Historians’ Lanes and When to Change Them

John Fea declares he is not going to believe William Barr’s evaluation of the Mueller report until he sees it for himself. Why? Because John is a historian:

Why? Because Barr’s letter is a secondary source. It is his own interpretation of the complete Mueller report. I have no idea if Barr’s summary is accurate until I read the entire Mueller’s entire report. This is how historians work. We go to the source. (Of course, future historians will also need to examine Mueller’s sources as well).

At this point, we know that Barr wrote the letter. One of the first things historians do when they read a document is “source” it. In other words, we take into consideration the author of the document.

We know, for example, that Barr is the Attorney General of the United States. This gives him some degree of authority. On the other hand, Barr is a Donald Trump appointee. This should also factor-in to how we interpret the document.

Barr quotes Mueller’s report in the document, but we do not know the larger context from which he pulled the quotes. (For example, some outlets are reporting that Barr did not quote an entire sentence from the Mueller report). This is just like when pseudo-historians like David Barton quote John Adams out of context and conclude that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

Again, until I can read the document and do my best to interpret for myself (perhaps with the help of the writings of experts) I do not trust it. Check back with me later.

The problem here is that Fea’s identity does not go all the way down. He regularly links to journalists‘ and op-ed writers’ pieces without ever checking the sources that these other writers used. In which case, using the Barr summary to teach a lesson about the ways historians work seems like a way to avoid revealing political loyalty.

Other times, John has seemed to do history the way moralizers moralize. That was particularly the case in a recent post by Marie Griffith about the responsibilities of scholars at a university department dedicated to the study (not advocacy) of religion and politics:

At Religion & Politics, we have repeatedly pointed out that white supremacist and anti-Muslim ideologies are being energized by the speech and actions of Trump, along with the highest levels of his administration. It is not simply that Trump is hateful or seems worrisomely unwell, as many commentators have pointed out; it’s that the form of hatred he emboldens is deadly. . . .

Observers who deplore the violence will perhaps do small but important things, like donate money to fundraising efforts for the victims’ families or vow to help Muslims in their local communities feel safe. We’ve done it before; we’ll do it again. Having been through things like this so many times before, many despair that anything will change.

Pursuing big goals, however, is a marathon, not a sprint; and there will be no finish line in the race to end hate in the world. If the long history of clashes, collusions, and other interactions between religion and politics teaches us anything, it’s that. Once more, we grieve; once more, we resolve to do what we can—all that we can—to quell the fires of racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim bigotry that burn ferociously today.

Those are undoubtedly worthwhile goals but they sound more like the work of a humanitarian NGO than the task of the university.

Let the historical profession be historical.

W-w Giveth, W-w Taketh Away, Short Live W-w

Tim Carney’s piece on Trump-voting evangelicals is getting a lot of play and for good reason. He looks at churches outside the urban, suburban bubble, the ones that Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition try to own. And he finds that evangelicalism is not nearly as monolithic as scholars and evangelical leaders have said. He may even give reasons for abandoning evangelicalism altogether.

But Carney also opens a window on those Protestants where neo-Calvinist influence has had the longest shelf-life. In some cases, the results should hearten the redeemers of every square inch:

Trump’s single worst county in all of Iowa—far worse than Polk County (where Des Moines is) or Story County (home to Iowa State), or Johnson County (University of Iowa)—was Sioux County. Trump finished fourth place there, behind Ben Carson. Ted Cruz won every precinct of Sioux County.

Sioux is home to Orange City and Sioux Center, and it is the Dutchest county in America. Dutch ancestry is probably one of the best proxies the Census has for religious attendance.

Jordan Helming, a transplant whom I met at a Jeb Bush rally in Sioux Center, was astounded by the religiosity of the place, including the sheer number of churches. “There are 19 of them in this town—a town of 7,000 has 19 churches.”

Different strains of Reformed Christianity dominate in this overwhelmingly Dutch county, from austere old-world Calvinism (“the frozen chosen” they call themselves) to more evangelical flavors. Attendance (often twice on Sundays) is high, and the churches build strong community bonds.

