Ross Douthat writes as if there is a real core Catholic faith that is being smothered by Francis’ liberal leanings. But after decades of evangelicals proclaiming themselves to be the party of spirituality and faith and integrity and humility and all the other values derived from the example of Christ and then stampeding into the arms of the most repugnant narcissist to ever run for office, one might be forgiven for regarding Douthat’s tears about the state of the Catholic church as disingenuous as best. Thanks to this embrace of Trump, and the sexual abuse scandals, and the residential school scandals, and the Magdalene laundries scandals, and so on and so on, it is very, very hard to regard any religion as anything more than a charade, a club, an exclusive confederation of self-righteous hypocrites. I gaze at these pious individuals in wonder and ask myself, what do you really believe? Anything, other than gaining advantage for the members of your club? Francis should declare that the era of Big Church is over and leave every locality to indulge in their own preferred hypocrisies.
Oh My God! We’re Getting More Anxious
Ross Douthat of the New York Times— the token conservative commentator on the opinion page– accepts the results of a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show that teenagers today– especially–omygawd! girls– are more anxious, more depressed, and more unhappy than ever before.
By “social liberalism” I don’t mean the progressivism that took off in the Trump era — antiracism and diversity-equity-inclusion and #MeToo. I mean the more individualistic liberalism that emerged in the 1960s and experienced a second takeoff across the first decade of the 2000s. Its defining features were rapid secularization (the decline of Christian identification accelerated from the 1990s onward) and increasing social and sexual permissiveness — extending beyond support for same-sex marriage to beliefs about premarital sex, divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, marijuana use and more.
And it’s all because of the liberals! Douthat doesn’t think gun violence should depress anyone, or the cut-throat competitive nature of the U.S. economy, or the fear of being bankrupted by medical expenses, or the fact that a sexual predator and psychopath was elected president in 2016. Oh no. It’s the widespread availability of sex, gay or hetero, as a woman or a man or neither, and, of course, drug use. Have we heard this before?
I have two points. First of all, we hear about these studies all the time– and I mean ALL the time. Sociologists and social scientists just love asking teenagers if they are happy. Now, imagine for a moment you are a teenager. And life is not great, but it’s not all bad either. You’re kind of getting through it. You have some hopes and dreams and know you might have to work hard to achieve them. You have friends. Then someone comes along and asks you if you are happy or depressed or anxious. They ask you again an hour later. They ask you again the next day, and the next, and the next. You read articles in the New York Times or see pieces on CNN that tell you that a big problem today is that teenagers are not very happy. You start to wonder. Maybe I am unhappy. Maybe I’m depressed.
I don’t deny that it might be true. What I question is the assumption that these numbers represent a net change from previous eras, like the 1940’s, the 1950’s, and 1960’s. How would we know? It’s a great question to thoughtfully ask yourself: how would we know?
Nobody studied issues like this in the same comprehensive, systematic way in the 1950’s as we do now. We didn’t have the internet, obviously, or social media, and even television and radio was completely different than they are today. We didn’t have as many books or magazines or records or films. We didn’t have as many family photographs or recordings, let alone video. We had numerous wars around the world, and the U.S. itself was embroiled in Korea, and about to get embroiled in Viet Nam.
We had a lot of obvious racism, whites only schools, whites only restaurants and drinking fountains. We had a lot of drunk driving and date-rape, both of which now are severely punished, but were not back then. In fact, the consensus on rape seemed to be to not report it at all. We had a lot of teen pregnancy, “shotgun” weddings, and groping and petting. We had a society that blindly worshipped the military and the police. (It is no coincidence that Douthat, a conservative, would harken back to an era of such “stellar” values even if he doesn’t make explicit those particular values).
I suspect that a big part of our perception of the 1950’s has been shaped by unrealistic media portrayals, most emblematically, in “Happy Days” and the movie “American Graffiti”. Have a look at “The Last Picture Show”, “Diner”, “Rebel Without a Cause”, or “Badlands” for a corrective.
Secondly, Douthat clearly implies that enthusiastic membership in a church is a viable corrective. If only we had a study that showed that teenagers who are active members of churches are happier, less depressed and less anxious, and happier, than those who are not. We have no such study.
