Monday, November 30, 2020

Prophets? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Prophets!

Today a friend linked on Facebook to this tweet by the Canadian blogger Ian Welsh.  It's part of a longish thread, really a sermon, on religion, a subject on which Welsh has shown himself to be careless in the past.  That makes this remark ironic at least:

As I'll try to show, Welsh hasn't done the necessary work either.  On just a factual level, he wrote in an accompanying blog post containing some of the same materials:

Jesus, poor bastard, had his teachings bastardized more than almost any great prophet I can think of: a Christianity which includes the book of Revelations has lost the plot, and I suspect the Old Testament should be ditched as well, because the God of the Old Testament acts in ways opposite to what Jesus teaches.

Either Welsh hasn't read the New Testament or he's imposed his own preconceptions on what he did read.  First he takes a popular position, that Jesus had a pure (i.e., not "bastardized") set of teachings that his followers twisted.  That wouldn't be surprising, but how does Welsh know what Jesus' original teachings were?  He left no writings; we know him only through the New Testament, which is not a reliable source (or rather, collection of sources), but there's no way to get behind it to Jesus himself.  Scholars have been trying to recover the "historical Jesus" for over two centuries, and they're no closer to solving the problem now than they were when they began.

As for the Revelation of John, which is a bugbear to many, it certainly poses many difficulties, but Welsh doesn't indicate why he objects to it.  It appears he doesn't know that its themes of violent judgment and punishment run throughout the New Testament, including Jesus' own teaching as the gospels report it.  You could ignore or remove the Revelation altogether, and you'd still have to deal with an end-of-the-world cult. As the great historian Morton Smith declared in a 1955 review of a scholar who tried to get rid of the end-times material in Mark, "to accept the great majority of the sayings in [Mark] as substantially accurate reports of Jesus' ipsissima verba [i.e., his own words] ... is implausible. But to do this and also get rid of the apocalyptic sayings, is impossible."  Welsh is ready to criticize his "great prophets" for teachings he disapproves, so this shouldn't be a problem, yet he prefers to blame all of the bad parts of Christianity on everybody except Jesus.

As for ditching the Old Testament, once again Welsh expresses a view that is shared by many who haven't done the work necessary to have an opinion worth respecting.  Jesus situated himself in "Old Testament" religion: he quoted the Hebrew Bible frequently, and claimed to be its fulfillment.  When he rejected parts of the Bible, he usually did so to make them harsher: it is not enough to refrain from killing, you must not even get angry; not just to refrain from adultery, you may not even feel erotic desire, so it's better to make yourself a eunuch if you can.  The Hebrew Bible demands the death penalty for some offenses, but Jesus threatened endless punishment after death, to be visited on the overwhelming majority of humanity.  Jesus' more attractive teachings, such as "Love your neighbor as yourself," are often direct quotations from the Hebrew Bible -- Leviticus 19:18, in that case.  Teaching care for the poor is a major theme in Hebrew religion, as in most religions, even if it's honored more in the breach than in the observance, but it's not the core of Jesus' teaching any more than it is of Hebrew religion or any other.

Welsh refers to Jesus as a prophet, along with Confucius, Mohammed, and the Buddha.  But of those four, only Mohammed actually was one.  A prophet is a person through whom a god speaks.  Jesus never said "Thus says Yahweh," as the classical Hebrew prophets did; when he set aside parts of Torah, he did so on his own authority: "But I say to you..."  His disciples reported that some thought Jesus was a prophet, but that's treated as a misconception: he wasn't a prophet but the Messiah, the Son of God.  Perhaps Welsh would dismiss this as another bastardization of Jesus' pure teaching, but if he wants to be taken seriously he would have to give good reasons for dismissing it.  As it is, he doesn't seem to know what a prophet is; he seems to use the word to mean "a really cool guy."

