Those Damned Dems

Educate me

While the ultimate goal of this blog, of course, is to foment a secular socialist revolution in which all Christians will be sent to re-education camps and it will be legal to have sex with dogs . . . 

I’m also interested in getting conservative and liberals to talk to each other and, even more ludicrously, listen to each other. So in that spirit, I’m interested in being introduced to the conservative voices you wish a liberal like me would be exposed to. Just remember that I’m a liberal. So the firebrands who seem to you to be preaching the obvious undeniable Truth will likely fall on deaf ears—I’m not going to listen to a person who yells at me. But I’m always interested in someone with a different take on things who makes me think. So if you know of someone like that, e-mail me, or message me on Facebook (not on a public post, though), or text me, or if you’re feeling really retro, tell me in person.

Educate you

I thought I’d mention that the elite mainstream media does have a few conservative voices in its ranks. David Brooks and Ross Douthat, both at the New York Times, are two of them. They drive us liberals crazy. I mention this to correct the impression that papers like the Times or the Washington Post are just the Fox News of the Democrats, picking only stories that confirm liberal bias. 

Can a White Evangelical Be a Democrat?

I should really give this subject its own blog post, but I thought I’d just sneak it in here to start the discussion. At first, I wrote, “Can a Christian be a Democrat?” but aside from the patent silliness of the question, I thought I’d first bring to my white friends’ attention the news that African American Christians and Latino Christians and most Catholics of any racial/cultural group vote for Democrats. This is despite the fact that they’re against abortion and gay marriage. Within the religious community, it’s pretty much the white people—and the white evangelicals in particular—who vote for Republicans. If you’re white, I think you might want to think for a while why that is. And take a look at these political heretics:

Get Uncomfortable

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates, who called 9/11-responders “menaces of nature,” to speak at West Point

Now that I’ve written about things I learned from a Trump voter, I’d like to make a case for everyone getting out of their comfort zone the same way I got out of mine. Particularly, this means reading things you don’t agree with straight from the people saying them, and not quoted secondhand. Because if we’re not all doing this—liberals and conservatives, black and white—we’re just in our amen corners whipping ourselves into a frenzy at the same time we’re letting the country get weaker and more dysfunctional by the day.

The headline above is from Fox News. The kernel of the article is that West Point has invited a radical black man to address its cadets. The proof of just how radical he is is in the headline. That’s the sum total of the straight news. The rest is commentary. A general is quoted who expects the radical black man to get a respectful hearing in a way that conservative speakers have not been getting lately at liberal colleges and universities. No matter how cadets may disagree with the statement that the firefighters and cops on September 11 were “menaces of nature,” the general says, they will listen. And then respectfully disagree. This is probably true.

Now, I agree that college students are more unruly than military cadets, and a lot of them are dumber than a bag of hammers, but now for a little context . . .

Coates’ controversial statement about the responders comes from a book called Between the World and Me that he wrote in the form of a letter to his son. It won the National Book Award. I read it last year. The title is a line he pulls from James Baldwin, a great American 20th-century writer whom many white people have not read. (Raise your hand if you’ve even heard of him, some of you.) Baldwin had also published a letter to his nephew back in 1962. Coates and Baldwin are trying to prepare these two young people for being men in the world, and in particular, black men. Coates wrote his long letter soon after a good friend of his named Prince Jones was killed at his own front door by a police officer. Jones was black and had a car the same make as a suspect. That was why the officer shot and killed him. The cop was crooked but was exonerated. So Coates wrote this book, basically telling his son that as a black man he was going to always have to watch his back. He was justifiably angry. In the wake of the death of his friend—who was basically seen as nothing but a Young Black Man, and that seemed enough to shoot him—he wrote: “I could see no difference between the officer who killed Prince Jones and the police who died, or the firefighters who died. They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were the menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could—with no justification—shatter my body.”

If cops saw no difference between bad black men and good black men, why should he see any difference between bad cops and good cops? Ok, disagree with him, but disagree in context. More context? The cop was black, too. It’s very complicated. You’ll find plenty to disagree with. But by the way, reading this blog still doesn’t give you the right to disagree or be horrified. Disagree with the source. Read the whole book. It’s 152 pages, you can finish it in an evening or two. Or read James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. Even shorter, and it’s a classic. You may then disagree to your heart’s content, and that will be ok.

The thing is? The guy who wrote the Fox News piece almost surely didn’t read the book. Ten to one, he picked up the quote from a conservative column by David Brooks. So if you only read the Fox News story, you are reading Coates not secondhand, but thirdhand. This is how wars gets started, folks. People hearing what they want to hear from people they agree with already, and getting mad as hell.

