Pedophiles and moral calculus

Last night, Alabama did something I assumed was impossible, and turned their backs on an accused serial child molester. It’s a statement about where our country is at the moment that this was a surprise. There are three lessons I learn from this:

  • Republican cynicism isn’t infinite. While a solid majority of white Alabamians voted for Roy Moore (who in addition to his loathsome treatment of young girls, also said in September that the last time America had been great was “at a time when families were united, even though we had slavery”), just enough of them were sufficiently disgusted that they either stayed home or wrote in an alternate candidate. One or two even voted for the Democrat, Doug Jones.
  • White evangelicals are an aging and dwindling minority. They’re usually more motivated to get to the polls, but in basic numbers, there are more young people and African Americans and other people of color in the country, and once these people are motivated themselves, they will always win in a fair race.
  • Speaking of fair races, we learned last night that even without the safeguards of the Voting Rights Act, there’s only so much work voter suppression can do for Republicans. Whether it’s limiting the number of voting places in Democratic neighborhoods, placing regular voters on “inactive” lists, or any number of other tactics to stack the deck against Democrats, if there’s enough outrage, people will get their votes into the ballot boxes.

That Roy Moore was even on the ballot is a testimony to the terminal rot in the Republican party. I’ve read two prominent conservatives over the last week who have declared themselves politically homeless. (David Brooks, wistful for Reaganomics, says “The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational.” Peter Wehner, who served under Reagan and both Bushes, just wrote a piece outlining why he could no longer call himself an evangelical Republican.)

It’s important to note that Donald Trump is no longer an aberration within the GOP. When the Republican National Committee decided to get behind Moore after the revelations that he was groping 14-year-old girls, they were basically saying that ethical behavior no longer had anything to do with the party’s ideals and goals. They’ll take all comers in order to hold their majority. Remember . . . this wasn’t the state organization. This was the national organization. No Republican can any longer say their party just has some bad apples. When the party accommodates repulsive characters like this, the party becomes the bad apple.

Evangelicals can no longer afford to think in terms of litmus tests. They have to start using their grown-up brains. If you go into the voting booth thinking abortion is different from every other issue and you must make certain compromises to hold that line, you are being majorly conned. And you’re in danger of betraying everything you think you stand for, including the sanctity of life.

You folks, you white evangelical folks, will not have the power in 30 years that you have today. You won’t have it in three years. You need to decide how you’re going to negotiate that. You need to start preparing your epitaph. Religious movements wax and wane, and whatever God has in store for the world, it’s not going to look like what you’re used to, because it never does. What I’m saying is, if you want the Lord to bless your country and its future, you’re just going to have to do a much better job than you have over the last year of using the plain common sense He gave you.

New Look

If you’ve read this blog over the last couple of years (first of all, thank you and . . . why?), you may notice that the look has just changed. My day job is in graphic design, but I’ve kept this site very plain on purpose. I get a lot of delight out of making things graphically interesting, but that’s not what I’m doing here. At this place, all I want is to write to my friends and family, and increasingly, to conservatives and Christians (two categories that are not, I have been repeatedly reminded, interchangeable). Originally, I was thinking I’d be blabbing on about whatever-all came into my undisciplined head, but since last year’s election, I’m pretty focused now on politics, ethics, and the implications of current events for people of faith. And whatever other awkward, divisive issues come to mind. These subjects can be pretty imaginatively engaged with graphic design sometimes, actually. I’m just not interested in doing that myself.

So I’ve changed the design for the most boring, functional reasons. The text is a little larger and easier to read, first of all. And secondly, the links are much easier to see. They were almost invisible with the old layout, and usually the places I’m linking to are more interesting or better written than my own blog. This template requires me to have a picture at the top, which I’d be happy enough to do without, but for the time being, I’ve just got the Cow Palace up there, the site of the opening concert of the Beatles’ first American tour in 1964, and now a place pretty much limited to gun shows and tattoo and hemp fairs. We see it out our picture window.

