At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Trump: Rhetoric vs. Record

posted by Jack Kerwick

As much as GOP politicians and their apologists in the media despise it, Donald Trump is, deservedly, the GOP presidential frontrunner at the moment. To Trump’s eternal credit, he has made it acceptable (or at least somewhat less unacceptable) to openly discuss the scourge that is American immigration policy.

Still, intellectual honesty demands that we contend with Trump’s record, as opposed to his rhetoric.

If “Romneycare” divested Mitt Romney of the moral capital that a GOP presidential candidate needed in 2012 to defeat Barack Obama and Obamacare, then how much worse does Trump promise to fare if he has to go head-to-head with Hillary Clinton—who he’s supported over the years?

That’s right: Hillary Clinton is among the many Democratic politicians who Trump has supported over a period of decades.


However, as Jonathan S. Tobin, a writer for Commentary, notes, Trump wasn’t just “a major donor to” Clinton’s “campaigns for the Senate.” He as well “gave $100,000 to the thinly-disguised political slush fund that is the Clinton Family Foundation [.]”

Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, and John Kerry are some other notable Democrats to whose coffers Trump contributed.

In 1990, Trump told Playboy that if he ever ran for office, he “would do better as a Democrat than as a Republican.” Admittedly, Trump immediately qualified this judgment by stressing that he was a “conservative,” and that it was only because “the working guy would elect me” that he would be more successful running as a Democrat.


But this idea—the idea that “the working guy” votes for Democrats—is itself a Democrat’s prejudice.

Years later, in 2004, he gave Wolf Blitzer a different reason for why he is more sympathetic toward Democrats: “In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.” Trump explained: “It just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans.”

Throughout the last 26 years, when we adjust for inflation, Trump has contributed $1.4 million to politicians. Overall, about one-third of this money has gone to Democrats. But it has only been within the last five years that the lion’s share of his donations has gone to Republicans.

In 1999, Trump described Republicans as “too crazy right.”


Trump is now claiming that his support of Democrats like Hillary Clinton was purely “transactional,” that as a “businessman,” he needed to have leverage when dealing with such big wig politicians. “As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.” Trump says that he “need[s] that.”

This may very well be the only reason that Trump lent enormous sums of money to the task of insuring that the Clintons and Kennedys would maintain and increase their power. However, there are two reasons why this explanation fails to clear him.

In fact, the explanation for having contributed to Democrats and their causes reflects far worse on Trump than the fact that he made these contributions in the first place.


First, if Trump is telling the truth and he gave roughly $500,000 to Democrats over a span of decades, and until fairly recently, for the sole purpose of advancing his own material interests, then doesn’t he reveal himself to be a narcissist extraordinaire? Presumably, he recognized that the Democratic Party was destructive of the well-being of the country—this, after all, is why his relations with Democrats was purely “transactional.” Yet he put his own purposes above those of his compatriots who he supposedly knew were suffering under Democrat Party policies.

So, even if Trump persuades us that he is sincere in what he says on this score, he wins by losing, for few people (if they think about this) will want a person like this in the White House.


On the other hand, Trump may not be sincere at all. Why not think that he is just faking it now in order to get something else, like greater power, fame, etc. that he thinks will serve his own interests?

Either way, by his own words, he stands convicted.

Trump has also supported an assault rifle ban and a single-payer health system. He has never been pro-life. Actually, in supporting Democrats, he has strengthened the cause of abortion.

And perhaps most telling of all, given the popularity that he’s enjoyed as of late over his comments on immigration, Trump has very recently suggested that he favors essentially the same kind of “comprehensive immigration reform”—i.e. amnesty—favored by every other Republican and Democratic candidate.


Trump said that he supported an immigration system that would rid the country of the “bad” illegal immigrants while arranging for the “good” illegal immigrants to remain.

As a result, Americans for Legal Immigration Pac (ALIPAC) added Trump to their “Cantor List”—a list, named after Eric Cantor, comprised of “amnesty supporters.”

Numbers USA now gives Trump an overall grade of “C” on immigration. For their “Amnesty Rating,” Trump receives a “Harmful.” As far as “Reducing Legal Immigration” is concerned, Trump received an “Unhelpful.”

It’s a blast watching Trump shake things up, for sure. And it’s far from obvious that he is any worse than any other Republican candidate (of whom more will be said at a later time).

But anyone who thinks that Trump is either a conservative or a libertarian is willfully blind to his record.

