The World’s Worst Coping Mechanism

In the aftermath of last Tuesday’s Super Trump Sweep of five primary states, more people have started signaling that they are resigned to Trump’s winning the Republican nomination for president. I am not quite there yet—I think optimism is a good virtue, at least right up until the last possible moment—but I will say that it does not look good, at least for those of us who recognize Trump’s fraudulent shtick for what it is. From a large pool of really astonishing talent, the GOP’s choices have been winnowed down to Donald Trump (who is too stupid to even comprehend conservatism and too much of a liberal to ever adopt it if he could), John Kasich (who, for Pete’s sake, was endorsed by the New York Times editorial board) and Ted Cruz (who is an actual, real conservative, which is apparently a grand faux pas among the conservative base these days). We had the chance of the young century so far and we blew it on a guy who literally announced he would make soldiers commit war crimes in his name. We squandered perhaps the presidential moment of a generation on Donald J. Trump.

Over at his website, Mark Steyn wants us to give up the ghost and get on with it:

[B]arring the intervention of the FBI and the Justice Department into the Democrat primary, the United States presidential election this November will offer voters a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. That’s not “boosterism”, as this no-name tweeter puts it. It’s arithmetic, it’s reality, it’s what it is and where we are. This year’s primary campaigns were the semi-finals: On the Democrat side, socialism lost to cronyism. On the Republican side, constitutional conservatism lost to populist nationalism. Cronyism and populism advance to the Super Bowl. Deal with it. They’re the only two teams left. Pick yours.

Well, excuse us for being concerned about “boosterism,” but that’s about what we’ve been seeing from a fair number of conservative boosters over nearly the last year—and even from Steyn himself, to a certain extent: Steyn, who has spent months praising Trump’s ability to “move the needle” on the topic of immigration, as if Trump’s proposal to “build a wall” were a serious idea rather than a quick grab for ratings. Steyn also actually seemed to take seriously Trump’s gestures towards substantive policy, rather than recognize that Trump himself has no real grasp of any policy of any kind; he denied “supporting” Trump but also claimed that Trump was “the guy talking about the critical issue [of immigration] in less dishonest terms than anybody else,” as if Trump’s superlative dishonesty on every topic about which he opens his mouth isn’t the most self-evident fact on the planet; he said that we owe Trump a “debt of gratitude” for speaking so bluntly of immigration, as if Trump’s positions on immigration weren’t as malleable and fly-by-night as even Trump himself admits.

Steyn is a world-renowned free speech activist, and deservedly so—he is one of the best on the ground; he has not only fought against government censorship but in some cases helped to scuttle it completely—but what was his reaction in the wake of Donald Trump’s desire to “open up” libel laws in order to “sue [newspapers] and win lots of money?” He initially said “I didn’t see that one coming,” and then later remarked, rather laconically for Steyn, that Trump was “horrible for free speech.” For someone who approvingly and appropriately quoted Salman Rushdie as saying, “Free speech is the whole thing; the whole ball game,” and for someone who has been justly praised as an unrelenting opponent of censorship, this was a tepid, lackluster condemnation of what should have been an immediately damnable and career-ending remark by Trump. This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky fear of Donald Trump’s desire to shut up people who criticize him. Trump is demonstrably an opponent of free speech, not just theoretically: a few years ago he sued an author simply “to make his life miserable.” The guy who thinks “free speech is the whole ball game” should have been on this like white on rice.

Trump is an impostor and a charlatan who has done serious damage to conservatism over the past year. This should have been an easy one: even the most mildly principled conservative should have been able to spot Trump’s chicanery from a mile away and immediately denounce it for what it was. Many of us did, in fact. It might not have made a difference in the end—the media’s unprecedented coverage of Trump, along with the unique political moment we’re in, were probably enough to sustain Trump this far regardless of any real conservative efforts—but it would have been far more heartening and encouraging if Steyn and many others had seen Trump for what he really is: not a fellow who was going to “move the needle,” not someone to whom we owe anything, much less gratitude—but rather a serial liar, a fraud, a blowhard, a big-government liberal until about five minutes ago, an opportunist, a hostile opponent of the First Amendment and someone who by his own admission will change his own idiotic opinions when the politics are opportune.

So pardon me if I’m not quite ready to “deal with it:” I’m still smarting from the fact that more than a few intelligent, talented conservatives couldn’t be bothered to openly and strongly reject Donald Trump from the get-go—that people like Steyn, and Ann Coulter, and Milo the Greek, and even Ben Carson, along with dozens of other big names on the Right couldn’t and still can’t see past the obvious ruse, or else just don’t care that much. (Last summer Steyn himself acknowledged that Trump was potentially unreliable on the issues, but he nonetheless liked the disruption Trump was causing: “Why not let him run around a while longer?” he asked. Look where that got us.)

