What’s Wrong with the World

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Pain is the price of patriotism

The events of the last few days here in the U.S. could almost have been calculated to break the heart of anyone who loves this country. First I'm referring to the loss of the Senate to the Democrats. And here I solidly blame none other than our feckless man-child of a President, Donald Trump. In a distant alternative possible universe, had Trump been less narcissistic, had he thought that something mattered besides himself, he would have taken the spotlight off the presidential election shortly after November 3 (whatever he thought about the fairness of the results) and focused solidly on using his considerable influence with his base to rally the voters for the Georgia runoffs. Well, we all know how that went, including Lin Wood's insane recommendation to Republican voters to stay home. The elections were close. Had Trump barnstormed Georgia on behalf of those candidates, the Democrats might not have won the Senate. I don't usually indulge in such what-ifs, and there are plenty of places where I think Trump gets blamed that are far more complicated than they are made to appear in Punditland, but this one is just too darned obvious.

And then, of course, the Capitol-storming yesterday, deadly for at least four people, deadly for any remaining shred of American dignity. (The news media seem to be notably coy about three of these--who they were and what exactly happened--but about Ashli Babbitt, the woman whom the police shot, there seems to be little doubt about what happened.) This ridiculous attempt at insurrection (seriously?) will be treated as iconic of conservatism for decades to come (at least) and used as a stick with which to beat everyone who supports conservative ideals and ideas. Don't like gay "marriage"? Well, you're just like those terrifying insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol building. Maybe you're planning terrorism, even. Don't think a man can turn into a woman? The same. Support the lives of the unborn--man, you're a scary person. And on, ad infinitum.

If that hasn't upset some readers already ("How terrible that that is why she's upset!" "She didn't say what I wanted her to say!"), here follows my really upsetting paragraph, so feel free to skip, especially if you lean a bit left or are wanting me to say some predetermined thing you have in mind to prove my non-partisanship. I basically like this take by Ben Domenech, with a caveat or two. More about the caveats below. He is so right about the demonization of the really peaceful Tea Partiers not so long ago, the boy who cried wolf phenomenon, and so forth. The most I can say to prove my non-partisanship is that, while I think it deeply tragic, I don't have a huge amount of sympathy for Babbitt, whom the police shot. She paid high for her mad folly and her anarchic action; death in that context could have been foreseen as a not-implausible result. This is horrible. If she was motivated by malice, her death would be slightly less tragic, but I don't at all know that she was motivated by malice and suspect (call me naive) that she was incurably muddle-headed by ideology. But everybody who invaded that building forcibly certainly deserves arrest. What I'd really like to see at this point is for the same spirit of get-tough-on-rioters to travel to Portland and other cities so that the truly malicious evildoers who burn down innocent people's businesses would also have a credible deterrent thought to think: "Hey, maybe the police will shoot me if I try to do that." Supported (in my fantasy world) by the eager tough-mindedness of the media that stridently reported yesterday's invasion of the Capitol. But no, "Civil Rights Groups Raise Alarms About Mayor's Harsher Stance on Protesters," as the anarchy in Portland goes on without apparent end and peaceful businessmen have no credible hope of living their peaceful lives. That is shameful. And those who are saying diametrically opposite things now about the rioters yesterday from what they were saying this summer are nothing but despicable partisan hacks whom I will never try to satisfy. (I'm looking at you, Sally Kohn: 5/30 on Twitter, "I don't like violent protests, but I understand them. And those wagging their fingers against them need to read up on their American history." Yesterday, "The mobs storming the Capitol right now are neither patriots nor revolutionaries. They are traitors and cowards, trying to upend our democracy by force." I'm looking at Nancy I-don't-know-why-there-aren't-uprisings-all-over-the-country Pelosi. And more.) Yes, this paragraph probably means that I don't evaluate these two types of mobs exactly as some reading this would like me to. But I do condemn them both, believe both are shameful and both should be arrested and stopped, violently if there is no other way, and that's the most you're going to get out of me.

All that said, the last few days have been dark, in more senses than one. The take from Domenech doesn't give us a whole lot to hope for. If, as he says, the anarchic spirit is now running loose on the American right and is not going away, how in the world can principled conservatives speak credibly to the legitimate concerns of that political element while firmly refusing to become like them? That's the million-dollar question, and I don't have a good answer. Neither, apparently, does Domenech. If he does, he's not revealing it. What has just happened is, like so much of the last four years, a mix of tragedy and farce and turns the country into a mix of tragedy and farce. Yesterday is in some ways the unkindest cut of all. Who could have imagined four years ago the image of "Buffalo horns guy" posing in the Senate chamber with some people (on both sides) actually believing that he is a representative of "the right" in the U.S.?