“You care about your neighbors,” Helming explained, “you care about your environment, but you also take care of it yourself—don’t rely on the government.”

Carney does not mention that these Iowans also selected Steve King to represent them in the House of Representatives.

Reinforcing that uncomfortable detail are Carney’s tabulations of Michigan’s voting habits:

Back in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries, analysts saw the GOP electorate in two categories: (a) establishment Republicans or (b) Evangelicals. The Establishment types voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain in 2008, and the “evangelical vote” went for Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.

It turns out we were all oversimplifying things. That supposedly “evangelical vote” was a combination of two electorates: (1) the evangelical vote and (2) the rural populist vote. The 2016 primaries illuminated this distinction.

In Michigan, for instance, 2012 saw Romney carry the stretch of the state from Ann Arbor to Detroit, while Santorum won most of the rest of the state. Four years later, it was much more complex: Kasich won Ann Arbor, Trump won Detroit and most of the rural counties, while Cruz dominated in the handful of counties around Holland and Grand Rapids, where the Dutch Reformed church dominates.

Cruz would likely be better than Trump. But why don’t Christian Reformed institutions own up to being oh so Republican? You’d never know from reading the Banner, Reformed Journal, Pro Rege, or In All Things. If the leaders of Evangelicalism, Inc. could be so out of touch with non-urban Protestants, are the professors and pastors in the Christian Reformed and Reformed Church of America world all that connected?

If You Worry about Pompeo, Why Not Pope Francis?

The Guardian has a story that should trouble 2kers. It’s about the influence of evangelicals, holding office, mind you, and responsible for foreign policy in the Middle East:

In his speech at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo said that in his state department office: “I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.”

The secretary of state’s primary message in Cairo was that the US was ready once more to embrace conservative Middle Eastern regimes, no matter how repressive, if they made common cause against Iran.

His second message was religious. In his visit to Egypt, he came across as much as a preacher as a diplomat. He talked about “America’s innate goodness” and marveled at a newly built cathedral as “a stunning testament to the Lord’s hand”.

The desire to erase Barack Obama’s legacy, Donald Trump’s instinctive embrace of autocrats, and the private interests of the Trump Organisation have all been analysed as driving forces behind the administration’s foreign policy.

The gravitational pull of white evangelicals has been less visible. But it could have far-reaching policy consequences. Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo both cite evangelical theology as a powerful motivating force.

Just as he did in Cairo, Pompeo called on the congregation of a Kansan megachurch three years ago to join a fight of good against evil.

“We will continue to fight these battles,” the then congressman said at the Summit church in Wichita. “It is a never-ending struggle … until the rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

This is not good on two counts. First, it mixes the church and the state. Second, it uses bad theology for one of the mix’s ingredients. Good for Julian Borger to catch this.

But what about when the Vatican does the same thing (but without the Word of God)?

Though the week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally a fairly slow period on the Vatican beat, this is the Pope Francis era, when tradition and a Euro will buy you a cup of cappuccino in a Roman café.

Thus it’s entirely fitting that arguably one of the Vatican’s most important diplomatic encounters of 2018 came the day after Christmas, when Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, met Iraqi President Barham Salih in Baghdad.

During the meeting, Salih extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the Iraqi city of Ur, the Biblical city of Abraham, for an interreligious summit. It’s a trip that St. John Paul II desperately wanted to make in 2000, during a jubilee year pilgrimage to sites associated with salvation history, but the security situation at the time made such a trip impossible.

There was no immediate word from the Vatican whether Francis intends to accept the invitation, although there has been some media buzz about an outing coming as early as February. Doing so would be entirely consistent with his penchant for visiting both the peripheries of the world and also conflict zones.

Parolin was accompanied in the Dec. 26 meeting by the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, the largest of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome in the country, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako. That was an important signal, in part underlining that the Vatican isn’t interested in pursuing a parallel diplomatic track with Baghdad that doesn’t prioritize the concerns of the local church.

(That’s a real concern, given the fact that critics insist the Vatican has done precisely the opposite in some other parts of the world, including China and Russia.)

