Pull the Lever Back Slowly

My friend and former colleague Bethany Mandel believes that it’s the media’s fault that a majority of Roy Moore supporters disbelieve the accusations leveled at him. Well, maybe she’s right, but I myself doubt it. Our media, to be sure, are a uniquely hack-filled class, given now more than ever to glaring, humiliating, career-ending journalistic errors, and public trust in them is at an appropriate historic low. Then again, the crux of the Roy Moore story is not the media but the women: it seems the accusations against Moore have been vetted thoroughly and transparently enough that the only way one can disbelieve them is by disbelieving the women who made them.

While I’m not positive about every one of the allegations against Moore—the yearbook thing feels off, just kind of weird and strange—I believe enough of them: I think Moore did indeed lust after fourteen-year-olds when he was in his early thirties, I don’t doubt that  he tried to initiative sexual contact with them, and I find Beverly Young Nelson’s claims about his little attempted tryst with her in his two-door to be compelling by any reasonable standard (“Mr. Moore was wearing brown hush puppies on his feet,” she wrote, which—believe me—is something you remember about this kind of thing). We cannot honestly know for certain what happened between Roy Moore and these women—but that is true of so many things which we nevertheless accept as credible. Why stop now?

So while the media deserve some of the blame here, ultimately we should view this not as a problem of credibility but one of political calculation: a great many voters in Alabama simply do not want Democrat Doug Jones representing them in the United States Senate. And I will admit that, in a strictly limited sense, I get it: last year I voted for Hillary Clinton, one of the more venal, corrupt, self-serving, pro-baby-killing politicians to ever grace the national political stage. I did so because I felt Donald Trump posed a unique and urgent threat to global peace and the American constitutional order, while Hillary Clinton represented little more than a slightly less competent, slightly more unlikable version of Bill Clinton. I have come to believe that some of my fears about Donald Trump were not exactly prescient. But I don’t regret voting the way I did based on the evidence I had at the time. So, I understand: you make do with the information you have, and you vote the way you think is best, and—as appears to be the case with a great many Alabama voters—maybe you lie to yourself about the guy you’re voting for, just to make yourself feel a little better.

Just the same: it is an odd thing. The 2016 presidential election did have a sense of urgency about it (though don’t they always?), a unique sort of seeming moral impetus. Whether or not that was actually the case, I don’t think you can say the same thing about a special election of one senator in Alabama. “The fate of the United States hinges on electing Roy Moore to the Senate” is not really a believable statement, though it is one Roy Moore has more or less made. Color me skeptical.

Maybe a lot of Alabama voters feel the same way as Moore—and that is a shame. I don’t think it is necessary, in this case, to vote for Doug Jones, and I find Jeff Flake’s take on the matter to be pathetically self-serving. But it would seem that—if for no other reason than to err on the side of caution—voting for Roy Moore is not something one wants to be known for, not given what we know to be likely true about the man. Put another way: the allegations against Roy Moore are either true or they’re false. If they’re true, voting for him becomes a vote for an unrepentant, uniquely perverted man. If they’re false—well, maybe they are. But anyone who believes that must ask themselves why they believe that, and whether or not they apply that level of stringent scrutiny to every other aspect of their lives.

Garbage in Every Can

We have become so used to the staggering abundance of food in 21st century first-world economies that we are apt to forget just how much of it—-the vast majority of it—is garbage, figuratively and in some cases quite literally. While having the appearance of abundance, the modern supermarket, and overwhelmingly the modern restaurant, are simply clever delivery mechanisms for various permutations of garbage: industrial chemicals blended into cheap muffins and danishes, third-rate dairy products cooked in order to conceal their obvious inferiority, fake fish, mountains upon mountains of processed wheat and refined sugar, bread injected with preservatives and conditioners and corn syrup in order to conceal its self-evident low quality, billions of gallons of soda.

The free market types (and I am one of them) like to point out that the proof is in the pudding, as it were: at no time in history has the human race been more well-fed and satiated than it is now. That is true: in the annals of human history, we have never had our bellies so full—of garbage. Over three-quarters of the average American’s caloric intake comes from food that is at least moderately processed; over three-fifths come from food that is “highly processed—multi-ingredient industrial mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source.”

The proof is indeed in the pudding, almost literally: two-thirds of Americans today are overweight, and it will probably be 3/4 by the end of the decade. Thirty percent of us are obese. This is indicative of a diet of poison, not health. It is indeed preferable to starving to death—I suppose. But what a dismal dichotomy.

In Europe they have taken some proactive steps to fend off the tide of garbage. In London they recently banned fast food restaurants within 400 meters of school buildings, while a leading medical organization is calling for a ban on junk food television ads while children might be watching. France recently banned unlimited soft drinks in restaurants. Ireland recently undertook to forbid “unhealthy food sponsorships aimed at children attending primary school.”

