What An Incredibly Stupid Week

I’ve said I hope to refrain from discussing current events on this blog, or at least reacting to every news story other than to talk about larger constitutional and philosophical principles surrounding them. One of the reasons is my complete frustration with the state of the media and how things are reported, and what stories are reported. This past week served as confirmation of at that approach. Let’s recap the week that was, where things just dumber each day.

First, there was this Gillette toxic masculinity ad, which I think became viral late Sunday or last Monday. This is one of those moments where the reaction to it, and then the reaction to the reaction were more the story. Count me among those who just gently shrugged his shoulders at it. I can see what Gillette is trying to say, though why a razor company feels obligated to spread the message is beyond my poor ability to comprehend. Perhaps the reaction to it would have been more muted had it not come on the heels of the idiotic APA guidelines on “toxic masculinity.” I have only daughters, but I’m more afraid of them coming home with any of these guys than that I’m going to confront some toxically masculine son-in-law.

And then it got dumber from there.

President Trump then had the temerity to buy fast food and serve it in the White House to the National Champion Clemson Tiger football program. He said the government shutdown meant his cook staff couldn’t prepare a meal, so he bought a whole bunch of Burger King, McDonalds, and Wendy’s. I think the most overwrought reaction to this were those who claimed this proved that the president was a racist – because I guess only non-whites eat fast food and no member of the Clemson team is white. Amazingly this dominated the next two days of the news cycle, because we just needed to hear every possible analysis of just how wrong it was for the president to serve fast food to probably the only set of humans who can afford to eat fast food calorie-wise – athletes.

This was only displaced in the news cycle when BuzzFeed published a story by Jason Leopold claiming he had seen evidence proving President Trump had directed Michael Cohen to lie about the Russia investigation. Most sensible people waited for confirmation of the story, while others put on their impeachment party hates and started counting the days to his big Senate trial. But the story never was confirmed, and Robert Mueller’s office responded, saying “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.” This may seem like a non-denial denial, but I have to question why the Special Counsel’s office would have responded if the report were completely true. I don’t think this completely forgoes the possibility that Trump will wind up in legal hot water, but at this point BuzzFeed’s credibility should, again, be called into question. Still no other outlet has come forth to corroborate this story, and it seems more likely than not that this a nothingburger.

But that was all just the warmup for the stupidest, most despicable event of the week. Fortunately for me I was at a family event on Saturday, and thus could only briefly scroll through Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, I only saw some mentions of the altercation that had taken place near the Lincoln Memorial for the March for Life. So when I finally had an opportunity to sit down and watch the videotape, much more evidence had emerged. Some things became immediately obvious to me. First, there were no chants of “build the wall.” It’s possible some voice shouted that at some point, but it’s not clear who or even if that’s what was said.

Second, the original story of some high school kids getting in the face of a lone Native American protester were manifestly untrue. The longer videos clearly show it was the black Israelite* organization who were hurling all sorts of racist, homophobic, and other slurs at the boys, not the other way around. Then Nathan Phillips entered the fray, and things did not de-escalate, though that was his stated purpose for walking up to the group.

*: Just to be clear, that’s what they call themselves. I once saw them in New York, and as I called them by that name in response to a friend who asked me who they were, some woman chided me for using a supposed slur. 

I’m not going to recount everything that happened. By now I’m sure anyone reading this has already seen the videos or is familiar with what took place. Robby Soave has one of the most detailed and accurate assessments.

As I said, I fortunately came to this story a day late, so didn’t have the opportunity to opine about matters before more details became available. Others, however, were quick to condemn the kids, especially Nicholas Sandmann, who emerged as the Emmanuel Goldstein of the weekend. I’ve never heard of a Nazi smirk, but he has one according to the bright lights of the internet.

The treatment of Mr. Sandmann is particularly galling when you consider that he acted more responsibly than any other human being in this affair. There’s even a point, caught on video, where he clearly signals to one his classmates to knock it off when said classmate began getting into it with one of the other protesters. Rather than representing the smirking face of hate, Sandmann was a young man who showed great resolve and fortitude in the face of – let’s call it what it is, hatred.

There are numerous takeaways from this event. Perhaps none are as important as this: maybe wait a moment before posting your social media hot take. It’s true that waiting for “all the evidence” to come in may entail literally waiting forever, but it couldn’t hurt to wait for more than one initial viral video.

