Politics, et Cetera

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

They Said It:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address,” November 19, 1863.



After covering Washington for a collective 75 years now, we are amazed by very little that happens here.  We’ve seen it all.  Nevertheless, we were amazed last week, and our amazement began with something perfectly mundane and frankly uninteresting, the confirmation hearing for a federal appeals court nominee.

The whole thing started on Wednesday, September 6, as the Senate Judiciary Committee was conducting its usual confirmation examination of Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame University and President Trump’s nominee for an open spot on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Mrs. Barrett, you see, is a devout Catholic.  She has written about Catholicism and the judiciary and has given speeches to religiously conservative Christian legal groups.  And apparently, many of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee find such devotion unsuitable for a 21st century American judge.  National Review’s Alexis Desanctis provides the gory details:

Feinstein launched a thinly veiled attack on Barrett’s Catholic faith, asserting that her religious views will prevent her from judging fairly. “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.”. . .

Other Democratic senators took issue with Barrett over her faith as well.  Senate minority whip Dick Durbin criticized Barrett’s use of the term “orthodox Catholic,” insisting that it unfairly maligns Catholics who do not hold certain positions about abortion or the death penalty.  (Durbin himself is a Catholic who abandoned his previous pro-life position.)  “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” he later asked Barrett point blank.

And Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono snarked, “I think your article is very plain in your perspective about the role of religion for judges, and particularly with regard to Catholic judges.”

These criticisms echo a report from the left-wing Alliance for Justice, which alleged that as a judge Barrett “would put her personal beliefs ahead of the law.”

Desanctis didn’t mention it in this brief rundown, but all of the above were joined in their attacks by the Democratic Senator from Minnesota and “comedian” Al Franken, who compared the Alliance for Defending Freedom – a conservative Christian legal organization to whom Barrett once gave a speech – to Cambodia’s infamous genocidal mass murderer Pol Pot.

Needless to say, the Democrats were very open and rather unashamed about their hostility to Mrs. Barrett and to her religious beliefs.  Franken apologized later, conceding that it might have been a little over the top to compare the likes of James Dobson to the most prolific mass murderer (on a per capita basis) in human history.  But his colleagues remained steadfast in their criticism.  In their estimation, “orthodox” Catholicism represents a serious and potentially disqualifying flaw in a government official.  Although they don’t have the power to do anything about it right now – being the minority party – the Democrats on the Judiciary committee clearly demonstrated last week that Article IV’s prohibition against “religious tests” as “a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” is just one more portion of the Constitution they find quaint and antiquated.

Interestingly, however, the Democrats’ anti-religious zealotry wasn’t the part of this incident that “shocked” us.  Heck, what happened last week was really nothing for the contemporary Democratic Party.  Recall that in 2012, the Party amended its presidential platform to remove all references to God.  And when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (acting then as Convention chairman) asked for a voice vote to reintroduce God to the document, Democratic delegates booed loudly.  The ascendant factions in the Democratic Party have long made it clear that they see belief in God as a deficiency, a sign either of mental illness or of below-average intelligence.  The Senators’ behavior last week during their interrogation of Amy Coney Barrett was hardly shocking and was, in fact, perfectly in keeping with the broader ethos among their partisans.

Rather, what was truly shocking, at least from our perspective, was the conservative response to the Democrats’ hostility to Mrs. Barrett’s “orthodox” Catholicism.  As you might expect, conservatives – and even a few liberals – were genuinely upset about the manner in which the Democratic Senators openly “attacked” Catholicism.  And many of them have written about it and about the Democrats’ apparent anti-Catholic disdain.

Writing in the Washington Examiner, for example, columnist Salena Zito saw the Democrats’ antipathy to Catholicism as an electoral problem, part and parcel of the Democrats’ ongoing alienation of working-class voters in the Rust Belt.  “In states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and all through the Midwest,” Zito wrote, “the Catholic vote is a very important voting bloc . . . The last thing Democrats should be doing is to purposefully stiff-arm people [they] are going to need to win.”

Many of the others who commented on the kerfuffle joined Zito in questioning the effect that all of this would have on Catholics, even as they put it in the broader context of anti-Catholicism.  Senator Orrin Hatch, the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, declared that “suggesting that a Catholic nominee who takes her faith seriously cannot be an impartial judge smacks of old-fashioned bigotry.”   Writing at The American Spectator, George Neumayr marveled that “It is a measure of the Democrats’ anti-Catholic bigotry that they can’t even abide pro-life Catholic judges who oppose the death penalty.”  Countless commentators argued that the whole business was about abortion, while others joined Neumayr and Hatch in seeing historical overtones.  The Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr probably put it best:

Is it even remotely possible that Feinstein would have asked, say, a Muslim, if he believed any of the more militant, shall we say, passages in the Koran?  Of course not.  Any Democrat who questions the Religion of Peace would be drummed out of the party and forever shunned in polite society. But Catholics — hey, anything goes.

