Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Not all news coming from academia these days is necessarily bad news. In my own little corner of this world, some of it is actually quite good, and it’s all that much sweeter when it is considered within the larger context of contemporary events.

At a time when universities and colleges around the country are creating “safe spaces,” hosting “cry ins” and “walk outs,” and distributing coloring books and the like for students and faculty who have been traumatized by the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency; when institutions of higher learning have betrayed their traditional mission by substituting training in political ideology for education of the heads and hearts of their pupils—I’m happy to report that the members of the community of my little college in Southern New Jersey are busy attending to the sorts of matters for the sake of which the liberal arts had historically been prized.

On November 29, the Dean of the Liberal Arts Division at the institution at which I’ve taught philosophy for the last 17 years, Donna Vandergrift, gave a talk in the campus auditorium.  Patterned on the New York Times bestseller, The Last Lecture, the presentation was subtitled, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Randy Pausch was a professor of computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  His last lecture, being that it really was his last, was designed to impart to his audience Pausch’s reflections on the human condition, reflections that were as autobiographical in their inspiration as they were comprehensive in scope: Pausch supplied insights into human existence that were drawn from the unique human life that he lived.

Moreover, it wasn’t just any old reading of the human situation that Pausch delivered. The vision that he bequeathed had neither the pessimism of a Schopenhauer or Hobbes nor the utopian optimism of Rousseau or Godwin.  Rather, life, on Pausch’s reading of it, though hard, was also, ultimately, good.

While she is not terminally ill, Donna carried on in this same vein.  Of course, it was from her own life’s experiences that she drew in buttressing the vision of human existence that provided their subtext, a vision according to which life, though ridden with unforeseen but inevitable trials, contains much in which to delight.  In fact, it’s precisely in surmounting these tribulations, in persisting through the hardships, that no small share of this delight is to be gotten.

There is pain, yes, but without the pain, there is no gain.

Donna is a psychologist by trade.  Her lecture, though, was ripe with philosophical jewels. Long before either Donna or Pausch, there was Saint Augustine.  And centuries after the great Catholic philosopher and theologian had gone to meet his maker, there was the Renaissance man and founder of the genre now known as the essay, Michel de Montaigne.  Both Augustine and Montaigne made subjects of themselves.

Augustine declared: “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

To discern the human condition and its relation to the Creator in Whose likeness it was made, Augustine delved into his own soul.  Montaigne affirmed this maneuver when he remarked: “Each man bears the entire form of man’s estate.” It was this belief, doubtless, that accounts for why Montaigne also said that he studies himself “more than any other subject.”  “That is my metaphysics,” he insisted, “that is my physics.”

This last comment is especially revealing.  Metaphysics is the study of ultimate reality, of what’s really real.  And physics is the study of the material world.  In examining himself, Montaigne recognized, what Augustine had realized centuries earlier, that self-knowledge and the knowledge of everything else—including and most importantly the knowledge of the ground of one’s being—are inseparable.

Augustine and Montaigne exemplified more than most the philosophical spirit at its best.  But their faith that reality, though infinitely diverse, is ultimately one, as well as their courage to unlock the hidden mysteries of the cosmos by plunging ever more deeply into themselves so as to unveil their own secrets were hardly unique to these two men.

Recall, it was Socrates who famously declared that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and it was his successor Plato who explicitly noted the parallels between the nature of the human soul and that of reality.

Moses, the Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tzu are some of the ancients from around the world who realized that one’s own condition is a window into reality as a whole.

As to the stuff of which the self, humanity, and reality are made, and as to how these things are related to one another, these are questions that have been answered variously.  Yet there is, it seems to this philosopher, a common theme that unites the vison of each person with that of every other, a theme that transcends the contingencies of time and place, history and culture.

This theme is that of unity-in-difference. 

The contradictions between philosophies of humanity and the world no more preclude recognition of common bonds between generations and ages than do the contradictions, the flux, within oneself preclude a sense of individual identity.  Implicit in her talk was this awareness on Donna’s part that while she has spent most of her life oscillating between disparate ideas as to who she “really” is, it is through these internal conflicts that her sense of oneness, her sense of being a unity, a single self, has strengthened.  The more acutely one feels the conflicts in one’s life, the greater is both one’s determination to find resolution and the confidence that one’s quest for wholeness will eventually bear fruit.

