Facts Be Not Proud

Bizarre socio-political and pop culture trends tend to spread only when nobody really questions them. This is why, for example, we have a deeply stupid and expensive system of employer-provided health insurance in this country, and also why Country Crock was so insanely popular for a long period of time. Nobody ever stops to think, “Hey, is this even a good idea? Why do we do this?”

The same is true of transgenderism, which thrives upon—indeed, which is built almost entirely upon—a populace that is either uninterested in (or else fearful of) questioning the orthodoxies of transgender philosophy. I belabor this point on this blog from time to time, only because it feels somewhat important as both a political and a cultural matter: there is no other phenomenon that I am aware of, other than perhaps Biblical creationist fundamentalism, that is so hostile to logic and factual inquiry.

(Even that, however, is an inapt analogy, because creationists are nowhere near as monomaniacal and aggressive as are transgender activists; even at their “worst,” Biblical fundamentalists almost always ask that, in the public sphere, their beliefs be taught alongside of evolutionary biology rather than in place of it. Transgender activists can brook no such compromise: to them, teaching medical facts in the way they were taught universally up until about six months ago constitutes nothing less than a Nazi-level hate crime event.)

I thought about this deliberate hostility to logics, facts and rational inquiry when I read a dispatch from the Daily Wire that addressed “what it means to be transgender.” At its heart this is the most necessary question surrounding the transgender phenomenon: what does it mean to be transgender—how do you define transgenderism? The Daily Dot does so in the following way:

Gender identity is the innate, internal understanding that one has of their own gender. It’s the subconscious realization that one is a man, a woman, or doesn’t fit neatly into either of those categories.

Traditionally, Americans have treated sex and gender as interchangeable terms, but they do not describe the same things. Whereas “gender” refers to how one perceives themselves, “sex” describes the physical build of a person’s body. A transgender person’s gender does not align with their assigned sex at birth.

Here is the fundamental untenable conceit of transgenderism writ large. Notice that the Daily Wire‘s definition of transgenderism draws a strict demarcation between “gender identity” and “sex;” the former is a perception, while the latter is a physical fact. If this is true—and this is as good a distillation of transgender theory as any—then it fundamentally makes no sense. How, after all, could a “perception” ever align (or mis-align) with physical fact, particularly when the perception and the physical fact “do not describe the same things?” Put another way: imagine you heard someone say, “My gender identity doesn’t match my earlobes,” or, “My self-perceived gender doesn’t line up with my wrist muscles.” These two things are not merely different by degrees; they are different by qualitative categories. You can’t match up two radically dissimilar concepts, nor, consequently, could they ever be “not aligned!”

The Wire goes on to point out that some scientific studies point to a physiological component to the transgender experience: “A transgender man’s and a cisgender man’s brain structures mirror each other in important ways, and the same goes for trangender women and cisgender women.” But this does not address the confusion surrounding transgenderism, it deepens it. If “sex” and “gender” indeed do not describe the same thing,  after all, then a neuroscientific explanation of gender still does not address the fundamental irreconcilability of the two categories; nor does it explain why one physical component (brain structure) should take precedent over another (phenotypical sexual characteristics).

It is mildly maddening to attempt to discuss this stuff, chiefly because it is, from the start, an absurdist pseudo-theory presented as scientific fact. The crazier and less reality-based a cultural phenomenon is—and the more institutional and cultural support it has, as is increasingly the case with transgenderism—the harder it is to confront it with any degree of effectiveness. Imagine someone came up to you and said, “Clouds aren’t actually  made of water; they’re made of quacky ducks and cotton candy farts.” How would you engage such a person, someone whose train of logic is so demonstrably divorced from reality that they believe that? Moreover, how would you fight against such a perception if, increasingly, colleges and celebrities and politicians and media figures all, one by one, began to accept the quacky-duck-and-cotton-candy-fart theory of cloud formation? Where do you start chipping away at such an impenetrable brick wall?

The ideal scenario would be this: most people (who, in their heart of hearts, probably know better anyway) will slowly but eventually become deeply embarrassed at championing such an obviously false proposal, and—bit by bit—public and private support for such claptrap will eventually fade, like the mystical movements of the early 20th century or the denim crazes of the early 21st. But it may take a while yet, particularly when you consider both the militancy of cultural progressivism and the shrieking media chorus that swells every time a parent has misgivings about his little girl going into a bathroom with a grown man. In any event, I invite any of my readers who are on board the transgender train an opportunity to convince me, in the comments section of this post, that the transgender theory described by the Daily Wire actually makes even the slightest bit of sense. If you can do so, I’ll dedicate an honorary blog post to you as congratulations—a dubious honor, to be sure, but nonetheless you’re welcome to print it out, frame it, and show it off to your grandkids some day.

