Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, April 23, 2018

By the way


Sensing a pattern here?

Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate on Wednesday that, "if the meeting when I'm there isn't fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting."

A pattern?  Yes:

[U.S. Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer is reportedly considering an aggressive plan that would force lawmakers to accept it anyway: withdrawing from NAFTA before the new version is ready. It’s a risky move, and one that experts say might turn out to be fruitless.

I don't see no pattern!

“The administration floated the idea of using the same tactic to gain leverage in the negotiations with Canada and Mexico — but ultimately decided it was better to work with those countries rather than threaten them,” Christopher Wilson, an expert on NAFTA at the Wilson Institute, told me.

“It would be strange and rather dangerous to employ hardball tactics deemed inappropriate for our trading partners on the Republican-led Congress,” Wilson added.

And then there's the Iran nuclear agreement:

Trump has said that unless European allies fix what he has called its “terrible flaws” by May 12, he will restore U.S. economic sanctions on Tehran, which would be a severe blow to the pact.

[French President Emmanuel] Macron, arriving in Washington for a state visit later on Monday, said on Sunday there was no “Plan B” for keeping a lid on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Pretty much like there's no "Plan B" for a summit one of the participants simply walks away from, respectfully or not.  But Trump thinks this is how you negotiate.  Trump is the Deal Master!  You want to deal with him, you take his deal or he walks away!

And especially in this case, who loses?  Well, it won't affect Trump's pocketbook; and that's the problem:

Trump doesn't fulminate about North Korea or building a wall on the Mexican border because he's a policy maven with deeply held principles. It's because he knows that toying around with sensitive and sometimes dangerous subjects gets the media's attention and keeps certain blocs of voters interested in him.
Or, to put it in the terms David Cay Johnston used:

The 44 previous presidents were all over the map. There were smart people and dumb people, there were people of impeccable integrity such as Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, there were absolute scoundrels like Warren G. Harding. We had a murderous racist in the White House whose painting hangs in the Oval Office now looking down on Trump. What distinguishes all those presidents, particularly Chester B. Arthur, the one closest to Trump, is that they tried in the context of their times to make America better.

Donald Trump is a man with this desperate need for adoration. He is an empty vessel, the exact opposite of Henry David Thoreau — a “life unexamined.” His only philosophy is the glorification of Donald.

Over the weekend, all the living  former Presidents except Jimmy Carter gathered in Houston for the funeral of a former First Lady who was also the mother of a President. Trump played golf and fumed on Twitter about James Comey and Chuck Todd.  Yeah, the pattern here is not a pretty one.

Wasn't there a funeral over the weekend?


Just because it's the last thing I posted about on Saturday, this should be the first thing I post on Monday.  Maggie Haberman reports on the funeral of Barbara Bush:

Mrs. Trump went the extra mile for the funeral, bringing with her former White House staffers who were close to Mrs. Bush.

“She was trying to show something genuine about Barbara Bush — and in that moment President Trump was tweeting and turning everything into something about himself,” Haberman said. “As I understand it from people who attended the funeral, his tweets were talked about at the funeral. They created a stir among people. If you are President Trump, as we know, he likes to watch TV a lot and I don’t think this Saturday was an exception. Saturday, a day that the rest of the political world came together and this club of former presidents, which is a pretty small club, who know what that is like, had a common bond and there he was isolated.”

Yeah, pretty much:


It was obviously a moving experience:
(Not even what the WSJ said,m but moving on.)  In the end it was 24 tweets in 48 hours; two of them about Barbara Bush's funeral, but even those about Trump, not Mrs. Bush.  The rest would embarrass a 10 year old:

Because how dare Chuck Todd not praise Dear Leader!  By the way, "denuclearization" doesn't necessarily mean what Trump thinks it means:

"To Kim, denuclearization applies to the whole peninsula, which includes the South," David Maxwell, retired US Army Special Forces colonel and a fellow at the Institute of Korean American Studies, told CNN in March, prior to Moon's statement on Thursday.

This isn't the first time Pyongyang has flirted with denuclearization

Experts said Pyongyang has long been expected to push for American military presence across the border to be part of the discussion, a position Pollack said he wasn't sure had changed despite the South Korean's president's remarks.

Although the US hasn't stationed nuclear weapons in South Korea since 1992, Pollack said North Korea considered the US's mere presence on the peninsula a nuclear threat.

"They really are threatened by superior American and South Korean military power, they need nuclear weapons to try and prevent an invasion in their view," Pollack said.

"They feel the need to equate their nuclear program with the (US and South Korean) military alliance and claims the military alliance is a nuclear threat, when there's no real grounds for that."

In other words, North Korea doesn't mean "we'll give up our nukes," it means:  "U.S. out of Korea!"  Which doesn't exactly presage a successful summit; and where do you go from a failed summit, except down?
If nothing works out it's not Trump's fault, and if something does work out it's due to Trump's genius!  Hail Dear Leader!

Golden oldie, just because.

And since it's part of his twittering this morning:

Members of the caravan have just started reaching the [Mexican] border, and a larger group of hundreds of migrants is days away, organizers say. Many in the caravan say they plan to turn themselves in to US authorities and ask for asylum.

Which, for our racist xenophobic President, is an unacceptable adherence to U.S. immigration law:



Brown people!!!  VERY SCARY!!!!!!!  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Meanwhile, back at the funny farm

Except when his thoughts were with the Democrats: .
Or James Comey:

His legal genius continues.

The New "Normal"

Well, there was that one time, in the Oval Office.  But that doesn't count!


And Habermann's response:

Not that I consider Roger Stone a reliable source, or that this article provides any real information about what Cohen will do (who knows what Cohen will do?).  But this is how we've come to expect our President to spend his time.  Well, when he's not tweeting about his rallies (which is his next tweet after these three).  Because rallies are an important use of the President's time, too; especially 2+ years before the next election.

I'm not sure whether it's Donald or Dan who wrote this, either.  The spelling error sounds like Trump, but Trump doesn't usually connect his tweets the way these were.  Suggests a higher technical knowledge than I think Trump has.  Who knows?  We used to have Kremlinologists analyzing the chicken entrails of messages that came out of Moscow back in the day, trying to figure out who actually sent the message and what that could mean.  Maybe we need Trumpologists to do the same now; or maybe we don't need that much "normal" about this.

I should note: if Cohen doesn't flip, he's true blue; if he does, he's a liar.

