They Can’t Help Themselves

No, I refer not to evangelicals who are going to praise and worship in worship or to Neo-Calvinists who are going to turn every square inch into an outpouring of grace. Instead, I have in mind the media elites who cannot quite get over how smart they are and who continue to notice that Donald Trump did not graduate from the Kennedy School of Government (nor did his supporters graduate from Harvaleton — HarvardYalePrinceton). The issue of that New Republic bemoaned the election’s results began by retreading a column that former editor, Franklin Foer, had written about the George W. Bush administration. (The Franklin Foer, by the way, who left the magazine when he thought it had lost its way.) Here is how the current editors introduced Foer’s 2001 editorial:

FOLLOWING BARACK OBAMA’S election in 2008, a diverse cadre of intellectuals flocked to Washington to serve in the new administration. Eight years later, those same liberal elites are reeling from the election of Donald Trump. He campaigned in direct opposition to the smarty-pants Ivy Leaguers who trod the halls of the White House during the Obama years.

This is part of what Foer himself in 2001 wrote:

Eight years ago, the Clinton administration ushered in what seemed like a social revolution. The Clintonites didn’t just bring an ideology to Washington; they brought a caste. Gone were Poppy’s crusty boardingschool WASPs. In their place was a new kind of elite: multicultural, aggressively brainy, confident they owed their success not to birth or blood but to talent alone. “Perhaps more than any in our history,” wrote The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, “Clinton’s is a government of smart people.” Or at least credentialed people. The White House staff alone boasted six Rhodes scholars. One-third of Clinton’s 518 earliest appointments had attended Harvard or Yale—or both. The president called his staff “the top ranks of a new generation.”

The Clintonites set out to solve America’s problems by thinking smarter thoughts than anyone before them. Almost immediately, the project went awry. They produced a health care plan that was thoroughly rational; it was also mind-numbingly complex, hopelessly bureaucratic, and the product of an undemocratic process. And it almost ruined Clinton’s first term. . . .

Not surprisingly, then, Bush has crafted an administration largely devoid of intellectuals. His staff contains no Rhodes scholars. Of his 14 Cabinet members, only two went to Ivy League colleges, and only one holds a Ph.D., Secretary of Education Rod Paige— and his doctorate is in physical education. The Protestant establishment that shaped W’s father is dead—there is not a single powerful American institution that remains exclusively in WASP hands.

Almost all the wonks who traveled to Austin to instruct Bush in policy have either been ignored in the transition or handed second-tier positions. As Newsweek reported, frustrated onservatives have created an acronym for the administration: NINA, for “No Intellectuals Need Apply.”

Well, aren’t you smart. But if you were really smart and had studied political theory just a smidgeon you might be aware that philosopher kings are not so great an idea, and that democracies don’t always select the smartest governors. A smart person might concede that running things combines a lot of different skill sets, not to mention dependence on providence (or good fortune for the less spiritual).

Heck, only a couple months before the election, New Republic ran a review of a book that argued in effect that only the educated should vote or run for office:

For Jason Brennan, a professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy at Georgetown, the answer lies in sorting Americans by their level of education. His book, Against Democracy, argues for the establishment of an epistocracy, or rule by the wise. Under his scheme, your race is irrelevant, as well as your gender, social class, ethnicity, or even party. If you are informed about politics, you get to vote. If you are not, too bad. “Epistocracy,” in his words, “means the rule of the knowledgeable. More precisely, a political regime is epistocratic to the extent that political power is formally distributed according to competence, skill, and the good faith to act.” . . .

Any suffrage-restricting regime will have to address the question of how we determine who gets to vote, and Brennan has an answer: Just as we test for who can drive, we ought to rely on exams to determine who can have the franchise. To this there is an obvious objection. Tests rarely conform perfectly to the quality they presume to measure. I can fail at geography but nonetheless have good political judgment, just as a political whiz kid who knows the names of every member of Congress could also lack social graces. Any scheme for limiting democracy contains biases. One of the advantages of extending suffrage as widely as possible is that you limit the biases to as few as necessary. . . .

Despite—or perhaps because of—his disdain for politics, Brennan is ignorant of how politics actually work. “In the United States,” he writes, “the Democratic Party has an incentive to make the exam easy, while the Republicans have an incentive to make the exam moderately hard, but not too hard.” He has clearly not been paying attention. In Donald Trump’s America, low-information voters cling to the Republicans, while Democrats are becoming the party of the informed. If you are a liberal, you might consider applauding a scheme to allow 02138 (Cambridge, Massachusetts) more power than 38944 (Leflore County, Mississippi). For Brennan, this is not a problem: His faith in an epistocracy is firm, and let the chips fall where they may, even if the wise turn out to be the most liberal. But it does seem problematic that a libertarian proposes a voting scheme that would give power to the least libertarian sections of the country. Follow Brennan’s advice, and the whole country will eventually become the People’s Republic of Cambridge—and that, I can tell you from personal experience, is no libertarian paradise. (Just try not sorting your garbage here.)