In fact, contra Steyn, I don’t think one even has to “deal with it,” at least as long as “dealing with it” means “voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.” I will do neither. I share my colleague Tom Nichols’s opinion that Hillary Clinton is, absurdly, the preferable candidate to Donald Trump, and at one time I even imagined I might vote for her. But at this point I do not think I am capable of voting for either one: Trump the once-big-government-liberal-turned-wannabe-strongman or Hillary the corrupt, cackling old grandma of the Clinton political machine. I’ll take neither. I’ll write in someone, probably Ted Cruz, even if that constitutes—in the perverse, jaded American political jargon—“throwing my vote away.” Even if that were an accurate assessment, I’d rather “throw my vote away” to a fellow like Ted Cruz then give it to one of those lunatics.

Trump has deceived a great many Americans during this campaign. Would that he had not deceived a fair number of principled, popular conservatives while he was at it; would that they had not allowed themselves to be deceived.

They’re Just Getting Warmed Up

Our society’s elites—the big thinkers with the big ideas—have been continually frustrated by the public’s reluctance to sign onto global warming alarmism: after about twenty years of rather frantic agitprop about the impending brutal extinction of our species due to a theorized rise in global temperatures over the next few centuries—well gosh darn it, you’d think Americans would wise up to the threat this phenomenon theoretically proposes!

It’s not hard to see why the full-blown public support for global warming “action” has failed to materialize: because the  dreadful effects of global warming themselves, predicted with great fanfare over the past few decades, have themselves failed to materialize. Global warming alarmism these days is a hobby-horse of people who refuse to learn from the past.

For my part, though I suppose I’ve never been what the Left likes to call a “global warming denier,” you could easily say that I am a climate change “skeptic,” insofar as I am skeptical of most of the major and a lot of the minor claims peddled by the alarmists. As the years go by, my skepticism becomes inflected with more and more of an irritated populist bent: when you see the profound hypocrisy in which many alarmists truck—the utter dishonesty in which they regularly and happily engage—it’s worth getting a little angry. Take Leonardo Dicaprio:

Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio has once again voiced out his sentiments regarding climate change during his five-minute speech at the UN General Assembly in New York in line with the signing of Paris Agreement on Climate Change, urging leaders to tackle the international problem head on.

“No more talks, no more excuses, no more 10-year studies,” the Revenant star pleaded in front of the world leaders.

In his speech, DiCaprio first quoted Abraham Lincoln then cited some of the effects of climate change that he had experienced first-hand during his travels around the world as a UN Messenger of Peace.

“All the things I have seen and learned in my journey have absolutely terrified me,” DiCaprio continues.

Never mind that DiCaprio can’t tell the difference between climate and weather: we already know that he’s a fraud, a sham and a plaster saint. How? Because he does not even practice the sanctimonious dirge that he preaches—in fact, he openly flouts his own moral imperatives. People Magazine described one of his recent massive real estate purchases as a “desert oasis.” He apparently flies on private jets with regularity. Several times he rented an obscenely large private yacht for parties with a bunch of his millionaire buddies. In other words, he burns fossil fuels like he’s a retreating Iraqi militant.

He has compensated for this profligate lifestyle by planting a bunch of trees in order to “neutralize” his “carbon footprint,” which is, I guess, the rich liberal’s version of a plenary indulgence—climate change is as close to a religion as many Millennials and Gen Xers come these days—but it’s also kind of stupid if he wants to lead by example: not everyone can plant a bunch of damn trees, but everyone can burn a little less gasoline without much effort.

Unless you’re Leonardo DiCaprio, anyway.

Liberal climate hypocrisy is fun to poke at, but it is really useful in a more concrete sense: it shows the outer limits of climate devotion, the practical limitations of even the most fervent climate dogma. DiCaprio himself has been “terrified” by the portents of climate change he has allegedly seen; he demands that world leaders offer “no more excuses” for doing something about it. And yet he can’t seem to stop stumbling onto multi-hundred-million-dollar yachts and jetting around the world in his own personal airplanes. If DiCaprio can’t make a few insanely easy sacrifices and stop treating himself to decadent, carbon-intensive luxury and travel, why the hell should I believe him about the urgency of climate change? Why should anyone?

There are ways to do environmentalism right. Those of us who keep backyard chickens, for instance, do so in part because we know it’s better for the environment than buying “industrial” eggs. But we do so with a measure of sacrifice: we have to feed and water the birds, provide a safe habitat for them and protect them from predators, arrange for their care if we go out of town. Real environmentalism—the kind that’s not simply concerned with posturing in front of a bunch of international dignitaries—invariably involves some kind of sweat equity.

People like Leonardo DiCaprio, of course, never have to sweat: sweating is for people with much less money. But—at least if they are going to nag the world about the “international problem” of burning too many fossil fuels—is it too much to expect them to give up the desert houses and the outrageously enormous luxury boats? Maybe that is too much to ask—but then what does that tell you about climate alarmism, and the sincerity of those who peddle it?

The Ultimate Sophistication

“Abortion is a complex debate,” people like to say, which is a funny way of putting it: nobody says the same thing about the debate over American chattel slavery, which is universally recognized and deplored as having denied a large subset of the American population equal rights and full protection of the law. “Slavery is complex,” says nobody these days; for the most part the only people who ever made this argument were slaveholders who were uneasy about slavery but who also thought they couldn’t balance their books without the enslavement of human beings.