In another tweet in that thread, Welsh declared that "Nobody is God's only or final prophet. Anyone who says or believes otherwise is spreading evil."  This is strangely religious language, but except perhaps for Mohammed, no one seems to have claimed to be only or final prophets.  If Welsh had actually read the Bible, Old and New Testaments, he'd know that ancient Israel was crawling with prophets; much of the Hebrew Bible is the work of some of them; for some reason Welsh never mentions Moses, the prophet par excellence of Israelite religion.  Also, "prophet" was an office in the early Christian churches, as worshipers were possessed by the spirit of Jesus and spoke on his behalf.  And of course, there were prophets and oracles in ancient Greece, from the Delphic Oracle to Socrates and beyond, none of whom was "only or final."  Welsh doesn't seem to know much about the history of religion.  "I have a lot of respect for Confucius, Jesus and Buddha," he writes, but respect born of ignorance is an odd kind of respect.

"The person of reason," Welsh declares,

the moral person, takes these beliefs as arbitrary and inquires as to what parts are good and bad, rather than bowing down before tradition and authority.

This is the path of respect for the great prophets, each of whom came into an imperfect world, was unwilling to accept it, and tried to make it better. Buddha saw suffering and sought a way to end it. Confucius saw rulers savagely mistreating their subjects and sought to bring better rule. Jesus saw people following “the law” and missing the spirit of love and care for fellow humans that was the essence of the love of God. Muhammad’s first followers were mostly women and slaves (as was true of early Christianity) because he offered them a better life than the one they had.

This is a tendentious misrepresentation of all these men.  Welsh's take on Jesus, for example, is a variant of Christian anti-Semitism; Jesus' criticism of those "following 'the law'" was standard "Old Testament" prophetic teaching.  The core of Jesus' teaching was the imminence of the final judgment and the importance of escaping hellfire.  The Buddha was concerned first about his own suffering, the suffering of others was a mirror in which he saw himself, and social justice was not his priority.  About Confucius and Muhammad I know less, but I see no reason to suppose he's any more accurate about them.  I wonder where Welsh got this stuff; it sounds as if he had read a couple of popular books about religion, and never bothered to go any deeper.  He claims he spent "a good 15 years meditating," and denies that he's an atheist, but his take is basically that of the kind of people I call Village Atheists, who picked up their information from crank literature and spun it into conspiracy theories, and who pay lip service to the great teachers they evidently identify with but know nothing about.

I agree with most of Welsh's expressed values, such as his opposition to caste (though he has nothing to say here about Hinduism) and the oppression of women (though he has nothing to say about the deeply entrenched sexism of Western secular science).  But you don't need prophets to take those positions.  Moral positions don't come from gods, and someone who says you shouldn't oppress women because a god says so is part of the problem.

In another tweet Welsh declares "All most religious followers are is indoctrinated slaves; born into a religion they did not choose. It's just another form of identity politics, usually combined with authoritarianism."  Of course, because a prophet is by definition an authoritarian figure: "Thus says Yahweh!"  But does Welsh seriously believe that you can eliminate indoctrination and authoritarianism by getting rid of "religion"?  The real and probably intractable problem lies in the fact that human beings are born helpless and must spend years being brought up in families.  Children don't choose their parents, the language they speak, the culture in which they grow up -- all of which they learn to accept as "nature," the way things are.  "Religion" is just a part of the matrix of indoctrination that goes with being human.  I hope Welsh knows better than to believe that you can raise children without indoctrinating them; that's a fantasy, one that could fairly be called religious.  It's certainly not based in science or reason.

Welsh also either ignores or is ignorant of all the scholarly work that shows how unsatisfactory, misleading, and impossible to define the word "religion" is.  But ignorance never keeps people from pontificating, does it?  Given the ex cathedra quality of his remarks, I wonder if he sees himself as a prophet.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

What's in a Name?

I feel for writers and journalists who cover politics, because they have to attend to the corporate news media: Fox, CNN, the corporate broadcast networks, public broadcasting, and a range of print media.  Just listening to NPR for an hour or two each morning makes me climb the walls: how much worse would it be if it were my job to follow it and all the others?

Last Sunday, for example, NPR's Weekend Edition gave airtime to an instructor in government at Dartmouth College, to opine on Donald Trump's refusal to concede the election to Joe Biden.  Host Lulu Garcia-Navarro asked Brendan Nyhan "Why is he doing this? Is this a soft coup? And what I'm hearing you say is that this misses the larger picture of what's happening to democracy itself."

