Chloro(Men)cken for COVID-19

Teaching Mencken during a pandemic is downright riveting. Imagine reading these observations while quarantined (with cats or not):

The suicide rate, so I am told by an intellgient mortician, is going up. It is good news to his profession, which has been badly used of late by the progress of medical science, and scarcely less so by the rise of cut-throat, go-getting competition within its own ranks. It is also good news to those romantic optimists who like to believe that the human race is capable of rational acts. What could be more logical than suicide? What could be more preposterous than keeping alive? Yet nearly all of us cling to life with desperate devotion, even when the length of it remaining is palpably slight, and filled with agony. Half the time of all medical men is wasted keeping life in human wrecks who have no more intelligible reason for hanging on than a cow has for giving milk.

In part, no doubt, this absurd frenzy has its spring in the human imagination, or, as it is more poetically called, the human reason. Man, having acquired the high faculty of visualizing death, visualizes it as something painful and dreadful. It is, of course, seldom anything of the sort. The proceedings anterior to it are sometimes (though surely not always) painful, but death itself appears to be devoid of sensation, either psychic or physical. The candidate, facing it at last, simply loses his faculties. It is no more to him than it is to a coccus. . . .

[M]en work simply in order to escape the depressing agony of contemplating life — that their work, like their play, is a mumbo-jumbo that serves them by permitting them to escape from reality. Both work and play, ordinarily, are illusions. Neither serves any solid and permanent purpose. But life, stripped of such illusions, instantly becomes unbearable. Man cannot sit still, contemplating his destiny in this world, without going frantic. So he invents ways to take his mind off the horror. He works. He plays. (On Suicide, 1926)

He streams.

What about how to dispose of human remains?

One of the crying needs of the time in this incomparable Republic is for a suitable Burial Service for the admittedly damned. I speak as one who has of late attended the funeral orgies of several such gentlemen, each time to my esthetic distress. The first of them, having a great abhorrence of rhetoric in all its branches, left strict orders that not a word was to be said at his obsequies. The result was two extremely chilly and uncomfortable moments: when six of us walked into his house in utter silence and carried out his clay, and when we stood by as it was shoved, in the same crawling silence, into the fire-box of the crematory. The whole business was somehow unnatural and even a shade indecent: it violated one of the most ancient sentiments of homo sapiens to dispatch so charming a fellow in so cavalier a fashion. One felt almost irresistibly impelled to say good-by to him in some manner or other, if only, soldier fashion, by blowing a bugle and rolling a drum. Even the mortician, an eminent star of one of the most self-possessed of professions, looked a bit uneasy. . . .

What is needed, and what I bawl for politely, is a service that is free from the pious but unsupported asseverations that revolt so many of our best minds, and yet remains happily graceful and consoling. It will be very hard, I grant you, to concoct anything as lasciviously beautiful as the dithyrambs in the Book of Common Prayer. Who wrote them originally I don’t know, but whoever did it was a poet. They put the highly improbable into amazingly luscious words, and the palpably not-true into words even more arresting and disarming. It is impossible to listen to them, when they are intoned by a High Church rector of sepulchral gifts, without harboring a sneaking wish that, by some transcendental magic, they could throw off their lowly poetical character and take on the dignity and reliability of prose — in other words, that the departed could be actually imagined as leaping out of the grave on the Last Morn, his split colloids all restored to their pristine complexity, his clothes neatly scoured and pressed, and every molecule of him thrilling with a wild surmise. (Clarion Call to Poets, 1927)

And then there is Mencken’s propensity for thinking outside the box:

What reason is there for believing that a high death-rate in itself, is undesirable? To my knowledge none whatever. The plain fact is that, if it be suitably selective, it is extremely salubrious. Suppose it could be so arranged that it ran to 100% a year among politicians, executive secretaries, drive chairmen, and the homicidally insane? What rational man would object? (Christian Science, 1927)

Happy computer modelling.

The Nation’s Math Crisis

Lots of people are throwing around statistics about COVID-19, cases, deaths, ICUs, ventilators, even percentages, a challenge for those who forgot long division. And then there are the software/programming types and computer models that project what yesterday’s and today’s numbers will mean for tomorrows.

Keep in mind though that in country as large and opinionated as the United States, tabulating numbers (which depend on people keeping records) is a challenge. For instance:

In his effort to narrow the stunning divide between the U.S. and other industrialized Western nations on the rates at which they incarcerate their respective citizens, Latzer’s argument is limited to people housed in prisons. His analysis thus quite explicitly ignores the almost 800,000 people who are detained, at any given point in time, in city and county jails across America housing half as many prisoners as state and federal prisons do.