Spoken like a mob boss.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Keep Plucking That Chicken!

Yeah.  Not a damned thing.

And the word is "counsel."

Bursting His Bubble


This is almost fun now.  The latest Rasmussen poll, for April 17-19, gives Trump an approval of 49%, but a disapproval of 50% (guess which number he's tweeting about?).  But the aggregate, per 538.com, is actually down today from what it was only 6 days ago.

On April 14, the aggregate approval rating was 40.8%, disapproval 53.2%.  Six days later, the same ratings are 40.3% and 54.3%.  Trump still doesn't understand how statistics work; or he doesn't care.

And the worst part is, this is reflected in his ignorance about how the world works.  North Korea is playing him like a fiddle, and he thinks he's the maestro:


But it also functioned as an assertion of North Korea's negotiating position. Mr Kim said in a reported statement that tests were no longer necessary because North Korea had achieved its goal of developing a functional nuclear arsenal.

In proposing the talks and moving to suspend his nation’s displays of military prowess, Mr Kim pivoted sharply from his more aggressive stance in the preceding months.
And about that meeting:

It’s nearly a month later, and nothing’s been set yet. Not the date, not the location, not the participants beyond the two leaders. Since the announcement, President Trump has changed his secretary of State, national security adviser, and CIA director. He still hasn’t nominated anyone to be U.S. ambassador to South Korea. This is, arguably, the most high-stakes presidential meeting with a foreign leader since the end of the Cold War, and it’s not clear that this has been more than a passing thought on the president’s mind since the announcement.

One wonders if the rest of the region is getting worried, or starting to have doubts that the summit will occur at all. Yesterday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, told reporters, “Historical experience tells us that at the moment of easing of the situation on the peninsula and as first light dawns on peace and dialogue, frequently all manner of disruptive factors emerge. So we call on all sides to maintain focus, eliminate interference, and firmly follow the correct path of dialogue and negotiation.”

President Ronald Reagan and his White House made extensive preparations for their first meeting with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The summit was announced in the summer of 1985 and didn’t begin until November 19. Reagan had wanted a summit with the Soviets since the beginning of his presidency, but as he put it so memorably, “they kept dying on me.” (Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982, Yuri Andropov died in 1984, Konstantin Chernenko died in 1985.) Reagan read through dozens of policy papers, met with slews of experts on Russia policy and history, former Soviet diplomats and KGB officials who had defected, former presidents Nixon and Ford, and former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. Reagan watched Gorbachev’s speeches, and did a complete dress rehearsal with Soviet Affairs expert Jack Matlock playing Gorbachev. Is there anything remotely like this going on in the current administration?

To the extent the president is thinking about the Koreas at all, he seems to be winging it with protectionist saber-rattling. As Fred Kaplan notes, on Thursday in Ohio, Trump referred to a recently reached trade deal with South Korea, saying, “I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea. You know why? Because it’s a very strong card. And I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly.” Why would the United States threaten to make implementation of a trade deal with South Korea dependent upon a nuclear deal with North Korea?

Meanwhile, North Korea has launched its own “charm offensive” on the South Koreans. God knows if it will work, but Kim Jong-un and his wife are doing photo ops attending K-Pop concerts. They’re doing everything possible to maximize their leverage heading into this summit (presuming the summit happens). What is our side doing?

Earlier this morning, Robert Kelly, associate professor at Pusan National University, told CNBC that the lack of preparation on the part of the White House, coupled with North Korea’s supreme preparation, are such a predictable formula for disaster that the summit ought to be called off.

Trump “doesn’t know a great deal about Korea — we know that he doesn’t read very much, he watches a lot of television, and his national security staff is sort of in chaos right now,” Kelly said.  “The North Koreans have been working on this stuff for a long time, so they’re going to come in there and know every single detail and they’re going to be ready to negotiate down deep into the weeds.” 

And that's the National Review, commenting before Trump said he'd just walk away if he wants to:

Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate on Wednesday that, "if the meeting when I'm there isn't fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting."

The idea of an abrupt, mid-meeting departure comes from Trump's new national security adviser, John Bolton, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Walking out in the middle of the meeting would provide a Trumpian level of theatricality to an already dramatic event, the source said.
But it could also deeply offend a nuclear-capable leader who has issued threats against the US, and short-circuit chances of diplomacy, analysts said.

And Trump is making the assumption that genuine progress could be made -- highly unlikely beyond a prearranged gesture such as a release of Americans being held captive in North Korea -- especially given that the administration is pulling together in weeks the kind of meeting that usually takes years of preparation.

Why will this work?  Because Trump is the Master Deal-Maker!

Trump, who has told advisers he's confident in his ability to sway Kim in person, shocked observers with the announcement last month that he'd meet with the North Korean leader despite the concerns of allies such as Japan.

Everybody still remember how he insulted all the leaders of NATO?  Swayed them, didn't he?  Oh, wait, no, he didn't.

This is why impeachment is actually a very good idea.

Without it, we're screwed.

"A Wandering Aramean Was My Father...."


No, it has nothing to do with this post; but it's a good day for music!

Maybe there is a "Blue Wave" coming; maybe there isn't.  If there is, the reasons for it won't just be anti-Trump animus, but it will be because of what Trump did:

“Immigration is kind of a hot-button topic here,” Hank Smith, a fifty-year-old salesman from Morristown, told me. “Some people feel like immigrants are taking our jobs, that they’re not paying their taxes. But others are more sympathetic.” Smith counts himself among the latter group. “I’m a Christian; God loves everybody equally. And I never had a problem with anyone being here,” he said. Nevertheless, in 2016, Smith voted for Trump. He had been mostly indifferent to Trump’s anti-immigrant invective on the campaign trail; the rhetoric didn’t resonate with him personally, but it didn’t alienate him, either. “My kids were getting to an age where they’d be going to work, so the economy was the major issue for my family,” he told me. “It’s the things that affect us the most that we vote on. And immigration didn’t really affect me before. But then this raid happened.”

After Trump took office, ICE announced that it planned to quadruple the number of workplace inspections it conducts. In January, the agency launched stings at ninety-eight 7-Eleven franchises in seventeen states. Smith hadn’t noticed those. But when the arrests happened closer to home, he was immediately struck by the fact that many of the people who’d been picked up had lived in the area for more than a decade. He knew people like them, he told me—“they work hard and they do the jobs that no one else wants to do.” He also felt strong sympathy for their kids. Smith said, “I felt I understood the legal side of it. But this is the first time I really started looking at the human side. Families are being divided.”

