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?

You Might Want to Take The Ice Off That

Roy Moore was always a terrible choice to fill Jeff Sessions’s slot, and that has only become more apparent over the past few days. It is true that we do not know if the sexual misconduct allegations leveled at Moore are true—only Roy Moore and his accusers know that—but then again the accusations seem as credible as any you’re apt to find, corroborated as they are by compelling evidence and independent testimony. The Post‘s report is genuine crackerjack journalism—right down to the backstory of the report’s origin, which, if true, is movie-level stuff—and anyone who sincerely doubts Moore’s accusers must ask themselves what, exactly, it would take for them to at least consider that it could be true: a grainy 35mm film strip of Moore grinding up on a 14-year-old? Creepy old dog-eared mash notes?  Come on.

Moore will face the voters, and hopefully—felonious teenage groping or not—he’ll go out with a whimper and retire to the ignominy that he really deserves. But in light of his potential misconduct, and the ongoing perv-a-thon exposé that has gripped the political and celebrity world over the past few months or so, it is worth bringing up the perennial subject of Bill Clinton, who actually stands accused of far worse behavior than even Moore does.

Clinton’s own star status on the Left—and that of his wife, who years served the dutiful role of Chief Bill Apologist—is an embarrassing marker for progressives who claim that Moore’s alleged misconduct disqualifies him from even running for office. Bill Clinton, remember, has been credibly accused of rape—his accuser, Juanita Broaddrick, is at least as trustworthy as the accusers of Roy Moore, and she has the added advantage of being on-record with and consistent about her story for a few decades now. If you sincerely believe Roy Moore is guilty of trying to bang a young teenager, then why should you doubt that Bill Clinton is guilty of sexual assault?

In the face of this perfectly legitimate criticism, liberals have formulated what, to them, must seem like a clever response: “Bill Clinton isn’t running for office. Roy Moore is.” Which is true—and also, from the perspective of anybody who remembers the last twenty years of American politics, irrelevant. Yes, Bill Clinton isn’t running for office. But he has been valorized on the Left for decades now—years and years after Broaddrick’s accusations went public. And liberals voted for his wife—several times, including en masse for President of the United States—even as she herself stands accused of covering up an act of sexual assault.

To his credit, MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted last week: “As gross and cynical and hypocrtical as the right’s ‘what about Bill Clinton’ stuff is, it’s also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.” Let us so stipulate that there are indeed cynical hacks on the Right who are simply trying to leverage Bill Clinton’s sordid past as part of a tribalistic warfare volley. For the rest of us, the question is genuine and sincere: why should we care about allegations that Roy Moore attempted to have sex with a 14-year-old when we’ve been shown, repeatedly and unequivocally, that we shouldn’t care about allegations that Bill Clinton raped a woman?

I don’t know if the Left has an answer for this, beyond mumbling something about vast right-wing conspiracies. A very liberal gal I knew years ago once said to me, “Bill Clinton couldn’t keep it in his pants, but he sure was a good president!” Juanita Broaddrick would surely agree with the first part. Bill Clinton is out of reach of the voters, of course, and so his alleged dalliance has no bearing on whether or not he will be elected to office. But, as we move through this welcome and overdue new era of exposing and denouncing sexual predators, is it too much to ask that we apply the same standards of evidence to the Left’s all-time favorite politician that we apply to some scrub judge from Alabama?

If You Can’t Say Something Feminist, Don’t Say Anything at All

I really enjoy refusing to identify as a feminist, in large part because I simply do not identify as one—it is, by-and-large, a neurotic, intransigent, viciously ugly political movement dedicated chiefly to killing unborn human beings in the womb—but also, in a small but fun way, because refusing to call yourself a feminist drives actual feminists kind of crazy. They like to say something along these lines: “If you believe men and women should have equal rights, you’re a feminist. I’m sorry, but you are.” Don’t you dare try and say otherwise! It’s a rich and profoundly goofy irony that, in our society today, people with penises can identify as “women” and people with vaginas can identify as “men,” but those who believe in political equality between the sexes simply cannot, by golly, identify as anything other than what feminists say they can.