NYHAN: That's right. I think coup is the wrong way to think about this. We're not seeing an attempted military takeover. What we're seeing instead is a violation of the norms of democracy that we depend on to make the peaceful transfer of power possible. And as those norms get called into question, we start to see more of what political scientists call democratic erosion, where a system of government remains a democracy, but the norms and values that make democracy work start to be called into question.

Most of this is unexceptionable, a string of the buzzwords you'll hear on any network.  I do take serious exception to Nyhan's claim that "coup is he wrong way to think about this."  While most Americans probably do think that "coup" (short for "coup d'├ętat") refers to a military takeover, it actually means any sudden and extralegal seizure of power in an institution.  Violence is optional, the icing on the cake.  An academic should know better, and clarify the issue rather than obscuring it.  Instead the one substantive assertion Nyhan made was false.  But this is NPR we're dealing with.

Later in the week, on Friday, Morning Edition brought in a heavy-hitter, an intelligence officer in the Trump regime until 2019.  Host Steve Inskeep asked Sue Gordon, "I'm thinking about the fact that you have briefed presidents. If this event were happening in a different country and you were briefing the president about it, what would you call it?"

Gordon worded her response with some care:

SUE GORDON: We would talk about it as basically - if it were a purported democracy, I think we would say the democracy's teetering on the edge. If I were briefing the president on this at this moment in time, and this White House were doing what this is doing and I happen to be in the Oval, I would say stop it.

"If it were a purported democracy"?  This is hard to take seriously.  Whether a country is a "purported democracy" has little to do with its political institutions and practices and a lot to do with how the US views it.  During the Trump years the US has backed and even participated in at least two coups against elected governments, in Venezuela and Bolivia.  Harking back to Brendan Nyhan, in Venezuela the military didn't back the coup, much to the indignation of US commentators, so by his standards it may not count.  In Bolivia the military carried out the coup with considerable violence, so Nyhan would presumably be satisfied.  Mainstream US and UK commentators and political authorities were reluctant to label either action a coup, partly for reasons I'll into presently, but for now the fact that two democratically elected governments were overthrown, with various degrees of violence, didn't concern the media or the US government: they denied the legitimacy of the elections instead.  (Does that sound familiar?)  Contrary to Sue Gordon, in such cases US intelligence would not say to "stop it."  Nor would NPR or other mainstream news media.

We all know that Trump is a very bad man, though.  President Obama was good, right?  Actually, no: he supported numerous oppressive dictatorships and backed the far right-wing Venezuelan opposition with millions of taxpayer dollars.  He hedged a bit when the Honduran military overthrew an elected President, fiddling with aid payments for a little while, but eventually gave in.  

Obama's initial response to the 2013 military overthrow of the elected president of Egypt was somewhat firmer.  Obama wasn't pleased, but many in his regime were.  President Morsi was unpopular in US government circles because he was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and his incompetent governance seems to have turned the populace against him.  There were street demonstrations demanding that Morsi step down, much like those that had led to the removal of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011.  Back then Obama had been

naturally inclined to side with young, Internet-savvy protesters against an 82-year-old dictator who ran a cruel police state. But Mubarak was also a longtime U.S. ally who opposed Islamic radicals, honored a peace treaty with Israel and gave the Pentagon vital access to the Suez Canal. Younger aides like Rhodes, Power and Antony Blinken, then Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, urged Obama to get “on the right side of history” and give Mubarak a decisive push. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would later describe them, in her memoir, as being “swept up in the drama and idealism of the moment.” 

