Kissing Mammon’s ring in Christ’s Name

“Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart. I can only tell you what I’ve heard. First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ.

“Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can’t say that I do.

“But there are many Christian leaders who are serving on a faith advisory committee for Trump in the future. I am among them. There are about 45 of us that includes Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Ben Carson, James Robison, Jerry Johnson, and many others whom you would probably know.  

“We’ve all agreed to serve. How will that play out if Trump becomes president? I don’t know. It is a good start, I would think.  

“If anything, this man is a baby Christian who doesn’t have a clue about how believers think, talk and act. All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. Hillary scares me to death.

“And, if Christians stay home because he isn’t a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years. The very thought of that haunts my nights and days. One thing is sure: we need to be in prayer for our nation at this time of crisis.”

Dr. James Dobson, following up on his claim that Donald Trump recently accepted Christ.

Dr. Dobson is full of something, and it ain’t the Holy Spirit. Read this sentence again: “All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. Hillary scares me to death.” End sentence. This is your brain on the Religious Right. I can understand an evangelical Christian with conservative political views not wanting Secretary Clinton to be president. I can even understand urging other Christians to pray for Donald Trump’s soul. (He clearly needs the help.) But Dobson has an entirely different idea of what constitutes “this time of crisis” than the morally conscious people of this nation if he’s willing to become a Drumpfkin in response to it. Personally, what haunts my nights and days is the thought of our churches, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship being staffed with leaders and preachers who think that Donald Trump is a morally superior presidential alternative to Hillary Clinton. Trump may lose the election, but those people will still be in their pulpits after November.


The moral clarity of empty sky

It is not surprising that religion provides rhetorical urgency to reactionary causes, but what causes of any kind has it not at times imbued with moral purpose? Most people are religious. The talk appeals. What would surprise is a world where the absence of faith produced an absence of bad politics or bigotry. Only a narrow imagination supposes that the depravity of men will not find other cudgels; that an empty sky will make good policy visible to all.

–Emmet Rensin, “American atheists are on the rise. They have radically different visions of the future.

Every man is not a proper champion for truth

I have no genius to disputes in religion: and have often thought it wisdom to decline them, especially upon a disadvantage, or when the cause of truth might suffer in the weakness of my patronage: where we desire to be informed, ’tis good to contest with men above ourselves; but to confirm and establish our opinions, ’tis best to argue with judgments below our own, that the frequent spoils and victories over their reasons may settle in our selves an esteem, and confirmed opinion of our own. Every man is not a proper champion for truth, nor fit to take up the gauntlet in the cause of verity; many, from the ignorance of these maxims, and an inconsiderate zeal unto truth, have too rashly charged the troops of error and remain as trophies unto the enemies of truth. A man may be in as just possession of truth as of a city, and yet be forced to surrender; ‘tis therefore far better to enjoy her with peace than to hazard her on a battle.

—-Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (1645)

(h/t Alan Jacobs)

Speak their names.

If you follow the news at all, you’ve probably heard of the terror attack that claimed the lives of 49 people this last weekend. You probably have opinions on what the political response to it should be. Maybe not. That’s fine.

Before you begin making your opinions known to any and all who will listen, do one thing, please. Click here. That link takes you to a list issued by the city of Orlando of the victims’ names and ages. Next, take a deep breath. Then start reading their names aloud.

With every name you speak aloud, you are giving of yourself something that has been taken from the fallen. Every breath we take brings us closer to death. Speaking their names lends the dead one breath more than they possessed in life. It is the giving of your own breath, your time—your life—so that they might, however briefly, however metaphorically, live again.

If you intend to advocate social change in the name of the dead, honor them first with a tithing of your life. Honor them regardless. Unless you are one of the loved ones left behind by their loss, it is likely that these names will not live on in your memory, even if the sense of injustice does.

As I age and witness more of human history unfold before me, I find it easier and easier to withdraw into abstraction. Doing so shields me from grief and fuels my outrage. Outrage has its use. It burns hot, but it does burn out. The sense of injustice remains, shorn of the sense of loss.

Loss is not an abstraction, and positive, lasting change must be built for living, breathing people, not founded on the dead weight of past injustice. Take a deep breath. Speak their names. Then—then—set to work.

Metabolizing Lovecraft’s racism

Whereas I think what’s important about Lovecraft, and this is now an absolute standard after the work of people like Houellebecq and so on, is that there is nothing epiphenomenal about racism in Lovecraft. As Houellebecq says, it is race hatred that raises in him the poetic trance. And I think that’s exactly right. Which means that all those things that one’s talking about—all that kind of deep time, all that kind of deep novum, all that ecstatic collapse of the subject position—is predicated on master-race ideology, race hatred. So, in other words, the antihumanism one finds so bracing in him is an antihumanism predicated on murderous race hatred. And this is why you don’t get to escape it by saying “well, we’re not really talking about humans.”