One is not apt to ever feel all that sorry for Taylor Swift, given that she has about a quadrillion dollars and ten or twelve New York penthouses, but nevertheless she has been put through the feminist wringer in recent months, and one imagines that—for someone who is so obviously concerned about her public image—it has caused her no small amount of anguish:

As proof of her feminist failures, editor Kadeen Griffiths listed Swift’s many faults: not criticizing President Trump, not “publicly support[ing] organizations” like Planned Parenthood and not attending the Women’s March (her tweet apparently wasn’t enough.) Outlet after outlet has pressured Swift to condemn the president in the name of feminism. In January, the Daily Beast went so far as to accuse her of “Spineless Feminism.” Swift may be the highest-paid artist in the world, but her decision to speak out on issues as she pleases rather than as others call on her to means she gets little credit for the space she’s made for female artists.

In other words, being a feminist requires speaking out on certain things in a certain way.

It does—and that is true of liberalism more generally in the Age of Trump: there is a certain way to go about these things, a long list of boxes you have to check off before your political opinions are acceptable. This is much more than an obsessive-compulsive and bullying way to force people to agree with you: it is, in the end, a way to hamstring public discourse, to kneecap the pretense of any kind of diverse political landscape. It is particularly insidious in that way: in the name of “equality,” Taylor Swift is apparently supposed to believe in all of the same things in which a narrowminded and relentlessly uncompromising political cohort believes. She’s free to be her own woman, so long as she filters her opinions through the judgment of these other women. See?

Everyone wants everyone else to agree with them, of course—I, for one, wish people felt the same way about Star Wars as I do—but there is something very strongly paranoid and hysterical about the more fervid strains of cultural progressivism today, an underhanded desire not just to say someone’s opinion is wrong but that the notion of a dissenting opinion is itself wrong in actu. That is why, for your average modern feminist, the very idea of not being a feminist is unconscionable—and why successful and influential women must be publicly browbeaten and nagged to conform to the abortion-loving, pussy-hat-knitting, Trump Derangement Syndrome-suffering politics of the feminist movement.

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A Burden to Carry

In response to the suggestion that people should carry their firearms in church to protect against mass shooters, my Federalist colleague Tom Nichols has advanced “a much better solution. The United States should allocate funds for the purchase and distribution of bullet-resistant vests and body armor in every place of worship across our great nation.”

“If we are that concerned,” Nichols argues, “and we believe that every American in church should be able to survive the smallest possible risk of every possible eventuality, then this is a low-cost, low-risk solution.”

This is all in jest, of course, as Nichols himself admits; his point is that “America is not rational with guns,” and that the “American gun cult” has infected our national process of problem-solving, at the expense of rational risk assessment:

Most people will snort at the ridiculousness of packing every parishioner in Kevlar, and rightly so, because the risk of needing body armor on any given Sunday is so low it is pointless even to try to calculate the odds. The whole exercise is costly and stupid, and that’s why we won’t do it.

But offer up the chance for a heroic interlude from an action movie, and suddenly statistics and risk go right out the stained-glass window. It’s not sexy to help on Grandma with her ceramic plates, but the majestic, slo-mo imagery of reaching for that weapon as your fellow citizens dive behind the pews right as the lone madman bursts into the church during the Gospel reading is irresistible.

We live in a world full of risks. I have been the victim of violent crime; a member of my immediate family was shot at in a terrorist attack many years ago. And yet, I live my life, in both my small town and the big cities in which I work, mostly afraid of the things far more likely to kill me: texting drivers and slippery stairs. This is not because I am unafraid of terrorists or madmen, but because I passed high school mathematics.