I wonder, though: if Morsi hadn't inspired such intense personal dislike in US rulers and their clients, couldn't they have cut him some slack, as they would for any struggling new leader?  Morsi "spent much of his energy struggling against resistance from an entrenched establishment — the soldiers, spies, police, judges and bureaucrats left in place from six decades of autocracy."  If he failed "to fulfill the promises of the Tahrir Square uprising" that removed Mubarak, shouldn't wiser heads have urged that Morsi be given more time?  Two years in office against six decades of dictatorship isn't that long.  I can't help thinking that our champions of democracy were relieved to have a "strongman" in charge again - the kind of person US elites and their cronies are accustomed to doing business with.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose rulers feared elections and dreaded them even more if they were presented as Islamic, lobbied hard to convince Washington that Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were a threat to American interests. And American officials later concluded that the United Arab Emirates were also providing covert financial support for protests against Mr. Morsi.
Wait a minute - Saudi Arabia is afraid of Islamism?  That does not compute: the Kingdom is a notorious Islamist regime.  And the UAE were undermining Morsi?  Who's at fault here, really?

When a murderous autocrat is a longtime ally to the US and a friend to Israel, his country becomes an honorary "purported democracy."  Democracy is all very well until the wrong people win an election, and then "drama and idealism" must be set aside.  Obama wasn't exactly pleased, we're told, when General Sisi massacred at least a thousand pro-Morsi demonstrators, but what can you do?

Supporting a military coup would hardly send a positive message about democracy. But declaring Sisi’s power grab a coup would, by law, cut off all U.S. military aid to Cairo. So be it, argued Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who wrote in the Washington Post: “we may pay a short-term price by standing up for our democratic values, but it is in our long-term national interest to do so.” Obama wasn’t prepared to go that far. The administration publicly danced around the word “coup” for weeks until, at an August 6, 2013, briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki memorably announced: “We have determined that we do not have to make a determination.” (“What is a coup?” Wael Haddara, a senior adviser to Morsi, asked the New York Times. “We’re going to get into some really Orwellian stuff here.”)

At first Obama dug in his heels, freezing military aid, cancelling joint military exercises, demanding "credible progress" toward a "democratically elected civilian government."  John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and Kerry

declared a few weeks after the coup that Egypt’s generals were “restoring democracy” to the country and quickly worked to reverse the aid freeze. Kerry had an ally in Hagel, who had developed a relationship with Egypt’s top general. Both men believed they could moderate Sisi’s behavior. “Kerry thinks he can get guys to do things because they trust him, even if it’s not necessarily in their interest,” says one former State Department official. Hagel sent Sisi Ron Chernow’s 904-page biography of George Washington, urging him to read a chapter about Washington peacefully relinquishing the presidency.
(I love that last bit - it reminds me of Ronald Reagan sending a copy of the Christian Bible to Iranian leaders in 1986.)

As it turned out, Kerry was wrong: he couldn't get Sisi to "do things."  He announced after a 2014 meeting that Sisi  'gave me a very strong sense of his commitment' to human rights issues."  The very next day, Sisi cracked down violently on dissent, but it all turned out okay: he "was officially 'elected' Egypt’s president with a reported 96.1 percent of the vote."  So Egypt was officially a "purported democracy" again.  In 2015 Obama restored military aid to Sisi's regime, personally calling the General to pledge his fealty.  As Glenn Greenwald wrote at the time,

Obama’s move is as unsurprising as it is noxious, as American political elites — from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright — along with the Israeli Right have been heaping praise on Sisi the way they did for decades on Mubarak. (“I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” said Hillary Clinton in 2009. “So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.”)

Two things to notice here.  One is that the wise adults running US foreign policy, who sneer at youthful idealism, have a vastly overrated estimation of their competence.  That's familiar from more than a century of American imperialism and support for repressive dictators, aka "the Free World."  There's something about swarthy men in uniform forcibly holding down the primitive brown-skinned masses, who just don't know what's good for them, that makes our leaders go all moist.

The other is that the word "coup" isn't just a word: using it has legal consequences.  If a coup overthrows a government you dislike, for whatever reasons, then you simply don't call it a coup, because then you'd have to take action against it.  And that wouldn't do.  Maybe the remedy is to stop pretending that the US cares about human rights; our historical practice down to the present proves otherwise.  The law clearly doesn't place any constraint on our government, let alone others.