Which is going to be the issue, isn't it?  People being affected.  Gay rights was a hot-button issue involving people in New York or California.  I was forced to face it when I went to work for a man whose son was gay, and he told me how he reconciled to it:  "Why, in this world, do we care about how two people love each other?"  I couldn't argue with him, and the walls I'd built to keep "those people" out slowly crumbled.  By the time I got to seminary (which really radicalized me, about race and economics and so many other issues), I was sweeping the ruins of that wall away.  Before the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage was marriage in the same way interracial marriages were marriage (do we even call them "interracial" anymore?), my parents were answering that question the same way, because people they knew (the children, perhaps significantly) were openly gay, and how could you hate people you'd known all their lives?  That person's church could, but my parents, God bless 'em, could not.

As someone said recently, people in Lincoln, Nebraska are more concerned about immigrants and the border than people in Laredo, Texas.  Laredo is in the "blue" part of Texas (yes, there is one; it runs along the border, not coincidentally), but it's hardly liberal or progressive.  It's just practical, and hating your customers and even your family, just isn't practical.  Treating them as strangers, or even a danger, isn't really possible, either.  Which, per that New Yorker article, is what some people in rural Tennessee figured out, too.  And once again Christianity, organized religion, the church, has something to do with it:

Smith and I had met through his pastor, David Williams, who leads the Hillcrest Baptist Church—a large, pale-brick building on the eastern edge of downtown Morristown, across the street from the elementary school where the vigil was held. Most of Hillcrest’s congregants are white—the town’s immigrant community tends to gravitate to St. Patrick, the Catholic church a few miles down the road—but Williams has been among the most vocal members of the local clergy in calling for solidarity with the families affected by the raid. “I look at this from a humanitarian perspective,” he told me. “You cannot be a true Christian if you ignore your neighbor in need.” Some of his parishioners dislike his outspokenness, but not all of them. “The people in the middle have had their hearts soften because of the raid,” he said.

Or what the Mayor of Morristown said:

National politics had further intensified the local conversation about immigration, he said—everyone knew that there were many Morristown residents who were anti-immigrant, and whose views remained the same after the raid—but he believed some of the acrimony stemmed from misinformation about how the undocumented were “gaming the system” or committing crimes. Chesney said, “We all get a little bit smarter as the issue gets more personal.”

A "blue wave" may help this situation nationwide; it may not.  A blue wave won't mean the entire country becomes California; there will be more Joe Manchins, not fewer, in Congress.  What will help more is this humanization, this refusal to see "others" as a danger, as totems of fear and hazard, but as people, neighbors, fellows.  That's not going to happen on a mass scale; otherness is easier en masse.  But it can happen on a small scale, an individual scale, in finding out these categories of people, "immigrants," "gays," even "Republicans" and "Democrats." are people, are humans, are persons.  We should encourage that, whenever it happens.

As long as we realize we can't really make a mass movement out of it.

Hank Smith still supports the President, and even welcomes some of his most contentious ideas, such as the border wall. But when he hears politicians talk about the “problem of immigration,” he told me, he no longer sees it as a question of how to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. but, rather, of how to create avenues for them to come legally. “Maybe the wall is part of the broader process,” he said. “If we see that a wall is working, we need to see a policy to get people in here legally. It’s not going to be fixed overnight, but I want to see the President take a hard look at all this.” At the moment, there are two anti-immigrant bills moving rapidly through the Tennessee legislature. One of them would disallow a form of identification—called “consular I.D.s”—that most Mexican immigrants use in lieu of state driver’s licenses, for which they can’t qualify in Tennessee; the other would impose penalties on towns that pursue sanctuary policies. Smith told me he hadn’t known about the first bill, but that he was incensed by the second. “The sanctuary-city bill is just awful,” he said. “It’ll divide the state. We should be trying to come together.”

We aren't all going to agree on the solutions; but we can find commonality in our humanity, in our care and interest in each other.

The Permanent Problem of Boom and Bust



Geopolitical tensions in the Middle East have largely driven the price rise this month, including the U.S.-led strike on the Syrian regime last week. Investors are also monitoring the U.S. stance on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, due for review next month. A reinstatement of sanctions could risk hitting oil production and reducing global supply from one of OPEC’s largest members.

Brent is “ticking higher by the day, as OPEC cuts are in tact, global oil demand growth is firm, Venezuela oil production is in a death spiral, renewed Iran sanctions are imminent and sanctions towards Russia on oil and not just aluminum is possible,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB Markets.

Among the "market movers":

Trump slaps tariffs on solar panels. The Trump administration moved forward with tariffs on imported solar panels, dealing a blow to the rapidly growing renewable energy industry. The duties will reach as high as 30 percent on solar equipment and will be ratcheted down in the years ahead. The White House also said that additional tariffs will be forthcoming on steel, aluminum and other products from China. The solar industry has warned that the decision could drive up the cost of solar projects, threatening to undermine the sector’s competitiveness.

Maybe Trump is thinking about those offshore drilling leases the Interior Department tried to auction off in March:

The Interior Department had offered up a record 77 million acres (31.2 million hectares) for development with discounted royalty rates on the shallower tracts, as part of a broader effort by President Donald Trump's administration to ramp up U.S. fossil fuels output.

But companies bid on just 1 percent of that acreage, and won those tracts with bids averaging $153 an acre - 35 percent below levels at a similar auction last year, and a fraction of those in the region in 2013 when oil prices were much higher, according to a Reuters review of the data.

Offshore drilling is expensive and requires infrastructure:  specifically, pipes to carry oil from the rig to the shore (or at least to ships).  Oil companies were only interested in acreage already close to infrastructure.  The acres far from pipes and platforms is far too expensive to explore, drill, and extract (if there's anything to extract).  Then again, there's always ANWR.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a notice Thursday that it is starting the “scoping” process for an environmental review to examine the impact of leasing drilling rights to companies in ANWR’s 1.6 million-acre coastal plain.

The BLM will take public comments for 60 days and hold four meetings in Alaska to inform the public how it will conduct the environmental review, it said in the notice, which is set to be published Friday in the Federal Register.
I suppose at this point we can only hope that sale is as successful as the offshore lease sale was.  Perhaps Trump thinks the idea is that expanded areas to exploit will drive prices down, but that's not what the U.S. drillers want.  It's the glut in oil supply that OPEC is trying to dry up, a reduction in supply which will raise prices and increase drilling activity in America, which in turn will increase supply and cause prices to....fall.  Which in turn will lay-off oil field workers and oil company employees again, which in turn will hurt economies that depend on the extraction industries, economies in states that tend to vote....Republican.