The record goes so far as to suggest that he isn’t even a GOP loyalist.

He is, rather, a crass political mercenary.



What’s a War “Hero?”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Donald Trump’s remarks concerning John McCain’s status as a “war hero” elicited much hand-wringing from both his fellow Republicans as well as from Democrats.

However, the truth is that the reasoning that proceeds directly from the premise that someone fought in war to the conclusion that he is a war “hero” is illicit. As for those who for nearly 50 years have been denouncing the Vietnam War as both “immoral” and “unjust,” but who now sing praises to McCain and other ‘Nam vets, matters are even more troublesome.

First, at the peak of the war, Martin Luther King, Jr. exemplified the left’s view when he charged his country with being “the greatest purveyor of violence” in the world because of its actions in Vietnam.


It’s difficult to see how the legions of American soldiers without whom there could’ve been no war can be anything other than war criminals given this assessment of the bloody conflict in ‘Nam.

Second, to avoid this conclusion, many of the war’s critics—like the critics of the wars in Iraq and elsewhere—excuse the “immoral” and “unjust” conduct of the troops by chalking it up to their ignorance or helplessness: The soldiers were “lied to” by their government, they say, or they were “just following orders.”

This line, however, gives rise to new challenges:

Soldiers entering combat jeopardize their lives. They leave their families and loved ones behind, potentially forever. They also consent to take as many lives, to shed as much blood, to destroy as much property, as their commanders deem necessary for victory.


When it comes to a decision as momentous as this, a decision that could come at the cost of everything—including, potentially, one’s own soul—it is the height of recklessness for anyone faced with it to accept the word of another, particularly that of the government.

In other words, all soldiers should exhaust themselves scrutinizing “what they’ve been told,” especially when it is the government that is the source. If at all possible, they should make sure that they aren’t being deceived.

As far as following commands is concerned, this is the old Nuremberg defense. No Commander-in-Chief has the authority to command anyone to act criminally. Such commands, then, are, ultimately, nothing of the sort. Thus, the “I was just following orders” defense is no defense at all, for these are not, and cannot be, legitimate orders.


Soldiers can no more exempt themselves from the charge of wrong-doing by way of appealing to obedience than can mafia hitmen do so.

Tellingly, those who seek to excuse American soldiers who fought in “immoral” and “unjust” wars never think to rely upon these same sorts of arguments when it comes to, say, Nazi soldiers. But if the arguments work in the one case, then they must work in the other. And if they don’t persuade in the one case, then they don’t persuade in the other.

Thirdly, Professor Chris Gazarra, an English instructor and colleague of mine, suggested that it’s possible to distinguish the character of those who participate in a cause from the nature of the cause itself. So, though (say) the Vietnam War is “immoral” and “unjust,” those American soldiers who fought in ‘Nam can still be credited with having conducted themselves heroically and honorably.


This may be a possibility, but, on its face, this position gives rise to multiple paradoxes:

For starters, it implies that eminently virtuous human beings—for heroism and honor belong to the best of the best—can nevertheless be “the greatest purveyors of violence in the world,” criminals responsible for the most vicious of actions.

Moreover, consistency demands that if American soldiers who fight in “immoral” and “unjust” wars nevertheless deserve to be commended for their heroism and honor, then Nazis, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other non-American soldiers who fight for “immoral” and “unjust” causes could be equally deserving of commendation.

Yet what this in turn suggests is that if Nazi soldiers and Islamic State militants conduct themselves heroically and honorably, then, since bravery and honor aren’t just virtues, but the greatest of virtues, in aiming to kill them, America’s military aims to kill, not the vicious, but the virtuous!


Fourthly, even if we assume that the Vietnam War was morally righteous and just, why assume that those Americans who fought in it are, ipso facto, war heroes?

A hero is a person with the virtue of courage. As Aristotle noted in his classic analysis of courage, a genuinely courageous person, i.e. one who habitually acts courageously and delights in doing so, is neither a person who simply surmounts fear nor, much less, one without fear. Rather, a courageous person acts in spite of his fear, yes. But he is also distinguished on account of his wisdom, for he knows what he should fear and how he should do so.

In contrast, the reckless person, who is not infrequently confused with the courageous person, is ignorant of the proper object of fear. He knows not what he should fear, when he should fear it, and the extent to which he should fear it. The reckless person may act courageously or heroically on occasion—in this regard, he is no different from the cowardly person who is not beyond doing the same—but he is not a courageous person.


