Trump’s Election and the Rupture of Reason

It appears that all of us on Vox Nova have been on hiatus for the past month. This is in part due to the natural rhythms of the season – for those of us affiliated with universities, this is a hectic time. Speaking for myself, however, all I can say is that I have felt at a loss for words. One month ago today, half of the country was rejoicing, while the other half felt shocked, appalled, and aggrieved. If you’ve read my other blog posts, it probably won’t be hard for you to guess which side I was on. For the next three days I felt absolutely numb with grief. A wide array of acquaintances – from old friends in Canada to the Saudi Arabian students I’m currently teaching in Iowa – tried to console me with the same phrases I imagine some Vox Nova readers might offer: “Let’s wait and see what he does,” or “It won’t be that bad.”

But for me and many others, the lamentation and dismay at Trump’s victory is more than that of seeing our side’s candidate lose. Many of us liberals would not be feeling this distraught if Kasich, Bush, Rubio or even Carson had been the Republican nominee and gone on to win the election. For me, as for many others, a major problem with Trump is that he won on an agenda rampant with racism, demagoguery, and a desire to turn back the clock to a time most of us would not want to live in (the Gilded Age of the 1880’s, it seems)

As the month of November wore on, most of us got over our initial shock and moved through the stages of grief to some form of acceptance. “What do we do now?” and “Where do we go from here?” are the questions we’re asking as we take stock of the situation. Many of us have faced the reality that we were complacent; somehow, we thought voting and posting comments on our social media echo chambers were all we needed to do. We were flagrantly out of touch with our Trump-voting fellow Americans. And now, we are struggling to discern what to do – whether to get involved in the environmental battles that are sure to come in the next few years, or to work in solidarity with undocumented migants, or to become more engaged in politics at the local level. For those of us who believe that climate change is real, that the loss of biodiversity is a tragedy, and that no human being can deem another one “illegal,” the coming years will be tough to say the least.

My fellow Vox Nova contributor David Cruz Uribe (who has been swamped with work and promises to return to VN very soon) recently shared on Facebook a very astute analysis of the times we are living in. In “Welcome to the Age of Anger,”  Pankaj Mishra places the starting events of 2016 – Trump’s victory, Brexit, the rise of right-wing radicalism in Europe, the growing hostility toward immigrants and refugees, and ongoing problems of war and global terrorism – in a three hundred year context. It is very interesting to me that Mishra, a writer from India, draws almost exclusively on European historical sources to make his argument – he cites Rousseau, de Tocqueville, Weber, Nietzsche, and Freud to make his arguments. But perhaps it makes sense that, due to colonialism, European thought has become a central component of most philosophical frameworks. The Enlightenment signaled a distinct move from a God-centered worldview to a man-centered one, a belief that humans are primarily rational beings who act with their own material self-interest in mind. “The dream of the late 18th century, to rebuild the world along secular and rational lines, was further elaborated in the 19th century by the utilitarian theorists of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people – and this notion of progress was embraced by socialists and capitalists alike,” Mishra explains.

According to Mishra, the educated elites of this world – the academics, the journalists, the New York Times subscribers – are shocked by what is happening because we expect human beings to act rationally. But this is simply an unrealistic expectation:

According to this worldview, the dominance of which is now nearly absolute, the human norm is Homo economicus, a calculating subject whose natural desires and instincts are shaped by their ultimate motivation: to pursue happiness and avoid pain. This simple view always neglected many factors ever-present in human lives: the fear, for instance, of losing honour, dignity and status, the distrust of change, the appeal of stability and familiarity. There was no place in it for more complex drives: vanity, fear of appearing vulnerable, the need to save face. Obsessed with material progress, the hyperrationalists ignored the lure of resentment for the left-behind, and the tenacious pleasures of victimhood […]One revolution after another since then has demonstrated that feelings and moods change the world by turning into potent political forces. Fear, anxiety and a sense of humiliation were the principal motive of Germany’s expansionist policy in the early 20th century – and it is impossible to understand the current upsurge of anti-western sentiment in China, Russia and India without acknowledging the role played by humiliation.Yet a mechanistic and materialist way of conceiving human actions has become entrenched, in part because economics has become the predominant means of understanding the world. A view that took shape in the 19th century – that there is “no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest” – has become orthodoxy once again in an intellectual climate that views the market as the ideal form of human interaction and venerates technological progress and the growth of GDP. All of this is part of the rigid contemporary belief that what counts is only what can be counted and that what cannot be counted – subjective emotions – therefore does not.