But at least some who initially attacked the boys repented and apologized when moire evidence started coming in. Others, however, just dug in their heels. Either they’re lying about seeing the longer videos, or else these people are so blinded by their ideological hatreds that they refuse to see truth when it is literally in front of them.

There are many to blame in this fiasco, and few who come off well. Let’s start off with who deserves the least amount of blame or hate: the aforementioned Nicholas Sandmann. As for the bulk of his classmates, I’m starting to take the position that they, too, largely acted well. Did some of them act foolishly and respond poorly to some of the antagonism? Perhaps, but how should a 16 or 17-year old respond when a bunch of nutjob racists are yelling at you, or some other weird dude begins playing a drum in your face? As for the MAGA hats, this is the only semi-legitimate criticism, but only insofar as wearing any partisan political regalia should be frowned upon at the March for Life because we want to try to keep partisanship out of the event as much as possible. But the idea that the hats themselves are inherently bad or equivalent to a Klan hood, as was repeated throughout the Twitterverse, is obscenely stupid.

Next up, we have the chaperones. I have not heard a satisfactory answer to where they were during this. Could any of them have stepped up to protect the boys, or did some try only to be shouted down? This is one part of the story I’d like to investigate further before passing judgment.

Nathan Phillips, meanwhile, at best exaggerated his role in this or just blatantly lied, intimating that he went in there to play peacemaker, when it is clear he was dead set on stirring up the agitation. Of course, the black Israelites are the worst direct actors in this story. They are an insane group of angry bigots, and anyone attempting to defend them in any way should be shunned.

Then there’s the media. Oh, suddenly they had something to report on during the March for Life. Let’s ignore those anti-Semites marching in Washington the very next day, we’ve got some southern, Catholic, white boys to demonize. It took most major media outlets a full two days before some of them started to say, “Hey, maaaaaaaybe we kinda sorta got this one completely wrong.”

But I reserve my greatest ire for both the school and for the archdiocese of Covington, with special mention for the archdiocese of Baltimore. These venerable institutions wasted no time in throwing these students under the bus. What’s more, when the situation began clearing up and the real news began trickling in, they failed to retract their earlier groveling statements. Only very recently did the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Covington walk back a little bit, but only through mealy-mouthed statements saying that they were “investigating” the incident. What’s there to investigate? It’s the same mealy-mouthed shit being spewed by Fr. Jim Martin, who refuses to fully apologize for throwing stones at these boys, and instead chooses to offer passive-voiced, conditional-laden non-apology apologies.

Amy Welborn has more to say about Jim Martin and that other noted guardian of charitable speech, Mark Shea. Donald McClarey, meanwhile, has noted the cowardice of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and his failure to retract his earlier condemnatory comments.

For those who are not fans of harsh language, I advise you to skip this next paragraph.

Hey, assholes, you know how you buried your heads in the fucking sand while your colleagues were out there diddling boys and seminarians, and how you continue to evade all sense of responsibility? Yeah, you might want to think twice before you trash faithful Catholic boys and men before all evidence comes in. But I guess you don’t much care about evidence, because you obviously didn’t give two shits while seminarians were telling you what was happening inside the walls of your seminaries. So the next time you mail your pleas for your archdiocesan appeals, just know the envelopes and the papers inside are going to be used for their only useful purpose: toilet paper.

Ahem. So that’s where we are. The only confident prediction I will offer from all this: we will learn absolutely nothing from this.

On the Death of Liberalism

Last week I finally had the opportunity to read Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, a book that had been on my “to read” list for several months now.

Understand that Deneen’s critique includes classical liberalism – the liberalism of our Framers and which has influenced many on the right today.

I’m not going to write a critique of the book. National Review has published several reviews of and rebuttals to the book, and Jonah Goldberg wrote a comprehensive G-File on the subject (and was also on a panel with Deneen a couple of weeks back debating the topic). I agree with most of the critical takes on Deneen, and would add only a few sparing thoughts.

The book is a bit disappointing, frankly. I expected to disagree with much of Deneen’s argument, but expected, based on the hype, a more thorough and systematic argument than Deneen presented. Deneen’s treatment of the subject was shockingly shallow. He seemed content to make sweeping generalizations about the thinkers he cited, as though he assumed that those generalizations were self-evidently true. For instance he writes of the “utopianism” of the liberal enlightenment tradition. He makes no distinction between French and Scottish/British enlightenment writers. But has anyone who has seriously studied the works of, say, David Hume, ever considered him a utopian?

