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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Politics and Vice

posted by Jack Kerwick

Perhaps more so than any other activity, politics has a way of begetting astonishing levels of dishonesty—and not just in politicians. Some recent examples:

(1)It has now been disclosed that Ted Cruz, a self-avowed Christian, has “tithed” only one percent of his income. Some in the media are insinuating that the Texas senator is a hypocrite.

Tithing, however, is a concept from what Christians regard as the Old Testament. It’s not that the Old Testament isn’t the Word of God. It is. But to correctly interpret the Old Testament Christians must read it in light of the New, in light of Christ.

And the fact of the matter is that Christ nowhere calls upon His disciples to “tithe.” Furthermore, 1 Corinthians states that believers should give “in keeping with [their] income” (16:2). The second book of Corinthians reads: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7).

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A legalistic misreading of the Hebrew injunction to tithe that is now being exploited to convict Cruz of insincerity not only clashes with the spirit of the Christian law of charity; it isn’t even sufficiently legalistic!

The Old Testament commands multiple tithes: one for the Levites, one for the Temple and holidays, and one for the poor. So, what this means is that, if we insist upon adhering strictly to the letter of the law, Christians are required to give almost one-quarter—23.3 percent—of their earnings to charity.

(2)National Review recently held a symposium in which 22 self-declared “conservatives” criticized Donald Trump for his lack of conservative bona fides. This was intellectually dishonest for a variety of reasons. Yet since I already addressed these reasons at length here and here, for now I will note only two.

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For starters, unlike every other GOP politician who runs for the presidency, Trump doesn’t tirelessly proclaim himself a “consistent conservative,” a “severe conservative,” or any other kind of conservative. NR doesn’t have the gotcha’ moment that it thinks it does.

Secondly, not only has NR never launched the kind of blitzkrieg against any other “moderate” or “socially liberal” Republicans that it now levels against Trump. For years—decades, actually—NR has actually endorsed one “conservative” pretender after the other, from Bush II to McCain to Romney.

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(3).Trump has decided not to attend the GOP debate on January 28. Trump cites as his reason his distrust of Megyn Kelly. Whether this is a wise move or not, the response on the part of Trump’s critics—and make no mistakes about it, it is only either those who have been trying to sack Trump from the time he ascended to the head of the pack or those who are committed to Fox News who respond this way—has been patently disingenuous.

First, no one can seriously think that Trump is afraid of Megyn Kelly.

Secondly, no one can seriously think that Trump is afraid of Megyn Kelly.

Thirdly, no one can seriously think that Trump—Trump!—is afraid.

It’s precisely because Trump has shown more guts challenging the Politically Correct orthodoxy, the Republican/Democrat Axis, than that shown by all of his competitors and critics combined that he has managed to leave his competitors—all of his competitors, including whomever it is that is said to be in second place—in the dust.

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For them to accuse him of being afraid, and afraid, of all people, of Kelly, is dishonest to the point of being offensive. Whatever else can be said of Trump, no one can accuse him of being gutless.

(4).And while we’re on the topic, the Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump brouhaha is another occasion to see the ugliness that politics can unleash.

That Trump is an egomaniac is obvious enough. But while his critics readily attest to this, what they fail to acknowledge is that it is only because of his egomania that Trump has set his sights on the presidency of the United States. In other words, Trump is an egomaniac among egomaniacs. The only difference between Trump and the rest is that he doesn’t try to hide it.

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However, those in the media, particularly those with access to our egomaniacal politicians, are also egomaniacs.

Megyn Kelly is an egomaniac. In the first debate that opened the riff between her and Trump, Kelly had more speaking time than anyone else. Think about that: A moderator spoke more than any of the candidates (including Trump).

And though Kelly’s defenders credited her with asking “tough questions,” the problem that many of us had with that debate was that the moderators did not ask tough question. Instead, they asked questions worthy of a tabloid rag, sensationalistic, ratings-grabbing, gotcha’ questions. Kelly excelled at this. Without meaning to do so, even her colleague, Bill O’Reilly, inadvertently conceded this point during his “exclusive” interview with Trump on January 27.

