When a Pandemic Meets a Personality Cult

The Trump team confirms all of our worst fears.

So, here’s the response of the Trump team and its allies to the coronavirus, at least so far: It’s actually good for America. Also, it’s a hoax perpetrated by the news media and the Democrats. Besides, it’s no big deal, and people should buy stocks. Anyway, we’ll get it all under control under the leadership of a man who doesn’t believe in science.

From the day Donald Trump was elected, some of us worried how his administration would deal with a crisis not of its own making. Remarkably, we’ve gone three years without finding out: Until now, every serious problem facing the Trump administration, from trade wars to confrontation with Iran, has been self-created. But the coronavirus is looking as if it might be the test we’ve been fearing.

And the results aren’t looking good.

The story of the Trump pandemic response actually began several years ago.

  • Almost as soon as he took office, Trump began cutting funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading in turn to an 80 percent cut in the resources the agency devotes to global disease outbreaks.
  • Trump also shut down the entire global-health-security unit of the National Security Council.

Experts warned that these moves were exposing America to severe risks. “We’ll leave the field open to microbes,” declared Tom Frieden, a much-admired former head of the C.D.C., more than two years ago. But the Trump administration has a preconceived notion about where national security threats come from — basically, scary brown people — and is hostile to science in general. So we entered the current crisis in an already weakened condition.

And the microbes came.

The first reaction of the Trumpers was to see the coronavirus as a Chinese problem — and to see whatever is bad for China as being good for us. Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, cheered it on as a development that would “accelerate the return of jobs to North America.

The story changed once it became clear that the virus was spreading well beyond China. At that point it became a hoax perpetrated by the news mediaRush Limbaugh weighed in: “It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. … The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

Limbaugh was, you may not be surprised to hear, projecting. Back in 2014 right-wing politicians and media did indeed try to politically weaponize a disease outbreak, the Ebola virus, with Trump himself responsible for more than 100 tweets denouncing the Obama administration’s response (which was actually competent and effective).

And in case you’re wondering, no, the coronavirus isn’t like the common cold. In fact, early indications are that the virus may be as lethal as the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed as many as 50 million people.

Financial markets evidently don’t agree that the virus is a hoax; by Thursday afternoon the Dow was off more than 3,000 points since last week. Falling markets appear to worry the administration more than the prospect of, you know, people dying. So Larry Kudlow, the administration’s top economist, made a point of declaring that the virus was “contained” — contradicting the C.D.C. — and suggested that Americans buy stocks. The market continued to drop.

At that point the administration appears to have finally realized that it might need to do something beyond insisting that things were great. But according to The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, it initially proposed paying for a virus response by cutting aid to the poor — specifically, low-income heating subsidies. Cruelty in all things.

On Wednesday Trump held a news conference on the virus, much of it devoted to incoherent jabs at Democrats and the media. He did, however, announce the leader of the government response to the threat. Instead of putting a health care professional in charge, however, he handed the job to Vice President Mike Pence, who has an interesting relationship with both health policy and science.

Early in his political career, Pence staked out a distinctive position on public health, declaring that smoking doesn’t kill people. He has also repeatedly insisted that evolution is just a theory. As governor of Indiana, he blocked a needle exchange program that could have prevented a significant H.I.V. outbreak, calling for prayer instead.

And now, according to The Times, government scientists will need to get Pence’s approval before making public statements about the coronavirus.

So the Trumpian response to crisis is completely self-centered, entirely focused on making Trump look good rather than protecting America. If the facts don’t make Trump look good, he and his allies attack the messengers, blaming the news media and the Democrats — while trying to prevent scientists from keeping us informed. And in choosing people to deal with a real crisis, Trump prizes loyalty rather than competence.

Maybe Trump — and America — will be lucky, and this won’t be as bad as it might be. But anyone feeling confident right now isn’t paying attention.

