More from Conscience of a Conservative

A few notable excerpts from Conscience of a Conservative.

We are only as good as our information, and if we lose our sense of objective truth, we lose everything. We must protect and preserve our healthy public sphere--that civic space in which we vigorously debate and negotiate, agree and disagree--or else.

***

Giving away one's agency and becoming captive to such outlandish and vile alternative facts would be bad enough were one an average person, quietly living his or her life. But giving away one's agency to such a confusion of fact and fantasy when one has power--well, that is truly dangerous.  And it is something else, too: highly influential.  Bad information propagated by powerful people spreads like a contagion, infecting vulnerable people in its path.

I really appreciated the concept of giving away one's agency related to dishonesty.

From a very young age in ranch country, you also get to know immigrants intimately and honestly.  You learn through experience how indispensable they are to making things work in America. It seems that once every generation or so, we have these spasms of immigrant resentment and scapegoating, if not outright hatred. We are at our worst when we give in to these impulses and resort to a device that can be emotionally satisfying, perhaps, and politically expedient but very self-destructive--the impulse to look for somebody else to blame for our problems.  If only these people weren't here, we would be much better off. The nativist impulse is always destructive, always comes with a cost, and never ends well.

***

Seemingly overnight, we became defined not by the limitless aspirations of a free people but by our grievances and resentments and our lowest common denominators. . . .  The quick answer: We did it because it was cheap and easy and the real world is hard and defending a principled position to voters is harder still.

***

Far from conservative, the president's comportment was rather a study in the importance of conflict in reality television--that once you introduce conflict, you cannot de-escalate conflict.  You must continually escalate.  

Reading this comment during the weekend of white supremacist violence and the President's sociopathic, racist response to it made me even more frightened for the future.

What is best for the country is for neither base to fully get what it wants but rather for the factions that make up our parties to be compelled to talk until we find policy solutions to our problems.

As I said in my review earlier this week, a worthy book. 


An Open World

A very important and serious essay in which Philip Zelikow reflects on the current global situation and how America should promote its values.  "Strategically, we could ask: Where can we do the most to tilt the balance toward an open and civilized world? What states or regions or issues are pivotal? Where can U.S. actions have catalytic impact?"


On Trump Now

I watched yesterday's press conference in horrified disgust. This morning these are my thoughts: We always knew he was an insecure, pathetic, little man. We knew for years he was vile and disgusting. We have come over the last few months to realize he is mentally unstable. Yesterday we realized he is a sociopath.


More in response to this week's evil

Here is our United Church of Christ minister for Justice and Witness, Traci Blackmon, who was present in Charlottesville, calling out the lies yesterday of President Trump.

Here a Civil War historian writes refutes the President's lies about there existing two legitimate sides as she explains why one side was moral and the other wasn't.  How sad that we must have this conversation, is what I'm thinking.

Here David Brook once again criticizes the President and advocates for the intellectual virtue of modesty.  The column reminded me of Amy Kittelstrom's Religion of Democracy.


Robbed of Our Peace

One of my Yale Writer's Conference friends, Jane Alessandrini Ward wrote this good words last night:

Daily we are robbed of our peace and our ability to function as people who have families to care for and neighbors to care for and communities to care for. Instead we fear for our gay children, our black children, our Jewish children, all of our children who are learning no good lessons from this spectacle. All because of this pile of disgusting thoughts and vile impulses.


McLaren in Charlottesville

Theologian Brian McLaren was present in Charlottesville on Saturday and he has written his observation, reflections, and thoughts going forward, including the urgent practical work we must do.

Here is an excerpt:

We Christians, in particular, need to face the degree to which white Christianity has failed – grievously, tragically, unarguably failed – to teach its white adherents to love their non-white neighbors as themselves. Congregations of all denominations need to make this an urgent priority – to acknowledge the degree to which white American Christianity has been a chaplaincy to white supremacy for centuries, and in that way, has betrayed the gospel.


Conscience of a Conservative

Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to PrincipleConscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Jeff Flake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A worthy book.

I do not share Senator Flake's political worldview (even when I called myself a conservative, I wasn't his brand exactly) but it is a recognizable, legitimate, and rational American political position with which one can dialogue and compromise.

But the bulk of this book is not Flake expounding a version of conservatism, it is his conservative critique of the current state of American politics, particularly his criticism of the Republican party selling its soul to Donald Trump. And his criticisms are scathing.

Since the election I have believed it important to work with folks across the spectrum who identify our current moment as one of crisis. I believe now is a time for finding common ground for the common good.

The one glaring absence in Flake's book is any serious discussion of race and the role it has played in our current crisis.

The book has caused me to reflect upon my Republicanism of the 1990's and how as a Gen Xer I held out hope for a modernizing of the party that would advance environmental protection and LGBT rights. I left the party when it became clear that the Fundamentalists and NeoCons had gained control.

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A new Utopianism?

An interesting essay on why utopias have failed and yet why they might be necessary.  Can we craft a new utopianism?

There are reasons, however, to think that a fully modern society cannot do without a utopian consciousness. To be modern is to be oriented toward the future. It is to be open to change even radical change, when called for. With its willingness to ride roughshod over all established certainties and ways of life, classical utopianism was too grandiose, too rationalist and ultimately too cold. We need the ability to look beyond the present. But we also need More’s insistence on playfulness. Once utopias are embodied in ideologies, they become dangerous and even deadly. So why not think of them as thought experiments? They point us in a certain direction. They may even provide some kind of purpose to our strivings as citizens and political beings.


Chomsky on Philosophy's responsibility in the Age of Trump

Of course, ridicule is not enough. It’s necessary to address the concerns and beliefs of those who are taken in by the fraud, or who don’t recognize the nature and significance of the issues for other reasons. If by philosophy we mean reasoned and thoughtful analysis, then it can address the moment, though not by confronting the “alternative facts” but by analyzing and clarifying what is at stake, whatever the issue is. Beyond that, what is needed is action: urgent and dedicated, in the many ways that are open to us.

Read more of Professor Chomsky's discussion.

I needed this just now:

G.Y.: There are times when the sheer magnitude of human suffering feels unbearable. As someone who speaks to so much suffering in the world, how do you bear witness to this and yet maintain the strength to go on?

N.C.: Witnessing it is enough to provide the motivation to go on. And nothing is more inspiring to see how poor and suffering people, living under conditions incomparably worse than we endure, continue quietly and unpretentiously with courageous and committed struggle for justice and dignity.


Robert Jeffress's Bad Theology

So how can we bring a halt to this march toward war? The answer lies in theology and ethics as much as it does in politics and strategy. Secular and religious people alike must be aware that moral arguments — whether or not they involve religious tropes — are not just political sideshows but rather can determine the outcomes of the most important policy decisions of this or any time.

There is such a thing as incorrect theological and moral thinking, and the best way to neutralize it is with an intellectually and morally superior argument on the same terrain. Only good theology can debunk bad theology. We must all engage in this work as if the future of this republic and its place in the peaceful order of the world depend on it — because they do.

This essay in the NYTimes criticizes the bad theology of Robert Jeffress who is trying to give religious cover to the President in his vitriolic threats of nuclear war.