Excluding jail inmates in a debate concerning over-incarceration, however, is just as illogical as ignoring foreign-manufactured vehicles from an assessment of the number of automobiles on the road. The place where prisoners are housed (prison versus jail) is just as irrelevant as the place of manufacture of automobiles in arguments over whether we have too many inmates and cars in the United States. To have any real-world significance, each normative inquiry must begin with an accurate appraisal of the empirical phenomenon being assessed. In the case of over-incarceration, that means factoring in the hundreds of thousands of people locked up in jails along with their counterparts in federal and state prisons.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “County and city jails in the United States reported a total confined population of 745,200 inmates at midyear 2017.” In that same year, the government reported that prisons contained 1,489,363 inmates. Despite the fact that non-lawyers often use the terms “prison” and “jail” interchangeably, prisons are reserved for persons convicted of felonies and sentenced to more than a year behind bars. Jails, by contrast, house less serious convicts serving custodial sentences of one year or less and persons being held on pending charges not yet adjudicated. People in jails and prisons alike are incarcerated and thus directly relevant to debates regarding over-incarceration.

At a time when we are trying to sort through critical cases of COVID-19, ordinary ones, and asymptomatic carriers, remembering that Americans also have trouble counting people who commit felonies may provide comfort. You can always juke the stats.

Stats May Lie but What about the Words?

Some think Aaron Ginn’s article that debunks the projections for COVID-19’s rates of transmission, infection, and mortality are off. In an era of big data, from Wall Street to Major League Baseball, occupying the lane alone as the only interpreter of statistics looks a tad risky. But okay, Carl T. Bergstrom can have the numbers (though I wonder if he ever questions the graphs that Stuart A. Thompson creates for the New York Times).

What about the text that Ginn also supplied?

One example is from the Wall Street Journal:

A World Health Organization report on China concluded that cases of Covid-19 in children were “relatively rare and mild.” Among cases in people under age 19, only 2.5% developed severe disease while 0.2% developed critical disease. Among nearly 6,300 Covid-19 cases reported by the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on March 8, there were no reported deaths in anyone under 30. Only 0.7% of infections were in children under 9 and 4.6% of cases were in those ages 10 to 19 years old

Only 2% of the patients in a review of nearly 45,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in China were children, and there were no reported deaths in children under 10, according to a study published in JAMA last month. (In contrast, there have been 136 pediatric deaths from influenza in the U.S. this flu season.)

About 8% of cases were in people in their 20s. Those 10 to 19 years old accounted for 1% of cases and those under 10 also accounted for only 1%.

This was not a cherry-picked quotation. Ginn could have added:

Trends in South Korea so far look similar. Among nearly 6,300 Covid-19 cases reported by the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on March 8, there were no reported deaths in anyone under 30. Only 0.7% of infections were in children under 9 and 4.6% of cases were in those ages 10 to 19 years old.

Ginn also quoted a study from the Center for Disease Control

A growing body of evidence indicates that COVID-19 transmission is facilitated in confined settings; for example, a large cluster (634 confirmed cases) of COVID-19 secondary infections occurred aboard a cruise ship in Japan, representing about one fifth of the persons aboard who were tested for the virus. This finding indicates the high transmissibility of COVID-19 in enclosed spaces.

The larger part of that paragraph includes this.

[H]ospital-based transmission has occurred, potentially affecting healthcare workers, inpatients, and visitors at healthcare facilities, which might explain an increasing trend and the elevated CFR estimates. Indeed, thousands of healthcare workers have succumbed to the disease in China (18), a pattern that resembles past nosocomial outbreaks of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (19,20). During past MERS outbreaks, inpatients with underlying disease or elderly persons infected in the hospital setting have raised the CFR to values as high as 20% (21,22).

Meanwhile, Ginn brought interpretation of statistics — that would be words — from Nobel laureate and Biophysicist, Michael Levitt. Not shabby, right?

Every coronavirus patient in China infected on average 2.2 people a day — spelling exponential growth that can only lead to disaster. But then it started dropping, and the number of new daily infections is now close to zero.” He compared it to interest rates again: “even if the interest rate keeps dropping, you still make money. The sum you invested does not lessen, it just grows more slowly. When discussing diseases, it frightens people a lot because they keep hearing about new cases every day. But the fact that the infection rate is slowing down means the end of the pandemic is near.”