Marc Andreessen on the Need for Growth to Prevent Zero Sum Thinking

Many skeptics thought the internet would never reach mass adoption, but today it’s shaping global culture, is integral to our lives–and this is just the beginning. In this conversation, Kevin Kelly (Founding Executive Editor, WIRED magazine) and Marc Andreessen (Cofounder and General Partner, Andreessen Horowitz) sit down to discuss the evolution of technology, the new “Space Race,” and how measuring prosperity on a global scale is the key to our collective success. Learn why they share an optimistic view on the possibilities of the future.

HIGHLIGHTS
Discussion on closing the digital divide [3:00]
The many possibilities of voice technology as an interface [9:59]
Moore’s Law vs. Eroom’s law [14:14]
Looking at 5G Technology as the next global driver [20:38]
New models for VC and company models [27:05]
How long-term thinking can be applied in Silicon Valley [29:53]
Measuring prosperity on a global scale [34:00]
The potential impact of cyber technology on global conflict [38:45]
The foundation of Marc’s optimism [41:05]
M

34:11
introspection about government but also
34:12
about capitalism and capitalism so far
34:17
has depended on growth and growth is
34:19
something that VC’s pay attention to but
34:24
we’re now wondering if what’s the
34:27
minimum amount of growth that you might
34:28
need to have prosperity can you have
34:30
prosperity with low growth can you have
34:31
prosperity with fixed growth do you have
34:36
any insights about about that at the
34:38
civilizational scale yes I think in
34:40
actually I don’t even say that the issue
34:42
is even more intense these days because
34:43
there’s now very prominent people in
34:44
public life arguing that growth is bad
34:46
right and in fact it’s it that it that
34:49
it in fact is ruinous and destructive
34:50
and that the right goal might actually
34:51
be they have no growth or to actually go
34:52
into negative growth then especially in
34:54
a very common view in the environmental
34:56
movement so I’m a very strong proponent
34:59
a very strong believer that growth is
35:00
absolutely necessary and I’ll come back
35:02
to environmental thing in a second
35:03
because it’s a very interesting case of
35:04
this
I think growth is absolutely necessary
and I think the reason growth is
absolutely necessary is because you can
fundamentally have two different mindset
views of how the world works
right one
is positive some which is you know
rising tide lifts all boats we can all
do better together and the other is is
is a zero-sum right where for me to win
somebody else must lose
and vice-versa
and reason I think economic growth is so
important at cores because if there is
fast economic growth then we have
positive some politics and we start to
have all these discussions about all
these things that we can do as a society
and if we have zero some grow if we have
if we have a flat growth or no growth or
negative growth all of a sudden the
politics become sharply zero-sum and in
the most in the most the most you just
kind of see this if you kind of track
you know kind of the political climate
you just basically it’s the wake of
every recession right it’s just in the
wake of every economic recession the
politics just go like seriously negative
on in terms of thinking about the
world’s is zero-sum
and and then when
you get a zero-sum outlook Impala
six that’s when you get like
anti-immigration that’s when you get
anti trade
that’s when you get anti tech
if the world’s not growing then all
that’s left to do is to fight over what
we what we already have and so my view
is like you need to have economic growth
you need to have economic growth for all
of the reasons that I would say right
wingers like economic growth which is
you want to have higher levels material
prosperity more opportunity more job
creation all those things you want to
have economic growth for the purpose of
having like sane politics like a
productive political conversation and
then I think the kicker is you also want
economic growth actually for many of the
things that left-wing people want one of
the best books this year new books this
year is a guy Andrew McAfee I was
reading a book called
I think more from less it’s actually a
story of a really remarkable thing that
a lot of people are missing about what’s
happening with the environment which is
globally carbon emissions are rising and
resource utilization is rising in the
u.s. carbon emissions and resource
utilization are actually falling and so
in the u.s. we have figured out to grow
our economy while reducing our use of
natural resources which is a completely
unexpected twist right to the plot of
what kind of if you lose
environmentalists in six years of
seventies like nobody predicted that and
it turns out he talks about this in the
book but it turns out basically what
happens is economies when economies
advanced to a certain point they get
really really good at doing more with
