Sunday, January 22, 2017
I'm coming to this exchange a little bit late, but I highly recommend this response, which appeared in America, to this in-places-misguided and, on some points, wrong-on-the-law piece, which also appeared in America. Nutshell version: Catholic schools face loads of challenges, but it is too early to embrace so-called "wrap-around charter schools" as the answer to these challenges.
Friday, January 20, 2017
David Harsanyi's piece, here, pulls no punches ("The Democrats' Fight Against School Choice is Immoral"), but I think it is fair. Many of us are, quite reasonably and understandably, concerned about and preparing to oppose policy initiatives in the coming years that do not cohere with morality or the Church's social teachings. I think we should, in addition, welcome and work to support efforts to expand meaningful school choice -- again, not merely for competitive, or market, or libertarian, or utilitarian reasons, but -- as I've written -- so that as many parents as possible will have the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to direct the education and formation of their children.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
CNN contacted me before Christmas to ask if I'd weigh in on Trump and abortion. I was thankful for the invitation as I'd really not said much about his candidacy during the general election. (Rick was thoughtfully expressing many of my own sentiments.) Like many others, I was more relieved by Hillary's loss than I thought I would be. I am now also hopeful for solid judicial nominations [identity politics warning: perhaps a woman to eventually overturn Roe!] and the life-changing possibilities for poor schoolchildren in a Department of Education that favors school choice. Still, like so many on the left and right, I remain deeply concerned about Trump's character. (I'm hoping Kellyanne Conway provides as much counsel as possible...it'd help as a start if she just took away his phone.)
CNN held the piece for weeks, well, until the Women's March on Washington became a...thing. So I contextualized. CNN then took the liberty of suggesting in their title that I was among those concerned about not being included in the march. Just for the record, though I understand the desire for some pro-life feminists to be represented--to give voice to another perspective--I would never have attended their march to protest a fair election, especially a demonstration that so extols abortion and even links its availability to human rights; my serious concerns with Trump put me too in the wait and see (and pray and write) category. And to further aggravate this pro-lifer, this "women's march" (for half the country's women anyway) is getting far more press than the annual March for Life which generates hundreds of thousands of protesters each year! Thus, my friend Carol Crossed's piece in today's Washington Post is more aptly titled for my way of thinking about all of this. Alas, here's my piece at CNN.
More happily titled is the two part series also published yesterday at Public Discourse on how to think ecologically about our culture's current...mess. I think the concepts of human and social ecology are especially helpful in responding to the ubiquitous Millian worldview that considers the "harm principle" as the only just way to think about cultural issues. (JS Mill, by the way, said this: “[M]isplaced notions of liberty prevent moral obligations on the part of parents from being recognized, and legal obligations from being imposed, where there are the strongest grounds for the former always, and in many cases for the latter also....")
I hope these articles--mining social commentary from the 1990s--help a bit. More to come in months ahead in the form of a law review article... and, if all goes as planned, a book.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Recently, the topic of “fake news” has garnered enormous attention in the national media, with some on the political left going so far as to attribute the outcome of the 2016 presidential election to it.
President Obama has described “fake news” (here) as “active misinformation [that is] packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television.”
No doubt, bogus news stories made up out of whole cloth – such as the horrendous story that Hilary Clinton and John Podesta operated a vast child molestation and sex-trafficking network out of a popular D.C. area pizzeria (see here) – can both hurt the individuals who are maligned, and poison our national politics.
Still, as Mollie Hemingway has pointed out (here), the public’s is not so much concerned about stories that are wholly fabricated, which have always existed and always will. Rather, citing polling data, Hemingway notes that the public’s “concerns about fake news are really concerns about the spread of false information – something that just as well describes mainstream media as sites that more overtly craft fake news.”
With all this talk of “fake news” and its significance, it is easy to overlook the biggest fake news story of the last year-and-a-half, namely, the widely publicized claim that the undercover videos obtained by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) showing Planned Parenthood officials negotiating and otherwise discussing the sale of human tissue and organs from recently aborted children were “doctored” or “deceptively edited” and so untrustworthy, and undeserving of the public’s attention. By uncritically repeating this abortion industry talking-point, the media parroted the worst kind of “fake news” and failed the American people abysmally. At the same time, it justified it own lack of interest in a story of enormous importance.
