28 June 2018

Perils of Journalism

Because I work in a newspaper office,  I won't jump to conclusions about the motives behind the amoklauf at the Annapolis Capital Gazette. Just this morning as I came into work, one of my coworkers told me she was frightened a little by a man who came in demanding to see the editor. I'm going to keep this vague, but basically the guy got in big trouble because of something that appeared in the paper that he claimed was inaccurate. He didn't really threaten anyone, but the anxiety he provoked seems relevant in light of the terrible news from Maryland. Before we assume that the Annapolis shooter was lashing out at "fake news" of some sort, bear in mind that people might have many more reasons to lash out against a newspaper than we can see from a purely national perspective. What happened was awful regardless, but let's not make it out to be more awful in its implications until more facts are in.

Weaponizing the First Amendment

If you believe that the poor are always right, or that the working class or organized labor is always right,don't expect to find confirmation in the U. S. Constitution.  That document is too dedicated to individual and minority rights and reflects the Framers' ideal of balancing class interests instead of empowering a majority class among the others. The Constitution can be "weaponized" against working-class interests and agendas, as Justice Kagan claims has been done by the majority in the Janus case. Led by Justice Alito, the Republican majority overturned a 1970s ruling that allowed states to require public employees to pay "agency fees" to unions to which they didn't belong. The requirement violated the First Amendment, Alito wrote, because it forced individuals to subsidize political activity with which they did not agree when unions became involved in lobbying and electioneering. Democrats and the left have interpreted Janus as an attack on public-employee unions and a self-evidently partisan attempt to cripple their capacity for political advocacy. Aliso doesn't exactly discourage that reading. He writes: "We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term, and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members." In other words, unions had better abandon partisan politics. Such a warning has been inevitable since the white working class was infiltrated by Republican conservatism in the late 1960s. With that came a backlash against any extension of solidarity beyond the workplace that offended conservative sensibilities. As individuals and minorities within organized labor, this backlash was bound to win vindication in a Republican Supreme Court in spite of liberal rationalization, and with the retiring Justice Kennedy certain to be replaced by a Trump appointee, the backlash will prevail for decades to come. It will, of course, provoke another backlash as people begin to ask why, if it violates their rights to have to subsidize speech and policies with which they disagree, they should be compelled to pay taxes to support the Trump administration.

26 June 2018

Trump beats Hawaii

In Trump v. Hawaii the Supreme Court, voting along the usual lines, upheld the President's ban on travelers from select nations. The majority rejected the argument that the travel ban violated the First Amendment by targeting Muslim-majority countries, as they had to given that North Korea and Venezuela were included in the ban while countries containing the majority of the world's Muslims were not. The majority rejected the claim that the Trump administration had not offered an adequate national-security justification for the ban, arguing in effect that our national-security needs are whatever the President determines them to be. His prerogative is not disqualified by anything allegedly Islamophobic he has ever said. The dissenting justices notwithstanding, the objections to the travel ban have always been more ideological than constitutional. When national security appears to justify a take-no-chances stance toward certain nationalities, individual rights in the abstract are inevitably violated, as is the feeling that all people should be held innocent until proven suspicious. Until a  positive universal law enshrines and enforces that principle, however, individual rights will be subject to national laws and national interests; the people of the world cannot all be equal in the eyes of any nation. For those offended by this fact, the Court offers consolation by placing a limit on what the President can do to Muslim citizens. The majority explicitly repudiated the infamous Korematsu decision in which a wartime Court affirmed the President's right to inter Americans on the basis of ethnic origin. It may seem small gratification for the Court to say that at least the President can't round up American Muslims and put them in camps, but considering how fearful many people are about the current President's ultimate intentions there should be some gratitude shown to the Roberts Court. But at a time when every trumping of perceived human rights by supposed national interests is attributed to raw bigotry, today's decision will inflame  rather than quiet dissent, and the finer details are likely to be forgotten.