These are excellent solutions—if you are a statist whose sovereignty has been willingly outsourced to a cadre of petty tyrant busybody bureaucrats. The United States, the people of which even at this late hour still retain a modicum of dignity ordered toward our precious freedoms, has no use for the heavy, scratchy horse blanket of nanny state politics. Such regulations are an irritant to the American mind, something properly held in contempt and dismissed with sneers and rolled eyes. It drives progressives crazy when you laugh uproariously at the pathetic politics of European social democracy. Good—–laugh about it often.

So—barring a revolution of European-style regulatory oversight in this country—it is up to us to decide what to do about the garbage; whether or not we will continue to eat from the bounty of genuinely nasty food that forms the majority of our food supply. I am even now hopeful that the average American is capable of turning away from it all, that we can begin a shift away from the garbage and towards clean meat, healthy eggs, whole vegetables, raw fruit, water—–the basic building blocks of a healthy and satisfying food life.

But sometimes I doubt it—especially when I see someone eating a packaged cupcake or a frozen pound cake or a microwave burrito and they throw up their hands and exclaim, “I don’t even want to know what’s in it.” Imagine if you took the same approach to buying a house, or renting a hotel room, or choosing a spouse: “I don’t even want to know what’s in it.” That we make this exception so often for food—the stuff that keeps us alive, that literally builds us—is something of a genuine mystery.

My own family has made genuine strides toward eliminating most of the garbage from our refrigerator and our pantry. I say that not with pride (though we are proud of it) but rather an emphasis on what it takes to do this. If you want to start eating healthier, and as a result feeling and being healthier, you must do these things:

First, commit yourself to cooking in the home as much as possible. No, not one meal a week, or two, or three. Try nineteen or twenty. Don’t let it be a rare occasion; don’t be the person who says, “I cooked last night!” as if it were a novelty. Make it a non-novelty, workaday, part of your schedule. Buy an apron; aprons are invaluable. Sometimes you’ll screw up—you forgot to thaw the meat, a recipe turned into a disaster, you were too busy to grocery shop—and you may need to spring for a take-out meal somewhere. But for the most part you can do it. Make your breakfast, your lunch and your dinner at home. Eat leftovers. Plan ahead. Use the crockpot.

Second, start shopping—honest-to-goodness shopping, the kind that would make a star homemaker from the 1940s proud. When you grocery shop, buy only whole foods: meat, eggs, dairy, fruit, vegetables, maybe some staples (flour, sugar, etc). Do the farmer’s market if you can afford it (most of you can). Eschew even the nominally healthy cans of soup—they’re usually loaded with garbage, multisyllabic stuff you’ve never heard of. Make your own soup; make your own broth, too. It’s easy. Avoid even the “organic” processed food, which is usually but two or so steps removed from the garbage a few aisles over. If you see a processed food you like, find a recipe to make it from scratch. Consider making your own bread.

(At this point you might be shaking your head, saying: “I don’t have time to do any of this.” I have news for you: you almost certainly do have time. The person who says “I don’t have time to cook” is very likely lying, either to himself or, for whatever reason, to you. In 21st century America, with an astonishing array of time-saving kitchen devices and shopping options that make cooking easier than any other time in human history, very few people are genuinely incapable of making meals. Cooking is usually a matter of priority, not possibility.)

Third: begin to love food. No, not as a glutton loves food—rather as a chef loves it, recognizing that food nourishes us and it should be tasty and enjoyable as a result. Appreciate the power and simple joy of good cooking, of preparing a good and healthy meal, of serving it to your loved ones or yourself. Begin to recognize that the mountains of garbage peddled by the food industry every day—the snack cakes, the chips, the “fruit” snacks, the microwave taquitos, the breaded and frozen fish wedges, the canned biscuits—-is the antithesis of what food should be.

An optional fourth directive: talk to people about cooking and food, especially people who don’t eat or cook well. Don’t badger or even proselytize; just talk about it. Have them over for dinner; give silent witness to good cooking and eating. Show that it requires work, but not particularly hard work; demonstrate that it is rewarding, and very much so.

There are people who will accuse you of being “elitist” because you’ve done away with additives and preservatives and artificial flavors and colorings. Fine: that’s the point. Genuinely good food is elite, i.e. it is superior to bad food. This is a tautology. If everyone ate “elite” food over the garbage—if everyone were “elitist” in this regard—that would be fantastic! The people who think eschewing garbage food in favor of good food is “elitist” are people who, for some strange reason, are uncomfortable with objective truths. No matter: invite them over for dinner, too.