Sex, Men, Apologies

I told a friend today that it has not been fun being a straight white man this week. She said, “Yeah? Well, it hasn’t been fun being a woman for a lot longer than that.” She had a point.

I don’t know if we’re on the cusp of a big shift in acceptable male behavior as some people are saying. I’d like to think so, but then we all thought Newtown was going to finally make a difference in gun laws, and patriarchy is a lot older than the NRA. One thing I wouldn’t mind happening is sex coming out in the open a little more in the Christian community, since sexual predation and abuse benefit a great deal from prudery. How could Roy Moore have gotten away with his abominable behavior without it? If instead of feeling up 15-year-old girls he were, I don’t know, bilking pensioners out of their savings, do you think the pensioners would have kept quiet about it? He knew exactly how much power he had, and a whole hell of a lot of it depended on sexual shame.

I use Roy Moore as an example because he’s presently the slimiest in this particular basket of deplorables, but of course this current basket contains a pretty even distribution of political loyalties. Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Al Franken, Bill Clinton—we liberals definitely have our share. The penis knows no politics. Be that as it may, I don’t think politics is off the table in this discussion. As of this moment, the facts are that two of those four have come clean about their culpability, and offered pretty unequivocal apology. Franken, who so far seems to be guilty of not much more than over-the-top boorish comedy, has himself suggested a review by the Senate Ethics Committee. Louis CK’s behavior is far ickier, and a number of people have said his apology didn’t go far enough. It is pertinent, though, that he apologized.

In the meantime, the Alabama Republican Party is circling the wagons around Roy Moore. Trump the Pussy Grabber tweets about Al Franken the Crass Comedian the day after the revelation, but gives Moore the Child Molester a pass for a week and a half. I know there are a lot of conservatives appalled by this. I know there will be a few—not enough—Alabamans who decide this state court judge, who made such a show of his religious convictions, is a Pharisee and an opportunist. But until more conservatives hold their own to account, this issue will be political in addition to being moral. I’m seeing real repentance and soul-searching among liberals. Until conservatives hold Donald Trump himself to account, they will be compromised.

All that said. Sexual harassment, predation, abuse is, as Sarah Silverman says, a tumor. Cutting it out “is messy and it’s complicated and is going to hurt. But it’s necessary and we’ll all be healthier for it.”

Tofurkey

I’ve been having a hard time writing here for a while now, mainly because I have little hope of it making a difference. And if it doesn’t make a difference, if it’s just a way to blow off steam, or worse—get pats on the back from liberal friends—I don’t see any reason to keep on. Despite some of the good news for Democrats in last night’s elections, I am not particularly optimistic about the future. I don’t see Congress flipping next year, and even if it does, the huge number of people in this country who loathe Democrats, who distrust foreigners, who are sick of seeing football players taking a knee, who are annoyed by seeing two boys holding hands or girls dressing as boys or Indians protesting pipelines—none of these people are leaving. And I don’t see any minds changing—either side of the aisle—no matter what happens.

What is maddening about this is that often when people of different views sit down together, they have far less dividing them than they have in common. It’s just that we don’t live close to each other anymore, so we don’t talk much, so we forget that’s true. When we do sit down together, though, we are actually kind, for the most part. If someone’s uncle shoots himself, we agree in retrospect that with his depression and his drinking, he probably shouldn’t have had a gun in the house. If someone’s 16-year-old has an abortion, we’re all sorry about it in our various ways. None of us, in any case, thinks she should go to prison. The sanctimony of some vegan relative often annoys all of us. We’re all equally horrified to find someone’s son is living on the streets, and we all agree it isn’t because he’s just shiftless or flaky. We all agree he’s had problems since he was four years old. We agree about how self-involved some gay or environmental activist cousin has always been, even if we disagree about whether that relates to his sexual or political orientation.