The Bomb on the Bus

I want to write about “the latest terrorist attack in England,” but of course by the time this blog post goes to press there may have been another one or two of them, so it’s probably necessary to be specific. After Saturday’s massacre at London Bridge, the Washington Post decided to address the real problem at hand: 

In the early confusion of Saturday’s attack in London, as police urged people not to spread rumors, those world leaders who did speak out early were largely circumspect. Restrained. Sympathetic.

“My thoughts go out to the victims and their loved ones,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. “Awful news,” wrote Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau the same evening, adding, “We’re monitoring the situation.”

And then there was President Trump.

Before London police or anyone else had announced that the attack was linked to terrorism — the president of the United States retweeted an unsourced blurb from Drudge.com: “Fears of new terror attack after van ‘mows down 20 people’ on London Bridge.”

London authorities at that point had confirmed only a few details. Shortly after the Drudge tweet, British police again warned against spreading unconfirmed information.

It is a deeply, almost profoundly rich irony that the Post—which has spent the last few months helping perpetrate several dozen industrial-sized fake news events—is now so suddenly, breathlessly concerned about “spreading rumors” and “unconfirmed information.” Gee, what’s different this time around? What is the distinction between an anonymously-sourced, wholly unconfirmed (and eventually on-the-record denied) story about James Comey’s resource request on the one hand, and yet another European truck / knife murder spree on the other? Can you spot the difference? Why would the Post run with the one yet exercise breathless forbearance with the other?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Western civilization frequently displays a queer kind of deference towards Islam, and in no area is this clearer than that of terrorism. Several days after the Manchester Islamist terrorist attack but a few days before the London Bridges Islamist terrorist attack, Medhi Hasan wrote that “white far-right terrorists” are in fact the more dangerous terrorists, at least in the United States, because, “Since September 12, 2001, the number of fatalities caused by domestic violent extremists has ranged from 1 to 49 in a given year. … Fatalities resulting from attacks by far-right wing violent extremists have exceeded those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists in 10 of the 15 years, and were the same in 3 of the years since September 12, 2001.” But, as Hasan concedes, Islamists have actually racked up a higher body count overall during the same time period—and if you move the data window back a single day, the Islamists are ahead by about 3,000 bodies, which strikes me as—I don’t know—a bit of a scale-tipper, call me crazy. (Most deferential arguments regarding Islamic terrorism tend to strategically clock their terrorism statistics starting at 12:01 AM on September 12th, 2001.)

You do not see the same rhetorical pathology arise in the cases of, say, American mass shootings: every time some lunatic shoots up a mall or a school or a disarmed Army base, there arises a fresh series of demands to scrap the Second Amendment, confiscate all American firearms Australia-style, and finally castrate the American citizenry of their sick fetish with guns. For good measure progressives will often throw in a strident “You’re-more-likely-to-be-killed-by-a-mass-shooter-than-a-Muslim-terrorist-excluding-Sepetember-Eleventh-of-course.” Leaving aside the fact that guns in America are a constitutional right and thus a bit of a difficult ban to wrangle, the comparison neglects the practical difference between guns and Islam: the one is an inert tool, while the other is a fungible ideology the demographic implications of which are much more concerning. Put another way: a Pew report a number of years ago found that, in France, well over a third of Muslims believe that “suicide bombing of civilian targets to defend Islam” can be justified at least some of the time. In other words, within the largest religious minority in France, over thirty percent have at least some genuine sympathy with terrorists. Might that not be cause for concern? By comparison, do you think you could scare up a third of all United States gun owners who believe that psychopathic mass shootings are ever justified? Hell, do you think you could scare up a tenth, or a twentieth, or a fiftieth?

The deep stupidity will continue: there will be another massacre, another bomb, another truck, another knife, another Allahu Akbar—and quickly thereafter we will see the same old bizarre and irrelevant excuses trotted out: you’re more likely to die from a homicidal rapist great white shark than you are a Muslim terrorist, the terrorists aren’t actually Muslim, all religions are crazy, the Crusades were bad, too. It is a weird experience to witness a civilization trip all over itself attempting to explain away the people who wish to destroy it.  I am not sure what drives this impulse—though the impulses of the murderers at London Bridge two days ago are very clear indeed, and it is a wonder that we are so quick and so eager to deny it.

Let’s Get Crazy!

Earlier this year I wrote about Miley Cyrus, whom I called “a weird, capering kind of celebrity monster,” chiefly because she was and may indeed still be all of those things. But then again maybe I wrote too soon, because apparently she has had some sort of eleventh-hour change of heart and now “her nipple-flashing self is behind her.”

If true, this is an unalloyed good as far as American pop culture is concerned. For some time now Miley has been a gross and noxious presence on the pop culture scene, and her leaving that life behind can only be a good thing insofar as for years she has made our cultural discourse lower and baser and less pleasant. We “social conservatives” take a lot of crap for our “socially conservative” opinions regarding both popular media and lifestyle habits, but in the end very few people will deny that Miley Cyrus’s modus operandi over the last half-decade or so—a drug-fueled, sexually chaotic mess of perverted social and professional conduct—is an objectively terrible way to both live one’s life and inspire others to live theirs. If she’s calming down, that is a good thing. Nobody doubts this.