It's pointless to fret about how the US media, intelligence agencies, and government officials would react to Trump's current efforts to overturn the 2020 election, because we know how they feel about coups.  If it were happening in a different country, there might be some division in their ranks -- some unrealistic idealists -- but the sensible, responsible, realistic ones would hail Trump for "restoring democracy," and Trump as the savior of freedom.  Hillary Clinton would remind us that she considers Mr. and Mrs. Trump to be friends of her family, as indeed they are.  John Kerry would send Trump a copy of Barack Obama's new thousand-page memoir.  Obama himself would order idealistic young people to stop complaining and learn to work within the system.  We wouldn't want to alienate our good allies by stirring up trouble.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Beloved, I Am Writing to You...


If only they hadn't bought those new iPhones, or the Air Jordans!  But no - they started listening to that hip hop, were seduced by the bling, the cars, the fast women, the blow.  And now they're broke.

Slightly more seriously, I've been getting mixed messages on this.  On one hand, their crew are saying that they have to ask for money because Trump is denying them that government money that should pay for the transition.  I could believe that.  But I'm also hearing that it's totally normal, all incoming administrations raise money for the transition, so shut up shut up shut up.  This latter explanation simply justifies the anger of some critics who point to the number of Americans who can't pay their bills, who are lining up for food banks, who know that if they get sick they won't be able to afford treatment.  Some apologists point to the words "if you're able", but that doesn't help either; of course people with no income aren't going to be able to donate, but who will help them?

Monday, November 16, 2020

Smarter Than a Box of Rocks

Among the many downticket races I didn't pay enough attention to was the one for North Carolina's Congressional District 11.  The seat was open because incumbent Mark Meadows had left to become Donald Trump's Chief of Staff, and Trump endorsed Lynda Bennett as the Republican nominee.  But Bennett was trounced in the primary by Madison Cawthorn, a 25-year-old with no political experience, who went on to defeat the Democratic challenger, a middle-aged military veteran who was also new to politics.  Judging by that article, Davis tried to run as a centrist, a good recipe for failure in a longtime Republican stronghold like the 11th District.

Cawthorn got a lot of attention: not only is he very young, he's wheelchair-bound due to an auto accident several years ago; he was homeschooled, dropped (or maybe flunked) out of college, has been accused of sexual aggressiveness, and as CNN delicately described him, "is a motivational speaker and filed to start a real estate investment company last year."  The company seems not to have gotten off the ground, perhaps because of Cawthorn's new political enterprise, and "motivational speaker" means that he witnesses to Jesus at evangelical churches around the state.  He also paid a "bucket list" visit in 2017 to the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's mountain chalet, referring to Hitler in a now-deleted Instagram post as "the Fuhrer" and as "supreme evil."

Now Cawthorn's in Washington for freshman Congressional orientation, and he granted an interview to Jewish Insider, missing few opportunities to put his foot in his mouth.

“It’s actually incredible,” Cawthorn said of orientation. “I’m a lover of history, so it’s incredible to be in a place where we had the vote to decide to have the Emancipation Proclamation, where we decided to go to World War II, where the civil rights battles were fought. I mean, it’s just, I got to spend about 30 minutes all by myself on the House floor yesterday — and just to be frank with you, I was in awe.”

He loves history, so of course he doesn't know that the Emancipation Proclamation was Abraham's executive order, not voted on by Congress.  He also reportedly said that James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence.  One presumable liberal lamented that Cawthorn had been "appointed" to Congress, which indicates that Cawthorn's not the only political illiterate around.  But he does at least know that the presidential election could go to the House of Representatives.  And he's already learning how to triangulate like a born politician: he has "expressed admiration [for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] despite taking issue with her policies.  'I’m looking forward to [talking to her], though, for sure,' he said. 'Disagree with just about everything she believes in, but I think that we need more people of conviction.'"

Cawthorn's clearly not the sharpest pencil in the box, and I wish NC-11 had someone better to represent it in Congress, but neither of his opponents was particularly good; and if we removed all the politically and historically ignorant pols from office, things would be interesting.  I recall, for example, a highly-placed elected official, a Constitutional scholar no less, who declared confidently and falsely that it would be unprecedented for the Supreme Court to overturn a law passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.  Nor have I noticed that liberals and progressives are much more knowledgeable overall about history and politics than conservatives and reactionaries.