And in response we have the President, apparently really shocked (is it possible?) at what his incessant, narcissistic drum-beating of the past few weeks and days has raised, calling for non-violence after it's too late. Can he really be that stupid? I suppose he can. And that is the best we can say for him! Dear Lord, I can remember being a child and being told quite solemnly all about respecting the "office of the President" no matter who was in office. There was still some vestige then of respect for the processes of our governance--respect owed, perhaps, to history, to the vision of the Founders, and to that partly-abstract, partly-concrete entity that we called "our country." The land of the free and the home of the brave, remember? The land of Presidents we could be really proud to get behind, or who could (to put it no higher) at least pretend to behave themselves. Are we now either free or brave? I wonder.

Cynicism is a luxury we cannot afford. And that is my main caveat about Ben Domenech's otherwise insightful piece. He says he wasn't as depressed as others were (presumably conservatives) about yesterday's events. I have to say it: Maybe he should be more depressed. Being hurt by the slow, painful death of ideals in our society is what we pay for being human. Pain is the price of patriotism. If we are to rebuild anything from the ruins of conservatism, if we are even to survive the current and growing totalitarianism of leftism, we have to continue to hurt and to have ideals. This is something that my recent re-reading of Witness by Whittaker Chambers has taught me. Chambers regained his humanity when he learned to love--first his wife, then their unborn child, then his farm and his country--and thus learned again to suffer, but to suffer creatively, to suffer as a witness. That painful process of learning to love was what made him give up the Communist idea that the ends justify the means. We cannot travel the opposite road now. Clear-eyed we must be, and being clear-eyed will undoubtedly lead to pessimism. But hardened we cannot be.

I could close there, but since I'm not blogging a whole lot these days and was only moved by these recent events to blog now, I want to add this: The future of this country and of Western civilization lies, I now firmly believe, with those who are willing to share constructive ideals and truths in person as well as virtually. To do that, we must be both brave and free--free in heart, at least, and claiming our freedom with our actions as much as we are able. While I'm quite willing and even grateful to use the blessings of technology, and while I hope to continue to have the opportunity to do so and to reach more people that way, we can't convey everything that needs to be conveyed that way. The John MacArthurs of the world, these courageous Canadian pastors and elders, and many others quietly "breaking" the insane lockdown "rules" to meet in their churches, to meet with their friends and neighbors and loved ones, to fall in love without masks and get married, to baptize (which you can't do six feet apart), to hug the grieving, to teach children (yea, even children outside their own households) by standing at their elbows while tutor and student see each others' faces, the builders of incarnate community and interpersonal love are the future of mankind. Does that sound over-the-top to you? So be it.

I hear people speak of our hope in Jesus and of their hope for revival in the U.S. or in the West. That's all well and good. But the high probability is that revival will bear fruit in the dark, lonely spaces of individual hearts and souls only insofar as those souls become strongly connected to in-person communities of saints and brethren. So pastors: Open up your doors and invite them to come in. And sing. And pray together. And speak the truth about unpopular social subjects, and encourage your people by word and example to be willing to lose everything for the truth. It's the only way. It will hurt. But pain is the price not only of patriotism but also of discipleship.


Comments (11)

I strongly suspect, based on the insane shenanigans the Democrats pulled in PA and GA alike, weakening signature matching requirements for the mail-in ballots, along with the post-election disposal of the envelopes that might have enabled at least a statistical validation of the legitimacy of some of these ballots, that chicanery, if not outright fraud, played a role in the outcome of the election. And that's not to mention the outsized role played by social media last year, a role carefully calibrated by the interlocking networks of techbros, elite pols, etc., as an end-run around the First Amendment.

Nothing was going to change the outcome of the election. I'm not arguing the contrary. I'm not arguing that people were right to storm the Capitol. They weren't. It wasn't the death of democracy, more a deranged farce. But it was criminal. I am arguing that the Establishment has no right to demand that people *accept* the legitimacy of an election that was overdetermined by social media suppression and manipulation, as well as electoral laws that were changed by ukase, on the basis of indefinite states of emergency that cannot really be justified by the underlying crisis, let alone by anything in law. Remember when the portside was all about critiques of Bush-era theories of the Unitary Executive, States of Exception, and so forth? The partisan hypocrisy is deep.