Oh, wait, of course someone does. At the New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich laments Miley’s “creepy return to wholesomeness:”

Cyrus’s arc—she was a fairly innocent kid who enjoyed a wild period in her early twenties, and, now that she’s about to become someone’s wife, she’s settling down, finding a new way to be (or act) virtuous—is culturally ingrained. Everyone seems to agree that this is an acceptable path forward. And that’s what’s so troubling about it. It’s not so much that Cyrus has changed (or that she has, at least, changed tack strategically; both are so ordinary as to be banal), it’s that this is what everybody thinks a grownup woman looks like: pretty, tamed, straight, still, white…

Performing adulthood becomes dangerous when the performance is so limiting…For young women, this is a narrow path forward: become less selfish and wayward only by embracing antiquated notions of femininity and propriety. Is there not some functional middle ground to occupy? Cyrus’s about-face is so sharp, it obliterates any chance for a more subtle and multitudinous understanding of personal progress. It’s hard not to pine for that wagging tongue.

It is easy enough, I guess, to write about “a more subtle and multitudinous understanding of personal progress” when you’re not coming from a five-year coke-, peyote- and ecstasy-soaked post-adolescent binge. But most people who have been there, and been lucky enough to escape with their lives and their health, are happy enough to move on without attempting to occupy a “functional middle ground.” There is, in fact, nothing at all wrong with being a grownup (or, in the insufferable rhetoric of Millennialism, “performing adulthood”) where “being a grownup” looks like “not taking a bunch of drugs and leading a fashionably trashy and dirty lifestyle.” When your entire persona revolves around a kind of moneyed white trash deportment, you should want to grow up and stop being a dipshit.

Miley is right to want to move on from all of this (if that is indeed what she’s doing). Petrusich is lamenting the loss of something utterly not worth lamenting. It is worth pointing out that Petrusich herself appears to come from a place of idyllic stability and propriety—a two-parent household with both parents holding down good jobs—a lifestyle, in other words, that is rarely possible if your “multitudinous understanding” of proper behavior involves the kind of crap Miley Cyrus was into. It is mildly pathetic to witness a grown woman lamenting another grown woman’s having left behind a life of debauched meaninglessness. It’s actually a good thing to grow up and “settle down.” Would that our silly and self-indulgent culture understood that more often.

Pax Vobiscum, Infans

Even the most cynical pro-lifers—the types who are jaded enough about abortion politics to not feel much surprise over it all—must occasionally re-confront the quaint horror of abortion, and the effect that abortion has on the moral fabric of a community or a nation. NPR has the scoop on some new abortion laws in Arizona:

Many states have what proponents call Born-Alive Infant Protection laws, but Arizona is now taking its rules further. It’s defining what are signs of life, like a heartbeat or the movement of voluntary muscles, and requiring doctors follow set procedures to resuscitate if any of those are present…

One mother, who had her daughter aborted when it was discovered that the child would have serious health problems, is not okay with this:

If [my daughter] was born [under this law], I felt like then they would have tried to, in my definition, torture her by trying to resuscitate her when I wanted to give her a peaceful death.

It does nobody—pro-lifers, pro-choicers, anybody—any good to claim that abortive women (at least of this variety) are bad, or evil, or monsters of any type: while the realities of abortion are clear-cut and inarguable, the motives behind it are often confused, murky and stupid, and are thus understandable though not condonable. Case in point: the mother in this example has grown up in a world where it’s considered acceptable to kill your child rather than try to help her live. You can make a distinction between the moral center and the sociological actuality, but it is often difficult if not impossible to separate them in the moment. A personal attack against this woman, or any abortive woman in similar circumstances, is both counterproductive and ultimately wrong.

Just the same: consider for a moment. Consider what abortion politics does to people: it may not make them monsters, but it does, sometimes, every so often, make them seem like monsters, insofar as it makes people do and believe things that, in other circumstances, we would properly consider monstrous. Put another way: the mother in this case chose to “terminate her pregnancy” at 23 weeks because of her unborn daughter’s serious health problems. But suppose these serious health problems were discovered only upon birth? Would it be acceptable for her to give her daughter a “peaceful death” under those circumstances? The law says no—for now—but it’s not clear why; nor is it clear why we draw a moral line between a human being inside a uterus and a human being outside of one. If a woman gave birth to a sick child and then elected to pull her child apart limb from limb, or inject the baby with poison, all in order to give her a “peaceful death,” we would gasp and say, “That’s monstrous.” If a woman does the same thing with the child inside of her, we nod and sympathize and say, “That’s sad.” Just consider this for a moment.

