The timelessness of Trump

Adam Gopnik begins this tremendous piece on Trump by re-telling Obama’s terrific takedown of him at the 2011 White House Correspondents Association Dinner.   But then he gets into the timelessness of Trump’s appeal (maybe a little too reductionist, but good stuff indeed):

Certainly, the notion that Trump’s rise, however long it lasts, is a product of a special skill, or circumstance, or a new national “mood,” is absurd. Trumpism is a permanent part of American life—in one form or another, with one voice or another blaring it out. At any moment in our modern history, some form of populist nationalism has always held some significant share—whether five or ten per cent – of the population. Among embittered white men, Trump’s “base,” it has often held a share much larger than that. Trump is not offering anything that was not offered before him, often in identical language and with a similarly incoherent political program, by Pat Buchanan or Ross Perot, by George Wallace or Barry Goldwater, or way back when by Father Coughlin or Huey Long. Populist nationalism is not an eruptive response to a new condition of 2015—it is a perennial ideological position, deeply rooted in the nature of modernity: a social class sees its perceived displacement as the result of a double conspiracy of outsiders and élitists. The outsiders are swamping us, and the insiders are mocking us—this ideology alters its local color as circumstances change, but the essential core is always there. They look down on us and they have no right to look down on us…  [emphases in original]

Nor is it at all surprising to find a billionaire businessman representing this ideology, because it is not really members of the economic élite who are its villains—it is the educated élite, and the uneducated outsiders, who are. It is, on the historical record, much more a response to the ceaseless anxieties of modern life than to any financial angst of the moment…

The cry of the genuine patriot is, Leave us alone to be the people we have always been. The populist nationalist cries, We have been cheated of our birthright, and the Leader will give it back…

The ideology is always available; it just changes its agents from time to time.
Of course, the good news is that none of those guys went on to become president nor does it seem at all likely that Trump will either.

What you probably don’t know about the Catholic Church and birth control

I think most people who were not around and paying too the Catholic Church in the 1960’s have no idea that it actually came quite close to allowing artificial contraception.  From their dedication to opposing the practice now, you’d pretty much never know upon what shaky ground the doctrine lies.  Excellent piece in the Post this weekend about the Church and contraception.  I think the history is quite important (among other things, having researched the issue way back in the day, I’ve never felt the least bit wrong in rejecting this particular Church teaching):

The Second Vatican Council had transformed Catholicism, and theologians were stressing the emotional, bonding aspects of marital sex along with the procreative. The emergence of the birth-control pill in 1960 led some theologians to argue that whatever general principles of sexual morality one might draw from human “nature,” they did not extend to specific judgments about particular methods and uses of birth control. The faithful seemed to agree — by 1965, 61 percent of U.S. Catholics thought the church would eventually allow contraception.

That was also the thinking of the high-powered Pontifical Commission for the Study of Population, Family and Births, established by Pope John XXIII in 1963 and renewed in 1964 by his successor Pope Paul VI. By late June 1966, an overwhelming majority of the commission — made up mostly of cardinals and bishops, along with theologians, scientists and lay people — concluded that the church should no longer condemn contraception as “intrinsically evil.” [emphasis mine]

Finally, in July 1968, Pope Paul VI rejected his commission’s recommendation. The world’s bishops fell in line but with noticeable hemming and hawing. A public protest, signed by more than 600 prominent Catholic scholars, argued that spouses could responsibly decide “according to their conscience” to use artificial birth control.

Ironically, a handful of conservative prelates and theologians had warned Pope Paul VI that accepting the commission’s recommendation would severely damage papal authority — which is exactly what happened when he rejected it.

Got that?  A commission of Bishops and Cardinals recommended that the Church change its teaching on contraception.  Okay, it didn’t.  And papal authority and all.  But under the circumstances one can’t help but conclude that this doctrine is on shaky ground.  Not to mention, (leaving aside the non-marital issue), it is patently obvious to pretty much any married person that sexual intimacy is good for a marriage (and the Church, in theory, wants good marriages) even when procreation is not the intent (how nice for a bunch of  unmarried celibate men to say that doesn’t matter).

The article points out the failure of the Church to do better on this issue of late:

ndeed, while Pope Francis has again and again called for a more responsive church, he has shown little interest in revisiting its teaching on contraception. Although he has derided the notion that being Catholic means reproducing “like rabbits,” he has praised Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical that reaffirmed the church’s birth-control prohibition. At last October’sExtraordinary Synod on the Family, bishops grabbed headlines by debating controversial topics such as admitting remarried Catholics to Communion and acknowledging the upsides of same-sex relationships. But the discussion of contraception was perfunctory. The bishops simply called on the church to do a better job of propagating “the message of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.” In other words, the widespread rejection of the birth-control ban is simply a messaging problem.

