Good Friday Morning, except to the Supreme Court who still hasn’t posted decisions for about a baker’s dozen cases this term. They usually wind things up by the end of June and it looks increasingly likely that we’re going to get an extension of the term into July. The remaining cases deal with light issues like abortion, religion, and Trump’s tax returns. So buckle your seatbelts and brace yourselves, people who know nothing about these cases, or that big opinions are on the way, are about to become very opinionated.
With the Supreme Court in mind, I thought I’d share Josh Blackman‘s read on the remaining cases of the Supreme Court term:
Today the Supreme Court decided Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam. My prediction was right: Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion. Three cases remain from the pre-COVID cases. I am standing by my predictions.
- Espinoza: Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Breyer.
- Seila Law: Justice Breyer
- June Medical: Chief Justice Roberts
We will only hear from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Breyer for the remainder of this month. I think Justice Thomas will be in dissent in each case. It will be a long Blue June.
June Medical is the abortion case this term, and one I’m watching very carefully. My prediction on that case is that Roberts turns the clock back and reverses Hellerstedt, the 2016 case on a law of the same kind of provisions, but keeps things narrowed to that only. The Thomas dissent would likely be on the issue of third-party standing, that doctors/clinics don’t have the capacity to sue on behalf of women and the abortion right. Whatever happens, we’re in for an explosive end to the term.
This week, I’m doing something a little different and running off on a tangent of where politics stand right now.
Where you can find me this week
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The heightened contradictions in George Floyd’s death – The Conservative Institute.
The woke Pharisees and their religious wars – The Conservative Institute.
One day, I’m going to live in theory, because in theory everything goes perfectly . . .
P.S. From Paris by Marc Levy (2017).
“Just as you haven’t really seen the country, most of them haven’t truly seen the city. So keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, and be mindful of differences until you’ve had a few days to acclimate yourself.”
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (2006).
When I first started writing, I charged myself with writing one column a week. That grew from one column to one newsletter, to now two columns, a newsletter, and pitching contributor pieces at various websites. In the beginning, I was worried I’d even have one thing to write about a week. I always appreciated a piece of advice George Will related in a column. He was told early on that there’s perpetually one to two things that will irk you a week — write on those.
Aggravation is a valuable muse, especially when you’re trying to hit a specific number of words for a column. In that sense, Twitter is the single greatest boon for writers. It’s easy to find some particular point of aggravation to write about each week. Most times, there’s a cornucopia of irritation awaiting.
I’m meandering a bit this week because I don’t have specific aggravations this week, it’s more of an overarching annoyance with politics in general.
Forced into the center
Here’s my overarching gripe. I’m not a centrist. I’m pretty far from a centrist. I’m a conservative that believes in the rights in the constitution and would like them all dramatically expanded. In many respects, I’d consider myself a radical on the right. I believe in broad freedoms in speech, religion, gun rights, protections for defendants, and others. I believe in a wide latitude of freedom on the internet — keeping it as a wild west of sorts is a fundamental good for the country. I’m not a libertarian, because I disagree with them on morality and the government’s role in encouraging community.
The politics of our time has forced me into a middle position. All I do is balance out what facts are real on a given story and determine the best way forward. Avi Woolf, a conservative writer and a great follow on Twitter, put it this way: “Conservatives: Trained by education to be Edmund Burke, forced by circumstances to be HL Mencken.“
It’s going from a stance on principles to being annoyed by the politicians of your time. And the politics of our moment revolve around one topic: Donald J. Trump.
Now, as a writer, this means I’m never hurting for things to write about on a given week. I laughed at a story John Podhoretz told on the Commentary Podcast recently. Early in his career in the 90s, he requested a writing position for Broadway productions because there wasn’t enough happening in politics to write about each week. Not true now. News cycles can flare up and die in less than 24 hours, sometimes less than 6-12 hours.
There’s always some new agitation to consider. Some new outrage. Some new mob outrage or media sensation. I’d call it tiring, but I get paid to give opinions on these things now, so it’s not that tiring, if you catch my drift.
But it has forced me into the center. That’s not because of my politics, but because I prize ideas and beliefs above a person. Trump dominates everything at the moment, but in reality, he dominates very little. In times past, we viewed topics through conservatism, liberalism, progressivism, Marxism, religion, and so on. Now? It’s pro- or anti-Trump.
