Richard Rohr: Listening and Learning

Human history is in a time of great flux, of great cultural and spiritual change. The psyche doesn’t know what to do with so much information. I am told that if you take all of the information that human beings had up until 1900 and call that one unit, that unit now doubles every ten years. No wonder there’s so much anxiety, confusion, and mistaking fact for fiction and fiction for fact!

In light of today’s information overload, people are looking for a few clear certitudes by which to define themselves. We see various forms of fundamentalism in many religious leaders when it serves their cultural or political worldview. We surely see it at the lowest levels of religion—Christianity as well as Judaism, Islam, and secular fundamentalism, too—where God is used to justify violence, hatred, prejudice, and whatever is “my” way of doing things.

The fundamentalist mind likes answers and explanations so much that it remains willfully ignorant about how history arrived at those explanations or how self-serving they usually are. Satisfying untruth is more pleasing to us than unsatisfying truth, and Big Truth is invariably unsatisfying—at least to the small self.

Great spirituality, on the other hand, seeks a creative balance between opposites. As Jesuit William Johnston writes, “Faith is that breakthrough into that deep realm of the soul which accepts paradox with humility.” [1] When you go to one side or the other too much, you find yourself either overly righteous or overly skeptical and cynical. There must be a healthy middle, as we try to hold both the necessary light and darkness.

Anthony Kennedy’s Imperial Legacy

In the American republic’s slow transformation into a judicial-executive dyarchy, with a vestigial legislature that lets the major controversies get settled by imperial presidents and jurists, Anthony Kennedy occupied a particularly important role.

He was appointed to the Supreme Court at a time when the Republican Party was officially interested in curbing judicial activism and restoring power to the elected branches of government. As the court’s swing vote, though, he instead consolidated the judiciary’s imperial role — taking the expansive powers claimed by judicial liberals in the Warren era and turning them to his own purposes, his own vision of the common good.

He did this without a particularly coherent constitutional theory

.. showing neither humility nor rigor in his ultimate decisions

.. overruling state and federal law more frequently than any justice to his right or left, pontificating in sweeping and self-righteous and faux-poetic prose

.. seeking to establish the court as the decisive and unifying authority for a sprawling and divided country.

.. Without being a completely consistent libertarian, he was a general champion of freedom

.. Kennedy was the modern court’s most “neoliberal” justice, embracing corporate freedom and sexual freedom as a kind of unity, attacking restraints on campaign spending and mandates to buy health insurance in the same spirit as restrictions on pornography or flag-burning or abortion.

.. I admired Scalia’s originalism precisely because it establishes plausible (if, of course, debatable) limits on judicial activism

.. Even when he was right on the merits of an issue, he was still too aggrandizing, too eager to impose his own judgment, too quick to short-circuit legislative debates.

.. what he delivered was, in some sense, what both the political class and the public increasingly desire from their government: not republican deliberation but quasi-monarchical action.

.. judicial activism increasingly fills the empty space created by legislative sclerosis and political cowardice

.. unwillingness of elected representatives to act on controversial issues.

.. tried to act as the “good emperor” that our decadent system and polarized country may require — by balancing his own liberal rulings on abortion and same-sex marriage, for instance, with subsequent decisions that allowed some space for pro-life activism and protected some religious liberties against the anti-clericalism of the left.

.. even if you accept that our country increasingly craves a kind of stabilizing central power, Kennedy’s freedom-first synthesis did not succeed in supplying it.

.. Instead, our age of opioids and suicide and sterility, and the heartland populists and Bronxian socialists that anomie has conjured up, strongly indicates that his neoliberal model needs correction — that the freedom of capital and genitals is not enough for human flourishing, that community and solidarity need to have their day, even if it comes at the expense of certain liberties and transcendentalist idylls.

.. John Roberts, Kennedy’s likely successor as our First Archon, is better suited than his predecessor to the imperial task. We know that Roberts is more temperamentally cautious than Kennedy

.. he’s both more friendly to religious conservatism (witness his Obergefell vote) and more willing to

let social-democratic policymaking stand (witness his vote to save Obamacare).

 

Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think

And a backlash against liberals — a backlash that most liberals don’t seem to realize they’re causing — is going to get President Trump re-elected.

People often vote against things instead of voting for them: against ideas, candidates and parties. Democrats, like Republicans, appreciate this whenever they portray their opponents as negatively as possible. But members of political tribes seem to have trouble recognizing that they, too, can push people away and energize them to vote for the other side. Nowhere is this more on display today than in liberal control of the commanding heights of American culture.