So to champion rising oil prices is to champion...falling oil production.  Well, not that directly, but supply and demand is pretty much up to the market, and the wiser course, economically as well as environmentally, is to champion far less dependence on fossil fuels.  I understand the British are moving that way.  I remember when we used to be a leader in these things.  I suppose that wouldn't make America great again, huh?

ADDING:

I knew there was something this morning I'd read connecting Syria to oil prices; just took me a while to find it.

Just before 6 a.m. on April 11 Trump posted this:



Oil prices hit new 2018 highs as missile strikes on top crude exporter Saudi Arabia added to the market's worries about escalating conflict between the United States and Russia in Syria.
And why did Trump post that tweet?

The threat came after the Russian ambassador to Lebanon said his nation's military would intercept American missiles and potentially target the U.S. craft that fired them. The potential American strike follows a suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held city of Douma, allegedly by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Yeah, the problem with world oil prices is only OPEC.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Karma is a Bitch



One of Trump's signature accomplishments, according to him, was the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court*.

And the only reason he got to appoint Gorsuch is....?

(And I didn't even get to this one:

“Drugs are flowing into our country,” Trump told reporters, according to Parti. “We need border protection. We need the wall. We have to have the wall. The Democrats don’t want to approve the Wall because they think it’s good politically, but it’s not.”

“If you look at what’s happening in California with sanctuary cities — people are really going the opposite way,” he continued. “They don’t want sanctuary cities. There’s a little bit of a revolution going on in California. Human trafficking is worse than it’s ever been in the history of the world.”

Because drugs can't fly, or come by boat, and because 400 years of chattel slavery never really happened, or...oh, I can't keep up!  I do look forward to the next press gaggle, however.)

*Which, come to think of it, he may not be too happy about right now.

(In)Justice League



So, a couple of legal matters; and this is likely to get really boring really fast, but bear with it.  I read an article recently where Anthony Napolitano on Fox News said Sean Hannity would have to have signed a document making Michael Cohen his lawyer, in order to assert attorney-client privilege.  Well, maybe in New York, but that's not generally applicable.  Without arguing the finer points of state law on the subject, the general rule is:

The [attorney-client[ privilege applies only if (1) the asserted holder of the privilege is or sought to become a client; (2) the person to whom the communication was made (a) is a member of the bar of a court, or his subordinate and (b) in connection with this communication is acting as a lawyer; (3) the communication relates to a fact of which the attorney was informed (a) by his client (b) without the presence of strangers (c) for the purpose of securing primarily either (i) an opinion of law or (ii) legal services or (iii) assistance in some legal proceeding, and not (d) for the purpose of committing a crime or tort; and (4) the privilege has been (a) claimed and (b) not waived by the client.

Let's get a bit more particular with that, to illustrate the complexity of the issue.  The Rules of Evidence in Texas provide the following as to who can assert the privilege:

(A) a person having authority to obtain professional legal services or to act on advice thereby rendered, on behalf of the client, or
(B) any other person who, for the purpose of effectuating legal representation for the client, makes or receives a confidential communication while acting in the scope of employment for the client.
Now that would seem to cover Sean Hannity, and to buck up this argument:

That Michael Cohen’s secret third client turned out to be Sean Hannity is almost too good to be true. I get that. But the lawyer in me is not happy that an attorney blurted out the name of a client in open court, when the client didn’t want his identity revealed and had no reason to think it ever would be.  But here's the thing:  that argument rests on a very vaguely asserted "rule," viz:

As a rule, lawyers shouldn’t have to reveal who their clients are. Just like doctors and therapists can’t reveal the names of the people they treat, lawyers in virtually every state have an ethical obligation not to reveal information “relating to the representation of a client” unless the client consents. The prohibition is extremely broad and includes even the names of clients that are not otherwise public. There’s good reason for that rule, and yet many people are questioning why, as a general principle, Cohen’s representation of Hannity would be something Hannity had a right to keep secret.

And that first definition, above, is identified in my source as "[t]he parameters of the attorney-client privilege in federal court, and I don't really see anything in those parameters that says the client's name is a secret.  The advice the client sought, or was given?  Sure.  His/her identity?  We're not exactly outing Bruce Wayne as Batman with that.  Besides, Sean Hannity wants it round and square.  He says he wanted Cohen to keep his name out of things; but he also insists Cohen was never his lawyer, which means Hannity was never a client.

So which is it?  Alper tries to compare Hannity to a tenant inquiring about legal avenues to challenge a landlord; but Hannity is no tenant, and the "embarrassment" of having his name revealed in court (laughter and gasps are cited as evidence) and "there was the added embarrassment that he had been reporting on Cohen without disclosing the relationship."

Reporting?  Hannity is a journalist now?  Or is reporting to be considered synonymous with opining, something Mr. Hannity does for a living.  Certainly if he is a journalist the revelation of Mr. Cohen's professional connection is not just embarrassing, but a breach of ethics.  Certainly that's embarassing, but there are overriding societal interests involved.  And if Mr. Hannity is just opining about Mr. Cohen's status in the world, then again, there are societal interests in why he's so concerned with Mr. Cohen's professional efforts.  Embarrassment is not really the same thing as suffering compensable injuries, or even being a subject of a temporary restraining order because irreparable harm will be done without it (the standard of review for a TRO, which is what the hearing before Judge Woods was about).

Am I celebrating Mr. Hannity's exposure in this matter?  Nah,  It is funny, but mostly because Hannity is a target ripe for ridicule.  And besides, he still insists he never employed Mr. Cohen as a lawyer; so he couldn't expect Mr. Cohen, under any circumstances, to be able to keep his name out of that hearing, or even for Mr. Cohen to protect any documents with his name on them under attorney-client privilege.

Could he?

