Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Post Tonight


I've been feeling under the weather since Sunday, so our regularly scheduled post for today will have to be pushed back to Saturday. Many apologies for the inconvenience!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Few Final Remarks on Hamiltongate

Before I launch into some more discussion of the Hamilton incident last Friday, I'd like to share another fantastic song from the show as a gesture of good faith.


Listen to the respect with which Manuel-Miranda treats Washington. Here, our first president is portrayed, without irony, as a hero who voluntarily steps down from his seat of power, consequently teaching us that America's institutions were crafted to transcend and outlast the fame of any one person. Such a number implicitly rebukes cults of personality and leader worship -- one message among many in this show that are undeniably timely.

The text of Hamilton also does something that I think is vitally important in this age of identity politics: It invites people of very different backgrounds to embrace American heroes, American ideas, and an American identity as their own. Too often, the social justice left discourages its favored groups from finding any inspiration from our history, effectively segregating minority populations from the American heritage entirely. Whether accidentally or no, this only enhances people's sense of "otherness" and existential discomfort. Manuel-Miranda's approach, on the other hand, is much healthier; instead of dismissing Alexander Hamilton and his contemporaries as "dead, white males" whose biographies have nothing to offer to Americans of color, he shows how our Founders' struggles and triumphs are universally edifying.

Which brings me to one reason why the now infamous Friday night curtain call still rankles. To echo Robert Pondiscio's remarks in the New York Daily News, the cast members didn't let Manuel-Miranda's art speak for itself. Or, to put it another way, they assumed that Pence was so incredibly dense - so lacking in any sort of human feeling - that he would fail to grasp the pro-diversity message described above without having it explicitly spelled out in simple words.

Further, the speech wasn't delivered in a vacuum. Context matters. Intonation matters. Truth matters. Several writers and commentators whom I respect greatly have dramatically missed the boat by focusing on the superficial mildness of the words and not on the event in toto. Consider, for example, the audience in attendance: a crowd of overwhelmingly liberal Manhattanites who are already convinced Trump and Pence represent a threat to their rights despite much evidence that flatly contradicts their views. These are people whose smug sense of superiority didn't need to be strengthened or legitimized -- yet Dixon (and presumably the rest of the cast, who allowed Dixon to speak on their behalf) went ahead and flattered these folks anyway. I'm sorry, but to those of us who don't live in that particular milieu, that was gross as hell and needed to be called out.

Consider too where they were. Dixon was not just a private citizen addressing a politician; he was also, essentially, an employee of a business talking to a paying customer. And if you've ever worked customer service, you know you always put your personal opinions aside at the moment of a business transaction. Nobody here is questioning anyone's right to dissent; what many of us do question is the appropriateness of the time and place. Dixon and the other cast members could've invited Pence back stage for a private conversation later; if making their concerns heard was their only motivation, such a conversation would've succeeded brilliantly. But when Dixon tells the audience to film his remarks and spread them far and wide on social media, an additional - and more problematic - motivation becomes strikingly apparent. This wasn't just about exercising one's right to question our incoming executives; this was also one giant virtue signal meant, once again, to congratulate an already unaccountably arrogant group of people on their supposed "right thinking." And quite frankly, we conservatives are sick to death of listening to these Pharisees endlessly trumpet how great they all are when their actions don't justify their pride.

I'm happy that Pence was not offended and responded to the speech with equanimity and grace -- but that does not mean we should set aside this incident's troubling undertones or refrain from critiquing the people involved.

Oh, and by the way: Trump doesn't actually believe in safe spaces -- at least, not in the leftist sense. Haven't you figured out yet that the soon-to-be Cheeto 'n Chief is the ultimate troll?

And with that, I'm going to head out for my Thanksgiving break. I shall return next Wednesday with a post (or two) on the beauty of Constitutional federalism. I hope all of you have a peaceful holiday in the meantime!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Shut Up and Sing

(Or, in this case, rap about the national debt.)

I was planning to write a long post/civics lesson today about the federal system and why, despite being designed over 200 years ago, it is still perfectly suited to our current age. But then this happened...


... and it struck a nerve.

It struck a nerve because I've been a huge booster of Hamilton to skeptical relatives, acquaintances, and readers; indeed, I've shared favorite songs from the show on this blog on two separate occasions. I also spent eight hours round trip on a cramped and uncomfortable bus to see this show in New York because I simply couldn't wait for the inevitable tour stop in DC.