One thing about all these made-up examples is this—we agree about the facts, we just sometimes disagree about what to do about them, if anything. On the internet, people don’t even agree about the facts anymore, and this is what has me despondent. Because there is stuff that is true, and there is stuff that is false. And there’s a truckload of stuff, of course,  we don’t know enough about to even have an opinion on. But on the internet, people have an opinion about everything. If there’s a mass shooting . . . you don’t need to know anything more, if you’re a Democrat. There are too many guns. If you’re a Republican, all you need to know is whether the person was a Muslim. If he was a Muslim, he was a terrorist. If he wasn’t, he was crazy. The same kind of instant opinion comes for almost every other bit of news. Listen to yourself the next time you watch or read it.

We are not nearly that stupid and mean in our personal lives. And if we are, if we yell at each other when the subject turns to politics, it’s interesting that that’s about the only thing that makes us stupid and mean. Or that makes us that stupid and mean.

I don’t know if there’s any way out of this. I am frankly not hopeful.

I think one thing to do might be to stop thinking about which party we belong to and see if we can agree on one or two specific problems. Argue about the solutions but at least agree on the problems. I don’t know if even that is possible, though, frankly. One problem I wrote about last summer was unwanted pregnancies. I thought everyone, no matter what stripe, might agree that’s a problem. I had some suggestions to help solve that problem which someone might call liberal but that I prefer to call pragmatic. But I don’t know. Maybe they’re just liberal. Maybe the only solution many people see is what doesn’t seem a solution to me at all, just slowly and steadily making abortion as inaccessible as possible.

I am not hopeful.

For some reason it doesn’t work the way it does at home, among family. We agree that cousin Summerbright (née Marge) is a self-righteous vegan at Thanksgiving. We talk about various solutions. We might have to all just grit our teeth and cook her another damn tofurkey. When she starts comparing the “fumes” of the real bird in the oven to the smoke over Buchenwald, Uncle Kevin will be the one to nicely call her on her shit, talk her down.

It is possible to work together. It is possible to be kind. It’s possible to remain in disagreement and be kind.

I just don’t know if there’s a tofurkey and Uncle Kevin for this country. I really don’t know if it’s possible for the whole country to be kind.

Purple Playlist

I’ve been thinking for a long time about putting together some music that red people and blue people could enjoy together. Because music is often the only thing to get people to stop shouting and just kick back and enjoy themselves. This is all just music, no politics. A couple of love songs, some peppier numbers and others that are slower, along with one or two heartbreakers, maybe.

Remarkably, I found YouTube links for all of them. Which means, as far as I can make out, musicians will soon be extinct as paid professionals. Once you’ve decided which songs you really like, please actually purchase them.

The world’s burning. Here’s some fun and comfort.

Bruce Springsteen, Reason to Believe

Alabama Shakes, Don’t Wanna Fight

Johnny Cash, The Man Comes Around

Detroit Cobra, Shout Bama Lama

Patty Griffin, Up to the Mountain

Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Blue

Magnetic Fields, Abigail, Belle of Kilronan

Paul Simon, Loves Me Like a Rock (covered by The Dixie Hummingbirds)

Spiritualized, So Long You Pretty Thing

James McMurtry, Walk Between the Raindrops

Tom Waits, Picture in a Frame

Moby, Honey

Janis Joplin, Me and Bobby McGee

Ditty Bops, Sister Kate

Cloud Cult, You’re the Only Thing in Your Way

Joni Mitchell, Case of You

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Aretha Franklin, Respect

Cat Power, Salty Dog

The Traveling Wilburies, End of the Line

Careful What You Wish For

Magazine covers highlighted in The Guardian, August 18, 2017

Writing about politics at all requires a daily engagement I’m really not cut out for. But in 2017 it pretty much means you can’t even blink. Less than two weeks ago, the President was promising nuclear fire and fury, and early this week—after a bunch of white supremacists marched through Charlottesville with tiki torches, and a young woman was run over by a truck ISIS-style—he was saying there’s plenty of blame to go around, and trying to decide where he stands on the Confederacy. Kate Timpf, on Fox News (yes, that Fox News), reacting to Trump’s words, said, “I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life. I have too much eye makeup on to start crying right now.” There’s been a lot of tweeting “this is not us,” but this obviously is us. We made this evil man the President. All I want to do is figure out why, and figure out how never to make such a colossal mistake again.