If you can do none of these things, then at least try this: the next time you reach for some ultraprocessed, ultrapreserved culinary knick-knack in the grocery store, turn the package around, look at the ingredients, and then ask yourself: Do I really want to eat all of this stuff? Do I want to put it into my body? Why?

Reading is Believing

The Gospels are among the most misunderstood texts in world history, primarily because much of the criticism directed at them comes from people who have never read them. “Fairy tale” is the word you often hear people use to describe these texts, often with a sneering upturned lip—as if the Gospels were similar in both content and ambition to Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast or Little Red Riding Hood. With this we are supposed to assume that the principle character of the Gospels—Jesus—is as real as Hop-o’-My-Thumb or Cinderella, a vehicle for a mere morality story and nothing more, a nice thing to read to your children so long as you assure them that witches and talking wolves and the Son of God do not actually exist.

If one actually reads through Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, one discovers almost exactly the opposite. Rather than a simplistic stock-character fantasy yarn, the Gospels depict a world and a narrative firmly contextualized within the realm of 1st-century Jewish peasantry; the texts are as historical as they are evangelical. And rather than a simple tale of good versus evil, righteousness versus wickedness—the stuff of fairy tales—we have a story and a lesson utterly beyond all others. The moral of the Three Little Pigs is “don’t be lazy.” The teaching imparted by the Gospels is that God loves you beyond all fathomable reckoning and wants you to live with Him in unimaginable glory for all eternity. This is not a nursery rhyme.

As I wrote, a great deal of this kind of Gospel criticism comes from people who are unlearned in the text. One gathers that the average unchurched critic thinks the Gospels are full of fantastical and unbelievable events. In fact, while there are astonishing claims throughout them—the Virgin Birth, the numerous miracles and healings and exorcisms, the Resurrection—the Gospels are more naturalistic, so to speak, than not. Were it not for the supernatural events depicted in them, and the theological claims made by Christ Himself, the books would simply tell a story about an itinerant charismatic Jewish preacher who taught love and forgiveness, irritated the wrong people, was crucified, and died. You would think that, were the authors of the texts trying to tell an actual fairy tale, they’d ham it up a bit more than they actually do. But they don’t.

A great example of the actual fairy tale genre of Gospel comes to us from a recent discovery out of  Egypt by way of Oxford: scholars recently discovered a scrap of “the original Greek manuscript describing what Jesus secretly taught his brother James.” And what did Jesus teach his “brother?”

“Jesus tells his brother James that though they are both going to die violently, death is not something to be feared,” Landau, a lecturer at the UT Austin Department of Religious Studies, told Newsweek over email. “All James needs is to remember the passwords that his brother has taught him, so that he can escape from the clutches of the archons, a set of demonic beings guarding the material world.”

Anyone even moderately knowledgable in the style and narrative of the canonical Gospels will recognize at once the radical, almost comical difference in tone and content here. Instead of the rather laconic and unaffected narrative depicted in the Synoptics, or the more theologically explicative account in John, we have a depiction of Jesus as a kind of wily secret agent passing along clever tips to help James triumph in a battle against demons. “Remember to say this magic password to help you win:” that’s not believable, it’s the plot of a video game or a child’s fantasy. It is, in fact, the type of silliness that the fairly tale critics of the Gospels think are in the Gospels—but of course they are wrong.

Beyond that, the charge that the Gospels are fictional asks us to accept one of two rather incredible claims: either (a) that the authors of the Gospels wrote them with intent to deceive everyone into believing they were true (and moreover that they actually succeeded!), or (b) that the authors wrote the Gospels as mere inspirational doggerel, nothing more—and then evidently failed to inform anyone, anywhere of this fact. The former makes no real sense—Why go to all that trouble? What’s the point?—and the latter  is equally inexplicable: if I wrote a fantasy novel that thousands of people believed was factual, I’d take pains to set the record straight as quickly as possible. That there exists absolutely no historical record whatsoever that the authors of the Gospels did such a thing is yet another indication that they believed wholeheartedly that what they were writing was the truth. One is perfectly capable of believing the story of Jesus Christ is not truthful, of course—but not on the grounds outlined above, for which there is really no evidence at all.

The Price of Immorality

As I am not a sexual predator or even a low-grade pervert, I do not know what drives men like Matt Lauer to expose their genitals to women. I think it has something to do with power, or a lust for it—which is odd, because men like Lauer, and Harvey Weinstein, and Louis C.K., and many others, are already far more powerful than the average man or woman could ever hope to be. These are the newsmakers and the trendsetters and the guys who sell out entire auditoriums at $100 a head. So maybe power, like nicotine, is both addictive and fleeting: one becomes desensitized to being on television and being talked about every single day, so one must drop one’s trousers in front of a surprised woman every now and again to get that sweet fix.

