How to blunt creeping reactionaries, theocrats? Dump Trump.

How to blunt creeping reactionaries, theocrats? Dump Trump. January 24, 2020

Sometimes, we can overthink things.

Truth be told, I fall prey to that myself from time to time.

donald trump politics culture religion church-state separation
Satirical cartoon of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and President Donald Trump “in bed” together. A top Facebook executive is a major Trump donor, and the company seeks to avoid government regulation of tech industries like it. (Beverly, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

But I really think we (I?) ought to try to sharply limit the practice, which inevitably leads to dark, tangled thickets of imagining where I find practical solutions to real-life problems rarely reside.

After all, solving problems, not just thinking endlessly about them, should be the goal, the driver of these activities.

Of course, you might argue that the “Atom Bomb” and polio vaccine are examples of enormous thinking that had life-changing (or -ending) practical consequences, but each was goal-oriented in the extreme, not navel gazing. The opposite of self-absorbed, random intellectualizing.

That’s what I’m promoting here: thinking with an applicable end-game rather than largely for its own sake.

Case in point: a very dense if elegantly written article I recently read by a blogger named Peter Hammond Schwartz in Public Square, an outback political realm of the Patheos blog hub (I blog on Patheos, too, in the Nonreligious venue.).

In his piece, Schwartz presented some very interesting ideas about how America woke up to its current political nightmare, which he characterizes as “the cognitive and existential dread the Donald Trump phenomenon has unleashed.”

In reaction to this disturbing phenomenon, Schwartz co-launched The Creation Project, which, though he describes it with far more and better words, is his plan to deeply reconsider the whole of history to conjure a remedy to Mr. Trump’s societal toxicity.

It’s a goal-oriented effort, to be sure, but the astronomical amount of thinking that will be required almost inevitably will result in no solutions forthcoming anytime soon.

But I do appreciate his well-phrasaed framing of the issues surrounding the national Trump infection and his theories about how we sadly got to this place.

He characterizes our current national situation as “a period marked by the unprecedented unraveling of the geological and biological premises of our existence” (climate change, dropping birth rates?), where “normal political talking points, policy wonkery, and electoral shenanigans are not sufficient tools for the job.”

So far so good.

But then he goes a bit off the rails by proposing: “To understand this cultural and political inversion, and to grasp the sources of our emotional dislocation, we must travel deep into Western thought and engage a broad sweep of Western history.”

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have nearly enough time or cognitive reach for such a project. In the rest of my life, I mean.

But, still, there’s some interesting stuff in Schwartz’s post, not least his sense of how this all came down.

“Following the 2016 presidential election, I wrote a series of essays that probed the rising influence of an intellectually sophisticated and aggressively conservative Catholic cohort in American politics, with a range that extended from court jester Antonin Scalia to political arsonist Steve Bannon to philosopher-muse Robby George,” he wrote in the post. “The premise of many of these essays was that our historical moment’s revanchist political conservatism – in the United States and in Europe – derives directly and without equivocation from Catholic-influenced conceptions of natural law.

Focus on two specific terms in that passage: “revanchist” and “natural law.” The first refers to people with a compulsion to retrieve lost glory, and the second pertains to the idea that human law derives from “divine law.” Both are worrisome.

These concepts are embodied most specifically in U.S. Attorney General William Barr but also in a host of other devout Catholics who are top government officials, including the newest Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. Both Barr and Kavanaugh have written about natural law. They are Americans who believe we are a Christian nation but lean toward Catholic biases of morality and politics.

In a startlingly un-American speech last year at Notre Dame University, Barr contended that our nation was founded by and for Christians committed to “the Judeo-Christian moral system” under “natural law” and that secularist “moral relativism” is destroying present-day America.

Barr proclaimed that the nation’s Founding Fathers operated under “the guidance of Natural Law — a real, transcendent moral order which flows from God’s eternal law — the Divine wisdom by which the whole Creation is ordered. The eternal law is impressed upon, and reflected in, all created things … From the nature of things we can, through reason, experience, discern standards of right and wrong that exist independent of human will.”

If that doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you, you’re probably a Protestant evangelical or Barrian Catholic.

For one thing, “reason,” as proposed by Barr, is irrelevant if you’re accepting apparent fantasies as facts, which makes it a silly proposition from the get-go. Catholics have been fraudulently trying to co-opt reason for their supernatural doctrines at least since St. Augustine, if not before.

Like everyone else, Barr needs to provide evidence for divinity before he can even try to prove “divine law,” and to say it’s reasonable beforehand is, at best, illogical; at worst, magical.

Schwartz points out that the philosophical precepts of natural law, originating with Aristotle, are “politically neutral” and can be debated on their merits.

However, the religious spin on natural law ideas in the current political environment – the belief that Creator-centric Biblical revelation frames and determines content and the outcomes of these ‘laws of nature’ – is not politically neutral and is, in fact, intensely agenda-driven. To the degree that natural law cloaks and obscures this underlying Biblical agenda, its political and philosophical influence have in recent decades served profoundly counterproductive and destructive ends.”

This conclusion is inescapable if you consider the intensifying public religious proselytizing by top public officials in the last few years, from Barr, my own state’s evangelical governor (Kristy Noem), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who characterizes himself as a “Christian leader”), and many others in state and national positions of public trust.

So, I say to Schwartz, go ahead with your deep dive into the causes and potential remedies of the current Trumpian disaster befalling American life. But time’s a-wasting.

To me, it’s simple. The evidence is overwhelming that this man is lawless and amoral, and playing with the levers of power to his own personal glory and vengeance. Everyone is at risk, even his supporters, who seem blissfully unaware of the looming potential catastrophe.

The remedy is clear: remove him from office, by impeachment conviction or at the ballot box.

The sooner the better.

We can think deeply later about how to avoid in the future the dangers of narcissistic demagogues like our current dear leader.


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