If soldiers are simply following orders, or if they are deceived, then they are in a state, not of knowledge, but of ignorance. But knowledge, as Aristotle notes, is a prerequisite of virtue generally, and courage specifically. No knowledge, no virtue.

This is not the final word, but given the prize virtue that is courage, it is worth thinking about.

And by the way: Aristotle served in the military.




A Reply to Jeff Jacoby’s “Analysis” of the Confederate Flag

posted by Jack Kerwick

The “conservative” Boston Globe columnist, Jeff Jacoby, thinks that the Confederate flag is “anti-American,” “an ugly symbol of oppression,” “the most poisonous ideologies in our national history,” “racial bigotry and victimization,” “racial hatred,” and “the right of white Americans to buy and sell black Americans.”

The flag is also “the banner of slaughter” that “represents armed rebellion against the United States.”

In the interest of intellectual and moral cogency, I offer the following points for Mr. Jacoby’s consideration.

First, Jacoby has succeeded in resolving the single most complex, controversial issue in our nation’s history into a verdict that can fit into a hashtag or bumper sticker: The Confederates fought for “racial hatred.”


On its face alone, it is painfully clear already that Jacoby prefers the ad hominem attack for thoughtful argument.

Second, despite the “poisonous” cause that he assigns to the Confederates, Jacoby doesn’t doubt that legions of “men and boys” were “noble” in having “fought with courage and died with honor.”

This is a perhaps impossible position to defend. If the Confederates’ cause was the unmitigated evil that Jacoby says it was, then the Confederates were evil. However, if the latter is true, then they were ridden with vices, not the virtues that Jacoby attributes to them, for virtue is the stuff of good character, and those with good character can’t defend “oppression,” “racial hatred,” and the like.


Third, in light of the facts that well over 90 percent of Confederates didn’t own any slaves; of the six percent that did own slaves, half owned no more than five slaves per person; and free blacks fought alongside their white counterparts so that the Southern states could secede from the Union, Jacoby’s assertion that Southerners sacrificed all for nothing more or less than “the right of white Americans to buy and sell black Americans” is patently absurd.

Fourth, even assuming (counterfactually) that slavery is the only reason that Southerners wanted to secede, either they had a right to secede from the Union or they did not. The South’s critics, like Jacoby, invariably make two claims that, at least implicitly, contradict one another: (1) The Southern states—and by implication, any and all states that contracted to be party to these United States of America—had no right to secede; (2) The Southern states had no right to secede for the reason of slavery.


Now, if (1) is true, then it matters not whether the South’s reasons for wanting to secede were odious or noble. All that matters is that it had no right to secession. But if (2) is true, then the implication is that there is a right to secession, but this right can be exercised only for morally sound reasons, i.e. reasons that others find acceptable.

Both (1) and (2) can’t be correct.

If Jacoby and company maintain (1), then there are no states. A state, being a sovereign agent, must have the right to secession, for the latter is nothing other than the fundamental right to freedom of association. To deny this right is to deny a state’s sovereignty over itself—or to deny that it is a state.


If Jacoby and his ilk maintain (2), then, again, they deny the very existence of states. To repeat, there can be no genuine right to freedom of association—a right to secession—if a state must seek permission from others before it is allowed to charter its own destiny.

Finally, only if Jacoby assumes that morality is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing can he pass judgment upon those Southern whites who fought for the Confederacy. But if morality consists of timeless universal principles, then by those standards we must condemn just as forcefully those Southern whites who founded America.

Washington, Jefferson, Madison and many others—massive slave holders—Jacoby must affirm, are at least as guilty as their Southern descendants for promoting “racial hatred, “oppression,” and all of the other hideous charges that Jacoby levels against the men and women of the Confederacy.


By his own reasoning, Jacoby implicitly demands that we cleanse our nation of all reminders of our Founders.

To avoid this conclusion, Jacoby could say that it is unfair to judge Washington and company by the moral standards of today. There are, though, three problems with this move.

First of all, if this claim is correct, then, contra Jacoby’s starting point, there are no universal timeless moral principles: Moral standards are historically and culturally-specific.

Furthermore, if it is unfair to judge the Founders by the moral standards of today because there are no timeless universal principles (like “natural rights”), then the Founders were wrong when they enshrined such principles into the Declaration.

Thirdly, if it is unfair to judge the Founders by the moral standards of today, then it is unfair to judge the Confederates by the moral standards of today.