What really set people off, though were Cawthorn's remarks about religion.  It's not surprising that a religious nut would seek to bring everyone he could into the body of Christ; in a pluralist society like this one, one simply has to learn to deal with missionaries.  (Not only Christian ones: in the past I've fended off Muslims and Hare Krishna peddlers.)  There's no need to indulge them, just tell them No and send them on their way.  I've noticed that a good many American liberals react to Christian missionaries the way that many heterosexual males react to homosexual passes: they don't seem to realize that they are allowed to turn down an offer, so they freak out.

Cawthorn's takes on Judaism and Islam are familiar to me; I've led a less sheltered life than many liberals.  He told the Insider "he had read through 'just about every single religious work there is,' including the Torah and the Quran."  I take this claim with plenty of salt, though many liberals don't know that the Torah is the first five books of the Christian Bible either.  He made some doubtful claims of having won over a couple of Muslims, and then:

Had he ever tried to convert any Jews to the Christian faith?

“I have,” he said with a laugh. “I have, unsuccessfully. I have switched a lot of, uh, you know, I guess, culturally Jewish people. But being a practicing Jew, like, people who are religious about it, they are very difficult. I’ve had a hard time connecting with them in that way.”

Cawthorn expressed a similar sentiment during a July 2019 sermon at a church in Highlands, North Carolina. “If you have Jewish blood running through your veins today,” he told the crowd, mulling on a chapter from the Gospel of Mark, “this might not mean as much to you, but for someone like me, who’s a gentile, this means a lot.”
This got him some mockery, but also some alarmist high dudgeon for the bit about "Jewish blood running through your veins."  As the philosopher Michael Neumann wrote a few years ago,

But here, immediately, we come up against the venerable shell-game of Jewish identity: “Look! We’re a religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry–a religion!” When we tire of this game, we get suckered into another: “anti-Zionism is antisemitism! ” quickly alternates with: “Don’t confuse Zionism with Judaism! How dare you, you antisemite!”
The notion of blood as a "racial" essence is too widespread, including in Israel, and certainly in the Tanakh and the New Testament, for me to get very worked up about this example.  Racial/ethnic discourse stinks to high heaven almost everywhere it turns up, not just among right-wing Republicans.

I was fascinated, though, by the panicky reactions many people had to the idea of being proselytized.  For  example, the BlueMAGA personality Charlotte Clymer.

I don't know who needs to hear this (@CawthornforNC), but you can be faithful to Christ without invalidating and shaming those of other faith traditions, notably Jewish and Muslim folks. It's profoundly insulting and dehumanizing. It's also NOT what Christ would do.
Invalidating, shaming, insulting and dehumanizing is absolutely what Christ would do.  He spent a lot of time attacking his fellow Jews, he insulted a gentile woman who approached him to heal her sick daughter, and he ordered his followers to go and make disciples of all nations, replacing their "faith traditions" with his teachings and commands.  It's arguable that you can't "be faithful to Christ" without attacking the beliefs of others. 

Or this person:

Many have the best intentions, but trying to convert people to another religion is mean.

Madison Cawthorn does NOT have the best intentions. His attempts are evil.

(Some religions, such as Buddhism, have NO RECRUITING policies, because recruiting is mean).

She's at least as ignorant as Cawthorn, or Clymer.  Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam are all missionary religions.  All three have made converts by persuasion and by force.  When I challenged her, she linked to an article in which the Dalai Lama spoke against attempts to convert, but he represents at most one stream of Buddhism.  He wouldn't exist if Tibetans hadn't been 'recruited' to Buddhism.  She added "Of course, there is a great deal of diversity in a Buddhism, so people enjoy different experiences, depending on the country or culture."  That "diversity" includes missionary activity, but it's clear she knows nothing about the history of Buddhism, let alone other proselytizing religions.

After JI inquired about Cawthorn’s thoughts on the separation of church and state, he said that many people have asked him if he will be able to divorce himself from his faith as a congressman. “That is the basis of all of my experience and everything I’ve learned, everything that I believe in, how I’ve formed all of my worldview,” he said of his religion. “I always think of that question as just so silly.”