In revisiting—or, more accurately, reimagining from the vantage point of the present moment—some of the crucial events of her life, Donna was furthering her journey to both self-discovery and, importantly, self-creation (The two are not mutually exclusive).  And insofar as she enacted and re-enacted her life before the college community, Donna underscored a critical truth that is all too easily forgotten in our exceedingly individualistic age: The forging of one’s own identity is, in significant ways, a communal enterprise of a sort.

Ours is a Politically Correct epoch.  The liberal arts and humanities have been corrupted by the infusion of political ideology in colleges around the country and beyond.  As readers of this column are all too familiar, this is a theme on which I regularly sound off.  Yet when departures from this descent into the abyss occur, when minds are once again provoked to look inward, upward, and outward, they must be celebrated.

And when they occur at my little school, and courtesy of my colleagues, it’s that much more satisfying to be the bearer of glad tidings.

 

In an election season like the present, the Alfred E. Smith Dinner seems conspicuously dated.

Not unlike the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in this year of the Outsider (or is it the year of the Deplorables?) last week’s event appeared more than ever as but another occasion to showcase the incestuous relationship between the members of the Government/Media elite.

Donald Trump’s appearance would have threatened to compromise his reputation as the anti-Establishment candidate had it not been for the fact that some of his remarks regarding his opponent managed to elicit loud boos from, well, the very Establishmentarians against whom he’s been railing for the last year-and-a-half.  His enemies in the national press and the professional politicians for whom they routinely apologize still haven’t figured out that in assailing Trump, they only vindicate him in the eyes of the tens of millions of his supporters.

Such has been the impact of Trump’s candidacy that it would be only slightly hyperbolic to divide the timeline of our political universe into B.T.P (Before the Trump Phenomenon) and A.T.P (After the Trump Phenomenon).  The problem with the GOP nominee’s legions of detractors in the halls of power is that they lack either the ability or the will to recognize that the force of Trump’s break out candidacy has thrust us from one epoch to another. Both Republican and Democrat Regimists in D.C. and the national press now live within a time warp.

At no point in our history has the Regime’s hegemony been as vulnerable as it is at the present moment.  Courtesy of the Trump Phenomenon, i.e. the movement that’s coalesced around Trump’s candidacy, the electorate has been able to confirm what it has long suspected.  For perhaps the first time ever, even those voters who only engage in politics every four years know about such things as the faux-democratic nature of the primary process, the deception and hypocrisy of “conservative” politicians and media personalities, and the nakedly partisan nature of self-styled “journalists.”

Voters now know of the “alt-right” and, by implication, the “alt-left.”

Voters know of Wikileaks, private servers, compromises of national security, and hacked emails revealing corruption after corruption within the Clinton campaign specifically, and the DNC generally.

For a long while, indignation has been fomenting among much of the American citizenry.  Among those Americans—mostly whites of the middle and working classes—this indignation has been as acute as it has been justified.  These are the Americans who could usually have been counted upon to vote Republican.  After years of having been taken for granted, millions began sitting out elections.  The resistance on the part of Republican establishmentarians to Trump’s candidacy has vindicated their suspicions that the GOP is but another wing of the very Regime whose interests are diametrically at odds with those of their own.

And Trump’s candidacy itself, while giving voice to their frustrations and their hope that the powers-to-be just may succumb to defeat, has catapulted them back into the political fold with a vengeance.

Hillary Clinton didn’t misspeak at all when she referred to “half” of Trump’s backers as “deplorable” and “irredeemable.”  She didn’t misspeak when she accused them of every politically incorrect phobia and “ism.” At the same time, the Deplorables are all too aware that Clinton’s remarks hardly reflect idiosyncratic sentiments on her part.  Quite the contrary: Clinton was merely expressing the shared judgment of her class, the Regime.