No, it's not a question of what people should believe or accept, but about how they should act on the basis of those beliefs. Not the way they did, obviously. Why, though, would they turn out for the utterly uninspiring GA GOP senate candidates, who embodied nothing more than the distant, disconnected GOP elite whose malfeasance laid the groundwork for the rise of Trump in the first place? What had they ever done for the people they expected to vote for them? They were no more likely to vote for those candidates than many Obama voters were to vote for Clinton, who, far from having ever done anything for that segment of the Dem coalition, had actually done many negative things *to* that segment of the Dem coalition. And that is how many, nominally or really associated with the GOP, feel about the GOP establishment, the party of Jeb! and Romney, who, while exhibiting a certain sort of civic decency, never allowed that decency to prevent him destroying their jobs.

Domenech is right. Virtually no one on the starboard side wants a return of the neocons, what they call GOP-E. No one cared about the Lincoln Project, a claque of people who have made careers defending the destruction of middle-class employment in the US and advocating sending the sons and daughters of the victims of those economic policies to die in pointless, eternal warfare. Oh, and also infinite immigration. Why not one billion? There was scant prospect, after a generation or two of policy betrayal, that these people, who supported Trump because he at least *appeared* to care about them, at least *appeared* to respect them, and didn't condescend to them, would vote for representatives of the GOP-E that does not care about them, and does not respect them - the revealed preference of its policies is manifestly that it despises them. Lin Wood, who may be an able attorney when not addled by whatever substance he has been ingesting of late, was delusional to advocate not voting for those candidates, because a Senate slightly gridlocked to the right is, in the circumstances, surely to be preferred to the bone-chilling prospect of what the Dems could do, if they can muster in the Senate even some of the party discipline that Pelosi exercises in the House. But why would the rank-and-file buy that case after the past 30 years? I can see the logic, though it sometimes takes some squinting. But I don't *feel* it. And most people who don't feel it are never going to see it. All they feel, and all many of them have ever felt, is betrayal and loss: loss of family, employment, faith, community, country, the homelikeness of a world that made sense.

We are entering a world in which new forms of samizdat and subversion will be necessary. Defy, quietly of course, the illegitimate ukases, not only because of the discrete harms they inflict, but because indefinite rule by decree is irreconcilable with a republican form of government, and the longer it continues, the less likely we will be to recover even a vestige of representative government. If the night of technocracy descends, you will never be rid of it save by so thoroughly destroying even the technologies that make it possible, that you will find yourself in a society that more resembles Mad Max than 2019 - this, because the technologies are so advanced that they actively deskill, and obliterate the knowledge and capacity to live without them, and the surveillance they make possible will make it all but impossible to dissent. Those things, and learning to say things without appearing to say them, because truth is not meant for those who will do evil with it.

Concluding random postscript: As much as I disagreed with most of the objectives of the Tea Party, the overwrought response of liberal officialdom was an early tip of the hand as to what was coming: everything that deviates from whatever the Establishment wants is Fash. Don't want open borders and One Billion Americans? Fash. Want an economic policy that prioritizes American employment and industry over BlackRock's portfolio? Fash. Dissent from the cartoonish pseudo-historiography of the 1619 Project? Fash. Oppose the lockdowns and their baleful consequences? You want herd immunity, and that's FASH! And so on, ad infinitum.

There was scant prospect, after a generation or two of policy betrayal, that these people, who supported Trump because he at least *appeared* to care about them, at least *appeared* to respect them, and didn't condescend to them, would vote for representatives of the GOP-E that does not care about them, and does not respect them

Well, both Isakson in 2016 and Perdue in 2020, establishment GOP Senate candidates, won more votes than Trump the presidential candidate (though, admittedly, it was much closer last year). In both elections, by contrast, the Democratic presidential candidate outpaced any senate candidate. As Brad Raffensperger pointed out repeatedly, there was a five-figure cohort of Republicans in Georgia (concentrated in metro Atlanta) who left the top line blank. That pattern seems to complicate things.

I have absolutely no doubt that there are other factors in operation, and that they influence elections. I do not mention them because, while they may swing the outcomes of individual elections here and there, they are not the tectonic forces shifting beneath American politics as a whole; they are the vignettes acted out within the scope of the grand drama.