My current amateurish, uninformed working theory is that if it weren’t for fundamentalists’ singular obsession with abortion, Trump wouldn’t have been elected. Almost anyone could refute this pretty easily, I’m sure, but Trump’s victory was so razor thin—won only in the electoral college, not by popular vote—that, given Mitch McConnell’s constitutionally indefensible decision not to allow even a debate on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee through all of 2016, let alone a vote, I’d say abortion had at least an outsized influence. Without a Democratic candidate as personally charming as Barack Obama, enough people felt so strongly about abortion’s evil that they voted for a man they personally loathed simply to keep the Supreme Court conservative.

So I think it’s time to get real about abortion. It has been an undebatable, unexamined issue for evangelicals for far too long. No matter how directly Republican policies contradict Biblical teaching about the poor and dispossessed, how unashamedly the Republican platform worships mammon and how cultishly it protects any damn fool’s possession of as many deadly weapons as he wants, no matter how many millions of refugees are turned back to face death or persecution because of Republican nativist hysteria—basically, no matter how un-Christian the Republican Party is by every other important measure, evangelicals keep voting as Republicans because of that one dog whistle. A politician can do pretty much whatever he wants, including grabbing women’s crotches, as long as he promises he’s going to fight for the babies. This is how we got this archetype of evil for President.

So let’s do some moral algebra. We might start with a few things you may not have been aware of:

  • Abortion first became illegal in the US in 1880. It was not because of religious opposition, but because the medical community felt it was a risky procedure that endangered the mother’s life.
  • Abortion-inducing drugs were widely advertised in 19th-century newspapers, and early, “pre-quickening” abortion was not strenuously opposed by either the Catholic or Protestant leadership. It was only after the mother began to feel movement of the fetus that abortion was morally problematic.
  • Its legal status has not had nearly the effect on the rates of abortion that economic reality’s had. Abortion rates rose substantially during the Great Depression, even though the procedure was illegal, because women would rather lose a pregnancy than lose a child through starvation.
  • Although abortion was illegal in the 1960s, discussion of its morality was much less fraught, and evangelical opposition to it was not a foregone conclusion. In 1968, a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary (of all places), in an issue of Christianity Today(of all magazines), argued that because the destruction of the fetus was not an Old Testament capital offense, it could not be considered murder. “God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed.” Yes. This was an evangelical’s position.
  • According to the National Association of Evangelicals, 80% of young evangelicals have pre-marital sex. Almost a third of evangelicals’ unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. This is higher than the rate within the general population, probably because having any birth control seems to a Christian teen like he or she is planning on having sex, and that, of course, would be terrible.

I found these tidbits with a quick web search, and you could find as many facts to support your own position just as quickly. But my aim with them is not to change your mind about the morality of abortion. It’s to get you to think about the issue as qualified, and at least as complex as the many other things Christians seem to be perfectly willing to think about in shades of gray—feeding the poor, sheltering the persecuted, racism, etc. I bring any of these other subjects up, and a Christian says, “Well, it’s not that simple.” I ask her why she voted for Donald Trump, it’s because he’s going to make abortion illegal. Look, first of all, he won’t, and neither will the Supreme Court—ever. And secondly, if it ever did happen, abortion would not stop. The only thing that would happen is more women would die getting it done illegally.

No matter what you feel about abortion, it is not going away. If you want it to be rare—truly rare, and not just legally unavailable—you have to get real . . .

People have to have access to birth control. Venerate virginity all you want, but when that doesn’t work out for your kids, they can’t be so ashamed of having babies out of wedlock that they 1) don’t have birth control around when they need it, and 2) have an abortion to avoid the shame. Because that is truly bent, and it’s pretty much the same kind of thinking that got this asshat into the White House last fall.