And then there's the matter of Mr. Cohen directly:

A “longtime legal adviser” for Donald Trump has warned the president his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, will flip on the president “if faced with criminal charges,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the Journal report, Trump sought out legal advice from Jay Goldberg, who in turn informed the president that on a stale of 1 to 100, where 100 is fully loyal to the president, Cohen “isn’t even a 1.”
Goldberg told Trump Cohen will roll over like a puppy to get the Feds to rub his belly and tell him he's a good boy. He's not going to jail for Trump.  Which, yes, is hilarious:

 “So this man, Jay Goldberg, who has worked with the president in the past, two different divorces he’s done,” Cuomo elaborated. “We must presume he’s a family law specialist and people don’t freelance in divorce work. For some reason he said the president called him for advice. I don’t know what he was asking for advice on, but somehow in that conversation he wound up discussing Michael Cohen and his possibility of flipping. That nobody who is facing 30 years stands up. We don’t know that Michael Cohen is facing that.”

“The president is doing dial-for-advice,” panelist John Avlon suggested. “He’s looking for advice.”

“From a divorce attorney?” Cuomo asked incredulously, as co-host Alisyn Camerota sarcastically suggested Trump ask Fox News personality Sean Hannity for “guidance.”

“It’s interesting that the long-time divorce attorney spoke to Gloria Borger and shared this with her,” Camerota offered before laughing and adding. “What happened to attorney-client privilege?”

“Maybe he [Trump] is right, it is dead,” Cuomo quipped. “First of all, it’s just a weird thing to say. Donald Trump should not want Jay Goldberg to suggest that Michael Cohen will flip on him. He is a friend and someone he considers family, so this is insulting for Michael Cohen. To him to go out and talk about this is also strange. I don’t get it.”

“Only the best people, Chris. only the best people,” Avlon smirked.

But it's not that weird; and no,the call to Goldberg isn't privileged communication.  What Trump sought and Goldberg gave sure isn't legal advice, but it reeks of common sense.  And what if Cohen is gonna roll over?  Does Trump pardon him, even pre-emptively (Cohen hasn't been charged with anything, as CNN noted)?  Wouldn't that stop Cohen from talking?

Nope.  And not because New York state could bring charges (maybe); but because Cohen would no longer have the 5th Amendment to hide behind.  Now he can't be forced to talk because he stands in jeopardy of a criminal charge.  Remove that jeopardy with a Presidential pardon, he still has to testify, and now he can't refuse to.  And if he lies, it's perjury, which requires another Presidential pardon (and how many of those does the President hand out?).  Cuomo says Cohen is a "friend" to Trump.  To quote Pogo:  "Good friends, yes, but:  hah!"

What does Cohen get from Trump in exchange for his silence and jail time?  A tweet?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Asking For A Friend


A convenient negative example, because the best way to examine a question about what you are doing
 or should do is NOT to deflect responsibility onto anyone but yourself.

There is a risk here, let's begin by acknowledging, of judgment rather than analysis.  Let's keep in mind that the splinter in your brother's eye is a reflection of the log in yours, that one finger pointing at someone means four are pointing back at you.

Anyway....*

Evangelicals long for a mythical Christian past, and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” mantra appeals directly to that troubled nostalgia. But Fea presses, “Christians should be very careful when they long for the days when America was apparently ‘great.’” Are we appealing to the post-war boom in church attendance, which occurred with Jim Crow in force and when marital rape was legal? And by embracing prominent evangelical leaders, whom Fea labels “court evangelicals,” Trump assuages evangelicals’ gaping wound—disenfranchisement—by granting them access to power. Readers will come away with a nuanced appreciation for fear, nostalgia, and power as fundamental elements of evangelical discourse.

"Fea" is Messiah College historian John Fea, a professor at an evangelical college and member of an evangelical megachurch.  I'm interested in his comment placing church attendance in historical context ("post-war boom") and cultural context ("Jim Crow" and "marital rape"), though I'm not sure those two contexts are necessarily connected (or applicable to each other, although both are elements of a mythic past Trump supporters want to recover, so there's that), but I'm intrigued by the reviewers statement in that last sentence:  "fear, nostalgia, and power as fundamental elements of evangelical discourse."

We have to be careful not to counter that analysis with our own assertion of power, as if their use of power were illegitimate, and ours pure and sanctified.  I'm subject to bouts of nostalgia, too, when the churches I knew were filled with reasonable people and led by pastors who appealed to the head and not the heart.  Even in the Baptist churches of my youth those pastors would today be considered "liberals" among evangelicals (evangelicals were distinctly the fringe even in Southern Baptist-dominated East Texas).  I've been back to one of the churches of my childhood and wasn't sure I hadn't stepped into a Baptist church, the preacher was so different in style and tone and even theology from what I knew there 50 years ago.  My fear and nostalgia is real to me, my desire for the power to return to what I knew as potent as that in evangelical discourse.  If I don't have the numbers to support it in the polis, I am no less driven by it, especially in my analysis of evangelicals.  Still, things are getting interesting among the evangelicals, who aren't nearly as monolithic as one might suppose:

In a hard-hitting lecture yesterday at Princeton University in New Jersey, Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said: 'So often in 2018 America, evangelicalism is associated more with Iowa caucuses than the good news of Jesus Christ.'

This is not new for Moore.  He's no fan of Donald Trump which Trump himself has noticed:


Let the record reflect that Donald Trump calling you "a nasty guy with no heart" is rather like being lashed with a wet noodle than with a barbed comment.  But Moore's comments are is interesting to me, because he's on solid theological ground there.  And I like his definition of "Evangecalism," even if I don't agree with the theology of that group:

Moore, who in recent years has distinguished himself among prominent Christian leaders in the US for refusing to offer unconditional support to Donald Trump, added: 'God does not need the evangelical movement; the evangelical movement desperately needs God.'

In the comments, reported by the Daily Princetonian, Moore defined evangelicalism as 'the link of renewal and revival movements which unite historic, conventional orthodoxy with the necessity of personal conversion and evangelism'.

He added that any true evangelical movement must be focused upon the Cross.

'An emphasis on the Cross is one of the hardest thing to maintain in any Christian group, and that includes American evangelicalism,' Moore said.

And he argued that many modern movements have strayed away from the values of the Cross, instead becoming 'market focused', preaching on topics that people want to hear about, but choosing to ignore other sins or issues in society that are less popular.
His "focus on the Cross" and my "focus on the Cross" would not look all that similar.  But his critique of "market focused" preaching is one I agree with, even if I think the focus of preaching should be on a very different kergyma than Moore would sanction.  I even like where he's going with this:

In contrast, Moore said, 'The Cross means that the gospel can thrive on the margins, because that is where it started.'

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called for a pluralistic evangelical society and a government that does not 'adjudicate' on religious differences, but instead gives people the freedom to debate with one another.

