Those Also Were the Days

Damon Linker remembers those crazies times under President Obama:

As Delmore Schwartz once joked, sometimes paranoids have real enemies, and the paranoid-in-chief occupying the Oval Office has some very real and very powerful enemies.

Anyone who denies this needs to go back and reread the most important (and unfairly maligned) magazine feature written last year: David Samuels’ 9,500-word New York Times Magazine profile of Obama administration senior staffer Ben Rhodes. Journalists hated the piece, but for reasons so self-serving that it’s hard to believe anyone took the objections seriously. (My colleague Noah Millman noted as much shortly after the essay appeared.)

Samuels portrays (and quotes) Rhodes as someone who views both reporters (“they literally know nothing”) and Washington’s foreign policy establishment (Rhodes calls it “The Blob”) with utter contempt. It’s that contempt that Rhodes uses to justify the propaganda shop he ran out of the Obama White House, subtly but significantly manipulating the story that the mainstream media told about the Iran nuclear deal by selectively and repeatedly leaking tiny bits of information to dozens of journalists who wove those bits of micro-spin into countless tweets and stories over the course of many months. The end result was a pro-Iran deal conventional wisdom — a pointillistic picture of reality composed entirely of colorful dots painted by Rhodes and his staff with the knowledge and support of the president.

While trying to get the Iran deal approved, Rhodes was in the position of needing to use journalists to defeat The Blob, which viewed with extreme skepticism (if not outright hostility) the Obama administration’s efforts to reach a nuclear accord with Tehran. But once Donald Trump won the presidency, old opponents found themselves firmly on the same side. Rhodes and his former boss, the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, and the nameless and faceless bureaucrats who staff the executive branch agencies and departments that make up the “intelligence community.” All of them were now united in standing against a president who had vowed to break far more radically from the established Washington consensus than Obama ever dreamed of doing.

What makes America great? Remembering sometime.

Rules for Who Gets In Are Complicated

Imagine if the U.S. government used for immigration policy Notre Dame’s reasons for not inviting President Trump:

The decision by the University of Notre Dame to invite Vice President Mike Pence to be this year’s graduation speaker and recipient of an honorary degree was surely not made lightly. The last six presidents have all been invited to the school’s commencement exercises, so the decision to invite someone other than President Donald Trump represents a change from the norm. And that is precisely why it was the correct decision.

The first thing to remember about the decision is that it affects not only the Indiana university’s standing, but the actual students whose families and friends will be gathering that day. There were some protests eight years ago, when newly inaugurated President Barack Obama attended the commencement exercises, but those protests were mostly on the internet and at the margins. The day itself was not ruined for the graduates.

Can anyone really think that Trump’s presence would not elicit a different kind of protest? Is it not likely that the protests would be so vociferous and widespread that the day would be marred for the students who should be the focus of the day?

I am sure that consideration weighed heavily on the decision-making process, which is not to say Notre Dame is likely to award a heckler’s veto to anyone. It is a mere acknowledgement that a man for whom a central campaign theme was the demonization of other people elicits a kind of visceral response, not because some people are too politically correct or thin-skinned, but because that visceral response is what Trump was after. He stoked the flames and cannot now wonder that people recoiled from the prospect of being burned.

Lots can go wrong if you invite POTUS. Nothing can go wrong with open borders?

But don’t forget welcoming the stranger.

Welcome the stranger.

Trump is strange.

Welcome Trump.

How to Tell the Difference between Turkey and the U.S.

You don’t read about President Erdogan in the pages of Washington Post, New York Times, or New Yorker:

As Turkey heads toward a constitutional referendum designed to grant its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even greater powers, the polls predict a neck-and-neck race.

That doesn’t mean their chances are equal. While the April vote is likely to be free, whether it will be fair — given rising repression of political dissent and the ongoing state of emergency — is another question.

Take the case of İrfan Değirmenci, a well-known news anchor for Kanal D, who explained his opposition to the proposed changes in a series of tweets earlier this month. “No to the one who views scientists, artists, writers, cartoonists, students, workers, farmers, miners, journalists and all who do not obey as the enemy,” he wrote.

He was promptly fired.

Değirmenci’s dismissal has heightened fears among No campaigners that those who oppose the new constitution will be subject to threats and intimidation ahead of the referendum on April 16.

“A lot of people are risking their careers and their future by openly and publicly campaigning for No,” said İlhan Tanir, a Turkish columnist and analyst based in Washington. “There is nothing fair about this.”