I think Hamilton richly deserves its eleven Tony Awards. It is, right now, my go-to example when I try to explain the difference between art that genuinely stretches the boundaries and art that merely postures and celebrates ugliness. In the show itself, there is no present-day political grandstanding; while Manuel-Miranda does take artistic licenses, he is honest about Hamilton's personal flaws and treats his other primary subject - America itself - with respect -- and even an infectious joy. There are mentions of slavery - because, given the period, how can you avoid it - but overall, Hamilton is brimming with the faith that all Americans - even "orphan immigrants" - can "rise up" and make an impact if they work hard enough.

Hamilton has amazing - and fundamentally conservative - things to say about the American idea. Unfortunately, the performers behind it had to go ahead and muck it up, thereby guaranteeing that many of my right-leaning friends will avoid the show from this day forward.

Why - why - do you always do this, leftists? When people go out to see a Broadway show - or any artistic performance, really - they are not looking to be hectored. They want to enjoy your talent, not listen to your presumptuous speeches. You, of course, have every right to express consternation over the prospect of a Trump presidency, but do it on your own time. It is neither appropriate nor fair to subject a paying audience to your supposed "protest."

To steal from Laura Ingraham, just shut up and sing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reflections on the Trumpocalypse

First of all, I want to apologize for the unannounced month-long hiatus. A bout of depression hit, and it didn't do much for my muse.

Strangely, though, that depression lifted on election night. Mind you, I still don't like Donald Trump; indeed, I eventually voted third-party. But whatever my intellectual objections to the Republican candidate, something inside me evidently feared Hillary Clinton all the more -- and when the prospect of her presidency decisively evaporated, I was both shocked and slightly giddy. In fact, it has taken me until now to come down from the unexpected high.

So what do I make of this result in the more sober light of day? I think I'm going to frame my thoughts in the form of three letters addressed to the various constituencies involved.


*****

Dear Trump Supporters (Reluctant or Otherwise),

You got me. I was wrong.

I thought Trump was going to be an utter disaster for the GOP. Obviously, I underestimated how averse to Hillary Clinton the electorate would be. I did not predict how profoundly her corruption and globalist bona fides would dampen enthusiasm and drive down turnout among the Democrats' usual constituencies.

I was #NeverTrump to the end, but please understand that my antipathy towards Trump was not accompanied by antipathy towards his backers. In reality, I actually agree with you on many issues. I agree that we must sincerely grapple with the negative effects of globalization. I agree that we have a right to defend our borders and enforce our immigration laws. And I agree that the media and the rest of the supposed "elite" need to be humbled with extreme prejudice. I didn't believe Trump had the right answers to these pressing issues - and I still don't - but when it comes to your general sentiments regarding the state of our nation and its desperate need for a reset, I am 100% in your corner.

I didn't oppose Trump because I wished to virtue signal or because I wanted to prove I was smarter than everyone else. I just wasn't convinced Trump would uphold Constitutional principles. That being said, I sincerely hope Trump will be the change we all desire -- that he will actually reinvigorate our love for the classically liberal federal system the Founders established and consequently ensure our domestic tranquility.

Sincerely, etc.

*****

Dear #NeverTrumpers,

We have work to do. As movement conservatives, we can no longer be satisfied with our status quo. We have to start listening to Trump's voters and addressing their specific concerns.

What do we really have to offer to the working class besides bromides on lowering taxes and reducing regulatory burdens? As manufacturing has continued to move off shore, many have seen their previously stable communities crumble all around them. Reliable jobs have disappeared, and so too have support systems that once gave lives meaning. What are we going to do at the ground level to rebuild social capital and restore people's dignity and purpose?

We're already out there preaching libertarian economics, but I think we need to reconnect with and emphasize the more communitarian side of our intellectual heritage. I for one plan to search through the wisdom of my own faith tradition - and seek out our Founders as well - for possible solutions to our problems. Will you join me on this journey?

God bless, etc.

*****

Dear Leftists,

A few of you actually get why you lost (see also: Jonathan Pie). But the rest?

The election results were not in your favor -- and it was entirely your fault. When you cry "ist!" and "ism!" so many times without good cause, people stop listening.

You yelled "ist!" and "ism!" at John McCain when he ran for president -- even though he was, by all reasonable standards, a moderate Republican. You yelled "ist!" and "ism!" at Mitt Romney -- even though he presided over the institution of the Affordable Care Act's predecessor in Massachusetts and has been, throughout his life, a deeply charitable person. For the past several decades, you've portrayed every Republican, no matter how benign, as the second coming of Hitler. So when you did the same to Trump, the electorate tuned you out.

I happen to agree that Trump was an awful candidate -- but I could prove that with his actual actions and his actual words. You, on the other hand, decided to exaggerate - and sometimes outright lie about - Trump's flaws. Moreover, your identitarian ideology kept you so focused on the fact that Hillary Clinton has a vag that you completely missed her manifest lack of fitness for the presidential office. This only cemented the voters' distrust.