The Deplorables have always suspected that both Democrat and Republican regimists have long regarded them as, well, deplorable. The Regime’s scorched Earth treatment of Trump and, by implication, his supporters, transformed this suspicion into knowledge.  Clinton’s comments made this knowledge explicit.

Here’s the point: Win or lose, but especially if he loses, Trump’s army of Deplorables promises to grow.  As much as the Government-Media Axis would like to turn back the hands of time, we are now living in a post-Trump epoch.  The toothpaste, as we say, is out of the tube.

Trump supporters, including and most tellingly women and young teens, had been attacked and beaten for no reason other than that they were Trump supporters. As we now know courtesy of Project Veritas, assailants were not infrequently rental thugs dispatched by the DNC.  No one is going to tolerate this any longer.

When thugs threatened to wreak similar havoc in Cleveland during Trump’s convention, thousands of armed bikers and truckers—“Bikers for Trump” and “Truckers for Trump”—poured into the city to assist the police in patrolling the streets.  There were no incidences. Even now, former soldiers and police officers have taken up arms along our southern border to function as the wall that Trump insists he will build to arrest the massive influx into the United States of illegal immigrants.

By two-to-one, active military personnel support Trump over his opponent.  A Border Patrol Agents’ Union of 5,000 members, for the first time in its history, endorsed a presidential candidate when it endorsed Trump.  The Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the country, did the same.  So too does the NRA endorse Trump.

With some 300 million guns, there are more legal guns in America owned by private citizens than there are private citizens who own guns.  Most of these gun owners are disposed to sympathize with Trump.

If Trump loses, all of these folks will take it as a given that it is because the election has indeed been “rigged” against their candidate.  Insofar as the Regime’s propagandists in the national press long ago threw off so much as the pretense of objectivity when covering this presidential race, they have been working overtime at cooking its outcome.  For the Deplorables, this is as plain as the noses on their faces.

Neither Trump nor any other person connected with his campaign is calling for anything like armed revolution.  But the elitists in the Regime, if they wish to avoid the latter, should proceed cautiously.  It’s this writer’s hunch that a sleeping giant has been awoken from its decades-long slumber.  Just a little more prodding on their part promises to usher in a day in the not-so-distant-future when those in the Regime will ache in retrospect for the gentleness of Trump.

A powder keg could be on the verge of exploding.

 

 

 

Irrespectively of how he in fact will govern if he becomes president, it’s no longer possible to deny that Donald Trump is indeed the anti-Establishment candidate.

To get as far as he has, Trump has had to battle the Regime every step of the way.  Now that the election is less than a month off, it has dispatched its agents from all quarters to not just defeat Trump, but to crucify him.

The Clintons and their legions of surrogates from the Obamas to the Bushes, from the Republican leadership in the Congress to all of the major media are tirelessly doing anything and everything to destroy the one person who (they at least believe) poses the biggest threat to their Empire.

Yet, as of this writing, Trump is still standing and the outcome of this contest remains an open question.  He will continue standing, I predict, right through Election Day—whether he wins the race or loses it, for Trump has already won.

To repeat, Trump has won.

Most Americans have long admitted to having, if nothing else, an intuitive sense that both Washington D.C. and the media are corrupt.

Trump has confirmed in spades that they’ve been right to trust their gut.  His candidacy has revealed for all with eyes to see the existence of a massive, sprawling government-media complex created and preserved by an elite that advances its class-interest behind the veneer of such rhetorical fictions as “Democracy,” “the Will of the People,” “Equality,” and the like.

This ruling class of like-minded individuals is accustomed to directing the lives of the rest of us.  However, its exercise of control is just as subtle as it is relentless, facilitated by an abstract, ahistorical, universalistic ideology.  Its proponents describe the latter in terms of “values,” “ideals,” “principles.”  Though Democrats are wont to invoke it, the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism,” the creed that America is nothing else than a proposition or idea, also expresses this ideology.  Moreover, it makes the ideology that much more marketable by lulling the casual hearer into thinking that the affirmation of this borderless, globalist doctrine is equivalent to an assertion of patriotism.

