Category: American Prophecy

Welcome to Bizarro World: Ayn Rand, Donald Trump, and Private Capital’s Assault on Public Institutions

Several days ago, The New York Times published a fascinating essay about the cult-like worship of Ayn Rand among Silicon Valley tech bros such as Peter Thiel and Travis Kalanick, and of Donald Trump administration insiders such as Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, and Trump himself. In a much-read and discussed December 2016 LinkedIn post, hedge fund impresario Ray Dalio concisely…

Freedom From “Fear Porn”: In Defense of Cosmopolitan Elites, Polyglot Cultures, and Global Integration

Much has already been written about Donald Trump’s speech to the Polish people earlier today. This speech, written (presumably) by White House fear-mongers Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, adopts a dark and legitimately creepy Saruman-like vibe similar to Trump’s inaugural address. James Fallows commented on the shift in tone of this speech from famous (and infamous)…

Please Help the Simama Project Buy Land in Kenya to House and Support Homeless Children

Jessica Danforth is a co-founder of the Simama Project, a non-profit organization that delivers housing, education, medical, and social services to homeless and street children in Kenya. For the past 18 months, Jessica has been battling breast cancer. Six months ago, her closest friend died at the age of 32, after receiving a double lung transplant. These experiences have caused…

Robby George’s Primer on Natural Law: Let’s Break It Down

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis, 1:28)

In 2007, Professor Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, delivered the John Dewey Lecture in Philosophy at Harvard Law School. George himself received his legal education at Harvard, and was there introduced to ideas about the relationship between law and morality, the study of which, as he happily tells us, became his life’s vocation.

Thinking Hard About Racism in the United States

Bill Maher’s comedic use of the term “house nigger” inspired another round of hand-wringing about casual racism. In the aftermath, Ice Cube showed up on Real Time and offered a clear-eyed perspective on the situation. This is what Ice Cube said to Bill Maher. “It’s a word that has been used against us; it’s like a knife, man. And you can use it as a weapon, or you can use it as a tool. It’s been used as a weapon against us by white people, and we’re not gonna let that happen again…. That’s our word now. And you can’t have it back.” Which is fair enough. But without defending the casual and gratuitous use of incendiary racial language, I’m also thinking online brush fires that ignite when someone uses racially (in)sensitive language don’t really help us to think properly about racism. Indeed, these brush fires can become smoke screens that misdirect our attention from racism’s enduring (and decidedly non-casual) psychological and institutional foundations. Racism is not really about language, and is certainly not caused by language (we should not confuse casual with causal).

The Creation Project: Revealed Religion, Natural Law, Moral Philosophy, and the End of the World

In recent months, I’ve published a series of essays (you can read them here) that probe the rising influence of an intellectually sophisticated and aggressively conservative Catholic cohort (here) in American politics, with a range that extends from political arsonist Steve Bannon in the White House to philosopher-muse Robby George at Princeton. The premise of these essays has been that the intellectual foundations of political conservatism – in the United States and in Europe – derive largely from a deeply Catholic-influenced conception of natural law. Having taken a break from this project since early May, I’d like now to return by summarizing the current state of the argument, and outlining where I hope to take it from here.

Thinking About Sewers and Freedom: Google’s Self-Serving (But Cool) Assault on Shitty Internet Ads

In 2018, the Google Chrome browser will block “low quality” ads (pop-up ads, self-launching videos, countdown ads, and sticky ads that won’t go away) and only display more “user-friendly” and “tasteful” ads approved by the Coalition for Better Ads industry group (check out the member list and the ad format stack rank – they are interesting!). With the global market for…

The “Hamilton Defect”: or, Why Mike Lee Should Stop Writing Terrible History and Go Back Just To Being a Terrible Senator

Utah Senator Mike Lee has a historical bone to pick with you. In a widely read article published in Politico Magazine, called How the “Hamilton Effect” Distorts the Founders, Mike Lee tells us that the Alexander Hamilton you swooned over in Hamilton the Musical was not, in fact, the sexy, passionate, loquacious, hard-working, pro-immigrant, nationalist visionary conjured by Lin-Manuel Miranda from Ron Chernow’s epic biography. If only we knew our history, Mike Lee writes (and, presumably, if only Ron Chernow knew his history), and weren’t weak suckers for liberal propaganda masking as history, well, then we would realize, truly, that Alexander Hamilton was actually a small government, state’s rights conservative. A principled, free-market, family values conservative perhaps not unlike Mike Lee himself!

Who Gets Your Vote in 2020? The Rock, Mark Cuban, or Mark Zuckerberg?