Ultimately that is the great horror of abortion politics, and any politics that reduces human beings to mere units of practical consideration: it allows and encourages good people to do awful things, blurring the line between the person and the thing in a way that is meant to be deliberately obfuscatory. We know killing innocent people is bad, after all—everyone knows it—but the politics of the current moment also obliges us to pretend that killing innocent human beings falls under the rubric of “a woman’s choice.” So most of us clam up, too afraid to state the obvious, becoming ourselves somewhat complicit in the whole mess, a mess wherein attempting to save a little newborn baby’s life is equated with “torturing her,” and where a public radio broadcast can leave unchallenged and unremarked the proposition that it’s okay for a mother to proactively kill her own baby in order to give her a “peaceful death.” It is easy to be jaded these days—but sometimes it is impossible not to be appalled.

The New Cultivators of the Earth

Over the past twenty years or so, rural America has supplanted the urban ghetto as the premiere nexus of profound social dysfunction in this country. You can still find plenty of people who believe that the great pathologies of illegitimacy, drug use, crime and illness are sui generis to poor inner-city black communities, and to be fair those communities still have those problems to significant degrees. But it is the bucolic countryside where you increasingly see these miserable stories play out; the Wall Street Journal (via the Daily Caller), for instance, notes that

Rural areas and small towns now lead the nation in teenage birth rates, divorce rates, adults without a college degree, males 16 and older without jobs, median age, cardiovascular disease mortality, and cancer mortality. The report also noted that in 2013 deaths outnumbered births in a majority of rural counties, something that hasn’t occurred since the 1930s.

The Wall Street Journal article focused on Kenton, Ohio the seat of Hardin County.

Since 1980, the poverty rate of county residents has increased by 45 percent and the area is now inundated with crime. Brad Bailey, a prosecutor in the county, told the Journal that drug cases now account for 80 percent of criminal cases. They used to only account for less than 20 percent of cases…

This all represents a downturn for a region of the country that had good job opportunities and low crime throughout the middle and later portion of 20th century. Many expected that with the advent of the internet people could work from small towns, but this hasn’t occurred. Rhonda Vannoster of Independence, Kansas told the Journal that “there just aren’t a lot of good jobs.”

I have very little patience for the country folk who, having remained in an area where “there just aren’t a lot of good jobs,” decided for some reason that heroin and petty criminality were useful alternatives to, you know, moving. A great deal of intellectual effort was expended upon this demographic during the 2016 election, with intrepid journalists venturing deep into western Kentucky and southern Alabama to figure out why so many white people had taken to Codeine and welfare and single motherhood and early death. The uncomfortable but obvious explanation—that a breakdown in traditional families, religious institutions and general public morality, coupled with a stubborn resistance to leave the place where your family has lived for generations, is responsible for most of this rural misery—inspired many a deep and thoughtful thinkpiece, and also the presidency of Donald J. Trump, who promised to fix this problem but who is quite obviously incapable of doing anything about it.

There is not much that public policy can proactively do to fix these chronic problems, which are so often issues of character wedded to a stupidly permissive and indulgent public relief apparatus. Yet there is one possible solution that, if adopted en masse, would likely go a long way towards solving the mare’s nest of modern rural American life, and that is: farming, specifically small-farm local farming. Indeed, of all the theoretical ways to fix the breakdown of social, economic and spiritual life in America’s dead-end counties, this type of farming is the absolute most practical: it requires the least and lowest-cost capital, the least government investment, and offers the most readily adoptable option for putting people back not just to work but to meaningful work, the kind that gratifies the soul as well as the pocketbook.

I’m afraid there is some resistance to this proposal, both from the right and the left, many of whom see farming as a queer relic of 19th century American life, something best relegated to a few mega-farms in Iowa and Nebraska: sure, everyone loves a little rustic farm-to-table experience, but it’s too antiquated, and anyway you can’t possibly “feed the world” using rotational pasture-based operations and direct marketing sales. Yet aside from missing the point entirely (we’re not trying to “feed the world” using local food, we’re trying to feed the local community), this assessment underestimates both the rigorous efficiencies of well-managed small farms and—most importantly—the consumer desire for the food they produce. Cities have a lot of things and a lot of advantages, but the one thing they have very little of is land. The local food revolution currently underway in the American economy is driven in large part by urbanite demand; the upper hand of the rural economy is that it has the one thing indispensable to satisfying that demand: lots of dirt and grass and trees. This is an advantage.

Were America’s counties to return to a good agricultural model—one that is, quite literally, waiting around to be picked up—it would go a long way towards solving the unemployment problem (local farms need plenty of hands), the economic problem (well-run farms can make considerable amounts of money), the emotional and spiritual breakdown of rural life (farming is hard work, but—because it is hard and because it produces things of real value—it is also emotionally and spiritually satisfying), and it would very likely do a lot to repair the paradigm of broken and dysfunctional families across the rural landscape (the backbone of a good farm is a good and intact family). Farming is surely not a panacea for what ails rural America—but it might be close to one, and in any event as a solution it is far more practical and possible than recalling tens of thousands of jobs from Mexico and Bangladesh, or moving tens of thousands of people who don’t want to move, or pumping billions of dollars of useless welfare into a social landscape the is already awash in useless welfare.

