For Auld Lang Syne, My Jo

As this evening’s guest blogger, we welcome Joe Scarborough:

A storm is gathering, and there is every reason to believe that 2018 will be the most consequential political year of our lives.

The reckoning upon us follows a year mercifully drawing to a close this weekend. Over that horrid year, President Trump has questioned the legitimacy of federal judges, used Stalinist barbs to attack the free press and cast contempt on the rule of law, while his campaign manager, his national security adviser and a foreign policy aide have been marched into federal courts. Those anti-democratic instincts were made all the more ominous by his praising of autocrats across the world as they were ruthlessly consolidating power in countries such as Russia, China and the Philippines. …

“The Gathering Storm” is on my holiday reading list because of Republican strategist Steve Schmidt’s insistence to me that Churchill’s ominous warnings to future generations will be more relevant to 2018 than at any time since it was written in the years after World War II. While Trump’s eroding of U.S. prestige across the globe is disturbing, it is his administration’s undermining of democratic values that poses an even greater threat to our Constitution and country. Borrowing again from Churchill, America’s constitutional norms tremble in the balance as Trump unleashes furious attacks on First Amendment protections, independent counsels and law enforcement officers who refuse to be bullied. While the framers of the Constitution foresaw the possibility of a tyrannical president, they never let their imaginations be darkened by the possibility of a compliant Congress.

Again, Churchill: “The malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous . . . They lived from hand to mouth and from day to day, and from one election to another . . . The cheers of weak, well-meaning assemblies soon cease to echo, and their votes soon cease to count. Doom marches on.”

Schmidt is right. The storm is gathering. And how we respond in the months ahead may determine our fate for years to come.

And other than that, have a Happy New Year.

Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall

humpty

“Frankly there is absolutely no collusion…Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion…I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion…I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion…There’s been no collusion…There was no collusion. None whatsoever…everybody knows that there was no collusion. I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion [note: not true]…The Republicans, in terms of the House committees, they come out, they’re so angry because there is no collusion…there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion…There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign…But there is tremendous collusion with the Russians and with the Democratic Party…I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, he said, No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime, but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion. And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion…There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime. But there’s no collusion…when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems [Democrats] had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion.

Props to The Plum Line.

collusion

Surely We Can Find More Ways to Leverage These People’s Unmitigated Gullibility

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44 percent of Republicans think Trump repealed Obamacare

One-third of American adults believe that President Trump has successfully repealed Obamacare, a new poll from the Economist and YouGov finds.

The poll of 1,000 adults shows that 31 percent believe Trump has repealed the Affordable Care Act, 49 percent say he hasn’t, and 21 percent are unsure.

Of those who identify as Republican voters, 44 percent say that Trump has repealed Obamacare.

The article in Vox draws an obvious conclusion:

[T]his poll … raises the interesting possibility of a political detente around the Affordable Care Act. A plurality of Republicans believes that the Affordable Care Act has been repealed — or, at the very least, recognizes that Congress has gotten rid of the unpopular mandate, the most-hated part of Obamacare.

Is there much political sense in Republicans continuing to pursue repeal? Or will they point to the tax bill, declare mission accomplished, and move on from an issue that has proved quite unpopular?

Perhaps this poll suggests that, finally, an end to the Obamacare wars may be in sight.

Yes, indeedy. But surely there is yet more to be gained from the unbridled gullibility of the Trump supporters. Please put on your thinking caps.

Well, That’s Good News

Paul Waldman, Republicans’ failure on health care is even greater than they realize:

We wind up with a system made up of 1) people who get coverage from the government and are happy with it; 2) people who get coverage from their employers, and like the coverage but don’t like the cost; 3) a small number of people who pay the full cost of private coverage, which is increasingly unaffordable; and 4) people who are uninsured and wish they could get on a government plan such as Medicare or Medicaid. …

And now Republicans have created the worst of all possible worlds, at least from where they sit. They’ve only made Americans more insecure about their health care, they’ve pushed the Democratic Party to the left, and they’ve brought the arrival of a universal system based on government insurance closer than it ever was. Who says the Trump presidency hasn’t produced important achievements?

