Monday, February 29, 2016
“For some of us, principle and country still matter.”
These words are from Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman (Chair of the Finance Committee for Chris Christie for President), when she denounced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “astonishing display of political opportunism” in endorsing Donald Trump, a “dishonest demagogue” who “would take America on a dangerous journey.”
The Trump steamroller moves on to Super Tuesday tomorrow. The increasingly desperate campaign to deny Donald Trump the Republican nomination for President has belatedly targeted his scandalous habit of taking unfair advantage of people in his questionable business dealings.
The list of transgressions runs long. Trump tried to use eminent domain and employed construction crews who smashed her windows and set fire to the roof, all in an attempt to bully an elderly woman who refused to surrender her house. Trump wanted to pave the land over for a limousine parking lot alongside his casino. Trump charged students tens of thousands of dollars in “tuition” to a Trump University, while promising students they would have the best professors “handpicked by me” and would learn his secrets to getting rich with real estate. Instead, they got little more than a photo opportunity with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump.
Moreover, Trump has built much of his financial empire taking advantage of human fallibility, reaping hundreds of millions from lower- and middle-income people who have lost money and sometimes their livelihoods gambling at his network of casinos. Trump commented on his casinos in one of his books: “I’ve never gambled in my life. To me, a gambler is someone who plays slot machines. I prefer to own slot machines. It’s a very good business being the house.” As he later said on his television show: “How much have I made off the casinos? Off the record, a lot.”
And, of course, there is the Trump sleaze. Consider the women exploited at Trump casino strip clubs.
But there are still bigger reasons to fear the prospect of a Trump Presidency:
- Praising and Quoting Dictators: When asked about Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin jailing of his opponents and reporters, Trump says: “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” Quoting World War II Fascist Dictator Mussolini, Trump tweeted just yesterday “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” When asked about it, Trump insists: “It’s a very good quote. I didn’t know who said it, but what difference does it make if it was Mussolini or somebody else — it’s a very good quote.”
- Creating an Enemies List: Of the Washington Post and New York Times for publishing unfavorable news about him, Trump says only a few days ago: “And believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems, they’re gonna have such problems!” Saying of the owner of the Chicago Cubs: “I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $’s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”
- Promising War Crimes and Torture: During his campaign Trump says: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” And to interrogate persons suspected of terrorist acts, Trump says he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
- Advocating a Philosophy of Vengeance: Trump writes in one of his books: “For many years I’ve said that if someone screws you, screw them back. When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can.”
- Repealing Free Speech Protections for the Press: Trump says: “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
- Denying Religious Freedom to Minority Religions: While he claims to support religious liberty, Trump does not include everyone. Most notable was his “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He flirted with requiring Muslim Americans to register with the government.
- Hesitating to Disavow White Supremacists: When asked about the endorsement of him by David Duke, former leader of the KKK just yesterday, Trump responded: “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.”
In one of the late Justice Scalia’s most famous passages from his decades on the Supreme Court, he drew upon Christ’s warning in Matthew 7:15 about false prophets who “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” In this dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia observed that threats to the constitutional separation of powers frequently appear before the Court “clad, so to speak, in sheep’s clothing.” In other words, the potential “to effect important change in the equilibrium of power is not immediately evident, and must be discerned by a careful and perceptive analysis.”
Justice Scalia closed with these haunting words: “But this wolf comes as a wolf.”
[Note: I’d prepared this post over the weekend, before Rick Garnett’s response to inquiries from a longtime MoJ reader. For an earlier MoJ post on Trump, see here. Also, in the initial post, I confused the “Whitmans”; Meg Whitman is the one quoted above, while former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whiteman has also said she is “ashamed” of Governor Christie’s endorsement of Trump.]
A longtime MOJ reader wrote to me and asked why I/we have not said anything about the rise, currently popularity, and apparently likely nomination of Donald Trump. I suppose (speaking only for myself) the reason why I haven't (and least, I don't think I have) said anything about those subjects is a mix of (a) they are depressing and horrifying and (b) I don't imagine a blog that aims to develop and apply "Catholic legal theory" is going to be the go-to spot for commentary on political and cultural phenomena like these.
In any event, and for what it's worth, (i) I desperately do not want Donald Trump to be nominated by one of my country's major parties -- in this case, the party that, in my view, has been a necessary and important vehicle for some important and worthy causes in recent decades; (ii) I am genuinely surprised (and deeply disappointed) by the fact that Trump is getting the support of so many self-described "evangelicals"; (iii) I do not believe that Trump will be elected, but his nomination will bring out and stir up a lot of extremely unattractive and unworthy views and expression, and will undermine (for decades, I suspect) the possibility of real political engagement and argument; and (iv) Trump's nomination will probably mean that the next President will be Sec. Clinton, which (in my view) will be regrettable for many reasons.
There's a lot to be written about why the Trump phenomenon is happening now (I think Ross Douthat and Charles Murray have been very perceptive in identifying some of the reasons). In any event, I imagine I'll be writing in Mitch Daniels's name come November.
The pastor in China who opposed the regime's removal of crosses from church-buildings is being sent to prison for 14 years. (More here.) Kudos to the New York Times and some other media outlets that often disappoint me -- they've been on top of this big-picture story, I think. And yet . . . "American universities [continue to] open up shop in China." No institution that claims to be committed to academic freedom and the pursuit of truth can afford to become entangled with a political authority that jails pastors for opposing the removal of crosses.
Friday, February 26, 2016
When the leftward end of the American political spectrum proposes yet another government program or entitlement, the budgetary costs and the dangers of ever bigger government tend to be immediately apparent.