“The Lord and the Bible and the value systems I’ve gotten through Judeo-Christian values,” he added, “it affects every single decision I make.”

I don't like this kind of talk either, but it doesn't bother liberals when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Joe Biden expresses similar views.  Nor do they mind it when AOC or other Democrats insult and invalidate the "faith traditions" of reactionary Christians; indeed, they regard it as mandatory and a badge of honor to do so.

Yes, Madison Cawthorn is profoundly ignorant, but not more so than his liberal-religious counterparts.  It would have been better for the country if a Democrat had beaten him, but Moe Davis didn't.  The JI interview is refreshingly free of hysteria; unfortunately, most of the liberal and progressive responses to it are not.  I'm not optimistic about the chances of lessening the polarization that everyone loves to deplore in American political life, and when I see Democrats loving their ragegasms I know that they can't be counted on to do anything about it.

Friday, November 6, 2020

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

It's just after 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, and so far the Presidential votes have not been completely counted.  Joe Biden seems to be have a good chance of eking out a victory despite his best efforts, but it isn't settled yet.  So I'm seeing stuff like this, responding to a report that "the FBI is assisting local police in Los Angeles who are investigating a man who allegedly posted a threat on social media to commit a mass shooting if Joe Biden wins."

Call the fucking race!!! This is only going to get worse until the networks have some backbone.
When it gets down to it, liberals and leftists are every bit as irrational as the right.  Calling the race prematurely wouldn't tranquilize Trump's base -- probably the opposite -- and I think the same motive that has Trumpian mobs outside vote-counting locations motivated this person: Stop everything right now and give me what I want, I don't care about facts.  This person is just as ready as they are to stop counting votes.

Then there was this:


CNN’s Kaitlan Collins is reporting that White House aides are trying to determine the best way to stage an “intervention” to tell President Trump he has no hope of remaining in the Oval Office for a second term.

... followed by some liberal clucking, such as "Incredible. Like they're trying to avoid a three year old's temper tantrum. This is supposed to be a grown man. The fact alone that this seems necessary is reason enough to never give him that kind of power in the first place."  Or "good lord. We don't placate our two-year-old with that level of mollycoddling."  These reactions are understandable, but not what I consider examples of rational, reality-based thought.  Again, the votes have not all been counted yet.

It was pointed out earlier today that concession speeches and the like are norms, not a practice mandated by the Constitution or statute.  That much abused-word "performativity" is pertinent: an election is not over when one candidate concedes, but when the votes are counted and certified.  Nor is it over when the Associated Press declares a winner, for the same reason.  (And lest we forget, Clinton cultists threw similar tantrums in November 2016 and for four years afterward.  "Not my President!  Not my President!")

The best news, for some version of "best," looks like this at the moment:

The whole thread and comments are interesting, if only to watch some centrist commentators trying to explain the trend away.  This one was perhaps the funniest: "Spin it all you want. Defund the Police was a winner for the GOP."  As someone replied, "It clearly wasn't, when the main proponents won and the main opponents lost. Go be a Republican with that much brain rot."  I've seen a number of people at varying levels trying to deny the results in other threads.  What cannot be must not be.

I'm going to risk a forecast of my own, just because it has always been true before: America's mainstream journalistic pundits, scenting a likely Biden victory, are already drafting op-eds and columns urging Biden to move to the center, the sacred center.   

Well, I'm going to wrap this up now, before the remaining vote counts are announced.  I'll be glad when this is over, but I can wait a few more hours, even a day or two, for all the votes to be counted.  Better a slight delay than a rushed and incomplete announcement that has to be retracted: that, I think, would drive people even crazier than they are already.  We've seen a taste of that with states that have been called prematurely in the past few days.  I can't help thinking that no matter what the outcome, we're in for at least four more years of caterwauling, from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Are We There Yet?