What studies we do have that compare church-going folk with non-church-going folk seems to show that we are all largely the same, holy or profane, saved or damned. We all indulge in porn. We all cheat and lie. (But only one side votes for Trump and loves guns and only one side believes you may have been born to the wrong gender and the world is warming.)
Even for Douthat, this column is unusually contrived in his desperation to find some way to blame liberals and progressives for the sad state of America. Like all conservatives, he knows that his side, the side of regressive, low tax, deregulated economies, benefits by promoting a sense that we are on the brink of catastrophe. Nothing new. We’ve been on this brink according to the Douthats of the world since Elvis first gyrated his hips.
Social Toxicity in Action: Your Cockatiel is Missing
CTV news had a story about a local woman who lost her pet cockatiel. I thought, well, I’m glad I live in a country where this is a news story. Beats the alternatives. Then I read the comments on the story. Some people actually expressed the wish that the bird would be killed and eaten. Others were dismayed that this story displaced more important stories about the earthquake or the new Russian offensive in Ukraine. There were comments by people who hated the first comments, and then by people who hated the second comments, and then by people who hated the people who made the hateful comments about the hateful comments. Humanity at its toxic worst.
The other night, PBS News had an interview with a Democratic governor, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and a Republican governor, Spencer Cox, of Utah. The two men sat together, beside each other. They were civil, constructive, engaging, and respectful. They liked each other a lot, even though they had fundamental disagreements in many policy areas. They were working together on various important issues and trying to find common ground in areas where they disagreed. It was marvelous. It was inspiring. It was a powerful contrast to the toxic national political scene right now. It was reason for hope.
I’m not sure if that leaves me optimistic or pessimistic right now.
And yes, of course I wished the two of them would form a ticket for President and VP in 2024. And I am very sure that a majority of voters would love a team like that.
But it is a truism in American politics that you probably can’t win a nomination from your party right now if you don’t join the toxicity. The voters say they hate lying, compromised, attack-dog candidates but they vote for them. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
And now, let’s shoot down another ‘balloon’.
Deficit Attention Disorder
Let’s see: to reduce the deficit, you have to increase tax revenue or cut spending. To cut spending, you have slash funding for programs that might be popular. Voters won’t like that. That’s why so many Republicans who claim that the deficit is a serious problem, when interviewed on the subject, refuse to say what they would cut. Coincidentally, while Trump was running up the deficit and Republicans had control of the House and the Senate, they didn’t cut any programs; they actually increased military spending and cut taxes thereby increasing the deficit significantly. (Since the last balanced budget in 2000, the Republicans have run up $12 trillion in new deficit while the Democrats have racked up $13 trillion.) Now that a Democrat is in the White House, they are popping up everywhere declaring that the deficit sky is falling. Again, when asked where they would cut, they conspicuously refuse to answer.
Most economists do not think the deficit is a serious problem, but refusing to raise the debt ceiling– in essence, refusing to pay the bills that are due for mandated programs approved by Congress– would be a very, very serious problem.
It appears to be slightly hypocritical to complain about the deficit now when not a single Republican voted against the Trump programs that dramatically increased the debt.
That took longer to read than a CNN screen crawl. You see the problem? You see why some people want to talk all day and all night about secret documents and Hunter Biden’s laptop instead.
Free Speech, if you Already Have it
‘I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”’ Elon Musk.
Because people sometimes ask the government to make speech less free? Censor us! We don’t deserve to have a voice in our nation’s affairs! I wish to disagree in silence!
What Musk is really talking about, of course, is the obligation we are beginning to impose on gigantic social media entities to regulate and restrict what kind of speech they allow. We are beginning to realize that shouting “fire” in a crowded virtual theatre through Twitter is potentially just as harmful as it is in a real theatre.
The whole essential principle of free speech is to protect the rights of minorities, not the right of a majority to shut them up.
CNN’s Election Coverage 2022
The Red Dribble
Permission to Vent
Did you know that in the 1960’s, while all of the mainstream media devoted their sports sections to professional baseball, football, basketball, stockcar racing, and hockey, the sport that attracted the most actual fans– in person, in stadiums– was…. ready for it? Demolition derbies.
In politics, the whacky far right is the demolition derby of ideologies. Until recently, relegated to the back pages of history.