This lack of interest by the media (although perhaps instinctive) was not immediate as initially the videos caused a huge sensation. Indeed, because of their availability on social media, they could not be entirely ignored. Questioned shortly after the first two videos were released, Cecile Richards appeared with George Stephanopoulos on This Week (here) and insisted that Planned Parenthood had “broken no laws” and that the videos were “highly selectively edited” and “sensationalized,” designed to “impugn and smear the name of Planned Parenthood.” Richards further insisted that certain statements captured on video – showing Planned Parenthood officials haggling over the price to be paid for human tissues and organs and admitting that they alter abortion procedures to obtain more intact specimens – were “completely taken out of context.” Although she could not identity the context that would make those statement licit.
Planned Parenthood repeated this blanket allegation (that that the videos were “highly edited,” “deceptively edited” with statements “taken out of context”) again and again – an allegation that was allowed to stand without any serious questioning from the media.
Thus, a full year after publication of the first video, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte (here) dismissed the videos as a “right-wing hoax” pandering a “self-evidently idiotic conspiracy theory” and “lurid urban legend.”
Others were less colorful in their retort. MSNBC’s Joy Reid (here) could only stammer: "That story was false. That story was false. That story was absolutely false. It was a false story . . . that story was false, so that's not a factor."
Whereas George Stephanopoulos (here) blandly murmured "There was never any proof of selling fetal parts."
Of course, there was ample proof to be had, if only Stephanopoulos and his colleagues in the fourth estate had been willing to exercise a modicum of the curiosity that all journalists are thought to possess and investigated the matter. But they did not, choosing instead to carry water for Planned Parenthood by ignoring or mischaracterizing the questions raised and the facts brought to light by the videos. (Fortunately, as noted below, committees in both the Senate and the House did investigate the matter, resulting in a host of criminal referrals to the FBI and other law enforcement organizations. Sadly, even the fact of these referrals and the contents of the committee reports have managed to escape the notice of the mainstream media).
What is particularly infuriating in all this is that some of those in the media who repeated the bare accusation of “deceptive editing” against CMP have themselves engaged in the most brazen, deceptive editing imaginable – a charge leveled and proven by some of their fellow journalists (see, for example, here, here, and here).
CMP released the videos in two formats – a shorter version and a full-length version on YouTube. The shorter versions of the videos are indeed edited – just like any interview or investigative video aired on a broadcast news program. Moreover, to see the full context in which the damning quotes from the Planned Parenthood officials occurred, CMP made the full, unedited version of each video available contemporaneous with the edited version. This fuller context does not alter the meaning of what the Planned Parenthood officials said. If anything, it shows these individuals in an even worse light. Both versions of all the videos, together with transcripts of the videos, are available on CMP’s website (here).
Shortly after Richards' embarrassing appearance on This Week, after only two videos had been released, Planned Parenthood hired the public relations firm SKD Knickerbocker which, as Hemingway reported in The Federalisit (here and here), “sent out a memo to journalists trying to keep them from reporting on the undercover videos, on the grounds that they were obtained under false identification and violated patient privacy.” (A copy of the memo is available here and here).
Whether the media responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s entreaties or out of a baked-in predisposition to favor the “pro-choice” cause, the response was overwhelming. Despite the release of several subsequent videos, confirming what the initial videos showed and adding new damning information, the mainstream media responded by ignoring them – a case study in abject disinterest. (See here and here). What would have surely been a front-page above-the-flap story for weeks or even months had the subject not been Planned Parenthood, became a non-story, something that didn’t happen because it wasn’t acknowledged to have happened by those who see it as their job to dictate the national conversation. Not only did they not cover the videos, they also failed to cover the public’s response to the videos -- thousands and thousands of Americans protesting against Planned Parenthood in rallies across the country.
What did garner enormous attention in the media was a report commissioned by Planned Parenthood on the authenticity of the videos. Planned Parenthood retained Fusion GPS, a firm that does opposition research for the Democratic Party, and on August 25, 2015, it issued its report (available here). Although Fusion GPS “found no evidence that CMP inserted dialogue not spoken by Planned Parenthood staff” and that its review “did not reveal widespread evidence of substantive video manipulation, but we did identify cuts, skips, missing tape, and changes in camera angle.” Nevertheless, it dutifully concluded “that CMP edited content out of the alleged ‘full footage’ videos, and heavily edited the short videos so as to misrepresent statements made by Planned Parenthood representatives.”