I write this in the same week the white President of the United States has, citing no evidence whatsoever, accused the black former President of the United States of tapping his phone, after accusing him for years of not being a US citizen. On, apparently, the evidence of his funny name. (Surely not the color of his skin?)

The next time the thought enters your head that some African Americans are way too touchy and need to move on, remember this.

Confessions of a Trump Voter

I have changed my mind before. In college—at Bible college, in fact—after voting for Gerald Ford in 1976, two years later I changed my registration to the Democratic Party. Ever since, I’ve been very aware that I don’t know everything, and that as I have new experiences, meet new people, read new things, I may have to change my mind again now and then. In the almost forty years since I first changed my registration, Americans of either political stripe have seemed to become only more and more sure of themselves, less and less apt to think they may be ignorant of anything.

So it was good for me today to find this story this morning in one of my usual liberal propaganda rags, the Confessions of a Trump Voter. We need to listen to each other, and I listened to this. I think the guy was mistaken in his faith in Trump—I haven’t changed my mind about that—but it reminds me that Obama wasn’t Jesus Christ, and that we need to learn from our mistakes.

Step One. Silence the Media

Ok, here’s where I compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. You knew it was coming. You may now roll your eyes.

The central problem is that we’ve been comparing Presidents we don’t like to Hitler since at least Richard Nixon. In retrospect, “Nitler” was more like Wormtongue—he was just unsavory and vindictive. There was a lot of talk of George W. Bush being like Hitler, but he was (I’m sorry) just not bright enough for the comparison. People calling Obama Hitler—that always threw me, but I guess with Obamacare you could say there was something National about it, and though I’d call it far short of Socialism, that’s what some of you were calling it that, so . . . National, Socialist. I guess. Suit yourself.

So comparing Trump to Hitler can pretty much sound like nothing more than sour grapes. Except that it’s clear that in his willingness to Do Whatever It Takes to get done what he wants to get done, Trump is absolutely different from any person who has held the office before, and in his attempts to go around the newspapers and television news outlets he doesn’t like, he’s doing some pretty scary stuff. Yesterday, he barred the New York Times and CNN from his briefing room. He let Breitbart stay, but not the NY Times. No matter what you think of liberal bias, the Times is a major paper of record for the country. If you don’t like what they say . . . well, in America, as opposed to Russia or China, you argue your case, or you spin it your way, or you ignore them. When you decide you’re just going to cut them out, you’re taking a step toward state-approved media.

This isn’t a liberal/conservative issue. Any demagogue from the left could do this, too. One of the people most worried about what Trump is doing is John McCain.

Which is where I refer you to an article about Hitler. There was a newspaper in Munich that during the 20s and 30s that just really got under his skin. He decided to cut them out. Now, granted, he was Hitler. But the lesson is disturbing, and I urge you to take a look. It’s a longish read. I hope that doesn’t mean you’re just going to toss it. Truth is long sometimes.

Hitler and The Munich Post

The Week in Trump

Alternative Facts

  • The new president gets in another snit about size, claiming his inauguration day crowd was the largest ever. It was not. Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway suggests Sean Spicer’s repetition of the claim is an “alternative fact,” immediately sending the George Orwell novel, 1984, rocketing to the top of the best seller lists (actual, not alternative, fact).
  • Trump claims he lost the popular vote due to 2-3 million illegal votes. He did not.

War Against the Media

The Ramparts Go Up

  • Refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries in the Middle East are out of luck.
  • Immigrants from Saudi Arabia (home of the 9/11 terrorists) and other countries in which Trump has business interests not included in ban.
  • On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Trump says Christian refugees will be given priority.
  • Article from (conservative) Cato Institute puts chances of an American being murdered by a foreign-born terrorist at 1/3,609,709.

Trump Still Won’t Release Tax Returns

Another uncomfortable observation about the writing person

The problem writing fiction is that to have any vitality, it is tapped into your unfiltered psyche. So as much as you separate your own beliefs and feelings from your characters’, things you make them say really do come from you, and sometimes this can bring things to light about you that you would not admit to or even realize were true, whether this is unlovely thoughts about your loved ones, or racial or other prejudices, or a strong conviction of despair, or any number of other things. All you can do is comb through in revision, doing your best not to comb out what is vital—which is also often what is the unsavory in you. No matter what we say about the work being separate from the author, we can’t pretend the actual human being who wrote the story isn’t implicated in it. 