According to a statement afterwards from the Iraqi president’s office, Salih and Parolin discussed the importance of different religions working together to combat extremist ideology “that does not reflect the beliefs and values of our divine messages and social norms.”

The statement also said the two leaders discussed the situation facing Christians in Iraq, talking “a great deal” about how to maintain their presence in the country and to assist in rebuilding their homes, businesses and places of worship in the wake of devastation caused by ISIS and other extremist Islamic forces.

Is it because the Vatican has been engaged in foreign policy for a millennium, compared to evangelicals who have only been at it maybe 30 years tops, that allows reporters to take Bishops’ influence on temporal rulers for granted?

Or are evangelicals scarier because with the executive branch of the U.S. federal government they have more power than the pope?

If so, that’s true audacity.

When You Ignore the Context

You have lose your outrage over evangelical hypocrisy.

John Fea argues that Damon Linker nails it when the latter writes:

No informed evangelical today seriously hopes for a reversal of same-sex marriage. (Even in the unlikely event that the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision affirming a right to same-sex marriage were overturned, public opinion would by this point strongly support legalizing the institution through democratic means.) What they do hope for is protection from persecution for their religiously based views of sexual morality. That can be done most effectively by the appointment of judges who are friendly to religious freedom and the reining in of the power of executive branch bureaucracies to apply anti-discrimination law to every corner of American life. The Trump administration has been doing a lot of both. And evangelicals are understandably elated about it.

Those who loathe and fear the religious right should keep all of this in mind when they mock evangelicals for their cynical political maneuvering. The willingness of evangelicals to embrace Trump is a function not of their strength but of their weakness. It may not look that way from the outside, with an increasingly Trumpified Republican Party exercising so much control in Washington and in state houses around the country. Yet evangelicals are right to recognize that people like them have by now long since decisively lost the culture and the political support of the bulk of the American electorate.

The moral majority has shrunk to become a moral minority surrounded by a sea of secularism. For all the talk of the president serving as God’s instrument in the 2016 election, most evangelicals understand very well that he’s an emissary from the wider secular world. But that makes his willingness to serve as their strong man and protector all the more remarkable — and all the more an occasion for gratitude and loyalty.

But Linker’s point is not simply that evangelicals support Trump out of fear and weakness, thus adding to the woe of being hypocrites. His point is that evangelicals the alternative to Trump as even worse:

Like the residents of an urban neighborhood who gladly pay a local mob boss a share of their earnings in return for safety and security, evangelicals have made a transactional calculation. In return for obsequious, gushing, unconditional support, Trump will serve as their protector, surpassing all prior Republican presidents in his willingness to advance a religious right agenda for which he personally feels nothing but indifference.

The character of this arrangement shows just how much the situation for evangelicals has changed since the administration of their previous presidential champion, George W. Bush.

Bush spoke frequently and convincingly about his faith, and he backed it up by advocating for the passage of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and working to get anti-same-sex-marriage referendums on the ballots of numerous states in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election. Trump, by contrast, expressed explicit support for LGBTQ rights in his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican convention.

Meanwhile, in the intervening eight years, a Democratic president and just about every member of his party shifted from opposing gay marriage to supporting it while denouncing the remaining holdouts as bigots. Then, in the blink of an eye, progressives immediately began waging the next battle in the anti-discrimination wars: a defense of the rights of the transgendered, including an insistence that all public discussion and debate of the issue begin by affirming the absolute malleability of gender, a position radically incompatible with historic Christianity’s teachings on sexual morality.

This is the context in which the evangelical embrace of Trump needs to be understood.

John left that out of his post. He also leaves this context out of his apparent loathing for the so-called “court” evangelicals. His categories for evaluating Trump and evangelicals are chiefly moral. He leaves out the context of politics.

Normal for a fundamentalist or evangelical, odd for a historian.

Evangelicals Need to Take a Page from Roman Catholics (year 501)

Inspired by some minor reflections on personal identity and politics, I present recent findings on Roman Catholics and the 2016 Presidential election.