And yet that is a repeated refrain that one hears throughout the abortion debate: it is “complex” or “complicated.” This is said as often by pro-lifers as by pro-abortionists, and it is something of a mystery as to why: what is “complex,” after all, about the monstrous legalized right to take an innocent life? I do not know and I have not received any satisfactory answers to that effect.

At the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star yesterday, Bob Seward, a “minister and professor,” attempted to spell it out. His column is a mess of fallacies and bad logic—for instance, he says we should permit abortions because people cannot remain chaste outside of marriage, and also that many abortions occur before “the threshold of viability,” as if that makes any difference to the unborn person who is killed—but it is worth focusing on just two of the “complexities” that the minister presents, because they are awful and nonsensical, built on shoddy foundations of half-bright reasoning, and because they neatly summarize two of the main planks of the abortion debate: Seward argues that the unborn are not human, and he claims that conservatives who oppose abortion are hypocrites.

Regarding the first, Professor Seward claims:

In that process [of conception], after about 24 weeks—if all goes well—the stage of viability is reached. Some would say only then is there human life. Others would say only at birth is there a baby. At conception, after a few hours, there is simply the beginning of dividing cells. Should there be an early miscarriage, what is lost is a bundle of dividing cells, not a human being. Should there be an early abortion, one would find a complex of cells, not a baby.

At conception, there is a potential human being, but recognize that potential is not actual, any more than an acorn in moist soil is an oak tree.

You have spotted the self-evident absurdities, surely—how could you not, and how could a “professor” possibly miss them? For starters, the “stage of viability” is simply a relative term, stylized to benefit people who are already born rather than the defenseless who are at the mercy of complex thinkers like Bob Seward. All other things being equal, an unborn child is 100% viable at every stage of pregnancy inside the womb—from the moment of conception until the moment of birth. “Viability” in this case is simply a moniker that pro-abortionists apply to the stage of life they consider slightly (but only slightly) more worthy than the one that comes before it. Yet it is a fallacious concept both morally and also functionally: a newborn baby is no more “viable” on its own outside the womb than a twenty-four-week-old unborn one would be under the same circumstances: leave it alone for a short while and it will die. It is faintly ridiculous to pretend as if a helpless, defenseless newborn infant is somehow autonomous in terms of self-sufficiency.

As for the idea that “only at birth is there a baby,” this is plainly antiscientific claptrap, something worthy of a primitive and unlettered and ignorant society. Professor Seward embarrasses himself by even mentioning it.

Similarly, there is a deadly mendacity in the classification of a newly-conceived human as “a bundle of dividing cells.” This is precisely the point, of course: to delegitimize the existence of a new life in order to make it more suitable for killing. Yes, shortly after conception a human being is busy dividing himself or herself in a process known as mitosis. So what? Why does a particular stage of development render a human life less worthy and more killable? Is a young adolescent boy more disposable because he has not yet begun producing spermatozoa? What about a young girl who has not yet menstruated for the first time? What about a toddler who has not yet begun to speak? Stages of development are amoral: they are irrelevant to questions of ethical consideration, namely whether or not you may murder a person simply because he or she has not reached an arbitrary level of acceptable growth.

As for the idea that an unborn child is a “potential human being,” this, too, is primeval, antediluvian nonsense. What else is an unborn child, if not a human—is it a red dwarf star, or an ear of corn, or something else? The claim that “an acorn in moist soil is [not] an oak tree” is almost literally an instance of missing the forest for the trees. For the purposes of “actuality,” the relevant feature of an acorn is not that it is is a “potential” “oak tree” but that it is an actual constituent of the tree family Fagaceae. It is fully actualized in the context of its biological taxonomy: no serious person would say that an acorn’s classification falls under anything other than that of Fagaceae, be it Quercus or Lithocarpus; it will be of the same family forever, even as it grows into an enormous oak tree. The same principle applies to an unborn child, whose relevant defining characteristic at every moment is not a stage of development but rather membership in the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. This will remain so when the person is a “bundle of cells” and a newborn and an adult and a geriatric. It never changes.

In other words, Professor Seward is advocating for the murder of real, actual human beings: there’s nothing “potential” about it, as anyone with a glancing interest in biology could tell you.

Biology is not on the side of pro-choicers, and pro-choicers themselves know this, so they often fixate on other arguments in order to draw attention away from their scientifically illiterate ideas about human development and morality. Professor Seward obliges:

[“R]ight to life” proponents claim to be champions of the “culture of life.” What about a commitment to life beyond birth? Social conservatives are against abortion. However, many also are against helping women raise their children by paying more taxes to provide supportive services, such as: good childcare, quality healthcare, safe neighborhoods, good education, food and housing programs.

This is a common argument one encounters: that, because conservatives aren’t fully on-board with every modern liberal policy proposal, they are not sufficiently pro-life. (It is grimly funny that liberals conceive of a “culture of life” as involving everything but the exclusion of infanticide.) Plainly this is nonsense. Conservatives are wholly dedicated to things like “safe neighborhoods” and “good education;” achieving these outcomes usually involves undoing the damage liberals have inflicted upon the public and private spheres over the last half-century or so. We are also fully in support of “good healthcare;” why else would we be firmly opposed to the repeal of the expensive and deleterious Obamacare? “Good childcare…food and housing programs.” These are areas in which liberal public policies have have similarly dubious if not outright negative effects.