Vegas Tenold, The Rise and Fall of the Racist Right: White nationalists entered 2017 on a high. They ended it in disarray:

I embedded with the movement at a time when it was nothing. I bore witness to its unlikely rise to prominence, and to those ugly days in August. It was a bad year, but it also exposed the limitations of the far right as a political force. Unity turned out to be an elusive goal, even for a group of racists, Nazis, and ethno-nationalists. The past year showed us how far the far right could go—too far for most, even if they didn’t really get anywhere at all.

BTW, you may be wondering whether Vegas Tenold is an actual name. I googled him or her, and the answer appears to be yes, it is.

One More Holiday Song

It is undisputed that a man named James Lord Pierpont wrote “Jingle Bells,” but there is some controversy about when he wrote it. Some claim that he penned it in 1850, at a tavern in Medford, Massachusetts. Whether or not that is true, he didn’t publish it until September, 1857, when he was serving as organist and music director of the Unitarian Society of Savannah, Georgia, where his brother John was pastor.

As the country moved toward war, Savannah got too hot for Rev. John Pierpont—whose  abolitionist preaching was not popular—and the minister decamped for the North in 1859. But James married a local girl, and stayed where he was.

Unitarians have a proud heritage, but some, like James, do a poor job detecting the moral arc of the universe. He joined the Confederate Army, and applied his musical talents to such ditties as “Our Battle Flag,” “Strike for the South,” and “We Conquer or Die.”

Earlier on in his career, James had had a bad experience during the California gold rush. Some indication of his questionable character may be found in his song, “The Returned Californian”:

Oh, I’m going far away from my creditors just now,

I ain’t the tin to pay ’em and they’re kicking up a row;

I ain’t one of those lucky ones that works for ‘Uncle Sam,’

There’s no chance for speculation and the mines ain’t worth a (‘d–‘) Copper.

There’s my tailor vowing vengeance and he swears he’ll give me Fitts,

And Sheriff’s running after me with pockets full of writs;

And which ever way I turn, I am sure to meet a dun,

So I guess the best thing I can do, is just to cut and run.

Oh! I wish those ‘tarnel critters that wrote home about the gold

Were in the place the Scriptures say ‘is never very cold;’

For they told about the heaps of dust and lumps so mighty big,

But they never said a single word how hard they were to dig.

So I went up to the mines and I helped to turn a stream,

And got trusted on the strength of that delusive golden dream;

But when we got to digging we found ’twas all a sham,

And we who dam’d the rivers by our creditors were damn’d.

Oh! I’m going far away but I don’t know where I’ll go,

I oughter travel homeward but they’ll laugh at me I know;

For I told ’em when I started I was bound to make a pile,

But if they could only see mine now I rather guess they’d smile.

If of these United States I was the President,

No man that owed another should ever pay a cent;

And he who dunn’d another should be banished far away,

And attention to the pretty girls is all a man should pay.

Readings for Christmas Day, 2017

Adam Gopnik, What Did Jesus Do? Reading and unreading the Gospels.

Even if we make allowances for Mark’s cryptic tracery, the human traits of his Jesus are evident: intelligence, short temper, and an ironic, duelling wit. What seems new about Jesus is not his piety or divine detachment but the humanity of his irritability and impatience. He’s no Buddha. He gets annoyed at the stupidity of his followers, their inability to grasp an obvious point. “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” he asks the hapless disciples. The fine English actor Alec McCowen used to do a one-man show in which he recited Mark, complete, and his Jesus came alive instantly as a familiar human type—the Gandhi-Malcolm-Martin kind of charismatic leader of an oppressed people, with a character that clicks into focus as you begin to dramatize it. He’s verbally spry and even a little shifty. He likes defiant, enigmatic paradoxes and pregnant parables that never quite close, perhaps by design. A story about a vineyard whose ungrateful husbandmen keep killing the servants sent to them is an anti-establishment, even an anti-clerical story, but it isn’t so obvious as to get him in trouble. The suspicious priests keep trying to catch him out in a declaration of anti-Roman sentiment: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not, they ask—that is, do you recognize Roman authority or don’t you? He has a penny brought out, sees the picture of the emperor on it, and, shrugging, says to give to the state everything that rightly belongs to the state. The brilliance of that famous crack is that Jesus turns the question back on the questioner, in mock-innocence. Why, you give the king the king’s things and God God’s. Of course, this leaves open the real question: what is Caesar’s and what is God’s? It’s a tautology designed to evade self-incrimination.