less right they get really really good
efficiency and they get really good at
energy efficiency they get really isn’t
about you use environmental resources
they really go to recycling in lots of
different ways and then they get really
good at what’s called dematerialization
which is what is happening with digital
technology right which is basically
taking things that used to require atoms
and turning them into bits weight which
inherently consumes consumes less
resources and so what you actually want
like my view unlike the environmental
issues is like you’ve got a global
problem which is you have too many
people in too many countries stuck in
kind of mid amid the Industrial
Revolution they’ve got to grow to get to
the point where they’re in a fully
digital economy like we are precisely so
that they can start to have declining
resource utilization right right I mean
the classic example energy like you know
the big problem of the energy emissions
global a huge problem of emissions and
with health from emissions is literally
38:05
people burning wood like in their houses
38:07
right to be able to eat and cook and
38:09
what you want to do is you want to go to
38:10
like hyper efficient solar or ideally
38:12
nuclear right you want to go to these
38:13
like super advanced forms of technology
38:14
so actually it so you want
38:16
that and by the way if you want like a
38:18
big social safety net you know and all
38:20
the social programs you want to pay for
38:21
that stuff
38:22
you also want economic growth because
38:23
that generates taxes of pace of that
38:24
stuff and so like growth is the single
38:27
kind of biggest form of magic that we
38:28
have right to be able to like actually
38:30
make progress and hold the whole thing
38:31
together and you know to your point
38:33
about the developing countries I think
38:36
the idea of leapfrog and technology is a
38:37
myth it doesn’t really work you actually
38:39
have to if you want to have a high-tech
38:42
infrastructure you actually need the
38:43
intermediate roads clean water you can’t
38:46
skip over that and so they all need to
38:48
be built out in order to have that
38:50
prosperity at the end so you know the
38:53
simplest you know seems like you don’t
38:55
worry about much I don’t worry about
38:56
much but one thing I do worry about this
38:58
cyber conflict cyber war partly because
39:01
I think we have no consensus about
39:03
what’s allowable does this worry you at
39:06
all so I think there there’s a lot of
39:08
unknown as to it I think people are
39:09
trying to figure this out but it’s it’s
39:11
a complication to grapple with I will
39:14
make an optimistic argument which is
39:16
going to sound a little strange if you
39:20
kind of project forward what’s happening
39:21
with with generally cyber with
39:23
information you know operations of
39:25
different kinds but also with drones
39:27
you know UAVs and then also with you
39:30
know unmanned you know unmanned fighter
39:32
jets right um and you know ships
39:34
increasingly being built
39:36
it’ll be unmad submarines at some point
39:39
if you projected stuff forward you start
39:42
to get this very interesting potential
39:43
world in which basically the way I think
39:46
about it it’s like all human conflict
39:47
between peoples are between
39:49
nation-states up until now has been
39:51
basically throwing people at each other
39:52
right throwing soldiers at each other
39:54
and like letting them make the decision
39:56
of who to shoot and like hoping they
39:57
don’t get shot like with very serious
39:58
repercussions of all those individual
40:00
human decisions you do have the prospect
40:02
of basically a new world of both offense
40:04
and defense it’s like completely
40:05
motorised completely mechanized
40:06
completely software driven and
40:08
technology driven and a lot of people
40:09
it’s just immediately like oh my god
40:10
that’s horrible
40:11
you know Terminator like you know Skynet
40:13
like you know this is just the worst
40:14
thing ever there’s a novel called kill
40:16
decision if you wanted to snow Pinsky
40:18
okay there’s a novel called kill
40:19
decision by daniel suarez dinosaurus
40:21
then extrapolates the the drones forward
40:23
and a little it’ll keep you up late at
40:25
night but the optimistic view would be
40:26
like boy isn’t it good that there aren’t
40:29
beings involved isn’t it good like if
40:31
the machines are shooting at each other
40:32
like isn’t that good isn’t that better
40:34
than if they’re shooting at us by the
40:36
way and by the way yeah I would go so
40:37
far as to say like I don’t know that I’m
40:39
in favor of like the machines making
40:41
like kill decisions like decisions on me
40:43
to shoot but like the one thing I know
40:44
it’s humans do that very badly like very
40:46
very very badly I’m the opposite of
40:48
pearl war I don’t want to see any of
40:49
this stuff actually play out but if it
40:50
has to play out there maybe having it be
40:52