Anything But Blue

Stanford UP’s latest fall catalog has just come from the printer, with a blatant Anne Geddes rip-off on the cover that I’m quite pleased with. A seasonal catalog is always a jerry-rigged masterpiece of flim-flam, filled as it is with descriptive copy and fully realized cover designs for manuscripts that haven’t been copy edited yet, let alone gone to pages, and always two or three that haven’t even been completely written. We didn’t always try to have a cover designed for every single title a full season ahead of time, and I won’t go into the reasons people decided it was a good idea. But suffice it to say that now, every spring and fall I feel like I’m coordinating about 65 weddings, all at the same time. You’d expect this for trade titles, of course, but it turns out that even scholars of Latin American history, authors of books on business valuation, analytical philosophers . . . all of them get kooky, too. He won’t even pay for a good haircut, but a kid’s first monograph on Hölderlin gets accepted for publication, and he goes to sleep nights dreaming about display fonts and halftone screens.

For a few years I’ve wanted to scribble down notes for our scholar-authors about book covers, and I’m thinking now while the trauma is still fresh in my mind, it might be a good time. So here’s my list of observations and things to remember:

  1. Your designer doesn’t have to know how to spell to do a good cover for you. She has to know how to do a good cover.
  2. Thank you for letting me know your nephew knows Photoshop. It will not save you any money if he designs your cover.
  3. Aesthetic judgment is subjective. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.
  4. Don’t ever use the word “collage.”
  5. An image with a specific reference to something in the book isn’t always the best image for the cover, especially if it’s ugly and needs a four-line caption on the back to explain what it is.
  6. Thank you for letting me know your nephew has designed his own website. We need to design a printed book cover.
  7. If you absolutely loathe blue, we can accommodate you. But you might want to think about why that is.
  8. Sometimes you have to see something before you know what you want. I’m the same way. But remember I’m working on anywhere from two to forty other book cover designs at the same time, depending on the time of year, so a little help on the design memo up front can save me some time.
  9. If your editor shows you three different cover designs, please pick one. Don’t ask for the typeface from A, the picture from B, and the colors from C. That’s designing, which is what the designer has already done.
  10. When giving reactions, general is actually better than specific. Say, “The cover seems a little harsh for a book about kittens.” Don’t say, “Could you please airbrush out the snarling kitten?”
  11. It’s amazing what some people can do with Photoshop these days. At Pixar.
  12. Your book is going to be purchased by two hundred libraries and read by eighteen scholars. Changing the title font to Galliard is not going to raise these numbers.
  13. Thank you for showing me the mock-up your nephew has done for your book cover. No.
  14. If my design has completely misconstrued your critical theory monograph, do not even think of getting catty about it or condescend to me in any way, because I will rip off your face and feed it to my pigs.
  15. Thank you for showing me the mock-up your nephew has done. It actually has possibilities. No, I will not pay him.
  16. I actually enjoy doing your book cover. I really want to know what you think.
  17. I change my mind about book covers all the time. Do I contradict myself? I am large. I contain multitudes.
  18. If you’ve decided you don’t like the amazing cover I’ve done for your book that you were perfectly fine with yesterday, you’d better give a damn good reason.
  19. It’s called embossing. No, we don’t do it. Who do you think you are, Barbara Cartland?
  20. Yes, I can make your name bigger.

It all sounds way too snarky. I am a nice man. I’ve just come off another three-month book cover marathon, though, and I’m still a little fragile. I’ll edit it eventually into something more helpful and less intimidating. But enjoy this first draft.

What if, in place of “racist,” we used the word “racist”?

I went to a Bible college. This surprises some people. Well, time passes and things happen. Anyway, although I think my world-view was bound to evolve eventually, I became a skeptic all the more quickly because of a very incurious education in my undergraduate years. This was represented best by a particular sort of Bible professor. He would be a teacher of, say, a New Testament survey course, or a class in apologetics, invariably one of the most popular personalities on campus, often good-looking, sometimes with a spouse ten years his junior. This man was a master storyteller, a clown, a judge, a dad figure—and he’d invariably have students shaking their heads in wonder at his intelligence, without once challenging any of their basic presuppositions. It was a real knack. He (it was, of course, always a he—I do not remember one female professor of Biblical studies on the faculty) always thought of himself as a provocateur. He always wanted to “get young people thinking.” And for all that, actual thought never had anything to do with what he said.