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On The O’Reilly Factor, the host—another egomaniac—admitted that while he would’ve asked Trump the same question regarding Trump’s past comments concerning some women, he would’ve framed the question differently than in the terms and manner in which Kelly cast it.

But that’s exactly what Trump and his legions of supporters had been griping about from day one!

Kelly, for her part, has been less candid than Trump has been about his feelings toward her, though it is painfully obvious that she disdains Trump.

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Perhaps Trump should’ve let things go. Yet the point is that given their relationship, it makes perfectly good sense that he should want her gone from this next debate. If Trump’s uneasiness about Kelly indicates (and this is ludicrous) that he won’t be able to stand up to Putin, ISIS, etc. then the refusal of all of the candidates to debate on NBC indicates their inability to be president.

Let’s be honest.

 

 

 

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National Review vs Trump II: What Exactly is “Conservatism?”

posted by Jack Kerwick

That Donald Trump is no conservative is a proposition of which this conservative needs no convincing.

On this score, the self-styled “conservative” contributors to the recent National Review symposium against Trump are correct. It is their conservative bona fides that I challenge.

For example, Glenn Beck suggests that Trump is no conservative because along with Barack Obama, Trump supported “the stimulus, the auto bailouts, and the bank bailouts.”

Yet Trump had neither authority nor power to make these ideas materialize. That distinction is enjoyed by just those politicians who Beck supported.

For years, Beck ran cover for George W. Bush, the 43rd president who, along with such members of Congress as John McCain, who Beck also endorsed for President in 2008, brought us the bank bailouts. McCain also signed onto the auto bailouts and while he didn’t back Obama’s stimulus, he announced his own stimulus in 2008—months before the election in which he lost to Obama.

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But Beck still endorsed him.

Michael Medved was an even more enthusiastic champion of McCain than was McCain himself. And in his critique of Trump he refers to Bush II as one of the two most “popular” of “conservative” presidents (the other being Ronald Reagan).

Of course, Medved is not alone in his estimation of Bush II: NR and, by implication, the 22 “conservative” pundits who it invited to warn conservative voters about Trump agree wholeheartedly.

NR, along with The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and several other Republican-friendly outfits regularly supported both the domestic and, especially, the foreign policies of Bush II—regardless of how wildly un-conservative these policies were.

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Though Beck has since come to see the Iraq War for the calamitous event that it is, he didn’t always think this way. In 2006, Beck remarked that while the Bush administration was sincere when it insisted that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” this was “just gravy.” The “real reason” that “we went into Iraq was Iran. We were going there to stop Iran by planting the seeds of democracy all around Iran” so as to “change the face of the Middle East.”

The invasion of Iraq was necessary, Beck insisted, in order to avoid World War III.

Bush didn’t tell us his real reasons for invading Iraq, Beck said, “because he felt, you know, [that] we just wouldn’t understand that we were in the early stages of World War III.”

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Let that register. According to Beck, not only was the invasion of Iraq a good idea; it was the only move necessary to prevent a third world war.

And we were already in the early stages of this war.

Of course, Beck was correct that it was indeed the agenda all along of Bush and his party to make the world—or, in this case, the Middle East—“safe for Democracy.” Beck, Medved, NR, and all of those in the better known “conservative” media outlets always knew that this was the objective.

The “progressive” of all progressives, Woodrow Wilson, would’ve been proud.

Bear this in mind as you consider that Mona Charen, another contributor to NR and supporter of the Iraq War, assures us that, in contrast with Trump, who “has made a career out of egotism,” conservatism “implies a certain modesty about government.”

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No one who favors using the United States government as an agent by which to spread “democracy” throughout the world has any kind of modesty about government.

This prosecution of this utopian fantasy has come at the cost of trillions of dollars and the incalculable cost of tens of thousands of lives extinguished and even more ruined.

It is not Trump on whose shoulders any of this rests, for he opposed this reckless enterprise.