This past weekend, following a vigorous Appalachian Trail jaunt in the vicinity of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife (celebrating their 5th anniversary!) met with some hard-working local folk of Millinocket, Maine as part of his ongoing “getting to know America” trail ride. We can leave aside for the moment whether at…

The Salvaging: American Academic Philosophy Implodes

This brushfire engulfing Hypatia (the feminist journal of philosophy) is so intriguing. The article (“In Defense of Transracialism“) itself is fascinating, with is argument for imagining race as flexibly as we have begun to imagine gender. But no more fascinating than the response to the article (let’s call it an article-da-fe), particularly this “open” (although perhaps better viewed as “closed”)  letter to the journal, which urges the Hypatia editors to assume the fetal position, yank the article, and submit to all manner of degrading apologies and corrective re-education steps.

Simian Trump in the Wiggle Room: The Righteous Religious Rage of Robby George

In October 2015, Bloomberg further burnished Robby George’s reputation as the wise man of the Republican Party with an article headlined “Half the Republican Field Seeks Advice From This Princeton Professor.” Throughout the campaign, George queried and counseled Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum, each of whom explicitly sought his advice on how to think through and talk about wedge social issues such as religious liberty, same-sex marriage, and abortion rights (and wrongs), and other “key constitutional values” (Mike Huckabee, who did not meet directly with George, has said that George is the thinker whose ideas have most influenced him).

God and Religion at Princeton: The Catholic Foundations of Conservative American Thought (3)

Yes, it’s good to be a Thomist, particularly at Princeton University. The previous essay in this series of posts on the Catholic foundations of conservative thought in America emphasized the support Catholic natural law philosophy has received as an integral part of a conservative political insurgency funded (almost without limit) by billionaire businessmen (Koch, Scaife,…

The Banality of Campus Speech Controversies

We may be reaching peak meltdown in the current campus “free speech” conflagration. The political correctness / free speech crisis has been a manufactured trope of the conservative right for decades, certainly dating back to the swirl surrounding Allen Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education nearly three decades ago.…

Serving God and Mammon: The Catholic Foundations of American Conservative Thought (2)

The previous essay in this series on the Catholic foundations of American conservative thought concluded with a proposition about the out-sized influence of Catholic philosophical precepts in American politics. The proposition was that making theory practical via the law allows theory to become powerful. But we should not also forget that another element in the alchemy binding ideas to power is money.

From Steve Bannon to Robby George: The Catholic Foundations of American Conservative Thought

This essay traces the arc within movement conservatism in the United States from Steve Bannon, Chief Strategist to President Donald Trump (and arguably the most reviled and feared conservative political actor in American public life) to Robby George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University (and arguably the most respected and influential conservative political thinker in…

Worship the Creation, Not the Creator: An Immodest Proposal for Immodest Times

While writing about hunchbacked Nostradamus Steve Bannon, and other topics in the past year (mostly, but not all, Trump-related), I’ve often had the sense that I am (metaphysically speaking) sitting on the shoulders of something, unformed and drenched in darkness, but real and mutable and worth exploring further, no matter what the risk. Writing anything worthwhile is usually about this sort of exploration or quest to uncover the large, masked forms of our existence, and this process requires commitment and trust, that we can figure out things as we go along, that creation (and storytelling) is an adventure of discovery, not the schematic unfurling of foreknowledge.

Prairie Fire: Steve Bannon’s Dark Enlightenment

I don’t personally know Steve Bannon or any of the other various satraps and factotums and acolytes who accompany this political movement and whose ideas now drive policy at many levels of government. But I do know that if we fear Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate and in most state governments, we need to focus less on who these people are as individuals (a major preoccupation for the click-driven media and an incredible waste of time for the rest of us) and more on what they want to do.

From “The Closer” to “Blame Game”: The Politics of Trumpcare Captured in 4 Words

This is pretty funny. In the past 24 hours, as tension ratcheted on the fate of the Trumpcare legislation, Google searches on the term “The Closer”, referencing Donald Trump’s alleged deal-closing prowess, steadily mounted until about 7:00 AM (EDT) this morning, then dipped before slowly rising again toward the 3:30 PM (EDT) deadline for ending debate and casting a vote. By 4:00 PM, searches on “The Closer” peaked again, while simultaneously searches on “Blame Game” began to pop. But what is really interesting is that precisely at 6:00 PM EDT searches on “Blame Game” surged passed “The Closer”, right on time for the start of nightly televised news.

The Dog That Didn’t Bark: A 2016 Presidential Election Mystery Unfolds in Wisconsin’s Juneau County

In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama soundly trounced Mitt Romney in the great state of Wisconsin, harvesting 52.8 percent of ballots cast in the state (compared to Romney’s 45.9 percent), a margin of more than 213,000 votes. While Romney won in 37 of the state’s 72 counties, these were mostly smaller and more rural enclaves, representing only 46 percent of the total votes cast, and since Obama won his counties by an average of 15.6 percent and Romney carried his counties by an average of only 10.3 percent, well, it was game-set-match early in the evening for Barry in the Cheesehead state.