This image, from the main page on Twitter, is a good example of why I did my best to avoid news media today.  Though it ostensibly wants to reassure you, it reinforces the belief that in normal times, you could expect to know the results of this election by midnight tonight (which is, by coincidence, when I'm writing this post).  But because of numerous factors, "results might be delayed."  "Delay" would be correct if they weren't available before the respective states' deadlines for certification, and in the case of the presidential competition, before the Electoral College meets to urinate solemnly on the Will of the People.  But those deadlines are still weeks away, so delay is not yet an issue, however much some people want it to be.

This morning, two NPR anchorthings in rapid succession interviewed election officials, beginning with "Now, we know that we're not going to have final results right away...." and segueing immediately into "But really, come on, now, when are we going to know the final results?"  The officials answered like adults, to their credit, explaining to six-year-olds why we are not there yet, and wouldn't be for a few days at least.  It could be argued that the anchors were just playing the parts of the dumb Average Voter, but I don't believe so.  My suspicions were borne out by further "news" reports throughout the day, in the same pattern.

I glanced at Youtube and Twitter at intervals, not for speculation about the outcomes, but to make sure there hadn't been any violence at polling places around the country.  I don't have ready access to network or cable news anyway, but local news turns up on those sites before the big names get to it, if they do at all.  So far, as of 8 p.m. (the last time I looked), I haven't seen any reports, and that's a relief.  But it isn't over yet.

My small midwestern town has been quieter than usual for a weekday, and I wonder if that has something to do with people's nervousness about the election.  The polling places are on the outskirts of town, and I couldn't find the nearest one.  But I haven't heard honking horns, and I only saw one MAGA pickup, flying large Trump and US flags, downtown at lunchtime.  At about 8 p.m., on my usual after-dinner walk, I heard fireworks; they seemed to be coming from the high school.  Traffic was lighter, fewer people were out, the parking lot at Kroger had fewer cars than usual at that time of day. 

Several people on Twitter noticed, as I did, that many were unable to resist the temptation to try to read the entrails of the exit polls and speculate about the outcome.  That let me know it was time to log out and return to reading Albert O. Hirschman's The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility (Harvard, 1991), which I bought over the weekend after Corey Robin praised it.  It's good, still timely, and points to a possible way out of our predicament.  I just finished it, sat down to write this, and so good night.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

To Amplify the Previous Point:

Hey guys, please ignore this type of garbage. The truth is that elections are never decided on election night. In Utah (and most states) it takes 2 weeks to finalize counting and certify results. It really doesn’t matter who is ahead on election night, it only matters when every eligible vote is counted and each county canvasses and certifies the vote totals. Yes it’s true that when a race isn’t close the media may “call” the race, and candidates may concede or declare custody, but such actions are technically meaningless.

On some level I know this, but I keep forgetting it. So why do we have nonstop TV coverage on election night? One reason: ratings. Another reason: ratings. Also, it seems that a lot of people confuse elections with sports or the Oscars and think they have to follow every detail of the game. Myself, I have not watched election night since the 60s. I watched the World Series once or twice in the same era; as you can see, I was very young at the time, and knew no better.  And the main reason I stopped was that I realized that watching it was a waste of my time, and that I could find out what mattered in the morning.  Or the morning after that.

I should backpedal here, slightly: If you're a person to whom sports contests matter, it makes sense to watch them, because you care about how the teams get to the ending.  It's the journey, not the destination, etc.  That's fair, and it makes it all the clearer why watching election returns come in is a waste of time, because the coverage isn't about how you get there.  If there are problems such as election fraud, they're not important to the networks, and they're not likely to turn up on election night.  I realize that for many people, getting together and watching the returns come in is an enjoyable social event.  I don't think this election in particular is going to fall into the category of enjoyable events, no matter how it turns out.  But watching it play out is part of the larger misconception of politics that got us to this point.  If you want to have a party on election night, watch a movie with your friends instead.

If I had dictatorial power, there would be no election night coverage at all. If the media cared about the importance of informing the public, there would be no election night coverage at all - except maybe for anchorpersons repeating over and over again that you don't need to hear reports of incoming returns, because the election won't be settled for a week or two. In the digital age, the announcements could be looped to save the anchorpersons' voices. But on the other hand, to hell with that; they deserve to exhaust themselves after years of horserace coverage and fake predictions.