• Interesting interview with Kurt Anderson about his new book, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire. Religion Dispatches gives the piece a provocative headline: “How America’s Charismatic Christianity Helped Fuel the Fantasyland Presidency of Donald Trump.”
I’m reminded again of Wendell Berry’s distinction between religious faith and superstition. Faith, he says, is belief in things which cannot be proved. Superstition is belief in things that have been disproved. Religious belief, in other words, involves things that may or may not be true, while superstition involves belief in things that are demonstrably false. It’s the latter form of belief that Anderson describes as “Fantasyland”:
I think that they [Trump-supporting white evangelicals] have some things in common beyond resentment of the elites and some of these other traits that are not necessarily connected to belief in the untrue — a lack of respect and all that. But Trump has shown a unique willingness to embrace claims that are demonstrably untrue — that Barack Obama wasn’t born here and a conspiracy covered that up; that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination; that five million illegal immigrants voted against him in the 2016 election; and on and on and on. The fact that he is so indifferent to empirical reality and so willing to stand up and embrace explanations that simply confirm his pre-existing ideas or are convenient for him because they make him seem better or his enemies worse — it’s somewhat unkind, I understand, to say that he shares that tendency with religious people, but I think that is shared.
Related: “¡Abajo la inteligencia!”
• “And then, together, they all went to check Michelle Vo out of her hotel room.” Haunting, indelibly sad reporting from Las Vegas.
• The owner of an Arkansas coffee shop fired one of her employees after she agreed to allow him to use the space while the shop was closed “for a political meeting of a conservative group” he belonged to.
That “conservative group” turned out to be a gathering of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis. The owner says that means the employee deceived her because “He led me to believe this was a little Republican powwow he was putting together.” The problem today, in the Year of Our Trump 2017, is that this was also true.
It was like a koan. Or like Russell’s Paradox.
Actual conversation during the clean-up:
ME: … so the question is who cuts the barber’s hair?
MY BOSS: Just shut up and hold the dustpan.
• Nobody likes Not-Garland. Who’d have guessed that someone eager to advance himself through a corrupt bargain might be less than impressive morally, personally, and intellectually?
In other Supreme Court news, it turns out the morally, legally and logically indefensible Shelby County decision gutting the Voting Rights Act was also based on Chief Justice Roberts’ failure to get basic facts correct. All of the “pro-life” justices concurred on Shelby County, because this is what “pro-life” means at the level of the Supreme Court: Preventing black citizens from voting.
• “The History of School Lunches.” We used to feed schoolchildren because of the war effort, or to fight the commies, or even — sporadically — because it was simply the right thing to do. The rationale often changed, but what’s changing now is that we’re increasingly stingy about feeding those kids at all.
• The title for this post comes from Leon Russell’s oddball hit “Tightrope.” YouTube offers a handful of live renditions of this, but they’re mostly either shaky and incomplete (or rushed and mumbled), so I’ll stick with this radio version. One fun thing about all those various videos is that no matter what Russell is playing — from a grand piano to all sorts of electronic keyboards — he always manages to make this song sound like he’s plinking it out on the water-damaged upright in some church basement.