There are a number of problems with this rather unexamined hypothesis, but first it is worth pointing out that this interpretation of people who carry concealed weapons—that they are interested in “heroic interludes,” “slo-mo imagery,” that they fancy themselves as heroes in “action movies”—does not readily comport with the vast majority of concealed weapon carriers, or at least those with which I have regular contact. Virtually every gun carrier I am aware of does not relish the chance to use his or her firearm; they do not find the thought of a shootout “irresistible.” This is a silly and nonfactual evaluation of concealed carry culture, the obvious product of having never spent that much time around people who carry weapons on a regular basis. Ignorance is very much a handicap in public debate, even when said ignorance is concealed behind sneering rhetoric.

Nichols’s hypothetical in this case also betrays a dearth of knowledge about the basic mechanics and even the economics of gun carrying. Wearing a Kevlar vest is bulky, hot, awkward, and uncomfortable; wearing a gun, assuming you have the right holster and you’re not packing a Desert Eagle, is none of these things. The price points are also wildly incomparable: outfitting everyone in a quality Kevlar vest would be far, far more expensive than a small handful of trained and qualified individuals buying handguns and bringing them to church (and those people probably already have handguns, rendering the whole point moot to begin with).

That leaves the consideration of what Nichols calls “mathematics:” we are apparently supposed to leave our guns at home because the “statistics and risk” tell us it’s a bad idea to carry a firearm in church (or I guess anywhere). I think we are supposed to believe that the odds of shooting oneself or someone else with one’s own gun is greater than the odds of using one’s gun to stop a mass murderer, and so we should leave our gun at home for the sake of safety (because “mathematics” tell us this is the right thing to do).

Let us stipulate that the odds of finding oneself in a mass church shooting are very low. They are also not zero, as the terrible events of last week proved. Of course, the odds of a negligent discharge are also not zero—but with one important caveat: you can control those odds to a significant degree. If you follow the four simple rules of gun safety at all times and wherever you are, the chances of you shooting yourself or an innocent person more or less turns into a rounding error.

One can exercise no such control over a mass shooter, however. We can pass certain laws (or enforce the ones we already have), but we can never affect the odds of a mass shooting in the way one can affect the odds of accidentally shooting an innocent person with our own firearms. The latter you can manage very easily; the former is much more difficult. All of which is to say: carrying your firearm in church, or anywhere else, makes sense so long as you’re doing it appropriately—and it’s not hard to do it appropriately. Those who are profoundly afraid of carrying guns—who think “high school mathematics” dictate that the risk is simply too much to bear—are welcome to not carry them. But it is perfectly sensible to carry a weapon if you so desire it and you are properly capable of doing so. Those who argue otherwise are interested in pushing an agenda, not logic and facts.

It’s Treason, Then?

In the perennial debate surrounding the American Civil War, a common assertion is that the politicians, generals and soldiers who comprised the Confederate States of America were “traitors” who were guilty of “treason.” It is a funny kind of meme, chiefly because it strikes at the heart of the American experiment, namely the right to self-determination, particularly through the institution of governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” as the Declaration of Independence puts it. That is to say, the Declaration explicitly advocates the very kind of “treason” that we’re supposed to abhor in the likes of Robert E. Lee.

In truth nobody cares all that much about the fact that the Confederates were “traitors,” inasmuch as that would require a level of deliberate, honest-to-goodness patriotism that is more or less unfashionable these days. People dislike the Confederates not because of “treason” but because of slavery—i.e. we are repulsed by the Confederate experiment not because it was an act of rebellion but because of what it was an act of rebellion for.

I am afraid we have lost the ability to make a distinction between the principle and the application in this case. In a recent column, Leonard Pitts referred to the Confederates and the Union as “traitors who fought to destroy America and patriots who fought to preserve it.” Which is a perfectly ridiculous way to sum up the political tactic of secession, particularly as it was exercised by the Confederate States. Whatever the CSA was up to, “destroying America” was not it, unless one wants to argue that the America nation is utterly inseparable from a handful of the states that comprise it. But you would be wrong: you can act as if the Union depends entirely on Arkansas or Louisiana remaining a part of it, say, but that idea is preposterous enough that even the Supreme Court has rejected it.