Trump, whether he intended for this to happen or not, has in effect deconstructed this myth.  He’s revealed that while the Regime promotes its fiction in the name of the citizenry, millions and millions of Americans, those to whom Hillary derisively referred as “deplorables,” resolutely reject it.

There have been other whistleblowers on the Regime.  Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul are two of the most prominent that immediately come to mine.  In fairness, even Bernie Sanders’ candidacy shed light on the corruption of Democrat Party politics.  But Trump is the first in our lifetime that has succeeded in actually exposing in all of its nakedness the manipulative, deceptive, and hypocritical nature of the whole Establishment.  Sanders is a leftist tool, and while Buchanan and Paul are both principled men—vastly more principled, in fact, than Trump—the cold hard truth of the matter is that they had neither the exposure nor the brashness to do in decades what Trump has managed to do within less than a year-and-a-half.

If the left and the neocon alt-left in Washington and the media think that a defeat at the polls for Trump is going to spell defeat for the movement that his candidacy brought to the fore, then they are even more delusional than we think.  Most Americans, regardless of party, distrust the media.  The tens of millions of Americans who found a voice in Trump despise it.  Whether Trump wins or loses on November 8, but especially if he loses, Trump’s impassioned base will hold the Regime’s court-appointed hacks accountable.  If he loses and Hillary Clinton proves to be the disastrous president that we know she will be, the contempt on the part of Trump supporters toward the faux journalists and commentators will only intensify.

An already polarized nation promises to grow still more divided and Hillary’s presidency promises to be a rocky one.  This the Deplorables will insure.

As for the GOP NeverTrumpists in Congress and their apologists in the so-called “conservative” (neoconservative) media, there’s perhaps no wing of the Regime for which the future is looking grimmer.  Election cycle after election cycle, the same con-men and women who have now turned their backs on their party’s presidential nominee—a man, mind you, who garnered more voter support than any Republican primary contestant in history—would spare no occasion to shame skeptical voters into supporting their candidates: Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney.

It’s now painfully clear that it is they who have no shame, for they’d prefer to give the election, and the country, over to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats rather than support the person who threatens to wreck their power structure.

So be it.

But the GOPers are sorely mistaken in thinking that it is their endorsement of Trump that will account for the reversal in their political fortunes.  It is, rather, their refusal to give Trump all of the backing that they would’ve provided to any other nominee that portends their downfall.

Do the NeverTrumpists seriously believe that Trump’s supporters will just return to business as usual in the event that Clinton becomes President? Do they think that the unprecedented number of voters who propelled Trump as far as he’s gone will forget their treachery, that they will ever again contribute a dime or a vote toward the Republican Party?

The GOP is destined to be in for a world of hurt.  So too, however, are those “conservative” (neoconservative) talk radio hosts, bloggers, writers, and Fox News chatterers who sought at every turn to safeguard the status quo, i.e. their own power.

The refusal to tell the truth when it needed to be told will be remembered by untold numbers of people. The D.C. and media Regimists think that if only Trump loses the election, they will be able to sleep comfortably again.  But as a colleague of mine put it today, Trump was but a spring shower.  There is a tsunami coming their way, a force of nature that will be all that much more catastrophic for the Regime’s interests if Trump loses, for it isn’t Trump, but the movement that he unleashed that will be the source of its greatest troubles.

#NeverTrump will give rise to #NeverGOP, or at least #NeverNeoconGOP.

The Trump phenomenon will continue—and grow.

 

On October 7, Wikileaks released more hacked DNC emails.  The latter confirm what many Republicans, independents, and Democrats have long known: Hillary Clinton, who billionaires back 20-to-one over Donald Trump, is the Bankster’s candidate, the candidate of Wall Street.

Between 2013 and 2015, Clinton raked in $20 million for speeches that she delivered to Goldman Sachs and other big banks.  Clinton admits that she needs the support of the banks to get elected to office.  She also acknowledges that she is a proponent of open borders and precisely the sort of “free trade” arrangements that many working-class Americans blame for the economic misfortunes that they’ve suffered.

The middle class, Clinton conceded, consists of people from whom she was “kind of far removed.”