There’s a reason that absent-minded so often goes with professor.

What if Antonin Scalia hadn’t died?

These and other questions haunted James Hohmann six weeks after the election for POTUS (thanks to one of our Southern correspondents).

The question he fails to ask, which may be the most poignant of all: what if the United States is more like Donald Trump than Barack Obama? Different ways of being great, right, since no one is allowed to judge?

Not Blogging?

Remember the old days of trying to have a conversation about race. Turns out blogging is not where Americans are turning:

About 1 in 4 of those surveyed say the office of the president has the best chance of fostering healthy public conversations (23%), while about 1 in 10 say pastors of local churches (11%) or university professors (10%). Members of the media (8%) faired slightly better than business leaders (7%) or members of Congress (6%). Few Americans look to professional athletes (1%) or musicians (less than 1%) to lead healthy conversations about the nation’s challenges.

The most common response: “None of these” (33%).

Among other findings:

Southerners are more likely to look to the president (25%) than those in the Midwest (18%).

Those in the Northeast choose the media (11%) more than those in the South (5%).

Younger Americans—those 18 to 34—look to the media (12%) more than those 65 and older (3%).

African-Americans are the most likely ethnic group to choose local pastors (21%) and the president (37%).

Hispanic Americans are the least likely ethnic group to choose the media (3%).

Christians are more likely to look to pastors (16%) than those from other faiths (1%) or those with no religious preference (2%).

Christians (7%) are less likely to look to professors than those from other faiths (18%) or those with no religious preference (15%).

Americans with evangelical beliefs have faith in pastors (36%) but little faith in the media (3%) or professors (3%) to guide such conversations.

A couple observations.

Notice bond between Southerners and African-Americans (are they they same?) — they trust the president more than other groups. Makes sense for blacks but what the heck did white southerners not learn from that excitement back in the 1860s?

Notice also Christians’ regard for professors. Maybe this explains the lack of Christian intellectuals. The more intellectual, the less trustworthy among the faithful.

Selah.

Happy Year’s End

For those staying in tonight, the Old Life movie recommendation for New Year’s reflections is Hudsucker Proxy, the fifth movie that Joel and Ethan Coen made. It is their homage to the genre of RomCom, and it even explains wisely (for mmmmeeeeEEEEE anyway) why people make such a big deal of changing wall calendars. From the script:

NARRATOR (VOICE OVER) It’s 1958 — anyway, for a few mo’ minutes it is. Come midnight it’s gonna be 1959. A whole ‘nother feelin’. The New Year. The future…

The SINGING, a little MORE AUDIBLE, but still not close, is “Auld Lang Syne.”

NARRATOR (V.O.) …Yeah ole daddy Earth fixin’ to start one mo’ trip ’round the sun, an’ evvybody hopin’ this ride ’round be a little mo’ giddy, a little mo’ gay…

We are MOVING IN TOWARDS a particular skyscraper. At its top is a large illuminated clock.

NARRATOR (V.O.) Yep…

We hear a SERIES OF POPPING sounds.

NARRATOR (V.O.) …All over town champagne corks is a-poppin’.

A big band WALTZ MIXES UP on the track.

NARRATOR (V.O.) …Over in the Waldorf the big shots is dancin’ to the strains of Guy Lombardo… Down in Times Square the little folks is a-watchin’ and a-waitin’ fo’ that big ball to drop…

The LOMBARDO MUSIC gives way to the CHANTING of a distant CROWD: “Sixty! Fifty-nine! Fifty-eight!”

NARRATOR (V.O.)…They all tryin’ to catch holt a one moment of time…

The CHANTING has MIXED back DOWN AGAIN TO leave only the WIND. Still TRACKING IN TOWARD the top of the skyscraper, we begin to hear the TICK of its enormous CLOCK. The clock reads a minute to twelve. Above it, in neon, a company’s name: “HUDSUCKER INDUSTRIES.” Below it, in neon, the company’s motto: “THE FUTURE IS NOW.”

NARRATOR (V.O.) …to be able to say — ‘Right now! This is it! I got it!’ ‘Course by then it’ll be past. (more cheerfully) But they all happy, evvybody havin’ a good time.

We are MOVING IN ON a darkened penthouse window next to the clock. The window starts to open.

NARRATOR (V.O.) …Well, almost evvybody. They’s a few lost souls floatin’ ’round out there…

A young man is crawling out of the window onto the ledge. With the opening of the window, “AULD LANG SYNE” filters out with greater volume.