Reading these words, I cannot help but think of the moment when my mother, a devout Catholic and almost equally devout Fox News watcher, informed me that she was “in love” with Donald Trump. When I asked her why, she responded, “Because he speaks from his heart.” Of course I immediately wanted to respond “What heart?” But by now I have learned that I must pick my battles with my septuagenarian parents, and I knew that nothing would stop my mother from voting for Trump. Now, reading Mishra’s article, I am beginning to understand what she meant when she said that Trump “spoke from the heart.” Unlike the emotionally detached, policy-focused discussions Clinton offered during her campaign, Trump spoke plainly and with deep emotional appeals. His simple promises to “make America great again” through expert deal-making and a revived economy clearly appealed to many – not only to poor white Americans, but to middle class and wealthy ones, as well as a small but not negligible of African American and Latin@ citizens. Emotion fueled his campaign.

At least since the time of Plato, humanity seems to have had a problem finding the right balance between reason and emotion. In certain intellectual movements – the Enlightenment, the positivism of the late-nineteenth century, and technology-based neo-Enlightenment of our own time, when STEM subjects are seen as the most legitimate hallmarks of an education, when enrollment in university humanities departments as well as membership in the mainline Christian churches continues to fall – rationality is enshrined as the supreme power.

At the same time, throughout history another current has run alongside this worship of the rational. Medieval mysticism, certain strands of seventeenth century thought (metaphysical poets John Donne and George Herbert come to mind), the Blakean and Wordsworthian romanticisms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the critiques of industrial capitalism in works by such writers as Dickens and George Eliot, and the advent of modernism and postmodernism in the twentieth century all suggest that reason isn’t everything. Indeed, if Freud and the psychoanalysts are right, it is not even the main thing.

Mishra suggests that our model of homo economicus is missing something important: an attention to our emotions. Among these Mishra mentions many negative ones – envy, resentment, fear. But there is one emotion he fails to mention which, in my view, is just as strong: spiritual craving, a desire for transcendence that makes us yearn, like Augustine, for the divine: “My heart is restless until it rests in thee.” I am convinced that on some level all of us (even the most committed atheists) yearn for communion with that entity traditionally known as God. However, since the Enlightenment disenchanted our world and made atheism – or at least agnosticism – the default belief system among the European educated elites, this drive has been sublimated into other negative forms, like excessive national pride, or an addiction to mind-altering substances, or a desperate search for love…or else, as we saw in the first half of the twentieth century, blind faith in a strongman ruler. For me, one valid interpretation of this 2016 election is that it was motivated by a desire for transcendence in the form of a messianic savior – alas, one that only our consumer capitalist society could have produced.

Reflecting on this article, David Cruz Uribe commented, “The diagnosis is really quite good, but the solution–a revival of Freud, Nietzsche, and Weber—is weak. I would propose that Catholic Social Teaching, grounded in an understanding of the human person that captures the sublime, the rational and the base, is the way out. We had our chance in the 19th century and we blew it. We need to try again.”

When I asked him what he meant by us missing our chance in the nineteenth century, he responded that this time saw the development of unbridled capitalism.

This led to, among other things, the socialist movements in Europe, representing the needs of the new urban proletariat. The Church could have allied itself with them, and built up a credible intellectual alternative to free market liberalism that was grounded in and spoke to the people most affected. Instead, still beholden to a world-view that refused to accept the consequences of the French revolution, we allied ourselves with the Ancien Regime and with established powers […] By the time of Rerum Novarum, it was too little, too late. Leo XIII wanted to respond to the newly emerging world order, but rather than engaging with it, he resurrected Thomistic philosophy and theology, and neo-Scholasticism simply did not have the intellectual vitality to engage (rather than simply oppose) 19th century philosophical trends. I want to make clear that I do not see the Church as solely to blame—it takes two to tango, as it were. But there was a chance and we did not take it.