As I have written before, God willing this is just the beginning, and that the crusty, smelly underbelly of famous pervert denouement will continue to be exposed, bit by bit—one can hope, anyway. But as is always the case, there is such a troubling subtext to this latest revelation: we are hearing that same familiar chorus, that “everyone knew” about Matt Lauer’s behavior, but nobody really did anything about it. One gathers that people were afraid of Matt Lauer, which is kind of ridiculous. Matt Lauer is probably the least intimidating man in American media today; I’d be more worried about squaring off against Ira Glass or Jimmy Fallon than I would against Lauer.

But of course people weren’t frightened by Matt Lauer’s diminutive figure; they were frightened by what he could do to their professional lives, their career. Lauer allegedly exerted a great deal of control over both the personnel and the news at 30 Rock; if you weren’t on his good side, you might not climb the ladder or even get a foot on a rung. You want to become a journalist or a well-paid high-ranking staffer behind the scenes, or else you just don’t want to rock the boat at what is probably a cushy job, so you keep your mouth shut. That makes sense—if you’ve made your peace with perverts, I guess. But most people haven’t, and would in fact say precisely the opposite. Yet still: “everyone knew.” Everyone always knows.

I want to submit that, looked at in a certain light, there is almost as much shame in keeping quiet for cynical personal reasons as there is in doing the act itself. Indeed, you can explain (though obviously not excuse) the behavior of most of these men fairly easily: they are mentally ill, they are psychotically power-hungry, they are sick sexual deviants who get their rocks off by terrorizing and harassing women. But what of the key grips and coffee runners and secretaries and co-workers—are they sick, or psychotic, or mentally ill? No: in many if not most cases they are just trying to get ahead in the industry and they don’t want to get a reputation as a whistleblower. That’s their excuse. So it seems like this is an awful kind of double-edged sword: on the one hand we have legions of perverts exploiting their power in order to gratifying their own sexual perversions, and on the other hand we have far too many people who are willing to buy careers with silence. I do not think we can fix our sexual degeneracy problem overnight. But I suspect it will never be fixed so long as enough people prize their own paychecks over doing what is obviously, self-evidently right.

An Enduring American Identity

For my money there is no greater political spectacle today than President Trump’s constantly referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” There is, I think, no jest in contemporary politics more richly deserved than this. For years Warren, the whitest white person who ever whited, a woman whiter than a wedding dress in a Yukon snowdrift, identified herself as Native American, a claim that is as self-evidently false as it is utterly unsubstantiated. As Dana Loesch points out, Warren’s claim wasn’t simply that she had Native American heritage, it was that she is actually Native American. (“When actual Cherokee activists travelled to confront Warren over her claims,” Loesch writes, “Warren refused to meet with them.” Wouldn’t you?)

It is interesting to see liberals go to the mat for Warren. I cannot imagine a scenario more primed to stoke the fires of contemporary progressive anger: a rich, privileged white person impersonated an ethnic minority—an ethnicity that has been an historical victim of genocide and industrial-scale land theft, no less—for decades, very possibly earning favorable treatment from minority-obsessed academia in the process. If a lily-white Republican man had somehow claimed to be a minority of some stripe, and had likely benefited from his false claims, the media and political response would be unprecedented, a tornado of savage, gleeful fury. Elizabeth Warren, however, is opposed to big banks or Wal Mart or something, so she gets a pass. This is tribalism at its finest—er, uh, well, you get the point.

Whether or not she reaped the rewards of being a white Indian a few decades ago, Warren is definitely doing it now. In a fundraising email, she called Trump’s Pocahontas insult an example of the “very worst of gutter politics.” (Worse than a white person impersonating a Native American?) She refers to his usage of “Pocahontas” as a “racial slur,” an assertion that is making the rounds: Joy Reid, Jim Acosta, HuffPo, and numerous others claim that the name of an historical Native American somehow constitutes a “racial slur.” This is a nonsensical evasion, of course; how could a name constitute a “slur?” Yet even at its worst—as an offensive repurposing of an historical figure’s name—it is hard to imagine how deploying the word “Pocahontas” as an insult is somehow more scandalous than pretending to be a Native American. Put another way: how deeply perverted do your priorities have to be to get angry at the guy making fun of the opportunistic Indian-imperonsating white woman instead of the opportunistic Indian-impersonating white woman herself?