He said: 'Those of us who are evangelicals should work for reform. For a multi-ethnic, theologically robust evangelicalism that can pass the torch to a new general with the message that we first heard down with the Cross.'
The vision of Brueggeman is ultimately a vision of the utility of the gospel, and I'm still not sure just how "useful" the gospel should be.  Nor is it just a matter of personal adherence and private choice, to be kept silent and so marginalized as to be non-public, like one's sexual or even sanitary habits (in some circles even sexual habits are allowed more public discussion than would be allowed to religious beliefs).  I resonate with Moore's idea of the gospel withdrawing to the margins in order to remain the gospel; but I agree with Brueggeman that the basiliea tou theou is not some pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye wish fulfillment that has nothing to tell us about how we should then live, or organize our society.  The more the gospel is used to draw near to power the more the kerygma is corrupted, but the more it withdraws to society's margins the more its truth is denied.  These are deep waters; and what of "fear, nostalgia, and power as fundamental elements of evangelical discourse"?  How much objective truth is in that, and how much of that can simply be a critique wielded like a club rather than like a scalpel?

Simeon tells Mary that, because of her infant son, "the schemes of many minds will be exposed" (Luke 2:25b, SV).  There have been many times in history when that could have been predicted, and this will be one now as the world struggles between old (represented by Trump) and new (represented by the future).  The Age of Trump will force us to face many harsh realities and assumptions and face just how hard it is to set aside racism and classism and even regionalism and parochialism, things we may never full set aside until we finally enter the basiliea tou theou.  I'm always talking in grand and sweeping tones, and then moving on to the next incitement and tweet-produced outrage, without putting the pieces together.  I wouldn't choose a starting place with a dissection of and disagreement with evangelical and fundamentalist theologies (for one thing, how negative is that?), but the hold of those groups on public consciousness is giving way, and the arguments of the atheists are not rising to replace it.

So maybe it's time to start something new, or different, or just calmer and more compassionate and even sensible.  But using what?  and how?


*And I quote from Raw Story because I've banned myself from RD.  I tend to be a troll when I get over there, and I've decided to lead myself not into temptation, at least on that website.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

We shall over caffeinate....(sorry!)

We're gonna need a bigger cup....

If you remember back to when Louis Black was a regular guest on "The Daily Show," you might remember his story about the two Starbucks on opposite corners of a street in Houston.

Yes; directly across the street from each other.

Needless to say, that's in an upscale part of town.  Where I live, Interstate 10 is the dividing line between the very wealthy part of town (another one, far from the dual and dueling Starbucks) of wealthy lawyers and wealthy oil executives, and the "poor" part of town, where apartment complexes predominate and are not filled with the wealthy retirees who live across the street from the upscale shopping mall less than a mile from my house (but across the freeway, that dividing line).

Excluding the mall, there are within a few miles of each other at least 3 Starbucks that I can think of.  Since everyone drives in Houston, you can drive down one side of the freeway and reach all three (again, without going in the mall and walking to that one in the heart of the building) in about 15 minutes without much traffic.  Notice I said "one side of the freeway."  There are no Starbucks on my side of the freeway.  Well, I correct myself; there is one, much further down the freeway toward town, in a much more affluent area.  An area almost as affluent as that on the south side of the freeway (I live on the north side).

So is it any surprise all 8000 employee owned Starbucks need to close for a day of training of matters of race?  But this isn't a Starbucks problem.  You can't blame them for opening stores where the customers are, and the customers for their coffee are the well-heeled.  Of course these incidents are occurring in neighborhoods where most of the residents and clientele are white.  That's almost to be expected, as are the incidents of outright racism.  It's just surprising it took this long.

Starbucks will bear the brunt for this, but Starbucks didn't create, or even encourage, this problem.  I seriously doubt there's a national policy from Starbucks about who can use the restrooms (some have controls on the doors, some don't) and especially about the skin color of who can use them.  No, this isn't Starbucks' problem, though they will bear the brunt of the anger:  this is America's problem.

We're a post-racial society after Obama, right?  Or we turned back into a racist society because of Trump?  Nope; both wrong.  Nothing has really changed.  I actually heard the Philadelphia police department explain that Starbucks is not a "public" facility like a library or a school, so the police had to enforce a charge of trespass.  It was rather as if the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Supreme Court decisions finding it constitutional (Con Law was a LONG time ago, but I remember some things) had never happened.  In matters of race especially, if you are open to the public, you are open to the public.  You can't suddenly claim it's a private facility and have the black people making you nervous at the lunch counter thrown in jail.  The Philadelphia police really have no excuse in this matter; they had no obligation to make an arrest, except the complainant was a white representative of a business, and the people arrested were black.  I had a drunk driver careen off the road into my house a few years ago.  When the police finally arrived, the first thing the officer told me was that he couldn't make an arrest (I really didn't expect him to, I wanted a police report for the insurance).  Even if I had insisted, he wouldn't have arrested the driver (who was Hispanic, if that helps in the comparative analysis).  The police in Philly didn't have to arrest the customers, and in fact should have refused to; but they were black, and white people felt threatened, so....

Starbucks will work to remove this smear from their reputation, but the problem here is us, not a company.  It's a mark on us more than on the Starbucks logo.  We are still learning the lessons of the civil rights movement, lessons first taught more than 50 years ago; what were the ages of those officers, I wonder, or the one on the radio this morning, trying to explain "public" v. "public/private" spaces?  We have to learn these lessons over again in every generation, until we finally don't need to learn them at all.

That day, sadly, is many generations away.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Not just for breakfast anymore....



A gasp was heard in the courtroom when a Cohen lawyer disclosed the name of the third client: Sean Hannity.

Hannity is a Fox News host and has been one of the president’s most vocal on-air defenders. and a critic of Mueller’s probe. Trump often calls Hannity after his Fox News program, according to media reports.

“I understand he doesn’t want his name out there, but that isn’t the law,” Judge Wood said. (David Voreacos)
Even better than that:

Hannity was on the radio when the news broke:

“We just spoke with his publicist here at Fox News who says that he says they’ve been friends for a long time, he never denied that he he was his lawyer, that he did some legal work along the way, and that’s the extent of that,” Smith reported.

Apparently Hannity decided it wasn't all that funny (Bloomberg, again):

 Sean Hannity, who was poised to do a radio show when his name emerged in the court, said on air that he had asked Cohen for his perspective on some legal questions involving attorney-client privilege, but never talked to Cohen about any case involving a third party.