Medved assures us that Trump’s “brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have for decades attached to their opponents on the right.” So, it is Trump’s style that’s bad for conservatism—not the GOP’s launching of a war that the vast majority of Americans now regard as a colossal waste of blood and treasure, a war waged upon false pretenses.

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Besides, Medved should know by now that there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest that if only the Republican politicians, to say nothing of Republican presidential nominees, act nicer that their opponents will stop depicting them in terms of “negative stereotypes.”

He’s also concerned that Trump’s “much-heralded hard line on immigration discards pragmatic reform policies favored by the two most popular conservatives of the last half century, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.”

Reagan’s “pragmatic reform policies” regarding immigration consisted of an amnesty that he granted in 1986—and which he retrospectively judged to be the biggest mistake of his career. Implicitly, Medved at least concedes that all of this talk of “comprehensive immigration reform” really is amnesty by another name.

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As for Bush’s “conservatism,” from No Child Left Behind to the Patriot Act; from federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to Medicare Part D; from his “Home Ownership Society” (which culminated in the recession of 2008) to his nomination to the Supreme Court of John Roberts (the judge who made Obamacare the law of the land); from his efforts to grant amnesty to millions of illegals to his “War on Terror,” G.W. Bush continually proved that he was anything but a conservative.

If Bush is a conservative president, as Medved and NR continue to maintain, then we must conclude that so too are LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama conservative presidents.

Medved and company at NR also endorsed, not just Bush and McCain, but Mitt Romney, a politician whose opportunism and waffling on topics from abortion to gay marriage to gun control and many issues in between are epic. Notorious flip-flopper John Kerry seems as steady as a rock compared to Romney.

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More importantly, Romney’s socialization of healthcare in Massachusetts provided the blueprint for Obamacare.

Given their respective records, as well as the fact that Bush II, McCain, and Romney issued in a series of electoral successes for Democrats, we must ask NR: So, what exactly is conservatism, and why are you so worried about Trump?

 

 

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National Review vs. Trump–And Burke and Kirk!

posted by Jack Kerwick

National Review recently sponsored a symposium of 22 “conservative” commentators who are “against Trump.”

As for the specifics of their remarks, more will be said at a future time. The virtue of this symposium is that it has the potential to generate a conversation over the nature of conservatism.

Of course, NR’s contributors are indeed correct that Trump is not any sort of conservative in the classical or traditional sense of the word. But neither are Trump’s “conservative” critics conservative in the classical or traditional sense of the word.

Undoubtedly, Trump has never read, if he’s even heard of, Edmund Burke, “the patron saint” of conservatism. I would be surprised if he’s even heard of, let alone read, the work of the 20th century’s American reincarnation of Burke, Russell Kirk. Chances are even slimmer yet that he’s familiar with Michael Oakeshott’s classic essay, “On Being Conservative,” or George Nash’s and Paul Gottfried’s seminal studies of the conservative movement in America.

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The one contemporary nationally-renown figure who is more philosophically approximate to Burke and Kirk than anyone else—Pat Buchanan—Trump at one time ridiculed. Nor has Trump been any more generous to either Ron or Rand Paul, both of whom, though widely regarded as “libertarian,” are nevertheless conservative just insofar as they are (or at least seem to be) committed to federalism, our Constitution.

Yet here’s the rub: What’s true of Trump in all of these respects is at least as true of many of his critics in the NR symposium.

Granted, I’m sure that there are many among the latter who have heard of Burke. Since Kirk’s name was at one time on NR’s masthead, some of them have probably heard of him as well. However, Kirk’s name is scarcely ever, if at all, mentioned by any contemporary “conservatives.” And on those rare occasions when Burke’s name is dropped, it is almost always in connection with a single line of his: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

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For Buchanan and the Pauls (especially the Elder), many of the Trump critics at NR have reserved nothing but contempt.

Obviously, Burke is no more exempt from criticism than is any other thinker. But to self-identify as a conservative while being either ignorant of or dismissive toward Burke is akin to proclaiming oneself a Christian while being either ignorant of or dismissive toward Christ. At the very least, unless the concept has been divested of all meaning, a conservative must acknowledge his political-philosophical debt to Burke.