Turns out Ginn was abstemious in his quotation of Levitt:

There are several reasons for this, according to Levitt. “In exponential growth models, you assume that new people can be infected every day, because you keep meeting new people. But, if you consider your own social circle, you basically meet the same people every day. You can meet new people on public transportation, for example; but even on the bus, after some time most passengers will either be infected or immune.”

Another reason the infection rate has slowed has to do with the physical distance guidelines. “You don’t hug every person you meet on the street now, and you’ll avoid meeting face to face with someone that has a cold, like we did,” Levitt said. “The more you adhere, the more you can keep infection in check. So, under these circumstances, a carrier will only infect 1.5 people every three days and the rate will keep going down.”

Quarantine makes a difference, according to Levitt, but there are other factors at work. “We know China was under almost complete quarantine, people only left home to do crucial shopping and avoided contact with others. In Wuhan, which had the highest number of infection cases in the Hubei province, everyone had a chance of getting infected, but only 3% caught it,” he explained. “Even on the Diamond Princess (the virus-stricken cruise ship), the infection rate did not top 20%.” Based on these statistics, Levitt said, he concluded that many people are just naturally immune to the virus.

The explosion of cases in Italy is worrying, Levitt said, but he estimates it is a result of a higher percentage of elderly people than in China, France, or Spain. “Furthermore, Italian culture is very warm, and Italians have a very rich social life. For these reasons, it is important to keep people apart and prevent sick people from coming into contact with healthy people.”

It doesn’t take epidemiological scientist to think this:

To put things in proportion: “there are years when flu is raging, like in the U.S. in 2017, when there were three times the regular number of mortalities. And still, we did not panic. That is my message: you need to think of corona like a severe flu. It is four to eight times as strong as a common flu, and yet, most people will remain healthy and humanity will survive.”

If Carl Bergstrom wants all non-experts to butt out. Fine. But what newspaper, magazine, or news-website will stand in that great day?

Too Small to Succeed (the Health Care System)

Americans may distrust big institutions, and journalists may take most of what Donald Trump says as brummagem, but why aren’t Americans suspicious of the people running the health care system? After all, most times the phrase — flattening the curve — is not about saving lives (as Jay Santos would put it), but about managing the demand for medical care in a hospital. Of course, saving lives is related to access to hospitals, especially in life threatening stages of many diseases and conditions. But flattening the curve also indicates that hospitals are not prepared for a pandemic. That could well be the fault of federal authorities and public health officials. But we are in a privatized system of health care (different from health insurance). And it’s now fairly obvious that hospital CEOs had all sort of financial incentives to handle COVID-19 cases.

Here’s some of the polling data on physicians and research scientists:

The spread of the new coronavirus in the United States comes at a time of low public trust in key institutions. Only around a third of U.S. adults (35%) have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in elected officials to act in the public’s best interests, and fewer than half say the same about business leaders (46%) and the news media (47%), according to a January 2019 Pew Research Center survey.

Public attitudes are substantially more positive when it comes to another set of participants in the unfolding coronavirus threat: doctors and medical research scientists. In the same survey, 74% of Americans said they had a mostly positive view of medical doctors, while 68% had a mostly favorable view of medical research scientists – defined as those who “conduct research to investigate human diseases and test methods to prevent and treat them.”

Why don’t Pew’s pollsters ask questions about hospital administrators? A story about the differences between non-profit and for-profit health systems indicates that hedge fund types, the folks who gave us (at least partly) the 2008 financial meltdown, may also be responsible for the COVID-19’s economic symptoms:

for-profit health system boards tend to be a blend of investor representatives and community leaders.

At Nashville-based HCA Healthcare Inc., a for-profit health system with more than 180 hospitals, the chairman of the board is Thomas F. Frist III, founder and managing principal of Frist Capital LLC, a Nashville investment firm.

Other members of the HCA board include Nancy-Ann DeParle, a partner at New York-based Consonance Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in healthcare companies. Charles O. Holliday Jr., chairman of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which is headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, is also on the board.

Sure, it could be that to make hospitals work, you need bean counters and market watchers and venture capitalists to calculate the allocation of resources. But what if for-profit medicine is not the right model for pandemics?