That’s not true. The church’s unwillingness to grapple with a deep and highly visible gap between official teaching and actual practice undermines Catholic vigor and unity at every level. It encourages Catholics to disregard all manner of other teachings, including those on marriage and abortion. If the church wants to restore its moral authority, it must address this gnawing question. [emphasis mine]

And, it contributes to other problems, too:

In short, the contraception issue has injected paralyzing doses of tension, suspicion, dissemblance and dysfunction throughout Catholic life.

So an American hierarchy that had long campaigned for the “right to health care” gets bogged down in political opposition to the Affordable Care Act, for fear that Catholic institutions would be forced to provide their employees with contraception coverage. Outstanding Catholic efforts to serve AIDS victims in Africa are discredited by a doctrinaire anti-condom stance in Rome. Advocacy for impoverished families in the Philippines and elsewhere is contradicted by political lobbying against workable birth-control programs.

I’m not optimistic about any change on this, but I would strenuously argue that the Catholic Church is damaging itself as an institution by sticking to this questionable doctrine and damaging human health.  The damage to the immortal souls of people who use contraception?  Not so much I think.

Photo of the day

So love this from the Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

A close encounter with a polar bear near Kaktovik in Alaska. Wildlife photographer David Yarrow says: 'I was confronted by the adult polar bear…I was told by the Inuit guide to just stay still.'

Wildlife photographer David Yarrow had a close encounter with a polar bear near Kaktovik in Alaska. He says: ‘I was confronted by the adult polar bear…and I was told by the Inuit guide to just stay still.’Picture: DAVID YARROW

The anti-politician appeal of Trump

One of the things that is so interesting about Trump is that he says thinks no normal politician would ever say.  Even the bomb-throwers like Cruz and Gingrich have their red lines they don’t cross and can be super-cautious when it comes to potentially insulting their supporters.  But not Trump.  I think people are so pleased to hear a politician speak his mind that they are willing to forgive him even if they disagree with what he says or find it offensive (e.g., the total lack of negative fall-out on his McCain comments; or some of the horrible things he says about women).

Here’s how the Economist put it:

Mr Trump’s secret sauce has two spices. First, he has a genius for self-promotion, unmoored from reality (“I play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole,” he once said). Second, he says things that no politician would, so people think he is not a politician. Sticklers for politeness might object when he calls someone a “fat pig” or suggests that a challenging female interviewer has “blood coming out of her wherever”. His supporters, however, think his boorishness is a sign of authenticity—of a leader who can channel the rage of those who feel betrayed by the elite or left behind by social change. It turns out that there are tens of millions of such people in America. [emphasis mine]

I’m sure that there’s many Trump supporters who actually dislike what he said about McCain or Megyn Kelly, but far more than they dislike that, they like a candidate who breaks all the cautious norms of political campaigns and says stuff like this.  (And of course, some people just have no trouble with others being offensive).

On a related note, I wanted to write a post about Trumps absurd comments about Carly Fiorina (“can you imagine that face as our next president?!”) along with Dan Drezner’s observation about Trump proudly claiming to being the same person he was in first grade.  Well, Drum wrote that post, so here you go:

Dan Drezner, an allegedly serious professor of international relations, insists that we attend to two Donald Trump nuggets today. Twitter makes this kind of thing far too easy. First is this one, from a Rolling Stone profile:

With his blue tie loosened and slung over his shoulder, Trump sits back to digest his meal and provide a running byplay to the news….His staffers at the conference table howl and hoot….When the anchor throws to Carly Fiorina for her reaction to Trump’s momentum, Trump’s expression sours in schoolboy disgust as the camera bores in on Fiorina. “Lookat that face!” he cries. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” The laughter grows halting and faint behind him. “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”

And now for the explanation, as told to Trump’s biographer:

When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same. The temperament is not that different.

You wouldn’t be surprised to hear a first-grader get all giggly over childish insults about his teacher, would you? That’s what first graders do. At age 69, that’s still what Trump does too.

Sadly, right now a good chunk of the Republican Party is backing a candidate that does not seem to have matured all that much after first grade.  The good news is that this is entertaining as hell and he’s still quite unlikely to win the nomination.

%d bloggers like this: