Still reading, gingerly

current reading and viewingRoss Douthat, “It’s Trump’s Revolution,” New York Times (June 13, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueIn this environment, few conservatives outside the MAGA core would declare Trump’s presidency a ringing success. But many will stand by him out of a sense of self-protection, hoping a miracle keeps him in the White House as a firewall against whatever post-2020 liberalism might become.

This is a natural impulse, but they should consider another possibility: That so long as he remains in office, Trump will be an accelerant of the right’s erasure, an agent of its marginalization and defeat, no matter how many of his appointees occupy the federal bench.


Alan Jacobs, “more on the mania for unanimity,” Snakes and Ladders (June 11, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueHow exactly does a narrative coalesce such that “silence is violence” about some forms of suffering but not others, even if the others have greater scope?

This post is not a simple criticism so much as an actual answer to the question raised.


Peggy Noonan, “On Some Things, Americans Can Agree: George Floyd’s killing was brutal. Good cops are needed. And Trump hurt himself badly this week.” The Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueAs to the president, this week he altered his position in the political landscape. Something broke. He is no longer the force he was and no longer lucky. In some new and indelible way his essential nature was revealed.

I am proud of Peggy Noonan and George Will and others for being willing to speak truth to the political powers that were their home fans. George Will famously left the Republican Party before the 2016 [link] election, and has continued to write bluntly (not protectively) about the Administration (his opinions are behind the Washington Post paywall).

Political SCOTUS?

Evangelisto Ramos was tried for second degree murder in Louisiana in 2016. After a two-day trial the jury voted 10-2 to convict him.

In 48 states (and in federal court), this would have resulted in a “hung jury” and a mistrial. Unfortunately for Mr. Ramos, he was tried in Louisiana, which (along with Oregon), permits non-unanimous verdicts, so he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The question before the Court was whether the conviction was constitutional.

On this point—the point which Evangelisto Ramos was most interested in—the Court decided (6-3)1 that his conviction was not constitutional.


Here’s the scorecard:Ramos


Justice Gorsuch, who needed four Justices to join him, managed to make a 5-4 majority out of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kavanaugh for most of his nine-part opinion. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, of course were appointed by President Trump. Ginsburg and Breyer were Clinton appointees. Sotomayor was appointed by President Obama.

That means that Gorsuch could not attract the votes of the Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito (both George W. Bush appointees) or Justice Kagan (an Obama appointee) for any of his opinion, and that Justice Kavanaugh (Trump) couldn’t agree with him on three parts, and Justice Sotomayor (Obama) could not agree on one part. Justice Thomas (President George H.W. Bush) thought the conviction was unconstitutional, but for a more-or-less completely different reason, so he did not agree with Gorsuch on anything that he wrote, just the decision he made.

Who says that Supreme Court justices vote politically?


1The only other part of the 87 pages of opinions that were published today that garnered this kind of majority was that Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan and Kavanaugh agreed that whatever Justice Gorsuch thought he meant by part IV.A. of his opinion could not possibly be right.

NOTE: The greyed-out sections of the chart represent the parts that are not legally binding—73 out of 87 pages!

P.S. One headline “Supreme Court rules criminal jury verdicts must be unanimous, overturning decades-old precedent,” rather misses the point. Ramos overturns a lone case which stuck out of 500 years of precedent and which was of doubtful coherence—a 4-person plurality opinion combined with an odd 1-person opinion by Justice Powell—that “decided” that Louisiana could sort of get away with it, though Gorsuch writes that “no Member of the Court today defends either [the opinion of the four or the opinion of the one] as rightly decided.”

Re-reading

Visiting an old friend, Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow:

JayberCrowsmall quotesIf you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line—starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.

p. 149.


As a lover of allusions, I get a kick out of the references to Bunyan, Dante and a certain famous hymn.

Congratulations, Peggy!

peggy-noonan-illo-0213-jqdkhr-xlgPeggy Noonan, who once wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan, just won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.  It is well-deserved.

For a list of her pieces that won, go to “The 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary,” The Pulitzer Prizes (Apr. 10, 2017) [link].  My favorite is “Imagine a Sane Donald Trump,” Wall Street Journal (Oct. 22, 2016).