The politics of “identity” may provide something of an escape hatch for Warren: in an age where one of the chief progressive political planks is that a man can “identify” as a woman and consequently be a woman, I suppose it is not so far a stretch for a very white person with a very white heritage to “identify” as a non-white. Though one rather suspects that the politics of the identifier in question are important: if Elizabeth Warren’s name were Michelle Bachmann or Martha Roby, you can imagine she wouldn’t get off so easy. In any case, at this point it seems clear that Warren would like for everyone to forget about the fact that she once called herself an Indian. It is a mark of Trump’s scattershot sagacity that he won’t let her, or any of us, do so. Warren may have a long and fruitful political career ahead of her—she may even be president one day—but, if things continue as they are, her unscrupulous and deceitful past will likely follow her even unto retirement. As well it should.

The Tale of the ‘Normal’ Nazi

The New York Times recently ran a profile on a neo-Nazi white nationalist from Ohio, described as “a voice of hate in America’s heartland.” It is one of those rather predictable culture pieces, the kind of article that takes a controversial person or subject and juxtaposes it with the anodyne banality of American arcana: the guy who yearns for a “white ethno-state” and who sneers at the idea of mixed-race couples also cooks pasta and sautés garlic and plays the Wii. Ho-hum: who cares?

As is often the case with these things, a little Internet snit kind of exploded around this piece. It is interesting to step back and see the patterns that emerge from these kinds of controversies, as if everyone is getting their talking points from the same pamphlet or instructional YouTube video. Nate Silver claimed the article “does more to normalize neo-Nazism than anything I’ve read in a long time.” Washington Post writer Karen Attiah wrote that “the NYT is doing its damndest to normalize white supremacists and Nazis.” HuffPo reporter Jennifer Bendery said: “Way to normalize Nazis, NYT.” Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale wrote derisively of  “these Humanizing Profiles of Nazis” (which is funny—I mean, they are human!). In a tone of drearily predictable sarcasm, Jamelle Bouie wrote: “It is definitely responsible to profile a Nazi as if he’s just an odd curiosity and not part of a violent and dangerous movement.”

None of this is really necessary. The Times‘s profile of Nazi Tony Hovater, while at a few points interesting and informative, is little more than stale and uninspiring journalism; there is exceptionally little risk that anyone will feel, after reading it, that Nazism or white nationalism are “normal” in any meaningful or dangerous way. Normal, after all, refers to one’s being in alignment with widely-held norms and values—and Nazism and white supremacism, the fevered insistences of numerous liberal commentators notwithstanding, thankfully does not qualify for that designation in 21st century America. The one element about this that could be considered “normal” is that neo-Nazis themselves do normal things, e.g. they play Wii and cook Italian food. But this isn’t an earth-shattering revelation; really it’s hardly even worth an article in the Times, much less the outrage surrounding it.

But I think it is difficult for progressives to engage with this subject material in a rational manner.  Over the past year, the Left has become convinced that a new white supremacist vanguard is rising from the slime of the American fringe to become a part of the American mainstream. This is essentially a lie, one spurred by an obsessive and overexcited media that covers these things entirely out of proportion to their value. Last year a convention of white supremacists generated extensive, breathless coverage from major media outlets; the convention itself, meanwhile, drew 150 people from across the country. If the media is going to perform wall-to-wall reporting on an irrelevant, minuscule gathering of paranoid idiots, then of course people are going to become convinced that it’s a bigger and more pressing problem than it actually is. But that doesn’t make it true.

What is particularly instructive is this: in recent months the Times, or at least its op-ed page, really has seemed determined to normalize another brutal and monstrous ideology. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution this fall, the Times ran numerous opinion pieces celebrating the brighter parts of Communism (e.g. “women had better sex under socialism,” which was all well and good unless you were one of the millions of women who had been murdered by the state due to communist ideology). “For all its flaws,” one writer claimed, “the Communist revolution taught Chinese women to dream big.” That’s a funny thing to say: under China’s Communist regime, Chinese women have been forced into abortions in order to conform to the nation’s one-child policy—a policy passed (you guessed it) by the nation’s Communist government. I guess the normalization of forced infanticide isn’t all that big of a deal when it’s in service to daffy and genocidal left-wing ideology.

In response to the backlash, the Times yesterday released a rather sheepish and evasive mea culpa that tried to quell the rage without admitting any actual wrongdoing. One can understand the impulse. In a frankly astonishing Twitter rant, writer Bess Kalb lambasted the Times‘s “Nazi normalizing barf journalism,” condemned the Times‘s photographer for not “throwing the camera at [the] Nazi’s head and laughing,” blamed the Nazi’s political beliefs on “White Male Inferiority Complex,” and wrote: “fuck this Nazi…[and f]uck the Nazi’s house and fuck the Nazi’s name and fuck the Nazi’s faux intellectual books.” This is the kind of cognitive and emotional meltdown that occurs when you’ve utterly lost the ability to rationally grapple with difficult and unpleasant politics. Yes, stipulated: nobody (nobody worth taking seriously, anyway) wants to make white supremacy an acceptable political opinion to hold. But that’s not what happened here: plainly it is not, in fact it is so obvious that you have to question the capabilities of the people who are peeing their pants over it. A New York Times writer wrote a mildly interesting but largely boring piece about a racist man and his racist wife going grocery shopping and cooking pasta. If this causes you to freak out, you honestly need to deeply re-assess how you assess these things.