Jacoby has some thinking to do. And while he’s at it, he should pray to God that millions of white Southern men and women (and some black Southerners too) don’t read this breathtakingly offensive piece of his.

If they do, they may think that his thoughts on them and their ancestors represent those of the GOP.







Pope Francis’ Encyclical: “Progressivism” Theologized

posted by Jack Kerwick

Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, is quite provocative.

Unfortunately, though, it provokes us to consider the possibility that its author has more in common with contemporary leftism than traditional Christianity.

The Pope’s encyclical read as essentially nothing more or less than a protracted, theologized, reiteration of the same “progressive” drivel that’s been drooled upon us for decades.

For example, Francis writes: “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system” (emphasis added).

Notice, the Pope manages to pack into this one sentence talking points that are part and parcel of the rhetorical arsenal from which his secular counterparts routinely draw: Not only do all, or at least most, scientists agree (“consensus”) that global warming is a reality; they agree that this phenomenon is something ominous, something that is “disturbing.”


And, of course, while conceding that “there are other factors” that could account for this danger, Francis concurs with his secular ideological counterparts in claiming that “a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades” is “due…mainly” to “human activity.”

Fundamentally, from beginning to end, the agreement between Francis and those at home sounding the clarion call on “climate change” is total. “Climate change,” His Holiness continues, “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

Observe: Among the gravest of problems to which this Pope devotes an entire encyclical is not the unspeakable acts of brutality to which scores of Christian men, women, and children are daily subjected by Islamic militants in countries throughout the Third World, or even the oppression of Christians in such affluent lands as America who are now confronted with legal penalties for failing to violate the dictates of their own consciences by funding abortion services for their employees or accommodating gay wedding celebrations.


It is climate change that holds this distinction.

Francis, predictably, exempts the world’s poor of responsibility for climate change. It is on the shoulders of—who else?—Westerners that he lays the lion’s share of blame. “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms [.]”

In short, we in the West are guilty not only of creating most of this “disturbing warming;” we are guilty as well of evading responsibility for our crime.

By “wasting water,” both Westerners and, to a lesser extent, those in “developing countries” deny the poorest of the world’s poor their “right to life” and “their inalienable dignity.” Access to clean drinking water, you see, is “a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other such rights.”


Here is another respect in which Francis reveals his leftist proclivities: Rights, he maintains, are entitlements to substantive satisfactions, to resources. Thus, if I am thirsty but haven’t any money to procure a drink, I am entitled to your services just and only insofar as you are able to satiate my thirst. Relieving my thirst now becomes your duty. In failing to fulfill this “duty,” you are now guilty of violating my “right to life” and my “inalienable dignity.”

We can take this logic further. Shelter, presumably, must be “a basic and universal human right” too, for “it is essential to human survival” as well. What this implies is that if you and your family are without shelter, and I have even the slightest room in my home where I live with my family, then regardless of the costs for me that this may entail, I have a duty to accommodate you and yours.


You are entitled to nothing less.

When speaking of the poor’s “inalienable right” to water, the Pope says as much when he speaks of the “grave social debt” that we owe them. And he follows through on the logic of the “positive rights” to which he speaks when he goes on to claim that we can fulfill this debt, at least partially, by way of “an increase in funding” (emphasis added).

But it gets worse.

Francis insinuates that funding can only go so far as long as there remains “little awareness of the seriousness of such behavior”—wastefulness—“within a context of great inequality.”

Read carefully: Ultimately, it isn’t “climate change” or “global warming” that the encyclical is about. It is inequality, great inequality,” that is the evil that is the center of attention.


And notice how the Pope implies that in perpetuating or even allowing inequality—again, inequality of resources—we are guilty of violating the right to life of those who have less than us.

Now, it has always been understood that to violate a person’s right to life is to unjustly kill that person. Yet if an unequal “distribution” (another word that Francis is fond of using) of resources is such that it impedes the poor’s access to goods that are essential to existence, then, according to the Pope, the poor’s “right to life” is undermined. But if this is so, then it is those of us who have freer access to these goods, those of us who have permitted this inequality to persist, who are guilty of violating the poor’s “right to life.”

We are, then, in effect, murderers.

A lot more can be said about Laudato Si’. But the one thing that we cannot say about it is that it has anything to do with the Gospel of Christ.



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posted 11:45:59pm Jul. 23, 2015 | read full post »

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