Could we really have another chance now? At times, as I glance around the church during Sunday Mass in search of others in my age group and find very few, as I struggle to get my students to turn off the smartphones and recognize the value of reading a writer like Shakespeare or Blake, as I struggle to free myself from the consumerist model of success, which I have absorbed as much as anyone else in this society – it is hard to determine what 21st century  Catholicism in its current state might bring to the table. But then, I remember that while for many people 2016 will be remembered only as a year of discord and global unrest, for Catholics it was the Year of Mercy. The official year may be over, but through Pope Francis’s preaching, writing, and the amazing World Youth Day Celebration I was so blessed to be a part of last summer, he has planted a seed needs to take root. Like so many others I am confused about which path to take through this scary reality that looms ahead. But at least I know where I must begin: mercy for Trump’s supporters as well as his opponents, and even greater mercy for those who stand to be affected by his policies. As we begin a new year, mercy is the mantra I’ll keep on repeating. In the words of my old friend Margaret Thatcher, “There is no alternative.” Except, of course, for anger, resentment and despair.

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  • dismasdolben

    I consider that the hiatus that Vox Nova has taken for one whole month, in failing to respond to this most serious and deadly threat to the whole tradition of Catholic social and economic justice teaching, to be indicative of the fecklessness and impotence of modern “liberal” thought in the West–AND among the ranks of the theologians and ecclesiastics of that Church.
    There praWERE practical things that could have been done, to stop the looming advent of what can only be considered the closest thing to the spirit of the “Antichrist” (a la Nietzsche, not the Book of Revelation) that threatens civilization and world peace. For instance, Hillary Clinton should have been implored to release her electors, so as actually to use the device that the American Founders put into the hands of responsible Republican voters, so that they might band together to choose a less catastrophic scenario than what looms over the horizon.
    Now it’s probably too late, and I advocate FLEEING America to those I love, including my Muslim students here, in my expatriate bolt-hole, whom I advise not to seek venues for their university educations in a country that I honestly believe will soon become as dangerous for them as Nazi Germany became to the Jews in the 1930s.

    • jeanninemariedymphna


      First and foremost, I apologize for taking a whole month to respond to the election. I cannot speak for the others, but have given my reasons. I am still getting used to the Internet age, when news travels instantly and communication is expected to be instant. I am still getting used to this, and honestly, my natural temperament is better suited to the slower pace of academic journals than the age of instant communication. November was a difficult month for me. I am doing my best.

      I certainly agree that there were practical things that could have been done. On the liberal side there was too much apathy, overconfidence and denial. I must admit that, until I actually saw the votes being counted, I could not believe what was happening. After the election the reaction of many was shock, disbelief, fear and despair.

      But gradually, fear gave way to hope. I realize I need to do more. I need to get back involved with the School of the Americas Watch movement. I need to use my language skills to support the undocumented (some of whom I met when taking students on a trip to a very strong Latinx-centred Catholic parish in Chicago). I need to be more frequent in calling and writing to representatives with my concerns

      In terms of what you say about fleeing the US, I understand your fear. This could be the last election in US history. I have a faith that this will not happen, as long as those of us who believe in democracy can pull ourselves together and act. However, I do not believe we can flee the US. Trump´s victory has repercussions around the whole world, not just this country. Your mention of Muslim students is interesting…This semester I have been working with 35 young people from Saudi Arabia, none of whom liked Trump. However, so far they are not alarmed by this election result – it seemed somewhat ironic that on November 9, they were the ones consoling me! Coming from a notoriously restrictive society ruled by a monarchy, they bring a different perspective to the table. I can understand why you would urge your own students to flee – maybe that is the smartest thing. But in the meantime, if history really is going to repeat itself in a grisly way, those of us in positions of privilege need to stay here and be strong for those who are in danger of being scapegoated.

  • johndavidbryant1

    Reblogged this on preachtruthyoumoron and commented:
    Politically thoughtful.