Indeed, the media devoted as much or more attention to the Fusion GPS report – to the breathless claim that the videos had been discredited – than to the videos themselves (here).
Alliance Defending Freedom commissioned Coalfire Systems, Inc., an independent firm specializing in digital forensic analysis, to review the videos. Coalfire examined not only the short edited versions, and the full length versions available on YouTube, but the original raw video footage and audio recordings captured by CMP investigators. Moreover, Coalfire examined not only the four videos that Fusion GPS reviewed, but subsequently issued videos, and the original source material. In its Nov. 5, 2015 report (here), Coalfire refuted Planned Parenthood’s talking points, concluding that “the video recordings are authentic and show no evidence of manipulation or editing. This conclusion is supported by the consistency of the video file date and time stamps, the video timecode, as well as the folder and file naming scheme. The uniformity between the footage from the cameras from the two Investigators also support the evidence that the video recordings are authentic.”
In reviewing the raw footage Coalfire further found that the “edits made to [the published] videos were applied to eliminate non-pertinent footage, including ‘commuting,’ ‘waiting,’ ‘adjusting recording equipment,’ ‘meals,’ or ‘restroom breaks,’ lacking pertinent conversation. Any discrepancies in the chronology of the timecodes are consistent with the intentional removal of this non-pertinent footage as described in this report.”
It would have been easy for anyone to miss the story of Coalfire’s report in the media for the simple fact that the press did not report on it. As Mollie Hemingway notes, although a host of reporters “tripped over themselves to publicize the Democrat opposition firm’s report” they managed to ignore the Coalfire report in its entirety (here).
Of course, the story surrounding the videos didn’t end there. The media did report when the Department of Justice announced that it would be investigating the Center for Medical Progress (here), and when the Attorney General of California raided the apartment of David Daleiden (the head of CMP) (here), and when Daleiden and his fellow CMP investigator Sandra Merritt were indicted in Houston (here). The charges in Texas were subsequently dismissed, ostensibly on a technicality (here).
The media also widely reported that Planned Parenthood had been “exonerated” of wrong doing in twelve state-level investigations (here). What has not been reported is whether these “investigations” were in fact serious inquiries – with a grand jury impaneled, documents subpoenaed, warrants issued, and witnesses compelled to appear and testify or exercise their 5th Amendment rights. Or were these faux investigations, with an exchange of letters between friends, satisfying the pro forma requirements, and accompanied by the voluntary production of documents generated for the occasion?
It is “fake news” of the most pernicious kind to repeat the patently false allegation that the videos were “doctored,” or “highly edited,” or “deceptively edited” and as such unworthy of attention. It is “fake news” of the worst sort to suggest that the videos do not show what they plainly do show, namely, Planned Parenthood officials and others involved in the abortion industry discussing how aborted baby parts might be sold while evading the law that prohibits such transactions.
It is “fake news” of another sort to suggest that the rule of law has been satisfied when no real investigation has been conducted.
Notwithstanding the protests and obfuscations of Planned Parenthood’s defenders, the Judiciary Committee in the Senate (here) and a Select Committee in the House (here) conducted real investigations into the market in aborted baby parts revealed in the videos. What they uncovered (though unreported in the press) is truly disturbing. Each committee made criminal referrals to the Department of Justice.
Donald Trump is someone whom, I fear, has more faith in “the art of the deal” than in “the rule of law.” Still, each new beginning is a time for hope, and it is my hope that the new Department of Justice will take these matters up in earnest.
To do so, the DOJ must follow the path that other successful investigations of deep seated corruption have followed. They must “follow the money.” The place to begin this task is with the content of the videos themselves and with the Congressional reports. (More to follow in Part 2 of this post).
January 17, 2017 | Permalink
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Donald Trump's criticism of John Lewis is discouraging, not just because it came as the nation prepares to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., or because of Trump’s eyebrow-raising assumptions about Lewis’s congressional district, but because the criticism is another example of Trump’s failure to show any interest in, much less deference to, a story of America that extends beyond himself.