According to our May 2017 survey, just over three-quarters of American Catholics said that they voted in the November 2016 presidential election. Of those who voted, 43 percent said they voted for Trump while 48 percent said they voted for Clinton. The other nine percent voted for minority candidates. This is fewer Trump voters and more Clinton voters than the percentages among self-identified Catholics as reported in the exit polls, which reported 52 percent voting for Trump, 45 percent voting for Clinton, and 3 percent going to other candidates. But this survey took place six months after the election and some may have been recalling the candidate they wish they had voted for rather than their actual vote.

We began our 2017 survey with a series of questions about the possible role religious beliefs might have played among American Catholics In the 2016 election.

The responses of American Catholics to the questions cited in Table 1 make clear their assertion that their religious beliefs were not relevant to their vote for president in the 2016 election. The great majority (86 percent) said that religious beliefs (their own or that of the candidates) played no role in their vote. Just one in ten said that they voted for their candidate because of their own personal religious beliefs and even fewer — just 4 percent — said that they voted for their candidate because of the candidate’s religious beliefs.

Beliefs and values that are essential

That raised the question whether and to what extent did Catholics who voted for Trump differ in their religious beliefs and practices from Catholics who voted for Clinton. We have a standard block of questions about the beliefs and values that many consider essential to being a “good Catholic” that we have asked, in some form, on every survey since 1987. Table 2 compares the proportion of Trump and Clinton voters who say that each item is “essential to your vision of what it means to be Catholic.”

Catholics who supported Trump and Catholics who supported Clinton generally share very similar beliefs about how essential each of these items is to their vision of what it means to be Catholic. Differences of less than 10 percentage points between the two are not statistically significant. Both types of Catholic voters rank all ten items in virtually the same order.

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus, devotion to Mary as the Mother of God, and the papacy are essential to more than half of Trump voters and Clinton voters. Only about half saw charitable efforts to help the poor as essential and the percentage who saw the celibate male clergy as essential continues to have only a small percentage of support among either Trump or Clinton voters.

In other words, religion had little to do with the vote. That seems precisely what evangelicals should be doing. If you can segregate politics from faith, you don’t have the problem of evangelicals leaving the fold because of the movement’s political significance. Faith is one part of your life. Politics another.

Roman Catholics are doing it. Why can’t evangelicals?

America First as NIMBY for the Nation

Old neighbors in Philadelphia are objecting to a business that is expanding its hours and footprint:

Past residents of Chestnut Hill, through great effort, created a vision for the neighborhood. We owe them a great debt and we believe that we have a duty to be just as vigilant and visionary as our forebears.

Nearly 40 years ago, under the auspices of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, and well covered by this newspaper, a covenant was hammered out between the owners of the Chestnut Hill Hotel and its near neighbors on Ardleigh Street. This was no easy task. It took the efforts of hundreds of Chestnut Hill residents, city politicians, and the CHCA. The covenant runs in perpetuity with the property.

Such covenants are extremely important and should not be discarded or ignored in a willy-nilly fashion. Certainly, any attempt to supersede or challenge the covenant should be presented and discussed with the parties involved. Such was never done with the neighbors on Ardleigh Street. Only the heavy construction work we heard coming over the fence in the dead of night alerted us that something was happening. Now we are faced with a fait accompli, and our only recourse seems to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to have our living covenant recognized. How is this at all neighborly?

As development proceeds in Chestnut Hill, all of us should be concerned about the abrogation of covenants. Ours is not the only such covenant here, and by acceding to the development whims at the Chestnut Hill Hotel property without any review, all such covenants are mocked and threatened. I appeal to the CHCA to take careful note.

Finally, the system set up to monitor local development, which includes building codes, zoning and the associated permits, are not to be ignored. All those seemingly petty requirements – the posting of permits, height restrictions, propinquity to elementary schools – are important. And again, the wider community should take note because what is scoffed at and ignored in our neighborhood is coming your way sooner or later. There is and will continue to be voracious demand for development in Chestnut Hill.

Given the demographics of the place, I assume many of these concerned residents are liberal politically and supported Hillary Clinton in last year’s election for POTUS. But imagine if these same people thought about the United States, its borders, and the expectations underwritten by the Constitution the same way that they think about their neighborhood and what threatens their way of life.