This is seen by most Big Thinkers as a largely impractical solution, chiefly because most Big Thinkers assume that any kind of agricultural work is inefficient drudge work better outsourced to an Oklahoma combine or a Chinese corporation. But there is great promise in the revitalization of American farming, not as a throwback to colonial tallow-candle days but as a thriving and vibrant economy that provides real products of genuine worth. Rural American communities are dying a slow, painful death; if we wish to bring them back and have them flourish as they used to, we’re likely going to have to stop assuming that “there just aren’t a lot of good jobs” and start recognizing the near-limitless creative and economic potential sitting just beneath the topsoil.

Big Brother Is Not Watching You

Our society—modern Western civilization in general—is weirdly deferential towards Muslims and Islam, said deference driven in large part, I think, because people see Muslims in our society as put-upon and aggrieved minorities who deserve special consideration. Progressives in particular are extremely sensitive to the plight, real or imagined, of Muslims in American society. It leads to some strange rhetorical bedfellows within the Left: the people who might normally snicker and sneer at the denim full skirt dress codes of fundamentalist Christians are also hyper-quick to defend and even celebrate the hijab, an article of clothing that literally has no function other than reactionary moral self-deprecation.

Now this odd accession has apparently come to Minnesota, the legislature of which recently tried to pass an anti-female-genital-mutilation bill that ran up against some opposition in transit:

The Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, a nonprofit called Isuroon and other groups argue that the legislation carries overly harsh punishment and unintended consequences, including the possibility that newcomers from countries where genital cutting is widespread would not seek medical care and other services for their children. They call for a less punitive approach focused on educating parents.

Now, the author of the Senate version is voicing second thoughts about approving the legislation yet this session, though Senate GOP leadership have not committed to a course of action. “We all agree this practice is absolutely horrible, and something needs to be done,” said the author, Sen. Karin Housley. “How can we empower communities to address this practice from within rather than having Big Brother come down and say, ‘This is wrong?’”

Rep. Mary Franson, who introduced the House bill, said the Senate is bowing to pressure from groups “more concerned with perception than doing the right thing and protecting girls.”

It is worth pointing out that Franson herself initially worried that the legislation would be seen as “Islamophobic” before deciding to go ahead with it. In any event, it is really something to witness: the author of a bill that would have cracked down on the barbaric practice of butchering little girls’ genitals has been publicly chastened over her absolutely commendable aspirations. Instead of laughing off the demands for a “less punitive” approach to preventing human butchery, Sen. Housley has instead been reduced to talking about “empowering communities” to “address” “this practice.” It seems not to have occurred to her that the “communities” in question aren’t actually interested in “empowerment,” aside from the kind of “empowerment” that allows them to slice their five-year-old girls’ clitorises and cut off their labia. I hate to break it to Sen. Housley, but if someone doesn’t already know that it’s wrong to cut up a little girl’s sexual and reproductive organs, then “empowering” them to “address” the problem isn’t going to do much good.

Just how bad are the “punitive” aspects of this bill? Well, it “makes it a felony for parents to subject their daughters to the procedure and calls for loss of custody and prison terms from five to 20 years, depending on the extent of the injuries.” Five to twenty years might seem a little steep, except when you consider the fact that the little girls who are subject to this practice can suffer for it throughout their entire lives. Even with the maximum sentence under this proposed law, a perp would walk in a couple of decades. His victim might suffer chronic physical and emotional pain for four times as long. You might consider this to be “overly harsh punishment” only if you think that slicing up a little girl’s private parts and possibly ruining her life is, in the grand scheme of things, not that big of a deal, or at least something that a person shouldn’t have to pay for in any really consequential way.

An activist also takes issue with the law’s “separating girls from their families, which they argue victimizes them a second time.” It is hard to imagine how sending a girl back to a family that mutilated her is somehow beneficial for that girl; it is, in any case, difficult to believe that a similar argument would be proffered if, say, a mother and father had their daughter’s feet cut off above the ankles because of some primitive barbaric impulse. “Well, sure, they mutilated their little girl and made her life vastly more difficult for the most savage and indefensible of reasons. But imagine what will happen if they aren’t allowed to retain custody!”

You can see the double standard at work here. In fact, you can see it at work in the existing Minnesota code, in which anyone (parents included) who subjects minors to sexual abuse may be sent to prison for up to thirty years. You don’t seem to see anyone kicking up much of a fuss about such a stiff penalty; when it comes to female genital mutilation, suddenly people worried about “Big Brother.” Call me crazy, but if one one of “Big Brother’s” functions is to (a) stop people from slicing up prepubescent girls’ bodies, and (b) throw into prison the people who do it—well, I’m just fine with that. And if you take issue with such a law, you should quite honestly ask yourself why.