I’ve spent the coronavirus quarantine diving into books: political philosophy, biographies, novels, and general history. The first quote at the top of the newsletter, from Marc Levy, I read a few years back. And when you’re reading political theory, things seem so much clearer. If we could only adjust x, y, or z in our politics, we could get different results.
That is, of course, untrue. Politics is a messy business. But living in theory seems so much better. Many of our politicians still adhere to notions of theory. Marxism is a utopian theory that stylizes itself as scientific. It’s not. It’s more religion than anything else, with a full eschatology and concept of morality. I minored in English in college and still laugh at how easy it was, as a Christian, to “BS a paper” from a Marxist perspective and get an A. One of my all-time favorite webcomics is one from XKCD that jokes about how long one could fake their way through various disciplines, from hard sciences to literary criticism. All I had to do was think through Marxism as a quasi-religion, and the criticism professors wanted was easy to reproduce.
It must be delightful to live in theory if you’ve built that bubble for yourself.
I’m no longer in a bubble. I was once. It was easy to be in one when politics tended to line up with whatever priors I had. Conservatism and the Republican Party went hand-in-hand. But Donald Trump is not a conservative. Not even in the slightest. There are few signs he’s a Christian either, though, I do believe God put Trump there. And as such, I’ve had to search and work harder to ground myself, or new bubble, in faith and the truths that conservatism has found absolute. In short, I’m in the middle because I believe in ideas and have a grounded faith. And when the central object of all politics doesn’t appear to share those same things, you’re stuck either in a transactional relationship or on the outside looking in.
Lessons from the (current) political center
The lesson of the Trump and Obama years is that when a politician gets perceived as an empty slate, people project whatever they want onto that person. Tim Alberta, a journalist at Politico and the best journalist in America right now, published an incredible piece on the state of Black Democrats and their relationship with the Democratic Party. There was a broad disillusionment with the Obama era, like this example:
“We’re all Democrats, but we’re all Black Democrats. So, we can see things for what they are,” explained URSURA MOORE, a 53-year-old real estate agent. “Some people thought just because we had a Black president, he was going to make things better for Black people—he was going to free Black prisoners, wipe out Black debt. That was just ignorance. But the disappointment some of us felt with Obama—more so with the Democratic Party—that was real. And it hasn’t gone away. So, people start to wonder whether the outcome even matters. They wonder whether they should bother voting at all.”
Read the whole thing. And let’s be clear here: Donald Trump has fewer legislative accomplishments than Obama when comparing first terms. Obama had unified command of all branches of government just like Trump, and both lost landslides in their first midterms. Trump has had success in the judiciary — but that success predates him with the establishment of the Federalist Society and many other judicial projects on the right.
But if you listened carefully, many of those legal conservatives felt betrayed the past few weeks. If that continues, the disillusionment with Trump on the right will be the same as it has been with former Obama voters. When you pile all your marbles into a cult of personality, it is difficult to find anything to build a legacy on later. When people don’t feel like they’re winning, you can’t tell them they’re just sick of all the winning.
All those Black Democrats in Alberta’s piece believe Trump will win again. I tend to think the same thing, despite current evidence on the polling front. How I read of things right now is that Biden is expanding his lead at the wrong time, and he may be peaking too soon. That, in turn, lowers the bar for a Trump comeback narrative. And we’re only one major storyline or two from Biden’s support dropping like a rock.
What happens if Biden gets COVID-19? What happens if the economy roars back? What other big news story drops? At this point in 2016, James Comey hadn’t had his Clinton speech, and we were FAR away from the Access Hollywood tape. There are too many “what-ifs,” too many variables, and too many unknowns to make firm predictions. 2020 has proven to be a volatile year, making me think more volatility is on the way. But things could smooth out from here on out. We cannot predict the future, and our experts are bad at this sort of thing.
Time and the future
All of which brings me to that second quote to begin the newsletter. When you’re no longer in the city, you have to learn a new set of assumptions for that area and vice versa. That means shutting up, learning, and adjusting for a time before you understand both situations. That’s what I’ve attempted in this weird time of existing as a conservative tossed into the middle and getting asked to square circles.