    • jeanninemariedymphna


  • Mark VA

    This reminds me of the time when I dozed off during the overture at the Opera, and upon waking, joined the plot in a rather confused state of mind – to wit:

    Act One:

    “Don Digby, having just escaped from the Evil Ruler’s Tower runs for the nearby pier, intending to take the first boat out of town. On his way, he is stopped by Il Commendatore, a secretive and powerful ruler of “Under the Town” realm: “I will cross your path, Don Digby: only rats abandon a ship in distress!”. A fierce duet (“Solo ratti!”) ensues, during which an evil dwarf, Marcos, quietly steals Il Commendatore’s magic sword, intending to sell it to the enigmatic twin rulers of “The River”, Alberich and Bernie-Zizek. Watching nearby, Donna Anna Dymphna, seeing the dwarf’s dastardly deed, alerts Il Commendatore and Don Digby (“Basta, zucconi!”), and the three pursue the dwarf;

    Act Two:

    The ever watchful, benevolent. and nearly omnipotent Regina Dicotomia, realizing that the power of the magic sword will turn Alberich and Bernie-Zizek to the dark side, intervenes by freezing the evil dwarf Marcos in his path (“Fottiti!”). The sword is happily retrieved, and the three friends return to the town. There, they find the people celebrating the announcement that the Evil Ruler’s daughter will be wed to the most worthy apprentice (“Oh Matrimonio!”). With the help of Regina Dicotomia, the three quickly come up with a plan to save the town from the Evil Ruler;

    Act Three:

    Don Digby, disguised as a handsome apprentice, joins the apprentice ball. He brings with him a bouquet of enchanted flowers, transmuted from the magic sword by the benevolent Regina Dicotomia. The Evil Ruler’s daughter, inspired by their fragrance, chooses Digby (“Il mio amore!”), and innocently hands the enchanted flowers to her father. Instantly taken by their smell, he forsakes his evil ways, and announces free elections from now on. All rejoice and dance the night away (“Felicita!”). Regina Dicotomia smiles upon all from above, and in the final act of benevolence, defrosts and deports Marcos from the happy town.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

      Thankfully, the few times I fell asleep at the opera, I slept until the applause at the end!

  • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

    Thank you for rescuing my words from the transitory realm of Facebook (where they are read today and thrown in the digital furnace tomorrow) and “immortalizing” them here at Vox Nova. I want to expand a little bit more on my long comment that is quoted above. I think there is a thesis here that bears deeper study.

    There are two reasons I say that Rerum Novarum, a text that I have the deepest respect for, written by a Pope I admire, nevertheless was too little too late. First, intellectually, it seems to be somewhat backwards looking. The document includes a powerful defense of private property, one which is an able bulwark against statist, authoritarian communism. However, in reading these passages, it seems to me that Pope Leo was thinking about property as it was realized in the past: small farms, an artisan’s workshop, perhaps a mill or factory of similar scale. But by 1891 the concept of “property” had expanded in ways far beyond what had occurred in the past: industrial organizations employing 10s of thousands of workers, with millions of dollars of capital resources, all owned by a single person or small group of investors. (When Carnegie sold his company to Morgan to form US Steel, his personal share was worth approximately 7 BILLION dollars in today’s money.) Indeed, an entire country was considered the property of a single individual: the Belgian Congo was the sole property of the Belgian king. To deal with this the Church needed to really explore the ideas underlying industrial capitalism–it could not simply stuff it into old categories. (In passing, though I have not read enough of him to judge him fairly, I have always felt that Chesterton was trying to do the same thing.)

    The second but related problem was that Pope Leo chose Thomsistic Scholasticism as the preferred intellectual foundation for the Catholic revival. The trouble with this is that this was again backwards looking. While Thomas was on the cutting edge of intellectual thought in the 13th century, and provided the intellectual foundation for Trent to respond to the Reformation, the world had moved on, and even in the Church Scholasticism had lost its intellectual vigor. In some abstract sense it might have the tools necessary to confront 19th century liberalism, but there was no-one to do the heavy lifting. Instead, it quickly degenerated into neo-Scholasticism and the theological manuals which could do nothing more than repeat a-historical verities.

    • Julia Smucker

      I think you’re being overly harsh on Pope Leo here, although I recall my own initial reaction to Rerum Novarum being somewhat more negative than it is now. I think I had to read the social encyclicals that followed from later popes to realize how groundbreaking RN had been.

