Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 7.04.50 PMThe one truth about the Russian indictments is that the President has nowhere to go. Before, the  claims of “Fake News” could be used as a way of keeping a backdoor open, a certain (im)plausible denial. David Remnick quotes Jake Sullivan to spell this out

“This is a direct rebuke of the President’s ‘witch hunt’ narrative, that it was all invented from the start,” Jake Sullivan, one of Clinton’s closest policy and campaign advisers, told me. “These are meticulous criminal indictments showing that there was a campaign of interference to support Trump and to hurt Hillary. This also establishes a predicate crime, a criminal conspiracy—and that means that, if there were U.S. persons, or U.S. persons connected to Trump, involved, then they will be criminally exposed. What Mueller has done is to establish a criminal conspiracy.”

The only question now is who else is within the ramparts of the besieged White House? And will the king by some connivance, escape?

Mueller’s Indictment Ends Trump’s Myth of the Russia “Hoax”

All Woke Up?

Charles Blow highlights one of the saddest truths about the Russian interference with the 2016 electoral cycle: the dampening of the minority, and especially the millennial black vote. They may have been woke to their cause, but they went to sleep as to their interests.

According to a May Pew Research Center report, “The black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election.” The report said that the number of naturalized citizen voters was up from 2012 and the turnout rate for women was mostly unchanged from 2012. And while the percentage of eligible millennials who said they voted in the last election rose among every other demographic group, it fell among black millennials.

This is a version of “What’s the Matter with Kansas” only on the left. In the name of ideals, one votes against one’s own interests. The result, not surprisingly, is a sort of sideways movement of despair, a righteousness of the put-upon and the defeated.

The righteous, solitary vote can convey virtue when it is the subject of reflection and affirmation of ideal, but what happens when what looks like our opinion is the result of manipulation? As Blow has it, “what we do now know with absolute certainty is that in making their electoral choices, black folks had unwanted hands on their backs, unethical and illegal ones, nudging them toward an apathy built on anger.”

Sometimes Woke is not woke.


Character before Policy

The continuing question of Evangelicals and their “moral mulligan” to the President remains in discussion.
Harry Lew notes
It’s one of the ploys in the Democrat playbook used against practically every Republican candidate running for national office. As for the mistreatment of women, Bill Clinton has a longer record of abuse with Hillary defending him by attacking his victims. I’m not excusing Trump or the Clintons. I’m only tired of what I see as my leftist friends’ sanctimonious one-sided judgment against their fellow believers who support Trump’s policies. The truth is a politician’s policies can be better than her or his character, and vice versa. The more substantial debate should be on policy.
Maybe a politician’s police can be better than his character. Maybe. Nonetheless I think this problem of character is more substantive. Policy takes shape in a political space shaped by character. It’s not that we need moral persons so much as we need the social norms, the practices shaped by character. the character of the participants — their personal morality, their trustworthiness as to their word, their fidelity to common standards and patriotism — these all help shape a set of norms, the tacit quality that lets policies be enacted. For the evangelical in particular, the elements of character also include items such as graciousness, a willingness to listen and such (all fruit of the Spirit). It’s not that we make political decisions based on character, but that we as a society have long known that attention to character yields better results for the whole.

The difficulty with the current President is not this or that “moral mulligan” but rather the entire stuff of character itself, and with that, the violation of the norms of our nation. As many observe, the character is that of a soft authoritarian, the sort that would make the instruments of government into the personal fiefdoms of the executive. Some nations operate that way, historically we haven’t. Why? again because of the particular religious and moral character. This in part is why we want to be cautious about the challenges as our society negotiates the sexual and gender politics, or why Evangelicals are proper to be concerned about certain elements of religious liberty as these undercut the existing norms.

But throughout, character counts. This is the stuff that builds the soft power, the norms that enable policies to be enacted (and be accepted). To step over character for the sake of policy is inevitably a short-term gain as inevitably policy changes. And then, when there is a ruler “who knew not Joseph” the appeal to character rings hollow, if it is heard at all.

It’s the thought that counts

Evangelicals may not like President Trump the man, but they surely like President Trump the champion — their champion. All this became agonizingly clear in the recent Politico interview with Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.

What’s remarkable in the interview is the abandonment of a Christian idealism for the realism of politics, the kingdom of this world.

Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

Franklin Graham adds his own take on Evangelicals and the President

“I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values, he does have a concern to protect Christians—whether it’s here at home or around the world—and I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom.”

What Graham and others are doing is to place an imagined outcome — the thought — in place of the actual performance.


Tony Perkins: Trump Gets ‘a Mulligan’ on Life, Stormy Daniels

Habits of Mind

Whom communities vote for is largely structural in character; we can think of it as a sort of central tendency. So university towns lean one way, traditional CRC communities  consistently lean another way, and President or no, there is little reason for them to vote differently. The variability will be in their enthusiasm expressed in voting, funding, and volunteering – the stuff of retail politics.

For the Dutch community, who they vote for is less important than minding their own understanding of what holding political office means. This comes to the fore because of  the President and his highly transactional value system which corrodes approaches based on principle, or for that matter, custom. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Dutch involvement in politics in Michigan has been the willingness to hold to broader goods than just partisanship. At its best, this resulted in a more rounded, more three-dimensional approach to politics and the societal problems politics sought to address.  This value system with its sense of the public good is something that should be nurtured, even as the approaches that would corrode it (e.g.. a certain President, or a tendency to identity politics) be resisted.

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?