“I never paid legal fees to Michael,” Hannity said. “Michael never represented me in any matter.” He later added: I “may have” handed Cohen “ten bucks” and asked for attorney-client privilege. (Steven Dennis)

And it got less funny:


That's funny, maybe he DID represent me!


“How is it possible that NBC and ABC goes absolutely — and MSNBC and CNN — goes absolutely off the rails over a simple thing like that,” he complained.

Oh, please; how could they not?

This is an evolving denial.  Please stay tuned for updated explanations of what Hannity actually meant despite what you think he said.

As I said:

“Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees,” Hannity said in a statement to TPM provided by Fox News. “I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third party.”

“It is very strange to watch my own television network having my name up as the lower third, in terms of it being a story,” Hannity said on his radio show after the news broke. “There is a part of me that really wants to build this up into something massive and make the media goes nuts. I had no idea all these media people liked me so much, and now they have to listen to the program.”

“I actually think it’s pretty funny,” he added. He told the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus: “We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael.”

So he never got legal advice from Cohen, but he did seek legal advice from Cohen?  I don't think Hannity understands the attorney-client relationship is not created by money changing hands.  Are all these people really, REALLY, that dumb?

Don't answer that; this is beginning to make my head hurt.


Logical Fallacies and Their Discontents


The bad calls are coming from inside the (White) House!

Just because I was mentioning it the other day,  this is how you do ad hominem:

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway ripped into former FBI Director James Comey on Monday after his tell-all interview with ABC News.

Conway, during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” slammed Comey for not coming forward sooner to discuss his concerns “under oath” regarding Trump and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“If he really felt like he was saving the country rather than selling books, why did he wait until an interview with you not under oath and selling a book not under oath?” Conway asked Stephanopoulos, whose highly anticipated interview with Comey aired Sunday night.

Stephanopoulos quickly pointed out that Comey had already done just that.

“Well, he actually answered a lot of those questions under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year,” Stephanopoulos told Conway.

Conway, undeterred, continued to rant against Comey and the allegations in his new book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, And Leadership, set to be released on Tuesday.

Comey “loved being alone in the Oval Office. He wanted a piece of it,” Conway said. “This is somebody who’s not under oath in interviews and writing a book. And this is somebody who’s given a revisionist version of history. The president hardly knew the man.”

There's nothing Kellyanne Conway said about James Comey that isn't an ad hominem.  Nothing she says has anything to do with what Comey said in interviews or his new book.  Everything she said goes to trying to destroy his character, to remove one of the key elements of argument, according to Aristotle:  ethos.  Per Aristotle, if the audience doesn't think the speaker is of good character, they won't listen to his/her argument, however sound and well-reasoned it is.  Is the White House banking on that?  Well, even Meghan McCain seems to have gotten the memo:

Conservative co-host Meghan McCain said that it seems Comey can’t decide how he wants to categorize himself. Either he’s claiming to be a Boy Scout defending the FBI, she said, or he’s trying to be a pundit.
....

McCain recalled a Daily Beast article out Monday quoting existing FBI agents, who feel the comments from Comey are self serving or arrogant.

“He seems to love the media,” McCain said, parroting a talking point repeated twice by Kellyanne Conway Monday. “Which is fine if you’re doing what we do, but not when you’re the head of the FBI.”

“Well, he’s no longer the head of the FBI,” Hostin noted.

“There’s also his leaking as well,” McCain later said. “Because he leaked through his friend who is a Columbia professor. I’m sorry, but –”

“But he was no longer an FBI official,” Hostin explained again.

“Leaking is a cardinal sin in all forms of politics,” McCain said. “And it sure as hell is in the FBI — in or. And I will say, if you have some information to say have the cojones to do it on TV. Let it come out of your own mouth, not some lawyer that is now apparently working for you but wasn’t at the time. There are way too many conflicts like this, and if you are leaking anything, in or out out in any situation in politics, it is a cardinal, cardinal sin.”
Nobody on Trump's side wants to talk about what Comey has to say, or what the facts are; they just want to talk about Comey's bad character, his ethos, and why you shouldn't listen to him.  They aren't even attacking Comey's ideas; just Comey personally.

That, for all you who feel offended in internet arguments, is how you do ad hominem.  If that's not what's being done to you, find another excuse to complain, please.


Also not an ad hominem; at a guess, I'd call it a red herring.  
It certainly isn't relevant to the question of what Comey says Trump did.

Morning Thoughts Going For Peanuts

A fairly neat parable for most of my arguments....

I haven't seen "Wild, Wild Country" on Netflix because I don't think I really want to.  But follow this argument (the conclusion of an article about the documentary) and see where it ends up:

So why can’t I look away from Sheela? Watching her gave me new insight into Trump’s attraction to his base: The over-the-top offensiveness is part of the charm. The actual Sheela lives in Switzerland today and quite plausibly gives not one whit about where she falls in the identitarian camps of America in 2018. But her social media–anointed drafting into the #Resistance makes sense, since her anger at “bigots” and “fascists” coincides with the left’s contemporary language. Her certitude and zeal also parallel the crudity of political discourse on both sides in the Trump era. After seeing that “we go high when they go low” doesn’t work, many liberals have been craving a honey badger of their own. That she’s seen in the current day in a neat gray bob, gold-rimmed glasses, and a grandmotherly shawl adds to her political appeal: We’re reasonable, everyday people until given a reason to Hulk out.

Better still, Sheela, like Trump, knows how to harness deception and exaggeration as weapons of destabilization. An extravagant threat is a win-win proposition. If your opponents take you at your word, they’re chumps. And if they think you’re a clown, they won’t be prepared for what comes next. The result is an ontological crisis, in which your enemies start questioning what America might look like, what reality can contain. After experiencing the terror of that crisis, it’s natural to want the other side to feel it too. But the only solace to be taken from the tale of Rajneeshpuram is the same reason we can “celebrate” Sheela today: She didn’t succeed. 
Sheela didn't succeed because she committed criminal acts:

According to a cooperating witness, Sheela allegedly orchestrated the poisonings of salad bars in 10 restaurants in 1984, affecting more than 700 people, either as a threat against a hostile homegrown community or a dry run for a more serious contagion on Election Day. Later, she pleaded guilty to setting a county office ablaze, assaulting a judge, and the attempted murder of another acolyte whom Bhagwan seemed to prefer to her. To maintain political power over the county, she bussed in 6,000 homeless people from across the country—and when they got too rowdy, she sedated them by tainting their beer with Haldol. It was rumored that she had her loyalists contaminate Antelope’s water supply (the Rajneeshi commune had its own) by liquidating bacteria-ridden beaver corpses and pouring the juices into the reservoir. 