      You write,

      “…it seems to me that Pope Leo was thinking about property as it was realized in the past: small farms, an artisan’s workshop, perhaps a mill or factory of similar scale. But by 1891 the concept of “property” had expanded in ways far beyond what had occurred in the past: industrial organizations employing 10s of thousands of workers, with millions of dollars of capital resources, all owned by a single person or small group of investors.”

      Well, yes. That’s exactly the situation he was addressing, which was why an encyclical on the condition of labor was needed in the first place. And yes, he was looking to the past, but that can be a good thing. Perhaps the rowboat metaphor, looking back in order to move forward (if we must use those terms at all), would be more helpful here than the “chronological snobbery” implied by the vaguely pejorative use of the phrase “backwards looking”. As my late mentor Ivan Kauffman (a historian) often pointed out, we cannot ignore the past.

      I might concede more easily your point on the effectiveness of the tools Leo used. His style, anyway, can seem needlessly dense. I’ve always assumed that would have been less the case in the 19th century, but it’s hard to know for sure. I suppose it would take some comparison with his contemporaries (speaking of using history!) to get a better sense of how accessible it would have been at the time.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

        Julia, I went back and started rereading Rerum Novarum and perhaps I am overstating myself on this encyclical. However, I think my overall thesis still has some merit, particularly if you look before him to the previous Popes such as Pius IX (with the Syllabus of Errors) or Gregory XVI and his opposition to all change (including gaslights and railroads) and you see that the Church was simply unwilling to engage with the (then) modern world. Now to be clear: to engage with is not the same thing as “accept uncritically”, but it is also very different from “unilaterally condemn and reject.”

        As for his style, I find Leo XIII neither more nor less impenetrable than most popes, and about par for serious theological or philosophical texts. He is certainly easier to read than either Hegel or Zizek. :-) My point is more about his choice of philosophical paradigm. At its height, Scholastics were versatile enough to have engaged (that word again!) with modern ideas: finding points of agreement and new ideas to embrace while also pointing out errors. My sense of the history of theology is that scholasticism was now more of an intellectual museum piece in the 19th century, with no practitioners able to turn it to the task at hand. Combine this with a Church that had been rejecting out of hand all the new ideas of the 19th century, and scholasticism simply became a shield to hide behind rather than a tool for confronting the world.

        • Julia Smucker

          It seems to me the point you’re making here actually points to the innovativeness of RN, in doing precisely what you say was lacking: turning scholasticism to “the task at hand” (or at least attempting to), and thoughtfully and critically engaging with the events, ideas and conditions of the time. The extent of its success is a debatable question, I suppose (though even there, its long-term effect of creating a precedent for the social encyclical is a pretty huge deal), but it certainly was more of a turn toward nuanced engagement as opposed to blanket condemnation.

          So I guess I’m confused about what you’re trying to argue by comparing Leo to his predecessors. If you’re judging by engagement with modernity, RN comes off looking pretty good compared to the Syllabus of Errors.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

          Julia, please go back to my original comment, where I was trying to say some nice things about Leo, but characterized RN as too little, too late. Yes, unlike his predecessors, he was trying to engage with modernity, but after a century of failing to do so the Church (not Leo!) was coming late, perhaps too late to the game. And as for too little: again, I think the choice of scholasticism was not a good one, for the reasons I outlined. It was the intellectual foundation of Trent, but it had grown too ossified to be a useful tool.

          Now I do agree with you that the precedent of a social encyclical was a very good and important one. But I still cannot shake the belief that the Church had a very good opportunity in the 19th century to engage with modernity in a way that would have been of value, and we missed the chance. I am hopeful that we have gotten back on the horse (again) and have another chance now.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

    Returning to the present, I want to try to address your final question: do we have another chance now? The answer is definitely yes! As a fellow Secular Franciscan once told me, our God is a God of second chances. I am still uncertain of the path, but I think Catholics are going to have to stand as a sign of contradiction. We must be pacifists, or at least embrace nonviolence (in both word and deed) as the preferred (though perhaps not exclusive) path. But we cannot be passive. Loving our enemies is going to be very hard. Being the good Samaritan and meeting the needs of “the other” is going to be harder. As I wrote recently to a Deacon friend who wanted feedback on a sermon he preached the weekend after the election, we need to move beyond what we can do personally to working on building up the common good. Tricky as this will involve politics. Politics are not bad: as Aristotle pointed out, humanity is a political animal. But we need to avoid partisanship. We can criticize one side or the other (and probably both) but we cannot allow ourselves to be captured by (or sell ourselves out to) the other side. I will keep thinking about this, and I hope this post will generate a lively discussion like in the old days.