The Slow Knife Cuts the Deepest

It is a profoundly reckless and inadvisable thing to ignore just how much our government spends every year, which is probably why so many people choose to ignore it. It is far easier to just look away from just to much the government takes from the people—around one-fifth of everything we make, all told—because addressing this problem (and it is a problem), and dealing with it, is difficult, and people do not like difficult things. Better to just keep your head down.

It does not help that, every time someone even mentions the possibility of the government’s spending a little less on this or that, a chorus of angry shrieks arises from the pundit and the media classes, like a swarm of hornets from an irritated nest. As a thought experiment, try running for national office, getting elected, and, once on Capitol Hill, suggesting that the government reduce outlays for pig / Venus fly trap cross-breeding insemination research by 8% over a thirty year period. Instantly a cadre of wonks—very smart people, plenty of diplomas to their names, well-salaried and able to think cogently enough—will descend upon you and explain to you that your budget proposal literally slits the throats of poor trans minority children, or something. In Washington there is only one way to spend, and it isn’t down.

Case in point: consider the New York Times, which recently reported on President Trump’s proposed budget, which—according to the Times—“Cuts Deeply Into Medicaid:”

[T]he package contains deep cuts in entitlement programs that would hit hardest many of the economically strained voters who propelled the president into office. Over the next decade, it calls for slashing more than $800 billion from Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor[.]

Note, of course, the ubiquitous, ever-present refrain that Trump’s policies are going to fall hardest on the rubes who voted for him in the first place. Isn’t it, like, poetic? You can almost hear the chortles, the snorts of derision, the low murmurs that, once again, those soda-guzzling red state rednecks “voted against their own interests,” thanks to, I don’t know, the Koch Brothers. This has been the refrain of Democrats for the past thirty years or so, incapable as they are of imagining that somebody, somewhere might disagree in good faith with the platform of the DNC.

Anyway, perhaps you noticed what is so glaringly absent from the Times‘s assessment of Trump’s proposed medicaid policy, and it is this: context. Specifically: when the Times claims that $800 billion in cuts over a decade is “deep,” the relevant question is: relative to what? $800 billion in cuts over a decade would certainly be a deep cut for my budget—it would put me about $800 billion in the red, give or take a decimal point—but I am not the federal government. So what gives?

Well, based on the CBO’s predictions, assuming a standard spending increase of about 5% per year, over the next decade Medicaid will shell out just under six trillion dollars in benefits and administrative costs. Using this number, we learn that a ten-year $800 billion cut in Medicaid outlays would represent about a 13% decrease in projected Medicaid budgets. Thirteen percent over a decade, ten years, 3,650 days—this is the relativity we’re looking for: this is what the New York Times (and ABC and the Washington Post and Bloomberg and) calls “deep cuts.”

But wait: relativity goes both ways. Consider that, in 2010, say, the Medicaid budget was around $210 billion. If the CBO predictions are accurate (always a big if, and always in the same way), then by 2027 the Medicaid budget will have increased over 200% from 2010 levels. So when you take 13% away from Medicaid outlays over a decade, you must also factor in the fact that the Medicaid budget itself is grossly expanded from earlier years, enormously so compared to the budget reduction that everyone claims is—what was that word?—“deep.”

This is worth thinking about the next time you see someone claim that a government budget cut is going to cause widows and orphans to starve to death while fat cat one percenters light their cigars with million-dollar bills. There is a reason that the American federal budget only goes up over time, never down; it’s because Americans are not really prepared—intellectually, emotionally, politically—to deal with a reduction in spending, even if the reduction is in fact just a slower rate of growth. If the government ever really tried to slash spending, a civil war would probably break out. And since spending always goes up during wartimes, the problem would compound on itself. We are stuck.

Suppose They Gay a War and Nobody Came?

Regular readers will forgive me for my extended vacation last week. Trial of the Century resumes its regular publishing schedule today. 

A new Gallup poll made waves a couple of weeks ago proclaiming that “US support for gay marriage edges to new high,” a high of 64%. That’s up from 27% a couple of decades ago. The upward trend is striking even among Republicans, 16% of whom supported homosexual marriage rights in 1996 and 42% of whom do now. Well over sixty percent of Catholics, meanwhile, are in favor of this redefinition of marriage, which is to say that more Catholics believe in “gay marriage” (which is unquestionably antithetical to church teaching) than they do the Real Presence in the Eucharist (which is, you know, a bit of a core tenet of the faith).

So it goes. There is good reason to think that this trend is an inexorable one, i.e. that it’s not just a gay rights boomlet that will soon settle down but is part of our national political fabric, like gun rights or Patrick Leahy. Part of that likely comes from the turning of the generational tide: a lot of people who opposed gay marriage in 1997 have probably passed away, and a lot of people who supported it back then have probably had kids who have grown up to support it in turn. But that can’t really explain all of it; what is evident is that, since the late 90s, a lot of Americans have simply changed their minds when it comes to homosexual marriage.