While Big Media is scandalously apologetic on Clinton’s behalf, there’s at least a slight possibility that we would’ve been talking more about these revelations in the hours leading up to the second presidential debate had it not been for the leaked Trump audio from 2005.  Here, in an exchange with Billy Bush of Entertainment Access, Trump can be heard using crass language to describe the ease with which aspiring female celebrities permit celebrity men, like Trump, to have their way with them.

It took me a few days, but I finally realized why we’re all supposed to be outraged over this audio.

I suppose it has everything to do with this oppressive, naïve Christian morality of mine, but I expected that others would react in disgust as I did to hearing Trump nonchalantly boast about his adultery.  Trump, whose wife was two months pregnant with their son at the time, talked of his effort to “f**k” a woman who he (presumably) knew was married.  As it turns out, though, I was wide of the mark.

The unpardonable offense, that which sent Republican regimists running for the hills and the leftist press into dizzy spells, is Trump’s…language.

Trump used such verboten terms as the “f,” “b,” and “p”-words while having a private conversation with a reporter for a television show that regularly covers….Hollywood.

Granted, Trump sounded like a classless juvenile.  However, that his critics in both parties should swoon and howl over his choice of terms while saying little to nothing about his adultery reveals at least as much about them as Trump’s language tells us about him.  The anti-Trumpists are like the Pharisees who Jesus excoriated for straining out the gnat while letting in the camel.

Their hypocrisy runs still deeper.

First, it is precisely those on the social Democrat left, Trump’s most vocal enemies, who have been ridiculing and castigating the traditional sexual mores of the rest of us for decades.  From the perspective of the self-styled agents of the sexual revolution, anyone who displays the slightest resistance to their agenda is guilty of everything ranging from priggery, religious bigotry, sexism, homophobia—comprehensively, oppression.

Now, though, after spending the last half-of-a-century doing all that they have been able to do in coarsening the culture by hypersexualizing it, the New Libertines want for us to be repelled by Trump’s obscene language.

Second, the left’s greatest heroes, whether it is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Bill Clinton, make Trump look like a choir boy by comparison.  FDR and JFK were compulsive womanizers and serial adulterers while they were president.  The same, of course, can be said of Bill Clinton.  What distinguishes the latter, however, is that Clinton had multiple rape charges leveled against him, and in one instance, he paid his accuser hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle out of court.

MLK never ran for the presidency, but he is the closest thing to a secular saint that contemporary American culture has going for it.  Yet King bedded countless women while he was married to his wife.  His adultery was chronic.  In fact, according to the autobiography of his closest friend and confidante, Ralph Abernathy, on the night before he was murdered, King had relations with no fewer than two women.  When the one found out that King was with the other, a fight ensued and King struck her, knocking her across the room.

Since, though, it is potty-talk that has our puritans besides themselves, they’ll be inclined to view the sexual promiscuity and adultery on the part of their heroes as innocuous.  King’s remarks upon the sight of Jacqueline Kennedy kneeling with her children next to her husband’s casket may be a little harder for them to take.  FBI agents recorded King as saying to his friends: “Look at her, sucking him off one last time.”

It is worth noting that during an interview with the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Jackie said of King that he “is really a tricky person.”  She also asserted: “I just can’t see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man’s terrible.”

Of course, none of this is intended to justify Trump’s comments or (much less) his actions. Rather, it is intended to illuminate the hypocrisy and phoniness of his detractors.

Third, it’s awfully difficult for people generally, and heterosexual men specifically, to know respectable society’s rules for gender-appropriate speech and conduct in 2016 America. The goal posts continually shift depending on ideological and political expediency. On the one hand, we’re told that gender is a “social construct,” that women are men are virtually interchangeable physically and mentally.  This explains (I suppose) why feminists have decried expressions of chivalry as proof of “sexism.”  On the other hand, we’re also assured that expressions, whether crude or otherwise, of sexual desire on the part of men for women are equally manifestations of “sexism.”

Can anyone seriously doubt that if Trump was gay and had been overheard speaking crudely about a man in whom he took an erotic interest that the very same folks acting outraged today would be castigating the judgmental for their “homophobia?”

This is a morally juvenile generation indeed.

 

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