I thought of this kind of professor last week when I came across a panel discussion at Biola University, my alma mater, called “Sexuality Matters.” The panel was a Q&A about the school’s position on LGBT sexuality. I think the fact that the term “LGBT” was even on the agenda at Biola is a sign of progress. But the progress, I’m afraid, pretty much stopped there. There were three discussants, all from the university—a psychology professor, someone called a “Vice President of Student Affairs” (some kind of dean?), and a Bible professor named Erik Thoennes. Unless I’m misunderstanding the v.p. position, there were no students. And there were no representatives of the LGBT community. Some people probably thought of this forum as a conversation. It was really, though, a presentation. Without two points of view, nobody was really discussing anything, they were just making plain what was already pretty plain, which is that Biola believes gays and lesbians and transgendered people are all perverts. God loves them as much as he loves people who aren’t perverts, and people who aren’t perverts are still sinners, but LGBT is still just a synonym for PRVRT. This isn’t surprising and it isn’t even disappointing, because to be disappointed a person would have to actually expect something different at a conservative Christian school. It was like this 33 years ago when I graduated, and it is still like this.

Actually, maybe it was a little disappointing. For one thing, the panel actually came together in the first place in large part, if I understand it right, because of the efforts of a student group that would have been unthinkable in my day—the Biola Queer Underground. And one student actually had the temerity to ask why there wasn’t any representative from the BQU on the panel. That question could have led to a very interesting discussion. But instead it led to repetition, and elaboration, and some incredible rhetoric. Which you can listen to here. It was a real tour de force.

Professor Thoennes said the panel didn’t include a gay perspective because homosexuality was a sin, and asking someone to a panel at Biola to represent the sinful side was plainly ludicrous. You wouldn’t invite a liar to represent liars’ point of view, would you? You wouldn’t bring a racist to a discussion on racism to defend the “racist perspective.”

And then he showed his quality. To demonstrate the silliness of the idea, he took text directly from the BQU website, and everywhere the word “gay” was used, he inserted “racist.”

“Our racist identities, which are integral to who we are, are being questioned in terms of their morality. The University’s upcoming decision will affect our daily lives . . .

“Biola claims toward dialogue. However racist students who don’t view racism as sinful aren’t allowed to speak openly without threat . . .”

You really do need to listen to the recording. With the laughter, you can hear how solidly he got the crowd. His church (yes, of course he’s also a pastor) must love him.

But of the many “sins” a Biola professor could have chosen to compare homosexuality to, racism is a particularly troubling one, given fundamentalist Christians’ fraught association with it. Bob Jones University, the alma mater of my Biola advisor in the 70s, still did not allow interracial dating at that time. There were students in my year who agreed with that stance. I’d say in fact that the freedom many fundamentalists feel to condemn racism is a relatively recent phenomenon. To compare the LGBT movement to an odious world-view many fundamentalists (to be frank about it) still hold, shows a very finely tuned cluelessness.

So I suggest we turn Pastor Thoennes’ rhetoric back on itself. What if, when he said this:

“There are some sins I think because our culture sees them as sins we feel a lot of freedom to condemn, and others, because our culture doesn’t see them as sins, we don’t.” 

he were not talking about gay sex, but interracial marriage? What does the following sound like, put in the mouth of Bob Jones III:

“And so what I don’t want us to do in the midst of being kind and . . . loving, is to lack a Biblical backbone because our culture will consider us bigots—to stand up for something that’s consistently being a line drawn in the sand for what Christians will tolerate and what we won’t.” 

What if Erik Thoennes were talking about integration when he said:

“This is a fascinating sin in our culture. There is no other sin I know of that has parades celebrating it, and days at Disneyland!”

It wouldn’t sound too strange at all, actually. It would sound like a lot of fundamentalists 70 or 50 or 30 years ago. It still sounds like a tiny slice of them today. As opposed to Erik Thoennes’ very funny and bizarre exercise, it’s a historically accurate comparison. I can imagine no person in favor of gay marriage being against interracial marriage. I can remember fundamentalists being against it.

It’s interesting how what’s outrageous changes through history, and particularly Christian evangelical history. When Biola was founded, women weren’t allowed to vote. A woman’s place at home seemed quite explicit in the Bible our great grandparents were reading. There are so many things the Bible seems to be clear about to one generation or cultural group that it doesn’t later on or somewhere else. Things are never as plain as they seem. This is one of the first things a young person is supposed to learn when she goes off to college. It’s the opposite of what one is taught at Biola. I’m mystified why a thinking young person would want to waste her time there. As long as she is, though, I hope she’s asking tough questions. God knows somebody needs to.