Your behavior in the wake of Trump's election has also not served you well. Some of you are lying about being the targets of supposed hate crimes, which makes genuine victims less likely to be believed. Some of you are rioting in the streets, disrupting the lives of people who, by the way, probably also voted for Clinton. Many of you are spreading claims that Trump will destroy the rights of LGBTQ citizens/minorities/immigrants/the disabled -- claims that, so far, have no empirical basis in reality. Many of you are unjustifiably scaring your children, modeling emotional incontinence instead of rationality and principled dissent. And lastly, all of you are ignoring the Trump supporters who have been beaten or otherwise intimidated because of their vote. Congratulations, guys, for continuing to demonstrate why many Americans despise you and your beliefs.

Might I make a suggestion? If you want people to be more receptive to your concerns, maybe you should try persuasion instead of coercion and respect instead of condescension. And maybe - get ready for a truly radical idea - you should give genuine federalism a try instead of attempting to force your lifestyle on people without their consent. I'm perfectly happy to let San Francisco be San Francisco. Perhaps you should reciprocate and allow Provo to be Provo. If you let more cultural decisions be made at the local level, perhaps our national politics would no longer be a blood sport, and we could all feel more empowered and more in control of our own surroundings.

Just some thoughts, etc.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Discovery Book Tour: My Review

Blurb: Sisters Ann, Tommie and Rita are part of a classified mission to explore an alien ship that has crash landed on an asteroid three billion miles from earth. Humanity's first contact with beings from beyond the solar system is bound to unlock the mystery of life in the universe, but the crew have their own secrets; hidden fears, desires, horrible sins - and a mission to kill. Researchers discover something unique about the third arm of the ship: something wonderful, terrifying and...holy. This discovery challenges Rita and Ann to confront their own pasts in order to secure the safety of the mission and the very souls of the crew.

On Monday, we heard from Karina; in particular, she shared how she came to write science fiction and fantasy with Catholic themes. Today, I will share my own take on Discovery. Did it work as a story? Was I drawn in? Was there anything that fell flat? My answers to all three questions are yes, yes, and yes.

Let's tackle the world-building first. Discovery is set in a far future in which mankind has already colonized the solar system and begun taking advantage of its resources. Recognizing that the space-faring life entails unique challenges and unique dangers, humanity's space pioneers - including St. Gillian, who established the religious order in which Sisters Ann, Tommie, and Rita serve - drew up a code that was originally meant to reduce conflict among spacers and keep them safe. Over time, however, some have adopted this code as an alternative to traditional religion, and in Discovery, this cult of the Code is a source of interpersonal conflict between the novel's principals. The question: Is this evolution plausible? Can the Code described in the novel really satisfy man's spiritual urge? Personally, I'm not so sure. While history presents us with plenty of materialistic, atheistic ideologies that have persuaded and inspired many - like Marxism, for one - I didn't get the impression that the Code has the same explanatory power.

There were also moments when Karina's characterization was a bit heavy-handed. Merl, for example, felt a little too cookie-cutter; while there are segments of evangelical Protestant Christianity that harbor strong anti-Catholic sentiments, most evangelicals do not share those beliefs with quite the same bombast. Perhaps Merl could've been counter-balanced by a milder Protestant in order to give our separated brethren a fairer portrayal. Additionally, the change of heart that Merl displays towards the end of the novel seemed to come with no explanation at all. One minute, he is supporting Cay; the next, he's horrified. What happened in between?

One last criticism: Generally speaking, when an author puts a gun on the wall, the reader expects it to be fired -- and is disappointed when it is not. And to be honest, there was one element of Discovery that engendered exactly this sort of disappointment: the object that was supposedly on a collision course with the Folly. Early in the book, much was made of this mystery object; indeed, its presence forced the crew of the ET to radically alter the timetable for the mission. But was that the object's only purpose? The novel never ties up that loose end.

But enough with the critique. Let's talk about what Karina gets very right. To put it simply, Discovery perfectly captures the wonder of the universe. Despite the flaws discussed above, I couldn't help but be drawn in by the novel's central mysteries. Further, while some characters didn't quite gel for me, others were explored with admirable depth. Rita, for instance, felt very real; her conflicts and anxieties were fully relatable and all too human.

Would I recommend Discovery to others? For the most part, yes. I'm not sure how this book would work for readers who are not already convinced of God's existence. But for the believing and the otherwise open-minded, this will be a solid read.

Final Verdict: Recommended -- With Qualifications