We’re in an inflection point right now, between the new and the old. Our era wants to enter something new, but the past is tearing at the threads. People are pulling down statues of both Confederates and abolitionists. We see a need for reform, but our political sides are more content to rip each other and the country’s history apart. On a recent Editors podcast episode, Michael Brendan Dougherty analogized it to watching the nation attempt to exorcise a demon and destroying everything in the process.
There is a particular religious fervor to the moment. And that’s why there’s such visceral hatred emerging too. A religious hatred takes someone and makes them not just a political enemy but also a moral and spiritual enemy. The gods of secularism seek vengeance on their foes. The newly woke religious fervor is seeking to fill that need.
The secularists tried, for decades, to push God out of public places. But in turn, what they’ve done is insert their religion into this place. The waves of public social shaming and attack, if you go against this flood, is not normal. In past times, these kinds of waves led to mass deaths (think the religious wars of France or the French Revolution). We still have enough law and order to prevent those kinds of events, but there are factions on the left and right that would like nothing more than for the wall of law to drop to let them lethally go at each other.
One more quote from The Lies of Lock Lamora as we wrap up.
The Revel was a citywide debauch, a rowdy public service the duke was happy to underwrite from his treasury. There were few things like a good Revel to pull the fangs from any unrest before it had time to fester.
The Revel is an event in the book where everything goes, and law enforcement turns a blind eye. It’s not quite like the Purge movies, where everyone gets 24 hours to do whatever they want. But the theory is the same; if you let all of society blow off steam at once, it maintains a healthy culture.
It’s tempting to think there’s truth to that logic. If you allow society to let off steam, they’re less likely to explode at once. The mayors and governors in these blue states and cities are following that logic to some extent. But that’s not true; allowing some lawlessness begets more lawlessness — hate begets hate. The more unraveling allowed, the more unraveled we become, unable to sew things back together.
It’s a dangerous inflection point. Our elite leadership has learned all the wrong lessons, at least from my vantage point in the aggravated center. I’m undecided whether I’ll vote for Trump. I didn’t in 2016. But I do know the track we’re on right now is not the right one. And the domestic crises of our time, COVID-19, racial riots, and more are enflaming passions that threaten to spin us out of control.
Can the country be brought back together? Perhaps. Only those in the middle of the divide are capable, though, and there are precious few of those people right now. It’s far easier to lob firebombs instead of picking up the tools to mend the divide. Those throwing firebombs live in perfect theory bubbles, but can’t see the damage done to the country.
And the greatest myth those on either side of the divide believe is that Joe Biden or Donald Trump can solve this divide.
Links of the week
The New York Times’s Inconsistent Standards Drove Slate Star Codex To Self-Cancel: Scott Alexander has deleted his popular blog to deter a reporter from exposing his real name. – Robby Soave, Reason Magazine
Democrats Play Politics on Police Reform: Chuck Schumer wants a campaign theme, not a solution. – Shay Hawkins, Wall Street Journal
The New Truth: When the moral imperative trumps the rational evidence, there’s no arguing – Jacob Siegal, Tablet Magazine
‘I’m Tired of Being the Help’ In suburban Detroit, a cookout full of Democratic voters bubbles into outrage, frustration at being taken for granted—and certainty that 2020 is in the bag for Trump. – Tim Alberta, Politico Magazine
How conspiracy theories about the NYPD Shake Shack ‘poisoning’ blew up – Craig McCarthy, NYPost
GOP Sen. Tim Scott: I’ve choked on fear when stopped by police. We need the JUSTICE Act: We must offer more than words and social media posts. The JUSTICE Act will help us balance the scales of justice. It will help us breathe again. – Sen. Tim Scott, USA Today
Slavery and plunder do nothing to create wealth – only liberty can achieve that: Slavery lingers today in the poorest places on Earth, rather than countries that embrace free markets – Daniel Hannan, The Telegraph
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Cities Protecting Statues By Disguising Them As Karl Marx – The Babylon Bee
Mastercard Changes Name To Equalitycard – The Babylon Bee
Trump Defies Liberals By Chugging Entire Bottle Of Aunt Jemima Syrup – The Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!