Conservatives care about these things. We just think the government isn’t very good at providing them and that there are other, better ways of achieving these ends. Oh, and we also don’t want a legalized regime of wholesale infant slaughter on the books while we figure it out.

This issue is not complex; as Professor Seward shows, it is actually a very simple issue that is made complex, generally by people who wish to justify killing the unborn. We must get past this idea that there is something grey and confusing to abortion; there is not. Do you think it should be legal to kill innocent human beings who have done nothing wrong? Then by all means advocate for it. But spare us the pablum about “complexity.” It is not complex at all. Abortion is the victimization and eradication of the weak by the strong. It is the oldest—and the simplest—story on the books.

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From Wallet to Fork

Down in Tampa, where I have some family and some fun memories from Centro Ybor, Laura Riley at the Bay Times has done the local food movement an invaluable service by exposing just how hollow it can actually be, at both restaurants and farmers markets. As someone who spends a fair amount of his grocery budget on local food, and who is always interested in trying out some new trendy hipster local restaurant, I can say that she’s one hundred percent right: the local food movement is often awash in hucksters. Anyone getting into local food should be aware of it.

I would encourage you to read both of her investigations, and pay attention to the warnings she gives about farmers markets, which are oftentimes just hocking grounds for beat-up old produce that local charlatans have bought from Costco. To the credit of the charlatans themselves, sometimes that’s what the market itself wants: in a downtown supermarket years ago, for instance, I used to see discerning shoppers doing their best to pick out the freshest, most local-looking bunch of bananas from a fellow working out of a produce box truck. Sometimes people just want to go to a market for “the experience,” even if they’re buying mangoes they could get for three or four bucks cheaper at Food Lion.

But Riley’s exposé on restaurants is perhaps even more important, because it is in restaurants, as Riley shows, that local food fraudsters stand to profit the most: “Just about everyone tells tales” in the local food scene, and at restaurants especially. This kind of fakery is inexcusable, but the shortage of local food in these places is not surprising at all. There is a reason for this: local food is not, as a rule, compatible with the demands and the rigors of a normal sit-down restaurant. Local food is a lot of things, most of them good, but one of the less pleasant things it is—one of the things for which most people do not like it—is this: it is an inherently limiting system. You can only get so much of it at any one time, at least with the current number of local farmers we have in this country. A tractor-trailer full of local steaks doesn’t just show up at your restaurant every forty-eight hours. It doesn’t work that way.

Local food’s incompatibility with restaurants is both understandable and predictable: restaurants more or less need the same things on the menu every single day of the week, and local farms are in general unable to supply that kind of quantity of food with that kind of regularity. It has been done before—my brother and I used to eat sometimes at a place on the edge of Hanover County that was reliably able to serve burgers sourced from local grass-fed meat, a claim we were able to confirm with some farmer friends—but in general the economics of restaurants and the economics of local farms do not mesh, which means a shortage of local food in these outlets and a surplus of desperate restaurant owners who are willing to fudge the truth in order to make a buck. And even assuming that local food can reliably find its way onto local restaurant tables, the prices can be prohibitive: as one restaurateur points out, a bona fide local pork chop, for one, can cost upwards of $40. Restaurant mark-ups are steep, but you feel it with good quality local food even more: in part because the raw material is just more expensive, and in part because you’re paying for a type of pastoral vanity that commands a very high price point.

All of which is to say this: local food is, inextricably, made for home cooking. It is not made for restaurants, which by their nature are resource-hungry in a way that the domestic sphere is not. And in any event restaurants are too expensive, both in general and especially for local food. This is not a bad thing. Americans already eat out too much, and as a result we are spending too much money on less healthy food and at the expense of the domestic arts that we desperately need to re-learn. Eating out is already a bad deal, at least in terms of the dollars-to-food exchange rate; it is useful really only as a special occasion kind of thing, which is fine. It would not be such a bad idea if we spent less money at restaurants and more money learning how to cook things better than the restaurants cook them. In the meantime, if you must “eat locally” at a restaurant, be aware that the definition of “local” for many folks is rather flexible, even as the price remains quite high.

The Market Meets its Match

It is, increasingly, too much to ask for the Left to even pretend to understand the arguments of the Right: they’re hard-pressed to fake even a basic grasp of what their opposition is about. Last week I wrote about North Carolina’s being crushed under the boot of the “trans mafia,” the latter of which was upset that North Carolina had declined to let grown men use women’s restrooms on government property. As a result of this rather obvious bill, corporations and celebrities have been participating in a kind of economic boycott of North Carolina in order to force the state’s hand on this issue. Over at Daily Kos, Kerry Eleveld thinks that conservative anger over this state of affairs proves that, when it comes to North Carolina, the Right has abandoned its core principles:

Gosh, it’s just a disaster for conservatives now that “corporate culture” is following the dictates of the once-hallowed free market. Turns out unbridled discrimination is a tough sell these days.