.. Liberals dominate the entertainment industry, many of the most influential news sources and America’s universities. This means that people with progressive leanings are everywhere in the public eye — and are also on the college campuses attended by many people’s children or grandkids. These platforms come with a lot of power to express values, confer credibility and celebrity and start national conversations that others really can’t ignore.

But this makes liberals feel more powerful than they are. Or, more accurately, this kind of power is double-edged. Liberals often don’t realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.

In fact, liberals may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way. I’m not talking about the possibility that jokes at the 2011 correspondents’ association dinner may have pushed Mr. Trump to run for president to begin with. I mean that the “army of comedy” that Michael Moore thought would bring Mr. Trump down will instead be what builds him up in the minds of millions of voters.

.. Some liberals have gotten far out ahead of their fellow Americans but are nonetheless quick to criticize those who haven’t caught up with them.

.. Liberals denounce “cultural appropriation” without, in many cases, doing the work of persuading people that there is anything wrong with, say, a teenager not of Chinese descent wearing a Chinese-style dress to prom or eating at a burrito cart run by two non-Latino women.

.. Pressing a political view from the Oscar stage, declaring a conservative campus speaker unacceptable, flatly categorizing huge segments of the country as misguided — these reveal a tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority. It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering.

.. This judgmental tendency became stronger during the administration of President Barack Obama, though not necessarily because of anything Mr. Obama did. Feeling increasingly emboldened, liberals were more convinced than ever that conservatives were their intellectual and even moral inferiors.

.. college campuses — which many take to be what a world run by liberals would look like — seemed increasingly intolerant of free inquiry.

.. It was during these years that the University of California included the phrase “America is the land of opportunity” on a list of discouraged microaggressions.

.. Champions of inclusion can watch what they say and explain what they’re doing without presuming to regulate what words come out of other people’s mouths. Campus activists can allow invited visitors to speak and then, after that event, hold a teach-in discussing what they disagree with. After the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that states had to allow same-sex marriage, the fight, in some quarters, turned to pizza places unwilling to cater such weddings. Maybe don’t pick that fight?

.. Liberals can act as if they’re not so certain — and maybe actually not be so certain — that bigotry motivates people who disagree with them on issues like immigration.

.. Without sacrificing their principles, liberals can come across as more respectful of others. Self-righteousness is rarely attractive, and even more rarely rewarded.

.. many liberals seem primed to write off nearly half the country as irredeemable.

.. But it is an unjustified leap to conclude that anyone who supports him in any way is racist, just as it would be a leap to say that anyone who supported Hillary Clinton was racist because she once made veiled references to “superpredators.”

Liberals are trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle. When they use their positions in American culture to lecture, judge and disdain, they push more people into an opposing coalition that liberals are increasingly prone to think of as deplorable. That only validates their own worst prejudices about the other America.

A Higher Sanctimony

Comey’s memoir shows he is more like Trump than he cares to admit.

But Mr. Trump told an interviewer that he had fired Mr. Comey because the FBI chief wouldn’t say publicly that the FBI wasn’t investigating Mr. Trump. The President also threatened Mr. Comey with a false claim about Oval Office “tapes.” Mr. Comey responded by leaking documents that caused Mr. Rosenstein to name a special counsel, which has put Mr. Trump’s Presidency in mortal peril.

.. The main lesson from Mr. Comey’s book is that Mr. Trump’s abuse of political norms has driven his enemies to violate norms themselves.

.. The most notable fact in the book is how little we learn that is new about Mr. Trump.

.. Mr. Trump is preoccupied with his critics and the validation of his presidential victory. He is clueless that his bullying and flattery would repel Mr. Comey

.. The book mainly adds Mr. Comey’s moral and aesthetic contempt for Mr. Trump.

.. Mr. Comey’s comparison of Mr. Trump to a “mafia” boss is hilariously overstated. Don’t they call it “organized” crime? And what about that code of silence known as omerta? The Trump White House can’t keep anything secret.

.. Mr. Comey reveals in his excessive self-regard that he is more like Mr. Trump than he cares to admit. Mr. Trump’s narcissism is crude and focused on his personal “winning.” Mr. Comey’s is about vindicating his own higher morality and righteous belief.

.. He accuses Mr. Rosenstein of acting “dishonorably” by writing the memo describing how Mr. Comey mishandled the Clinton probe. Yet he barely engages Mr. Rosenstein’s arguments, which quoted from former Justice officials of both parties. Mr. Rosenstein wrote that Mr. Comey was “wrong to usurp” the authority of Attorney General Loretta Lynch and wrong to “hold press conferences to release derogatory information” about Mrs. Clinton.