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  • Julia Smucker

    As nit-picky as it may be, I want to clarify that the phrase “us liberals” does not speak for all of us at Vox Nova. This is important to me because it was at VN originally that I picked up the language of “left-liberalism” and “right-liberalism” (or sexual and economic liberalism respectively, as some have termed it) and of critiquing both as two sides of the same coin, or as our former colleague Mark Gordon once put it, “two dead ends in the same blind alley”.

    I have read, written and discussed a lot about what the above analysis is touching on from this deeply illiberal perspective, before and after the election. The broad implications here would take a whole separate post, if not several, to unpack, but if anyone wants a bit more of an explanation, here is one of the more influential articles on my election-season thoughts, and here is my attempt at a bigger-picture post-election analysis over at Christian Democracy (which I may want to expand on here at VN at some point, given the things I’ve been noticing since).

    Personally, as I’ve said before, I would have gladly voted for John Kasich had I been eligible to vote in the primaries as a registered independent. As it was, I was already distraught by the choices presented: one an autocrat who embodies both sexual and economic liberalism in their rawest and ugliest forms, the other a technocrat who represents as starkly as possible the face of a Democratic Party that has abandoned the poor.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

      Julia, far be it from me to call you a liberal! :-)

      Please expand on your thoughts here. There is much to discuss.

  • Agellius

    You speak of being “flagrantly out of touch with our Trump-voting fellow Americans”. But in the very next sentence, when you start talking about “struggling to discern what to do” now, one thing you don’t mention is getting in touch with your Trump-voting fellow Americans.

    You suggest that people voted for Trump out of feelings of fear and humiliation. I would say that’s about right.

    The point when he began to soar in the polls was when he started talking about immigration — deporting people who are here illegally and building the wall. This is what struck the big nerve. The liberal media noticed this, and assumed they could shout it down with their usual tidal wave of outrage and shame. But people are tired of being shamed for something which to them is obvious: That our country is ours, not other people’s. If you want to become one of us, fine, go through channels and do so. If we want to increase the number of people we allow in legally, fine, let’s do that through legal channels as well.

    But the apparent decision to refrain from enforcing the laws on the books gives people a feeling of helplessness, that the flood of immigrants is going to continue unabated no matter how we the people feel about it. This may or may not be an accurate assessment of the situation, but it’s how people feel. And it is cause for fear and humiliation; as you said, not only among whites but about 30% of Asians and Latinos and 8% of blacks.

    Americans have always felt that they have a stake in the country, a feeling of ownership, which people in authoritarian nations lack. This gives them a feeling of pride in their country, since their country is themselves and their families and neighbors. But if my voice means nothing in my own country, and if people who weren’t born here and have no legal right to be here seem to have as much of a political voice as I do, then I start to feel powerless and humiliated and, yes, afraid.

    Whatever you may think of this point of view, Trump supporters consider it a valid one, and it might behoove you to at least try to understand it.

    Of course there are other issues as well, and his supporters may agree on them to one degree or another, but I think immigration is the one that virtually all of them agree on. And not only here, but the populist movements in Europe as well. Immigrants are not the only ones holding a fondness for their own cultures and a desire to see them preserved and honored. Americans and Europeans like their own cultures and want them preserved as well.

    When the level of immigration reaches a certain point, the culture beings to be changed and diluted. If you don’t care about your native culture then this won’t bother you. And many conservatives think this is precisely how liberals feel about it: Far from having a love of their own culture, liberals are endlessly critical of American culture, and seem to want nothing more than to have it torn down and replaced; therefore diluting American culture is something they have no problem with. But a lot of conservatives have a big problem with it, and it has seemed for the past eight years and more that no one cared that their country and their culture were being pulled out from under them. Until Trump.