Of course, North Carolina is simply the continuation of a story that first made national headlines a couple years ago, when Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was quickly canned after his monetary support for California’s Proposition 8 became an issue. Conservatives charged that the backlash against Eich was unfair and intolerant, but Mozilla’s board had clearly concluded that they didn’t want the face of bigotry leading their tech-forward Silicon Valley-based company. Public perception had changed, and Eich found himself on the wrong side of it.

Suddenly the free market was the enemy of social conservatives. How dare people vote with their dollars! How dare the market foist its will upon the masses!

Good grief. This is an embarrassing failure of the Ideological Turing Test. There are few things more tragic than when a liberal tries to use progressive logic as a stand-in for conservative values. As it stands, North Carolina does not actually make “the free market” the “enemy of social conservatives.” The free market is in fact nothing more and nothing less than a price-discovery mechanism; it really doesn’t have anything to do with transgender politics or North Carolina’s bathroom laws, except for the fact that—insofar as the market is a tool for discovering the price of a thing—North Carolina has revealed that Bruce Springsteen’s concerts come with quite a hefty price tag: your state better allow men and women to use the bathroom together, or Springsteen won’t play his washed-up steel mill dirges at your local college football stadium. (If that’s all it takes to keep Bruce Springsteen out of your state, I wish Virginia would hurry up and get on the bandwagon.)

What Eleveld misses—what every liberal who tries to understand conservatism through the lens of progressive ethics misses—is this: it is entirely possible to criticize a thing without wanting to legally proscribe it. Yes, the liberal backlash against North Carolina’s completely reasonable “bathroom bill” is absurd, mafia-esque political theater; it is juvenile and misguided and deleterious by any reasonable standards. But it is also perfectly legal—and justifiably so. There is no good reason, after all, that the government should force PayPal to build a location in Charlotte or Pearl Jam to play a concert in Raleigh, and neither I nor any other conservative, so far as I know, has proposed that these corporations or entertainers should be forced by the government to operate in North Carolina at all.

The liberal mindset doesn’t really allow for such nuance, in which you can be morally or philosophically opposed to or offended by a person or a business while still allowing for its freedom to do as it pleases. As far as the Left is concerned, if you don’t like something, you must outlaw it completely. This is why the conservative reaction to the North Carolina debacle has baffled and confused many progressives: because they only allow themselves to interpret the situation as they themselves would respond to it. “Conservatives are mad that Boston cancelled its North Carolina concerts,” they say, “ergo they must be opposed to the free market!” Of course this is incorrect—entirely and demonstrably so. Conservatives are happy to refrain from forcing PayPal to break ground in North Carolina even as we are happy to criticize them for the decision to do so. Criticism does not equal state coercion, nor should it. There is no contradiction here, no matter how desperately hacks like Eleveld want to find it.

The Rule of Those Laws

Under the papacy of Pope Francis there has been a great deal of talk about the “rules” of the Catholic Church; a fair number of “liberal” Catholics that I know are somewhat excited over the prospect of these “rules” being done away with. There seems to be an understanding, for instance, that the last sexual taboos of Church doctrine are being swept away—that even those old “conservative” priests and bishops in Arlington and Lincoln and maybe even those guys at the CDF will quietly drop the prohibitions on birth control and perhaps fornication and, hey, maybe even gay marriage. There also seems to be this kind of tacit assumption that the last dusty old liturgical traditions like incense and kneeling during the consecration and (heaven forbid) receiving the Eucharist on the tongue may also be on the way out. Once we get rid of these “rules,” the thinking seems to be, then we can finally focus on the business of forgiveness, which is “what the Church is all about.”

To be fair, this has been going on for over half a century, so it’s technically nothing new; it just seems to have found new ground over the past few years. Even non-Christians I have spoken to seem rather excited at the prospect of “what Pope Francis is doing.” I am still not fully convinced that Pope Francis is “doing” much of anything in this regard, but people like a good story. That being said, a story invariably has two sides to it—and the quasi-liberalization of the Church’s “rules” and mores is receiving at least some pushback:

The director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, a news agency affiliated with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has reportedly been pushed out of his position after an outcry over tweets endorsing LGBT rights.

Two prominent Catholic news outlets have reported that Tony Spence resigned this week at the request of an official in the bishops conference.

Spence, who has headed the CNS since 2004, was active on Twitter — tweeting mostly about news within the Catholic Church, but occasionally sharing stories on the journalism industry, world news and pop culture. He tweeted about sainthood dates,the pope and refugees, Flannery O’Connor’s faith and the infuriating failures of the D.C. metro.

But it was tweets about the gender identity legislation in North Carolina and what supporters call the “religious liberties” measure in Mississippi, and related issues of LGBT rights, that reportedly led to his dismissal.