I don’t think the racism can be divorced from the writing at all, nor should it be. What one can try to do in the case of Lovecraft—and in the case of many other writers, the case of Conrad, the case of Céline, and plenty of other writers of toxic opinions—is to try to metabolize it and understand and even appreciate the power of the text. You can only do so by unflinchingly taking on the extent to which that power is predicated on something which is brutal and oppressive. I don’t even want to call it a pathology of modernity, because actually modernity is constructed on these things. This work is spun from utterly toxic aspects of modernity and therefore it may illuminate them in certain powerful ways, and maybe give you a sense of the kind of imbrication of these kinds of toxic ideologies with the nature of everyday life.

One of the things I find powerful in Lovecraft is the way he can never forget this. And it seems to me to be the best way to get on with the fact that one finds Lovecraft’s texts very powerful is to unflinchingly and unblinkingly take on the extent to which what you are receiving is race hatred in poetic form. And you have to not just diagnose but excoriatingly attack that hatred, while acknowledging that it has some kind of diagnostic use-value and ecstatic power as a piece of cultural bumph. I’m alway comparing it with Heart of Darkness because somebody I admire once talked about Heart of Darkness as a great piece of work despite Conrad’s racism. I was thinking that the difficulty is that it is an amazing piece of work because of it. And I think that the shift from the despite to the because is a key thing in thinking about this.

This is a very problematic area. I don’t just mean that we have to “acknowledge” that he was racist. Acknowledgement is absolutely not enough, and I think that there can be a sense in which we “acknowledge” that he had regrettable opinions and therefore we’re inoculated and then, that done, we get to kind of geekishly enthuse about how cool these monsters are. No, that’s not okay. And particularly because of lot of modern aspects of geek culture are saturated in certain of these aesthetics.

My own feeling is that if you take stock of your own cultural sphere and cultural production and at a certain point, if a critical mass of them are saturated with fascist aesthetics, then something is going on. I think this sometimes about the number of theorists—many of whom are also Lovecraft fans—who are really into black metal, for example—and this is an easy one for me because black metal is not my thing—but there can be a kind of “Obviously I’m not agreeing with the Norwegian Nazi black metal bands, but the music does a certain thing I will now discuss.” But you know what: if your favorite books and your favorite music and many of your favorite films and this and this are all saturated with fascist aesthetics, maybe something is gong on here.

Maybe we need to reintroduce a kind of not merely diagnosis, but judgment. Maybe one has to turn around and be able to say that this is avery powerful piece of work, but it is not okay. I don’t know, but I’m open to this.

Certainly, in the immediate future what I would say is that the kind of unflinching metabolization of Lovecraft in terms of his attitudes toward race and so on can only be done on the basis that one does not explain it away; one does not simply “acknowledge” it and think it done. One has to see it as much more constitutive of his oeuvre than that.

—China Miéville, “Afterword: Interview with China Miéville” by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, from The Age of Lovecraft (2016) ed. Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, pp. 241-242

The greatest of three evils

Take your pick?

Agellius writes in response to my previous post on the Republican Party’s embrace of racism:

I don’t think it follows that anyone who is a Republican, or even who votes for Trump, endorses racism. I think the majority consider this election a choice between two evils. Personally I live in California, so my vote won’t count (i.e. it’s a foregone conclusion that Clinton will win California). Consequently I can vote for neither Trump nor Clinton with a clear conscience, that is, without feeling like I failed to do my part to defeat either evil. But those who vote for Trump, or endorse him, may be doing so not as an endorsement of racism but as a vote against what they perceive to be the greater evils likely to result from a Clinton presidency.

I appreciate your comment. Even if you’re not making it for yourself, you outline a common argument, and it merits an in-depth response.

Not every single registered or self-identified Republican is necessarily a racist. We agree on this. A number of pundits and office-holders have made it very clear that they do not support Trump. The party, though, as embodied by its leadership, its media proxies, and a majority of its base, has either voted for or endorsed voting for someone who, by all appearances, will govern according to racist sentiment. That is, de facto, an endorsement of racism.

Given his aversion to specificity on most policy issues throughout the primary process, Trump persistently redirected attention to his own attitude and rhetorical style. To put it more bluntly: Trump’s core appeal is his bigoted bullying. Classify a vote for Clinton however you like. A vote for Trump, whatever else it may be, is quintessentially a vote for a bigoted bully.