Burke articulated his famous statement of what subsequently came to be known as “conservatism” while making his case against the conflagration of the French Revolution. Burke attacked the Revolution at its root, the philosophy underwriting it. This philosophy is what has been referred to as “rationalism.”

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The radicals who supported the Revolution lent plausibility to their cause by trading in such abstractions as, say, “the Rights of Men.” Burke knew, as David Hume, another famous 18th century philosopher and political conservative, observed, that the more general are a theory’s ideas and propositions, the more remote it is from the concreteness of everyday life, the more plausible it can appear—regardless of how ridiculous the theory actually is. This is part of the appeal of rationalism: it shields nonsense from the light of day.

Burke, like both his peers and successors in the classical conservative tradition, despised rationalism. They despised ideology.

Conservatism, then, emerged as a response to rationalism, to ideology.

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Yet most of those “conservatives” who participated in the NR symposium are ideologues. Their “conservatism” is not conservative at all but, rather, another species of rationalism.

It is neoconservative.

Anyone who champions “American Exceptionalism,” the radically ahistorical doctrine that America is not a historically and culturally-specific country but an “idea,” an abstract “proposition,” is philosophically no different in temperament from the radicals who Burke reviled.

It is this rationalist fiction that’s been used to justify limitless immigration, both legal and illegal, from societies and cultures that have little to nothing in common with—and, in some instances, no small measure of hostility toward—American institutions and traditions.

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It is this rationalist fiction that has also been used as the pretext for launching endless military-centered missionary efforts—wars—to deliver another rationalist fiction, “liberal democracy,” to foreign lands around the planet.

And as Burke, Kirk, and other genuine conservatives could have predicted—and as some, like Buchanan, actually have predicted—the indulgence of such ideological fantasies has been ruinous for untold millions of actual flesh and blood human beings both at home and abroad.

In fact, given his past opposition to the disastrous invasion of Iraq and his current opposition to more American social engineering in Syria (and the Middle East generally); his diplomatic attitude toward Putin; and his recognition of the horrors and potential horrors visited upon Americans by our American-Last immigration policy, it seems that while Trump is no classical conservative, he sounds more like Burke than do his detractors at the neoconservative National Review.

 

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The Trump Phenomenon and the “Conservative” Movement’s Identity Crisis

posted by Jack Kerwick

One can only hope that the Trump phenomenon will bring into the sunlight several fictions, most, but not all, of which GOP boosters have been promoting for years.

The first is that there are two fundamentally opposed forces within the Republican Party: “the Establishment” and “conservatives,” “anti-Establishmentarians,” or “outsiders.” From this perspective, to hear many GOP politicians and their apologists in the media tell it, several of this year’s Republican presidential candidates—including Donald Trump—fall into the latter camp.

This, so it is said, explains why they are doing so well in the polls.

In reality, the conflicts that beset the GOP—to the extent that they’re remotely as dramatic as their participants and the media would have us believe—are internecine battles within one political establishment. There is no “anti-Establishment.”

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Secondly, this being said, it follows that Trump is no outsider. Though he hasn’t made his living as a politician, Trump has been peddling and receiving political influence for years courtesy of both Republican and Democrat politicians alike. Few “outsiders” have had so many “ins” with the establishment as has Trump. Indeed, for decades, Trump has been every bit as much a member of the establishment as anyone.

Of course, if it is nonsense to identify Trump as an “anti-Establishmentarian”—and it is—then it is doubly nonsensical to suggest that Senators Cruz, Rubio, and Paul, or Governors Christie, Kasich, Bush, and Huckabee are “anti-Establishment.”

A true “outsider,” a person like most readers of this column, wouldn’t even know how to take the first step toward running for any political office, let alone the presidency of the United States of America. And even if such a person was in the know, a true outsider wouldn’t be able to come within miles of a presidential race while campaigning as a Republican or Democrat.

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Third, Trump’s Republican critics continually charge that unlike, say, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, Trump is not an authentic “conservative.” Now, this allegation is true as far as it goes: Trump is not a conservative. But because the allegation doesn’t go far at all, it may as well be a lie.