Normalizing Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay spoke at Town Hall. All 6’3″ and 300 pounds of her. Roxane Gay is a feminist/cultural critic/social media phenom. She is a Twitter OG, been doing it since 2007, so 10 years to account for her nearly 200,000 followers and her 129,000 tweets. That’s only 12,900 tweets a year, boss. Only about 35 tweets a day, 24/7/365, for 10 fucking years. My God.

School Choice, Parental Control, and the Public Education Death Spiral

Death Spiral is a term used to characterize the negative impact of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). But the death spiral image more aptly captures the Tea Party whip the beast / starve the beast strategy for undermining and hollowing out government institutions and functions. For example, the ultimate effect of the Betsy Devos public education mandate, as imagined by her business and religious sponsors (most of whom have never spent a day inside public schools themselves) is likely to be a public education death spiral. Which is largely the mandate’s intent.

War on Children: The Deeper Meaning of Trumpism

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, the positive energy and sense of purpose he brought to the nation was largely about racial equity and racial healing. Less clearly articulated, but perhaps equally important, was the sense that political leadership, going forward, would also more accurately represent the emerging profile of America’s youth.

Return to Oz: Peter Thiel’s Retro Futurism

Maureen Dowd interviewed Peter Thiel (for the “Fashion and Style” section of the New York Times). Technology blog Gizmodo printed an orgy of quotes from the interview and gushed about its subject. According to the Gizmodo author, Peter Thiel “seems totally regular and cool.”

Antonin Scalia and the Death of American Law

I wrote this essay several years ago, but am mindful of its relevance as we consider the Antonin Scalia legacy in the aftermath of his death, a task that remains especially vital as Donald Trump, nearly one year later, prepares to appoint Scalia’s replacement.

In Which Politico Fucks Things Up

The Politico.com website does a fair-to-middling job reporting on the shit storm presenting inundating us. However, the website far too often offers up “cloudy with a chance of meatballs” forecasting and analysis that simply makes things worse.

Eight Thoughts on Guns and Freedom

Gun ownership has become a bizarre, frenzied religion. A cargo cult that worships the smooth barrel of a gun, a false idol, with its prosthetic, prophetic promise that we can blast our way into Heaven.

Seeking Sanity: An Idea for Saving the World

Social media and active online opinion communities have made it much easier for formerly marginal assholes like Alex Jones and Roger Stone to sow fear and loathing in the public mind. But we need to be honest about the challenges in determining what news is fake and then deciding how to neutralize it.

Messages in a Bottle

In nation after nation, the commitment to liberal democracy has weakened. Fewer people believe it is “essential” to live in a democracy; more people are open to military rule if government institutions weaken; and broadly based parties and movements have become influential or gained power by arguing that existing regimes and institutions are illegitimate.

Pilgrimage

Forsaking God.
Splintered on storm-wracked rocks.
Splayed on granite shores.
Stone scabbards pierced my groin.
Bitter winds stabbed my cheeks.
The scallops did not taste good.

Clinton’s Collapse (or, How a Rabid Dog Hijacked the Election)

Maybe too much has been made of the “angry white man” and “urban-rural” story lines in this election. Now that the dust has begun to clear, with Clinton probably winning the popular vote, there are risks to doubling down on racial and geographic explanations as drivers of the electoral college outcome.

Thirteen Ways to Think About the Election

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

From Working Class to White Trash: Hillbillies on Our Minds

So long as there was opportunity, the unionized northern factory work did more to unite striving Americans than it did to divide them. But the risk of slipping backwards, into a status of economic immiseration and primitive self-loathing, remained sequestered, but not denied, a furtive howling.

Trumpet of the Black Swan (or The Devil and the Donald)

Donald Trump will probably not defeat Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election. He will probably not become the next President of the United States. However, odds Trump wins this election are higher, by an order of magnitude, than any rational person can grasp without pulverizing most of his/her brain.

The Secret Mission

Each generation faces anew the basic challenge of defining what it means to be human, and what that definition tells us in our darkest night of the soul, individually and as a species, about how to use the time that is given us. That is the secret mission assigned to our species.

McDonald’s and the End of Beef

Americans consume more meat per capita than any other nation (about 265 pounds/year). Indeed, one way to grasp our national vastness is to consider the sheer quantity of the killing that occurs every year to keep meat at the center of our food economy.

Losing (The Soul of a Writer)

The creation of art requires assimilation of the starkest realities and contradictions of our uncertain nature and existence. Betrayal, violence, and death dangerously draw the artist to the flame. The artist travels where others will not tread.

The Weird Inconsequentiality of Donald Trump

Should it matter to us if the American people select Donald Trump to be their next president? Of course. Donald Trump is a primitive man, unwinding before us in real time, a barking neo-fascist racist activating primitive emotions of scared, vulnerable, and angry Americans.