Olly Olly Oxen Free

On Twitter, Ben Shapiro recently rendered the controversial opinion that human beings with penises are men, a declaration that led Reason editor Elizabeth Nolan-Brown to claim that Shapiro “needs his smug mug punched, repeatedly.” She later added: “Rhetorically, of course!” That is some odd rhetoric. A few months ago Nolan-Brown attempted to ruin a man’s life because he made a corny sexist joke on Twitter. Back then, “Make me a sandwich, woman,” was worth destroying a guy’s reputation online. But “punch this guy for having a political opinion I don’t like” is now totally cool. How the times change.

I want to render an uncharitable but probably accurate assumption: Nolan-Brown’s call to assault Ben Shapiro was not, in fact, “rhetorical” but was, however briefly so, real and sincere. We have seen enough of this “punch the people who offend me” meme in the past six months or so to know that those who say such things are generally deadly serious about it. Political violence, which is always one unpopular opinion away from legitimacy, is not something one confuses with mere rhetoric. Dana Loesch urging the NRA membership to “fight the violence of lies with clenched fists of truth” is unmistakably rhetorical, almost to a fault. Elizabeth Nolan-Brown saying “Punch that dude in the face for disagreeing with the trans agenda” is something else entirely.

Maybe Nolan-Brown meant what she said and maybe she didn’t. To her credit she has since taken the tweet down, issuing a subsequent tweet that says, unambiguously, “Don’t actually punch Ben Shapiro. Don’t actually punch anyone except in defense.” Good for her. Just the same, it is somewhat hard to take her seriously. “That guy needs to be punched in the face” is not—either in American or British English—a rhetorical idiom of any repute. By comparison, the idiomatic turn of phrase “she was calling for his head on a platter,” say, is far more well-known and far less inflammatory. When you say  something like “That guy should get punched,” you usually mean it, even if you regret it or retract it later.

Ultimately, I think, what this little dust-up reveals is not anything so much about Elizabeth Nolan-Brown (other than her belief that men can somehow, through the magic of transgenderism, become women). The takeaway here is that the Internet, or at least social media, has become a kind of rolling gaffe factory, a place where one’s worst and most stupid impulses are generally on display for the world to see. Some of us (ahem) got off Twitter years ago, and dialed back Facebook to a barely perceptible degree; others stayed, and there is not a consistent user of social media that has not, at some point and to some degree, embarrassed himself or besmirched his own reputation. It can happen anywhere, of course—even right here on this little blog—but the unfiltered and slapdash nature of Twitter and other platforms makes those kinds of embarrassments all the more likely and common.

For those who commit such gaffes—for the people who call for political violence as if it were normal and praiseworthy—social media can be a terrible thing. For the rest of us, it can be useful for that very same reason: it is good to know, in any case, who among us believes in striking, beating and assaulting those with whom they disagree.

Trial of the Century will be taking the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving. We wish you a very happy holiday and even better leftovers. 

The Mr. Vice President Convention

The Mike Pence rule—whereby one does not dine alone, or meet behind closed doors, with a member of the opposite sex to whom one is not either married or related—is a fine rule, and you cannot reasonably begrudge anyone, man or woman, who follows it. The rule is meant to avoid both the temptation and the appearance of impropriety—it is meant to safeguard against sexual licentiousness and false impressions or accusations of the same. For advocating this sensible dictum, Mike Pence was pilloried as a patriarchal dictator, because that is the state of liberal politics these days.

A number of people have correctly pointed out that observing the Mike Pence rule would have had the happy ancillary effect of preventing a fair number of the alleged incidents of sexual harassment and assault that have come to the fore in recent months. Harvey Weinstein’s bait-and-switch trick, for instance—inviting actresses up to his hotel room and exposing himself upon their arrival—would be totally negated by following the Pence Protocol, as would the creeper behavior of Roy Moore. That’s not to suggest, of course, that the victims of sexual harassment and assault are somehow responsible for their victimization, or that the perpetrators are somehow not responsible; only that taking sensible precautions can make it much harder for criminals to take advantage of vulnerable circumstances. Anyone who disagrees will have to explain why they lock their front doors at night, or why they don’t walk through crime-ridden neighborhoods at 3AM.