NARRATOR (V.O.) …This one’s Norville Barnes.

Grade Giver, Grade Thyself

Actually don’t. The optics are off, but end-of-year blogging brings out the worst of the medium:

There is always both wheat and chaff in hurried weekly commentaries. A look back on the past year of my RNS writings reveals plenty of both.

I was right, I think, in my claim that progressive and conservative evangelicals are heading for divorce, though it will never be an entirely clean or complete one.

I was right that America’s national character is eroding — that one sign of that erosion is the nature of our politics and another is the nature of our social media.

My improved peace of mind and retention of good relations with friends and family suggest I was right to abandon Facebook last summer.

I was right that clergy entanglement with American politics is an abiding temptation that regularly makes clergy useful idiots to politicians.

I was right that the (mainly white) Christian right’s embrace of Donald Trump was deeply discrediting to the Christianity that group purports to represent. At least, I believe I was right.

I also think I was right in my regular critiques of the campaign rhetoric and policy proposals of Mr. Trump. Now we all hold our breath to see what kind of president he will actually be.

I was right that differences about ideology, politics, and faith continually tear at the fabric of our society, our churches, and our friendships.

I was right that middle ground on the LGBT issue is eroding.

I was right that the resolution of the Wheaton College/Larycia Hawkins case and her forced departure deeply wounded the cause of Christian higher education, not to mention Professor Hawkins and Wheaton.

It goes on.

Why don’t the smartest people in society not see the problem of self-evaluations? Have they never watched a Coen brother’s movie?

Law Enforcement: More Art than Sanctification

Mencken finds wisdom from the mayor of Toledo:

There are, to be sure, on the scrolls of the State, and on the books of the city, statutes and ordinances which forbid the commission of certain sins, and even enlarge venial offenses to the proportions of crimes for the sake of prohibiting them; and, having enacted this legislation, society seems to be content, because the theoretical remedy has been provided against evil. All that remains, according to the theory, is to “enforce” these statutes and ordinances, and the evils will vanish, the sins cease. But these remedies are theoretical only. They do not search out the mysterious and obscure causes of crime; they are concerned solely with the symptoms or surface indications of those deeply hidden causes. But, however that may be, these statutes and ordinances can be administered only by human agencies, and in their administration are encountered human obstacles. (VIRTUE BY STATUTE. From “The Enforcement of Law in Cities,” by Brand Whitlock)

If John Piper’s preaching can’t transform the human heart (without the Holy Spirit), how are Barney Fife and Andy Griffith?

It’s Funny Because It’s True

That was Homer Simpson’s reaction to the video, “Football to the Groin” (as I recall). Good humor has a strong does of reality, that was the lesson implied in Homer’s quip. And Babylon Bee’s top ten books for 2016 also suggest that Old Life criticisms of the Protestant world have a strong resemblance to reality. These indicate that OL and BB share not a w-w but a wariness about evangelical hype and cliches:

1.) Whatever Tim Keller wrote, probably: Honestly, we didn’t read any Tim Keller books this year. But we’re sure that whatever he wrote was pretty good. So the number 1 book of the year is whatever he wrote. Pick your favorite and put it in this slot. Congratulations, Tim!

3.) The Purpose Driven Ferret — Rick Warren: While fans of the Purpose Driven series have hundreds of variants to choose from, Rick Warren may have outdone himself with this special edition of The Purpose Driven Life, written exclusively for the close cousin of the polecat. Your ferret will love learning how to fulfill its God-given purpose as Warren masterfully uses over 250 different translations of the Bible to drive home his point.

6.) Worldview: The Worldview: Worldview Edition — Al Mohler: Al Mohler is right in his wheelhouse when writing about worldviews, and his latest work, Worldview: The Worldview: Worldview Edition is an excellent guide to worldviews and the worldviews that view them in the world.

7.) Hyphenating To The Glory Of God — John Piper: Piper focuses with white-hot, laser-like intensity on, as he puts it, “the all-other-punctuation-mark-surpassing splendor” of the hyphen. Soul-stirring and paradigm-shattering, you should not miss this all-too-important, not-exactly-like-his-usual-books-but-still-vintage-John-Piper work.

9.) ? — Rob Bell: “I was thinking about what I wanted my new book to convey,” Bell said thoughtfully in a short YouTube video designed to promote the May release of New York Times bestseller ?. “And it suddenly hit me—I really have no idea. I mean, about anything.” This masterful work features thousands of question marks arranged on each page in no discernible order, as well as several chapters written in Sanskrit.

The lesson: the way to avoid ridicule is stop doing ridiculous stuff.