But Democrats have always had an obsession about Catholics.  They were the party of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow and separate but equal.  As late as 2010, a former exalted cyclops of the Klan was a ranking Democratic member of the Senate.  Hillary Clinton proudly described Catholic-hating bigot Robert Byrd as her “mentor.”

But go back further.  FDR, the Democratic president who presided over sending tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II, put Hugo Black on the Supreme Court.  Black, an Alabama Democrat, had been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1926 after delivering a series of 146 rabidly anti-Catholic speeches to his fellow Klansmen across the state.

The more things change  . . . .

Now, to be fair, Carr and the others are right.  There is indeed a long history of anti-Catholic prejudice against Democrats.  But that’s not what’s going on here.  This isn’t the “old bigotry” as Senator Hatch put it.  Or at least it’s not the “old anti-Catholic bigotry” specifically.

Let us explain.

In the West – and especially in the United States – anti-Catholic sentiment has two sources, both quite old, but one significantly older than the other.  The type of anti-Catholic bigotry to which Howie Carr, Orrin Hatch, and the rest are referring here has its root in the 16th century, in Henry VIII’s English Reformation.  We’ll spare you a retelling of the whole familiar tale, but when Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy – in 1534 and again in 1559, after Bloody Mary’s reign – it unofficially sanctioned English animosity to Catholicism and its practitioners.  A century-and-a-half of Catholic attempts to restore the Church in Great Britain – including Mary’s reign and the fabled Gunpowder Plot – turned that animosity to pure, bloody hatred.  The British immigrants to America brought that hatred of Catholics and fear of the papacy with them.  The Anglicans and the Puritans agreed on almost nothing, save their common loathing of Catholics and detestation of the pope.

In 1642 Catholic priests were banned from Virginia.  In 1699, Catholics were stripped of their voting rights in the same colony.  Massachusetts Bay Colony, of course, was founded by Puritans who reviled any dissent, but especially that of the Catholic variety.  In large part because of fear of “papism,” and anti-Christ-inspired plots, the English colonies in America were severe and unsparing in their persecution of Catholicism.  The Oxford Research Encyclopedia puts it this way:

The earliest manifestations of colonial anti-Catholicism were grounded in events and beliefs that predate the European colonization of North America.  Indeed, long before the first English settlers arrived in what is now the United States, both the Puritan settlers of New England and the Anglican settlers of Virginia shared a deep hatred and fear of Roman Catholicism . . . Both the (Anglican) Thirty Nine Articles and the (Puritan) Westminster Confession denounced the beliefs and practices of Catholicism as superstitious and anti-Christian.

The detection and foiling of treasonous Catholic attempts to overthrow the Elizabethan Settlement in church and state (in which the monarch served as the “Chief Protector of the Church in England”) — most commonly embodied in the infamous Gunpowder Plot — were concerns brought from old to New England and were celebrated annually in Boston and throughout the colonies on Guy Fawkes Day on November 5.  Also called “Pope Day,” this yearly public holiday was celebrated by burning an effigy of the pope on town commons up and down the eastern seaboard while children sang anti-Catholic ditties and adults drank rounds of toasts to the overthrow of the Bishop of Rome, more popularly known on such occasions as “The Beast” described in the Book of Revelation.  Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated in both the northern and southern colonies until 1775, when George Washington issued an inter-colonial order forbidding its observance, fearful of the effect of such festivities on securing the aid of Catholic France in what was emerging as a revolutionary conflict against the mother country.

These annual celebrations for over a century and a half served as an emblematic public ritual testifying to a much broader series of social and political constraints on Catholics in colonial America: “papists” were forbidden from holding public office, carrying firearms, or serving on juries in Virginia, by a 1641 act of the House of Burgesses, and in Maryland, after 1654, by a law that stated that “none who profess to exercise the Popish religion can be protected in this province.”

Far more famous for the virulence of its anti-Catholic animus was the Puritan colony of Massachusetts, whose General Court decreed in 1647 that “any Jesuit or priest coming within the colony was to be banished,” and if he returned, executed.  That same body enacted laws that forbad the celebration of the “popish festival of Christmas,” and the importation of “any Irish persons whatsoever” into the colony; the General Court likewise instituted oaths of allegiance that specifically included denunciations of the pope for all public office holders and militia marshals.  “Break the Pope’s Neck” was a popular fireside game for children, while the New England Primer — the “hornbook” on which children learned their ABCs while memorizing little phrases that helped them with the alphabet — offered as its phrase for the letter A, “Abhor that abhorrent Whore of Rome.