The other winners are also listed at http://www.pulitzer.org.

“We do not serve idols . . . .”

From Andy Crouch:

But there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who golden-calfseem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.

*    *    *

In these closing weeks before the election, all American Christians should repent, fast, and pray—no matter how we vote. And we should hold on to hope—not in a candidate, but in our Lord Jesus. We do not serve idols. We serve the living God. Even now he is ready to have mercy, on us and on all who are afraid. May his name be hallowed, his kingdom come, and his will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Andy Crouch, “Speak Truth to Trump” Christianity Today (October 10, 2016) [link].

The entire article is well worth reading.

A kind of hope

ScreenShot142An opinion piece from The National Review with is worth reading in full:

It’s hard to ignore the hideous character failings at the core of the man, and for this purpose maybe especially his fundamental infidelity toward all who rely on his word, which makes it hard to take seriously any assurances. He has sometimes shown himself capable of sticking to script or obeying the teleprompter, and when he does that he raises the possibility that he may be containable. But when Trump is given a chance to reveal something of himself, he without fail reveals a terrifying emptiness. The idea that such a man would be improved by being handed immense power simply refuses to be believed. Even wishful thinking supercharged by a justified dread of what a Hillary Clinton administration could do to the American republic can only go so far—certainly far enough not to vote for her, but for this voter not nearly far enough to vote for him. Neither major-party option in this election is worthy of affirmation, and no amount of wishing it were otherwise is likely to change that. All we can do, it seems to me, is hope and work for a Congress able and inclined to counterbalance a dangerous executive.

*     *     *

But whoever wins in November, this will not be the launch of a new political order in America. It will rather be the reason we decide it’s time for a change, and turn our politics into an argument about what that change must be. 2016 should leave Americans of all stripes thinking that our great nation can surely do much better than this.

Yuval Levin, “The Final Stretch,” National Review (Sept. 7, 2016) [link].

Any ideas on who we are going to be writing in?

“That’s one of the hazards here.”

From Marvin Olasky’s interview of Hadley Arkes:

hadley-arkes-facebook1[Olasky] What’s the major way students have changed in 50 years?  [Arkes] One notable change: They have trouble doing sit-down exams and giving an account of what they’ve read. They have not been required to read closely. How does the writer’s argument move? What are the supporting points of evidence? How does he reach the culmination? They can’t do that, except the very best.

Would both major presidential candidates get an F on one of your exams? I don’t think I could get from Donald Trump a precise account of anything he reads. Hillary Clinton would give me the party line: Whatever the subject, we need gun control.

You say we have a choice between “the brutal sure thing,” Hillary Clinton, and “the wild card,” Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is not a question mark. For her and the left, the “right to abortion” is the first freedom, displacing freedom of religion and freedom of speech anchoring axioms.

You’re for the wild card, particularly because of Supreme Court appointments? I am, but it’s not merely about replacing justices. With Clinton, the lower federal courts that handle most of the cases—the points of first entry—will be filled with characters from the academic left who favor theories that ordinary folk take as bizarre.

*    *    *

Does [Trump] care about judges? I don’t think he cares overly much about the courts and the Supreme Court. He certainly hasn’t troubled to read much about them. He depends on other people. That’s one of the hazards here.

“Hadley Arkes: Life and politics” World (August 18, 2016) [link] (emphasis added).

I’m still not convinced — sounds more pragmatic than principled — but I have a good deal of respect for Professor Arkes (who has taught Political Philosophy at Amherst for 50 years).

The Man in the High Castle

This is not entirely true, of course, but a provocative thought, nonetheless:

“We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious.”

61BMpmDw23LPhilip K.Dick, The Man in the High Castle 260.

Indeed the truth is that too often, knowing perfectly well what is moral, we find that we do not choose to do it. See Romans 7:18b-19 ESV (“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.“)*

PKD’s quotation does remind us, however, that our choices are obscured by our inability to perfectly perceive reality — we have very imperfect knowledge about many of the choices we have to make — and yet we still must make them.

Paul goes on to explain the only escape from this dilemma:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:21b-25a ESV.  Only Jesus delivers.

And so we should pray for guidance from the one whose perfect knowledge and perfect love are necessary for correct decisions in life and in less momentous choices like elections.