And what if journalists and Democrats, eager to make the current White House look like a gaggle of idiots (not hard), took a long look not at the way we pay and process paperwork for health insurance companies? What about running stories on the business people who manage and own hospital systems that were interested in profits as much as public health? What about coverage of the sort of contortions imposed on epidemiologists, economists, and elected officials because the people who directly manage and own institutions within the health care system were unprepared for a pandemic? And when will someone point out that again the federal government and its printing presses at the Treasury will save another industry’s CEOs?

Have Senior Christian Market Pastors Served the PCA Well?

If Tim Keller is someone to read for political philosophy, what about urban design and planning? It turns out that much Christian reflection on the city is similar to Christian thought about government and society — it is pietistically utilitarian. The city or politics are ways to evangelize or carry out God’s will for me and others, not a common arena of human life that relies on the sorts of human inquiry that may involve both sides of the antithesis.

Here is one of Tim Keller’s typical briefs for the city:

social scientists tell us that across the whole planet there are at least 5 million people moving into cities from the countryside every month. The number of churches per capita in the country and towns dwarfs the number of churches in cities. People are moving to cities with fewer places of gospel witness for the population, and that situation is worsening by the day. For example, New York City will be gaining a net of 1 million people over the next 25 years. That’s bigger than Charlotte, North Carolina. Yet will we be planting as many new churches here as there are churches in Charlotte? Probably not.

So put the balance like this: we need churches everywhere there are people—but the people of the world are moving into cities much faster than the church is. Jesus told us to go into the world to make disciples (Matt 28:18–20). If we fail to go where the world is going, then we aren’t heeding our Lord’s command. Certainly we must never insist that everyone should do city ministry, nor that gospel ministry in one place is intrinsically better than in another, but we shouldn’t shrink from emphasizing city ministry as never before.

Don’t romanticize or demonize or shrug at the city. Love the city, as Christ loved you.

Treat cities like a mission field.

But if you are going to transform a city with a gospel ecosystem, you may need to read urban designers and planners. And if you read the history of the cities, you may encounter a less than onward-and-upward understanding of the city. Cue James Howard Kunstler:

The city is perhaps the greatest cultural artifact of the long-running human project, which now faces an array of predicaments at a larger scale than at any previous inflection point in our history. These include population overshoot, the fossil-fuel quandary, competition over dwindling resources, an unsound banking system, climate uncertainty, and much more. These dynamics are expressing themselves currently in political disorders and cultural hysterias, and the anxiety over what happens next appears to be driving us crazy. . . .

The urban metroplexes of the U.S. have assumed a scale and complexity of operation that cannot be sustained in the coming disposition of things. They will contract substantially. Some of them in especially unfavorable locales—Tucson, Miami, Houston—may disappear altogether, but the rest will have to become a lot smaller and the process is liable to be messy as various groups fight over who gets to inhabit the districts that retain value: for example, riverfronts and original urban cores. This will occur against the backdrop of more generalized political disorder and the failures of national government, especially where fiscal management is concerned. State governments, too, may be broke and impotent. (That implies a devolution of political power from the grand scale to the local level, where decisions and action will matter.)

Cities that are overburdened with skyscrapers and megastructures face an added degree of failure. These buildings will never be renovated in the coming era of resource and capital scarcity. Professional observers like Krieger’s colleague, Edward Glaeser of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (author of Triumph of the City, 2011), is exactly one of those who expects only more-bigger-higher-denser cities in the years ahead. That will be another disappointment for the wishful-thinking techno-narcissists of this land. More likely we will see skyscrapers and megastructures convert from being assets to liabilities in very short order. We may not even have the financial mojo to pay for their disassembly and the salvage of their modular materials.

The places in our country that stand a chance to carry on are the very places that have gone through the most catastrophic failure and disinvestment the past 50 years: the small towns and small cities that are scaled to the capital and resource realities of the future—especially the ones that have a meaningful relationship to food production. Many of these places lie along America’s inland waterway system (the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Great Lakes, including the Hudson River estuary and the Erie and Champlain Canals). As the trucking system collapses, we will have to move more things by boat. The conventional futurists don’t even see this coming.

But you don’t read about this side of the city when you see descriptions of gospel ecosystems:

When a gospel movement is underway, it may be that the Body of Christ develops to the point that a whole city tipping point is reached. By that I mean the moment when the number of gospel-shaped Christians in a city reaches critical mass. The Christian influence on the civic and social life of the city—on the very culture—is recognizable and acknowledged. That means between 10 and 20 percent of the population.