While Trump is not a conservative, with the possible—the possible—exception of Rand Paul, none of Trump’s GOP rivals and accusers are conservative.

In fact, unless being a proponent of an activist, omnipotent government that exists to spread “liberal democratic” values around the globe is necessary for being a “true conservative,” Trump is arguably more conservative than Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and virtually all of the other Republican contenders.

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And this gets us to our next, and probably most important, myth to be exposed.

For decades, the so-called “conservative movement” has been largely a neoconservative movement. Neoconservatives have been remarkably successful in convincing millions and millions of Americans both that they are conservative and that the Republican Party and conservatism are one.

The truth, though, is that neoconservatism is no form of conservatism at all. The conservative movement that took flight nearly 70 years ago consisted of multiple strains, it’s true, but it was exemplified in many respects by Russell Kirk, the man without whose labor William F. Buckley says it is “inconceivable” that there ever would’ve been any such movement.

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Kirk was a conservative in the vein of Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish Parliamentarian who is widely regarded today as “the patron saint” of conservatism. Kirk was painfully aware of the differences between conservatism and neoconservatism, noting that the two were different in kind.

Conservatives in the mold of Kirk favored a wide dispersion or decentralization of power and authority—what is commonly referred to as “states’ rights.” They opposed all attempts at “leveling,” all redistributive schemes designed to alleviate “inequalities.” Yet it isn’t just utopian domestic visions for which conservatives like Kirk had no use. They disdained idyllic foreign policy plans as well. Hence, before he died in 1994, Kirk denounced the first President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

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Clearly, between classical conservatives and neoconservatives there is a chasm. Yet it isn’t just that neoconservatives and conservatives disagree. Upon appropriating the conservative label, a move that involved an exercise in repackaging the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until “gay rights’” advocates redefined marriage, neoconservatives did their best to see to it that conservative voices would no longer be heard—at least not within the Republican Party.

That’s right: Sarah Palin and others misspeak when they simply say that “the Establishment” is not conservative. The referent here—neoconservatives—are anti-conservative.

That this giant in the history of the American conservative movement is never mentioned in any “conservative” media outlets today proves that Kirk has been flushed down the memory hole. However, it isn’t just Kirk who has been “purged” from the (neo) conservative movement.

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Trump’s meteoric rise stemmed principally from his tough talk on immigration—an issue that now ranks in no small measure of importance for Americans. Ann Coulter, Trump’s most vocal and visible of nationally recognized supporters, has also been superb in highlighting the disaster that is our immigration policy.

Yet for well over 20 years, Peter Brimelow, a one-time associate of Buckley and contributor to National Review, has been writing and speaking tirelessly on this very issue. A veteran when it comes to telling hard, politically incorrect truths, Brimelow’s work is second to none in this arena. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to refer to him as a pioneer.

But Peter Brimelow has long been expunged from “the conservative movement.”

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Paul Gottfried is a scholar of European intellectual history and the American conservative movement. He too was friends with Buckley at one time, as well as a contributor to NR.

Yet that was then, this is now. Paul too has been purged.

The late Joseph Sobran, who at one time was a protégé of a sort to Buckley and a brilliant essayist, found himself unceremoniously ejected from the “conservative” movement, as did the now deceased Samuel Francis (who, remarkably, Rush Limbaugh, to his credit, recently defended on his radio show).

John Derbyshire, a witty, talented polymath, wrote regularly for National Review until just a few years ago when he too was abruptly sacked for a racially incorrect article (that he wrote for another publication).

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This list of extraordinarily intelligent, perceptive, and courageous old right thinkers who have been exiled by the self-appointed gate-keepers of “the conservative movement” is hardly exhaustive.

And now neoconservatives continue to presume to tell the rest of us who is truly conservative and who isn’t.

If any of the foregoing fictions will crumble to pieces during this most atypical of election seasons, hopefully it will be the fiction that the self-declared guardians of the “conservative movement” are conservative.

 

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Politics and Vice
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posted 10:58:57am Jan. 29, 2016 | read full post »

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