That's not to say, of course, that those in elite circles or the mainstream media are quick to ask those impertinent questions about saddling future generations with ever-more debt and unsustainable entitlements or about how much liberty should be sacrificed to accommodate the demands of larger government. In each election cycle, the left offers to add still more entrees to the buffet of government benefits, promising an ever-bigger “free lunch.” And the generally sympathetic media tends to hype yet another government benefit, focusing primarily on those who would directly benefit, while downplaying the costs and how to pay for it.
Nonetheless, for those who are paying attention and especially for those who are sensitive to the cumulative harm imposed on a healthy society that comes from ever-increasing dependence on government, the downsides are usually easy to identify. When senator and socialist candidate Bernie Sanders proposes free tuition for all public universities and colleges, for example, what criticism follows is likely to focus first on the enormous costs and next on the creep of federal control over higher education.
But, sometimes, an even-greater threat lurks below the surface, not so easily detected. By definition, unanticipated consequences tend to be, well, not anticipated. The sad fact remains that most Americans — definitely including those who populate the opinion-leading sectors of government, academia, and the media — have but a passing familiarity with economic side-effects or any appreciation for collateral social consequences that follow new social experiments.
For this reason, most are unlikely to perceive the grave danger that the Sanders proposal poses to intellectual and cultural diversity in American higher education and particularly to faith-based colleges and universities.
After California's legalization of assisted suicide legislation this past October, there was fear that similar legislative efforts might gain ground in other states. But there's been some good news on that front. Despite vigorous lobbying by Compassion in Choices, this week saw legislation in both Utah and Colorado being pulled for lack of support.
On the other hand, hearings on legalization are being held in Maryland and Nebraska, among other states. And there's this sort of news from abroad:
From the Netherlands: "Thus did a man in his 30s whose only diagnosis was autism become one of 110 people to be euthanized for mental disorders in the Netherlands between 2011 and 2014. That’s the rough equivalent of 2,000 people in the United States."
From Canada: "The leader of Canada’s bishops today released a pastoral statement in regard to the remarkable conclusions of the Special Joint Committee of the Government of Canada on “Physician-Assisted Dying.” Among the committee’s conclusions are recommendations for making assisted suicide available to adolescents and children who might be considered “mature minors.” As well, the committee recommends that psychological suffering be included in criteria for eligibility and that all health-care practitioners must at minimum provide “effective referrals” to those who want to kill themselves.
Bishop Douglas Crosby’s response noted the high rates of suicide among the First Nations and Inuit youth of Canada.
“Suicide is not part of health care,” he declared. “Killing the mentally and physically ill, whether young or aged, is contrary to caring for and loving one’s brother and sister.”
Tom, thanks for your latest comment. Just three quick thoughts in response:
- The reason I quoted "over the truly long run" in my previous post was that this is the language I use in concluding my piece on Justice Scalia. I meant optimism over the truly long run. And it seems to me that's consistent with the post of mine on tragedy to which you link and with our exchange.
- As to the short run, yes, you are quite right. We don't agree at all about short-run optimism. And I think Justice Scalia's jurisprudential optimism may well have been a bad bet in the short run. Indeed, I suggest that he may have recognized as much toward the end of his career.
- But set that aside. What, exactly, is the convincing case to be made for optimism about, say, American constitutional law today or the present condition of American democracy and politics? You say that if we are ironists "we might be able to open our eyes, see incongruities, go in a different direction." Believe me, I'd be delighted to move away as quickly and directly as possible from the current goat rodeo of American democratic political life, a politics and a culture that "breeds alternating bouts of cynicism and hysteria." I'd even try opening my eyes a little wider if I thought it would help. But as I've written before, you and I have somewhat different views about the political psychology of the moment. Not much has changed in 3 years to make me believe that anybody has a strong desire to "go in a different direction" as respects our common political life. To the extent they do, the proposed directions don't generally seem to me to be improvements. But again, we may disagree about this too.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
I agree, Marc, Christians must be optimistic "over the truly long run." But the question is, is that only so in the long run in which we are all dead (and resurrected)?
As an ironist, I actually think there's room for optimism before that. (We might be able to open our eyes, see incongruities, and go in a different direction.) But I don't see how a tragedian can think so.
My buddy Berg asks about how my own frequently gloomy and lugubrious (and his much more sensibly ironical) views relate to Justice Scalia's. They are certainly different. I say as much in the little piece at Commonweal. On several issues, we saw things differently on the optimism index. Indeed, one might go so far as to say (though I did not go this far) that Justice Scalia's jurisprudential optimism may have betrayed him. Or perhaps that notwithstanding his disappointment in the Court, he remained optimistic with respect to the power of his views for law students and about the future of American democracy. Here, too, there may be sizable differences, not only with my views but with others here at MOJ.
Of course, differences like these may be informed by the different time periods in which one comes of age and develops. So, for example, there will be differences of perspective between a pre-baby boomer Reagan-era conservative and a gen X Obama-era conservative--differences of mood where at some points the 'chiaro' seems much brighter than the 'scuro' while at others all appears muted and dark. But all that aside, and over the truly long run, there is something to be said for optimism as a Christian virtue if not a Christian duty, isn't there?
Marc: I wonder how your commendation of Justice Scalia's "optimism" on the willingness of the majority to make religious accommodations ("in the long run, optimism is not so bad a bet") fits with the "tragic" approach to religious freedom. In our back and forth a few months ago, you argued that tragedy is the most accurate outlook and that even my "ironic" outlook was too sunny for today's religious-freedom clashes.