In his op-ed today, Michael Gerson puts it well:
[A] president-elect attacking a hero of the civil rights movement less than a week before he takes the oath of office is not normal. There is some strange inversion of values at work. Because Vladimir Putin praises him, Trump defends Putin. Because Lewis criticizes him, Trump attacks Lewis (as “talk, talk, talk — no action or results”). The only organizing principle is the degree of deference to Trump himself. It is the essence of narcissism.
Some commentators complained that President Obama’s farewell address sounded like a speech he could have given in 2008. Well, yes, that’s the point. He invoked George Washington, Atticus Finch, Iwo Jima, Selma, Stonewall – hardly ground-breaking references. There are themes and moments that need to be sounded again and again, not just across the span of an eight-year administration, but across the breadth of the American experience. Whether or not we agree with how a particular President has interpreted or contributed to the national story, the construction and stewardship of shared meaning within a community is essential. That shared meaning must transcend the individual without lapsing into an abstract universalism that lacks resonance with particular lives and histories. The stories of a nation that are handed down across generations matter, and the heroes of those stories matter. Virtually all of our Presidents have recognized that a central aspiration of their leadership must be to integrate their administration’s priorities into the broader narrative, building on the legacies of those who came before us, no matter the party. Martin Luther King Jr. did the same when he appealed to the better angels of his fellow Americans; in his "I Have a Dream" speech, he cited the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation. King did not believe that he was creating something from nothing -- he was claiming a place for his people in our national story.
The importance of our shared story does not mean that criticism of our nation’s heroes is off-limits, but it does mean that the criticism should be focused and substantive, not dismissive or demeaning. We can and should discuss Thomas Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemings when we account for his part in our national story, for example, but his part remains important and should be honored. The current clamor to rename university buildings and municipal monuments can be problematic in this regard, suggesting that the individual’s sins override the importance of the broader story. In many of those cases, though, the renaming effort springs from a desire for more Americans to participate fully in our shared story – the story remains central, though its driving themes of tolerance and inclusion can, if not handled carefully, erase other messy but important elements. The battles over “political correctness” are still battles premised on the relevance of story, shared meaning, and heroes.
In my view, John Lewis spoke imprudently when he said that Trump is not a legitimate President. By responding to Lewis as he did, Trump showed more than a lack of prudence – he showed categorical disdain for one of the last remaining public figures who was instrumental in a key chapter of our national story. Among the many concerns I have about our new President is that he has no interest in stewarding our shared story, pushing instead the cult of personality and the overriding power of now. I hope and pray that I am proved wrong.
I am just back from a conference at Yale Law School organized jointly by Professors Robin Wilson and Bill Eskridge on "Faith, Sexuality, and the Meaning of Freedom," and I offer here some general thoughts about the presentations and the nature of the conference. While the conference's rules do not permit me to get into specifics about who said what, my overall impression is that it was a gathering of academics, politicians, religious leaders, and practitioners drawn from a comparatively broad spectrum of political, religious, and cultural opinion. Robin and Bill are to be commended, in my view, for that balance--always difficult to achieve to everyone's satisfaction.
One of the conference's launch points was the fairly recent report by the US Commission on Civil Rights entitled, "Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles With Civil Liberties," but which did not contain, in my view, very much sound advice for achieving peaceful coexistence or reconciliation. All of the panels concerned the topic of achieving modus vivendi arrangements for the proper legal accommodation of rights of religious liberty and rights of sexual freedom and equality. This has been a large and important part of Robin's own policy work over the last few years, and the so-called Utah Compromise was studied and considered in this respect.
Two things stood out for me in particular.