She was convicted and given three 20-year sentences, but was released after 29 months.  I mention this because of the Trumpian parallels, especially to Michael Cohen who, while not even yet charged with a crime, has been the subject of a criminal investigation for months, an investigation that finally put a bit of the iceberg above water with search warrants served on his home and business.  These parallels undermine the argument that Trump is a power to be reckoned with, that he " knows how to harness deception and exaggeration as weapons of destabilization:" and "[a]n extravagant threat is a win-win proposition."  It may be in politics, but it isn't in reality.  Sheela went to jail; Trump is trying desperately to protect his attorney's documents from Justice Department examination.  If this is success, I'd hate to see failure.

But the attraction described in the Slate article is not outcome, but process:

After seeing that “we go high when they go low” doesn’t work, many liberals have been craving a honey badger of their own. That she’s seen in the current day in a neat gray bob, gold-rimmed glasses, and a grandmotherly shawl adds to her political appeal: We’re reasonable, everyday people until given a reason to Hulk out.
Yeah, we're reasonable, everyday people who manage to embezzle enough money we can escape to Switzerland and live comfortably after serving only 29 months of a 20 year sentence.  And when we "Hulk out," it's only a reasoned response to unreasonable circumstances that we created ourselves.  Which is the truth of the situation for Trump as much as it is for we the people who elected him, or allowed him to be elected.  James Comey may not quite be on solid ethical ground there, but he's not wrong:  we did do this to ourselves, and the duty is on us to correct it.  I'm not sure we can't do that by electing officials who will impeach Trump and remove him from office, but Comey is right about where the burden of responsibility falls.  And we can't evade that responsibility by letting our inner green monster run rampage across the countryside.  That's what Trump wants to do, and he's finding it's not really an option.

So maybe the appeal of Trump is that we, too, want to flex our muscles and assert our righteous and powerful wrath.  Maybe we have decided that when they go low, we can't go high, that we can't keep bringing a knife to a gunfight (not that that observation did Sean Connery's character any good, ironically).  But that's only because we want to be what Trump imagines he can be, what he sold to us as a possibility:  powerful without consequences, vengeful without blowback, assertive without loss. Michael Cohen has reportedly been a "fixer" for people besides Trump; now it's turning out what he "fixed" is not staying fixed, because it primarily depended on staying hidden.  Nothing connected to the President of the United States stays hidden, especially these days.  Kennedy's affairs would not be gentleman's secrets today, and Trump's affairs cannot be made invisible by the application of cash and the empty threats of litigation.  Cohen's reputation seems to have rested on Trump's bullying; but that only works if people are scared.  Stormy Daniels is no longer scared.

And we are no longer that admiring of the President.  Oh, some people are, but some people went to their graves (or will, yet) convinced Richard Nixon wasn't that bad and got a raw deal.  Is this an "ontological crisis" where we must question what America can actually look like, what reality can contain?  As one historian noted, if we were to repeat the Civil War today, 8 million Americans would be dead at the end of it.  Are we really moving in that direction, toward that crisis?  Can our reality contain 8 million of our own citizens dead at the hands of our own government (the usual formula for denouncing Assad in Syria is that he used chemical weapons "on his own people")?  We're nowhere near that, yet Trump is supposedly warping the fabric of reality itself? Please.

Our biggest problem is we've awoken to find the country is not an extension from sea to shining sea of our friends and family.   People who've obviously never set foot outside a major U.S.urban neighborhood denounce rural Americans as xenophobic and bigoted, as if the neighborhoods of Boston that erupted in violent response to school busing have changed all that much in the intervening decades, as if racism were known only in the backwoods of Mississippi and not in a Starbucks in Philadelphia.  Rural white voters, we still tell ourselves, put Trump in office, although in truth those states gave Trump an edge in the electoral college by slender margins; it's just as valid to say urban voters didn't turn out for Clinton, and that tipped the balance; but we prefer the argument that makes "them" complicit, not "us" responsible.  When they go low, we don't like to realize that we go low, too.

Some of Comey's arguments about leadership are an attempt to make that rather Niebuhrian argument:

A further consequence of modern optimism is a philosophy of history expressed in the idea of progress. Either by a force immanent in nature itself, or by the gradual extension of rationality, or by the elimination of specific sources of evil, such as priesthoods, tyrannical government and class divisions in society, modern man [sic] expects to move toward some kind of perfect society. The idea of progress is compounded of many elements. It is particularly important to consider one element of which modern culture is itself completely oblivious. The idea of progress is possible only upon the ground of a Christian culture. It is a secularized version of Biblical apocalypse and of the Hebraic sense of a meaningful history, in contrast to the meaningless history of the Greeks. But since the Christian doctrine of the sinfulness of man [sic] is eliminated, a complicating factor in the Christian philosophy is removed and the way is open for simple interpretations of history, which relate historical process as closely as possible to biological process and which fail to do justice either to the unique freedom of man or to the daemonic misuse which he may make of that freedom.

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Intepretation, Vol. I (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press 1996), p. 24.

And while I think it's a valid argument, it's a bit out of place here.  Out of place, but not wrong; just as the admonition to "go high" when they "go low" is not wrong, but may be out of place.  We are, or should be, better than Trump and his supporters, people who don't care what Trump does or says, so long as they perceive they have "won."  But going high when they go low presumes a commonality of purpose, a unity of mind, that seldom truly exists.  Martin Luther King, Jr. led a social movement that was a religious movement at its core.  He describes the process of preparation it took to march in the streets of Alabama or Georgia, the work it took to get people ready to take the blows and the jeers and the punishment without striking back.  You don't win these arguments by telling people to be nicer than the opposition; that too easily turns into an argument to think yourself better, to be haughty against their "crudity."  That's still the argument of division.  It's the same thing as being concerned that America is divided between urban and rural, between xenophobia and tolerance, between bigots and lovers of all races.  That way lies the argument that they hate everything, we love everything, which ends up like this:


We go high because it is best for us, not because it always wins the argument.  We go high because winning isn't everything.  We go high because whenever we release our Hulk, everything ends up smashed and broken and we end up with regrets, not the thrill of victory.