Mothers have to have access to childcare. If a pregnant woman knows she doesn’t have the support she needs, she’s going to be way way way more likely to abort. If she thinks she’s going to have to pass some morality test to get that support, she’s also going to be more likely to abort. Men have to step up, of course they do. But many still don’t. Sometimes the grandparents step up. Super (well, not super, but ok). We should do all we can to encourage the family and the church to help out single moms. But this doesn’t mean publicly available childcare is some socialist plot. It’s one more tool! It’s one more thing to help make abortion rare!

Sex education has to be available in school. You afraid your kids are going to be taught that sex is natural, and that homosexuality is just another natural variation, and that if a boy wants to be a girl, it’s ok? Talk about it over dinner. Tell him what’s wrong with that reasoning, I don’t care. I’d disagree back at you, but that’s at least a discussion. Discussion is a good thing! Here’s what you need to think about: in places that don’t have sex ed in the schools, there are more unplanned pregnancies, and more abortions. So the way I see it, you can either have your child exposed to ideas you don’t agree with, but have fewer abortions, or you can raise her not having to hear any of that perverted stuff, and keep killing babies.

There are more ideas, but I know you have to get to the next Facebook puppy, so for now let me just conclude that if you voted for Donald Trump as the great white hope for all the unborn babies, you now have what you wished for. Nazis in polo shirts screaming, “Jews will not replace us!”

Tell me, what baby would want to be born into this world?

What if . . .

More and more conservatives are starting to get the feeling the rest of us (including a number of conservatives) have had since last November, that is, that the world is going to be on a precipice for at least the next four years. Yesterday, with the news that North Korea now has both an ICBM and a nuclear bomb that will fit on it, Donald Trump said, on his vacation, “North Korea best not make any more threats against the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” A few hours later, of course, North Korea—the only nuclear country in the world with a leader more batshit than Donald Trump—answered that it was thinking about taking out Guam with “an enveloping fire.”

Which is exactly the scenario the rest of us knew was coming if Donald Trump became President, and why we voted for Hillary Clinton, even though a lot of us didn’t like her. After the two megalomaniacs made their comic book–worthy statements, stocks immediately plummeted, which, if that’s the worst that happens—a global recession, say—we can all count ourselves lucky. It’s not at all clear, though, that that’s the worst that will happen.

So I think it’s another good time to examine how Christian conservatives make their civil and political decisions. Because for some reason, a lot of them decided that, despite the likelihood of something happening like what is now happening, it would be even worse if they’d voted for a Democrat and Merrick Garland were put on the US Supreme Court. Many still think this is true. Sometime in the last forty years, Christian conservatives became so obsessed with one great evil out of all the millions of them happening in the world, that they voted for a demonstrably unstable reality television star for President of the United States in order to eradicate it.

If you don’t think abortion made that much difference in evangelicals’ voting, just imagine if there’d been a woman like Clinton in every respect except that she was anti-abortion. It’s a stretch—it’s actually impossible—but put your head around it. A former Senator, Secretary of State, liberal as the day is long in her economic views, her social views (other than abortion), i.e., gay marriage fine, affirmative action affirmative, strong supporter of Obamacare; also, rich from her speaking fees and book royalties, getting outlandish perks all the time and not particularly likable in her demeanor to boot. Calculating, careful. All of that. But she’s anti-abortion. Not just personally, but effectively. She promises if she’s elected she will preserve Obamacare but will do everything in her power to get Roe v Wade overturned. This fake person I’ve come up with can’t be harder to imagine than Donald Trump.

Ok now. Who would the evangelicals be voting for? I’ll tell you who. Fake Hillary.

Just think about this for awhile, because I’m going to start writing about abortion.

Oh . . . And a Russian jet just flew over the Pentagon. Think about those two things.