software machines it’s gonna be actually
40:53
better outcome right I mean this kind of
40:55
weird that we don’t allow we don’t want
40:58
machines to kill humans we want other
41:00
humans to kill you but we want 18 year
41:01
olds we want to take 18 year olds out of
41:04
their homes right we want to put a gun
41:05
in their hand and send them someplace
41:06
and tell me decide who to shoot like it
41:08
that that is gonna go down to history’s
41:10
haven’t been a good idea okay it just
41:12
strikes me as like unlikely so we have
41:14
only time for one last question which is
41:16
I’m usually I claim to be the most
41:18
optimistic person in the room but with
41:20
you sitting across to me I don’t think
41:22
that may be true what is your optimism
41:26
based on so my optimism okay so get
41:30
cosmic for a second why not I guess
41:32
we’re here it’s the last question last
41:33
question so the science fiction author
41:36
science fiction science fiction authors
41:37
always talking about was good they
41:39
called the singularity this constant
41:40
singularity answer it’s a singularities
41:42
basic what happens when the machines get
41:43
so smart than all of a sudden everything
41:45
goes into exponential mode and all of a
41:46
sudden you know the entire world changes
41:48
so I am I reading history is actually we
41:51
actually were in the singularity already
41:53
and that it actually started 300 years
41:56
ago mm-hmm and if you look at basically
42:00
if you look at basically any chart of
42:01
human welfare over time and you can look
42:03
at no child mortality is an obvious one
42:05
but like there’s you know there’s many
42:06
many many others and you just look at
42:08
progress on that metric so your telomere
42:09
tality as an example and it’s just
42:11
basically flat flat flat flat flat flat
42:12
flat for only fifty thousand years right
42:14
is everything and you know if this is
42:15
the family offices at Thomas Hobbes you
42:17
know life is you know nasty brutish and
42:19
short right it was just like the thing
42:20
like everything was terrible everywhere
42:22
all the time forever the end until 300
42:26
years ago when all of a sudden there’s
42:27
this me and the curve and then all the
42:29
indicators of human welfare not
42:31
uniformly across the planet but in
42:33
societies that we’re making progress the
42:37
societies weren’t making progress first
42:38
all of a sudden all those indicators of
42:39
human welfare went up into the right
42:40
right I don’t know of course bonded by
42:42
the way to economic growth but it was
42:44
also right it was the Enlightenment it
42:45
was the rise of democracy it was the
42:47
rise of markets was the rise of
42:48
rationality of the scientific method by
42:51
the way human rights free speech free
42:53
thought right and they all kind of
42:55
catalyzed right around around around 300
42:57
years ago and and they’ve been making
42:58
their way into the world you know in
42:59
sort of increasing concentric circles
43:01
kind of ever since and so we have you
43:04
know I would argue like we have the
43:05
answer it’s like we actually don’t need
43:07
new we don’t need new discoveries to
43:08
have the future be much better we
43:10
actually know how to do it is to apply
43:11
basically those systems and and and
43:15
basically contra the sort of constant
43:17
temptation from all kinds of people to
43:19
try to you know compromise on these
43:20
things or subvert these things you know
43:22
basically double down on these systems
43:23
that we know work right so double down
43:25
economic growth double down on human
43:26
rights double down on markets on
43:29
capitalism double down on the scientific
43:31
method fix science like we got as far as
43:34
we did with science actually being
43:35
pretty seriously screwed up right now
43:37
with the replication crisis like so we
43:39
should fix that and then science will
43:41
all of a sudden start to work much
43:42
better technology right used to yeah use
43:45
of technological tools so we should we
43:48
literally have the systems like we know
43:49
how to do this we know how to make the
43:50
planet much better in every respect and
43:52
so what we just need to do is is keep
43:53
doing that and then what I try to do
43:55
when I read the news is notwithstanding
43:58
everything’s going on is basically try
44:00
to look through whatever’s happen at the
44:01
moment try to look underneath and kind
44:02
of say okay are those fundamental
44:04
systems actually still working like is
44:07
the world getting more democratic or
44:08
less right this is free speech spreading
44:10
or receiving right or markets expanding
44:12
or falling right are more more people
44:14
able to participate in a modern market
44:15
economy or not and you know those
44:17
indicators generally are all or all
44:18
still up into the right mm-hmm
44:20
so let’s go out and make the world
44:22
better yeah thank you
44:23
thanks everybody
44:25
[Applause]