First, one of the more interesting debates among the group, and, it seems to me, going forward, is about the baseline question of what constitutes the sort of discrimination that the law ought to proscribe in the first place. Once a particular judgment is found to be proscribable discrimination (I suppose the term is "invidious"), the result is all but foreordained. Some argued that the motivation for a particular discrimination is irrelevant; so long as the effect is adverse action against a person within a designated protected category, that ought to be sufficient. Others returned that this was in effect stacking the deck. The first question must be whether somebody has engaged in invidious discrimination at all, and that this is not a question about motivation but about how we properly describe the discrimination that the person has made. Barronelle Stutzman's case is one example of this sort of debate, and this brief authored by Professor Steve Smith addresses the question. But the larger issue of the baseline affects many sorts of discriminations that people make in other contexts. Suppose, for example, that a hospital refuses to perform a surgery to remove the healthy uterus of a woman who identifies as transgender and desires to become a man. Is that the sort of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation that the law should condemn? Or is it nothing of the kind--is it simply a judgment that hospitals do not remove healthy uteruses--and certainly nothing like a hospital's refusal to perform heart bypass surgery on a woman who identifies as transgender?
Second, one of the pervasive themes of the conference was the conflict between perfectionist and anti-perfectionist accounts of liberalism, and whether perfectionist liberalism is in its ascendancy at the moment. As is well-known, Robin, in her work with others like Professor Douglas Laycock and some of our own MOJ colleagues, has worked tirelessly to hammer out compromises that reflect a judicious anti-perfectionist liberalism. But my sense, in some ways confirmed by this conference, is that perfectionist accounts of liberalism (indeed, perfectionist accounts of politics in general) cannot really ever be sidelined. My own inclinations have always been rather pessimistic when it comes to true pluralism in a liberal democratic nation, even as I deeply appreciate the work of Robin and others. I believe strongly that the expressive and symbolic power of the law is an extremely important feature of it--what the law says about its people, what its people are proud of it to say, always lurks as a sort of subtext beneath the surface of whatever modus vivendi arrangements we might achieve. It is a mistake to ignore that subtext, as it will otherwise only come frothing and bubbling up at unexpected moments.
My own presentation involved what is seemingly a somewhat esoteric topic--Article XI of the Treaty of Tripoli--which begins with the statement that "[T]he government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion." Part of my talk involved the history of Article XI (which is fascinating) but part suggested that the fight over American identity that the phrase (and many phrases like it) has come to represent--and the symbolic and expressive force of the law--is both a substantial impediment to anti-perfectionist liberal democratic governance and an inevitable and important feature of any government worth the name. More on this soon, I hope.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
In this recent post, over at Distinctly Catholic, Michael Sean Winters -- who, like me, supports school vouchers and, like me, thinks the case for school choice is not merely a libertarian one -- contends that Donald Trump's nominee to serve as Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, should worry Catholics:
The worry about DeVos is twofold. First, surely with Pope Francis' frequent, and powerful, reiterations of the Catholic church's support for organized labor, it would be better if bishops reached out to unions and tried to lower the temperature around the issue of vouchers for Catholic schools, maybe look for ways for Catholic and public schools to collaborate on summer arts programs and the like, and enter into debate about vouchers with an acknowledgement of the good faith concerns of both sides. I do not anticipate anything DeVos does will make a more workable long-term solution likely. I suspect she will poison that well thoroughly.
Secondly, there are few things as immoral as the right thing done for the wrong reason. Most Catholic children attend public schools, a fact that is not likely to change anytime soon. Bishops and other Catholic leaders should be concerned about making public schools a success too. It is a tall order and I will grant that the teachers' unions are not always helpful. But, an argument based on "choice" should alert Catholics who are worried about the consumer mentality of the culture, and how that mentality leads to other pernicious results, before embracing DeVos' advocacy for "school choice."
A few quick thoughts in response (I'll refrain from re-hashing here my view that it is a mistake to conflate or equate, for Catholic Social Teaching purposes, workers' right to associate, coordinate, strike, etc. with public-sector unionism, especially in the K-12 context, as it is practiced in the United States today). First, I think it is as clear as anything that Catholics who embrace and apply the Church's social teachings should support school choice (by which I mean "public support, on an equal basis to that provided to children who attend state-operated public schools or charter schools, for children who attend qualified religious schools), and not for reasons having to do with a "consumer mentality" but instead because a decent and just political community ought not to, in effect, financially penalize parents for exercising what the Church teaches is their human right. Next, it would indeed be a good thing if bishops were able to get teacher unions to dial back their (self-interested, common-good-undermining) hostility to vouchers, but -- as someone who has been in and around this fight for almost 25 years - the high temperature around the issue is certainly not the fault of school-choice supporters or the bishops and I don't see collaboration on summer arts programs as very likely to provide the meaningful support that Catholic schools and the parents who choose them are in justice entitled to. (It's 25 years old, but still spot on: John Coons's essay, "School Choice as Simple Justice.")