There is actually some question as to whether or not Spence’s dismissal was warranted; I think you can argue that it was, but it’s at least open for debate. That being said, the more relevant issue here is this: it is mildly encouraging to see at least some attempt to publicly enforce the supremacy of Catholic doctrine upon an organization tethered to the Church itself. CNS is a bona fide media institution—but it is also a creature of the USCCB, and as such its leadership is accountable to the bishops, who are surely interested in a news service that isn’t biased and prejudiced against Catholic interests and concerns. Whether or not you believe Spence should have been fired, it is actually heartening to see this kind of attention being paid to ecclesiastical matters.  If the Church is going to repair much of the damage that has been done over the past fifty or sixty years regarding Catholic doctrine and dogma, it has to start somewhere, and it has to be both public and forceful. That means the bishops have to take concrete stands and clear, identifiable positions. It means standing up for certain things. It means, in a word, promulgating and enforcing “rules.”

Unfortunately, this promises to be an herculean task. In celebration of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Timothy Egan at the New York Times has declared that we are witnessing “the End of Catholic Guilt:”

The old message was: If you break the rules, you’re condemned. Shame, shame, shame. The new message is: Welcome, for forgiveness is at the heart of this faith.

Gosh darn it, I’m a free American citizen, and no liberal New York Times columnist is going to stop me from feeling good old-fashioned Catholic shame if I want to feel it. In all seriousness, this kind of incoherent, shallow theology is something of an existential threat to a flourishing and viable faith. Look at the false choice Egan presents: you have to pick between “rules” and condemnation or “forgiveness” and faith; there’s apparently no way for both of these things to exist. But of course you can have both: good grief, you have to have both, for if you don’t have the prospect of eternal condemnation for your sins, for what and to what effect are you being forgiven? This is  in fact the glory and the inestimable, infinite preciousness of Christ’s sacrifice: we are bad, we do very bad things, we unquestionably deserve to be condemned—and yet we are forgiven repeatedly, endlessly; God’s mercy is “an abyss beyond our comprehension,” as Pope Francis put it.

Egan apparently cannot conceive of salvation in such a way, nor does he apparently see any merit—salvific or otherwise—in actively cooperating with God’s will: to him and to many others, it’s all a bunch of pesky “rules,” a “medieval millstone” that we should just ignore so that everyone can masturbate without feeling bad about it. Perhaps we are indeed on the cusp of a new era in which so-called “Catholic guilt” is but a memory (even more so than it is now); nonetheless, before that happens, Egan and others like him should consider feeling very guilty for peddling such incomprehensible nonsense.

The Cost and Effect

Sometimes progressive policies are so bad that even progressives don’t want anything to do with them. Periodically over the past few years there has been a lot of demand across the country for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and in some places, like Seattle, they’ve actually raised the minimum wage to that amount. Now Los Angeles has passed a similar hike, set to be fully realized in 2020, and the unions that fought for it are balking at it now:

Los Angeles city council will hear a proposal on Tuesday to exempt union members from a $15 an hour minimum wage that the unions themselves have spent years fighting for.

The proposal for the exemption was first introduced last year, after the Los Angeles city council passed a bill that would see the city’s minimum wage increase to $15 by 2020. After drawing criticism last year, the proposed amendment was put on hold but is now up for consideration once again.

Union leaders argue the amendment would give businesses and unions the freedom to negotiate better agreements, which might include lower wages but could make up the difference in other benefits such as healthcare. They argue that such exemptions might make businesses more open to unionization.

You’ve heard the term “the chickens are coming home to roost?” Well, the AFL-CIO is trying to avoid that outcome: they want to tear down the roosts before the chickens have even entered the coop. It takes a stunning amount of chutzpah to fight for a dramatic increase in the price of labor only to bow out of it at the last second. The unions understand it, even as they’re trying to cover it up: minimum wages make it more expensive for businesses to hire people. Why shouldn’t they want out? Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t anyone, faced with the prospect of not having a job?

Elsewhere, in New York City yesterday, workers tried to create some change at a local McDonald’s:

Hundreds of raucous protesters, including striking Verizon employees, converged on a McDonald’s restaurant in Times Square Thursday demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage for fast food workers.

“What do we want? 15! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” chanted the protesters at dawn, bathed in neon light from the restaurant and Times Square billboards.

The crowd of about 300 protesters included a marching band and dancers. A pair of protesters dressed like the Hamburglar carried an outsized effigy of Ronald McDonald outside the restaurant as several McDonald’s customers sipped coffee and watched.

As I’ve written before, there’s something so profoundly banal and depressing about protest slogans, which really haven’t evolved much at all for sixty years or so: “What do we want? When do we want it? If we don’t get it?” Has any other genre of the spoken word remained so steadfastly antiquated and uncreative, aside from high school graduation speeches and feminist slam poetry? Anyway, here again is a grand instance of the labor movement’s missing the big fat point. There is a reason that entry-level fast-food workers are not paid $15 per hour: it’s because their labor is not worth $15 an hour. That’s not to say that fast-food workers are useless, or that their personal worth is less than anybody else’s; nor is it to say that fast food jobs themselves are useless, for surely they can and often do serve as stepping-stones to better employment. It’s just to say that fast-food work is in general composed of low-skilled labor and low-vale product: it’s an industry that involves mostly repetitive and menial tasks and one that serves crummy, low-quality food—not, typically, the kind of labor that employers want to shell out fifteen bucks per hour for.