This has come about in large part because gay marriage activists are both clever and disingenuous at the same time. The campaign to legalize same-sex marriages was often styled explicitly as a hearkening back to the glory days of the Civil Rights movement, which was a remarkably effective tactic (nobody, if he can help it, wants to be equated to Leon Bazile), as well as a great and momentous checkmark on the Right Side of History (nobody, if it can be avoided, wants to be on the Wrong Side!). I once overheard a friend say that a “ban” on “gay marriage” was “exactly the same” as the Democrat-led black code bans on interracial marriage in the postbellum South; there is nothing that so galvanizes the liberal base as imagining that they’re marching on an Alabama macadam in 1964. Against this inexorable tide of moral preening and genuine honest-to-goodness social peer pressure, it is hardly surprising that the polls have turned as they have.

What is most surprising, I think, is the ways in which the activist “traditional marriage” contingency appears to have more or less given up, at least publicly, retreating into an inner bailey from which a much more narrow and much more transactional set of arguments is proffered. Where once we might have seen arguments pointing out that “gay marriage” is (a) a fundamentally absurdist proposition and/or (b) a fundamentally destabilizing concept that will weaken society and bring demonstrable harm to vulnerable children—rather than these arguable propositions, the debate seems now to have largely coalesced around religious freedom grounds, namely whether or not Catholic parishes should be forced to host gay wedding receptions and whether or not bakers and photographers should be forced to participate in gay wedding ceremonies. All valuable and important questions, to be sure, and undoubtedly I’ll take the relative protection of a RFRA any day of the week…but just the same, as I watch the poll numbers creep up throughout the years, I can’t help but wonder where everyone went.

On the one hand it’s somewhat understandable. We’re all busy, there is a lot going on these days, and it can seem daunting to speak out against something like gay marriage, to which standing in opposition can get you ostracized from much of polite society and shunned from family and friends (if there’s one thing more than Freedom Riders that progressives love pretending to be, it’s angry Mennonites). Add to the mix the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled on the subject—in an astonishingly tortured and senseless opinion, to be sure, but it’s still there—and I guess it’s not hard to grasp why even Catholic bishops are advising us to drop the whole fight.

Just the same, the relative silence is odd.  I suppose it’s possible that traditional marriage advocates have accepted Obergefell’s ruling in a practical sense while still working on the sidelines to spread the truth about conjugal marriage. That’s to be commended, of course, but it also strikes me as defeatist in an unpleasantly sneaky way. If you’ve conceded the monumental legal question, and with it a great deal of the cultural one, it seems to me that you’re fighting an uphill battle on both fronts. To their credit, gay marriage advocates understood this, which is why we ended up with Kennedy’s hack scrub-brush justification for turning marriage on its head across the country. They got it—they knew what they had to do to change the law and rework the country in a way they saw fit. Do we know? Or do we just not care?

Night of the Living Gotcha

There is a persistent abortion meme that regularly makes the rounds on the Left, particularly the Internet Left, which subsists primarily on memes at the expense of rigorous thinking and logical arguments. That meme is this: “Pro-lifers are really only pro-birth. Once the baby is born, they don’t want it to have access to health care, welfare and high-quality public education. They don’t care if the baby dies so long as the mother is forced to give birth to it. Pro-lifers are not actually pro-life!”

I addressed this objection earlier this year at the Federalist, though admittedly I’m not sure how many liberals actually read it. I guess maybe not that many, given that this meme is still quite popular, most recently in the wake of the American Health Care Act’s slow passage through Congress. At the Huffington Post, Elizabeth Baker writes: “If You Support The AHCA, Then You Are Not Pro-Life:”

If you clutch your pearls at the mention of comprehensive sex education or get riled up about “paying for someone else’s birth control” because your moral code is abstinence, you are part of the abortion problem. It has been shown over and over again that abstinence-only programs do not work in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Contraception works. You are not pro-life.

If you support the latest version of the AHCA, you are literally incentivizing abortion. There are women who will now abort for fear of themselves or their child being considered a “preexisting condition” and unable to get insurance. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call yourself pro-life and stand by idly while millions of people are stripped of their health care benefits. If you think the right to be born is a basic human right, but access to health care is not, you are not pro-life.

As an aside, there is plenty of reason to believe that an abstinence-only approach to sexual intercourse education works just fine, at least insofar as we acknowledge that human beings are not simply sexualized robots who are pre-programmed to bang with no agency whatsoever. “Abstinence doesn’t work” is a rallying cry you encounter most often in people who believe extramarital sex is a dazzling virtue and something to be encouraged more or less from adolescence onward. Go figure.