Government supporters face no such risk: While Kanal D claimed Değirmenci had been let go for violating the media group’s neutrality rule, Yes supporters have been free to air their views in the pages of Hürriyet, which belongs to the same group.

Hurriyet itself — a newspaper that positions itself as neutral — has muted critical voices: Its editors last week scrapped an interview with Orhan Pamuk, in which the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist explained his reasons for voting No.

So why do elite journalists cover the Trump administration as if we’re living in the television series, Man in the High Castle. Perhaps because they believe in American innocence as much as Jerry Falwell, Jr.

What’s the Difference between a Pro-Refugee Evangelical (Tim Keller) and a Democrat (Dianne Feinstein)?

Short answer: neither quotes the Bible.

Notice for instance the parallels among the National Association of Evangelicals, Ed Stetzer, Evangelical leaders (among them Tim Keller), and the Democrats.

The NAE:

“Christians and churches have been welcoming refugees for 2,000 years, and evangelicals are committed to continue this biblical mission. Thousands of U.S. evangelicals and their churches have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past 40 years through World Relief and other federally approved resettlement agencies. We don’t want to stop now,” NAE President Leith Anderson said.

The Trump administration’s plans to make severe cuts to the admission of refugees are alarming. We call on President Trump to declare his support for the continuation of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which is critical at a time when the world faces a significant refugee crisis.

Ed Stetzer:

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, says it this way: “The decision to restrict all entry of refugees and other immigrants … contradicts the American tradition of welcoming families who come to the United States to start their lives again in safety and dignity. The American people — most of whom can trace their own families’ stories through a similar immigrant journey in search of freedom — are a hospitable people.”

He’s right. But, it’s not just because we are Americans. It’s because we are Christians.

God’s people should be the first ones to open their arms to refugees. We should welcome them and do what Christians, in your church and mine, have been doing a long time — showing and sharing the love of Jesus with them.

Tim Keller et al:

As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering. We cannot abandon this call now. We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope.

Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready, and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.

The Democratic Party (according to Damon Linker):

Many liberals argue that refugees are among the most vulnerable people on Earth and so must be welcomed with open arms. That forcing undocumented immigrants to leave the country is gratuitously cruel, violates their rights, and so justifies municipalities flouting federal law by turning themselves into “sanctuary cities.” That banning entry to refugees or immigrants not yet within the United States can violate their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. And that the desire to restrict immigration is invariably an expression of xenophobia, racism, and other forms of irrational animus and so morally (and perhaps constitutionally) indefensible.

All of these claims are, at bottom, expressions of a fundamentally anti-political humanitarian ideology that is unlikely to fare well in the next presidential election. Democrats desperately need to confront the vulnerabilities of this position and stake out a more defensible and pragmatic one if they hope to push back against Trump’s populist-nationalist message in upcoming years.

Of course, evangelicals don’t need to worry about running for election (though the likes of Russell Moore does need to worry about ministry dollars going somewhere other than the Southern Baptist cooperative program). But evangelicals who live in the United States may want to think (with help from Linker) about how to love their actual neighbors who live within U.S. borders (Walter didn’t see his buddies die face down in ‘Nam for open borders):

Many Americans believe that their constitution presumes or appeals to certain timeless, universal moral truths that apply to all human beings. But the U.S. Constitution itself — like the constitutions, fundamental laws, and commonly affirmed norms and rules of all political communities — is nonetheless instantiated in a particular place, rooted in a particular tradition. It also pertains and applies only to people who are members of the political community known as the United States of America.

Those who are members of this community are known as American citizens. They get a say in what laws get passed and how they get enforced. Those who are not members of this community — who are not citizens — don’t get such a say. The community is perfectly within its rights to decide which and how many of these outsiders will be allowed to visit the country, how long they will be allowed to stay, when they will need to go, and how many, if any, will be permitted to join the community permanently by becoming citizens.

This is one of the most elemental acts of politics: the community deciding who to admit and on what terms. To treat this act as somehow morally illegitimate is to treat politics as such as morally illegitimate.