Furthermore, Deneen makes the same mistake other critics of the Framers make: assuming theirs is a sort of value-less liberalism unconcerned with virtue. Thomas West’s Theory of the American Founding is a good rebuttal to this theory (not to Deneen directly), as is the David French review I linked above.

As I said, though, this is not a critique of the book per se. Rather, I’d like to focus on a couple of aspects of the book that fascinate me. First of all, Deneen’s critique of liberalism, root and branch, is a common one in both left-wing and right-wing Catholic circles. Anthony Annett, who used to blog under the handle Morning’s Minion, routinely disparaged the pernicious influence of liberal thought (or what he perceived liberal thought to be) on modern Catholic political thinking. R.R. Reno indirectly attacked the liberal tradition in his (really wide of the mark) critique of Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West.

Michael Brendan Dougherty also notices this trend:

Why have we come to this point? Some Catholic political thinkers — Patrick Deneen comes to mind — have energetically argued that this is the inevitable outcome of liberalism itself. That political liberalism makes false promises, holding out the possibility of liberty and pluralism but ultimately demanding conformism. Predictably enough, a subset of younger Catholics are re-evaluating the work of their co-religionist elders who made various terms of peace with liberalism, men such as Michael Novak and George Weigel. Like the English thinkers G. K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc, the younger, more-radical thinkers turn to Catholic social teaching or to the popes for guidance on political and economic matters. Some, calling themselves integralists, say that it’s past time to give up arguing for our claims under the guise of natural law. Instead, we should make our claims unabashedly for the social kingship of Christ.

MBD urges that instead of liberalism being at fault, these Catholics need to take a closer look inside the Church.

Catholics operate a massive portion of the U.S. health-care industry, a significant part of the nation’s university system, and a vital part of its charitable foundations. But Catholic citizens have socially conformed themselves to the American norms set by Protestant faiths. Catholic birth and divorce rates have, respectively, moved toward Protestant norms. In their catechisms, many Protestant denominations have accepted abortion and homosexuality as moral goods. And many prominent Catholic personalities — even those with imprimaturs of Catholic bishops — are urging Catholics to do likewise. This phenomenon practically invites the public authority to test the commitment of Catholics to their distinct set of doctrines.

And here then is another modest suggestion. The more urgent need for the Church’s liberty in the United States may not demand an attempt to transcend 500 years of a mistaken political philosophy. Instead it may be a matter of looking at a decades-long problem of disaffection and apostasy. The Church also suffers from a massive scandal of immorality and criminality among its prelates. These crimes, so long unaddressed by higher authorities in the Church, manifestly call into question not just the Church’s commitment to its doctrines but its fitness to lead so many civic institutions and to control so many resources. Are America’s Catholic bishops conducting themselves “as worthy members of the community?” And if not, can we expect their religious liberty to remain sacrosanct?

If the Church recovered its vigor and its authority internally, then the neighbors with whom it lives peaceably, and among whom we do so many good works, would be less inclined to test our commitments, or our patience. The social Kingship of Christ may proceed to impose duties upon all nations, but it begins with the words: Physician, heal thyself.

I think MBD is largely correct, but I would also emphasize the almost strawman-like mischaracterization of what classical liberalism is as being a detriment to serious Catholic engagement with the philosophy. As long as Catholic writers of both the left and right treat this sort of liberalism as a kind of hedonistic, amoral philosophy unconcerned with civic virtue, then I don’t think we can have a meaningful conversation about topic.

I’m also intrigued by Deneen’s argument that individualism can lead to statism/authoritatrianism, because I think he has a much stronger case here (although he never quite develops it as much as he could have). I’ve posited that Jeffersonian style individualism naturally progresses to statism. Though Jefferson had an appreciation for civic virtue, his basic philosophy eschewed many of the traditional components of society, including the concept of abiding by perpetual constitutions. When Jefferson’s radical conception of perpetual revolution is married to his extreme libertarian ethos, it’s no surprise when a rootless society emerges in which individuals are left isolated, dependent primarily on the government as a source of moral guidance.