Jesus’ morality has a brash, sidewise indifference to conventional ideas of goodness. His pet style blends the epigrammatic with the enigmatic. When he makes that complaint about the prophet having no honor in his own home town, or says exasperatedly that there is no point in lighting a candle unless you intend to put it in a candlestick, his voice carries a disdain for the props of piety that still feels startling. And so with the tale of the boy who wastes his inheritance but gets a feast from his father, while his dutiful brother doesn’t; or the one about the weeping whore who is worthier than her good, prim onlookers; or about the passionate Mary who is better than her hardworking sister Martha. There is a wild gaiety about Jesus’ moral teachings that still leaps off the page. He is informal in a new way, too, that remains unusual among prophets. MacCulloch points out that he continually addresses God as “Abba,” Father, or even Dad, and that the expression translated in the King James Version as a solemn “Verily I say unto you” is actually a quirky Aramaic throat-clearer, like Dr. Johnson’s “Depend upon it, Sir.”

Some of the sayings do have, in their contempt for material prosperity, the ring of Greek Cynic philosophy, but there is also something neither quite Greek nor quite Jewish about Jesus’ morality that makes it fresh and strange even now. Is there a more miraculous scene in ancient literature than the one in John where Jesus absent-mindedly writes on the ground while his fellow-Jews try to entrap him into approving the stoning of an adulteress, only to ask, wide-eyed, if it wouldn’t be a good idea for the honor of throwing the first stone to be given to the man in the mob who hasn’t sinned himself? Is there a more compressed and charming religious exhortation than the one in the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus merrily recommends to his disciples, “Be passersby”? Too much fussing about place and home and ritual, and even about where, exactly, you’re going to live, is unnecessary: be wanderers, dharma bums.

This social radicalism still shines through—not a programmatic radicalism of national revolution but one of Kerouac-like satori-seeking-on-the-road. And the social radicalism is highly social. The sharpest opposition in the Gospels, the scholar and former priest John Dominic Crossan points out in his illuminating books—“The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant” is the best known—is between John the Faster and Jesus the Feaster. Jesus eats and drinks with whores and highwaymen, turns water into wine, and, finally, in one way or another, establishes a mystical union at a feast through its humble instruments of bread and wine.

The table is his altar in every sense. Crossan, the co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, makes a persuasive case that Jesus’ fressing was perhaps the most radical element in his life—that his table manners pointed the way to his heavenly morals. Crossan sees Jesus living within a Mediterranean Jewish peasant culture, a culture of clan and cohort, in which who eats with whom defines who stands where and why. So the way Jesus repeatedly violates the rules on eating, on “commensality,” would have shocked his contemporaries. He dines with people of a different social rank, which would have shocked most Romans, and with people of different tribal allegiance, which would have shocked most Jews. The most forceful of his sayings, still shocking to any pious Jew or Muslim, is “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.” Jesus isn’t a hedonist or an epicurean, but he clearly isn’t an ascetic, either: he feeds the multitudes rather than instructing them how to go without. He’s interested in saving people living normal lives, buying and selling what they can, rather than in retreating into the company of those who have already arrived at a moral conclusion about themselves.

And Now a Message from Jesus

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.*

*Matthew 25:41-46, via Daily Kos.