In other words, evangelicals think like 1kers, as if the U.S. is a Christian community. Imagine welcoming non-Christians into fellowship in a Christian congregation. What sense does that make? So why should citizens of the United States act as if they are the United Nations of the World. As Linker says, it’s a complicated question how Americans decide what to do with outsiders:

Note that nothing I’ve said tells us anything about how many immigrants or refugees the political community of the United States should welcome at any given moment of history, or what criteria should be used to make this determination. I generally favor liberal immigration policies; many Trump voters take a very different view. The point, as Josh Barro recently argued in an important column, is that the policy debate needs to be made in terms of the good of the political community as a whole and in its parts, not in terms of abstract, extra-political moral duties owed to prospective newcomers. A political community exists in large part to benefit itself — to advance the common good of its citizens. There’s nothing shameful in that. It’s to a considerable extent what politics is.

And don’t forget, if godless Democrats and progressive evangelicals agree that Jesus is on the side of refugees, w-w has failed.

The Captain Renault GIF

How can you be shocked, shocked to find injustice going on in America after Ferguson (film noir anyone?)? And yet, people like Patricia McGuire of Trinity Washington University act as if the country has not been having a conversation about having a conversation about race for the past two plus years:

“We Americans study the history of tyranny and exclaim, ‘That’s terrible, but it would not happen here!’ as we congratulate ourselves on the robust state of our democracy. The experience of the last few months now exposes this once-confident boast as terribly naive and perhaps even dangerous as a new administration indulges in a remarkable torrent of false and misleading statements as a basis for policy and action,” she wrote. “The gravest lie we are grappling with at the present moment is the Trump Administration’s cruel and unreasonable war on immigrants — mostly people who are black and brown, and Muslim — Mexicans and refugees from central America, Syrian refugees, people from certain countries in the Middle East and Africa including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.”

Black lives mattered before Trump?

This is why we worry about those who use the present to turn history into morality plays. What history does best is teach students we’ve been here before, all is vanity. Only Whig historians believe in progress and then are surprised when their narratives let them down.

But We Already Have Ethics Experts

Several weeks ago while listening to NPR I heard a phrase I had not encountered before — ethics experts. These were people with expertise to comment on the conflict of interests surrounding the newly elected President Trump (as if the press needs to hind behind such expertise). This is part of the story in particular:

We are continuing our coverage of the Trump administration’s executive orders implementing a permanent ban on those coming from Syria and a temporary ban of citizens coming from six additional Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan.

Now, one aspect of the new policy that has drawn notice are countries that are not on the list, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. And those are the countries of origin of a number of people who carried out terrorist attacks in the U.S. starting with September 11, 2001. Those countries also happen to be places where President Trump and his family have business interests.

That’s one reason ethics experts continue to raise questions about how President Trump is addressing potential conflicts or even the appearance of them.

I also noticed that one of the experts to which the reporters turned was — wait for it — formerly in the Obama administration:

One of them, for example, spoke with NPR. That’s Norm Eisen. He’s a former ethics adviser to President Obama, and he’s a fellow now at Brookings Institution. He says that it looks to him like Trump was singling out countries that did not pay him tribute. That was his words.

If Rush Limbaugh brought on ethics experts to comment on Nancy Pelosi, would anyone inside the editorial offices of NPR think such expertise credible?

But we are surrounded now by ethical expertise (though it seems to be fairly easy to come by — a general rather than expert sense).

But ethics experts say the broader conflict between the White House and Nordstrom is more worrisome, raising questions about whether the United States is entering a new environment in which presidents use government to steer money to their inner circles.

Here’s another:

Outside ethics experts say Trump’s conflicts-of-interest plan does almost nothing to clear up problems that could arise during his presidency. Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, called the plan “meaningless.” Norm Eisen, who served as an ethics attorney under President Obama, told Mother Jones that Trump’s plan “falls short in every respect.”

And yet, just six months ago, according to a Google word search, ethics experts were not so easy to come by (even in the midst of all the allegations swirling around both the Clinton and Trump campaigns). One story wondered about ethical food:

Andrew Chignell, a philosophy professor at Cornell University who teaches an ethics in eating course each spring, had a change of heart when he embraced a vegan diet five years ago. But he still identifies as more of a flexitarian when he’s been invited to someone’s home for a meal.

Another commented on the ethics of a judge:

A controversial Nashville judge who retroactively signed orders committing dozens of people to mental health institutions violated ethics rules by doing so, according to a judicial expert’s opinion.

Another link led to the defense of such a thing as an ethics expert:

Within my sub-genre of philosophy – practical ethics – the suspicion of public engagement has a more specific cause. It’s often asserted that moral philosophers can’t claim expertize in ethics in the same way a chemist, for example, can be an expert on a molecule.