At ThinkProgress, Casey Quinlan is not impressed:

The best way to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault of women and girls is for men not to sexually harass and assault women and girls. But conservatives appear to be less interested in finding ways to teach men how to co-exist with women, who comprise 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, than discussing how best to avoid women altogether.

This is silly—nobody is suggesting that men “avoid women,” good grief—but also there is such a cheerful naiveté to Quinlan’s proposal, the stuff that you often hear of in Reader’s Digest-style kids-say-the-darndest-things yarns. There is indeed a genre of gimcrack literature in which the simple unlettered “wisdom” of children is valued as something greater than itself: when a child muses, say, “Why can’t everyone just stop hating each other and love each other and give each other hugs and candy?” we are expected to view this as a profound and meaningful statement rather than, well, a merely childish one.

I want to suggest that Quinlan is engaging in a similar type of ultimately useless discourse. She is right that “the best way to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault of women and girls is for men not to sexually harass and assault women and girls.” Sure, stipulated. But that is both a circular and presently meaningless directive. Yes, it is critical and necessary that men not sexually harass and assault women and girls. But they do. At present this is a reality. Whatever solutions Quinlan and others propose to curbing incidents of harassment and assault—sexual assault prevention training, a public campaign, whatever—the time it will take to implement and realize them is surely not negligible, and that’s assuming it would work at all. A sensible rule like Mike Pence’s, in the meantime, can serve as a useful stopgap. What’s the controversy?

There is a persistent and popular strain of feminist thought that bristles at such practical suggestions. There is no area of political discourse that I am aware of that is as aggressively resistant to these workaday-type solutions as progressive feminism. Every law-abiding citizen, for example, wants to see the crime rate go down—but we do not, before it does, insist: “I shouldn’t HAVE TO lock my car door!” What is it about liberal feminism that turns people off to simple and reasonable proposals?

For her part, Quinlan believes that the Pence rule “is also deeply harmful to the careers of women in the workplace.” This is a consistent refrain from the opponents of the Pence rule, but it is a curious thing: nobody, so far as I am aware, has been able to produce a woman whose career has been “deeply harmed” by anyone, Pence or otherwise, who follows this protocol. You would think that, for all the harrumphing, we’d have at least some evidence! But maybe that’s asking too much.

If You See Something…?

I will admit that it is richly satisfying to see one alleged pervert after another get exposed and go down. I say “alleged,” though it seems like nobody doubts at this point that Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Terry Richardson, Mark Halperin, Louis C.K., Roy Price, and many other men actually did what dozens of women say they did. Indeed a number of these men have either outright admitted that they are perverts or else tactfully denied being perverts in a way that seems to affirm their pervo credentials.

Two things come to mind with each new revelation. The first is that, contra the insistence of many opportunistic conservatives, these nasty behaviors are not likely the result of the sexual revolution. Rape and groping and exposure existed well before the idiot cultural profligacy that started midcentury and continues today. Cultural licentiousness likely did not create more rapists and sexual abusers—the number of sex crimes has actually fallen since the end of the century, even as sexual immorality has become more fully realized.

The sexual revolution didn’t turn ordinary men into rapists; it rather made adulterers and fornicators out of ordinary men (and women). It is far easier to convince a man to cheat on his spouse, or a co-ed to give it away at a frat party, than it is to convince either of them to become sexual abusers.  We should all work to undo that revolution and the damage it wrought, but we would be kidding ourselves if we pretended that it would solve our national pervert problem.

The second, more dismal thing we have discovered in the wake of these exposures is the utter and calamitous breakdown in community that they signify. It is somewhat understandable when we discover that a young woman—traumatized, afraid, frightened by a powerful man—kept her mouth shut about a rape for twenty years. But it’s not just the victims that kept quiet in these cases. With each new scandal we hear the same old story, almost as if by rote: “Oh, sure, everyone knew about it.” The locals in Roy Moore’s town apparently knew he had a habit of hanging around malls and talking to teenage girls. Quentin Tarantino knew about Weinstein’s kiss-the-birdy routine. Seth MacFarlane joked about Kevin Spacey’s deviant behavior on Family Guy. Comedians kept their mouths shut about Louis C.K.’s behavior for years. “Everyone knew,” we’re always told—but nobody said anything. What is happening here?