Martha Nussbaum, “The Monarchy of Fear”

Martha Nussbaum discusses her book, “The Monarchy of Fear” at Politics and Prose on 7/9/18.

One of the country’s leading moral philosophers, Nussbaum cuts through the acrimony of today’s political landscape to analyze the Trump era through one simple truth: that the political is always emotional. Starting there, she shows how globalization has produced feelings of powerlessness that have in turn fed resentment and blame. These have erupted into hostility against immigrants, women, Muslims, people of color, and cultural elites. Drawing on examples from ancient Greece to Hamilton, Nussbaum shows how anger and fear inflame people on both the left and right; by illuminating the powerful role these passions play in public life, she points to ways we can avoid getting caught up in the vitriol that sustains and perpetuates divisive politics.

Civil Rights and Obligations

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS—known as “the nun on the bus”—is someone I consider a modern prophet. She is the Executive Director of NETWORK, an organization that lobbies for socially just federal policies. On this “Independence Day” (in the United States), reflect on Sr. Simone’s invitation to co-create our collective freedom.

In the last half of the twentieth century, thankfully, our society began to engage in a serious process of trying to atone for the sin of slavery, and in doing so much emphasis was placed on promoting civil rights. An unintended consequence of this important movement was a heightened focus on individuals and individual exercise of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. The civil rights movement came out of community, but the legal expression focused on individuals’ capacity to exercise their freedoms. Some fearful Americans—largely white men who professed a conservative version of Christianity—felt threatened, as if there were not enough rights to go around. They sought to create their own “movement.” This reaction in part fueled the rise of the tea party movement. . . .

But a democracy cannot survive if various groups and individuals only pull away in different directions. Such separation will not guarantee that all are allowed the opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All people must be recognized for their inherent dignity and gifts regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their place of origin. And all these gifts need to be shared in order to build up the whole.

So I have begun to wonder if the new task of the first half of the twenty-first century should be a commitment to civil obligations as a balance to the focus on civil rights.

Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of a concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversation about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.

The mandate to exercise our civil obligations means that we can’t be bystanders who scoff at the process of politics while taking no responsibility. We all need to be involved. Civil obligations mean that we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and we must advocate for those who are struggling to exercise their obligations. The 100 percent needs the efforts of all of us to create a true community.

It is an unpatriotic lie that we as a nation are based in individualism. The Constitution underscores the fact that we are rooted and raised in a communal society and that we each have a responsibility to build up the whole. The Preamble to the Constitution could not be any clearer: “We the People” are called to “form a more perfect Union.”

Do Social Conservatives Really Face an Existential Crisis?

The flawed assumption underlying both sides of the intra-conservative debate kicked off by Sohrab Ahmari

We get your holidays off. Most TV shows have a Christmas episode. I’ve heard about “the spirit of Christmas” more times than I can count. There are churches everywhere. The most-watched news network and some of the most popular websites denounce “happy holidays” while issuing fever dream warnings of Sharia law. Visit Israel or a Muslim country and you’ll see what it looks like when Christianity is culturally weak.

But that’s not the type of power culture warriors and defenders of conservative Christianity are talking about.

To get to the supposed crisis, we have to dismiss a lot of political and cultural power. Even then, examining specific instances of encroaching secular culture shows that “no longer dominant in every area, but still powerful overall” is more accurate than “under immense threat and headed for annihilation.”

The Actual Threat

There are, of course, incidents of religious Americans facing discrimination. There are also incidents of non-religious Americans facing discrimination. The question is not “do religious conservatives face any opposition?,” but whether that opposition is so powerful, and conservative Christians so weak, that the threat is existential.