. . . In New York City, some groups have a palpable effect on the way life is lived when their numbers reach at least 5 to 15 percent and when the members are active in public life. . . . In other words, something is going on in New York that goes beyond one church, one network, or any one denomination. It goes beyond any particular race or ethnic group. It’s a movement.

We’re a long way from getting to the place we need to be, a city tipping point, when 10 to 20 percent of the population goes to those churches, and you begin to realize that the whole city, the whole culture is going to change because of the impact of Christians in a place like New York.

That’s what we’re after. It takes a movement to reach a city, and that’s more than just planting a church, or even seeing your denomination growing.

Someone needs to ask, what will remain of the city when the movement arrives?

What the Coronavirus Reveals about Protestant Piety

For Lutherans, the question is what do you do?

What precautions should my church take?

  1. Buy large supplies of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Masks too if you feel like it, but masks are not as essential as disinfectant materials.

  2. Establish a single, controlled point of entry to your church which you can use to force congregants to wash their hands and check for disease symptoms.

  3. Strongly discourage people with any sickness in their household from coming to church; the pastor or deacons can make a house call later.

  4. Eliminate non-essential activities at your church like social groups. Consider suspending church schools or peripheral activities.

  5. Communion is your highest-infection-risk element of the service. Avoid passing a communion plate, intinction, or a common cup. The safest way to take communion is in individual cups and pieces of bread, in small groups, at the altar.

  6. Other personal-touch service elements like peace-passing, offering, or attendance books should also be restructured or suspended.

  7. Put more space between chairs or encourage bigger seating gaps in pews.

  8. However, informal interpersonal contact at church and church fellowship time does not need to be cancelled, provided a few basic precautions are taken, like limiting food to individually-packaged snacks.

  9. It is especially important for church workers to wash their hands fanatically, wear masks, and maintain good personal hygiene.

For New Calvinists, the question is what this disease means for your walk with God:

Why should Christians be concerned about the coronavirus?

There are several reasons Christians should be concerned about the coronavirus, and for those who are suffering from the disease. But the primary reason, as the apostle Paul tells us, is that we should “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and that we “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

As a pastor of a church in Wuhan recently said in an open letter to fellow believers, “If you do not feel a responsibility to pray, ask the Lord for a loving soul, an earnestly prayerful heart; if you are not crying, ask the Lord for tears. Because we surely know that only through the hope of the Lord’s mercy will Wuhan be saved.”

Neither set of advice is wrong. But if you want an index to the way that confessional Protestants and pietists think about life in this world — especially about economics and politics — this is a good measure. Notice too the importance of the church and public worship to the Lutheran outlook. Just saying.

Anti-Trump Fundamentalists and Trump-Friendly Modernists

I never thought I’d agree with Harry Emerson Fosdick, but when he complained that fundamentalists were ignoring political problems for doctrinal purity he might have been describing evangelicals opposed to Trump:

Two weeks ago Great Britain, shocked and stirred by what is going on in Armenia, did as the Government of the United States to join her in investigating the atrocities and trying to help. Our government said that it was not any of our business at all. The present world situation smells to heaven! And now, in the presence of colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly!

You could observe a few defects in contemporary American society. What has been happening in this nation for the last thirty years, at least, has not been good. Daniel McCarthy put it well in a recent Spectator piece about the significance of Trump’s presidency:

America has a problem, and it’s not Donald Trump. Suicides and deaths by overdose are up; life expectancy is down. The country that led its allies to definitive victory against both Nazi Germany and imperial Japan in just four years has now been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly 20, with no end to the Taliban in sight. Wall Street prospers but young Americans are deep in debt, manufacturing employment is in decline, and the Great Recession of a decade ago revealed how fragile and irrational the whole financial system is.

For all the talk we hear about ‘polarization’, the policies that led to these grim results were born of bipartisan consensus. Democrats and Republicans might bicker about abortion or guns, but for a quarter-century they were of one mind about free trade and foreign policy: Nato to Nafta and everything thereafter. They each made generous provision for financial and pharmaceutical interests. Enlightened opinion on university campuses and in the major media not only helped shape and amplify the consensus but marginalized practically all dissent from it.

Even today, the architects and propagandists of two and a half decades of policies that led to insecurity, despair and death are unrepentant. Worse, they demand more of the same: an end to Trump’s ‘trade war’ and more shooting wars in the Islamic world and beyond. Drugs and high finance are the future of the US economy, they insist, and manufacturing is better sent abroad.