Thanks in large part to Washington’s efforts, post-independence America became notably less anti-Catholic, at least officially.  The old bigotries remained, however, and enjoyed “reawakenings” of their own every few decades.  The anti-Irish, anti-German-Catholic and anti-Italian sentiments gave rise to the Know Nothings in the 1850s.  Again, after World War I, immigration prompted an anti-Catholic backlash, in part sparking the rebirth of the Klan.  And while historians note significant differences between the waves of American anti-Catholicism, all varieties shared a common origin, the English Reformation, and all shared an undue fear of papal plots to overthrow or undermine the legitimate government.

Most importantly, none of this has anything whatsoever to do with the Senate Democrats’ display last week.

The second principal source of anti-Catholicism in the West – and especially in the United States – came two hundred years (or so) after the English Reformation.  It is, of course, the allegedly “Great” Enlightenment.  In this sense, anti-Catholicism is, in truth, anti-Christianity.  The Catholic Church was specifically targeted because that was relatively uncomplicated; because Catholicism was, despite the Reformation, still the most prominent of the Christian faiths and because the Catholic hierarchy provided an identifiable, widely recognized, and an easy target.

As we have noted many times before in these pages, the contemporary Left is, in many ways, the inevitable outcome of the process begun during the Enlightenment.  As the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has argued, the Enlightenment destroyed the existing moral teleology and replaced with nothing but the subjectivity of man’s reason.

Beginning largely with Voltaire, the intellectuals of the French Enlightenment railed incessantly and mercilessly against the institutions of their age and especially against the Church, Christianity, and the established order more broadly, all of which, they believed, prevented the realization of human ability and perverted the relations of society.  As Voltaire famously put it in a letter to Frederick to Great:

[Christianity] is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.  Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think.  My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out.

Voltaire begat Rousseau.  Rousseau begat the French Revolution and Robespierre.  Robespierre begat William Weitling who, in turn, begat Marx and Engles, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, and all the rest (including Al Franken’s beloved Pol Pot!).  The lone constant in all of this – and in the post-Enlightenment philosophies of the French and Germans – is hatred of and opposition to Christianity as the mother and perpetuator of all evils.  Voltaire’s “war against Christianity,” became Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, which became Marx’s “the opium of the people.”  For at least 500 years, the Catholic Church has been the object of derision and rebellion.  And for nearly 300 years, Christianity itself has been attacked as the hated facilitator of a status quo that prevents man from achieving his true greatness.  Voltaire cried “Ecrasez l’infame,” i.e. “crush the infamous thing.”  Rousseau lamented that “Everything is good in leaving the hands of the Creator of Things; everything degenerates in the hands of man,” which is to say that the institutions of man, especially the Church, corrupt man’s soul.

In this sense, then, the anti-Catholicism of the Left is really anti-Christianity more generally.  As always, Catholics make easy targets because they are expected to adhere to a set of principles, clearly and publicly designated.  But Catholics are not the only targets.  Indeed, the very Protestants who perpetrated much of the earlier anti-Catholic bigotry are victims of this bigotry as well, “believers” targeted by the atheistic Left as hindrances to a truly egalitarian society.  Christianity itself – or the Judeo-Christian tradition – is the target here.

As you may have guessed, it is, in our estimation, this second type of anti-“Catholic” prejudice that motivated the likes of Feinstein, Franken, and Durbin last week.  They didn’t object to Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholicism.  They objected to her Christianity.  Rest assured, if she were a Southern Baptist who had written the same types of things about taking her faith seriously and literally and applying it publicly, Feinstein and company would still have objected to her.  The specificity of her denomination was irrelevant.  It was the devotion of her faith that mattered.

Next April will mark the twentieth anniversary of the essay in which we first proposed our “clash of moral codes” model.  We postulated that the United States had become bifurcated, split, almost down the middle, into two different and inevitably hostile factions.  One faction, we argued, “can be described as traditional Judeo-Christian. The foundation of this belief system was established some 3,300 years ago with the receipt of the Decalogue by Moses at Mt. Sinai.”  The other, by contrast, is “roughly based on the concept that there are no ultimate, overarching truths, and that judgments about right and wrong are little more than the means by which some people control others, or as Nietzsche, an icon of the movement, put it, the outward expressions of will and power.  The only ‘sin’ recognized by adherents to this system is making judgments about the choices of others. The concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are considered to be wholly subjective.”

In that original essay, we broached the “clash,” and explained it, but did very little to predict where it lead over time.  Even if we had dared to make such a forecast, we doubt very much that we would have predicted that this clash would lead, eventually, to the end of the American constitutional republic as we know it.  And yet today, that hardly seems an absurd expectation.