25 June 2018

The little Red Hen and the decline of liberal civility

A few days ago the White House press secretary was thrown out of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington VA in a rebuke to her employer, the President.  This action was applauded by at least one Democratic congresswoman who encouraged people to "push back" at Trump administration people wherever they may be found in public. Inevitably, the President entered the discussion with an inevitable ad hominem attack on the Representative, an inevitable slander against the "filthy" restaurant, an inevitable misrepresentation of what the Representative said (translating "push back" to "harm") and an unsavory warning to "be careful what you wish for." It was another few days in the strange death of liberal America, a slight but still worrisome escalation of mutual intolerance. I can understand the desire to get in the faces of policy makers or political spokesmen, but I hope no one does it with the hope of changing anyone's minds. Gestures of this sort, probably inspired in part by the Supreme Court's protection of some conscientious objections to same-sex marriage, are most likely to provoke exactly the tit-for-tat response the President hints at, though it will no doubt be described differently, perhaps as "authoritarian intimidation tactics" or something along that line. Whatever you call it, it grows more likely the less we agree to let each other disagree about politics. That agreement is fundamental to political liberalism, but liberal civility appears increasingly unsustainable the more people feel that lives are at stake in political decisions. I've seen traditional liberal civility described as a form of white privilege, the privilege consisting of a presumed immunity to the material consequences of political decisions. The underprivileged and the self-consciously oppressed can no longer afford such civility, it seems, as antifa tactics grow more appealing. Whatever complexion you put on it, the underlying assumption is that politics is how people stay alive; to disagree, as Republicans seem to, is virtually to wish some people dead. This attitude, even more than the bigotry of reactionary whites, is a stumbling block for those well-meaning moderates who hope to re-establish mutual respect in the political sphere. How can you respect someone's opinion when you infer that that someone would rather see you die than compromise his so-called principles? Conversely, how can you respect someone when  they seem to have no principle but "I must live?" Can liberalism endure in such an environment? Liberalism seems perfectly compatible with an "everyone must live" ethos, until people claim philosophical or moral reasons to dissent from that ethos, and other people start to see such dissent as a crime against life. Genuine political liberals and civil libertarians in such conditions look like Rodney King during the L.A. riots asking, "Can't we get along?" Caught between two increasingly irreconcilable forces, they may well end up looking like King before the riots.

20 June 2018

Conservativism vs. anti-liberalism

David Brooks opposes the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy toward undocumented immigrants, believing that it unjustly targets many we've become useful members of society after their original offense. He also sees the policy as a betrayal of conservative values, being instead an instance of statist overreach, of "government officials blindly following a regulation." That observation moves him to clarify his distinction between Trumpists and authentic conservatives. Trumpists are merely anti-liberalism, and often "anti-liberalism trolls." Brooks has a theory that Trumpism, if not Trump, was shaped by the battles against political correctness on college campuses. While those struggles supposedly have been motivated by a spirit of liberty, Brooks charges that Trumpist anti-liberalism are interested less in liberty or any limited-government principle than in simply crushing liberals. They are uninterested, as principled conservatives presumably should be, in the "tangled realities" of a complex issue, but resort to "inhumane abstractions" and oversimplification, e.g. that any alternative to zero-tolerance is "amnesty." The immigration debate aside, Brooks is contesting the ownership of the word "conservative" and the right of some of the right to describe themselves as conservative. This is nothing new; it has gone on as long as fascists and anti-communists have been lumped together as part of "the right" and as long as many on the left have said they are all the same thing. Anti-statist conservatives have been at pains to deny any affinity with fascism and so emphasize their opposition to statism and any self-styled conservatism driven, as Trumpism allegedly is, by mere enmity. Theirs is a valid and perhaps even a coherent position, but it doesn't necessarily entitle them to exclusive ownership of the word "conservative." History argues against the claim, as there were statist conservatives in history long before American anti-communists aspired to define what was legitimately worth conserving and how it was to be conserved. Conservatism cannot be limited to limited government, and it's arguably contrary to the conservative modesty of someone like Brooks to claim that conservatism can only be one thing. On the other hand, it probably would be a good thing if each conservative faction adopted its own label, and just as good if every liberal or progressive faction did likewise. The sooner we all see that there are always more than two sides or two ways to view every question, the sooner we might form effective coalitions of factions or interests dedicated to governing rather than destroying or driving out the so-called enemy.  It might also make it easier to see whether there are actual enemies of the people in our midst.