You have to be a very idealistic democrat not to realize that elites drive society. The question is whether they drive it well or poorly — and with America’s elite, the answer is clear. But what force on earth can reform a corrupt or incompetent elite, one that serves itself and its dreams rather the citizens of the country? Or, perhaps more difficult still, what can compel it to reform itself?

In the midst of these developments, what do evangelical critics of Trump notice? They note incessantly the flaws in the president’s character and the hypocrisy of those who voted for him. According to Peter Wehner, there is no Christian case for Trump, which is true if you also can say there is no Christian case against Trump. The reason is that the president does not have to conform to Christian morality to hold office. Nor does the United States need to follow God’s law to be a legitimate government. But that is not Wehner’s point. His is the fundamentalist one that President Trump is morally suspect and that is the national problem:

The president put enormous pressure on a foreign power to intervene in an American election by harming his political adversary—and Grudem is completely untroubled by that. Can you imagine the outrage of Grudem and other Trump supporters if, in 2012, Barack Obama had coerced, say, China into announcing an investigation into and digging up dirt on Mitt Romney, and then justified it by saying that a president has the power to ask any nation to undertake any investigation?…

Again, the argument made in the editorial is not that Trump’s morally problematic actions in business and in his relationships with women are grounds for impeachment; it is that Trump’s moral transgressions are borderless and, therefore, his actions toward Ukraine are not surprising. And Grudem is simply wrong when he says Trump has not admitted to any immoral actions in business. Last year, a state judge ordered Trump to pay $2 million in damages after Trump admitted to misusing funds raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation to (among other things) pay off business debts and purchase a portrait of himself for one of his hotels.

Even if you bend over backwards to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, you can’t watch videos or read lists of his lies and come away anything but troubled by how much violence Trump does to truth and reality. To dismiss Trump’s lies as simply manufactured by “fake news” is to perpetrate, even unknowingly, an untruth.

Another never-Trumper, John Fea, is fixated on Trump as a person (and seemingly indifferent to the conditions that made his electoral victory possible):

Here is where we differ Tony. You presuppose some kind of equivalency between Trump and all other politicians. This is why you are constantly saying “Well, what about Obama?” (And this is why I consistently reject this whataboutism). You believe that Trump and Obama (or any other recent president) are playing on the same moral field and thus must be evaluated in the same way. I do not. Trump has sacrificed the moral integrity necessary to deliver a speech like he did today. I agree with Jeff from Maryland when he says: ‘Trump could recite the Gettysburg Address’ and I would not believe him.

So Tony–at what point does a person lose all credibility in your mind? At what point does a person’s actions damage his or her attempts to deliver moral rhetoric to a public audience? I admit that different people will come to different conclusions about when a public figure has reached this level, but I find it hard to believe that it would not happen at some point. I have reached my point of no return with Trump. You, apparently, have not.

The point seems to be that Trump is beneath me. It calls to mind the Pharisee’s prayer, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:11-12)

But this is all personal — both about the president and the critic. Beyond calculations of personal sanctity, many evangelical critics of Trump have no political or historical imagination to look beyond holiness to social conditions that need attention more than a president’s character.

Wehner and Fea are smart enough. But they are guilty of the narrow outlook that Fosdick saw in fundamentalists. As such, they could never conceive of Trump as Genghis Kahn the way McCarthy does:

Whatever else Trump has done, even his worst enemies will concede that he has injected back into the national conversation fundamental questions about economics, national cohesion and grand strategy that had been treated as closed for a generation. Voters who dissented from the grand consensus had no party and no voice in the media until Trump provided both. But since 2016 only a handful of others, such as Tucker Carlson, have reinforced him. The wealthy and well- educated have been forced to talk about Trump’s issues, yet they do so without admitting any culpability for the country’s plight. This state of denial might see them through the end of this administration but it won’t help them restore the public confidence they forfeited long before the barbarian reached their gates.

You may gain access to the Atlantic or Washington Post by banging on Trump and Jerry Falwell, Jr. But if your political theory is still based on calculations of personal and national holiness, then you have not advanced the ball very far beyond Jerry Falwell (the elder) or Pat Robertson.

Yes, that kind of evangelical.

What Would It Take for Christians to View the World Like This?

Instead of character, the virtues recommended by the Founders, God’s law, or deviations from it, what about war, American workers, and U.S. involvement in the Middle East?