Consider some of the most prominent cases:

Universities and Free Speech
David French cites a lawsuit in which he defended “a conservative Christian professor who was denied promotion because of his faith.” That’s wrong — it’s religious discrimination — and he won in court. There are many universities where no professors were denied promotion because of their religion, and others, such as Bob Jones in South Carolina, that are allowed to utilize religious criteria.

French also cites the work of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which he used to lead. I share some of their criticisms regarding campus censorship — see, for example, my article on free speech — but it hardly amounts to social conservatives’ impending annihilation.

As an example of threats to free speech on campus, FIRE maintains a database of disinvitations, in which activists tried to prevent someone they dislike from speaking. From 1998 through 2019, FIRE identifies 427 incidents. Of these, 257 cases involve protests coming from the speaker’s left (not all of which involve religion). That means an average of 11.68 cases per year over 22 years. With about 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States, about 0.2 percent see a disinvitation attempt prompted by the left in a given year.

That’s not the only illiberal activity on campus — and I think many of them deserve criticism — but an existential threat it is not.

Hobby Lobby
Obamacare required health insurance plans to cover contraception, and the owners of Hobby Lobby, a privately-held chain of stores, objected. They’re conservative Christians, and argued that being forced to pay for contraceptives violated their religious freedom.

But they weren’t forced to pay for contraceptives. They compensated their employees with health insurance, and then, if the employee chose to buy contraceptives, the insurance company paid for it. Millions of employees spend their paychecks on things their employers disapprove of, but the employers can’t stop it. There’s no reason non-cash compensation should be different.

What the owners of Hobby Lobby wanted is the type of power Ahmari craves — the ability to impose religious beliefs on others. No one forced them to use contraception. No one even forced them to buy someone else’s contraception. But the possibility that employees might choose to use their health insurance for something the employers didn’t like was too much.

In a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. As a result, if you work for a private company, and the owners are religious, they can tell you what you can and cannot do with some of your compensation.

You may be more sympathetic to Hobby Lobby’s position than I am. Either way, no existential threat here.

Gay Wedding Cakes
The 2015, 5–4 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. That’s probably the biggest example of social conservatives losing the power to impose their beliefs on others. However, while no church has to perform a gay wedding, and no one has to attend any wedding if they don’t want to, legalization created some situations that impose on religious Americans.

Should religious wedding vendors have to sell to gay couples? It’s a fascinating question, because two fundamental rights come into conflict: equal protection for the couple; freedom of religion for the vendor. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court ducked the larger question, deciding 7–2 that the Commission displayed religious animus in its treatment of Masterpiece.

For me, it comes down to what the vendor’s being asked to do. Refusing to sell a standard product — something off the shelf they’d sell to other couples — is blatant “we don’t serve your kind here” discrimination, like banning black people from the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. But if it’s a custom product — something not unreasonably called art — then the government making the vendor do it is coerced creative labor. (I tackled this in greater detail here).

Brett Kavanaugh
The 2018 fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s conformation to the Supreme Court looms large in social conservative narratives of existential threat. For Ahmari, it’s proof they “face enemies who seek our personal destruction.” Dreher says it “radicalized” him. French agrees that it shows conservative Christians under threat, but argues that Kavanaugh’s confirmation demonstrates why the principles of classical liberalism, such as due process and presumption of innocence, are the best response. (As I said, their debate’s primarily over strategy, not the threat’s existence).

Underlying all of these claims is a staggering presumption of bad faith. Ahmari, Dreher, French and many other conservatives don’t consider the possibility that at least some of the opposition to Kavanaugh might’ve been opposition to Kavanaugh himself, not to American Christians in general.

To get there, you have to assume Christine Blasey Ford was lying, deluded, and/or put up to it, that people who say they believe her allegations of sexual assault are also lying, and that the women who poured their hearts out over their own sexual assaults were crisis actors out of Alex Jones’ imagination, or at least manipulators exaggerating how they feel because of their secret anti-Christian agenda. And you also must dismiss concerns from Americans who think Kavanaugh’s previous experience as a partisan operative isn’t a good fit for the nation’s highest supposed-to-be-impartial body.