As Albert Shanker, a longtime teacher-union leader, once candidly put it, "When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” Too often, the financial and other interests of public-school teachers and administrators align very poorly with the needs of children, families, communities, and taxpayers. My hope is that DeVos will do what she can to put the Department of Education's emphasis on the latter.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Mary Eberstadt and I gave back to back presentations at last spring's Human Ecology conference at the Busch School of Business and Economics. EWTN was on location and is airing our talks this Saturday, January 14th from 2-3pm. Mary's excellent presentation is on religious liberty. A bit from my presentation, which will also be published in Public Discourse later this month:
When John Paul II used the term “human ecology” in Centesimus Annus, he was entering a robust conversation that was already taking place among social thinkers here in the U.S., and perhaps across the Western world. Since the beginning of the last century, social scientists had been making use of the term to describe the now common idea of society as a complex organism, and to study the myriad ways in which various human surroundings influence the human person. The Russian-American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner notably wrote in 1977 of an “ecology of human development” in which one seeks to understand the human subject from within his “nested,” varied and ever-changing arrangement of environmental structures. An ecological approach is one that is intrinsically interdisciplinary, that seeks to integrate diverse perspectives to achieve a wider angle.
And so by the 1990s, social theorists from across the political spectrum were thinking ecologically about the dynamic interaction among familial, political, economic, and social influences and how these “mutually conditioning systems” affected children, families and communities across America. The ecological analogue helped a diverse group of thinkers to diagnose, even without agreeing to causes, the growing deterioration of once stable families and communities, the deleterious impact that was having upon the nation’s children and the nation’s poor, and in turn, the consequences of this cultural, or ecological, disintegration upon American institutions. In particular, communitarians such as Michael Sandel, Amitai Etzioni, and our own Mary Ann Glendon, worried together that America’s celebrated free economic and political institutions were actually at great risk of undermining their own foundations due to an erosion of the “moral ecology” or, in Robert Putnam’s term, “social capital” that these free institutions needed to thrive.
I often receive inquiries from undergraduates (in my case, women) asking what I recommend they read--or what sorts of summer institutes to attend--to prepare them for law school. I thought I'd post what I tell them, or some of what I tell them anyway, in the hopes that other MOJers might add their two cents as well.
As a devoted student (albeit never in the classroom) of Mary Ann Glendon, I always recommend Rights Talk and Nation Under Lawyers ahead of almost anything else (The Forum and Tower is also quite good for undergrads just cutting their teeth on the Western tradition). I am now happy to add Michael Stokes Paulsen's masterful book, The Constitution: An Introduction to my list of recommended readings. All of the aforementioned are admirably accessible, deeply interesting (well, for one interested in these things!), and perhaps most importantly, clarifying of the debates that have raged up and down the decades in the courts and legal academy throughout our nation's history.
As for summer institutes, the secret is now out: Catholic legal thinkers and others conservatives tend to receive much of their intellectual formation beyond the confines of their colleges and law schools. I found the Tertio Millenium Seminar really wonderful when I was a graduate student -- and that was well before the great Russell Hittinger joined the faculty. Other excellent seminars are offered by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Witherspoon Institute. Liberty Fund, Acton Institute and Institute for Justice all have summer seminars too--more libertarian than the others, but worthwhile for the intellectual rigor and companionship. And, of course, we must not forget Notre Dame's Vita Institute.
American conservatives--like other Americans-- can be tempted to an unyielding activism (more threatening than ever due to ubiquitous technology) that is unbefitting of conservative ideals. To lead others to take delight in the highest things, and in order to truly be of service to those in need, we must take time for silence, study and contemplation. One hopes these seminars encourage students to form the habits of the intellectual life--habits best articulated in Fr. Sertillanges' great work--so they can meet the coming challenges of our world with clear-mindedness, charity, and wisdom.