All of which is to say that, while the general opprobrium directed toward the Ordinance of Secession is a good and proper thing, we should not be confused as to just what it is to which we stand opposed. The hand-wringing over “treason” makes little sense in the context of American political history—our country was founded on rebellion, so much so that the leaders of the American Revolution would have been executed had they lost. It is worthwhile to learn to tell the difference between slavery (which is awful) and revolution (which is as American as apple pie).

Be Thankful for What You Don’t Have

Thanks to the garbage “Affordable Care Act,” at the end of this year I’m losing my health insurance for—oh, the second or third time, I’ve lost track I guess. This time is a bit different, because this time around I have a family, and family insurance—particularly under Obamacare, a law which has a curious tendency to drive health care prices up instead of down—is not cheap. We’re losing our already-pricey health insurance and we’ll likely be forced to buy even more expensive stuff, but hey—at least Barack Obama’s greatest domestic achievement is still intact. That is what really matters. “It’s the law of the land,” progressives repeated over and over and over back then. You bet it is—my family knows it all too well.

Somewhat related to our situation, at Vox, Jeff Stein declares: “The Virginia elections will decide if 400,000 people get health care.” Sounds like high stakes, but the matter is a bit more politically tedious than that:

If enough Democrats get elected to the legislature, they can expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Whether Democrats can regain the statehouse, redraw Virginia’s congressional districts, and fulfill one of Obamacare’s promises will depend on dozens of below-the-radar statehouse races. And despite a surge in interest from previous years, it’s still not clear Democrats on the ground have the resources to win.

Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t, though after losing to Donald J. Trump, it is hard to picture the Democrats winning a lone-runner election for dogcatcher. Nevertheless, Stein is right: if they take Virginia, Democrats will almost certainly expand Medicaid to nearly half a million more state residents.

And that is a poverty, no pun intended: Medicaid, properly understood, is supposed to be a last-ditch resource for the most destitute among us. Expanding the program in the way that Obamacare has done—so that it functions as a substitute for private insurance for millions and millions of able-bodied working adults—is useful if you’re trying to tout the raw numbers of Americans who have gained “insurance” under the Affordable Care Act. What you don’t mention is that (a) it’s junk government insurance that fewer and fewer doctors are willing to take and (b) letting more and more people on it makes it overburdened, crowded, and less effective, particularly for the people who genuinely need it, i.e. very poor and disabled people.

So this is the real accomplishment of Barack Obama’s proudest domestic legacy: it has disrupted the health insurance market for millions of families, made it more expensive for virtually everyone, and “expanded” “health insurance” by blanketing millions of people with the worst public insurance program in the developed world. I want you to ponder this for a moment: every time Republicans mull over the (admittedly nonexistent) possibility of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the Left has a stunning, screeching meltdown, claiming that conservatives want to take us back to, variously, the 1950s, the 1920s, the Middle Ages, the recombination epoch, whenever: we’re told that repealing Obamacare will cast us all into a time when pregnant widows were forced to pay $7800 per month for health insurance and Fat Cat male supervisors could steal the diaphragms out of their female employees’ purses at will and only the super-duper top 0.00000000001% could afford quality health insurance.

All of this for a trash law that, by any reasonable metric, has failed in its stated purpose and continues to fail. If you’re one of the lucky ones whose health insurance hasn’t been disrupted by the Democrats’ good intentions, I’m happy for you. But there are a great many of us who haven’t been so lucky, and who continue to bounce from plan to plan in a volatile market without knowing when we’ll be dropped from one plan and what the next plan will look like or cost. I’m sort of sick of being told how great this stupid law is. The least Democrats could do is say: “Yes, this law sucks. And it’s our fault. And we’re okay with that.”