And as you say, many will justify to themselves voting for a racist because they perceive the racist to be the “lesser of two evils.” There are only two morally tenable options available to Republicans who cannot bring themselves to vote for Clinton, though. Those options are: voting third party (either by write-in or throwing in with an alternative national party like the Greens, Libertarians, Socialists, etc.) or abstaining from the presidential vote and focusing on downticket races.

To vote Trump in November is to consign anything resembling a moral conscience to the dustbin of partisanship. To vote any other way is to withhold support from a candidate who has based his appeal primarily on xenophobia (“They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”), religious bigotry (calling for a ban on non-native Muslims entering the country), misogyny (“blood coming out of her wherever”), criminality (promising to kill the families of terrorists), and racism (as previously stated). These are not bugs, but features, of his campaign.

Put another way, it lies within every Republican’s power not to be a racist. To make that choice, though, would entail great political risk. The common Republican voter would have to make peace with the fact that voting against Trump would likely mean a victory for Clinton. And party officials could work with delegates to rewrite the convention rules to deny Trump the nomination. This would be undemocratic. It would also demonstrate that they have the moral backbone to tell a plurality of their base that it was wrong to vote for a racist bully. While the party would certainly be roundly criticized for being undemocratic, Republicans would also be able to claim, in the future, a semblance of moral credibility.

What kind of precedent does it set for one’s political morality if a vote for a bigoted bully can be justified on the basis that his opponent is somehow worse? What will voters be persuaded to tolerate in the next election cycle for the sake of defeating someone who’s the “greater evil”? If Donald Trump’s candidacy is not beyond the pale, what is? If David Duke vowed to appoint pro-life supreme court justices, or perhaps to address illegal immigration more stridently, would that be sufficient to earn him a vote? What if he simply offered to “moderate” his rhetoric? Would that do it?  If Alex Jones were to promise to slash income taxes and deregulate environmental protection, would that be enough to overlook the (ahem) quirkier aspects of his political philosophy? Given that Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, these are not, as they might have been a year ago, silly or idle questions. I seriously want to know: what does it take to get Republican voters and the party leadership to drum someone out of the party? Does a candidate literally, as Trump himself offered as a crass hypothetical, have to shoot someone? (Or would that just be a bonus for those who vote based on candidates’ expressed interpretations of the Second Amendment?)

A lot of my friends and family are self-identified Republicans. I don’t classify them all as racist by virtue of them being Republican, even now. They have my love no matter what, and they currently have the benefit of the doubt that they are not, by their party affiliation, bigots. If they tell me they’re voting for Trump, they will correct my misperception of their moral priorities, and I will simply reclassify them as bigots—or as people who are okay with bigotry being enacted at the highest levels of government, which feels like a mere semantic distinction to me.

I loathe and reject the premise that an election is a binary choice between the lesser of two evils. It’s little different from the premise that states, “I’m not voting for this guy, I’m voting against the other guy.” The latter is precisely the argument put forth by Ryan: that the presidential election is not about Trump, but about defeating Clinton.[1] Ryan’s wrong. Everyone who has ever argued that “we live in a two-party system” (and you know who they are) is wrong. We don’t live in a two-party system. We live in a constitutional republic. Elections are not about choosing between two evils. Elections have never actually been about that. They’re about the freedom to use the franchise to enact one’s political will as an expression of one’s conscience.

Frame the premise positively (“two party system”) or negatively (“lesser of two evils”). It doesn’t matter. The net result is that if enough people buy into this premise, then one party, driven by the zero-sum game of snapping up every available vote lest the other party get it, will find it expedient to make itself hospitable to certain prejudices. Part of cultivating a “base” is catering to a variety of worldviews, some of which may be extreme. To ensure the base’s support, then, means appealing to those worldviews in some way, whether by affirming certain beliefs or by warning that those beliefs are threatened with cultural erosion. (Short version: fearmongering.) Sure, there’s a positive message out there (“Our guy is better than theirs!”), but anybody could make that argument, especially those pesky “third parties” that show up every once in a while to “spoil” elections.[2]

The “lesser of two evils” premise is not only false and pernicious, but it often blinds us to what else is going on. The fact of the matter, as is abundantly clear now, is that the political machine stoking the Republican base — that is, a majority of the conservative punditry — has somehow cultivated racism, xenophobia, and other kinds of bigoted prejudice as part of its political coalition of interests. Whether it did so intentionally is up for debate.