The sad part of it is this: the well-meaning efforts of these dopey activists would, if successful, quite likely have a profoundly negative effect on fast-food labor. McDonald’s is already experimenting with automated self-serve kiosks, almost certainly as a direct response to the rising cost of business (which admittedly encompasses more than just the cost of labor). Faced with a steep increase in the cost of employing real live humans, it would be utterly unsurprising if McDonald’s undertook a large move to automate many of its positions and services. This raises an interesting and really quite vital question, namely: how many lost jobs are minimum wage activists willing to accept? For those who are lucky enough to keep their jobs, the answer is probably “quite a few.” For those unlucky enough to get fired after the wage hike, one suspects the answer would be quite different.

The Little State That Tried

Earlier this week at the Federalist I wrote about the trans mafia’s assault on North Carolina; the debacle is a response to North Carolina’s new statewide law that preempts local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances (in particular, and what has been the main focus of activist anger, these now-preempted laws would have allowed “transgender” men and women to use public bathrooms that “correspond” to their “gender identity”). The response has been nothing short of chaotic; as I wrote:

In response to this incredibly reasonable and commonsense bill, Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert in Greensboro; dozens of corporations signed a protest letter; PayPal withdrew plans for an operations center in Charlotte; the composer Stephen Schwartz vowed that his productions—among them the Broadway hit “Wicked”—will not run in North Carolina; A&E and Lionsgate declared they will not film any productions in the state; and the federal government is deciding whether it can withhold billions and billions of dollars in highway, housing, and education funds.

Had enough? Incredibly, it’s getting worse. Deutsche Bank yesterday announced that, due to the law, it will not go ahead with a planned expansion in North Carolina; Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy voiced support for moving next year’s All-Star game out of Charlotte (he also compared the promoters of this law to racist segregationists, just for good measure); and in a near-perfect display of hipster vanity, a few local craft beer brewers announced that they are releasing an anti-HB2 saison the proceeds of which will go to a couple of gay activist organizations in the state.

But the most devastating blow of all has been entirely digital:

For any North Carolinian turning to the Internet for carnal pleasure, one popular website will prove disappointing.

XHamster.com, a porn website that, as of Monday, is one of the world’s 100 most visited websites according to data from Alexa, is refusing to serve anyone using a computer in North Carolina. Since 12:30 p.m. Eastern time Monday, the website has appeared as a black screen for anyone with a North Carolina IP address.

I can think of few things more emblematic of both the cultural insanity of modern liberalism and the sad and broken sexuality that is endemic in our society today: in retaliation for not allowing grown men into women’s restrooms, North Carolinians are punished by being denied their daily ration of free Internet smut.

How we got here is something for a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation: a society has to take a long, confused and rather tortuous route to arrive at this point in history, where restricting access to “xhamster.com” is a legitimate means of social protest against this kind of law. But what is more important is where we are going: what happens after this. Unfortunately, North Carolina is showing signs of cracking: yesterday Governor Pat McCrory issued an executive order that did not actually change the bill’s bathroom policies but did add LGBT protections to the state’s nondiscrimination regulations for public employees. This is, to say the least, mystifying. What this will probably mean in practical terms is anyone’s guess, but it’s entirely likely that eventually, somewhere down the road, someone will be able to sue the state of North Carolina, for not accommodating his or her bathroom preferences or for something else along those lines.

All of which is to say that North Carolina, like a few other states before it, has folded in the face of the trans mafia. This is the way these things go nowadays. On the one hand, Governor McCrory should be embarrassed for this display of cowardice. Then again, it is perhaps understandable—from a cold, calculative perspective, anyway—that he did this: his state was suffering extremely negative press, brought about by an activist effort that was unwilling to listen to reason. We can sympathize with him to a certain degree. It must have occurred to him: what’s the loss of a little dignity and commonsense public policy in order to avoid economic catastrophe? After all, North Carolina could hardly bear to lose the support and the business of any more washed-up old rock stars or hardcore pornography websites.

Once More Over the Counter

One thing that Obamacare has revealed is just how provincial the Left is when it comes to birth control. Oh, sure, the media have painted a different picture: the problem isn’t progressives, it’s hoary old Catholic nuns and maniacal hobby-shop proprietors who want to force women to become breeding livestock or something. But when you think about it, the greatest reactionary efforts on this topic have come from liberals, who have been resolutely opposed to the easiest fix to the issue: Planned Parenthood, for one, is rather dead-set against making birth control available over-the-counter. OTC birth control would go most of the way towards diffusing this unpleasant mess, but it’s a solution that the Left has been by-and-large uninterested in, partly because prescription-based birth control is covered by Obamacare and it’s politically helpful to tell women they are getting “free” birth control under the ACA, and partly because—gosh darn it—-it’s just a lot more fun to force an organization called “the Little Sisters of the Poor” to provide you your abortifacients.