In spite of all the think-pieces about polarization in American politics, I really think the issue comes down to something much simpler.
Firstly, there has not been a massive change in attitudes or beliefs over the past 70 or 80 years. A large segment of the U.S. population has always held stupid ideas about culture, education, leadership, the military, and the police. And, of course, race. They love guns, hate affirmative action, can’t bear the thought of giving up their massive V-8 powered pick-up trucks, fear black people even if they don’t see themselves as racist (and some aren’t), and hate the idea of foreigners coming into the country and taking away their jobs while they themselves are unwilling to work hard for long hours to get ahead and there is a labour shortage in most areas of the country. They believe that good manufacturing jobs have been shipped over-seas even though 85% of them were lost to automation. They believe Republicans when they say they intend to reduce the deficit even though, when in office, they never have and never will. They seem to think that cutting taxes on the rich will benefit them, because, fuck it, some day I might win the lottery.
Until recently, people with toxic beliefs about society have intuited that they shouldn’t openly express those views because the consensus among politicians, the media, and other leaders is that those views are, in fact, untrue, toxic, and counter-productive, and ignorant.
They always believe crime is on the increase. Always. Try to explain to them that if crime was always increasing it would eventually reach 100%, so there must be times when it is actually decreasing (in fact, the crime rate is up only in year-over-year statistics. Over a longer period of time, it is down, by a clear margin).
They think that somehow making the bail system rational increases crime: no study has shown this. Not one.
Newt Gingrich came along, and Alex Jones, and Rush Limbaugh, and then Donald Trump, and they all publicly expressed massive approval of these toxic beliefs. The internet broke the consensus among major media outlets to not give play to ill-founded, idiotic conspiracy theories. Now every ignorant, ill-informed jack-ass in the country can search online to find that the cause of the wild-fires in California is Jewish space lasers or sun spots.
Try to explain to these people that international trade agreements, on the whole, benefit them. (Essentially, the lower cost of imported goods frees capital within the local market to pay for more goods, services, and other items which you otherwise could not afford. Free trade is a net benefit to the average American worker and consumer. Tariffs take money out of your pocket and give it to the government which in turn subsidizes corporations to the benefit of wealthy shareholders.)
People haven’t changed. They are just louder and more outspoken and more than happy to enlighten you as to their brilliant insights into the nature of reality and the truth about Biden and the international child porn conspiracy and Hollywood’s Jewish cabal and they way young school-children in small towns all across Iowa are being provided with litter boxes so they can “identify” as a transgender kitten.
Perhaps the most bizarre characteristic of these people is their close identification with Christianity. Do any of them actually read the Bible? Do they really see something in Jesus reflected in Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity? Do they really think God blesses them as they storm the capitol building and threaten to hang Mike Pence?
Farewell, Your Irrelevant Highness
Well, farewell to the “The Queen”.
She seemed liked a very nice lady. I like that she learned to be a mechanic 80 years ago. But when people say she did a “great job” I can’t, for the life of me, think of anything she actually “did”, other than, basically, pose for tourists, pose as a tourist, dub things this or dub things that, wave, and stay out of the way of Parliament. As a mother… well… the results are decidedly mixed. And considering the obscene industry her like has inspired– the cult of privileged , narcissistic, self-centred white princesses (don’t kid yourself about the token ethnic entries on the market)– , Disney should have paid her salary.
I doubt that 4-year-old girls will ever aspire to be King Charles III. They might ask for the King Charles dress for birthdays or Christmas (it’s a “kilt”, dearie).
Historically, the best solution to regicide? Make ourselves irrelevant.
To the “Christians” who Voted for Donald Trump
Millions of people who claim– like you– that Jesus Chris is their model, their leader, their hero— voted for and embraced Donald Trump.
Your religion obviously means absolutely nothing. Not a thing. It’s the badge of a private club you belong to that only seeks to further the material interests of its members. Nothing you ever proclaimed about virtue or sin or spirituality or loving your neighbor or blessing the meek or not casting stones– nothing!– can be even remotely connected to this crass, self-serving, pussy-grabbing, materialistic, manipulative, liar.
Say no more. Your actions have proclaimed the truth about your church and your religion. It is an empty shell.