That’s a concern that puzzles me. Certainly there’s some evidence – from the UC Riverside philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel – that those who write about and teach courses in ethics are no more ethical than anybody else. And it’s true that specializing and so commanding authority in trichloro-2-methyl-2-propanol is disanalogous in various ways to being an authority in some corner of practical ethics – not least in how this expertize can be tested.

Still, I want to defend the expertize of moral philosophers, to maintain that their views in their chosen field merit respect and at least a degree of deference.

But now, after the Trump victory, ethics experts are easy to find.

So when John Fea says that times such as these call for the special work of historians, I’m left wondering what ethical work is left to do once every journalist and editor and academic and Hollywood celebrity has already taken a number to condemn Trump again:

Historians must remind us, in this age of Donald Trump, that we as a nation have not always lived up to our highest ideals. Their work can remind us that we have failed in the past and encourage us, perhaps this time around, to follow our better angels.

But most importantly, historians offer ways of thinking about the world that we desperately need right now. History teachers challenge students to make evidence-based arguments. They spend time showing students how to write footnotes and cite sources correctly because they do not want them to speak or write in public without research to support their conclusions. They counter “fake news” with facts.

In this regard they teach the nation’s young people how not to be like Donald Trump.

Is the argument for not living like Trump based on evidence or on ethics? Were historians worried about Trump before becoming president? Did they condemn billionaires, real estate developers, adulterers, divorcees, outer borough New Yorkers? Now, when some of the coarser aspects of American society attach themselves to the presidency — as if for the first time — we need historians to teach us how not to be like Trump?

I get it. My friend John finds Donald Trump repellent. (Is that ethical for a Christian who is called to love his enemy? Think Jesus and Zacchaeus.) But again, why gussy it up in the aura of academic expertise? Speak truth to power as a citizen. Do it as a Christian. But as a historian do remember that ethics is a different academic discipline that seldom leaves history as an unfamiliar territory. Moral indignation renders the past something to be condemned for not meeting now’s standards.

Looks Like Trump is Sufjan’s Choice for POTUS

Mark Tooley reports that Sufjan Stevens opposes Christian nationalism:

Musician Sufjan Stevens blogged last week about politics and faith, decrying the parochialism of American Christianity while unconsciously offering his own brand of uniquely American impatient individualism.

The blog was republished in The Washington Post online, headlined “Stop repeating the heresy of declaring the United States a ‘Christian nation.’”

“You cannot pledge allegiance to a nation state and its flag and the name of God, for God has no political boundary,” according to Stevens. “God is love, period. God is universal, nameless, faceless, and with no allegiance to anything other than love.” He added: “A ‘Christian Nation’ is absolutely heretical. Christ did not come into this world to become a modifier. Look what happened to the Holy Roman Empire.”

That’s why President Trump’s failure to use religion to sacralize national purpose must be an encouragement to all who reject arguments that make American a Christian nation. John Fea notes that POTUS may be a blessing for mainline Protestants who edit Christian Century:

Theologians have long been wary or dismissive of civil religion, noting that it often functions as a rival religion to authentic faith—it’s a brand of Christian heresy. Civil religion borrows Christian themes but celebrates the stories and martyrs of the nation rather than the church and treats the nation rather than the church as the vehicle of God’s purposes. As such, especially in times of war, American civil religion has been an invitation to hubris and self-righteousness; it can cloak mundane self-interest in religious garb.

Yet because civil religion claims a transcendent purpose for the nation, it has also offered a basis for judging the nation’s failures and spurring it to reform. Because the nation has claimed high ideals for itself, it has invited a moral critique. It was in that tradition that Martin Luther King Jr. blended biblical ethics with democratic principles to condemn racial segregation as a betrayal of the nation’s creed of equality for all. It is in that tradition that protesters took to the streets in recent weeks to insist that the United States fulfill its promise to be a beacon of freedom to refugees from all lands and religions.

Christians have no ultimate stake in the survival of American civil religion. Its demise under Trump could conceivably encourage the church to claim and assert its distinct identity apart from the rhetoric of American politics. Yet insofar as the demise of American civil religion spells the contraction of moral imagination and the loss of a horizon of moral judgment and aspiration, it is hardly a development that Christians can cheer. The collapse of a Chris­tian heresy can lead to things that are far worse.

Just like the broken clock that is right two times each day, every Christian is going to have a 2k moment sometime in her life.