That mistake made Mr. Comey feel obliged to intervene again in late October—this time to announce the reopening of the probe in a way that helped Mr. Trump. Had Mr. Comey followed Justice protocol in July, he would not have had to make himself the issue in October, damaging the reputation of the FBI and Justice in the bargain.

.. This has been the habit across Mr. Comey’s career, though you’ll find no mention in his memoir of Steven Hatfill, the government scientist he wrongly pursued for years as the anthrax terrorist; or Frank Quattrone, the Wall Street financier he prosecuted twice for obstruction of justice only to be rebuked by an appeals court; or Judith Miller’s recantation of her testimony against Scooter Libby.

Mr. Comey has also had little to say so far about the controversy over the Steele dossier and his handling of the Russian investigation of Mr. Trump. Did he know that the dossier was commissioned by Democrats for the Clinton campaign? He also has nothing to say about the dismissal of his former FBI deputy, Andrew McCabe, for “lack of candor.”

Mr. Comey is getting his moment of revenge as much of the press revels in the attacks on Mr. Trump. Yet his career, reinforced by his memoir, is a case study in the perils of the righteous prosecutor. It also shows why Mr. Comey’s view of the FBI as “independent” of supervisory authority is wrong and dangerous. A presidential bully who abuses power needs to be checked, but so does an FBI director who turns righteousness into zealotry.

To save the GOP, Republicans have to lose

Roy Mooreism was distilled Trumpism, flavored with some self-righteous moralism. It was all there: the aggressive ignorance, the racial divisiveness, the disdain for governing, the contempt for truth, the accusations of sexual predation, the (just remarkable) trashing of America in favor of Vladimir Putin, the conspiracy theories, the sheer, destabilizing craziness of the average day.

.. Most of the party remains in complicit silence. The few elected officials who have broken with Trump have become targets of the conservative media complex — savaged as an example to the others.

.. This is the sad logic of Republican politics today: The only way that elected Republicans will abandon Trump is if they see it as in their self-interest. And the only way they will believe it is in their self-interest is to watch a considerable number of their fellow Republicans lose.

.. In the end, the restoration of the Republican Party will require Republicans to lose elections.

.. It will require Republican voters — as in Alabama and (to some extent) Virginia — to sit out, write in or even vote Democratic in races involving pro-Trump Republicans.

.. victory for Republicans will look like: strategic defeat

..  Trump and his allies are solidifying the support of rural, blue-collar and evangelical Christian whites at the expense of alienating minorities, women, suburbanites and the young. This is a foolish bargain, destroying the moral and political standing of the Republican Party

.. It is the emergency method for Republicans to detach themselves from Trump, create a new party identity and become worthy of winning.

.. Trump’s Republican opponents will not be to blame. It would be Trump and his supporters, who turned the Republican Party into a sleazy, derelict fun house, unsafe for children, women and minorities.

.. A healthy, responsible, appealing GOP can be built only on the ruins of this one.

 

God Should Sue Roy Moore

 “Those who moralize most, sin most.”

.. I used to complain that conservatives believe that morality is about only personal behavior, while liberals believe it is only about policy positions, while actually it’s about both. Sadly, some of the “family values” conservatives now don’t seem to care about either private or public morality.

.. “Blazing with self-righteous indignation toward others is often what people use to hide their own sins in the shadows,” Elnes said. “This is probably why Jesus’ biggest problem — by far — was with the self-righteous. When it came to those whom society cast away as ‘sinners,’ Jesus was repeatedly gentle, gracious, encouraging, and forgiving, but he continually castigated the self-righteous.”

.. “I’ve never understood why certain Christians are so eager to turn the United States into a Christian country when their time would be so much better spent turning their churches into Christian churches.”

Most Immature Religion has Attacked the Shadow Directly

Many people presume that the job of religion is to eliminate evil; however, how we eliminate evil is much more important! Violence, injustice, and greed only increase when they are denied in ourselves and projected onto others—this is the “shadow” self.

Most immature religion has attacked the shadow directly, focusing on the symptom while missing the actual source of evil. This leaves self-righteous and high-minded people feeling like they are in control, when in reality they are ignoring the core problem—the mistaken belief that we are separate from God and each other.

..  They help us rediscover all beings’ inherent unity and belovedness. Conversion demands immense humility and honesty rather than zeal or purity. The autonomous, egocentric, and separate self must give way to our True Self.

.. Suffering—whenever we are not in control—is the most effective way to destabilize and reveal our arrogance, our separateness, and our lack of compassion. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.