19 June 2018

Le mot injuste

I gave the President a pass on the "animals" thing a few weeks ago, on the understanding that he meant that word to refer only to the MS-13 gang and similar criminal groups. I understand the implicit objection that no white man should refer to any non-white person as an "animal," but I don't think criminal gangs should enjoy any exemption from invective on the ground that they're depraved on account of they're deprived. Today, however, Trump seriously F'd up. Responding to criticism of the separation of illegal immigrant parents from their children, the Chief Executive pushed the button, sending out a tweet railing against Democrats for their opposition to stricter border controls. He tweeted that Democrats "want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13." There's just no way to defend "infest." You'll notice that he tried to save himself at the last minute with that "like MS-13," and he and his sycophants will certainly say that gangs only are the subject for the verb "infest." Grammar doesn't work that way, however; the self-evident meaning of his sentence is that all illegal immigrants are infesting the country -- and given the direction he looks in when he thinks of illegal immigrants, he's going to have a very hard time, much more so than the last time, denying any racist intent. I won't go as far as some critics who claim to see an implicitly exterminationist meaning to "infest," but you don't need to take the long jump to that extreme conclusion to see that this sentence is going to haunt Trump and the Republican party for some time to come. Inevitably he'll whine that he's being misinterpreted or misrepresented, but the President has only himself to blame for this one. 

10 June 2018

THINK 3 VIDEO NEWS: Pride and Sin

The annual Capital Pride parade took place today in Albany NY. A parade always draws a big crowd, and you no more had to conclude that all the people lining Lark Street and Madison Avenue were gay than you have to assume that people cheering a St. Patrick's Day parade are Catholic. One people's celebration is often everyone's occasion to celebrate. As well, cheering the gay marchers, at least at the corner of Lark and Madison where the marchers and floats turn toward Washington Park, is an opportunity to stick it to the killjoys who ever year occupy their own little free-speech zone to cast their anathemas at homosexuals in particular and sinners in general. They moved slightly, or were moved, from their usual spot at the southwest corner, in front of the neighborhood gas station, to the head of Dana Park, a pedestrian island across Lark from the corner, dividing that street from Delaware Avenue. I suspect they were moved with the idea being that the marchers should not have to see them as they turned the corner, though they may still have heard the leader preaching with his bullhorn -- and sounding rather like a Dalek in tone if not in vocabulary, over the cheers and whistles from noisemakers thrown to the crowd. Here's a bit of the parade first.

And here's some of the heckling, giving you a better idea of their distance from the turn of the march.

I wonder whether the protesters felt emboldened in any way by last week's Supreme Court decision upholding a baker's right to refuse service to a gay marriage. A strong majority found the state law in question overly hostile toward religion but stopped short of saying no law could be made against "principled" homophobic discrimination. For the time being, religious homophobia has a constitutional advantage over the gay rights movement, and may retain that advantage until the Constitution can be amended. The courts must defer to, or at least respect the religious opinion that homosexuality is sin and undeserving of civil authority, and while religion can't veto the political enactment of civil equality individual believers are effectively entitled to deny equality at the "civil society" level of private enterprise. This is a uniquely cruel privilege to which many feel obliged to acquiesce on the ground that any group of people of sufficient antiquity is entitled to stigmatize whatever the deem to be "sin." Ask whether you'd be as tolerant of any faith that deemed interracial marriage sinful before retreating into complacence. While it may be comforting to think that men like the assholes of Dana Park are a dying breed whose superstitions needn't trouble us in the future, it seems like a constitutional amendment is necessary on principle to draw a line limiting the "exercise" of religion when it becomes subversive of civil equality, specifically on the point of sexual preference. Obviously you can't force fools like these to change their own minds, but when they seek to deny, explicitly or implicitly, equality of sexual preference (for consenting adults) in any way other than pathetic displays like today's, we should expect the federal government not to defend them, much less take their side.