There are usually two types of explanations: either a fear of personal repercussions (as many women have said about Roy Moore, a powerful figure in his hometown) or a fear of professional fallout (as was the case with Weinstein, Louis C.K., and other celebrities). The first is somewhat more understandable than the second. But neither excuse holds up in the long run. All that it would have taken was an anonymous phone call to, or a guarantee of anonymity from, a sympathetic newspaper reporter. In Weinstein’s case, his victims included numerous powerful, influential female celebrities, women who could have easily banded together years ago to expose their attacker; what’s their excuse? What about the people who clammed up about Louis C.K.—was it worth a middling career in back-end comedy writing to run interference for a sick masturbatory flasher? What did looking the other way on Roy Moore’s mall haunts ever get anybody?

We are called to do better than this. It is not always easy to do the right thing, and indeed there are sometimes negative consequences for speaking out. But, as we have seen time and again, the consequences for not speaking out are generally even worse. If the accusations against Roy Moore are true, then a sick man who once tried to have sex with a fourteen-year-old girl is mere steps away from the United States Senate. Louis C.K. has a net worth of $52 million, a fortune he amassed fifteen years after he first exposed himself to a pair of women in a hotel room. Harvey Weinstein has upwards of six times as much money as that, and he’ll probably never see the inside of a prison cell. Keeping silent allows dangerous men to amass power and influence and very likely continue their predatory behavior in the process. There is no reason to stay quiet—not out of fear, not for money, and certainly not for a career purchased at the cost of more victims.

Only What He Said

In my parish there is an enormous crucifix on display, of a size and stark stunning detail that could scandalize an entire Methodist Ladies’ Auxiliary picnic. But there is indeed something deeply scandalous about crucifixes, a perturbing kind of ethic about them that, being a few thousand years removed from 1st century Judaea, we are apt to forget. We should not. The crucifix is a good lesson in God’s deft hand, His long-form chessboard logic.

It is easy to forget, or else simply not know, just how terrifying the cross was to the contemporaries of Christ: it was a brutal, horrific, ignominious, shameful method of torture and execution, far less humane and far more savage than any of the still-savage methods we now use to take each other’s lives in cold blood. Today a cross is something you hang on your wall or around your neck or on your front door; it is a symbol used to denote religious nutjobs in network primetime drama shows and weak-willed spiritual hippies in Nicholas Sparks novels. On the rare occasions that a full-blown crucifix enters pop culture, it is to demarcate a particular religion—orthodox Catholicism, say—as particularly ancient, i.e. as existing prior to 1970, something baffling and pitiful but not scary. Few among us associate the simple symbol with one of the most fearsome and barbarous methods of state death in the ancient world.

But that’s what it was, so much so that, when it became clear where the whole public ministry thing was going, Jesus’s disciples—the men who believed him to be “Christ, the Son of the Living God,” mind you—excused themselves and got the hell out of Dodge. Nobody misunderstood what the cross represented in 33 A.D.; to hold it up as a symbol of God’s triumph over sin, as a representation of the Risen Lord, the Savior, was unthinkable, laughable, the modern-day equivalent of holding up an electric chair or a gas chamber and expecting to be taken seriously.

Yet Christians were taken seriously, up to the point that they converted an entire empire and from there the world. And, as with the historicity of Pontius Pilate, we must ask ourselves what exactly happened here, and what our answer says about the truth of certain things: namely, how did a bedraggled group of Middle Eastern peasants take a brutal instrument of tortuous death and turn it into the astonishing and life-changing symbol now ubiquitous throughout the planet?

The orthodox Christian response is well-known, though to be fair the countless Protestant denominations (and more than a few latter-day Catholic parishes) find the whole idea of a crucifix to be distasteful and unpleasant and ultimately unnecessary, maybe a bit like a periodic colonoscopy: necessary, to be sure, but best left behind closed doors and out of sight of polite company. There is a particular Christian ethos that sees the empty cross as more relevant to our religious instruction than the one with the crucified Lord on it. But they’re only half-right. Christ’s resurrection is indeed the turnkey for the entire Christian faith, but Christ’s example on the cross is the blueprint for the entire Christian way of life: total subservience to God, a life emptied of oneself, a willingness to say—even as you sweat blood and your halfwit disciples keep falling asleep on you—“Not as I will, but as thou wilt,” even unto brutal death. This is how we are supposed to live.

It is a point of great cosmic irony that the very thing used to execute Christ, the vicious tool used to slowly and painfully suffocate him to death, would become, in time, the most enduring representation of His victory. It is true that the cross did not become ubiquitously common as a symbol of Christianity and Christ until a few hundred years after his death—but the seed was plainly planted on Good Friday, as evidenced by Paul, who preached “nothing…except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” and Peter, who, on the cusp of martyrdom, arranged for an inverted crucifixion, believing himself “unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord,” as Jerome put it.

Something happened to teach these men, and hundreds and thousands and eventually billions of other men and women, that something special had happened on the cross at Calvary. What was it?