In retrospect, our original mention of the clash of moral codes seems almost quaint.  Some people thought it was unbecoming the President of the United States to mess around with interns barely older than his daughter, while others wondered “what’s the big deal?”  As we look back, though, nearly every major clash between the parties can be attributed, at least in part, to these differing views of morality.  And the seriousness of the disagreements has only grown.  Today, it seems that the two sides cannot agree on anything, and indeed it appears that one side cannot govern the other.  When Barack Obama occupied the White House, so-called “red” America bristled, battled, and protested his every action, and rightly so.  With Donald Trump now in the Oval Office, blue America has turned the tables, only more violently, more aggressively, and more petulantly, insisting that his every thought or utterance must be “resisted,” even to the point of shedding blood in the streets.

In a recent essay, Victor Davis Hanson, the military historian and classicist, echoed our long-time sentiments about the clash of moral codes and suggested, rather bluntly, that the outcome of this clash will be a sad and ugly existence.  To wit:

It is not healthy for a society to live two lives that are antithetical, as America has been doing in recent decades.

Disillusionment with government and popular culture arises at anger over two entirely different realities.  One truth is politically correct and voiced on the news and by the government.  It is often abstract and theoretical.  And the other truth is empirical, hushed and accepted informally by ordinary people from what they see and hear on the ground.

Public orthodoxy signals virtue, private heterodoxy ensures ostracism.  So Americans increasingly make the necessary adjustments, modeling their lives in some part as those once did in totalitarian societies of the 20th century.  The reality they live is the stuff of the shadows; the falsity they are told and repeat is public and amplified.

Cynicism and eventual anger at the schizophrenia are always the harvests of such bipolarity.

We don’t doubt that Professor Hanson is right.  Eventually, the clash will be resolved one way or another.  The anger and frustration will, in time, push the system to adapt.

The real question, obviously, is how the system will manage its adaptation.  We have written in these pages before about our hope that the system will “devolve” into a more federalist one, with each side in the clash of moral codes agreeing to manage its own affairs and to leave the other side alone to manage itself.  Less than twenty percent of the way through Donald Trump’s first term, we believe that the conditions are ripe for such devolution and that the impetus will come from Blue America, which has long resisted such a reversion to the Founders’ vision but is motivated now by the resentment it feels regarding the Trump presidency.

At the same time, however, we have to admit that devolution is not the only possible outcome.  Over the next several weeks and months, we are likely to revisit this topic and to outline in broad terms our alternative view of “the end of history.”  For now, we will say only that this end is hardly as optimistic or as promising as the end originally forecast by Francis Fukuyama nearly three decades ago.

In brief, the governing structures established by the Founders were strong and noble, but they were not necessarily intended to govern a nation as vast and as diverse as the United States is today.  Moreover, as John Adams put it, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Add to all of this the fact that the ruling class has, over time, seen fit to alter the Founders’ vision repeatedly, in order to suit their its own ends, and it’s a wonder, frankly, that this bit of parchment has held on as long as it has.

But it will not hold forever.  And if the Blue and the Red cannot agree simply to leave each other alone, and if the ruling class is not shocked into acquiescence by the populist revolt, then the outcome will be the abandonment of constitutional principles, in deed if not in word.  Religious people – “orthodox Catholics” like Amy Coney Barrett – will be instructed to keep their religious practices private and to adhere in public to state’s civic religion, to the soft totalitarianism of state morality imposed upon a people that does not share its precepts.

The real lesson of last week’s gruesome Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is not that anti-Catholic animus persists in the United States.  It is, rather, that the practitioners of one moral code grow weary of having to tolerate the beliefs of the practitioners of the other.

This past July, in a speech before a gay rights advocacy group, John Bercow, the Speaker of the British House of Commons, declared that “I still feel we’ll only have proper equal marriage when you can bloody well get married in a church if you want to do so, without having to fight the church for the equality that should be your right.”  In other words, the civic religion will not be fully ascendant until traditional religions are forced to bow before it and to accept its moral dictates.  As we have said before in these pages, we are sympathetic to the same-sex marriage cause, but this really isn’t about same-sex marriage at all.  It is about the full and compulsory surrender of the traditional moral code to its more contemporary counterpart.

We will grant, of course, that the United States in NOT Great Britain.  But we will also stipulate that our Constitution is a British-inspired document written by Englishmen and based on longstanding British traditions.  All of which is to say that if it can happen there, then it can happen here.

In his Gettysburg address – cited in the “They Said It” section above – Abraham Lincoln declared that the Civil War was being fought to determine whether a government “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” could survive.  It did.  The question now is whether it will survive our Cold Civil War – our clash of moral codes.


Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.