    This has no necessary connection with race. People understand that blacks and Latinos and Asians have long been a part of American culture. Very few would advocate deporting all minorities, or banning them from coming in — least of all would those minorities who voted for Trump! It’s about keeping immigration under control and at reasonable levels. We may differ on what a reasonable level is. But when immigration levels are uncontrolled, then reasonable levels are not even attempted and people feel helpless and frustrated.

    • brian martin

      Agellius – I agree with most of what you said. I think the most important part is the point where “he started talking about immigration”. I would suggest it wasn’t so much about immigration per se, it was about the fact that he was addressing people’s fears. The fears that honest hard working people have about crazy things happening in the world, and very normal fears about people who are different than them and have different beliefs. Suddenly here was someone who addressed these fears and didn’t care that he was immediately called a racist and a bigot….because they know what that is like. The liberal elite on the coasts tend to label everyone who voices any concern about immigration or crime levels in inner cities or changing definitions of marriage as ignorant bigots. Suddenly here is a candidate who is big enough, bad enough, etc. that he doesn’t give a shit that some liberal activist, some news commentator, some liberal politician is calling him names. What they saw was someone who talked about fears that regular people are routinely shamed and name called for having…and they voted for him, despite his very obvious flaws.
      What David said about working for the common good is essential. If anyone is familiar with Wendell Berry, I am a big fan of his ideas of being members of a community meaning that one has membership in that community, responsibilities to the other members of that community. Working for the common good involves not shaming people who fear difference, but engaging them, because the fact is…not all the fears are completely groundless

      • dismasdolben

        Exactly what “culture” are you talking about? If T.S. Eliot is right, in his great essay, “Christianity and Culture,” then America has no “culture.” It has, instead, an economic system which it substitutes for “culture.” That economic system is called “The Myth of Horatio Alger,” or “The American Dream,” and it only barely is able to assimilate the warring religious traditions out of which it has always futilely attempted to construct a “culture.” “Culture,” Eliot insists, is based primarily on a common religion, and the American religions do not like or agree with each other. This is a Catholic site, and Roman Catholicism does not hold with Puritans’ notions that the wealthy and financially “successful” are necessarily “godly,” or that there is such a thing as a “gospel of abundance.” Roman Catholicism does not agree that the world is so “fallen” that there is salvation “by faith alone”–a belief that can countenance a “Socially Darwinist” attitude toward the kind of theory of social and economic justice that is spelled out in the modern papal encyclicals. And Roman Catholicism DEMANDS that such people as Catholic Americans see their black, brown and yellow fellow humans as brothers and sisters who have CLAIMS upon us Catholics–“claims” that cannot and must not be met with eviction and exile. What a screed to have to read, during the season that attempts to remember with reverence the travails of a family forced into exile, and given succor only by the materially “unsuccessful” (read–by you–the “un-invested”) and the “foreign” (i.e.the religiously “alien”–the magi)!

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

      Agellius, you have said some things I agree with, particularly about listening to Trump supporters. However, I think your broader analysis is dubious in parts. Let me point to the one point that sticks out the most to me:

      “This has no necessary connection with race. People understand that blacks and Latinos and Asians have long been a part of American culture. ”

      No, they understand that blacks and Latinos and Asians have lived in America for a long time, but they do not see them as part of the culture, except insofar as they contribute things that mainstream America has adopted. Tacos and “drinko-de-Mayo” are fine, Mexican Americans who want to speak Spanish and maintain cultural ties to their homeland is not. That this is driven by racial animus was driven home to me by living in CT for nearly two decades. There are thousands of Irish immigrants living there, many either with dubious legal status or descended from people who came here illegally. Immigration enforcement against the Irish was always spotty—this may have something to do with a speaker of the House named Tip O’Neill, who before being speaker was still a very powerful NE politician. (A good friend of mine, Irish from the old sod, got his papers sorted out with one phone call to a cousin who worked on O’Neill’ staff.) And they clung very strongly to their culture: for years my son spent Sunday’s at the Irish club watching Gaelic football, and we ended up letting him skip school (along with a lot of other Irish-American kids) on St. Patty’s day to watch the all Ireland finals. But no one ever criticized the Irish for “diluting American culture” or for not being real Americans.