From the Intellectual Life:
Do you want to do intellectual work? Begin by creating within you a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work; acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker. Without that you will do nothing, at least nothing worthwhile.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
"Sobering Thoughts" and Catholic universities: A short reply to Mary Leary, Rob Vischer, and Timothy Snyder
In her recent post ("Sobering Thoughts for 2017"), Mary writes that "America appears to be facing such a test starting in 2017. The scene is set for the masses to excuse the normalization of the objectification of other human beings by those in power." And, she links to a piece by Timothy Snyder called "What You Can Do to Save America from Tyranny," which lists a number of "lessons from across the fearful 20th century, adapted to the circumstances of today," that the author hopes will help Americans "learn from [Europeans'] experience" and so not "yield to fascism, Nazism or communism." Building on some of Mary's thoughts, Rob Vischer posted here about the role and responsibilities of "Catholic universities in the Trump Era."
It's not news that that I did not support the candidacy of Donald Trump and I think I've been clear-eyed about what I take to be the facts that he is unsuited for, unprepared for, and unworthy of the Presidency. Many of the proposals he endorsed, proposed, or flirted with are immoral and/or foolish; they should be opposed and I hope they will be rejected.
As I see it, the "normalization of the objectification of other human beings by those in power" -- which Mary strongly and correctly reminds us must be resisted -- and also what Mary rightly calls "harmful efforts to silence debate on important issues" were underway before the election and during the Obama administration, and were supported by Mrs. Clinton and many of her supporters. There's a case to be made, in fact, that support for this "normalization" and "objectification", and a commitment to silencing debate on certain questions, have become non-negotiable, bedrock positions -- positions more important than, say, constraining the use of military force through law, responding to material and social poverty, or protecting the human rights of vulnerable populations in other lands -- for the base and funders of her party. The demonization and "othering" by Trump and some of his supporters of, say, immigrants or Muslims is wrong and inexcusable, but so was and is the no-small-amount of "othering" in the smug dismissals by activists and comedian-commentators of religious conservatives and Rust Belt-dwelling so-called "downscale voters." This is not a "tu quoque" or equivalence point; it is intended only as a suggestion that 2017 might not so much be bringing new challenges for Catholic citizens as re-presenting ongoing challenges in different forms.
In addition, in my view, much of the advice shared by Snyder (e.g., "Be Kind to Our Language", "Defend an Institution", etc.) has been appropriate for the last eight years -- a time in which celebrity culture, the academy, and the press were strikingly complacent regarding undemocratic and overreaching exercises of executive and administrative power -- and would have been valuable and important had Mrs. Clinton been elected. (His identification of the Southern Poverty Law Center -- which regularly identifies mainstream religious beliefs and traditional moral positions as "hateful" and "bigoted" -- as a "good cause" to which we should donate seems like bad advice, regardless of the election's outcome.) I tend to think that -- notwithstanding the enthusiasm for Trump among the repulsive "alt-right" -- it is unhelpful and inaccurate to equate the election of Trump with (quoting Snyder) 20th century Europeans' "yield[ing] to fascism, Nazism or communism," but, in any event, "making eye contact" and "believing in truth" seem like valuable suggestions at any time.
Rob asked about the role of Catholic universities in "the Trump era." I think it remains to be seen whether we have entered an "era" of Trump or have instead been confronted, temporarily, with the result of some deeply flawed campaign tactics, in a few counties in a few states, by a deeply flawed candidate. In any event, my sense, like Rob's is that "the potential good of collaboration outweighs the danger of normalization unless and until President Trump acts to implement some of the more noxious policy proposals that he floated on the campaign trail." Not having supported Trump, I intend to have no reservations about criticizing him and his proposals when it is called for (and I'm sure it will be). However, I expect that (for example) his appointees to the federal bench and to important positions in the Departments of Education, HHS, and Justice will be (by my lights and for issues like education reform, religious freedom, and abortion) better than Mrs. Clinton's would have been and I don't think his (to put it mildly) many flaws and failings require me (or anyone else) to reject whatever benefits can be had from his having won.
Finally: I think that Mary is exactly right that, too often, those who "raise questions about those in power . . . have been met with ridicule and attacks" and that "[s]uch attacks are designed to silence." St. Stephen the Martyr, pray for us.