Most importantly, you have to ignore the recent Supreme Court confirmations of Neil Gorsuch (conservative and Catholic, like Kavanaugh), Samuel Alito (conservative, Catholic), and John Roberts (conservative, Catholic), none of whom faced accusations of sexual assault. You have to concoct a story where the left wasn’t angry during Gorsuch’s nomination in 2017 — even though they were openly furious that the Senate blocked Obama’s 2016 nomination of Merrick Garland — but developed such fury over the subsequent year that they decided to invent and then pretend to care about accusations of sexual assault.

A lot of people care passionately about the Supreme Court, with many on the left strongly opposed to right-wing positions on abortion, prayer in schools, and other issues involving religion. And there’s no doubt some political operatives oppose every Supreme Court nomination from the other party and will latch onto whatever they can to fight it. But this does not add up to Christians under existential threat.

The Kavanaugh case reveals the fuzziness of the distinction between cultural and political power. According to right-wing culture warriors, winning elections is not a sign of lasting power, because it’s political, not cultural. However, nearly losing — but still winning — a Supreme Court seat is a sign of cultural weakness so menacing that Christians must adapt a crisis mentality.

Chick-fil-A
Social conservatives worrying about cultural annihilation may find all the above examples unconvincing. They all involve institutional power — court rulings, Senate votes — and one of the cultural warriors’ arguments is that conservatives must do anything to hold institutional power as a bulwark against the cultural threat.

Consider, then, the case of Chick-fil-A.

In 2012, the family-owned fast food chain came under fire when the chief operating officer publicly opposed same sex marriage, and it came out that the family’s foundation donated millions to organizations fighting against legalization. In response, LGBT rights activists called for protests and a boycott..

So it went out of business, right? Or if it didn’t, it’s because a court came to the rescue?

Nope. Conservatives rallied to the restaurant’s defense. Sales rose 12% in the aftermath of the controversy, and the chain has continued expanding, growing larger than Burger King or Wendy’s. Activists fought the expansion — here’s one warning of “Chick-fil-A’s creepy infiltration of New York City” — but failed.

It’s Not a Crisis

The Chick-fil-A case encapsulates my argument. Social conservatives face motivated opponents that have some cultural power. But religious conservatives have quite a bit of cultural power too. Plus a lot of judicial and political power. Ahmari’s frame of existential danger is divorced from reality. French’s “immense threat” is overstated.

There’s no question that Christianity is weaker in the United States in the 21st century than it was in the 20th or 19th. Mainstream movies, television, and pop music often portray social conservatives negatively (if at all), and portray things social conservatives disapprove of positively. But what this all adds up to is competing in American society as a large, powerful bloc — not impending annihilation.

The slope isn’t slippery.

Conservative Christians hold the keys to statehouses, House and Senate seats, electoral votes. There’s a friendly majority on the Supreme Court, and friendly judges throughout the system. Christianity has an enduring cultural power, because it’s deeply embedded in American life, and because millions of Americans practice various versions of it every day.

The narrative that religious conservatives face cultural apocalypse is one of the most toxic in American politics. It is one of the biggest causes — not the only cause, but a big one — of zero-sum, no-compromise, fight-over-everything hyper-partisanship. Because after all, if you’re facing extermination, you have no choice.

This logic bears enough resemblance to racist theories of “white genocide” that it should give social conservatives pause.

But it’s also good for political mobilization and media consumption. And a lot of people seem to like thinking of themselves as victims. So I wouldn’t expect it to stop.

The Cash Flow Mentality Of The President Donald Trump White House | Morning Joe | MSNBC

Bob Woodward and Walter Isaacson discuss the seeming world view of the president who appears to have the attitude that in order for him to win, others must lose. Woodward also discusses Trump’s words for Mattis in the early weeks of the Trump WH.

 

Comments:

Whenever Trump makes a deal, he tries to make sure that he comes out a winner and everyone else comes out a loser.  He wants to humiliate his parter.

He is at heart a small family owned business owner who competes against bigger players and cares about cash flow and his balance sheet.  Politics is not about cash flow.