In any event, Elizabeth Baker—who has a son with Leigh Syndrome and who thus deserves a great deal of our sympathy and prayers—gets the pro-life position wrong in a way that suggests she has never seriously studied it before. Yes, pro-lifers believe that “the right to be born” is “a basic human right,” but only insofar as we believe that not being killed is “a basic human right.” Birth being an eventual and necessary function of preborn human beings, any coherent pro-life ethic must acknowledge that, if you’re not allowed to kill an unborn human, you’re eventually going to have to give birth to it (try getting it to stay up in there otherwise). “The right to be born” is simply another way of classifying the right to breath, to eat, drink, to sleep, to wake—to live. “Pro-life” is exactly that: pro-life, pro-the-right-to-life, and anti-a-legal-system-that-denies-anyone-that-right.

That’s not to say that people don’t have other needs aside from the fundamentals to which they have a right, and indeed health care is frequently one of those needs. But “access to health care” is itself not actually a right, and simply declaring it so does not make it so, nor does it mean that the “access” will magically materialize. Health care, like any consumer good, is a scarce good, and even the nominally “universal” systems spread across the British Commonwealth and Western Europe cannot successfully satisfy everyone’s demands (talk to the Swedes, a great many of whom have fled to private insurance to avoid crippling wait times, or the Canadians, many of whom flee to the United States to seek faster, higher-quality care).

Heath care policy is thus best understood not a question of rights but of practical outcomes: how to satisfy the most people to the greatest degree and with the most efficiency? People like myself believe that it’s a bad idea to hand our health care economy over to the idiot children who have already screwed it up so badly. People like Elizabeth Baker, on the other hand, believe it’s perfectly reasonable to surrender our most intimate and critical health care decisions over to the same people who run the DMV. One of these is right and the other is wrong—but neither option implicates the pro-life position, which is a separate concern altogether, and it would be helpful if Internet commentators stopped advancing this dumb argument.

From HHS, With Love

We all have to live with the consequences of our own actions, but it is deeply frustrating and irritating when we have to live with the consequences of other peoples’ actions—particularly when those actions are deeply stupid, and the negative consequences that arise from them are so foreseeable and indeed in many cases were foreseen. I think about this now:

[A]ssuming all of the numbers below are accurate and that I’m not missing any major data points, it looks to me as though Virginia insurance carriers are initially requesting an unsubsidized, full-price, weighted average rate hike of roughly 30.6% on the individual market.

Got that? Insurance premiums on Virginia’s individual market are slated to increase on average more thirty percent next year. If you have a job with employer-sponsored insurance, or you’re old enough to qualify for Medicare, or you’re simply a billionaire, then I suppose that doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to you. For the rest of us, however—and my family is among the rest—a thirty percent hike is a big deal indeed, like sit-down-and-think-about it kind of big, like three-extra-mortgage-payments-a-year big. Again, if you’ve got a lot of money to spend, you’re not sweating. If you’re a mere mortal, you might end up sweating quite a bit.

The premise of Obamacare was always profoundly moronic to begin with: the smartest, most Ivy League-credentialed Big Thinkers in the country got together to design a political road map to the ideal health care system, and the best they could come up with—the absolute golden cream-of-the-crop brainchild of all of that thinking and all of those Ivy League credentials—was an idiot piece of legislation the chief ambitions of which were (a) free birth control and (b) “minimum essential coverage.” The chief practical effect of the former was that a bunch of elderly charity nuns were sued by the government to provide abortifacients; the practical effect of the latter was that a bunch of perfectly acceptable insurance plans (my own included) were cancelled (after we were promised they wouldn’t be). In the midst of all of that, we have the price hikes: you know, the things that weren’t supposed to happen, the dastardly capitalist rate increases that Obamacare was supposed to pin to the mat.

Remember when a bunch of people pointed out that Obamacare was essentially guaranteed to make health insurance more expensive, and then a bunch of really super-duper whip-smart English majors and self-described nerd-wonks over at Slate dot com responded, “Um, well, actually, facts?” I remember that too, but I bet you I’ll remember it even more clearly next year, if and when my family’s insurance gets more expensive by a full third.

The standard progressive refrain in the face of these spiraling prices and this demonstrable failure of President Obama’s greatest domestic achievement is as such: “Well, gee, Obamacare would be working great if not for the fact that Republicans keep messing with it.” Leave aside the nursery-school-simplistic assessment of the situation and assume arguendo that this is true, that Obamacare would be farting unicorns and rainbows and low deductibles and free Pap smears for every Trans* man from sea to shining sea if it weren’t for the dastardly meddling of Old White Men. Okay: the Highly Intelligent People who designed Obamacare never even stopped to think about this for a single moment—they honestly and sincerely never gave it even two seconds’ thought: when you design a highly and aggressively politicized health insurance system, it is going to be subject to politics. This, too, was foreseeable and predicted with absolute clarity: if you surrender 1/6th of the economy to the government, then—now here’s an insane idea—the government might one day be in the hands of people who don’t like the way you designed things. Never a thought, never a moment: just surrender away. Everything will work out.

Remember what they promised you; remember what the eventual result was. And, when they promise something else in the future—more government, more plans, more assurances that Everything Will Work Out Fine If You Just Believe—remember how that worked out before. I will.