Like a certain percentage of his voters, I had supported Trump in great part because he challenged the Bush, Cheneyite Republican conventional foreign policy wisdom. Trump wasn’t an active Iraq war opponent, and his social milieu in New York was hawkish, but he was clearly lukewarm when prompted by Howard Stern in 2002 to tout the pending invasion of Iraq. In a 2008 interview with Wolf Blitzer, he wondered why Nancy Pelosi hadn’t sought to impeach George W. Bush for lying the country into war with Iraq. He began calling the Iraq war a big fat mistake, most notably in a debate before the 2016 South Carolina primary, perhaps the nation’s most hawkish state. He won that primary, and later the nomination, establishing that pro-war views were no longer necessarily majoritarian in the GOP. His messaging was mixed, ambiguous, perhaps intentionally, perhaps instinctively.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with Russia?” he said, a sentiment I shared. He seemed implicitly to acknowledge that the bipartisan policy of trying to expand NATO up to the Russia’s borders and fomenting pro-Western coups in Russia’s neighbors was perilous and self-defeating. But he came across as tough and hawkish too. He praised tough generals and said he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” But since ISIS was a genuine enemy, then actively recruiting and training terrorists to kill civilians inside Western countries, hawkishness seemed altogether appropriate. A certain Jacksonian bluster about killing America’s enemies seemed an appropriate way to steer the Republican foreign policy away from neoconservatism and back towards realism….

There was an argument during the last campaign, expressed most notably by Michael Brendan Dougherty, that the worst possible thing for those who wanted a different kind of American conservatism—an end to stupid wars in the Mideast, a more controlled immigration flow, an industrial policy that valued something other than cheap goods and “free trade”—might be a victory for Donald Trump, who campaigned for all of these things. Whether he believed in them or not, Trump recognized that this is what many voters wanted, that this was an open political lane to run in, an untapped yearning. I think, to an extent, he did believe in them, but had no idea, no real plan how to bring them about.

Faced with unrelenting hostility from the Democrats, the media and the permanent class of Beltway bureaucrats which began before he took office, and no real base in the organized Republican Party, he floundered. No wall was built. No immigration legislation was passed. No grand and necessary Rockefellian infrastructure initiatives were initiated. He has hired to key positions Beltway types who had nothing but contempt for him, and they have led him down well worn paths. One of those paths leads to a major war with Iran, an obsessively pursued project of the neoconservatives since long before 9/11.

Of course, to think like this means not taking your cues from the Bible or God’s law (directly anyway). It means thinking less like the way you think a person who believes in Jesus should think than using your academic training, professional experience, insights from experts (who are usually not using w-w). In other words, explicit Christian thinking may be a road block to what’s best for the nation and the world politically and economically. But it does seem to let you think you are doing what Jesus would do when in fact by God’s providence Jesus is using non-Christian policy experts and wicked rulers to get things done.

Not Exceptional, But Not Abysmal

David French thinks American conservatives have a race problem (but, of course, he is not one of those conservatives):

In powerful right-wing populist circles—talk radio, Fox prime time, etc.—the absolute last thing you can argue is that right-wing populism has a race problem. The last thing you can say is that the big white populist tent includes too many racists, and is cozy with too many racists. No sir. The last thing you can say is that some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric is motivated by racial animus against Latino immigrants. Nope. Can’t say that. Then you’re being politically correct. You’re giving in to the left.

Is it a problem for the populist right that an immense right-wing platform like Breitbart engaged in race-baiting with a “black crime” tag and its flattering coverage of the alt-right? Is it a problem that the head of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, told a reporter that he wanted to make the site the “platform” for the alt-right? Is it a problem that Tucker Carlson declares the threat of white supremacy a “hoax,” accuses immigrants of littering too much based on his fishing trips to the Potomac, and invites an actual alt-right congressional candidate on his show to discuss a moratorium on immigration? This candidate is a man who declared that white Americans were “being replaced by third world peasants who share neither their ethnicity nor their culture.”

I understand the word ethnocentrism doesn’t carry the force of the epithet racism, but why is opposition to Mexican-American immigrants racist? Doesn’t that cheapen the racial divide between descendants of African slaves and European-Americans? But I digress.

Imagine what French would write about politics in Northern Ireland where a candidate refused to condemn a terrorist act:

Sinn Fein’s North Belfast General Election candidate John Finucane has refused to condemn the IRA’s attempted assassination of DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

In December 1996, an RUC officer was injured when IRA gunmen opened fire on police officers guarding Mr Dodds when he was visiting his seriously ill son at the Royal Children’s Hospital in west Belfast.