If the Republicans do not excise the naked bigotry in their ranks now — now that such bigotry has been so thoroughly exposed, and even after one of its racist aspect has been explicitly identified by their own Speaker of the House — then they are effectively owning that bigotry as one of the pillars that upholds their entire edifice. That’s their prerogative, of course. Just as it is the prerogative of every other citizen to identify it for what it is, denounce it, and make them pay a political price for it. That’s how communities committed to democratic principles work, for better or worse. Voters who exercise the franchise have a responsibility to their political institutions and to each other. While it is legal to exercise the franchise in an irresponsible way, it is also immoral.

Just because many Republicans may be too ignorant to consider what a vote for Trump does to the nature of their party and the future of our constitutional republic does not absolve them of that responsibility. And especially for voters who are perfectly aware that they have other choices, and that they are, in fact, morally duty-bound to make those choices — I don’t know what more to say. If they vote for Trump with eyes wide open, bigotry and all, they are actively rending the fabric of the republic and propelling a known bully to the head of the most powerful institution on earth. To justify doing so by saying that they’re voting for the lesser of two evils is beyond cynical. It’s the greatest of three evils.


[1] Actually, Ryan’s argument is more specifically about the legislative agenda that he believes Republicans can enact if a Republican president is elected. In terms of realpolitik, eh, sure. The way he reframes the argument is more like this: “Don’t vote for Donald Trump — vote for a Republican Congress against Hillary Clinton’s presidency.” There are a number of logical flaws in this framework, but I’ll focus on a principle rather than a logical flaw. The executive and legislative branches (along with the judicial) are part of a system of checks and balances against one person or party running the table on the exercise of political power. That’s a theory, anyway.
Ryan’s argument is premised on the notion that Republicans should continue to support Trump in order that Republicans can do whatever the hell they want for at least 2017-19, with no practical Democrat opposition. (That argument is entirely in keeping with the authoritarianism that some say Trump is playing upon.) Ryan’s argument is not unique to Republicans. Both parties tell their bases that the government requires uniformity of party in both legislative and executive branches in order to function properly. And that logic only fuels the feedback loop of polarization.
Voting for a presidential candidate on that candidate’s merits—and not on the felicity the candidate’s party would enjoy as a result of his election—ensures that the person judged by the electorate to be most qualified for a job should be the person to hold that office. Partisans have, of course, worked persistently to hijack this process. Which is all the more reason to reject such arguments when they’re put forth. One may believe that Paul Ryan’s legislative agenda would greatly benefit the United States. A president, however, is not a legislator. He or she is an executive. The presidency is not meant to be a mere rubber stamp for an undivided Congress.
Let me also add this. Donald Trump has repeatedly defied and bullied the Republicans every time anyone tried to stand up to him on the basis of common decency or ideological principle. Ryan denounced the man’s “textbook” racism, and then he proceeded to insist on supporting this bigot for president of the United States. What exactly does anyone think would happen if Trump were to abuse the executive authority of the presidency? Would a Republican Senate impeach him? Does anyone think that Trump would not use every resource at his disposal to circumvent Congressional oversight? George W. Bush and Barack Obama got away with torture and assassination of American citizens, respectively, and neither of their parties reined them in. What do you think Donald J. Trump will try to get away with? Paul Ryan’s entire premise is that checks and balances are a hindrance to the accomplishment of the Republican agenda. If that’s the argument he’s making now, in the context of Trump’s “textbook” racism, imagine how Congressional Republicans will respond to Trump’s executive actions.
[2] Even the term, “spoil,” implies that the inviolable integrity of the election cycle is somehow damaged by the intrusion of a foreign, harmful object that has no business being there. The fact that both Republicans and Democrats, if they agree on nothing else, tend to agree that third parties “spoil” elections ought to tell you everything you need to know about the two major parties’ Faustian arrangement. One can imagine a pair of seven-year-olds screaming at the somewhat gawky, bespectacled girl who lives next door, “GOD! WHY DO YOU RUIN EVERYTHING?” and storming out of the playhouse when she has merely committed the cardinal sin of asking if she could play, too.

Never been violent to anyone

What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock. He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015. Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.

—-Dan A. Turner, father of Brock Turner, convicted sex offender

The night of January 17th changed my life and the lives of everyone involved forever. I can never go back to being the person I was before that day. I am no longer a swimmer, a student, a resident of California, or the product of the work that I put in to accomplish the goals that I set out in the first nineteen years of my life. Not only have I altered my life, but I’ve also changed [redacted] and her family’s life. I am the sole proprietor of what happened on the night that these people’s lives were changed forever. I would give anything to change what happened that night. I can never forgive myself for imposing trauma and pain on [redacted]. It debilitates me to think that my actions have caused her emotional and physical stress that is completely unwarranted and unfair. The thought of this is in my head every second of every day since this event has occurred. These ideas never leave my mind. During the day, I shake uncontrollably from the amount I torment myself by thinking about what has happened. I wish I had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night, let alone interact with [redacted].