Thankfully, some state governments have started to realize the absurdity of this arrangement; California, for one, recently decided to do away with the prescription requirement for birth control:

Officials announced Friday that girls and women in California can now drop by their neighborhood pharmacy and pick up birth control pills without a prescription from a doctor. It’s not technically over-the-counter, but you can get them by talking to a pharmacist and filling out a questionnaire.

The new option is intended to increase access to birth control and reduce unintended pregnancies. State legislators originally passed the law in 2013 but it was held up in regulatory discussions until Friday.

California becomes the third state after Oregon and Washington to allow women to obtain more types of birth control directly from a pharmacist.

Now, there is of course the stark and obvious caveat: as Karlamangla notes, prescription-free birth control is now open not simply to “women” but also to “girls;” and she points out, “there’s no age minimum” for this new law. This is rather ghastly, but unfortunately to many people it really doesn’t seem that big of a deal if young girls and boys are having sex. “They’re going to do it anyway,” lots of folks say, shrugging, “so we might as well make sure they’re doing it safely.” That’s a great way to cover up for piss-poor parenting and a broken culture of perverted sexuality: claim that your hands are tied so tightly that the absolute best you can do is buy your young daughter or son something that will possibly forestall pregnancy for a while.

But that’s a failure of the particulars of the law; the general aim—to deregulate birth control to the point that it is not such a cultural and regulatory flashpoint—is commendable and worthwhile. Not because birth control is a particularly laudatory thing (I think it’s bad for a whole host of reasons, most of which were codified quite nicely by Pope Paul VI) but because the ongoing factional strifes over it are totally needless. The only practical reason for mandating that hormonal birth control be tied to a prescription is the enrichment of doctors and organizations like Planned Parenthood. Once you remove that factor, what’s left? Nothing that can’t be easily covered by a quick chat with a pharmacist.

So California has the right idea, and the Obama administration—which is determined to force elderly charity workers to violate their sacred consciences for the sake of progressive orthodoxy—is absolutely wrong. It would be great to see this deregulatory impulse spread to other states; it would almost certainly bring this ridiculous and ongoing strife  more or less to a close. Of course, it’s always possible that the federal government, which is both capricious and very vain, could continue to enforce the birth control mandate in some form or another purely out of spite. But the obvious absurdity of that arrangement would be made even clearer with the liberalization of birth control laws, and the government probably could not keep it up for very long.

The Marriage Line

How does a political moment or effort come to an end? Sometimes it comes rather swiftly and harshly and predictably: the quashing of the Whiskey Rebellion, say, or the shellacking of 2010 that ended the Democrats’ brief post-2008 electoral ascendancy. Sometimes it takes an astonishing amount of time: think the Twenty-seventh Amendment. And sometimes it happens over a relatively brief period of time but at a calculated and deliberate pace. Take, for example, the fight over the definition of marriage:

Already fractured Republicans are facing a new fight over whether to keep language defining marriage in the [Indiana] party’s platform.

Activists who fought lawmakers’ attempts to ban same-sex unions now want to strike wording that describes marriage as “between a man and a woman” from the state GOP’s policy statement.

A similar debate is brewing on the national level.

The division pits social conservatives against moderates who see the issue as unnecessarily divisive at a time when Republican unity is already strained.

“The platform is something that’s supposed to be bring everybody together,” said Megan Robertson, a political organizer who wants one-man, one-woman language removed from both the state and national platforms. “The platform needs to be something we can all point to and say, ‘This is why I’m a Republican.'”

Conjugal or “traditional” marriage is dying a death of a thousand cuts—from the slow, steady efforts of liberal activists, to be sure, but also from many of those who were previously opposed to re-defining marriage in the first place. It is worth pointing out that liberals haven’t given up this easily about their own recent bugbear: both candidates for the Democratic nomination have promised to deep-six the Supreme Court’s free speech Citizens United ruling a full six years after it was decided. They haven’t stopped talking about their desire to repeal the First Amendment for half a decade—and yet plenty of conservatives apparently “see the issue [of gay marriage] as unnecessarily divisive” not even a year after it was handed down by the Court.

But they are wrong. This is not unnecessarily divisive; it is really almost necessarily so. Capitulating on some of your core principles in order to “bring everybody together” is not a recipe for success; it’s really a recipe for failure by another name, for you will have given up a critical fight for the sake of transitory convenience—and in any event you will have surely alienated plenty of people nonetheless.

This would not be that much of a big deal if this were a superficial matter—if we were being asked to cede ground on some minor regulatory issue or other. But this is a big deal. The Supreme Court’s decision last summer ushered in a host of consequences that are, or at least should be, of major concern: there is the growing hostility that many activists (and many in the media) have towards religious liberty; there are also very strong indications that gay marriage will have a negative effect on the American family.

It is not wrong, in other words, to continue arguing about the definition of marriage; not when so much is on the line. It is wrong, however, to act as if the future of conservative and Republican unity depends upon abandoning these incredibly important and consequential positions in favor of some feel-good acquiesence to mainstream liberal thought. Let us not forget that, until just a few years ago, conjugal marriage was the mainstream—and we won’t get back there by just shrugging our shoulders and moving on.