      But Mexicans are seen as outsiders, a poison in the body politic. This was an interesting phenomenon here in Alabama a few years ago, when the state government whipped itself into a frenzy over “illegals”, even though at the time the Mexican population was tiny (maybe 3% of the state population) and invisible: they kept to themselves, opened a few shops, and worked hard at their mostly shitty jobs. So there was a good chance that most people in Alabama had not met an actual Mexican, unless they hired a lawn service or worked in agriculture themselves. So what led to this fear of the Mexican “other”?

      • Agellius


        >> No, they understand that blacks and Latinos and Asians have lived in America for a long time, but they do not see them as part of the culture, except insofar as they contribute things that mainstream America has adopted.

        Well, maybe we’re both overgeneralizing. I don’t think my best friend of Mexican descent who voted for Trump sees Mexicans as outsiders. Nor does he see my Asian immigrant wife (who also voted for Trump) as an outsider, nor she him. Nor I either of them.

        (My wife, by the way, overstayed her visa illegally and was subject to deportation at the time I met and married her. But if you asked her whether she would have felt victimized or oppressed had she been deported, she would say, “Hell no! I knew I was violating the law. I deserved it.”)

        If Alabama natives see Mexican-Americans as outsiders, maybe that’s because there are so few of them there. They probably see New Yorkers and Californians (like me) as outsiders too. Nevertheless, when my wife and I visited Mississippi we were treated very courteously everywhere we went. My Mexican-American friend says the same about his visits to the South in the company of his white girlfriend. How are they treating you in Alabama?

        But this insider/outsider thing is not really the point. My point — still unrebutted — was that very few people are advocating that all non-whites be banned from immigrating, nor that all non-whites be deported. I contend that the main problem people have with immigration is that it feels uncontrolled, i.e. out of control, and that the people seem to have no say when it comes to immigration levels, and their elected officials seem to have no interest in getting it under control. Get it under control and people will have much less of a problem with it.

        But if we do want to make it about insiders and outsiders, then do you know who else have been feeling like outsiders? Conservatives. My Mexican-American friend has been feeling like an outsider for the past several years, not because of his brown skin (which never causes him any trouble, not even in the South) but because of his views on abortion and gay marriage. (Not to mention we traditionalist Catholics, who have been feeling like outsiders in the Church since Vatican II.)

        Everyone is an outsider relative to some groups and an insider relative to others. If I were to emigrate to a foreign country, the very last thing I would do is complain that I feel like an outsider, especially if I insisted on maintaining my native language and customs in that place. I would consider that a deliberate choice to remain an outsider. I’m not saying it would be good or bad, it would be a matter of preference. But if I made that choice, it would be ridiculous of me to expect the natives of that country to treat me as an insider — and all the more if I were there illegally. I assume that I would fit in with them to the extent that I made the effort to do so.

        With regard to the Irish, I understand that they were unwanted and despised as ignorant, unwashed papists at the time mass numbers of them immigrated here during the Potato Famine. []

        I lived for a time in the Southern California city of Glendale. Armenians have come to make up about a third of the population there, and are the largest ethnic group in the Glendale schools. Armenians are as white as anyone, and are Christian to boot, but the native population don’t necessarily think that their arrival in such large numbers has been a boon to quality of life in the city. It’s not that they’re bad people, they have simply changed the culture and vibe of the city. It doesn’t feel like home anymore, to people who were born and raised there. I contend that if the Armenians were Chinese or Mexicans instead, the result would be the same (as has happened in other Southern California cities).

        Again this isn’t good or bad per se. Some communities might be better off with a massive influx of hardworking, law-abiding immigrants. But that doesn’t mean the complaints of those whose who don’t like it have no merit.

        For that matter I have heard of minority residents complaining about the influx of white hipsters into the Downtown L.A. and Silver Lake areas. They didn’t bring those areas down; there was no increase of crime and gang violence as a result. But it certainly did change the culture and vibe of those places (not to mention increasing property values and therefore rents and property taxes), and I totally understand the complaints that people have about it.