If they did that, would they really have trouble understanding people who voted for a president who campaigned to take borders seriously, to put national interests first, and who annoyed a lot of citizens who disdained rather than cared for Americans living in fly-over country?

Deep inside every American, conservative or liberal, beats a Not In My Back Yard heart. Why the outrage when the wrong side shows it has a pulse?

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.

End of Democracy

Then:

The proposition examined in the following articles is this: The government of the United States of America no longer governs by the consent of the governed. With respect to the American people, the judiciary has in effect declared that the most important questions about how we ought to order our life together are outside the purview of “things of their knowledge.” Not that judges necessarily claim greater knowledge; they simply claim, and exercise, the power to decide. The citizens of this democratic republic are deemed to lack the competence for self-government. The Supreme Court itself—notably in the Casey decision of 1992-has raised the alarm about the legitimacy of law in the present regime. Its proposed solution is that citizens should defer to the decisions of the Court. Our authors do not consent to that solution. The twelfth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Harlan Fiske Stone (1872-1946), expressed his anxiety: “While unconstitutional exercise of power by the executive or legislative branches of the Government is subject to judicial restraint, the only check upon our own exercise of power is our own sense of restraint.” The courts have not, and perhaps cannot, restrain themselves, and it may be that in the present regime no other effective restraints are available. If so, we are witnessing the end of democracy.

And now:

Trump is a child, the most childish politician I have encountered in my lifetime. The parent in this relationship is the American state itself, which allows the voters to throw a tantrum and join forces with the worst behaved kid in the class, safe in the knowledge that the grown-ups will always be there to pick up the pieces.

This is where the real risks lie. It is not possible to keep behaving like this without damaging the basic machinery of democratic government. It takes an extraordinarily fine-tuned political intelligence to target popular anger at the parts of the state that need reform while leaving intact the parts that make that reform possible. Trump – and indeed Brexit – are not that. They are the bluntest of instruments, indiscriminately shaking the foundations with nothing to offer by way of support. Under these conditions, the likeliest response is for the grown-ups in the room to hunker down, waiting for the storm to pass. While they do, politics atrophies and necessary change is put off by the overriding imperative of avoiding systemic collapse. The understandable desire to keep the tanks off the streets and the cashpoints open gets in the way of tackling the long-term threats we face. Fake disruption followed by institutional paralysis, and all the while the real dangers continue to mount. Ultimately, that is how democracy ends.

Back then it was shocking:

On September 26, after the Senate failed to overturn President Clinton’s veto of a ban on partial-birth abortions, Paul Weyrich, Gary Bauer and other leaders of the religious right assembled in the antechamber of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s office. The rhetoric could not have been more fiery. As Lott looked on approvingly, Watergate felon and evangelist Charles Colson declared, ‘a nation which sanctions infanticide is no better than China, no better than Nazi Germany.’ Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest, went even further. ‘It is not hyperbole to say that we are at a point at which millions of conscientious American citizens are reflecting upon whether this is a legitimate regime,’ Neuhaus said. ‘That is the solemn moment we have reached.’

Despite the apocalyptic tone of what was, after all, an open meeting convened by the most powerful Republican in Congress, the gathering in Lott’s chambers attracted little notice. But this meeting was not an isolated or aberrant event. It was a harbinger of a political development that has now reached fruition: a full-fledged war between two leading groups of conservative intellectuals over the basic question of what constitutes a moral conservatism and a moral society.”

Now, it’s sensible:

A country designed to resist tyranny has now embraced it. A constitution designed to prevent democracy taking over everything has now succumbed to it. A country once defined by self-government has openly, clearly, enthusiastically delivered its fate into the hands of one man to do as he sees fit. After 240 years, an idea that once inspired the world has finally repealed itself. We the people did it.

What’s the big deal? Didn’t the Hebrews and the Greeks teach us that democracy was more problem than solution?

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?

Did Sam Francis Hold a Fundraiser for Donald Trump?

Of course, not. The paleo-conservative died in 2005. But what about Bill Ayers (the co-founder of the Weatherman) fundraiser for President Obama?