A former neighbor of mine is somewhat illustrative. He is a lawyer in our county seat, and active in local GOP politics; he is thoroughly GOP-E in his political convictions, and was enthusiastic about Romney/Ryan in 2012, and about McCain in 2008, but was embarrassed enough by the selection of Palin as VP that he made certain that all of his McCain signs were strategically positioned so as to obscure the 'Palin' parts behind shrubbery. He never cared for the populist turn in GOP politics. I don't know whether he voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year or so of Trump's presidency, he raved about the administration's economic management, as it had, among other things, enabled him not only to sell the house that had languished on the market for over a year under Obama, but to get buyers into a bidding war for the property, enough so that he could cover the additional expense of the new house he was building, the next township over, to accommodate his family and his elderly in-laws.

I don't know whether he voted Trump in 2020. But he is illustrative enough because there are thousands of professionals like him in our area, and I noticed a marked shift in the distribution of lawn signs last year, relative to 2016. Outside of our county seat, almost no one had Clinton signs in 2016. Doubtless, may of these professionals either abstained from presidential balloting in 2016, or quietly voted Trump; I'd wager the former category was far larger. This year, most of those lawns had Biden signs.

So I have no doubt that other factors are operative. But the tectonic forces of American politics are not suburban professionals. They have been swing voters, albeit they are now shifting into the Dem column. Swing voters are not the tectonic force of politics. Base mobilization is. Swing voters are a tiny fraction of the electorate. The real game in politics is mobilizing one's base, and recuperating as much of that base as possible when it threatens to walk away. The Dems succeeded brilliantly in this regard, almost fully recuperating the left populists and progs alienated by Clinton, and coming down from Obama's hopium high; these people - I don't even know what more to say about them, having spent years interacting with them - will almost always return to the Dem tent if sufficiently terrorized with histrionic threats about the theofascist Republican Right, and the left-liberal discourse, from the blogs to the websites to the social media sites, has been dominated, for four long years, by conversation about how even the most anodyne conservative policy programs were fascist. And any policy that might actually materially benefit the denizens of deindustrialized flyover country, why, that would be Jim Crow and the Holocaust rolled into one world-historical atrocity, the product of valorizing a once-majority white working class that was politically and culturally dominant *during* the era of Jim Crow, and therefore tautologically racist. Yes, they do talk this way; I've only added a little flair to the discourse.

The GOP base, as a whole, by contrast, seems to be quite done with business as usual. Many of them undoubtedly wish for a standard-bearer unburdened by the excesses and emotional incontinence of Trump, but there is no burning enthusiasm for a return to Romney-Ryan Republicanism. There is no modal world in which that iteration of Republicanism increases so substantially its electoral turnout from 2016 to 2020. And unless the GOP is willing - which seems doubtful, not only after the events of this week, but after the past four years of passive-aggressive opposition to even Trump's sounder policy instincts - to incorporate the sound populist positioning of the Trump interregnum, it is more likely than not to gradually dwindle to a diminished status as a permanent minority opposition party, because GOP-E policies both alienate a large enough percentage of the base, and offer no prospects for growing that base. The most they offer is the occasional opportunity of flipping back a small margin of suburban professionals and housewives who are already trending towards default Dem.

I notice that Establishment outlets, like the W$J and NRO, are already sounding mighty blasts of the trumpet against anything populist, and not merely against derangements like the storming of the Capitol. However, no conservative majority will ever again be possible without that populist amalgam; and without it, no social conservative priorities will be protected. The Mighty Turtle Head of Kentucky doesn't care about civil and religious liberties, and neither do the donors who underwrite the policies of GOP-E. Without that populist amalgam, conservatism will become as baroque, in my lifetime, as Marxism - serious Marxism, the sort of Marxism that drones on about the value form as the foundation of commodity production, and commodity production as the foundation of the capitalist extraction of surplus value, not the culturalist, idpol 'Marxism' of AOC - now is. I'll put a fine point on it: GOP-E is the big-business party, the party of the businesses that have made out like bandits under the lockdowns. The populist element is the party of the small businesses harassed and gutted by the lockdowns. And if the GOP won't fight for Main Street, it's going to die. None of those people will want to vote for the party that wants to tax Bozos just a little more lightly than the Dems, but give them even paltrier stimulus checks.

The news media seem to be notably coy about three of these--who they were and what exactly happened...

One female was trampled to death according to a family member. A male rioter died from a heart attack.

If she was motivated by malice, her death would be slightly less tragic, but I don't at all know that she was motivated by malice and suspect (call me naive) that she was incurably muddle-headed by ideology.