I’ve been a goal oriented person since my start as a swimmer. I want to take what I can from who I was before this situation happened and use it to the best of my abilities moving forward. I know I can show people who were like me the dangers of assuming what college life can be like without thinking about the consequences one would potentially have to make if one were to make the same decisions that I made. I want to show that people’s lives can be destroyed by drinking and making poor decisions while doing so. One needs to recognize the influence that peer pressure and the attitude of having to fit in can have on someone. One decision has the potential to change your entire life. I know I can impact and change people’s attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student. I want to demolish the assumption that drinking and partying are what make up a college lifestyle I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone. But I never ever meant to intentionally hurt [redacted]. My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back.

Brock Turner, convicted sex offender

The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing. The thin piece of fabric, the only thing between my vagina and anything else, was missing and everything inside me was silenced. I still don’t have words for that feeling. In order to keep breathing, I thought maybe the policemen used scissors to cut them off for evidence.

Then, I felt pine needles scratching the back of my neck and started pulling them out my hair. I thought maybe, the pine needles had fallen from a tree onto my head. My brain was talking my gut into not collapsing. Because my gut was saying, help me, help me.

I shuffled from room to room with a blanket wrapped around me, pine needles trailing behind me, I left a little pile in every room I sat in. I was asked to sign papers that said “Rape Victim” and I thought something has really happened. My clothes were confiscated and I stood naked while the nurses held a ruler to various abrasions on my body and photographed them. The three of us worked to comb the pine needles out of my hair, six hands to fill one paper bag. To calm me down, they said it’s just the flora and fauna, flora and fauna. I had multiple swabs inserted into my vagina and anus, needles for shots, pills, had a Nikon pointed right into my spread legs. I had long, pointed beaks inside me and had my vagina smeared with cold, blue paint to check for abrasions.

After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.

On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately. But for now, I should go home and get back to my normal life. Imagine stepping back into the world with only that information. They gave me huge hugs and I walked out of the hospital into the parking lot wearing the new sweatshirt and sweatpants they provided me, as they had only allowed me to keep my necklace and shoes.

You said, you are in the process of establishing a program for high school and college students in which you speak about your experience to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.”

Campus drinking culture. That’s what we’re speaking out against? You think that’s what I’ve spent the past year fighting for? Not awareness about campus sexual assault, or rape, or learning to recognize consent. Campus drinking culture. Down with Jack Daniels. Down with Skyy Vodka. If you want talk to people about drinking go to an AA meeting. You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less.

Drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that. Goes along with that, like a side effect, like fries on the side of your order. Where does promiscuity even come into play? I don’t see headlines that read, Brock Turner, Guilty of drinking too much and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that. Campus Sexual Assault. There’s your first powerpoint slide. Rest assured, if you fail to fix the topic of your talk, I will follow you to every school you go to and give a follow up presentation.”

—-from the statement the unnamed women read during the sentencing hearing to her assaulter, Brock Turner, convicted sex offender

The tainted history we have

Although you’ve written that the English department “actively contributes to the erasure of history,” what it really does is accurately reflect the tainted history we have—one in which straight white cis-men dominated art-making for centuries—rather than the woke history we want and fantasize about. There are few (arguably no) female poets writing in Chaucer’s time who rival Chaucer in wit, transgressiveness, texture, or psychological insight. The lack of equal opportunity was a tremendous injustice stemming from oppressive social norms, but we can’t reverse it by willing brilliant female wordsmiths into the past.

—Katy Waldman, The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway

Neither discipline nor zeal enough

Were Trump to gain entry to the White House, it’s impossible to say whether he would or could follow Reagan’s example and function within the political norms of Washington. His burlesque efforts to appear “presidential” are intended to make that case: His constant promise to practice “the art of the deal” echoes Reagan’s campaign boast of having forged compromises with California’s Democratic legislature while governor. More likely a Trump presidency would be the train wreck largely predicted, an amalgam of the blunderbuss shoot-from-the-hip recklessness of George W. Bush and the randy corruption of Warren Harding, both of whom were easily manipulated by their own top brass. The love child of Hitler and Mussolini Trump is not. He lacks the discipline and zeal to be a successful fascist.

—Frank Rich, What The Donald Shares with The Ronald