The problem, again, is that Deneen takes his axe and swings it wildly against all forms of classical liberalism. He takes no notice of the significant differences in the liberalism of Jefferson on one hand, and Madison and Hamilton on the other. This inability to distinguish between the fine contours of different strands of liberalism mars what could have otherwise been a valuable contribution to political dialogue. Alas.

Wuerl’s Resignation Accepted

That sound you heard this morning were millions of Roman Catholics saying “about time.”

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl on Friday, while asking the cardinal to continue leading the Archdiocese of Washington on an interim basis until a permanent successor is appointed.

In a letter to Wuerl obtained by CNA Oct. 12, Pope Francis told the cardinal: “Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church.”

The good news is that Cardinal Wuerl is moving on. The bad news: Pope Francis selects his replacement. As documented by Michael Brendan Dougherty, we shouldn’t feel confident that the pope will choose wisely. I am not sure if the article is available to non-NRO subscribers, so here’s a snippet:

There is a type of churchman that Francis seems to favor: the morally compromised and the doctrinally suspect. The archbishop of Bruges, Jozef De Kesel, was known to promote the ordination of women and the making voluntary of priestly celibacy, and was credibly accused of knowingly appointing a pastor who had molested a child. Francis made him a cardinal. There was the archbishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, who ignored calls to investigate a pedophile priest for years. The victim was told to go see a therapist instead. Arborelius is sympathetic to the idea of creating a female version of the College of Cardinals. Francis made him a cardinal, and Arborelius speculated that his elevation was a way for the pope to honor Sweden’s commitment to refugees. There’s also Giovanni Becciu, who was working for the pope’s secretary of state. When the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers began uncovering financial fraud in the Church, Becciu suspended its audit. The auditor general from PwC later said he was forced out on trumped-up accusations; Becciu accused that accountant of being a spy. Francis then made Becciu a cardinal. Another cleric, Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, is set to stand trial in France for his role in covering up a child-sex-abuse scandal in Lyon. Francis made him the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which adjudicates abuse cases.

Or consider Monsignor Battista Ricca, reportedly Francis’s “eyes and ears at the Vatican Bank.” Ricca was widely known for engaging in affairs with men at different posts during his clerical career. He was attacked in an area of Montevideo known for cruising, and he had to be rescued from an elevator in which he was trapped with a rent boy. (It was a question about Ricca that Francis made the occasion of his headline-grabbing statement “Who am I to judge?”) And finally there is the man known as the “vice pope,” Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, the one being charged by seminarians in Honduras with allowing a culture of predation to flourish. Rodríguez Maradiaga first became famous across the Catholic world for saying that the Church scandals in Boston in 2002 were the invention of Jewish-controlled media who were avenging themselves on the Catholic Church for “confirm[ing] the necessity of the creation of a Palestinian state.”

The pontiff has a vision for transforming the Church, and he has appointed men who share that vision, even if it means appointing men who are morally compromised and sticking by them. Indeed, Pope Francis’s comments in accepting Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation reveal how tone deaf the pontiff remains:

“This request rests on two pillars that have marked and continue to mark your ministry: to seek in all things the greater glory of God and to procure the good of the people entrusted to your care,” Pope Francis wrote.

In the Oct. 12 letter accepting Wuerl’s resignation, Francis defended the cardinal from the widespread criticism he has faced in recent months.

“You have sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes.”

“However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.”

“Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church,” he added.

Cardinal Wuerl may not have chosen to justify his actions, but if you read between the lines, Francis is happy to do it for him. Perhaps it’s too much to expect Pope Francis to not be so laudatory in his remarks, but I’d certainly have been happier with a slightly less “attaboy!” tone.

There is some truth in the defense of Wuerl, such as it is, that his inaction in Pittsburgh was far less damning than what occurred elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and the prosecutors in the state decided to focus their ire on a more high profile target. But that doesn’t get Wuerl off the hook, and it certainly does not justify his turning a blind eye towards his predecessor’s actions.

What has happened in the Archdiocese is especially tragic when one considers that Cardinal Hickey was one of the few American prelates to take early decisive action and implement procedures to safeguard children. Because of Cardinal Hickey’s actions, the Washington DC Archdiocese was relatively (though of course not wholly) untouched by the clerical abuse scandal. Unfortunately his work was undone by his two successors.

Wuerl’s departure may mend some wounds. Forgive my pessimism in not having high expectations for his successor.