She was a QAnon fanatic who had previously been an Obama voter. If you know anything about QAnon its origin was a soundly debunked conspiracy theory and its current iteration is a type of blood libel applied to politics instead of ethnicity and with sci-fi elements (cloning) to excuse the lack of envisioned revenge. So it is has some ideological markers but malice is part of its core. The wackiest part of QAnon, and it has very many wacky parts, is that Trump is held up as a unique paragon of virtue who will put an end to this horrific evil. Imagine the delusion it takes to think this president has moral superiority over anyone when in reality it is his lack of morals that provides the permission structure for his grievance obsessed followers to act out.

Speaking more generally upon the attack, this was clearly an epic security failure. The top line of succession was inside and because of Lin Wood's social media posts they were actively hunting down VP Pence. While some of the rioters were going around without much purpose, with one cretin waving around the treasonous Confederate flag, more than a few seemed to have a plan of attack. They ransacked the office of the parliamentarian, where the official certified state ballots had been until some smart staffers grabbed them on their way to a secure location. Besides the two functional IEDs found a few blocks down the street, one person arrested before he could get in the building had a cooler filled with Molotov cocktails. Multiple rioters were brandishing firearms and at least one had police-style zip ties, demonstrating an intent on taking hostages. Giuliani's call to Senators during the vote after the siege, begging for more time, is also troubling. He needed time to accomplish what exactly?

I meant physical malice in action at that specific time, not "malice because this crazy theory is so bad that it counts as malice for anyone to hold it." I would rather have seen one of the capitol rioters who was beating a cop get shot and killed, if I could have had my druthers about who got shot.

At the specific time she was shot, she was trying to go through the window of a door the group she was with had just broken and pulled out of the frame, where she should have been able to see the guard with his gun aimed in her direction. Even if for some reason she didn't see the guard she was clearly told by other rioters there was a gun on the other side. As an Air Force vet she would have known that having the gun out would not be only for threat but a likely prelude of it being used. I don't know if she wanted to die but she was aware she was risking her life at the moment she was shot.

Um, yeah, Step2, I basically said something like that (about risking her life, mad folly, etc., etc.) *in the goldarned post*. But I guess since I didn't attribute malice to her, it still isn't "enough" for you. As I would have expected. Or maybe you didn't read it.

The context of her actions prior to the shooting and her motivations are relevant to an objective moral judgment. You asked me to provide that specific context so I did. Because I cannot resist a terrible pun, I will request that you not shoot the messenger.

I don't recall asking you to provide anything, though I did demur at the implication that believing the QAnon insanity automatically meets the definition of "malice" *as I meant that word in the post*. I get to decide on my own meanings of my own words. In any event, again, I myself said that she was courting death by her actions, and then you brought that up as if disagreeing with me. Shrug.


Limits, Risk Aversion, and Technocracy

Outstanding essay recently posted at FPR. The Laschian critique of capitalism may cause a certain amount of bristling among some, but the main points that the author makes are in my view very important.

Beer's essay is excellent, informed as it is by a recognition of our finitude, which entails *limits*, meaning that life is fundamentally tragic, structured by the inevitability of trade-offs. The view Beer is critiquing, the view of the technocrats and lockdowners, formally denies the limited and tragic nature of life, and imagines that by means of quantification - the expression of the Promethean drive for mastery - we can wrest control of life from Nature and Fate. Substantively, though, it cannot escape reality, as there is no escape from a metaphysical condition by means of epistemology or techne: there is no thinking one's way out of finitude. Finitude is. It is our condition. Substantively, therefore, the technocrats cannot but impose new strictures, like the quantitative ones of the lockdowns, the ones that snuff out all of the qualitative goods of human existence (and contribute to worsening quantitative metrics in other areas) - because trade-offs are inevitable for finite beings. We cannot turn every dial up to 11.

Some of what passes for common sense is mistaken. State finance is not really analogous to household finance, at least not for a sovereign nation that issues its own currency, like the US. For Greece, however, it is in many respects. However, much common sense is more truly philosophical - wise - than hundreds of thousands of pages of technocrats imagining that reams of equations and metrics are Reality. They're not. They're adumbrations of mere fractions of Reality. And that whole assumption rests upon elementary metaphysical and epistemological errors that most people figure out, quite without the aid of philosophy, in childhood. You can't always get what you want.

In the end, the technocratic approach doesn't master Reality, but so structures a narrow slice of reality that the technocrats imagine that they can completely control, that they then present as Mastery - except that the pretense only works by excising everything that cannot be fitted into the Procrustean bed of quantification. It's how you get lockdowners crowing - even despite the evidence that goes against them - that they have saved lives, even as they have sucked everything that makes life worth living out of the lives that remain.

In a word, the whole thing is an exercise in policymaking by autists.

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