The reason for asking is elite journalism’s tic of recognizing the tawdry associations of president-elect Trump while never having taken seriously President Obama’s associations with the radical left. For instance, I read this in the New Yorker:

Throughout the campaign, he was accused of being the leader of a white backlash movement, waging war on minorities: he says that he wants to expel millions of unauthorized immigrants, and calls for a moratorium on Muslims entering the country. Since his election, many analyses of his political program have focussed on his ties to the alt-right, a nebulous and evolving constellation of dissidents who sharply disagree with many of the conservative movement’s widely accepted tenets—including, often, its avowed commitment to racial equality. This connection runs through Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, an “economic nationalist” who was previously the executive chairman of Breitbart, a news site that aimed to be, Bannon once said, “the platform for the alt-right.” Earlier this year, Breitbart published a taxonomy of the alt-right that included Richard Spencer, a self-described “identitarian” whose political dream is “a homeland for all white people.” At a recent conference in Washington, Spencer acted out the worst fears of many Trump critics when he cried, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Later, Spencer told Haaretz that the election of Trump was “the first step for identity politics for white people in the United States.”

It is important to note that the link between Trump and someone like Spencer is tenuous and seemingly unidirectional. (When reporters from the Times asked Trump about the alt-right, in November, he said, “I disavow the group.”) But it is also true that partisan politics in America are stubbornly segregated: exit polls suggest that about eighty-seven per cent of Trump’s voters were white, which is roughly the same as the corresponding figure for his Republican predecessor, Mitt Romney. It is no surprise that many of Trump’s critics, and some of his supporters, heard his tributes to a bygone American greatness as a form of “identity politics,” designed to remind white people of all the power and prestige they had lost.

It is true, too, that Trumpism draws on a political tradition that has often been linked to white identity politics. One Journal author suggested that the true progenitor of Trumpism was Samuel Francis, a so-called paleoconservative who thought that America needed a President who would stand up to the “globalization of the American economy.” In Francis’s view, that candidate was Pat Buchanan, a former longtime White House aide who ran for President in 1992 and 1996 as a fiery populist Republican—and in 2000 as the Reform Party candidate, having staved off a brief challenge, in the primary, from Trump.

Three graphs of a long story on Trump and the alt-right even though the reporter also concedes, “what is striking about Trump is how little he engages, at least explicitly, with questions of culture and identity.” “[A]t least explicitly” gives the reporter room to disbelieve Trump and to leave readers inclined to think the worst thinking the worst.

So doesn’t that make the New Yorker the alt-left equivalent of Breitbart?

The question is how to parse these associations and affinities. Do you rely on hard evidence? Do you define narrowly the overlap between the politician and the offensive action or idea? Consider how Noam Scheiber cleared President Obama of untoward associations with Ayers:

Suppose we were talking about a meeting Mike Huckabee attended during a (fictitious) run for state senate in the early ’90s. Let’s say the meeting took place in the home of a local pastor, who, back in the ’70s, had been part of a radical anti-abortion group that at times attempted, but never succeeded in, bombing abortion clinics. The pastor was never prosecuted and had since become a semi-respectable member of his community, where he also ran an adoption clinic for children of mothers he’d counseled against abortion.

If Huckabee had once addressed a group of local conservative activists at the pastor’s home, would that tell us anything about his views on political violence? Reasonable people can disagree about this. But I don’t think it would.

But that is not the standard that Kalefa Sanneh of the New Yorker is using for Trump or the alt-right. Although he has no clear links between Spencer and Trump, because people who like Spencer voted for Trump — kahbamb — association confirmed. But because Bill Ayers and former supporters of the radical left (even in its terrorist phase) voted for Obama, no connection. Just the way the system works.

Which is true. Bad people vote for good candidates all the time. We wonder why such candidates appeal to such voters. But to see the New Yorker do what Rush Limbaugh does is well nigh remarkable. Rush assumes that people who vote Democrat are overwhelmingly bad citizens or bad Americans. Turns out — thanks to the revelations that have arisen during Trump’s candidacy and election — that editors of “respectable” journalism do the same. If you voted for Trump you must be harboring views of white supremacy. Just because you think immigration and ISIS may be a problem?