Gunmen fired four shots at officers in a hospital corridor as children were being treated close by. One bullet struck an officer in the foot, while another hit an empty incubator in the intensive care unit.

Incumbent North Belfast candidate Nigel Dodds is running against John Finucane for the Westminster seat, in what is expected to be one of the closest contests of election.

Speaking to the New Statesman, Mr Finucane, whose father Pat was murdered by the UDA in 1989, was asked if he would condemn 1996 IRA attack.

He said: “I have an issue with selective condemnation. I think it cheapens our past. I think it is a barrier to reconciliation… I know that the pain of the Troubles visited everybody, regardless of where they came from. I want that to be dealt with.”

That is a serious problem if representatives of established parties cannot condemn non-state acts of violence against members of the opposing political party. It might be like a former POTUS praising a paramilitary leader the way Teddy Roosevelt spoke favorably of John Brown in his famous speech, The New Nationalism:

Now, with this second period of our history the name of John Brown will forever be associated; and Kansas was the theatre upon which the first act of the second of our great national life dramas was played. It was the result of the struggle in Kansas which determined that our country should be in deed as well as in name devoted to both union and freedom; that the great experiment of democratic government on a national scale should succeed and not fail.

The United States is not as close to that kind of violence as Northern Ireland is. Sure, we are only four decades from the last of the Weather Underground’s violence against police and twenty-five years from Timothy McVeigh’s bomb. Some even think violence be in the United States’ future.

But we have not had political parties that were arms of terrorist organizations. Shouldn’t David French know the difference between being in denial about violence and opposition to immigration?

Laughing In the Face of Evil

Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast on chutzpah contended that it was more audacious for Joseph Columbo to form the American Italian Defamation League than it was for Al Ruddy to pitch the idea of Hogan’s Heroes to executives at CBS. The audacity or chutzpah in both cases was huge. Columbo was himself the head of one of New York City’s major crime families and wanted the American Italian Defamation League to detect and denounce popular perceptions that Italian-Americans were mobsters. Ruddy‘s audacity stemmed from his Jewish identity and the incongruity of creating a show that portrayed Nazi prison camp officers as somewhat lovable and always clueless. To add to Hogan’s Heroes audacity, the chief writer, Bernard Fein, along with Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink), and John Banner (Sargent Schultz) were Jewish. In fact, Klemperer and Banner were German refugees who fled Hitler’s policies during the 1930s. One more audacity — the head of CBS, the network that bought the show, which ran for 6 years (1965-1971), won two Emmy’s out of twelve nomination, was William S. Paley, also a Jewish American.

An obvious question is how you can make a sitcom about the Nazis only 20 years after the defeat of Hitler. An even bigger question is how Jewish Americans, some of whom had experience in Germany, could include National Socialism in a humorous production.

For my money, Hogan’s Heroes is way more audacious than the American Italian Defamation League.

And yet, laughter is one way of coping with persecution and social injustice. Jews have a long history with using humor to persevere. One delightful avenue into Jewish humor is the documentary, When Jews Were Funny (it deserves way more than IMDB’s collective rating of 3 stars). Another is Joseph Epstein:

Why are Jews so funny? Jews are like everyone else, of course, only more so. They have what Henry James called “the imagination of disaster.” Optimism is foreign to them. They find clouds in silver linings. If they do not court suffering, neither are they surprised when it arrives. They sense that life itself can be a joke, and one too often played upon them. They fear that God Himself loves a joke.

Adam, alone in the Garden of Eden, brings up his loneliness to God.

“Adam,” the Lord says, “I can stem your loneliness with a companion who will be forever a comfort and a consolation to you. She, this companion—woman, I call her—will be your friend and lover, helpmeet and guide, selfless and faithful, devoted to your happiness throughout life.

“But Adam,” says the Lord, “there is going to be a price for this companion.”

When Adam asks the price, the Lord tells him he will have to pay by the loss of his nose, his right foot, and his left hand.

“That’s very steep,” says Adam, “but tell me, Lord, what can I get for a rib?”

So why don’t advocates for social justice have a sense of humor?

According John Gray:

Contrary to a familiar line of criticism, there are few signs of hypocrisy in [egalitarian thinkers]. Hypocrisy requires a measure of self-awareness, and there is little evidence of that in them.

The same goes for humor. You need self-awareness, and even self-deprecation, to have a good sense of humor.

So how did Dave Chappelle get so funny?