fellow debate coach, Pam Conley. She pointedly asks
If that is the case how is voting a right?… or the right to a redress of grievances in a court of law, …or trial by jury of your peers, or the right to legal representation if you can’t afford representation? … I have more but EVERY right that requires implementation and/or enforcement comes with price tag. Elections, courts, police, trials, lawyers… none of these are free, all are paid for by taxes, and are by deceleration of the US Constitution or the SCOTUS’s ruling (ie..Miranda rights) rights we as American citizens are insured are “inalienable”.
And since this is the Policy question….  
The question may be put: does education belong to the individual, is it essentially personal in nature? Or is it something of social or communal function, a piece of social infrastructure?
If it is personal, and so a “right” this oddly leads you to Betsy DeVos. If a right, then the mode of delivery is secondary. Indeed, as a right could education be subject to 1A requirements? Does right entail vouchers?
As infrastructure — this seems to be the way the Northwest Ordinance treats, viz. as part of development. Horace Mann (Letter No. 5, if I recall) sees education as building the community and its economic life. Infrastructure does not necessarily mean that funding can vary (ok, Pothole Michigan   ) but it does express a commitment and moreover, it shifts the argument from the moral (Right) to that of justice, of a common good for all.
What complicates the matter is the question of special education. A rights model does seem to be the easier model for this funding. The infrastructure argument falters somewhat (although Mann did promote education for those with these needs — education is something a community does for the community was the reasoning). My own thought is that a 14A approach to the infrastructure framing gives us the better outcome, since it would necessarily involve metrics (Rights as moral considerations often falter on the metric side).

Evangelical Survival: It’s just business

In Sunday’s NYT, Ross Douthat offers an interesting take on the relationship of the business community and the Trump administration. Business seems to be ok albeit with a catastrophically dysfunctional presidency, or in Dothan’s words,  “a White House that can’t hit a target with a Super Soaker from six inches away.

There is historical evidence for this proposition, in the sense that the link between political and economic crises is more uncertain than direct. … If Trump is impotent or if he’s impeached, there is precedent for the markets simply shrugging, for the economy to keep chugging right along.

Indeed, if anything, it is the assumption that the administration will not make good on its more outrageous proposed economic plans, such as its tariffs, massive spending, or the reworking of a tax code to make a new set of losers and winners. That is, there’s a bet on the lack of linkage, in essence, on the continued gridlock and dysfunction.

This same lesson might apply to the Evangelical community as well. Like the business community, the Evangelicals are better off if the Trump administration does not get its act together. They have a vested interest in the dysfunction — certainly an odd place for white evangelicals to take.

The Evangelical community faces a twin challenge: of all the religious communities, theirs is the one that is actually shrinking in public acceptance, in part given their overwhelming support for the Trump presidency. In this condition, a Trump administration that has its act together, that acts on policy, poses greater risk to Evangelical standing, than the administration’s incompetency. The latter remains the fault of the participants — supporters always can hope for more. However, were the administration to be successful on some of its goals, say stripping people of healthcare, or massive deportations, or military conflict with Iran or China then the Evangelical would be at risk; they become tied to the policy.

Thus the paradox, the Evangelical can get most of what it really wants — more restrictive abortion measures, more flexibility in the public square, better relations in schools — without tying into the larger policy proposals. Just like the business community, it does not need the larger policy proposals, and in fact may actually consider those policies counter productive to its own interests.

And the dysfunction offers one more important point for Evangelicals: the very dysfunction, the incompetency offers easy occasions for expressions of regret. In doing so, one does not risk the core values, while at the same time one can also open a distance between Evangelical conviction and the corruption of the current regime.